Monday, 30 June 2008

Signs of life

We candled the eggs last night, basically shining a bright light through the egg shell to see if there are any signs of life. After a week you should see the beginning's of an embryo and a web like structure of blood vessels.

The ones that don't show signs of development are discarded as they give off a gas that poisons the other eggs and they might die. Always an anxious time, we usually have to discard a third.

This time however out of twenty two eggs all twenty two show signs of life. Unheard of in our experience. So we may get more than nine chicks in three weeks.


I think we should insist on a drugs test on JJ's drake!
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He is an ex Turkey

Posted by Picasa Terry has bought the big one.

Despite the fact that two foxes have been killed in the last 48 hours within five hundred metres of Rock HQ we have suffered yet another casualty in our battle against the fox.

This time it took on Terry a forty pound Turkey with a killer attitude to back up his vast proportions.

I was stood making my early morning cuppa looking out of the kitchen window wondering what was wrong with the view. The dirt bank under the cliff is usually awash with flowers, as I looked I could see the flowers were all crushed and broken, brown feathers in large clumps adorned the freshly exposed grass and torn up soil.

I slowly realised that a life or death struggle had taken place within two feet of the kitchen window. I leant over the sink and looked further along the bank and saw the mortal remains on the mighty Terrance. Too big to cart off the fox had eaten the majority of Terry was devoured in situ, including his head, leaving the legs and wings untouched. The way he was positioned on the ground it looked like he had not survived the most horrific crash landing, wings spread out, legs sticking in the air giving the distinct impression that half of him was buried in the dirt of the bank.

Like Terry I was gutted at this fresh attack, you have to wonder how many foxes there are around us if the two kills have so little impact on their attacks on the poultry. Given the awesome size of this brute Turkey you have to speculate on the size or mental state of the killer fox involved. It’s hard to comprehend that we all slept through this attack, Terry was a noisy squawky bird when calm, however the fox managed to press home the attack without rousing the occupants of Rock HQ sleeping in their beds feet away with the windows open we shall never know.

We have lambs smaller than Terry, are they at risk from this type predation as well? I am also cross with myself for not making Terry comply and go into the poultry shed every night, but given his size and attitude he chose where to sleep at night time and God help you if you tried to get him down or off where ever he was. Assuming size made him safe I let him choose his perch, his favourite was halfway up a sycamore tree in the garden.

I had planned to move the fox trap almost to the very spot where he was killed last night, pictured above, so in a fantastic demonstration of shutting the stable door after the horse has bolted I dragged the cage to the first point of the attack and left it baited with dead rabbits in the vain hope that the fox will return for the rest of his Turkey dinner. Terry’s remains are currently in the workshop. I did have half a plan to do a Turkey drumstick stir fry for dinner tonight, but I am concerned that I might get some strange disease from the fox saliva that no doubts coats much of the leftovers.

I cannot afford to turn into a werefox every full moon.

So the magnificent seven are up for some Turkey treats with their biscuits tonight.

Sunday, 29 June 2008

Long Weekend


It's been a very long weekend here at Rock HQ, the wedding Friday night was just the start.
Saturday I should have been narrating at a dance show but work commitments kept me away from making a fool of myself in front of several hundred strangers. Tracey on the other hand had no such excuse so was busy most of Saturday marshaling children stage left and pushing them out into the spotlight right on cue. The show was a charity event raising money for Prostate Cancer Research. Unfortunately the shows organiser's father has this, as does Tracey's Dad. The show was a great success and raised a lot of cash for a very worthy cause.

The jobs have been piling up here so it is vital that we get them prioritised. I spent six hours cutting back the bracken, it's finally looking like I am winning the war against this invasive plant but it really is a struggle. The stables have been cleaned out, the pooh that the sheep produced and trod into the concrete while they were incarcerated awaiting shearing stuck to the floor with the tenacity of a limpet. So great is its adhesive quality I am seriously thinking of sending a sample to Loctite to improve its super glue. When the floor was finally cleaner, not clean, but cleaner and covered with a fresh bed of straw Trevor showed his appreciation by urinating all over the fresh straw on his bed. I was sure he was smiling at me when he did this. (You can tell we are all tired this weekend I even managed to catch the pocket rocket asleep this evening! See above )
On the subject of Horses I am told that tomorrow is the day that William has to be cleansed of Smegma again. Not keen on sharing this experience again I might find a crucially important job the other end of the farm when the bucket of soapy water appears tomorrow. Once was definately enough for me.

The garden is doing really well, not producing any food yet, other than the odd bit of salad and some highly dubious leeks that had a wood like quality that even I couldn't eat when I served them with dinner. Potential food abounds though and when I get a moment I shall have quick read of my "How to grow vegetables book" which unlike the "How to.." animal books seems quite accurate.

My main argument against these "How to ..." genres is that they seldom tell you what not to do. There are no bold italic warnings saying under no circumstances don't do this at this point or this might happen scenarios.

A case in point.

I am quite interested in keeping Bees. I am so interested in fact that I have several "How to keep Bees." books by several different authors. If there is an agricultural show I can often be found loitering around the Bee Keepers tent hoping a Bee Keeper will spot me as having potential as a Keeper and will impart years of wisdom in an easily understandable soundbite.
I am drawn to the arcane workings of the hive and watch with endless fascination the inevitable sample hive display with a glass side showing the busy workers attending the Queen.

Bee documentaries have held my attention as I gasp with awe at the complexity of the inner workings of the hive, the air conditioning provided by workers wing beats, the magical production of honey and the brutal race to be Queen. I have even gone so far as to phone local bee Keepers and ask the odd question about broods.

This interest in Bees has led to a quest for knowledge! I read and re read the "How to..." and I know for a fact it does not at any stage ever say, do not take the top off a hive.

I couldn't help it, I was curious. Beth and I were walking through an orchard owned by Bulmers, a well know cider producer and there were dozens of hives with Bees humming lazily in and out. Having already sampled a glass of the famous apple beverage I was perhaps less than cautious in my approach to the hive. A few Bees buzzed past, not unduly causing me concern, they were less than interested in me. All was well. It was late evening I rationalised to myself, they will be tucked up in their little Bee hammocks after tiring themselves out collecting pollen all day. Surely they wouldn't begrudge me one little look, a quick peek at their secret goings on.

I gripped the sides of the top and quietly lifted.

Things happened very quickly.

Beth shouted "Run" and disappeared from view through the avenue of trees with remarkable speed. I was suddenly the centre of an explosion of Bee's who seemed quite cross that they had a new sunroof. I couldn't chase after Beth as I was still holding half the hive. Ignoring the Bee protests, and that I was about to get more stings than the time I put the brush cutter through a red ants nest, and most of the ferocious little insects ended up, or down rather, my boots, I put the lid carefully back in place, as carefully as one might when the centre of a Bee whirlwind. I even managed to overtake Beth as I ran out of the orchard pursued by a few of the fitter workers intent on sacrificing themselves to ensure the hive is never bothered by me again.

My quest for knowledge regarding this matter is over. I now know what happens when you remove the lid of the hive.

You get stung.

You shouldn't play with your food!

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I know you shouldn't play with your food but when its as cute as Berkshire Piglets it's hard to resist.

They are growing fast, Tiny is the one with half a tail, she has achieved pet status, the rest are pork and bacon.

John, I'm only dancing!

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It is a hectic weekend at Rock HQ, much to do and much done.

We went to a wedding Friday night, Mark and Clay got married, a lovely couple and a fantastic party afterwards.

The party did confirm those facts of life we all know.

Most mobile DJ's are rubbish.

Men can't dance.

Saturday, 28 June 2008

Haunted House on the Hill

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There is a house on the hill that is supposed to be haunted, looks harmless enough, but our neighbour The Oracle won't go anywhere near it. There is a story to it, in fact the Hill has lots of folk lore attached to it. But this house is the only one that scares the locals.

To be continued......

Friday, 27 June 2008

Combat Report

At 23.18 on 27-6-08 a single enemy combatant crossed the perimeter at Rock HQ. Despite repeated warnings the enemy closed in and a quick reaction force was dispatched to meet the enemy with extreme prejudice.
At 23.19 the QRF closed with the enemy and engaged and we can confirm one enemy fatality, a male fox.

Despite all our efforts with guns, despite leaving out a fox trap for weeks that has so far caught one Gordon setter, two beagles and a collie, nothing deterred the fox, nothing that it is except a car travelling down our lane which run the bugger over!!

The fox was killed by heavy metal.

Good riddance!

But we shall be waiting for it's mate.

Thursday, 26 June 2008

Shear Fun!!


Finally the our tame shearer arrived and as so often happens when we have a big job to do outside the weather changed from bright sunshine to gales and torrential rain. Luckily for us and the sheep we have the stables so Trevor's stable became the shearing shed. As I had not wanted to run the risk of not being able to find our sheep when the time came for shearing I had got them trapped in the stable so they were nice a dry. Wet sheep are almost impossible to get the wool off so forward planning saved the day. A couple of surprises, Rosie is still producing milk, even though she has not fed her lamb for over a month. This may mean that one of the other sheep has started to feed off her, which is weird, or she is feeding herself, which is weirder. And then there is Ebony, the before and after pics say it all.

Its not often you feel like you have got your own back on your animals for all the bother they cause, but this is definitely one of those times.
The fleece will be used as insulation, if we tried to sell it we would probably have to pay someone to take it away. A farmer local to us sold 290 fleece for £100 the other day. It cost more to take them from the sheep and transport them.
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Wednesday, 25 June 2008

Horse Power!

I was talking to a friend today who told me I should get rid of all the animals that don't directly contribute to Rock HQ. In other words get rid of the Horses, Goats, Dogs, Cats, the Poultry that are free loading and presumably the fish.

Whilst I can see his point that they are eating us out of house and home, that our feed bill every month is twice or three times what we spend on our own food and that sometimes there seems very little return for our investment, what he failed to understand is that most of the animals here now are work in progress and one day will, hopefully, contribute to the smooth operation of Rock HQ.

The goats will be milk goats once they go to kid in November. This does depend on us being able to find a Billy Goat that wants to do the business with our two very pretty females. It also relies on us being able to transport a Billy here in accordance with Defra rules and current restrictions on moving animals in and out of our area due to the Blue Tongue Midge. Then there's finding a Billy that's the same scrapey rating as our two, that they can actually get pregnant and safely deliver kids and produce milk in reasonable quantity. Apart from all that its easy to see that by the end of the year they will be giving us "free" milk and some kids that we can sell, bring on to milk goats or even eat Caribbean style. Meantime they keep us entertained. Or busy.

The dogs and cats are pets, so they are allowed to live here rent free. The fish are very quiet so no trouble, unless they get out and start swimming up and down the path, they then have to be caught and put back in the pond before their flood created adventure playground dries up. But as we live in Wales it hardly ever rains so it no problem.

The poultry are currently under review, do we replace the three turkey females that got eaten by the fox, or do we cut our losses as well as Terry the turkeys head off and eat him. He is fortunate that there are no festivals or holidays coming up otherwise he might find his reign of the garden ending very soon. That and he is an absolute monster bird, therefore scarey and difficult to deal with particularly when you only have one arm capable of turkey homicide. The geese are pets, as are the ducks (Tracey has a habit of nominating things as pets to prevent their premature demise and subsequent appearance on the dinner table). The rest of the poultry are being rotated, in other words the new chicks we have will be layers next year, the current layers will be chicken stews in the winter, apart from Devil Hen, Cheeper, Budge, Cheeper's Mate, Donna, Black Hen, Fluffy and Walter who have all achieved the exhaulted status of petship. So again hardly any hangers on there.

The sheep are all pets, with the exception of Hercules, Bonny, Maude and Sandy. Hercules will be sold as a pedigree ram as soon as he is old enough thereby making a small contribution to the feed bill. The other three will be making a very real contribution to reducing our personal feed bill and taking up residence in Mr. Whirlpool the freezer just before Christmas. Bill is still missing on the common, the two Suffolks will be mutton or sold once I can track them down but at present don't put a strain on the purse. Ebony the coloured ryeland may be sold as a pet, or eaten as a bar b que, it depends on how she looks tomorrow after shearing. He has promised to turn up tomorrow, Trevor the Shitland hopes he does as they are in his stable at the moment and he has been evicted to the dairy. As usual we are keeping the smallholder rule, if you have an empty building then you must fill it with animals.

The pigs will all be going for meat, one as bacon and two as pork. The astute amongst you will already have worked out we have four pigs and I have only listed three. This is because the status of "Pet" has been given to Tiny, a pig with half a tail and who is substantially smaller than the rest. Why has this one been chosen as a pig we want to breed from, well not because she is the best, healthiest, biggest or strongest, no, its because she looks so cute and has kind eyes. I must stop Tracey going to the pig sty before others get pet status and I have no bacon next year.

The horses are definitely work in progress. They are going to be working horses who will carry and cart stuff around the smallholding, from moving hay to logs, from dragging a bracken bruiser to clear large patches of future grazing to dragging a scuffle or harrow across our fields to improve the grassland. I am not a Luddite, but machinery here is not suited to the ground, we had a Land Rover called Ivan (pictured above) but he was useless and totally unable to get into the fields. The slope is quite severe. A quad bike would be fun, but again impractical as it would not manage the gradient safely. This leads us to horse power. I am keen to learn old country skills and horse handling is one skill I intend to master. If you have seen the picture of my attempt to shear you will see I am keen to acquire the ancient ways of country folk and have an obvious talent.

I expressed this desire to learn horse handling to JJ at the weekend and told him how a harrow for a quad bike is about £100 whereas a similar sized one for a horse coats over £1100. This is because of a quick release mechanism engineers refer to as a dog which prevent horse hurting itself when it bolts off, or stops the horse handler being dragged under the harrow by the enthusiastic beast. Apparently JJ is inspired to help this project, he is an engineer type, not because he is overly concerned about the welfare of the horse, or that the handler may suffer a devastating injury to his other arm as he acquires these new skills, no he wants to help so the project actually happens and he can read about the mayhem on this blog.

Its good to have friends!
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Tuesday, 24 June 2008

Disappointed

The definition of disappointment is different for everyone. I used to say it was like a dog getting into a car thinking it's going to the park and then finding its being taken to the vet.
I now know its like going to the hospital to have your arm looked at by the surgeon chap thinking you are going to be given the all clear and sent for torture session with the physio therapists but finding that in reality he wants to do another operation which will mean removing the metal plate holding your upper arm together, cleaning the bone, roughing up the edges, putting a wire mesh around it, filling It with a nice bone growing agent, re plating it and sewing it up again.

This will hopefully mean that the arm will repair properly. It was after all a brutal injury, one where I was lucky to keep my arm. Probably just a few years ago I would have had to have it amputated, I was lucky not to have landed on my head as I would have killed myself given the severity of the fall, and as I only broke my arm I count myself lucky.

So it would seem that Tracey has to take over responsibility for me and the farm late September, she is a Saint. I have been irrationally upset by the news from the hospital today so I have been cheering myself up by looking at the photos we have taken since moving to Rock HQ. This one is of Rocky and his Mum, Lucy, taken a few days after Rocky moved in with us. How can I be depressed when I have the love of a good woman, a smallholding which is a dream come true and such wonderful animals as these to share my life. Oh, and curry for dinner and a beer. Life can throw the odd set back but I have too much to be grateful for to dwell on life's disappointments.
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Goat with high ambitions

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This is Maggie, an Anglo Nubian cross Boer goat, means she can climb anything.

This is how determined she is not to eat grass.

Five Ways Crossing

Nice view but where are my sheep!!
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Monday, 23 June 2008

A close encounter of the third kind

Not so long ago after a hearty Sunday lunch with a few glasses of giggle pop I would lie down and sleep it off gathering my strength for Sunday tea and perhaps a light snack for supper later on. Given my adoration of the calorie and love of first and second breakfasts I should have been a hobbit. Having two breakfasts was normal on the farm as I grew up, a quick cup of tea and some toast set you up for doing the rounds first thing, then after a few hours of feeding the livestock you would return to a proper breakfast that should last you until lunch time.

I used to be super fit, thinking nothing of running six miles to the gym and after the workout running back. Now however age and injuries have caught up with me and I battle to keep my waist measurement in inches less than my chronological age. Moving to Rock HQ certainly has helped my fitness but the abundance of fantastic and fresh food has meant this new fitness has had little impact on my weight.

Having views like the one pictured is an inspiration to get out, and after a huge lunch with JJ I forced myself outside to round up the missing sheep. They are well trained and usually engage the rest of the inhabitants of Rock HQ in a battle of supremacy over the breakfast rations we dish out. The last two mornings however they failed to show up. Sunday morning when Rita, the matriarch sheep appeared with Easter and Springtime and only one lamb, Bonny, in tow I knew there must be a problem. I also saw Meg and April the nutter Suffolk's running along the outside of the perimeter fence, they maintain a 200 metre distance from me since they saw the shearing kit being prepared, and disappearing into the bracken. This being five foot high is like a jungle and they instantly vanished.

I had two choices, follow the track up the hill out of the Cauldron and past the Troll cave to Five Ways Crossing (where the picture was taken) or go down the hill and up the other side past Murphy's and Mad Keith's along to Five Ways. Experience told me that the sheep were probably round by Mad Keith's, but Rita et al came down from the Cauldron. So off I set towards the Troll Cave. Its a steep path and pretty soon I was blowing my lungs out of my backside vowing to lose weight and regretting second helpings of Berkshire and really regretting the third beer. I progressed slowly followed by six of the magnificent seven who popped in and out of sight along the jungle trail. By the time I got to Five Ways we had seen no sign of the sheep and so we turned off and headed down to Mad Keith's.

Not far from his dwelling I found a curious wire and sheet metal construction concealed in the bracken. The sheet metal obviously covered something and the wire was raised some six inches from its surface by Y shaped hazel sticks. Not wishing to fall victim to one of Mad Keith's booby traps I gave it a wide berth. Perhaps its his burial pit, or maybe its where he imprisons walkers who wander unwittingly into his domain, perhaps its full of the bones of sacrificed sheep, perhaps, perhaps my mind was working overtime as I floundered around the head height bracken, perhaps its just a piece of tin on the floor. But why the Y shapes? Enough! I burst through the foliage and into a clearing opposite Mad Keith's. The place looked deserted, except for my sheep sat contentedly chewing the cud. For a second I considered wandering over to Mad Keith's and having a closer look at where he lives. I had seen the day I rescued Meg from the cliff that he spent some of his time sat in front of a broken TV. I often wonder what he spent his time doing.

I had a strange feeling like I wasn't alone. The dogs were milling around, the sheep formed a defensive circle facing them. Rocky was urinating on Mad Keith's bone pile so the heavy breathing coming from behind my left ear couldn't be him. Reba, another heavy breather was lay some twenty feet away. "Hi Keith" I said without turning around. I was aware that my voice had the same quality as that of a choking hamster.

Mad Keith shuffled forward into my peripheral vision. "Afternoon" he said tossing a chunk of what I hoped was stale bread towards the sheep circle. One of them broke ranks and picked it up, it was clear they were used to hermit offerings. "What sort of sheep are them then" he asked.

It was pointless telling him we had had this conversation, always humour hermits is my motto, especially when you are outside their cave surrounded by bones, best not make enemies at a time like this. I explained they were Ryelands, again, he told me they were like teddy bears again, he threw more bread, there was a pause and he added, "You don't see sheep like them in these parts" I again avoided the obvious argument that we could see them in these parts. His attention turned to the big dogs, the Bernese, no they are not St Bernard's, yes they do eat a lot, yes they are nice looking, no I don't know what they taste like, pardon, oh sorry, yes I mean yes, I do know what Rabbits taste like, yes there are thousands of them, did you really, you counted twenty, yes that is thousands. All the while he was throwing bread and fattening up my sheep.

I decided to take control, use this encounter to gain some information about Mad Keith. So, Keith (best not call him mad to his face, might be a bit awkward) what made you choose to live here, why choose this spot forty four years ago. He stopped mid bread throw and looked at me. "Well I had no choice really" he eventually said. "You know the site down there, I lived there for a while but the old woman that owned the ground got a bit funny" he laughed to himself remembering and added "I was married then o'course"

Married!

Mrs Mad Keith!

Where is she?

The metal trapdoor up the hill my brain screamed at me, shes in the pit!

He turned to me, "Well, she got funny so I thought, sod it, move up here, so I did" he carried on laughing.

Ask him! Ask him wheres Mrs Mad Keith my inner voice screamed at me.

"Erm Keith..." the strangled hamster returned "Whats under the metal up there?"

He stopped laughing. I got ready to run, forget the sheep, have them.

"The metal?"

"Yes Keith" I pointed, "The metal"

"Up there?" he pointed as he asked.

I swallowed and nodded. Was there room for two in the pit I wondered.

"Would you like to see?" he asked.

Ghoulishly I nodded. He turned away and said "I'll show you" he beckoned I follow. He showed me a bucket, full of water. "It's my spring" he said. Mystery solved, its Mad Keith's water supply, the wire is to keep animals from walking into it, the metal cover is to stop the leaves.
He nodded as if he had imparted some great wisdom to me, I felt like he was going to say, one day this will be yours, but he didn't. Instead he shuffled off, my audience with the hermit was over. I had found an answer to the question of how he happened to live here, but in doing so I had discovered a Mrs Mad Keith and would now need to sate my curiosity as to her fate.

Because there are several other metal trapdoors on the hill I thought to myself as I drove the Ryeland's ahead of me down the track towars the sanctuary of Rock HQ.
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When Eggs Is Eggs!

These are the Indian Runner Duck eggs in the incubator. JJ has a few duck who, by all accounts have been treated to a massive new pond. Ours will have to make do with the stream and run the gauntlet of the fox.
A bets on, JJ thinks we might get 15, I hope so but think we will get 9. Watch this space!
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Sunday, 22 June 2008

Incoming!





I hope I never get complaisant about living at the Rock, I can't imagine I will, and this weekend we have had friends old and new round to share the joys of being so close to nature.

Each have had the tour, which usually starts down with the pigs, a walk through the garden, a close inspection of the Rock that fell from the cliff, the stables are inspected, animals are met and fought off, moving on to the Cauldron, a look at the fields and on return to Rock HQ a meal with as much home produce as possible.


Visitors are usually asked if they want to feed the lambs, an opportunity they always take. I love seeing how excited they are while the lamb tries to tear the bottle out of their hands, inevitably they get covered in milk but its all part of the experience. We always warn our guests not to wear anything they want to keep clean and usually within seconds of being here they have at least one paw print on their clothing.
Last evening my God daughter and her family called in and had supper while today a friend popped over for lunch and very kindly donated 22 Indian Runner Duck eggs for the incubator. JJ and his good lady Kay had the tour and met the inhabitants before sitting down to a nice Berkshire roast. JJ asked if I liked to cook as they both complimented the lunch.
No, I dont like to cook, I like to eat, so have always had to cook.
As well as donating the eggs they also provided six very good bottles of beer and a bottle of red. Some of this went very well with lunch. It didn't go down to well when three hours later I had to go around the hill rounding up our sheep who had gone into hiding after seeing me with the sheep shearing kit.
Cowards!

Sunday Roast


Mr20% took this picture of a future contributer to Sunday dinners and bar b ques. A Berkshire pig called Gerty.
We are having leg of pork for lunch today, Berkshires provide exceptional meat. Slow roasted in our rayburn the crackling is as perfect as the meat, served with a tart apple sauce you just cannot get a better dinner on your plate.

Saturday, 21 June 2008

Bloody Kids!

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No matter how many problems, mishaps, or nightmares our animals cause us they pale into insignificance compared to those created by our children.

Today was well planned, feed the animals, clear out their mess, tidy the house, breakfast, narrate a dance show (long story, tell you next week) assist in the sheep shearing, bar b que with friends and a few beers to mark the longest day of the year.

As it was rain stopped play for the shearing, the sheep have to be dryish or the wool won't separate from the sheep. But we were on track to do the rest, OK the bar b que was off and moved indoors, but the rest was definitely doable.

Until the phone rang. It was Ben.

Remember him? He's the Army Officer, tough guy, cool dude and ace planner. Sandhurst trained.

His car had broken down in Bristol after he had dropped his girlfriend off at the airport. He thought he had RAC cover, they thought different. He thought he had money in the bank to pay a garage to fix it, the bank told him otherwise. He thought he had plenty of time to get back to his base and get on the transport to go to Belize, but the clock was ticking and time like his options were running out.

I thought I was going to have a busy day ticking jobs off the list, instead I found myself driving to Bristol Airport to rescue our eldest. Beth came along as she had RAC cover and we hoped to persuade the nice garage people to recover the car back to Rock HQ. We found him feeling very sorry for himself having the worst day of his life by the roadside. The car was defiantly not drivable, the clutch had failed. I topped up the fluid level but still it wouldn't go. The garage was on its way, hour and half wait. At this point Ben dropped the time limit bombshell, he had to be back at base, waiting 90 minutes would mean he missed the plane. We left Beth with the car to be recovered and set off. The only worry I had was if the garage fixed the car she would be uninsured, still that was unlikely.

Sure enough we got sixty miles away and the garage had fixed it, no need to transport it back. Not able to go back to fetch her and leave Ben with the now usable car I carried on and dropped him off at the Barracks. Beth was now three hours and 120 miles away in a car she couldn't drive. I got back to Rock HQ and did the only thing I could think of to solve it, spent more of the banks money on insuring Beth to drive. She got back about six pm, tired out having taken one for the team.

Ben has since phoned, very grateful but still in bits from the trauma of saying goodbye to his girlfriend and us.

Beth soon recovered and has taken her brothers car out for a drive as its a better car than hers.

I am having a huge single malt, fathers day did have its pluses, and contemplating the size of the jobs list carried over to tomorrow, that all I did today was drive miles, spend money and how much easier animals are to look after than kids.

Friday, 20 June 2008

Beef is on the menu



Tonight we had beef. Fillet steak. Not just any old fillet steak but fillet steak from a Dexter Cow bought from our favorite butcher.

Stuart is probably what everyone ever imagines a butcher to look like, a larger than life jolly red faced man who is totally committed to producing excellent meat. I bought a piece of fillet off him last Friday as we had dinner guests on Saturday night. It was a complicated menu as one of the guests, Mr 20%, well his wife didn't eat lamb and as another guest was the Stable Sprite who built the wondrous wooden construction housing our horses (who have had a mental moment and chewed through one of the walls) who also keeps pigs, in fact sold us the pigs we are now eating, and sounded dreadfully disappointed when I said we were having pork, we needed an alternative meat. It couldn't be pheasant as Annie, Mr 20%'s wife has made friends with one in the past, it couldn't be horse as we are British and the Stable Sprites wife might kick off served her favorite animal with seasonal vegetables, that left beef.

Stuart happily supplied a piece of beef to make a beef wellington, pictured above, the piece of meat was about the size of a small chicken and I only had to sell one kidney to buy it. Beef wellington was chosen as the dish of the day as by some strange coincidence I found while talking to the Stable Sprite one day that he knew Mr 20% who I also knew. Apparently Mr20% had promised the Stable Sprite a beef wellington eons ago and had never delivered. I felt this was a wrong that needed putting right so I organised the dinner.

It was a great evening, good food, good wine and great company, Mr20% was armed with a camera that is far superior to mine and has given me some excellent photos that will feature in later blogs. Anyway the beef was excellent, it was without doubt the best beef I have ever tasted.

This has now made me more determined to have a house cow, in fact get a small herd of Dexters. These are half sized cows, standing about a metre tall they are hardy, self sufficient and produce good milk and meat from basic rations. I have toyed with the idea of having a couple of Highland Cows but after tasting Dexter my mind is made up.

Unlike previous animal projects this one is going to be well thought out, planned and executed properly. We have in the past bought animals, like pigs, built the sty and pen around them, found out the legal requirements, bought the transporter to take them to the abattoir, learned how to tag and care for them as we go along, ended up with 500 pound of meat which just about fitted into the freezer that we collected the day before the meat arrived. The whole exercise was fantastic but was constantly a game of catch up, it cost us loads and we are just about to run out of pork so the next batch are in the barn. Its a Pavlovian response but every time I go and see them my mouth waters.

So, Dexters it is, and after talking to Stuart the Butcher it looks like we could even make this project cost neutral as he will buy any spare animals. So if we have two, sell one to him that should pay for the food they both have eaten. Four will pay for the food and will cover the cost of purchasing the animals. Selling one to our friends as joints we might even make a profit. We will need five though as we will need one for milk, six really as we need one as a pet, and then, right stick with two to start with or we will get in a spot of bother from the start. Cheap hay has been sourced as we wont have the grass all year for them, but as we stay here longer the more of the common we will reclaim as grazing from the bracken. So as you can see its been well thought out, we are even getting a herd number before the animals arrive this time.

A slight fly in the ointment is that the bank are fed up with us spending their money so we are officially broke. As I sold one kidney to buy the last Dexter joint, and spent all my pocket money on five steaks tonight for a celebratory dinner as Bethan had finished college (finally!) I am wondering how to fund this project. Tomorrow I shall search the attic and sell my toys on e bay.

Star Wars Lego anyone?

Thursday, 19 June 2008

The Green Menace


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This is a clip of the Bracken in the cauldron, as you can see in places its five foot high and totally covers the hill. This is why I cut the green manace back from our field every week. There are times I feel like I am not making progress, it grows back so fast, in the worst patch on the top of Oak Bank its nearly a foot high, but compared to the rest of the hill I am making massive gains. It's a tough plant and the roots store energy and produce the massive green foliage, by constantly cutting it back the reserves of the plant are exhausted and it will die.


Eventually.


Hopefully before the strimmer breaks.

Hungry goat

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Another tree being vandalised by a hungry goat.

Perfection


I think the Iris is the most beautiful flower in the garden.

Wednesday, 18 June 2008

Mancunian Madness!

I hate that moment, the one when you just wake up and for a split second your world is OK, but then you realise its not OK, its far from OK, you realise you are not at home in your bed next to your beautiful wife, but in a strange hotel room, and to make matters worse you know that any second now your hangover is about to start.

It is a quality hangover, and sixteen hours further along the day I still have it for company.

Entirely my own fault, if only I had exercised self control, but I didn't and today I have paid for it.

I was in Manchester on a course, a module of what will lead to a post graduate certificate in Behavioural Forensic Psychology, all very grand but just think of it as informed guessing and that would be a fair approximation of what it all boils down to.

Anyway, as usual I was not looking forward to leaving my wife and life at Rock HQ to go on an expenses paid trip to a city. To some that would be a great perk of a job, to me its an ordeal I have to get through. I was lucky that this time I went with a colleague who I like, rather than the London trip where I could have happily pushed my colleague under the train.

I digress.

Manchester was the location for this training so I travelled up the day before to acclimatise. Within minutes I had decided that it was worse than London and safely barricaded in my room I began counting the hours until I could return home.

The training was in a centre next to the Mounted Section and Dog Section of the Manchester Police, so most of Tuesday morning I sat listening to the lecture interspersed with howls from some distant dog. Coffee break and I queued quietly for my shot of caffeine when I heard a deep voice booming "Speed!" My nickname from many years ago.

I turned to find Silvanus, a detective sergeant smiling at me. I hadn't seen him for around ten years, we have known each other since 1983 when in a previous life I was a Police Officer and we were in the same intake, in fact Sil was the first black man I had ever met. We had nothing in common, except our job, he having grown up having an inner city childhood and me from the farm, but we both hit it off and have been firm friends ever since. Our careers took very different paths but we stayed in touch, meeting up periodically and doing very silly things.
He took me to black drinking clubs and showed me spaghetti junction, I took him to the village fete and the local pub where he was given the traditional rural welcome, this entailed the locals staring at him with their mouths open.

We were a bit surprised to find each other on this course and after a few minutes catching up we got back to the lectures.

At the end of the day we all arranged to meet up for a "quiet drink". Sil and I promised each other that it would be just that, neither of us would egg each other on to do anything stupid and we would not in any way shape or form attempt to outdrink each other.

My headache is testimony to the fact that this quiet drink quickly degenerated into a very long, loud, expensive drink that went on for hours, only ending when the majority opted to go for a curry. As I had eaten already I pulled the eject handle and baled out down a side street and thankfully found the right hotel.

As I sat with my head pounding in todays lecture I drew some comfort from the fact that Sil felt worse than I did and unlike him I hadnt woken up with my face in a subway sandwich that I didn't remember buying. Tight as ever he ate what had been his night time salad facial rather than waste it.

He is coming to Rock HQ in a few weeks, I shall have to stock up on paracetamol and Andrews Liver Salts.

Beautiful Bernese Puppies!!

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This is Lucy, Rockys Mum, who is owned by a friend of ours.

She was one of the Berners we looked after the other week, a lovely dog and the first Bernese Mountain Dog I met.

She has just given birth to six puppies, and all are doing well.

She was waddling around on her last visit and acting like a very pregnant dog, moving slowly, not jumping around. When she went back home she started nesting, digging huge craters in the garden big enough to bury a horse in and it looked like she was about to pop.

The next day she couldn't walk, so the birth box was assembled and hot water and towels prepared. She dragged herself outside and crouched. After several minutes of eye watering straining, much to her owners surprise Lucy gave birth to a five foot length of children's tights with pants still in them. Suddenly full of Berner Bounce she careered around the garden and played with the other Berners.

Now looking decidedly unpregnant her owner was convinced there would only be one puppy, if any. But right on schedule she settled down on her due date and gave birth to these gorgeous pups.

You can never have too many Bernese Mountain Dogs.

Monday, 16 June 2008

Why I Don't Shear Sheep


This is Rita after I sheared her. Not a good look for a Ryeland. Apparently the difference between a good haircut and a bad one is about three weeks. It took a bit longer for her to get over this. She still has post traumatic stress and avoids me if she sees the clippers. Even a bowl of dog biscuit failed to cheer her up!

Sunday, 15 June 2008

Low maintenance sheep


A busy day at Rock HQ on the sheep front.

We had expected our friendly shearer to turn up and give our flock a short back and sides. This meant we had to capture the maniacs, but as they are led by their stomachs it was an easy task luring them into the stable with a bucket of oats. William vacated his stall and busied himself mowing the lawn for us and we waited for the man with the clippers.

And we waited.

It was a good plan, once he had finished taking the fleece off the beast it would be passed to me so I could trim its feet. Sheep are fairly self sufficient animals so easy for the smallholder to care for. There are however essential jobs that have to be done to ensure the welfare of the animal and therefore provide a plentiful supply of chops. Every year they have to have their fleece removed, otherwise they get too hot, they do shed their fleece naturally if you don't shear them but it happens in patches and your fashion conscious sheep doesn't think this is a look that suits it.

Their hooves grow all the time so they need trimming at least once a year otherwise the hoof starts to grow misshapen, folds over on itself so trapping dirt, this can become a breeding ground for bacteria and the sheep gets footrot, which can eventually cripple the poor beast.

As they are not toilet trained they need their bottoms cleaned regularly, this process where you cut away the soiled wool from their sheriffs badge is called dagging. Ours are suffering a bit from eating fresh spring grass and so have the squirts, their backsides and sometimes other sides are liberally coated with bright green poo. This attracts flies who lay eggs and the hatched maggots eat the poo and then start eating the sheep. So clean bums means happy sheep.

As ours were going to be sheared dagging was not so essential but we were spraying them with an anti fly spray to prevent infestation.

And we waited.

Once the sheep were sheared, had their feet clipped and bottoms wiped the plan was to inject them with part two of the vaccine to stop seven nasty parasites giving them poorly tummys, and they were going to be drenched to clear any worms from their gut.

Apart from that list sheep are low maintenance.

Honest.

It was a good plan, failing only because of one element, our friendly shearer didn't turn up. He was coming tomorrow night. Not good as I am away on a course.

So we carried on with the part of the plan we could do as Tracey is going to busy enough with me away again without having to attend to the sheep. My arm must be getting better as I am now able to wrestle the unruly Ryelands and trim their feet. Each animal in turn had a pedicure, bum wipe and spray, injection and worm drench. True to form I managed to inject my left index finger, just like I did last time, whilst injecting the same lamb, Daffodil. Judging by the way my finger is throbbing I gave myself a pretty good dose this time. I refrained from shearing the sheep, after what happened last time I realise it one country skill I may never achieve proficiency in. I will post a picture later to show you the results of my ham fisted efforts.

Whilst I was sheep wrestling Tracey provided me with backup, handing full syringes over the stable door, doses of drench when needed and plasters a sympathy when I self administered medication.

She also brought down Crispy our massive Ram single handed. After several attempts by yours truly to corner the brute in the bottom corner of Oak Bank he sought refuge in a patch of nettles and looked like he was going to make a fight of it. Tracey stepped in and calmed the monster by talking to him, amazed at the audacity of the sheep whisperer approach the bemused Ram stepped meekly forward allowing her to tickle his ears while I sneaked up on him and leapt on him rodeo style bringing him to the ground.

While I was engaged in this round of sheep maintenance my mind wandered, as it often does, at one point I was considering the usefulness of velcro gloves when catching sheep, but mostly I was wishing my Dad could see me now, shepherding. Don't worry, hes not dead, its worse than that, he lives in Manchester. Anyway its thanks to him that I am a smallholder, and keep sheep.

He was a shepherd, quite what insanity drove him to change careers back in the early nineteen seventies from working in a garage to being a shepherd I shall probably never know. Quite how he managed to convince a hardened and typically Herefordian shepherd called Ivor to take him on as his assistant shepherd when Dad's experience of sheep previous to his interview was sliced on a plate with gravy and mint sauce. Somehow he convinced him and we moved to a four hundred acre farm which became my playground. Without Dad taking such a life changing chance when I was five years old I would have missed the experience of country life that helped shape me into what I am now, an enthusiastic amateur small scale farmer. To him for that I am eternally grateful.

Happy Fathers Day.

Saturday, 14 June 2008

Poppy's last stand

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Here we can see Poppy our heroic Golden Retriever mounting a last stand defence of the dog food bins. Totally outnumbered she battles on against an enemy that seeks to overwhelm her position. Despite there being no chance of reinforcements she bravely battles tries to stop the enemy stealing the food. Agianst such numbers it is a lost cause.

This clip illustrates yesterdays post very well, the marauding gang of Ryelands stealing all the food once again.

Friday, 13 June 2008

Why Ryelands?


One of the many reasons why we chose Ryeland sheep over the other breeds was that they look cute. This overrode all other considerations when choosing what animal would provide us with an abundance of lamb chops for the rest of our lives.
We first saw them at the Three Counties Show, a fantastic event where those that do and those that want to farm get to mingle with farmers and farm animals of all shapes and sizes. When we were in the sheep shed we were drawn to the Ryeland as the lambs looked so appealing. As you can see from the picture Daffodil looks very very tasty, I mean appealing.
Even Mad Keith our hermit felt compelled to leap out of the bushes one day and grab my arm as I was passing to enquire what sort our sheep were. He had never seen any sheep like them, “The lambs look just like Teddy Bears!” he shouted as I prised his fingers from my arm and ran away down the track.

Having sheep that produce bear like offspring is hardly a basis for a flock I know but luckily for us they are the ideal smallholders sheep as they are good natured, easily tamed, small and not prone to illness or complications. Well that’s what the “How To Keep Sheep” book says but as stated in previous episodes most “How to….” books are written by experts whose grip on reality is not as firm as it might be. The book glosses over peculiarities of the Ryeland, in fact it minimises all problems regarding shepherding.

Ryelands are without doubt great sheep, the breed is an old one, thought to date back to Roman times, its hardy, able to forage for food and can thrive on poor pasture. They have a habit of producing one lamb a year which matures slowly and the meat is excellent whilst the wool is one of the finest fleeces known to sheepkind. It was renowned for its wool and it used to be referred to as Lemster Ore, due to the high prices the fleece would fetch at a local market. In a nutshell that’s what the book will tell you about the breed.

What they don’t tell you is that the term flock can be better described by the word Gang, and that they are incredibly greedy sheep who are driven by their desire to eat and whilst they can thrive on poor pasture they do that when there are no other options. For example, as a gang they wait round corners of outbuildings in the early hours of the morning watching for their part time shepherd carrying buckets of feed. They then have two choices, either mug their ever so patient owner, or let the goats get him while they run around the back of the building and rush to food store in the hope that he has forgotten to bolt the door thus leaving sacks of grain and sheep nuts unguarded and ripe for plunder. Should that fail they can always fall back on plan B where they run over to the chickens and lick up their corn scattered in all directions by the shepherd as he tries to beat off the goats.

By ignoring the goat human melee they add to their calorific consumption but once the majority of the grain has been hoovered up, or once they get bored of having geese angrily hanging onto their ears the flock moves stealthily over to the dog food bin. Here they find Poppy valiantly defending said bin. A semi circle of menacing wool forms around the hapless Golden Retriever and very slowly with menace aforethought they close in. Knowing full well her limitations the dog bows out gracefully and rushes over to mount a rear guard action defending her owner from the goats. If the sheep are lucky they get a few mouthfuls of dog munchies before they are driven off by a quick reaction force of owner and the braver members of the magnificent seven. If luck is not on their side they find the top of the bin is locked down and they have to turn elsewhere for sustenance.

Despite the fact the one of the goats is armed one or two Ryeland’s push their luck trying to get a mouthful out of the buckets containing the goats breakfasts. Wincing from the pain of fresh puncture wounds the Ryeland’s regroup for one final assault as they catch sight of the hay being carried to replenish the empty hay holder in the stables. The taller ones have a genetic advantage here but pressure of numbers may cause a wad of hay to be dropped and they will then carry the tightly packed bundle of dried grass away in triumph and devour it enmasse like a pack of hyenas around carrion.

This doesn’t happen every morning, just most mornings.

Having exhausted all avenues of supplementing their breakfasts they amble off down the lane and plan their next raids or they find somewhere comfortable to sleep off their huge meal. Here they also have a choice of where to rest their bloated stomachs. Current favourites include the doorstep, the concrete step outside the stable, a dog bed put out for the goat, and yesterday one even managed to get onto the swinging chair and fall asleep on the soft cushions.
I shall have my revenge, this weekend we shear them.

Thursday, 12 June 2008

More Pocket Rocket Mayhem

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Anyway all was calm in the garden tonight so the magnificent seven were lounging around and I was doing important stuff like standing around and looking at stuff. This was not, and I must make this quite clear an attempt to stay out of the way of Tracey and Bethan. I had not, and I stress this point, I had not overheard a conversation that involved the words "sping clean." Nor had I seen a bottle of window cleaner and cloths placed on the windowsill for my use. My activities in the garden were not linked to any avoidance of housework.

No.

Partly I was making sure the dogs didnt get up to any mischief in the garden, listening to the birds and planning a menu for the weekend when we have friends over for dinner, but mostly I was pottering around and therefore unable to clean the windows of the conservatory, my household task for the evening.

The Berner's we sitting on guard as only Berner's can, ready to run and hide at the first sign of danger. Pip was gnawing on her dog chew (sheep skull), Faith was bothering the chicks in the A frame, Poppy was diligently guarding the feed bin making sure no marauding goat took liberties, the fact the bin was empty had no bearing on the matter, Preston and Passion were beagling about in the brambles at the top of the garden. All was well in the canine world.

Until Trevor made his presence felt.

He is a true Shitland.

But we adore him.

Wednesday, 11 June 2008

You can take a horse to water

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Its been a busy night at Rock HQ, the battle with the Bracken is brutal and ruthless, no quarter asked or given. I have cut back one and a half acres of the dreadful plant, in most places it was over a foot high and it really didn't look like I had been over it at the weekend. I consoled myself by looking across the hill and over our fence, its over four and five feet high there. I got covered in green mush, this happens so often now I have taken to wearing a full army camo outfit, armed with a strimmer now instead of an SA80 to protect myself.

Anyway, the jobs done, for another four days. So I got back to the cottage and started to feed the animals, all is well at Rock HQ, the animals are all well behaved and I even got inside before the rain started, which has saved a job, watering the garden. Somethings not right, I get the feeling they are plotting something. Evenings where it all goes as planned are few and far between. Maybe they know this week there is a Friday the 13th.

Above is a clip of Trevor the Shitland demonstrating how much he likes his very expensive rubber mat bed.

Trevor is now on Facebook, Trevor Shetland, look him up and he might let you be his friend.

Tuesday, 10 June 2008

Happy as pigs in ...

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These are our four Berkshire Piglets, exploring the pig pen. When we moved here the area that is now the pig pen was trees and brambles, now its a couple of trees for shade and some sturdy fencing. Because Rock HQ is on a slope, OK steep hill, things are at different levels and flat ground is at a premium. They are a few feet below the garden and have dug deeper, the previous pigs kept undermining the original fence and making a break for freedom. Our son phoned one evening last year asking if the pigs were supposed to be in the lane heading for town. Another time I was sitting in the garden enjoying the sunshine when I realised I was being watched by two escapee pigs who had dug another tunnel and were making the most of the pond facilities. Quite how the fish survived having 250 kgs of pig swimming with them is beyond me.

We are often asked if it is cost effective keeping your own pigs. Simple answer is no. The pigs cost £35 each to buy, probably £130 each to feed, then £25 to £45 to have them killed, depending on the weight and how you want them butchered, not including any tagging costs, transport costs, medicines should the pig get ill, it all adds up to a tidy sum.

I heard a farmer on the radio yesterday saying he lost £23 per pig he sold to supermarkets. Things have to change, the days of cheap food are passing by.

Aside from the cost there is the labour, obviously ours is given free to Rock HQ, but it takes time to train the pigs to run into the back of the van and sit quietly while I drive them to the abattoir. The rewards though are huge, having pigs on the smallholding for me makes it complete, there is something about them. One of these we are going to keep as a breeding sow, so hopefully, Tiny, as she is named will become tame, enjoy our company and be a docile gentle pig. Otherwise she will join the others on the bar b que.

Which is now cooking my supper.

Life's great isn't it!

Monday, 9 June 2008

Some fantastic Tits!

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I was given some feedback on the website today, which is always nice, saying that it was hilarious and heartwarming. Thanks very much, and here are two snippets of life at Rock HQ that may illustrate both points.

Last night we finally got the birds off to bed around Eleven, they try to stay out as late as possible and have to be coaxed carefully into the bird houses or they scatter, and the last thing you want to do last thing is chase the wild geese. Anyway, job done I wandered back to the cottage feeling very happy with the day. Rocky as ever was half a step behind me as I went through the gate and into the conservatory. The front door was wide open, and as I went through the nightly ritual of trying to work out which of the three light switches turns the anti fox lights on it occurred to me that the house wasn't as I had left it ten minutes earlier. House secure I went to go upstairs, Reba one of the Berners was sat looking towards the kitchen and was giving the canine equivalent of "in there!" with a nod of her head. Half way up the stairs I remembered the front door and reluctantly turned back to investigate.

The dining room and kitchen were in darkness, piles of washing loomed from the dining table, apart from that all seemed well. This was pointless I told myself but I turned the kitchen light on just in case.

Frozen in the sudden brightness of the spotlights there were two shady characters who gave up quietly, caught bang to rights Geisha the goat and Katy the lamb had launched a sneak attack on the cottage and were supplementing their diet by tucking into the go cat crunchies. It was they that had pushed the door open and crept in, and as I led them out like naughty children they both glowered at Reba, they would have got away with it if it hadn't been for that pesky Bernese Mountain Dog grassing them up.

Tonight we have had another fantastic evening in the garden, lots more done, its amazing how it can be changed from weeds and wilderness into garden when you can devote time to it and the animals don't undo all your hard work. As usual I was serenaded by the Peep Peep Peep of what I thought was a Chaffinch but it turns out its the Redstart. I carried on my digging, a new birdsong caught my attention, looking up I saw the Blue Tit chicks in the nesting box. It is one of my favourite jokes, look at the Tits in the garden, and variations, Great Tits, and so on, my family never tire of them. The box is around thirty five years old, made by Albert, Tracey's grandad. He died a number of years ago but every year this box successfully houses several broods of Blue Tits, a nice legacy. The current inhabitants look set to quit the box pretty soon.

Anyway, the title of this piece should attract several thousand hits from search engines, while that happens I shall go and eat my steak that's just about cooked on the bar b que. We are set for a fantastic sunset and we intend to watch it with some good food and nice glass of pop.

Cheers!