Tuesday, 30 September 2008

No entry!

Physically I am in a lot of pain, emotionally I am drained.

Quite a day, it began at 5.30 getting ready to take Ben to RAF Brize Norton to catch his plane to Cyprus. I excelled myself by forgetting my proof of identity so was not allowed past the gate which meant that instead of being able to wave him off from the departure lounge after a coffee I had to unceremoniously dump him and his baggage in the car park leaving him to struggle to the transport the other side of the gate.

As I watched him go it suddenly dawned on me that this might be the last time I ever saw him, he is after all intent on being in harms way and by the latest will be deployed in a warzone by next spring. If the rumours prove true instead of returning to the Rock for Christmas he could be sent out early. So as he staggered across the tarmac to the waiting RAF guards I must admit to being quite emotional about it all.

I then had one of those conversations that defines military intelligence. I was parked in a one way system, unable to figure out how to join the Queens highway I walked over to the guard who was currently being obtuse to Ben and asked the way out.

"You have to go through here sir" he said helpfully and far too cheerfully for my liking.

"What through the gate?" I asked

"Yes sir, through the gate and around the roundabout and back out through here sir" he pointed to the barrier behind him while we both watched Ben struggle manfully onwards.

"Through the gate and into the camp that I am not allowed onto as I have no ID."

"Yes sir, stupid isnt it."he grinned.

So I drove through the barrier, past Ben struggling with his bags, around the roundabout where he was to catch the transport and back again, as I passed him the second time he smiled and I shouted goodbye, the guards returned to menacing delivery drivers and I began the long drive to work.

Work was its usual challenge and my colleagues sensing I was emotionally vulnerable very helpfully told me to grow a set and tormented me with chips while I stuck steadfastly to my healthy eating regime.

Beth, who is in Canada then contacted me, she might be coming home early suffering from acute homesickness, hardly a surprise when you consider how fantastic it is living here, she is even missing the dogs, I didn't tell her that there are a few more than when she left.

Physically in pain, well just a bit. Today was the day I decided to go for a run, for the first time since my accident some proper physical exercise and the first time on a run for around four years. I did surprisingly well, managing a mile at a steady pace with my long time running partner Simon, who is now exacting revenge for all the times I tormented him when I was superfit, before blowing my lungs out of my backside after a particularly taxing stretch of hill. Luckily we were running cross country and the general public were spared exposure to a fat bloke puffing and waddling along with his friend laughing, I mean encouraging him to keep going.

Back at the ranch I managed to stop myself from crying from the pain long enough to have a coffee and pretend all was well. Next Tuesday we are going again and I hope to be able to make it all the way around Worzel Wood before dieing.

Now, I need my bed, which I would go to if only I could manage the stairs.

Monday, 29 September 2008

Return of the Famous Five

Bernese Mountain Dogs are adorable, you can never have enough, we now have five!
Our friends across the valley have gone to Cyprus for a couple of weeks and so the tally of animals at Rock HQ has increased by three canines as their owners take a well earned break in the sunshine.
Ben, our son travels out to his barracks there tomorrow where he assumes command of an infantry platoon, his lifelong ambition to be be an officer achieved.
Meanwhile life at the Rock continues with its strange mix of companions and lodging Berners.
Steve the electrician tried his best to get some more work done on the weird and wonderful electrical system of our home. The work needs doing as at present its dark by half seven and trying to get all jobs done by nightfall really is a race against time so having reliable outside lights will make our evenings a much more leisurely affair and as we progress to winter when its barely light enough to do the rounds before we go to work it will be just great to turn the lights on and get on with it.
Steve would probably get along much quicker if he wasn't hampered in his pursuit of electrical perfection at every turn by our antiquated wiring and our inquisitive goats. In the time it took me to hand him a much needed coffee he had to turf the goats out of the tack room twice, disentangle one from the wiring loom waiting to be permanently fixed to the wall and retrieve a very complicated techno gizmo box of tricks that looked hideously expensive from a very curious anglo nubian.
Its hard to explain the effect having the Famous Five in the house, two Bernese Mountain Dogs lying on the floor take up a lot of room, or sofa space, so five of them, each weighing between 45 and 55 kilogrammes, well that's a lot of canine willpower. They tend to do what they want, and luckily they are a very placid breed so problems are few and far between.
I'm not sure Earl, pictured above, our tabby who launched himself skyward when he discovered the big dog bearing down on him was not his usual tame Berner but a more boisterous version and who, despite the rain, point blank refused to come down until all mutleys were safely contained indoors would agree that having the extra dogs causes no problems.
Mind you the picture does show how good the sanding is going!

Sunday, 28 September 2008

The final frontier

Many times I have said that since we started smallholding you find yourself doing things you really hadn't expected.
I'm not talking about responding to emergency type things, like the pigs finally finishing work on their escape tunnel today and setting off to explore the delights of the garden, or Katy the lamb hiding in the pantry, or even Faith the Gordon setter playing chase with the last of Devil hens chicks and accidentally supplying the main ingredient to tonight's chicken pate starter, no, I am talking about jobs or situations you just had not dreamed you would encounter but soon become routine. Things like extricating goats trapped by their horns off cliff faces, playing midwife to sheep as they try to push out a large uncooperative lamb (times like that you thank God for the BBC and James Herriot!) or attending to various aspects of animal hygiene.
Today we should have got on with the most boring job in the world, sanding off the varnish from the conservatory. This job we allowed a weekend for, it is progressing slower than middle east peace talks and at this point in time is about as successful. The situation has not been helped by the cheap orbital sander threatening to burst into flames every time we use it longer than ten minutes. Perhaps the dogs should have chewed it after all.
Now instead of completing this mammoth task I found a whole host of other jobs suddenly became extremely important. So important that the sanding would have to wait. Tracey watched patiently while I trimmed the sheep's hooves, a couple had early signs of foot rot, caused by the wet summer. As I trimmed she sprayed them with the purple spray that stops infection. The sheep chose not to play the game at this point and pretty soon Tracey and I were alarming shades of purple, the patches on our skin resembling bad bruises or large birthmarks.
That unexpected chore over with I think that Tracey began to suspect I was stalling from the real job of the day when I decided that today was the day, the day I crossed the final frontier of horse ownership, well male horse ownership anyway. Today was the day I got a bucket of warm water and much to all concerned surprise, especially Apollo, I did the deed.
I washed Apollo's John Thomas.
Getting up close and personal with your horses widgey is not for the feint hearted, there are no half measures, no prizes for second best, its a job that demands total commitment and two hands. Having no sense of smell would be a bonus too, I excel in that department having lost most of my sense of smell in the Alps when the inside of my nose froze, its never been the same since. Despite that advantage the smell is hard to avoid, especially as its quite likely your nose is not as far as you would like it to be from a horses dirty penis, lets face it you are only ever going to be arms length at most as you sponge and soap it clean.
I am now one of the elite few, call me the horse whisperer, should anyone shout "Is there a horse hygienist in the house!", whatever, I know that from this day forth I am one of the few people who can, when needed, or called upon, its not after all a hobby or pastime, coax a horses bits out from its protective sheath and give it a really good scrub without losing my breakfast.
The final frontier, I crossed it.
Did it get me out of sanding the conservsatory?
Was it worth it?
If I dont have nightmares then yes.

Happy munching!

This is Gerty spoilt for choice amongst the apples. I don't think I will ever tire of watching the pigs happily munching. I have to admit to playing name that joint while watching, hock, trotter, bath chap, leg, my mouths watering already!

Tiny portrait

This is Tiny, one of our Berkshire pigs, looks like she is lost in her thoughts.
Posted by Picasa

Saturday, 27 September 2008

Cats, why bother?

Please don't be deceived by the innocent good looks of Nemo resting in the glorious sunshine at Rock HQ. It has been a wonderful sunny day and all our animals have taken advantage of the unseasonal good weather.
Some have taken advantage more than most.
While Tracey and I got on with what has to be the most tedious job on our list, sanding down the wood on the conservatory as the nice man who sold us the house had varnished it, this has peeled and trapped water inside so it has potential to rot unless sorted, the cats took full advantage of the lack of security in the kitchen.
Luckily for us the beagles have left the one power tool needed to complete the job, the orbital sander, alone. Unlike most of our tools it still had its power lead intact and unchewed. So several hours of tedious sanding began. For the cats several hours of worktop surfing began.
The butter was first to cop it, I had left it on the shelf instead of putting it away, it was found with curious patterns carved by the felines. They then decided that the liver defrosting was theirs not ours so helped themselves.
When their crime was discovered they bolted through the cat flap, hid and waited knowing that an alternative dinner would now have to be found by their vexed owners. Two further raids resulted in some pork chops and a few slices of belly pork taken out to make some pate disappearing through cat sized the hole in the back door. They even set about the leg of pork taken out for sunday dinner, this proved too tricky to manouvre off the worktop so they mauled it until discovered by yours truely who needed a coffee break.
War was declared and after a quick chase around the house, some pointless posturing and protestations from their owner they managed to avoid him and his broom and retreated to the relative safety of the garden, whilst the human occupants of Rock HQ came to terms with the fact that dinner was not going to be organic home raised pork but an oven ready pizza kept for emergencies.
Some time later a truce was declared and Nemo felt safe enough to sit still as I took his picture.
He knew he was safe as I no longer had the broom in my hand.

No idea!

Quite what Bonny, the lamb, is up to in these two pictures is any ones guess. She lay like this for five or so minutes before getting up to run around with the rest of the Rye;ands.

Morning dew

This is Apollo and William enjoying breakfast.
Apollo will soon be as big as his stablemate.

Friday, 26 September 2008

False alarm!

Four weeks after catching Rocky and Reba up to shenanigans in the bracken we took her to the vet to be scanned.
She has shown signs of pregnancy, morning sickness, tendency to only want to eat premium cuts of meat as opposed to her usual dog food, loads more sleep than usual and a sudden urge for anchovy and strawberry jam sandwiches.
So Andy our ace vet had a bit of a rummage and then to be extra certain he shaved her tum and had a quick scan.
No puppies.
Shame, we were looking forward to being parents!

Thursday, 25 September 2008

Horsing around!

After a really busy day the last thing you need is a Gypsy Cob foal launching a rescue bid on Goatananmo.
Having scaled the near vertical approach he refused to come down.
Eventually he was coaxed by a bucket of apples borrowed from the pigs.
Horses, worse than kids.
Well almost!

Wednesday, 24 September 2008

A narrow escape

I am beginning to question the logic of walking across the hill with a rucksack of apples on my back for the pigs.
Its saving about three pounds a day, obviously the pigs enjoy them and I am getting fitter carrying them. Those are the positives.
There is a down side.
So far I have been accosted by The Oracle who thought I was a thieving hippy, terrorised by a naked hermit running through the bracken, hit on the head countless times a la Issacc Newton in my quest to get the fruit to obey the laws of gravity therefore allowing me to retrieve them from the ground rather than risking life and limb climbing the tree, risked the wrath of the witch from the ghost house (she is an ex witch but the curse remains, don't look back) and exposed myself to injury as the sturdy hazel branch I launch enthusiastically skywards to knock the apples down follows a trajectory that inevitably sends me scurrying for safety (into the path of falling apples) to avoid a head injury.
I am used to getting strange looks from walkers on the hill, usually as I am accompanied by a goat and have a machete in my hand, but wearing a crash helmet as a precaution against falling fruit and logs is perhaps one step too far.
So today I resolved to retrieve the precious fruits from a cottage on the hill which is unoccupied, one of the three holiday homes. This was an easy mission even for an accident prone person like myself. The tree was just inside the garden and no on lives there, its on the dark side of the hill out of view, I can pick the apples at my leisure. Even with a goat and four of the magnificent seven racing around this was going to be easy.
I started to fill my bag but was feeling distinctly uneasy. More uneasy than I did in the garden of the ghost house where you know you are being watched from the windows, don't look back.
I was sure there was someone here in the garden with me. It was then I saw the gardener,my old army skills hadn't deserted me, I saw my foe before he saw me. Admittedly I was assisted by the fact he was using a petrol strimmer which sort of gave his position away and I was able to make a tactical withdrawal without being detected.
Once back on the hill path I regrouped and started back down the hill with my entourage, four dogs and a goat.
Except she was missing.
From the sudden silence of the strimmer and the explosion of oaths Maggie had decided to stay behind and help the gardener. I considered for a moment going back to help, she was after all one of ours, we shouldn't leave her behind, I should show compassion and mercy, it was an unfair fight.
I made good my escape, the gardener would have to fend for himself.

Sleeping beauty

Apollo was fast asleep last night when I checked the stables.
Bless him!

Tuesday, 23 September 2008

Copy cat criminal

This is what I found first thing this morning, a real life horse thief, William our welsh cob taking a leaf out of the goats already blotted copy book and robbing the haystack.
He compounded his crime by having escaped from the safe confines of his field overnight leaving poor Trevor to wander about all alone. The goats are currently in the Goatanamo maximum security annex next to the kennels as Maggie has found a way into the garden, the vegetable garden that is, its taken her five months but shes succeeded. He arrival in the veg patch put an end to our beans, severely hampered some of the cabbages and terminated the sweet peas. They will stay incarcerated until a new fence is erected along the lane.
Williams training is coming on leaps and bounds, we have had him just over a year and he has filled out nicely, still not fully grown but strong enough to begin backing him. Tonight after work, and after I conducted another successful apple raid I walked alongside him while my ever so patient wife Tracey sat on him and rode him down the lane to our turning circle and back again. He was as good as gold and performed admirably. By the look in his eye I suspect he is saving himself for when I sit on him and at that point he will no doubt Chuck a mental, throw me off and stamp all over me.
The perils of horsemanship are nothing to the perils of the workshop landing, bring it on William, bring it on.

Monday, 22 September 2008

Equinox blues

It doesn't seem right but only a few weeks after noticing the leaves are turning to autumn shades we are now at a point in the year where day and night are equal length and from tomorrow we rush headlong to winter. Longer nights than days mean either we stumble around outside in the dark or we stay inside and do jobs indoors waiting for springtime. There is a lot to do, currently I am reading up how to make bacon and butcher pigs.

Its a strange time at The Rock, Ben is about to go to Cyprus where his regiment is stationed for two years. Hopefully he will be home before Christmas and not in Afghanistan. Bethan is about to go to Canada, only for a fortnight but its still a big step for her, mind you she has had experience of solo foreign travel, she lost her passport and instead of flying out to Antigua with her brother to meet Tracey and I she spent two worrying days in the passport office at Newport before getting the vital document that allowed her to join us in the Caribbean.

On top of those anxieties its a year since I fell off the gallery landing in the workshop. We were talking about it last night, how I spent 8 and a half hours on the operating table as they tried to sort the mush out that was my left arm. Thankfully the surgeon was a very skilled one and a year on its returning to some sort of normality. One more operation should remove the last of the metal and pins and then I should be able to start Physiotherapy.

So today I have been ultra careful, no walking under ladders, no crossing the paths of black cats and no driving Rene with the volume on the cd player at 13.

I took a walk before dinner with Apollo who as you can see is keen on making friends with the two horses on the hill. We collected a rucksac of apples without being shouted at or being accosted by naked hermits. I managed to get home despite a sense of forboding without hurting myself. It was almost dark by the time we got home, you could smell autumn in the air, roll on the spring.

Sunday, 21 September 2008

Apple Wars!

I got shouted at today for taking apples for the pigs.

Tracey and I had parked Rene up on the hill and were busy helping ourselves to the apples. Not a soul was around, apart from a group of about twenty hikers all kitted out like they were attempting the north face of the Eiger rather than the west side of our hill. We caught them cooing over our Ryeland lambs and swearing to be vegetarian as the little lambs are so bonny. I reassured them they are as tasty as they are cute but they could not countenance the idea of eating such an adorable creature. Funny that, I expect their good intentions will be forgotten once they get back to the real world and wander along the supermarket aisles. Most don't recognise whats in the polystyrene tray covered with cling film as the cute woolly beast seen on their walks.

Anyway back to the apples.

There we were minding our own business scooping up bright green crab apples for the piggies when all of a sudden "Oi! Who said you could have them?" The Oracle was at the bottom of the hill.

"Are these yours?" I shouted back.

"Well yes!" he shouted up at us as he tried to close the distance between us. Given that we were half way up a steep hill covered in bracken and he has had a triple heart bypass and pacemaker fitted this was looking good. As he huffed and puffed through the foliage telling me to wait there I checked my mobile phone to make sure I could contact the air ambulance. He got halfway and lent with his hands on his knees gasping for breath. "Who is it?" he spluttered.

"Tony" I shouted back. Suddenly it was alright, I was allowed the apples, he thought we were hippies, the ones that took all the holly in 76, well tried to he stopped them at the gate and told them they could have one bag, no more, or that old woman who asked to take some nuts a few years ago and took them all, left him with none! So The Oracle claims the tree, but allowed us to take the apples, he even said he would give us the apples from his garden once he found we wanted them for the pigs.

They might not be very forgiving in these parts but if they like you they are certainly generous.

Eyesight's not too good though!
Posted by Picasa

Sunday lunch at the Rock

Another glorious day so we didn't feel inclined to be indoors and grabbed a quick lunch as we were enjoying the sunshine in the garden. A few twigs, an old frying pan and within a few minutes we had a tasty treat.

To benefit fully from this clip you need to activate the smellyvision setting on your PC, go to toolbox, Internet options, menu, enable smellyvision and you will be able to savour the aroma of garlic, onions, steak and belly pork.

Good or what?


They have a motto, like the special forces, goats are tenacious in their attitude, a formidable foe, once they have a mission they don't give up until its completed, much like the Foreign Legion they never ever give up.

Here is Geisha making a broad daylight attack on the haystack living up to their motto "Anglo Nubian's Don't Quit!"

Saturday, 20 September 2008

A quiet day in the garden

Its been a busy 24 hours st Rock HQ and as usual the animals are up to their antics providing much amusement to their human owners.
Now most people don't get miniature horses having a snooze on their lawn, neither do they have dogs roaming round that are bigger than the horse.
But then again I get so used to seeing strange things everyday you get used to it. But today I saw something so strange, so extraordinary and baffling I still can't quite believe it happened.
Its been a glorious day, the sun shone, the birds sang and I took Rene off road for the first time to collect the apples for the pigs, who deserved a massive apple feed. With the help of a 20 foot stick and a quilt cover I managed to gather together more apples than I could physically lift. Somehow I wrestled them into the car and turned for home.
It was then I saw it.
But it happened.
As I did a three point turn up in the bracken I saw a figure.
It was Mad Keith, the techno hermit.
He smiled and waved.
I drove off, gripping the steering wheel in panic.
Mad Keith was naked.
I didn't stop to find out why.

Thursday, 18 September 2008

Autumn Bonanza

Its not just the pigs that enjoy the apples, most of our animals want to join the feast!

Wednesday, 17 September 2008

At the end of the day

The view from our hill on the way back from checking the sheep. I have Apollo on a lead rope, four of the magnificent seven running around me, I am laden with 8o pounds of free apples for the pigs and all is well with my world.

Will she ever learn?

If you read last nights episode you might be thinking that this is a strange form of revenge exacted on Maggie the Ninja goat by Steve the electrician.
In actual fact this is self inflicted and the result of the greedy goat trying to steal oats from the food store.
As I was feeding Apollo I heard some crashing about and this is what I found.
When will she ever learn?

Tuesday, 16 September 2008

Escape from Goatanamo!

It had to happen.

The two goats, Maggie and Geisha have outwitted their human jailer and have escaped from the maximum security compound Goatanamo.

After a week of putting up with the noise of a crying baby, goats can cry like bad tempered babies, it suddenly went very quiet. Either the goats had accepted their fate and were now trying a new tactic of compliance in order to earn early parole, or, more likely, they had escaped and so no longer had the need to continue their noisy protest. Sadly I found it was the latter and whilst Maggie made good her escape, following Bruce Dickinson's advice and running to the hills, Geisha sought revenge by crapping on the windowsills and chewing through the television aeriel cable.


Maggie turned up first thing and straight away demonstrated her contempt for fences by getting into the garden and vandalised the Bramely apple tree, all the while looking over her shoulder to make sure she could be seen. They then both attacked the hay stack which is once again wounded and hasty repairs with more tarpaulin and plywood sheets managed to stop the hay hemorrhaging into the lane. This will only be a temporary dressing as the goats will no doubt redouble their efforts while we are at work tomorrow and I fully expect to find a mortally wounded haystack which no amount of first aid will rectify.

I do have a cunning plan though.

One Baldric would be proud of. Instead of rounding them up and returning them to Goatanamo I am going to leave them out, for they have a new plaything, a new distraction which just might save the haystack.

Steve the electrician is on site during the day, fixing the wiring, finding new deathtraps such as the exposed live wire at the top of the stairs in the workshop, which had I touched it would have launched me on a similar trajectory as the one I followed this time last year. Hard to believe its nearly a year since I threw myself of the gallery nearly ending our dream of self sufficiency.

With Steve on site they have someone new to goad. They were causing mayhem yesterday when I returned, the end of the workshop was hastily fortified with a makeshift barricade of furniture, work benches and step ladders. A beleaguered electrician was in the process of constructing a white flag having fought bravely all day he finally succumbed to the onslaught and sheltered in the darkest corner of the workshop while the goats ransacked the place and made off with a sack of crunchy cat rings.

Today they were circling like sharks while he defended his honour with a mixture of powertools, well aimed wellingtons and an assortment of swearwords. Unfortunately his defences were yet again over run when I distracted him with a well earned cuppa. He is starting to realise to defeat the Ninja goats he will need more than a pocket full of crystals.

You might ask why, given the problems they are causing him, why don't I rescue him?

Why don't I put the goats back in jail?

Well, the answer is harsh but simple.

Electricians are expendable.

Haystacks are not.
Posted by Picasa

Monday, 15 September 2008

Mucky Pups!

This is Reba our girl Berner sleeping soundly on the sofa, she does this a lot at the moment, she might be pregnant.

This, if true, is not a planned event, we were planning next year to let her and Rocky have a litter and so when she was in season we kept them separate. Not separate enough as they managed to get it together in the bracken three weeks ago. She now shows signs of being pregnant, sleeping more, very affectionate and morning sickness. Its hard to tell if she is without having a scan, Berners do sleep a lot anyway and its hard to find a more affectionate dog so the sickness thing is perhaps the only real clue until we get her scanned.

If only there was another way.

What we need is an electrician!

Many in our valley have talent we can call upon should they be needed, Steve the stable sprite, Steve the rayburn repair man, Steve the hedge trimmer, Steve the post, and Steve the electrician who when we spoke today disclosed his neighbour was also a Steve. The Steve's are multi-talented and can multi-task. Often the case in these parts, people have more than one string to their bows, even the shops tend to sell more than one range of goods, such as a sweet shop that is also a cafe, a fish monger that rents DVD's and so on.

So it came as no surprise today to find that Steve the electrician, currently trying to solve the Gordian knot like wiring circuit in our walls and floors is also a puppy diviner. By deftly waving a crystal over Reba he was able to confirm that she is pregnant and has around six puppies. Now under normal circumstances I may have taken this with a bit of salt, but as Reba sat quietly and let him do the crystal dangling without heading to the hills like she does whenever a stranger appears to me speaks volumes.

So watch this space!

If Carlsburg made puppies they would be Berner pups!
Posted by Picasa

Sunday, 14 September 2008

Agoraphobic sheep and rescued rabbits

There are many mysteries associated with smallholding, like why are buckets never where you leave them, or where slugs come from, having killed over 750 in the last week, some the size of squirrels how do they keep appearing in the onion bed, they are suffering losses of World War one proportions and still they come.

Top of the smallholder mystery list is how did poorly sheep get out of a fully enclosed field and run off leaving Crispy bleating mournfully over loves lost.

This is top, just beating the mystery of Rocky and the rabbit. Rocky the 110 pound Bernese Mountain Dog came galloping down the hillside with a bunny in his mouth. Now he can run, very fast if needed but swerving and changing direction like a rabbit can when chased is not his forte, so somehow he picked up a rabbit which he brought and dropped at my feet, very carefully so he wasn't hunting it. Tracey put it in a spare hutch but we didn't hold out too much hope as it was painfully thin. It died four hours later.

Last night when I checked on the sheep at the Ghost House I fetched some water from the stream, I couldn't work out why it smelt so bad. Luckily the house had a water barrel from the gutter which was full of fresh rain water so the sheep were sorted, but I was puzzled by the stagnant foul smelling muck that had threatened to swamp my boots.

I checked the sheep today, and fetched some more apples and solved the puzzle. On the way back two clues told me why it was so rancid.
I also saw the poorly sheep who ran off when she saw me but was later found when I fed the pigs hiding in the corner of the pen. She point blank refused to leave and is now settled on a bed of hay with some sheep food and water to keep her going. I suppose animals can suffer from agoraphobia, or perhaps shes from Chicken Licken the sequel, shes Sheepy Weepy who thinks the sky is falling in.

Back to the foul pit of water I had been playing in the dark. The two things that solved it for me, bike tyre tracks and footprints. I had often wondered where Mad Keith the technohermit kept his toilet, another mystery solved then.
Posted by Picasa

One uphorseship

Anything Apollo can do Trevor does better.

Here is the pocket rocket taking a break from the garden to check out the dogs bed in the conservatory.
Posted by Picasa

Saturday, 13 September 2008

Walking in sunshine

Today was supposed to be Kington Show (see www.kingtonshow.co.uk ) but unfortunately due to the rain of the summer it was cancelled, the showground more suited to an aquatic show rather than an agricultural show. A real shame, especially as Rocky and Reba our Bernese Mountain Dogs were entered in the dog show, the first time for Reba and the first time they had been entered against other Berners.

So with a "spare" day we were able to get to grips with jobs on the smallholding and as luck would have it after days, no, weeks of rain it was a bright and sunny day.

It has been one of those rare days where it all went so well, it was all so easy and a day that makes all the bad ones fade into distant memory.

The sheep were moved to The Ghost House gardens, the lure of the lush green grass and about a ton of free apples about to yield to gravity thus supplementing the dietary requirements of the rampaging Ryelands overcame any superstition associated with the property. The two Gypsy Cobs in the field watched as the intruders fanned out and explored their new surroundings. Moving the sheep is usually an exercise in patience but today they fell for the follow the bucket routine and walked halfway around the hill to their new pasture.

Tracey walked behind making sure no stragglers bolted for the hills, she has been very poorly the last two weeks so it was good to see her out and about in the sunshine enjoying the role of assistant shepherdess. Having collected two large buckets of apples we fed the pigs and watched them for a while. We put the boys out in brilliant sunshine, they all behaved and William only bit Apollo once and only nearly stamped his brains out in the first five minutes. After that they settled and when we fetched them in this evening Apollo was grazing just behind William so they seem to have bonded.

The poorly sheep, see strangers from a strange land, was turned out today, she has put on weight but still has ribs like a toast rack and a strange lump on her jaw. She is happy enough and was soon grazing alongside our magnificent Ryeland Ram.

The day went so well we got all the jobs done that were on the list, a first.

I went back just now to check the sheep and was pleased to see them all contently lying around chewing the cud, bellies full of apples and grass. I made sure they had water and collected some more apples for the pigs breakfast. It was getting dark. I was in the garden of the Ghost House.

I must admit I didn't look at the windows and as I left I didn't look back as lore dictates. Neither did I start running when I heard something running up behind me. Faith our setter sped past, Poppy on the other hand saw where I was heading and had sat waiting at the lanes entrance not wanting to go into the garden. Once I was sure I was out of sight of the house I turned and looked behind me, a full moon rising over the trees silhouetting the hill beautifully. Right on cue an owl hooted, which really did sound like a howl. The legend of the Black Dog sprang to mind and I headed home, I didn't run, but I did walk very quickly.

Friday, 12 September 2008

Your early morning call

This is Budge our new alarm clock. He is a Jersey Giant, a very lucky one as he is the only one out of 24 eggs to have hatched last year and has recently survived a fox attack.
Posted by Picasa

Poor piggies

How bad do I feel?

Pretty bad.

These are our four big beautiful Berkshire pigs tucking into a apple treat donated by Mr20% and as you can see by their happy smiling faces they are relishing every mouthful. I have to confess to having a pavlovian response when I see the pigs, my mouth starts to water when I look at them as I cannot help but imagine all the delicious crackling and melt in the mouth pork. Slow roasted with apples and cider, served on a bed of mustard mashed potatoes and honeyed carrots with home made gravy it is a perect dish, or perhaps a leg turned into a nice ham simply sliced and eaten in a wedge of the freshest bread, it just cannot be beaten. So while I watch their antics from the rock that dominates the one end of their pen I concoct recipes to try when the day of their departure arrives.

I feel bad as after I took this picture, after I got down in the pen with them and scratched their backs and tickled their ears, after hand feeding them and watching them chase around the tree I returned to the cottage and contacted the abbatior.

October 7th.

The date has been set.
Posted by Picasa

Thursday, 11 September 2008

And then there were three

Our three best boys getting to know each other.

Apollo is allowed to wander around while we clean out his stable as he is well behaved and wants to stick close to the rest of us. The pocket rocket, Trevor wouldn't be seen for dust if he was allowed this type of freedom. William and Trevor are able to spend their time happily trying to bite each other as they are side by side, they like each other really. But William is still not happy that Apollo has landed and has tried to bite chunks out of him so we are being careful to keep them apart at the moment. He has been in a sulk and has misbehaved since the new lad arrived, even pushed me over one morning as I poured his oats out into has bucket. Hopefully William's mood will change as he gets used to the idea that Apollo is here to stay and then maybe he will be as friendly with him as he is with Trevor and try to er... bite him.


Wednesday, 10 September 2008

Stuck in Goatanamo

The Goatanamo detention centre for goats is working, no escapes since the day they were introduced. They seem happy enough and certainly fatter scoffing all the brambles and shrubs on the 45 degree slope. Maggie the anglo nubian boer cross had eaten her way into the centre of a big bramble thicket and after several hours of turning around got herself tangled up and trapped. A bit of gentle coaxing and she almost got free but had to be cut loose by her caring owner who braved the nettles, brambles and preciptious ledge behind the stables on which Goatanamo is situated.

As you can see at the end of the clip the goats are definately more sure footed than I am!

Tuesday, 9 September 2008

When Trevor met Apollo

Trevor has been very calm about Apollo's landing at Rock HQ. In fact the pocket rocket has calmed down an incredible amount since the episode in the garden when he tried to get on the hammock with Tracey.

The little shitland has almost stopped biting people, I say almost as he still bites me, usually when I am not looking.

So as he gave up his stable for Apollo, moved to the dairy round the back, we thought we had better introduce the pair.

For a first meeting it went very well, Apollo did the I am a little foal act, being all submissive and making smacking sounds with his lips to show he was no threat.

Trevor on the other hand returned to form and once he decided that he couldn't eat him spent the next hour trying to mate with him. He hasn't changed that much!

Other news!

Ben has had to stop the Tour de Farce as he got tendonitus and couldnt move his leg, he did do 350 miles in three days in awful weather but had to admit defeat and Sara still holds the record for unplanned distance cycling.

The fox returned last night and helped itself to the cats dinner, the leftovers of a pheasant on the woodpile. Even when it was being shot at it just hid beind a tree and checked to see if I was serious about shooting at it. It eventually ran off once live rounds were fired.

Its time will come!

Monday, 8 September 2008

None shall pass!

Happy to be heading home I jumped out of Rene and ran to the gate. It has to be said I wasn't paying attention, my focus was on opening the gate and avoiding Ben the no eared dog. We have a love hate relationship, he loves to hate me. When he was feeling sorry for himself after his mauling by the staffordshire terriers which left him horrendously injured, hence no ears, he mellowed and let me pat him. Hey I even gave him treats I felt so sorry for him.
Now his wounds healed his temperament has returned to his normal kill maim disfigure setting and so he waits my return when he either lets me through the farm yard unscathed or,if he feels inclined he rushes up to attack me from behind playfully nipping my calf, oh how we laugh.
So in my haste to get the gate open and return to the safety cell of Rene I missed the real danger lurking in the lane. I stood rooted to the spot as the gate swung clear, Rene chugged away happily in the back ground, safety was only feet away but I was trapped.
A lone figure stood in the lane facing me, a wheelbarrow at his side meant there was no chance of rushing him with the Renault 4x4. He straightened up, his eyes narrowed as he sized me up, his hands hanging loosely by his sides, his fingers flexed and relaxed. I looked over my shoulder, it was too far to run to the car I would never make it, I would be cut down as soon as I turned. In desperation I tried to control my breathing, not daring to glance at my watch for I knew that would be certain death. The tall thin figure took a step forward his eyes boring into me, I whispered a silent prayer as I saw him draw breath and say "I can see you're busy but...."
Murphy was back and had me at his mercy in the lane, I was helpless as the Irish monotone drove my braincells to suicide as he told me how he hadn't been to France this year but was going Thursday. What relevance this had to me I will never find out, he went on to tell me about the two horses pictured above asking what type they were and my life passed before my eyes as he went on and on and on. Praying for salvation it arrived in the form of his wife who chastised him for keeping me so long.
If you know anyone in France, warn them!

Sunday, 7 September 2008

I do try, honest I do really try.

Since moving to RocK HQ I have learned of the importance of being organised, and I do try, really I do try.
The smallholder rules we have picked up along the way are a help but probably the most important lesson any smallholder can learn is to be organised. Simple tasks are kept that way by having the right tools for the job, which are always put back in the same place.
Time and time again I found myself walking from one end of the smallholding to the other to fetch a vital watchercallit necessary to complete the task in hand. Had I put the tools away I would have only had half the walk or set out with the right one in the first place. So far I have managed to train myself to always put them in the same shed, a massive step forward, next is to always put them in the same place in the same shed to cut out the fun half hour search that precedes most tasks to date.
Being organised would mean that jobs would get done in the right order, for example a barn emptied before the hay is gathered in, or a stable would be built before a horse is bought, or the trees felled that might damage the house before a stable is built exactly where they would be felled, or a felling licence obtained before the trees are felled and so on. The list is endless and each lesson learned means that we are better equipped to deal with whatever smallholding throws our way.
So today a friend from way back kept his threat to visit and popped over to Rock HQ to see what cards life has dealt us. It was good to catch up, we worked together years ago and were identified as potential high flyers, me carving out my niche in the job market with a particular type of high flying that involves crashing and burning from time to time, he moving on to pastures new without too much trauma. Both of us happy to have left the old firm way behind but still carrying the scars of the experience.
Even better, he was thinking of starting off as a smallholder, if all worked out he would be buying a nice place with a bit of ground. So he had the grand tour, saw the pigs, the garden, the buildings we put up, the ground we cleared, the progress made, he was impressed, particularly as when he knew me I was a gym rat into cars and model soldiers, where did this gardening and farming gig come from, did I fall into it or was it planned he asked.
I gave him the advice, hard earned, be organised, if you want to smallhold its hard work but ultimately worth it. Today I sat down to dinner and all but the salt, pepper, flour and butter were all our own produce, not bad for a three course dinner! He listened avidly, get things done when needed, I pointed to the two trees currently causing problems, much easier if they had been dealt with before the build project, now instead of felling them we have to take them down branch by branch. Planning, organisation is the key. He nodded and thanked me for my words of wisdom, he would bear what I said in mind when he sets up his own place and maybe I could go over and help him out from time to time. Love to. I waved goodbye as he set off down our bumpy track in his shiny 4x4.
I went into the cottage happy that I had perhaps help someone move one step closer to achieving the dream of self sufficiency.
The phone rang.
It was him.
"You're not going to believe this" he said excitedly "I've run out of diesel on your lane!"
Some how I don't think he's got off to the best start.

Saturday, 6 September 2008

Goatanamo Detainees Latest News

The goats have pushed their luck for the last time, well until they figure out how to escape from the maximum security stockade, Goatanamo, constructed on the bank below the small cliff behind the stables.

In a break in the weather I finished putting up the barbed wire and constructed a temporary gate. The terrible twosome watched with interest as I struggled in the mud on a 45 degree slope whilst stretching wire and attaching it to the posts. At one stage they followed me inside and sampled the delights of the brambles and bushes set aside as goat fodder for the next few days. Once they have cleared it they can have hay and goat mix, a small price to pay for the luxury of being able to walk around Rock HQ without getting mugged by the goats.

Maggie sensed a trap and set off down the lane at one point but her curiosity got the better of her and she returned when she saw a bucket just inside the wire. Gleefully I shut the gate and happy they were now incarcerated safely I went back inside for a well earned coffee and a quick read of How to keep Goats to see if anyone produces bright orange jump suits for goats.

Ben had called while I was out and was now in Bristol, another 100 mile day. Just before he got there he had a huge puncture that blew the side out of the tyre so he will need to find another Halfords tomorrow before he can continue his end to end ride.

Refreshed with a shot of caffeine I went back out into the rain to feed the animals, my hope of doing this unmolested was dashed when Geisha came trotting up to me bleating loudly. Now Geisha is not the sharpest tool in the box and if anygoat was going to do a Houdini I would have bet money on Maggie. Somehow Geisha had found a weak spot in the fence and was now intent on sticking to her usual routine of bothering me. Falling for the empty bucket trick she followed me back into jail but almost immediately jumped through a gap once my back was turned. Gap plugged she was returned to Goatanamo where she will be detained with Maggie until its safe to let her out again.
Posted by Picasa

No fear!

Rocky has never been afraid of horses, when he was a puppy we went visiting some friends who have a number of the beasts and Rocky sat down in the middle of the field with them sniffing him all over, he finally moved when one was about to tread on him.

Apollo is teething so he is having a gnaw on the bark of a log, as you can see Rocky is quite happy to let him get really close.

Friday, 5 September 2008

Stop Thief!

Even after the mother of all tellings off for destroying the haystack Geisha still pushes her luck and is helping herself to the dogs biscuits!

She is in for such a surprise tomorrow!
Posted by Picasa

Always look on the bright side of life!

This is a picture of another crime scene at Rock HQ, the goats have savaged the haystack, tearing off a tarpaulin and dragging bales of hay out into the lane. Not content with that they then squeezed under the fence and attacked the apple trees.

They have no idea whats in store for them tomorrow but it will put an end to the goat mayhem, for a while anyway.

Its raining again, for a change, the good thing is that I only had to spend an hour and a half in it repairing the haystack and feeding the menagerie. Ben on the other hand cycled 100 miles from Lands End to Okehampton in atrocious weather on the first stage of his end to end ride. The rains so heavy the workshops flooded again, the worst of the water has stopped coming in thanks to a very daring climb onto the roof where I was able to reach the gutter and empty it. The sound of the shed roof creaking under the strain of my considerable bulk spurred me on to complete the task in record time before I found myself in the magic white bus to see my new friends at the hospital again. Its nearly a year since I had my last fall, and believe me it was my last fall.

Whilst it may be the most miserable weather and the wettest summer on record at least I am here at Rock HQ to experience it, even enjoy it in some weird way, it could after all be worse it could be snowing. So here I am enjoying a glass of cider in the dry and warm surrounded by the Berners. I just hope it stops raining before I have to go out and put the birds away!
Posted by Picasa


Another spectacular sunset at Rock HQ.
Posted by Picasa

Thursday, 4 September 2008

Keep smiling

There are days when despite all the good things in life I just feel like slamming the door of Rock HQ and staying inside.

The day did get off to a good start, the morning rounds were completed with no real problems, save for the fact the pigs have finally worked out how to open the pig pen door and were waiting in the passageway for their breakfasts instead of by their trough. After I fought my way through several hundred pounds of pork they sampled the savoury delights of my boots and trousers and because I am not the most organised smallholder my right boot still has no lace so at one point I was doing a traditional one boot ceilidh, which is similar to Riverdance but quicker, with the ripest pig pooh in the county squishing between my toes. When I finally extracted my boot from the pig toilet I managed to coax the pigs back to their rightful spot and barricaded their door with bales.

Amongst the bales a Black Rock hen was sitting on some eggs, one of which had hatched. It might seem cruel but I took the chick off her, for two reasons, primarily she was perched on a stack of bales in the barn and without doubt the chick would have found the only gap in the hay stack, fallen through and would have made a tasty snack for one of the cats or pigs, more likely it would have got stuck and the prospect of moving a hundred bales to rescue a Kamikaze chick was not a pleasing one, secondly Olivia a chick in the conservatory hatched a week or so ago is lonely.

On return from work I set about the tasks of the evening with enthusiasm but this was soon knocked out of me by Geisha the goat who made it her mission to annoy me, trip me up, jump on me, knock buckets over or jump into buckets I was carrying at every opportunity. She got into the garden while I was watering the plants and despairing at the slug damage. Last night I killed over 150 large slugs, some were the size of small rats and squeaked when terminated. They are devouring everything, tomatoes, potatoes, onions and all things green. When I got her out of the garden she then climbed into Rene in a further bout of attention seeking behaviour, once evicted from there she caused a near riot in the kennels by claiming Faiths bed and Poppy's biscuits. Poppy was blissfully unaware of this theft as she had taken it upon herself to disappear creating another job for her owner and his failing sense of humour which really did fail when on opening a shed door a Muscovy duck that had been hiding did a fantastic vertical take off hitting me in the face..

Despite there being another half hour or so of daylight enough was enough and I sought refuge in Rock HQ.

Still I console myself that my day wasn't as frustrating as Ben's has been. He caught the train to Penzance as the first stage of his End to End cycle ride. Penzance station is 12 or so miles from Lands End and at half two I received a picture of a rain lashed Lands End on my phone, the trip was about to start. Except he couldn't, in cycling to Lands End his chain had broken and he was now waiting to get a bus back to Penzance to get it fixed. Not the best start to an epic adventure.

Still one day we will look back and laugh.
Posted by Picasa

Wednesday, 3 September 2008

Pedal Power

I found this bike dumped in the lane this evening, at first I thought Mad Keith had gone all high tech, then I recognised it as my bike, except cleaner than the last time I saw it.

Ben is on leave for a few weeks before going to the sun and sands of Cyprus where he is based for the next two years. As Rock HQ lacks the attractions of the sunsoaked island to keep himself occupied he has borrowed my bike and after paying for it to be serviced is setting out tomorrow on an epic trip.

Some while ago a friend of ours Sara, who is mental and currently claims to be an Aardvark with a massive sense of humour failure set out one sunny afternoon with a credit card and a spare pair of pants and cycled the length of the UK, Lands End to John O'Groats. She completed the trip of over 800 miles despite getting soaked and punctures in both wheels in the first five miles. Sara is a bit of a cyclenaut, her webpage is linked to this one.

I have always planned to do the same route, obviously quicker, but time passes and commitments grow so it never got the past the planning stage and the bike bought for the job sat quietly waiting to be put to the use it was intended.

With time on his hands and with similar lack of planning as Sara, Ben has decided to do the same trip. Good news is that thanks to him my bike is now as new again and when he returns I hope to be able to use the bike now and then providing my arm lets me.

It will also give me, assuming he completes the trip, two times to beat.

Not that I'm competitive.
Posted by Picasa

Tuesday, 2 September 2008

Silence of the Renault

Back to work today, paid work that is, bit of a shock to the system, ours as well as the animals who have all got used to us being at their beck and call suddenly find they are left to their own devices for 9 hours.
Being at work had one advantage, the Catman was true to his word and so the catalytic converter was delivered to my office 24 hours after talking to him on the phone, www.catman.co.uk if you need an exhaust!
At lunch time a nice man called Steve, I kid you not, fitted it for £21. In total we saved five hundred pounds on the price quoted by the dealer.
Driving off from the garage was a pleasant surprise, we didn't need ear defenders and could converse by talking rather than shouting. Rene is in fact the quietest he has ever been, even the annoying rattle that happened every time we accelerated has gone, obviously the exhaust was on the way out from the day we bought him.
Back at the ranch the animals are fed and watered, all is well and this little beastie was on the side of the compost bin, a common lizard, which was helping itself to leftovers.

Monday, 1 September 2008

Seconds out, Round two!

This is a small part of what was necessary to change a light bulb at Rock HQ.
Steve came back today to solve the mystery of eternal darkness in the dining room. The lights have failed for the last year, sometimes working, most times plunging us into darkness halfway through our meals.
Tracey and I had dismantled Bethan's bedroom clearing it so the floor could come up in our quest to find the junction box pictured. Unfortunately this was not the source of the problem and several hours later Steve found some arcane instructions written in blue ink telling would be treasure hunters how to gain access to the ultimate prize for there under some more floor boards was another switch, a transformer, a fuse splitter thingy and lots of wires, solve the riddle of these and the path to eternal light, subject to paying the bills every month was ours for the taking!
We were up for the challenge, we had the kit, well Steve did, he looked like a Makita advert, in fact I thought he had Makita tattooed on his backside but it turned out it was his jeans label sticking up. I spent a lot of time either looking at or talking to Steve's backside today as he delved into the internal workings of Rock HQ.
All day I fought off the urges of reverse electricians tourettes syndrome, this is when I had the uncontrollable urge to scream in pain every time Steve asked me to turn a switch on or off.
After much moving furniture, lifting and replacing of floor boards Steve still only had three out of four lights illuminated. The pressure was on, his reputation on the line. There was only one place left in the room to look, the last section of floor, we removed the protective hardboard panel, and there in the same blue scroll were more instructions, the final piece of the puzzle. Under the board was another set of switches, transformers and weird electrical stuff all replicating the work of the previous set and all as confused as Steve as to why they were there. A few deft cuts of wire and suddenly we had four lights in the dining room. Steve had triumphed over the electrical puzzle left by the nice man we had bought the house off.
We stood in the dining room staring in wonder at the four bright white lights. I was so overcome with emotion I played with the switch, savouring the on off on off so absent from Rock HQ. Steve slowly packed his gear.
"Well" I cheerfully mused, "at least the nice man who sold us the house didn't put the central heating in" I confidently tapped the shiny brass pipework by the Rayburn "Cos if its the same as the electrics, phew imagine that!"
Steve stopped and looked at me, the look said it all.
"He did didn't he" I said suddenly filled with dread looking at the pipes expecting them to explode.
"I'll get my coat" said Steve and he hurried off.
He didn't want to see a grown man cry

At the risk of being boring!

This is yet another picture of Apollo, he came for a walk with me yesterday to Five Ways Crossing, we had some company, two Bernese Mountain Dogs and an Anglo Nubian goat called Geisha.
Technically I suppose we should have taken a movement order along with us as the goat crossed the border and entered a blue tongue area. The border between England and Wales is the dark green path behind Apollo. The right side of the path is England, the left Wales, luckily for us the blue tongued midge flies up to but not across the border.
Clever these midges!