Tuesday, 30 June 2009
Pigs are very intelligent creatures, for instance they learned not to bite me again after my reaction when they took a test bite. The daily barricade is more than a bit of a nuisance and so I have taken to climbing the fence and going in through the out door, their exit from the sty to the pen. This opening has got considerably smaller since the pigs arrival, and no dear reader its not another case of me gaining pounds and blaming shrinking clothes, the "doorway" is genuinely smaller as they have moved so much of the hill downhill, piling dirt and rocks against the frail structure we laughingly refer to as "the barn" which, as I recall, the estate agent referred to as a "useful space in need of some renovation".
Somehow this useful space has survived my DIY and three previous sets of piglets who have all made their own personal alterations as well as having shifted tons of dirt and piled it up against the sides of the "barn" reducing the opening from a four foot high two foot six wide portal to a minute opening fit for one pig. This is a very handy shack, it stored 100 bales of last years hay and it also served as a temporary stable for William until the Stable Sprite weaved his magic and produced the des rez he now occupies. It needs preserving, TLC even.
I think the piglets may have grand designs of their own on future housing having seen the results of their snout work today. Piling up the dirt has allowed them access to the back of the chicken shack, an equally robust building held together by years and years of paint. The temptation to remove parts of the roof served too much and this allowed access to the old dry stone wall that forms part of the old farm sty. This is currently being dismantled, just because they can. Once through that they will be able to catch a bus, go to the shops and do whatever piggies on the run do. Meanwhile I, being marginally more intelligent than a piglet, am copying the tactics of the medieval siege engineers and piling up stones the other side of the attempted breach. Whether this tactic works and will hold until November when the piggies get a one way ticket to the local abattoir remains to be seen.
Pig Club newsletter is ready for distribution once the gremlin in charge of pasting the pictures to the paper has been tamed. Meanwhile enjoy the video and the prospect of some very tasty pork and bacon.
As long as the defences hold!
Monday, 29 June 2009
Sunday, 28 June 2009
This is Apollo who has an itch that can only be reached by destroying the magnolia tree.
We have been let down by technology this weekend, none of the videos taken have uploaded except this one taken nearly a week ago. The tree has been radically pruned since his attention.
He has been expelled from the garden since its makeover having done a marvelous job in lieu of lawnmower. The downside being that he owes Tracey another vase and some flowers after he wandered into the sitting room and helped himself to her cut roses.
On the subject of roses there have been two disasters today. I carefully strimmed through an ornamental rose bush hidden by some long grass, a feat only beaten by Geisha our Anglo Nubian who had obviously overheard me extolling the virtues of the final remaining rose bush with its mass of fragrant pink blooms and which now resembles a collection of autumn twigs as the green and flowery bits proved to be a fine goat snack.
Saturday, 27 June 2009
Now cosmetic gardening is way down the list, much like housework, its only done when absolutely necessary, but when we surveyed the torn up newspapers, broken garden furniture, old tins, chewed flower pots, broken toys and glass alongside our vandalised plants and shrubs it was obvious the puppies and goats had been recreating battles of Genghis Khan and laying waste to our natural habitat's.
Several hours of pruning, lifting, shifting, litter picking and putting stuff away transformed the garden from a derelict bomb site to a garden of Eden. Well almost, only so much can be achieved in a morning.
The rest of the day has been spent entertaining, Jill came down with Stuart for lunch. Almost as soon as that was over Ben arrived back for the mother of all barbqs that included on the menu such savories as wild boar chops (donated by the goat purchasers, our friends the microholders) chicken drumsticks and a selection of home grown kebabs. All washed down with a moderate amount of alcohol. Its been a great day in the sunshine at Rock HQ, and now as the sun sets and I survey the garden I do wonder how its managed to transform back from a garden of Eden to a rock festival site again!
A smallholders work is never done!
Friday, 26 June 2009
Thursday, 25 June 2009
Trevor the pocket rocket, the horse tyrant of Rock HQ is going through some changes. Over winter he was a fluffy dark brown ball of temper. Spring saw him change to a shiny white miniature testosterone fuelled charger with black stockings, mane and tail. Summer is here and he is a stunning blue roan hue (a few white bits need to be shed still) with a full packet.
Yes our young horse has definitely acquired the where with all to further his genes and they dangle in an unfeasibly large purse. Given his over amorous nature before the arrival of the family jewels the discovery that our little pony is not so little now represents a health hazard to all concerned. So to prevent ruptures as he gets fresh with wheelbarrows, bales of hay and dozing Bernese Mountain Dogs he is going to be gelded. I don't envy the vet selected to enter the arena and do battle with him but once its done it should calm him down. Just a bit. Hopefully.
Wednesday, 24 June 2009
Enthusiasm is prerequisite for the smallholder. You need stacks of it, an unlimited supply of the stuff to force you out of bed some mornings to brave the elements and tend your animals. Luckily in the sunshine the enthusiasm capacitors are recharged very quickly which is why I have decided that milking the goat is a good idea. Good idea, no, great idea, why pretty soon I will be making goats cheese, feeding the surplus to the pigs and perhaps even bathing in the stuff as an ex colleague who saw a picture of me on the website sent a very encouraging e mail the other day. You are looking old. Just that. Cheers!
Anyway with enthusiasm bordering on the delusional I decided the Old English Goat, Juliet had sponged off Rock HQ enough, she might have provided us with two nanny kids to sell, she might be a very efficient weed clearing machine but her primary role was, when given a berth here, to provide us with milk. As was her sister June, who opted out of the milk project by exploding. Yes goats explode, look back over the pages to find how and when.
The how to milk goats book is a great help, and had I followed it I would have forked out a fortune on stainless steel apparatus to collect, sieve and cool the precious liquid in.(Hundreds of pounds) I would also have constructed a milking bench to save my back and not allowed what was supposed to be a goat dairy at the back of the stables to become another home for another horse.
What the smallholder really needs if they want milk from their goat is the patience of Jobe, the flexibility of a Russian Gymnast, the speed and reflexes of a panther and a fridge that has a lot of milk in it already because in the unlikely event of you being able to squeeze a few drops out out the writhing udder it is more than likely to be rendered undrinkable by the goats hoof, or hair, snot, bogies and numerous other foreign bodied that float happily in the jug.
First job is to lull the goat into a false sense of security that nothing bad is going to happen with a bucket of goats favourite munchies. (cost 50p) Dangerous pointy ends of goat are now facing away from you you approach udder in prescribed manner as per book. Remove goats right left leg from jug and shake out bits. Approach udder again. Remove both legs from jug. Stand up and straighten out back muscles. Empty jug. Hold goat against fence with your left leg, secure goats right leg in your right pocket, reach around smelly dangerous end carefully, approach udder and take hold of teat. Yelp in pain as sharp pointy end makes its self known, consider repairs for trousers (£14.99) Consider shooting goat ( 47p) Stand up, straighten back muscles.
Finally, grip teat firmly and resisting temptation to yank down hard to teach devil goat a lesson squeeze gently, first five squeeze are waste, do not attempt to catch them as they are full of nasty bacteria. Squeezes six to ten are range finding squeezes, ensuring milk hits jug held strategically out of range of goats hoof and bottom. Squeezes ten to empty are yours. Once one side of the udder is empty stand up, cry in pain because of need for osteopath (£35 a session) bend and attempt to milk other side.
Repeat above game of Goat Twister until one or both of you gets bored. Goat wins game if it can eat food without providing enough milk for a cup of coffee. You win if you gamble, risking the enough gathered for a cup of coffee and risk losing it all to get enough for your morning cornflakes.
I have run the gauntlet twice in 24 hours and so far collected a whole wine glass full of milk. The how to make cheese book is flawed, its measurements are in litres, wheres the millilitre conversion table when you need one.
Cost effective? Not really.
More fun than going to the shops?
Definitely. As long as the sun shines.
Tuesday, 23 June 2009
Monday, 22 June 2009
Anyway, as we know, in the grand plan the needs of the humans at Rock HQ pale into insignificance compered to the beasts. So running out of pig food, dog food, chicken feed and goat mix at the same time was bordering on a mortal sin.
The ravenous beasts managed to curtail their carnivorous tendencies this morning when I turned out with nothing but water for them. The pigs in particular are wary since their infringement of my personal space, a brief conflict that resulted in me being deficit a chunk from my left calf and introduced the culprit to a Magnum size 10 army boot. Mutually assured destruction has led to a new understanding whereby they gang up one side of the sty door and threaten to rush yours truly if I am too slow at putting their feed out.
The plan, call in and get an emergency supply of feed, enough to tide us over until Rene could be put to service to carry a months supply back.
What actually happened would have had the design engineers of Ford running for their slide rules, calculators and computers to see whether the stresses put on the back axle of Fifi (Fifi is the Focus, don't blame me I only live here) would induce a catastrophic breakdown.
They have broken bags from time to time at Countrywide, these are sold on at half price, usually you are missing a few grammes but in essence you, or rather your beasts get a cheap feed. When I saw that they had broken bags of all but one foodstuff I intended to buy I was unable to resist a bargain. So instead of getting one bag of sugar beet nuts, a bag of corn, a sack of dog food, ditto puppy food and some emergency peanut M and M's for the driver I ended up stuffing into the back of Fifi 5 sacks of sugar beet nuts, two sacks of crushed barley, one bag of coarse goat mix (for goats with tourettes obviously) two sacks of pig finisher nuts, and a bag of giant puppy feed. All these were broken and thus half price. Into this heady mix I chucked in two bags of working dog food, a sack of mixed poultry corn and another sack of giant puppy food with 24 cans of premium dog food for counterbalance. Instead of a maximum of 100kg the poor car was stuffed almost to capacity with 375kg of bagged food alone. So concerned was I that I almost decided against the M and M's, they being the proverbial straw as it were.
The load had an interesting effect on the braking but apart from the vague steering it was almost unnoticeable, well done Mr Ford.
Having got to Telford safely Fifi rested her red hot brakes while I had a cuppa with family and then we came home. I left Fifi complaining about vehicular abuse in the yard but as she was whinging to Rene and a broken wheelbarrow I think it fell on deaf ears. By early evening I had unloaded her massive burden and the suspension seems to have returned to the right height. More or less.
Tracey is being comforted by our dogs who have an uncanny knack of sensing distress. To take her mind off her loss they have decided to give her lots of canine fuss. This has involved sitting on her lap. How she managed to cope with a Golden Retriever, two Bernese Mountain dog adults and two Berner pups on her lap at the same time without needing paramedics was a joy to behold.
We are a tough bunch at Rock HQ.
Sunday, 21 June 2009
Alls quiet at Rock HQ. Juliet has been cut from the brambles that had trapped her. Apollo has had a temper tantrum on the garden furniture which means we need a new table. The Berners have been chewing the new rug I bought today to emphasis my new man credential, I can buy accessories for the house and I cook quiche. Mad Keith has been fed, all the critters have been checked, fed and watered. All is well.
I have spent the day at the Three Counties Show. This meant an early start and late finish but I was helped by the team I work with, we packed up in a record time and got away before the rush. Hopefully we will have recruited at least one foster carer from this exercise.
Its Fathers day, I was lucky enough to phone my Dad and thank him, and Mum, for all they have done for me. I once again demonstrated a woeful lack of organisational skills by not getting his card in the post on time, once again he was very understanding about it.
So its been a long day, it being the longest day of the year, its fitting, as well as Fathers Day, the day Tracey's father died. 20 minutes ago.
Gone. Never forgotten.
Saturday, 20 June 2009
There I was tending to their every need. I cut them fresh cumphrey to munch on while I filled the buckets with fresh water. It was as I was filling the trough with lovely crunchy sugar beet pellets that one of these vicious little monsters launched a sneak attack. Deciding that my left calf was a tastier treat than the sugar beet the bugger bit me, almost drawing blood. As if my legs were not painful enough after standing round all day at the Three Counties Show.
I shall have my revenge. I think the culprit is the second from the left, a boar, he shall be bacon. Fair compensation I would argue for the unprovoked attack on my calf.
Friday, 19 June 2009
I have spent the day at the Three Counties Show trying to recruit foster carers. It went fairly well, and the show put on its usual fantastic aray of countryside pursuits. It was a long day so on return the animals were a bit keener than usual to see me, but after a couple of hours they were all fed and watered so it was my turn to get to my own trough.
Tracey is still at her Dad's bedside, he is comfortable which is good to know. She expects to be home soon.
Time to dig deep, five days and over 150 miles would all count for nothing if we failed the final leg. Confidence was high as we posed for photos under the signpost. Without further ceremony we set off. Muscles were sore, feet were even more painful but we were determined to succeed.
Which counted for a lot.
The first six mile we completed in under two hours, despite the hills we were making good time.
But there were many hills in the Clywdd range, some were baby mountains, and we began to slow down.
However we made the Jubilee Tower by midday and had a brief rest, nearly half the distance of the day covered, the sun was shining, the sea was in front of us, admittedly a long way in front of us but every step brought it closer. All we had to do was make the horizon in the picture above and we were on our way home. Success would be ours.
Finally the end was in sight, my legs went a bit like one of those funny marathon runners for a few seconds but I held it together to the end and the photo shoot, the champagne, the cheering crowds. Ok no cheering crowds but the champagne was a nice touch provided by Karen, Stu's better half.
Thursday, 18 June 2009
Its not been an easy 24 hours. Last night we got a call telling us that Derrek, Tracey's father, had only hours left. We joined the rest of her family at his bedside. The poor chap had no idea we were there. I stayed until four in the morning when I said my farewell and returned to Rock HQ.
It was daylight, the animals needed their TLC ration, and so the day began. I managed an hours sleep before work, we are putting on a stand at the Three Counties Show so there was no way I couldn't attend. Show set up ready for a three day recruiting campaign for foster carers.
Back at the ranch I sorted the critters and then Beth came over and sorted me put with a nice chile con carne.
Tracey is still at the hospital with her Dad.
The show must go on.
In spite of the new company, the glorious weather and the spectacular scenery we retreated into the world of the ipod, for me loud heavy metal dulled the pain of the next step and gave me a beat to walk to.
Today seemed particularly long geographically through Oswestry, Chirk, Trevor, Lanngollen to Langdegla.
barm down my neck at three pm at the Aqueduct pub by the aqueduct, again inspirational naming of a pub, only to jettison it an hour later amidst the rocks of Trevor.
truly spectacular. Especially to a Metallica soundtrack. We had been getting text messages of support and phone calls encouraging us to keep going, for me these were really important today as fatigue and emotion threatened to overwhelm the will to continue.
Offas Dyke had a bottom this was it. A seemingly never ending marshy bogland with board walks to guide the hapless traveller along a conveyor of misery to the forest. My legs at this point were causing me problems. Everyone assumes that downhill sections are easier than uphill, well they might be a bit but downhill caused me the most pain especially in my right thigh. The torture of the forest ended in lush green fields where a sign on a style promised salvation at the local pub, only 200 yards away. This took an age and the final style nearly prevented me getting there but the three pints of beer with the locals eased all the pain. They were a total contrast to the pub in Newcastle, here they were interested in our journey and applauded our efforts. One commented that in fifteen years he has ever known anyone get to Llandegla from Chepstow in less than nine days. This spurred us on, tomorrow we have only 29 miles to complete.
The fact a small mountain range is in the way is a minor issue. We know we will succeed at this point.
Wednesday, 17 June 2009
On the way back to Newcastle for day 4 we reflected on our encounter with the locals. We had also met a pair of walkers who had stayed at the same campsite in Llantillo Crossnenny. Apparently someone called Doris is on site but has poorly lags so sits in a rocker similar to Mrs Bates watching the passers by. If there was a red car on the site it belonged to Doris. Poor Doris must have watched us leave, if only she could have reached her campsite fees. Bless.
The countryside was simply breathtaking and had I not been keen on getting 30 miles under my belt, or even more keen on getting my belt undone every hour to avoid accidents I would have appreciated it more. Still, as I said to Stu, despite the pain from walking and stomach bug at least the weather was being kind to us. Fate must have been bored with our happy progress so did a deal with his mates Storm and Tempest for no sooner had the words left my lips than thunder roared, rain fell, and then fell heavier. We plodded on, past Montgomery in monsoon like deluge, ha I thought, is this it, is this all you have, I've had worse in the Alps. Then it hailed. I kept my thoughts to myself.
Tuesday, 16 June 2009
While I was otherwise engaged they made short work of the weeds that have got a bit out of hand in the raised beds that are being rested and the brambles around the pig pen. It worked a treat, I would like to claim the idea as my own but all good ideas at Rock HQ stem from Tracey.
Mind you I watched them like a hawk, like that saying goes, keep your friends close and your enemies closer still!
Newcastle was ahead, by our calculations that was half way, once there we would summons the cavalry and await rescue at a pub, there had to be one. We would bunker down back at Rock HQ and get a good nights sleep and start again tomorrow. By the time we got to Newcastle it was just about opening time. Stu asked for a pint of pear cider. The landlady reacted like he had asked for the blood of her first born and told him in no uncertain terms that she didn't serve that sort of drink. Settling for two pints of what everybody in the village drinks we sat outside and waited rescue while the locals constructed a Wicker Man to deal with the two demons in their midst. Sara arrived and we escaped in the nick of time. Funny folk round those parts.
Monday, 15 June 2009
I also managed to do the early morning round thus giving Tracey a well earned break, she had after all done the hard work while I was rambling. Admittedly my speed was akin to a stupoured sloth and my language would have made Royston Vasey blush as I jarred my blisters but I achieved the aim of feeding and watering the beasts without making us too late for work.
I earned a massive amount of brownie points for agreeing with Tracey that we needed new furniture and so we bought some.
The evening rounds were conducted in the same manner as the mornings, once done we went out to meet Beth and Tom who wanted to tell me how fantastic I am. Bless them, they are only human. So we had a very nice curry and all is well at Rock HQ tonight.
Everyone was bright eyed and bushy tailed raring to go so by 5.45 we were packed and on the move heading for Pandy. A slight error in navigation meant Pandy didn't arrive on the scene as it should have and a two mile detour was received by all with the good humour of those on an endurance event. After what became known as Offas Tourettes, the uncontrollable desire to swear loudly at whoever is leading we soldiered on and reached Pandy by 9am. Here the unthinkable happened. Sara, above, the Duracell bunny of endurance events, the girl who blagged her way onto an alpine expedition I led by convincing me of her climbing prowess when in actual fact heronly mountain experience consisted of walking across a car park in Snowdonia saying oooh they look big, well her, she ran out of go. And stopped. A totally startling almost surreal experience to any one who knows her, she just never stops. But she did. In Pandy. Sorry, it all feels wrong I cant go on. Bye.
How we pushed on I don't know but somehow both of us made it to the RV with the nice photographer who made us parade up and down a bit for action pics. Finally in Hay On Wye we could resupply with drink, but no food, all food sales are banned it seems after 6 pm on a Monday. If you want to buy a book, well there are 24 hour dealers, sustenance to stop you eating your own arm, sorry no sale.
Sunday, 14 June 2009
Sunday dawned, along with a new batch of aches and pains but the shearing had to be done so no more lounging in the garden. Typically instead of being in the yard for breakfast the Ryelands were all over the place so very slowly the round up began. By the time this butch itinerant shearer arrived we were missing last years lambs, Sandy, Hercules, Maude and Bonny, two ewes, Roxy and Ebony and our Suffolk cross, Meg. Tracey volunteered to walk around the hill to seek them out whilst I kept up a steady supply of tea and chocolate hob nobs for the Shearer Man. Some of you may recognise him, for he is famous, not for being the sheep equivalent of Vidal Sassoon but for being the captain of Hereford Rugby Club.
Whilst Tracey was doing the Bo Peep bit he manfully wrestled the sheep and gave them their annual short back and sides, all the time keeping them calm by singing to them (see photos above and below)
Tracey returned with the missing flockers apart from Meg. Now we have already lost three Suffolks since we have been here, see postings for M.I.A.s to read the full story, and again it looked like Meg was now M.I.A and probably on her way to a pie filling plant, caught up in the annual roundup.
We set off from Sedbury Cliffs by 10 am after various false starts due to bad weather, nerves and the need for caffeine. Once on our way we were in high spirits and soon realised as we wandered around various back gardens and alleyways of Chepstow that Offas was as good at plotting the route for a defensive system as MP's are at keeping track of expenses, it just didn't add up. Time and time again we found we were sent the long way round and so progress was slow. Very slow.
Campsites were few and far between but we located a spot at Llantillo Crossenny (or similar) and planted ourselves for the night. Beth and Tom arrived at 11pm with much needed spaghetti bolognaise and we made ourselves comfortable in our scratches until day two dawned all too quickly.
Day 1. Approx 30 miles. Pack load 41 pound. Start time 10.10 am finish time 22.30 pm
Saturday, 13 June 2009
After 6 days, enduring an average of 30 miles per day, Tony and Stuart joined by Sara reached Prestatyn, the great ToDo has been accomplished. We knew it was do-able but those of you who walk regularly will appreciate just how difficult this task was. There was many ups and downs, both physically and emotionally but the determined team rose to the challenge in aid of this worthwhile cause. I couldn't be prouder of them, each of them showing immense strength of character and incredible resilience - this champagne is more than well deserved. We hope to have raised between £1,500 and £2,000 for the Prostate Cancer Charity but will let you know the final total very soon. As you may know, this charity was chosen because unfortunately this illness has affected our family personally so I'd like to thank 'The Team', Tony, Stuart, Sara and Jim for their commitment and determination, they really are very special people and in the words of Queen "The Champions".
And it couldn't have been done without our friends so thank you so much. Unfortunately I didn't get chance to list the remaining sponsors yesterday as I was collecting Tony but thanks go to the following people for their sponsorship
Paul and Anne Dockerty
Derrick and Helen Layton Morris
Amanda and Neil Morgan
Lesley and Jess Marsh and Allan
Darren and Shelley Wood and family
Tony and Christine Collier
Keith Wilson and Family
Robin and Jenny Richardson
Sandra and John Gough and family
Kelly Dallow and family
Heath and Emily Crosby