Wednesday, 30 September 2009

Faith no more

I was asked a few weeks ago I was asked why I kept so many animals. I suppose one reason is that they are reliable, and despite some of the tales on these pages, bear no malice, and they would make nice people, who wouldn't let you down. Some of my beliefs in human kind have been confirmed today, that for the majority self interest overrides doing the right thing. Some of us have integrity and will always try to do whats right. Others do whats easy, or convenient, or worse perhaps, they do nothing, they complain, and then watch the opportunity to do the right thing go sailing by.

Bitter? No, to use borrow a much banded around statement, don't get bitter, get better. I am. We are. Signs and portents, I a firm believer in them and maybe this week has been a sign.

Good news today though is we have a Dexter Cow called Henrietta (the potential for jokes here is massive) and she will be with us in February 2010, by which time she will be ready to go to the bull. This means a calf by Christmas and self sufficiency in milk by 2011. She will hopefully be easier to milk than the goats who refused to be subdued and eventually won the battle of wills over the white stuff. All we have to do is work out where to keep her, Ben's room is spare at the moment, Beth's old room has just been decorated so that's a no no. More importantly what are we going to do with the 60 litres of pooh she will produce a week. Pip the collie will no doubt eat a lot, the beagles will certainly wear a good proportion as an alternative to the much sought after fox pooh, but we will be left with a considerable cow pat every week.

One problem to be addressed straight away is where do we get a cow bell from. We need one as, wait for it, ahem, we need one as her horns don't work! What did you expect? If you want good material wait and buy the book!
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Tuesday, 29 September 2009

One out, all out!

The pigs latest tunnel must have been completed late afternoon and all four were on the lane when we drove back to Rock HQ. This tunnel is through the dry stone wall at the end on the hen house, through the hen house, under the door, into a small pen and out on to the lane.

They might be clever at escaping but they fell for the follow the bucket of feed back to the slammer routine again!

Monday, 28 September 2009

Cooking with cats

Probably not a sight that greets Jamie Oliver. Gordon Ramsey would have a fit if they were under his feet and Heston might even see them as ingredients. But these intrepid moggies risk being stepped on, hot fluids spilling and an irate chef in order to press themselves against the heart of the cottage, the rayburn. The autumn evenings make them even keener to get their spot and keep it.
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Sunday, 27 September 2009

We've earned it!

Currently we can hardly move. There is enough strength left in my right arm to drink my beer, Tracey is propped up on the sofa with a fanta feeling as tired as I am.
This morning I was Stihl sore, and still sawing, above is just part of what I cut through today. When I was sure I couldn't strike another manly pose with a chainsaw I got on with the rest of our routine which included dragging a bale of hay up to the small horse, Misty, who is getting used to us all. She is so cute, but just like the Pocket Rocket she has heels of steel which the dogs have been on the receiving end of a couple of times.

Saturday, 26 September 2009

Stihl sawing

Today has been glorious, not just weather wise but in terms of job satisfaction. The three ash trees felled last Saturday need to be sawn up into blocks and then chopped and stacked. A massive job but someones got to do it. Step forward yours truly, slightly hung over from last nights celebrations but otherwise raring to go. The trunks and branches looked on smugly as stepped out into the fresh autumn morning, they were confident that my MacCat chainsaw would be no match for their twisted branches and two foot diameter trunks. They were sure they would still be intact by next spring.

They got one thing correct, my chainsaw is about as helpful at sawing wood as an Iranian nuclear scientist is to non proliferation treaties. In fact the only redeeming feature of the brute is that is bright yellow and so very difficult to lose, and believe me I have tried! Even with a brand new chain its borderline useless.

Thankfully a friend at work had lent me a secret weapon, a Stihl, packed in a black holdall its presence was undetected by the trees until it was too late. I unzipped the bag, inside it was Stihl, a chainsaw, which incidentally reminded me I had a bottle of still water, I have kept it years, it's still water. Que comedy symbol sound effect. Anyway this machine went to work with a fury, I have to say that I was impressed. After seven hours, a gallon of two stroke and two litres of chain oil the majority of the trees are now neatly sawn blocks. I am so far ahead of myself that where I thought I would be by tomorrow in the job I reached today by four pm, which was when the petrol supply ran out and I favoured sitting in the warm sunshine drinking pop more than driving into town to resupply.

I cant wait to wield my mighty chopper in the yard and reduce the blocks to firewood.

I realised last night that is was two years since my accident where I almost did enough damage to lose my left arm. No one sent a card, no presents, no balloons, everyone including me had forgotten.

Ben phoned today, he had had an exciting birthday getting shot at but later on in the day his colleagues gave him a standard issue British Army cake with a candle on it. Not quite as good as a mixed grill at the Oxford Arms but we cant all be lucky.
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Friday, 25 September 2009

Happy Birthday!

Strange celebrating someones birthday on their behalf but as Ben is away fighting in a war we are not able to call him to say Happy Birthday, or send him presents or any of the normal things we do as a family to mark the occasion. So instead we trotted off down the pub, drank his health and ate what he would choose from the menu. Hopefully we will see him later in the year, until then we are just praying he survives intact.

Happy Birthday Ben. We miss you.
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Thursday, 24 September 2009

Look Closer!

A plaintive bleat greeted us tonight from within the bowels of the felled ash tree. Fifi the focus was laden with apples freshly gathered for the pigs suppers from the garden of an extraordinary lady who lives nearby. Dotty is in her late eighties, has lived in the locality of Rock HQ for most of her life and is wiser and more informative then the Oracle. The Oracle knows her of course and quakes at her name as she can out anecdote him any day. She did move away for a while, the war years when she was an ack ack gunner and took part in skirmishes with the Luftwaffe as they tried to break Britain's resolve with night raids. After a lovely cuppa and a few bickies we went into the garden where I had to physically stop her carrying feed sacks full of apples to the back of the car. She was concerned because, well she knew about my arm, I was concerned that a nearly ninety year old was going to lift heavier bags of apples than I. She stood shaking the tree whilst the biggest apples in the history of the world crashed down around me. Just as I warned her that one falling on her head would cause some damage, be careful, an apple the size and weight of a cannonball struck me from behind. How we laughed. If Newton had of nodded off under this tree the laws of physics would have been a lot different.
Back at the ranch the apples were put to good use, but that plaintive bleat kept on, and on, and on.
Sandy had been following his nose, eating his way into the tangled depths of the tree. Having eaten his way in he was stuck and crying for help. Great, as if we were not busy anyway. I solved the problem sheep quite quickly.

The sight of the chainsaw soon inspired him to find his own way out. Coward!
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Wednesday, 23 September 2009

The abuse continues

Not content with inflicting a sheep on the hi spec interior of Rene the abuse of this vehicle continued tonight with him press ganged into service as a tow truck/hay transporter. It was hard work but we managed to move the last 50 bales single handed, Tracey has a pulled muscle in her shoulder, the ideal injury to avoid bale hauling.
Anyway job done we watched another sunset that would make Santorinians green with envy!
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Travel sickness

This is Crisry our very handsome Ryeland Ram exiting from Rene after a short trip across the county where he will be introduced to a new harem. He was a very quiet passenger favouring radio four over prog rock. A minor breach of decorum when he barfed down the back of the passenger seat, otherwise he was a star.
On arrival he spent a few moments checking out the neighbours before getting down to the serious business of eating.
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Tuesday, 22 September 2009

Saving space

Heres a clip of the very happy pigs at Rock HQ stuffing in all the apples and plums they can.

Another busy night here at Rock HQ after last nights partying. I fetched 50 bales of hay from another smallholder who has something we are short of, namely fields. She managed to make 200 bales excess to requirements as her motley crew of ponies and sheep have lush grass to eat all year. Our equally motley crew have short mountain grass or mud to choose from so we are always supplimenting their menu with dried feed and hay.

Storage space is at a premium here, the old barn is not really a good place to put the hay on account its flooded. So I was going to put the bales in the one half of the stables because our boys are turned out at the moment. But I cant do that as the chickens and chicks are currently being kept safe in there from the ravages of the foxes and wont be moved until the chicken run is built. But that job is way down the list as the felled trees need chainsawing up with the chainsaw we have been lent. Mind you, equally pressing is the need to get the concreting done while we have the borrowed mixer, to be able to continue the new build a box has to be built to construct a concrete pad onto which the rest of the blocks can be placed, thus allowing the roof to be put on.

Theres no way I can build a good enough box so the carpentry skills of the Stable Sprite has been requested. But he cant build the box as I have to clear the way by taking the rest of the old roof off which I cant do right now as I have just filled the new build with the hay which will go into the stable once the chicken run is built.........

Monday, 21 September 2009

Oh My Days!

Beth is 21 today, a fantastic day, so many memories and we shared them with Ben who is in Stanners. We had hoped he would be home first week October, now we know different. We were happy he phoned during Beth's birthday supper. Above her birthday cake, below photos of Ben chatting to us.

Other top news of the day, we might be having a Dexter Cow in a fortnight. A very very special friend who supports what we are doing here has offered to help us buy a Dexter Cow, how can we refuse!

Watch this space!

Beth chatting to Holly

Jill chatting to the war veteran
Pritch chatting to his best friend

Mand chatting to Ben!

Sunday, 20 September 2009

On Parade!

Here's our three boys lining up looking very handsome, they have spotted the newest resident at Rock HQ, Misty a very petite Shetland mare who is pregnant. Trevor when he saw her grew a foot in height and seemed to grow a fifth leg he was so excited. All three were very intrigued by Misty's sudden appearance which was all down to Tracey's hard work.

She is a good very good driver, unusual for girls I know but she was always one to buck a trend. Anyway despite never having towed a trailer before she borrowed Stable Sprites horse box, which is one more suitable to ferrying around two carthorses rather than a small 33 inch high miniature horse, (its massive) and drove sixty plus miles across country to fetch Misty, loaded her up and brought her back. I went along as morale support and can testify that it was a very pleasant trip once you got used to burning clutch smell or the fact that pressing the imaginary brake pedal the passenger side has no effect whatsoever. Only joking, it was a very nice few hours away from Rock HQ.

While we were out Pritch finished off the block work and he has done a marvelous job of it. The bunker is nearly finished.

Tracey also ignored my advice of pulling into the lay by a mile from HQ to allow Misty to walk up the lane to the house thus saving Rene dragging the trailer up the bonsai mountain and saving Tracey from having to reverse and turn the trailer round. Rene managed the hill without a murmur and Tracey executed a perfect 3 point turn with trailer first go. I bowed down to her prowess and took her for a pint of cider at our new local as a reward.

In all its been an action packed weekend, the jobs list has been attacked, and as ever each job completed has created two more, but we are happy with the progress we are making. Things seem to be falling into place at last. We were pondering on this as we got back to the start of our lane. Even seeing Murphy failed to spoil our feel good factor. He smiled and opened the gate for us, as we slowed down to negotiate the opening he pounced and started a conversation. I don't remember much of what was said, but he was surprised that he had got no apples on his tree. Or plums. Must've been a special sort of frost he supposed, that killed all his blossom, not one apple, not one solitary apple. I nodded and agreed. We drove on. No plums or apples Tracey mused. I don't suppose its got anything to do with your Berkshires getting fat! she enquired. I said nothing. Never underestimate the power of denial.

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Saturday, 19 September 2009

Let there be light!

This was the scene first thing this morning, all quiet on the western front. This soon changed.

Its been an incredibly busy day here at The Rock. Adrian Hope, a very nice man, turned up first thing to end the eternal darkness caused by the ash trees in the yard. I am so glad he was recommended to us because he and his team made it look so easy and did so much more than I thought they would. I had just asked for the trees to be felled but they made sure they were safe on the ground so when yours truly started blundering around with a chainsaw that was far too big for him he shouldn't hurt himself too badly. Work had to stop several times as stray sheep and goats wandered into the danger zone in search of free food. Luckily the Stable Sprite and his sprog came over to watch the spectacle and in return for bacon sarnies were put on sentry duty and kept the marauding vegetarians away.

The felling went smoothly, no sudden ventilation was caused in the stable or any of the out buildings. Text book stuff. Soon Adrian and his men were on their way and we were left bathed in glorious sunshine. Once we took stock of the new view Tracey and I had a massive clear up to get on with. Priority went to the tree felled in into the lane, blocking the footpath with an impenetrable tangle of foliage and broken branches. The goats and sheep were put to work to help clear the greenery, as were the horses. William took it into his head to bolt down the lane and was frogmarched back and shut in the stable where he had to watch his companions munch happily. Apollo and Trevor then shot off the other way round the hill, their return had to wait until we had fought our way through the new jungle blocking the lane.

Thankfully a friend had lent me a huge chainsaw and it made short work of the tree blocking the lane. Its a heavy beast though and an hour was more than my arm with its space age mecanno could cope with so we ended the tree clearance and went and captured our ponies. As a diversion I took Rene around the hill to a holiday cottage where we liberated 60 pounds of apples and plums for the pigs who are scoffing their way through them as I type.

By 5pm it seemed that we were about to call it a day, the sun was shining, the birds were singing, all was well in our world. Apart form one minor irritation, no, not the fact we had no beer, it was the root of all evil which still taunted me by its presence. I took a few tentative swings at it with my mighty chopper. It goaded me further. That was it the red mist descended and to the encouraging cry of "Be careful with that axe you idiot!" the air was full of wood chips as I fought the evil holly root. Half an hour later I was on my knees, literally, and with a final swing the axe severed the roots grip on Terra Firma. In slow motion it toppled over, narrowly missing an inquisitive goat.

To the victor the spoils! The root of all evil is no more!

The impossible is nothing!

Friday, 18 September 2009

21 again

One of us is 21 in this photo, well nearly, Beth is almost 21 and the celebrations started tonight!
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Early morning call

I was awake very early this morning, to a sound akin to thunder. Further investigation revealed four goats fighting on the roof. They soon came down once they saw the buckets of feed being carried around.

Work is getting very interesting, I changed the quote on my wall from "Silence when you should speak makes you a coward" to "If you dig far enough you will find worms"

I love my job. Its about to get even more interesting.
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Thursday, 17 September 2009

Express Delivery!!

I was wondering who had dug up part of the drive when we got back from work. The answer came grunting from the lane, running towards us from The Cauldron were Bronwyn and Gwendolyn, two very happy Berkshires who had managed to escape from the pen again. This is despite beefed up defences and new toys to play with. The boys were still happily contained within the perimeter fence, not this pair, they have the exploring gene.

For a while the Berners, pigs and goats mooched around the yard/building site until with a squeal of terror Gwen sprinted up the lane closely followed by the Stable Sprite's van towing a trailer with the next months feed.

Wednesday, 16 September 2009

Like buses!

Waiting for news from Ben is like waiting for a bus, nothing then three at once. Today we got three letters! All very confusing but he is very keen and morale is high amongst his men despite the grim reality of war and the lack of creature comforts. In one letter he describes how he has been reunited with his bergen after 10 days, this contains his wash kit and toothbrush the joy of clean teeth and underwear after 10 days grot. He decided to shave off his beard but has kept his moustache which for some bizarre reason he thinks looks good.

Life continues its busy pace here at Rock HQ. The big trees are due to be felled this weekend, now this will have a huge impact on the amount of sunlight we get. At the moment most of the day we spend in shade, either because of the hill or because of the trees. Saturday ends their tyranny and we shall be bathed in sunshine.

Tuesday, 15 September 2009

Tough call

By amazing good fortune we had a phone call from Ben tonight. Just as we got back to Rock HQ after attending Uncle Bob's funeral we put our new hens in the stable (Long story but Uncle Terry managed to get us 6 brand new Warren hens, lovely looking birds, anyway they are tucked up cosy in the stables while the horses are out on the hill) and had begun the chaotic feeding round. As I walked through the front door to get changed from funeral clothes to lets go wrestle the pigs clothes the phone rang.

Ben is fine, in good spirits but feeling the loss of one of his men. It was hard to know what to say to him, they inhabit a very different and dangerous world to ours, cliches don't help and I can only imagine the pressure of the second by second risk they are exposed to. We spoke of the future, and the really big glass of whiskey we will share at The Whet Stone.

I also told him off for not getting me an Afghan rug, apparently where he is there are no rug shops. Kids eh? Don't they let you down!

Monday, 14 September 2009

Some light relief

This is new, even for us, the pigs exploring Rock HQ. Beth had already told us that one of the pigs was out while we were at work. No need to panic, only one gets out, Bronwyn and she always stays close to the pen.
How wrong can you be, well totally really. When we got back all seemed quiet around the pig pen. That was because the boars had taken refuge in the old barn, probably waiting to jump on me when I began the search for the lost trough. Meanwhile Bronwyn and her sister Gwen had had it away on their trotters and were exploring the rear of the stables. Having found nothing to their liking there they had set off up the bank into Goatanamo. On hearing Fifi approaching they sensed a telling off so hid behind the sandbags in the yard until curiosity got he better of their stomachs and they rushed the front door as we tried to get in. A frantic search for tit bits ensued.
They were remarkably well behaved for such large unhousetrained animals. The only real mess they made was tipping over the dogs water bowl. A slight confrontation occurred in the pantry when they followed me in as I was searching for some apples to coax them back outside. As they were so close I showed them Mr Whirlpool and the cooker, their ultimate destinations.
Reunited with their brothers in the pen they scoffed a huge bowl of plums, a sweet and tasty treat which will hopefully add to their flavour.

It all provided a bit of light relief from the day as we are in a state of high anxiety at Rock HQ. One of Ben's regiment has been killed fighting in Afghanistan. We along with a hundred or so other families are suffering the emotions associated with the dread of hearing the news that its our son and the guilt of hope that its not. The panic when the phone rings is not good and the location given is where we last knew where Ben was. Our thoughts are with the soldier, his family and friends and those that served with him who are still in harms way.
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Sunday, 13 September 2009

So close!

Progress on all fronts today. The block work is coming on, another days work and it should all be finished. An hour and half's axe work saw off a huge chunk of root. The blocks need another row across the top, the work around the doorway and the end wall. In all another 62 blocks. We have 59 left!
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Flock at the Rock

We, as commoners, are allowed 23 animals grazing on the common. Here are 22 of them. We need another freezer before we can reduce the numbers, 6 of these lambs are destined for the dinner plate. The 23rd grazer below will be joining Mr Whirlpool in November.
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Commoner's rights

Bronwyn exercising our right to graze the common. Her version of grazing involves digging great holes in the hillside.

Saturday, 12 September 2009

Just a bit of fun!

Its been a glorious day for Kington Show, the largest single day horse show in England, which made a nice change, especially as last years event was rained off completely. On arrival we soon found that Rocky would be facing some stiff competition. As he perched in the back of Fifi our filthy Ford Focus and waited patiently for us to finish picking out the bits of straw from his fur a huge dark blue air conditioned Winnebago type transporter cruised into the car park with Bernese Mountain Dogs emblazoned on the sides and a BMD personalised number plate. As the monster vehicle deposited its cargo of well turned out Berners in mobile grooming parlours with optional parasols the equally immaculately turned out driver flashed a far too white smile at me while his co driver bent down and cooed over Rocky. "Seems like we have a bit of extra competition today!" he was addressing his dogs, not me. I tried to think of something witty to say but failed miserably with "What sort of dogs have you got then?" which petered out under his blue eyed ice cold stare. He flashed the non smile again "Don't worry, its just a bit of fun" he snapped before ending our audience by disappearing into the fully upholstered interior of the van.
The show was huge, lots to see and do, we also established why we had a power cut last night which caused the technological hitch that stopped the video upload of the pigs and Berners fighting over me. Some poor chap had accidentally touched a 66,000 volt cable with a metal silo killing him and injuring his three work colleagues.

Rocky behaved perfectly in the show ring, standing when he should, allowing the judge to grope him and then completed his circuits properly. He came second, the winner was an inhabitant of the giant blue dog kennel on wheels. They also won best of breed in the Berner classes overall. Considering Rocky was shown by me who has no ring presence and he had had a piece of honeyed toast stuck to his backside an hour before the show he did very well.

Happy with our success we took in the rest of the show with Rocky at our side. He is an amazing dog, handling the noise, the crowds, the fun fair and hundreds of other dogs as if he encountered it everyday. In the blazing sunshine we found what we had been looking for, the beer tent. Here we spent a happy couple of hours watching the horse show and chatting to family and friends.

Back at the ranch Tracey's brother Stuart attacked the holly tree stump for several hours. There wasn't enough room for two of us to work on it and as I am likely to hurt myself with any form of sharp instrument completely sober I thought it best to sit and watch an axe wielder than try and join in after my stint in the beer tent. After two hours non stop slog he has definitely dented it, motivation permitting I hope to finish it off tomorrow.
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Friday, 11 September 2009

Show Time!

Rocky has taken up most of the evening turning him from a mucky farmyard dog into a pampered bouffant show dog. The Stable Sprite also provided much entertainment with a demonstration of trailer reversing skills as once again he dropped off a big round bale of hay. But probably the most entertaining part of the evening was playing guess where the pigs have put the trough this time. Bronwyn had chosen to leave the pig pen and was digging great holes in the hillside but soon returned when she realised she was missing her chance of human flesh as I fed her brothers and sisters. I suspect the trough has been dragged into their new lair, but as it was dark in there and I was unarmed I felt it unwise to check.

I was hoping to post a video of Bronwyn getting back into the pen but the technology has let me down!
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