Monday, 30 November 2009

Rain or Shine

Mostly rain, but tomorrow, no matter what the weather I am going to do the concreting. Or build the chicken run. Or maybe chop the logs. Then move the logs, sort them and stack them. Perhaps the ditch around the kennel will be the priority. So much to do I am spoilt for choice!

Sunday, 29 November 2009

The North Farce

A week has passed since we tried to get the concreting done and surprise surprise, its been a lorra lorra laughs but its still not done. The main reason for the lack of progress is the quantity of water that's falling from the sky. Its only stopped raining for about 27 seconds this week and it hailed for 16 of those. Everything is a soggy mess, the beagles have got their very own stream running through the centre of the kennel block, last seen they were constructing a raft out of dog bowls and baskets. All the inhabitants of the ranch are seeking shelter from the continuous deluge and its only the humans who are committed enough to brave the elements and carry essential supplies to hungry residents who are warm and cosy in various shelters dotted along the smallholding. Fed up with being stuck in doors I suggested that we walk through Worzel Wood to get some air and as its under the trees we shouldn't get so wet. We would have been drier throwing ourselves in the river, which when we last saw it was a small brook, I don't think I have ever walked in such heavy rain. Even the Big Black Mountain Challenge would be classed as dry compared to today's soaking.
A couple of interesting diversions today, one when we were missing a Bernese Mountain Dog, Bliss. The piteous whining soon located her, stuck in the roof of the stables. They have taken to climbing up on the bales and resting in the overhang watching goings on through the gaps in the woodwork. Unfortunately for Bliss her siblings thought it funny to knock the stack of bales down that she had used to get there. She was soon rescued and a grateful Berner is always something that cheers you up and I needed cheering up.
The second diversion was a massive sense of humour failure over my nice new gortex jacket what I bought last "summer" for the Offas Dyke Ordeal. Knowing full well the Great British Summer would more than likely require a new waterproof I set about purchasing one off Ebay. The North Face is my preferred brand but incredibly expensive and so I was instantly attracted to an unbelievable offer of a brand new last years model North Face for the bargain price of £69! The RRP was more like £370 so this indeed was a bargain. Free postage as well, all the way from China. Fantastic. But wait, don't they make fakes. Not wanting to be ripped off I emailed a few customers who bought the same jacket, yes, very pleased, a real deal, purchase with confidence. I did. It arrived. It looked great, all the labels and everything. Super.
Until today when worn for the second time the Velcro cuff strap came off in my hand, the sleeve unstitched, it had the jacket had the waterproof quality of the paper packaging it arrived in and as Tracey pointed out I should have known something was wrong as the stitched brand labels are a bit wonky and if you look closely they are spelt wrong.
Anyone want to buy a North Farce jacket? One careful owner?
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Saturday, 28 November 2009

Broke again

I take a lot of photographs, on average I would guess a thousand a month. Most are quick snaps of animal antics, some are thought about and "composed" like the one above of the Offas Dyke a couple of miles along from Rock HQ. Then there are the pictures that log events like today's snow, it just missed us but the hills around us are dusted white. So the camera takes an awful lot of abuse, its carried in my pocket as I go about tasks on the smallholding in all weathers. Unfortunately the latest compact has gone to the great recycling plant in the sky, it died today. I have broken yet another one. For a while the lens has been a bit temperamental, sometimes refusing to come out and play in the mud and rain, and today it eventually deployed but with a bit of a crack across the middle. I'm not sure how I managed this latest act of vandalism, the last one broke when I fell on it after being mugged by a rottweiler and then smothered by a randy pony. The first camera just wore out after months of neglect. So now I am eagerly awaiting 25th of next month. The letter has been sent to Santa who has access to the all bargains at Argos.
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Friday, 27 November 2009

Hooves off!

Misty is very particular about who she shares dinner with so Trevor has learned to give her a wide berth when dinner arrives. The two of them get on really well and the smallholding is often brought to a standstill due to their antics. Two pint sized ponies charging around whinnying their manes off brings any work to a grinding halt. Not that much is getting done in the monsoon like conditions we are suffering. Still there is always tomorrow. Which incidentally has snow on the forecast!
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Thursday, 26 November 2009

Lookout Rene

Not sure who built this and really not sure how I managed to miss it lurking in the trees at the entrance to Sheepskull lane but this is The Lookout.

Another day of appalling weather, temper and mud. Rene is in need of a new MOT and as usual something nasty went wrong minutes before delivery to the mechanics. The hideous metallic grating sound revealed itself as worn brake pads on the back drivers side and as I am so expert at all things mechanical, and as I just knew where some brake fluid was and instantly found the magic wheel nut that undid the special head lock nuts on his alloys whilst coincidentally having a new set of brake pads that came when I bought the brute I dutifully set about saving money by grovelling in the mud and being a real man mechanic. Warning signs that all would not go smoothly were apparent from the outset but I chose to ignore them, things like only finding 3 out of four pads was a trifle annoying but I persevered. Soon the wheel was off, I was wet and dirty, but after a quick check I found the pads were in fact the ones required and all was well. Except for one millimetre of bother.

The nut on the brake pipe was 11mm. The spanner set was deficit 11mm. I took a deep breath while the Berners were sat around waiting for the excitement to begin. Not wanting to fail I searched the workshop, no lack of spanner would stop me today. An hour passed and I had amassed three 12mm spanners, two 10mm, an 11mm socket that was not deep enough to fit, a broken adjustable wrench, four assorted screwdrivers, a solid paintbrush, a drill with a flat battery, chaffed knuckles and a seething temper. The Berners were treated to a homage to Basil Fawlty as Rene was kicked, told that there was always one and he was it, reassembled, left in the rain and ignored. A soothing cuppa was delivered by my oh so patient (and really poorly) and beautiful wife who told me not to worry as the nice man called Steve at the garage would fix it. The only highlight of the day was that I found the fourth pad buried in sheep pooh in the back of the heavily soiled Rx4. I knew it would be there,I am after all a champion hoarder and the throwing away of a new brake pad, whether it fitted or not would have caused me endless sleepless nights.
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Wednesday, 25 November 2009

The best yet!

We are still unable to do any of the real jobs outside due to torrential rain. Stable Sprite popped over today and it stopped raining just long enough for us to take some measurements of the Berner Annexe. All plans to create a model Swiss chalet for them have been shelved due to unexpected economic downturn and the bare essential plan has been approved, so breeze blocks with a roof will have to do until fortune favours the brave again.

The rain does have unexpected bonuses like this rainbow. The best yet!
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Tuesday, 24 November 2009

Five miles out!

Our sheep on walkabouts again! Oh for a quad bike or a well trained collie!
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Monday, 23 November 2009

Grubs up!

Trevor the pocket rocket and the love of his life, Misty sharing a bale.

Sunday, 22 November 2009

The curse of the smallholder

We planned to put four inches of concrete down today along the side of the stable so that we can get to the back of it without wading through a quagmire. We fell victim to the curse of the smallholder, the weather. Pritch donned full waterproofs and braved the torrent while I hid indoors on the pretence of making breakfast. To the accompaniment of the rain beating down on the conservatory roof we considered the options. As over an inch of rain was falling per hour there was no point in trying to work outside. Even with building a temporary shelter over the proposed path the water levels kept rising. So jobs outside were abandoned until it dries up, which given the current conditions will be around May 2010.

Saturday, 21 November 2009

Off on her holidays

The local militia are on the whole a helpful bunch and put up with my amateur attempts at animal husbandry. Our paths often cross, my path tends to be a well worn boot trodden dogs at heel path whilst theirs in aboard a top of the range quad bike with collies as optional extras. Courtesies are always exchanged, weather details confirmed and sightings of lost and found sheep compared. Its useful for all concerned given there is a 500 acre wilderness behind our homes that as many eyes as possible are watching the hills for signs of trouble.

Our Ryelands fit the category with a capitol T.

Take last Wednesday for instance. A new militia man phoned Rock HQ. Some walkers had found a sheep on its back in some signs of distress. He being the first militia they contacted was duty bound to go up onto the ridge and sort out the problem. The problem being this time an extremely fat, almost ball like ewe called Roxy who has an enormous capacity for self harm and has twice been dragged from deaths door after prolonged periods spent on her back. Third time she was still lucky and the militia man took her back to his farm and fed her while he tried to find out who was mad enough to own such a daft specimen of sheep. Rene served as a transporter and the fat madam was collected from a farm some six miles away and returned to base. The militia were rewarded with a nice box of biscuits and Roxy was reunited with the rest in the yard.

Today I went for a stroll over the ridge in the early morning torrential rain, the low cloud reduced visibility to around ten yards, but it was fun and I found breakfast (more mushrooms). What I didn't find was sheep.

Back at HQ another militia phone call. Two sheep, one desperately weak had been found bearing our tags. On our way. Now one of the differences between smallholders and real farmers is that real farmers have trailers. So once again the seatless Rene was used as a sheep transporter, much to the surprise of the militia who for a few moments thought we had lost our trailer en route, satisfied that we had just lost our minds she helped lift the "exhausted" Ryeland into the back of the Rx4. This time sausages were given as a token of our appreciation. The cause of our journey across the county was immediately identified as Roxy, who has obviously caught the travel bug and is keen on sampling other farmers bed and breakfast facilities. I am hopeful this wanderlust is sorted as the rewards for the militia are worth more than the sheep!
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Friday, 20 November 2009

Water Breaks Its Neck

Only time to post this picture of a local spot that we only discovered the other day, a magical place called Water Breaks Its Neck. Its been a busy day here, the metal work in my arm took a hammering from some deft axe work, the trees felled a few weeks ago are gradually being reduced to fire sized logs, worth the effort when you can sit by a roaring fire, but a huge task, especially in the rain. I also got the rest of the sausages from the butchers so tonight's dinner was........ a cheese salad.
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Thursday, 19 November 2009

The missing link

Dinner last night at Rock HQ was an unexpectedly spartan affair and unusually a totally vegetarian meal. We were anticipating a feast of hot dogs from our own sausages and had stocked up on rolls and onions especially. The Technohermit was given a nice roast pork dinner but we favoured the Rock HQ fast food as an option for a change. The primary ingredient, the sausage was to be collected by the Stable Sprite from the butchers where he was having two of his massive boars done as bacon and sausage. Stable Sprite is immensely proud of his big boars and loves to tell everyone how they were itty bitty bottle fed runts who were at deaths door had he not fed them every 15 seconds and kept them warm with his own body heat. Somehow these wretched little specimens managed to survive their deprivations of piglethood and were now transformed into an abundance of rashers and 200 pound of sausage. We knew this because Stable Sprite sent us a text gleefully explaining he was now inundated with pork filled tubes. He had so many in fact that the butchers had bought some off him. The springs on his van were threatening to break he had so many stacked in the back. If you wanted sausage he was your Sprite.
Happily we waited for his arrival. It was getting late. No worries, he would probably drop them off when he took his apprentice gremlin to football practice. The clock ticked. We waited. Time passed hungrily. No sign of the Stable Sprite or his gleaming white chariot stuffed with pork treats.
Finally, just before we passed out with hunger I decided to cook the onions and we had bread rolls filled with onions livened up with brown sauce.
I sent a text, a gentle enquiry as to the whereabouts of the missing links, perhaps he had been struck down ill, or his van was upside down in a ditch the wheels spinning aimlessly as he hung in his seat belt awaiting rescue, or bandits had hijacked him after his prize sausage, all manner of things could have befallen the poor Stable Sprite. Should we phone the Police, what would we tell them, that we suspected someone had been secretly coveting his sausage and he was in extreme peril. Anxiously we waited.
A text. Finally the answer to our enforced vegetarianism.

Sorry, I forgot to get your sausages.

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Wednesday, 18 November 2009

Thats my Boy!

Apollo, a very laid back Gypsy Cob, has been causing us a bit of concern for a couple of small reasons. He is a colt, supposedly, but the two vital pieces of anatomy needed to prove it have been conspicuous by their absence. We were beginning to wonder if we had been sold a dud. Since he has had free reign of pastures new something has strange happened. Firstly he has been trying to play piggy back with William and secondly he has started to get fresh with the ladies. This entails sneaking up from behind and taking hold of items of clothing, like hoods and trying to get up close and personal. A quick check of the dangerous end revealed that our boy is a bit of a late developer and is in need of a vet to take away the very things we have so eagerly been waiting to appear.

Tuesday, 17 November 2009

Danger! Low flying bales

For reasons known only to itself this frog, which is the size of a cricket ball decided that it would attempt to gain access to Rock HQ via a 25mm water pipe today. First clue that all was not well with the water supply and that Kermit was making a nuisance of himself once more was a distinct lack of water from the business end of a tap. Having experienced amphibian antics only a week or so ago the source was soon traced, this time without nuclear explosions of temper and without a canine audience. The poor frog doesn't look too well and I must have got to it just after it wedged itself because it hadn't drowned. As Rock HQ does not have a fully equipped med centre that caters for damaged amphibians I left it next to the stream where it may or may not recover.

Feeling very pleased with myself I went about the rounds, feeding and watering. The goats are all confined to barracks at the moment as they have decided that all the choice food around the smallholding is not to their liking. What they really like is the bark off the apple trees. Unfortunately this new act of goat vandalism was not discovered until they had stripped all the bark from eight apple trees. The chances of the trees surviving are about as much as the chance the goats have of being forgiven. Zero. They are now advertised as free to good home and they can bother someone else.

The last of the turkeys bought its celestial ticket today and I was the cause. The hay is in the stables, the goats are the other side of the stable wall. Thinking I was being very clever I selected a choice bale of hay and instead of walking the 16 feet from door to door I thought it would be a good idea to throw it over the partition wall. Not only a good idea as it would save me carrying it but a good idea in that it would be a man test lifting and throwing a bale over a 12 foot wall. This exercise went incredibly well, the bale left me and landed amongst some very surprised goats. A faint squawk alerted me to the potential tragedy about to unfold. Taking the long walk around to the other side I found three very content goats and underneath the bale wings spread out Warner Brothers cartoon style was a very flat very dead turkey. Christmas dinner is now definitely pork. Or goat.
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Monday, 16 November 2009

Angels and Demons

We had a visit from a guardian angel today in the form of Tracey's mum, she quite unexpectedly gave us a gift that will help Rock HQ stay a viable concern for some time to come. Tracey and I are having a strange time here, working in the paid profession in which we do that involves child protection there are times when you have to take stock of the consequences of work on your own well being. For us doing the right thing is always a priority, for others this features way down the scale in how they live their lives. Unfortunately the good guys don't always win, but win or lose we are determined to see this through and thanks to Jill we have a safety net should the bad guys gain the upper hand.

A consequence of the current problems faced by the human inhabitants of Rock HQ is that we are able to spend some quality time in the beautiful surroundings of our bonsai mountain which can only serve to recharge our batteries.
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Sunday, 15 November 2009

The power of the bucket

Anyone doubting the power of the bucket should take a look at this. We tried to get Maggie back today. The bucket worked. A bit too well.

We managed to get Maggie back to our side of the fence, eventually, but as you can see below we had a few of her new friends that followed the bucket along with us.

Saturday, 14 November 2009

Souvenir hunter

I went foraging for breakfast this morning and came back from walking the dogs with a selection of fungi which, after a quick google just to double check I had picked Parasol Mushrooms and not its poisonous counterpart, were fried and served with our own eggs scrambled. Almost free food, the eggs when you consider the cost of replacing the birds eaten by Mr Fox and then the corn they scoff probably cost around a hundred pounds each at the moment but it felt good to be eating our own produce. The bacon has to cure for a few weeks yet so not quite a full English and I am ashamed to admit I have eaten almost all of Patches pig since she was turned into rashers in May.

Talking to Ben yesterday eased some of the stress at Rock HQ, he having survived his war is full of stories and we can only imagine the bravery of his men having to cope with him in charge. He was in high spirits and looking forward to coming home. I am looking forward to seeing the Afghan rug he has bought us as a souvenir. As we spoke he described it, about a metre square, so a mat then rather than a rug. He paused, he supposed so, a mat, not a rug, but definitely an Afghan mat, he had got it himself from an abandoned Afghan car. He hoped I didn't mind that it says Corolla across it and its the passenger side mat not the drivers side, but he can absolutely swear its authenticity.
Thanks Ben, not quite what I was expecting but its the thought that counts.
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On the Rampage

Our three Ryeland Rams at Five Ways Crossing, which is exactly where they shouldn't be, bless them! Crispen on the left is in England while Hercules on the right is in Wales. Leviathan in the middle hasn't decided which way to run yet.
The fact that I am posting this means that the Stable Sprite had indeed given us Oyster Mushrooms for our dinner which were just excellent fried in garlic olive oil, served with sweated spinach and grated Parmesan. So good in fact that I'm off out into the rain to try and find some more!
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Friday, 13 November 2009

Seems like a fungi

Stable Sprite popped over today for a cuppa and to chat about pigs. His two go to the great sty in the sky Tuesday and will be ready to eat Wednesday. He also gave us a bag of dubious fungus, which are, we hope Oyster Mushrooms. He swears he will be eating his for supper, ours are about to be prepared for our dinner so if there is no posting tomorrow its Stabke Sprites fault. This has been a good month for fungus, these pictured above were on a log by the path yesterday.

Ben contacted us today, he is out of the war and on a beach in the sunshine drinking beers. He sounded very happy to be there.
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Thursday, 12 November 2009

Mad as a bucket of frogs

Encounters with The Technohermit are seldom dull. He is, to say the least, a character, and famous not only on these pages but has appeared in The Guardian where he featured as a point of interest on a walk they were advertising. In their version the journalist portrays him as a kindly benevolent figure who waves nicely to passers by as he looks up from his daily toil, whereas in reality passers by might be a tad startled when he emerges from the bracken naked, they might even walk a bit quicker when they see his bone pile and certainly they will wonder why "Tim" is painted on a piece of tin halfway up the hill.

Today's encounter with the Technohermit was its usual baffling mix of entertainment and terror. I had found a bicycle clip on the lane, only one person alive still uses them, and he lives close by. Dutifully I wandered around the hill and approached his lair in the pouring rain. He had, like any insane hermit taken refuge from the battering the weather was giving the hill. I stood by the bone pile and summonsed him.


Nine wet dogs and I waited quietly hoping that the time he was taking answering was due to him finding clothing. He appeared clutching a bucket and nodded at me. I handed over the clip. His face lit up and he dropped the bucket of frogs he was holding. The dogs took it in turns to sniff the bucket. Mad inspected the bicycle clip for signs of damage. I had an overwhelming urge to ask, I knew it would be a mistake but I couldn't help myself. "Frogs Techno, what are they for?" He stowed the clip in what resembled a trouser pocket.
"Its the rain see, does em good"
"The frogs?"
"No the springs"
"Springs?" The frogs writhed apologetically as the explanation was getting convoluted.
"Ah" he nodded excitedly "Cleans em out"
"The frogs?" the image of a hermit cleaning out frogs appeared in my tortured brain
"No the springs"
"Ah, washes em right out see" he pointed to the frogs busy trying to leap to freedom, the Berners gathered round, this was new.
The Technohermit pointed to a Lucozade bottle half buried in the hillside, water gushing out. "I got lots of water now see, but these keeps popping out, damned things" he gently tapped the bucket with his foot. "I lets em go over there see" He pointed up the hill to where the frogs were to get their born free moment. The more lucid amongst the inhabitants of the bonsai mountain might have dropped them below the spring where you gather water rather than above it. The endless recycling of amphibians would wear thin eventually.

I told him our tale of frogs blocking the water supply recently, he trumped that by catching another frog from the pop bottle and telling me tale of how Murphy had to dig up half the hill trying to trace a kamikaze frog that cut the supply to The Ghost House.

I turned to head off down the track. "Ere!" he shouted after me. I almost made it away to safety. "I keep getting people takin me picture!"
I looked suitably blank, "You know them walkers, keep stopping and takin bloody photos and summat."
"That's because you 're famous Techno"
"Am I?"
I explained about the newspaper article and how its displayed on the pub wall. "In the paper am I?"
"I'm not on that bloody internet then?"
I thought carefully, he was unarmed apart from a pail of frogs, I was downhill of him, I was sure I could outrun him.
"Maybe" I took a step backwards.
"Ah" he nodded, he seemed satisfied, "Not sure what that is mind" he said deftly plucking another frog from the flow. He crouched like a wicket keeper watching the spout. You know when the Hermit has finished with you.
"I'll show you one day Techno" I headed for the sanity of Rock HQ.
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Wednesday, 11 November 2009

Playground tiff!

Misty and Trevor have been making friends over the fence for weeks so we put them together for the first time. I think its love.

Tuesday, 10 November 2009

In a green field far away

There is a green field far away where this beast, Maggie, has been spotted. This ended concerns for her welfare but raised serious concerns for the sheep she was seen bothering. There is a love hate relationship between Maggie and sheep, she loves them especially this time of year when the boys are out, they have other ideas and do what comes naturally to any sheep when faced by a large horned sheep botherer, they scarper. Maggie's biological clock is ticking and as we don't have a Billy Goat Maggie is seeking an alternative. Anything of the male gender within a five mile radius had better watch out. Maggie is looking for love.
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Chapter visit

This is a picture of Mr 20% and the representative of the Surrey Chapter of Pig Club who called to collect Gwendolin, AKA Truffles, being harassed by Geisha. They and their car escaped relatively unscathed.
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Monday, 9 November 2009

Good news, bad news

The good news is that Ben has contacted us and he is out of the firing line and probably on his way out of the war zone, so we are now hopeful to see him again.

Not so lucky on the goat front, Maggie is still missing.
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Sunday, 8 November 2009

Family Guy

All work was put on hold today as we were playing host to Tracey's mum, Jill, who has been staying with us for a few days. She has got used to the routine here very quickly, especially the need to change her clothing at least 3 times a day after close encounters with various mud coated stock and pets.
The plan was to continue building but thankfully Pritch was also playing family guy and this suited Rock HQ just fine. The majority of the day has been spent either preparing food or eating it. The sausages at breakfast were washed down with a glass of Bucks Fizz, trez posh dontchaknow, well its Jill's birthday so we had to celebrate. Breakfast was hardly cleared away before a nice lunch of Flafel, a great chick pea concoction wrapped in tortias with salad and all the gubbins. Thankfully they were a hit with John and Wendy who came over to join the celebrations and are a very rare breed at Rock HQ, vegetarian. Lunch hardly had time to digest before we just had to sit down to a huge three course dinner of pork terrine and salad, Herefordshire roast beef and the usual suspects with a pretty good gooseberry crumble avec sauce anglais. The gooseberries were donated by Mrs 20% as was the crab apple and clove jelly they were cooked in. Its a good job I have given up chocolate otherwise I might have put on weight!

The only downside on the day is that Maggie our multicoloured Anglo Nubian cross Boer goat is missing. A search of the perimeter has not found her trapped by the horns in the stock fence so we are a bit worried as to her whereabouts.
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Saturday, 7 November 2009

Wooly Jumper

A packed day at Rock HQ, Mr 20% and his gang popped over for a sausage roll and to get their shares of pig club pork, sausage and bacon. After the routine of feeding and cleaning we set out around the hill, not intentionally, Tracey has ME and is very ill at the moment so what was just a slow shuffle down the lane accompanied by Jill her mum, me, 5 Berners, 2 Golden Retrievers and a Cocker Spaniel eventually became a lovely stroll around our bonsai mountain.
There has been a round up of wooly backed pie fillings, gone are the days when a shepherd on foot with his dogs joined up with other shepherds and carefully brought the flock in. Nowadays its quad bikes and trails bikes, evidence of their passing was clear, as was the absence of sheep.
We did find one hanger on though, Daffodil had steadfastly refused to obey the militia on their all terrain vehicles and stood her ground. This perplexed the militia enough to call by Rock HQ and let us know that a stroppy sheep had kept the quad bikes at bay up at Five Ways Crossing. Sure enough she was exactly where they said she was and after exerting her autonomy over the quad bikers she was not going to concede defeat to the likes of me. Drastic action was called for so rather unceremoniously she was carried the half mile or so back to Rock HQ. Each step gases escaped from both ends and Daffodil and I were more than pleased to get back to Rock HQ without her having a nasty accident.
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Thank you pig

Half of Bronny ready for MrWhirlpool
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Friday, 6 November 2009

Before and After

Bronny came back to Rock HQ today, in a slightly different format to how she left but still very much appreciated.
Breakfast tomorrow will be all our own work!