Friday, 31 December 2010

That was the year........

It has been a very busy year here at Rock HQ, one that started with a sense of foreboding, the future at Rock HQ looked uncertain but we were determined to triumph over the adversity laid before us by some very nasty people. And sure enough, the Karma Police have dished out just desserts, and in the winds of adversity we built a windmill and moved on. Massively!
This year saw the introduction of a new species, Hetty the Dexter, who has fitted in to life here like a fish riding a bike, no problem at all. The smallholding has undergone major work and landscaping, fences and gates have made such a difference to life, the new pig pen managed to contain the pork almost until it was ready for the freezer, a half finished pen will be on the top of the to do list early spring and we hope to have the joy of piglets from our own stock this year. Maybe even show some pigs and get rosettes and a better price for our most excellent sausages. On the subject of showing Reuben our lovely big Berner pup, a new introduction to the clan, well we have high hopes for him at Kington show next year. Rocky did well again this year, but second place a second time was a bit disappointing. Still the clan provide much joy and laughs here and the nearly completed extension just for their use has proved invaluable, our floors are still filthy from 32 massive paws running in and out.
A highlight of the year was my parents, sister and brother in law visiting Rock HQ for the first time, its probably my Dads fault that we set out on this mad lifestyle so in case hes forgotten. Thanks Dad.
Several projects were started, and almost finished, the biggest being the helipad sun terrace, an enormous walled patio and pond build that has already hosted one big party and will no doubt be a venue for more in the new year. The party was to say goodbye to Ben, who went away with his job and then came back again, unscathed and really looking forward to more action. Weird kid, but it keeps him off the streets. Beth's moved on in life and now seems settled in a new house, new relationship and wanting a new job, well two out of three isn't bad.
My work has taken me into new and challenging fields of social work and child protection ending the year with a commendation for the way I dealt with a particularly complex case. Then the big behind the scenes project of Red Kite Fostering has been a huge timeconsuming task but is now flying, early spring will see a massive leap forward with that project.
Perhaps the most oddball project here has been the fish farm, which in principle works, the fish are growing and maybe next year there will be some small home grown trout on the barby. There would have been many more to choose from had we not had a couple of disasters with the water flow, once thanks to my incompetence and the other thanks to an idiot on a quad bike ripping up the pipework.

We said goodbye to Rene and Fifi, replaced with newer, perhaps not better vehicles in the guise of Vic and Hazel. Most upsettingly we said goodby to Faith, our dear Gordon Setter who died of cancer aged 5. ON the plus side we swapped three annoying goats for some Oxford Sandy and Black pigs which made very nice sausages.
Undoubtedly the most exciting event of 2010, which is going to dramatically effect our lives in 2011 is that Tracey is pregnant and to say we are excited by the prospect of a new baby here mid February is an understatement. Currently we are in the lull before the storm, lots of jobs to do, seemingly lots of time to do it but in reality 17 of Feb is very soon upon us. Other new additions expected next year are lambs, puppies, foal, piglets and maybe a calf. How busy? Very!
It has been a great year, one that has built on friendships, strengthened us as a family and presented us with some amazing opportunities to develop in 2011. Thank you to all those that have helped, all those that have encouraged us, all of you that read this (some 20,000 a month) and to all our friends, real, virtual, and our family, we wish you an equally happy and exciting New Year that we know 2011 will bring us here at Rock HQ.

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Thursday, 30 December 2010

Looking back

Its nearly that time to see in the new year so we have been looking back over the last twelve months. That kept us so entertained that we had not realised the evening had gone and there was no time to write. Its a good job Thursday is always the quiet evening on the website, for some reason about half the number of readers tune in on a Thursday as opposed to any other day. So apologies to all you keen types who have logged on only to find a picture of Ferny Fern Fern from Ferntown. Tomorrow will be more worthwhile.
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Wednesday, 29 December 2010

Diced lamb

Ferny Fern Fern from Ferntown being squished against the fence, luckily for her (and the fence) Crispen gave up shoving before she was turned into diced lamb.
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Tuesday, 28 December 2010

Fish fingers

The rains continued to transform the nice neat tidy yard and smallholding into a mud spattered mess of white and animal dung. The ice hazard has been eliminated to some extent by yours truly throwing several bucket fulls of rock salt along previously cleared pathways. The fish were seen for the first time in over ten days as I removed the ice cap from their frozen world. Amazingly within seconds they were in a feeding frenzy on the surface. My hands are still burning from carrying chunks of ice from their tank and from the animal water storage tank. That refilled overnight but a six foot diameter slab of ice floated from the base to the surface and had to be dealt with before it posed any hazard to shipping.
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Monday, 27 December 2010

Can we have a little cooperation here?

The thaw started today, as promised by the met office. The morning started with blizzard like conditions and a distinct unwillingness on the part of yours truly to get amongst and feed the critters. When the white stuff stopped and rain started I was left with no choice but to do my duty, so as I fetched, carried, filled and emptied numerous buckets the rain hammered down and the critters looked miserable. Major task of the day was to refill the now empty water tank for the house, a simple task involving water and electricity, and then to replenish the animal water tank, a not so simple task involving a hose pipe, suction and physics. Siphoning 200 gallons of freezing water along a 30 foot pipe was a bit like like my school report, showed initial promise but ended in disappointment for all concerned. So as I watched the miserable trickle of H20 fall from the yellow hose pipe I reflected on what a good Christmas we had all had. Steve the electrician had braved the elements two days before and fetched the post, our first delivery for some 8 days. We suddenly went from having no Christmas cards to shelves full so thanks to him and those that sent them. Hopefully ours will have got through, or will do.
The Technohermit joined us for Christmas dinner, living up to his name by immediately commandeering the TV remote and declaring our choice of cartoons for post Queens speech viewing as "tripe". The food on his plate would have fed several families and the declaration that he was not a big eater whilst tearing chunks off a turkey drumstick was far from convincing. On the food front, despite shortages caused by the weather at the local supermarket I think we have enough in stock to last us until Easter. Easter 2012.
Ben and Beth made it through the snow, or rather to a point where Hazel could collect Ben. Beth valiantly fought her way through snowdrifts while carrying a huge box of prezzies, making it to the front door of Rock HQ just as I was leaving to fetch them. It was a joy to be together, and, we hope, the last time we will be together as a family of four. But more about that in the review of 2010 later.
I braved the weather again for the evening rounds, making sure everyone was where they should be and with who they are supposed to be with. I turned on the anti aircraft light, predators are getting bolder since the prolonged cold spell. A buzzard has taken up resident in the garden paying particular attention to the visitors to the bird table. I had the girls with me, the girl Berners. They have to split from the boys at the moment as WooZah and Reba have come in to season early. Walking down the lane in the increasing darkness, rain falling, I happily threw snowballs for the Berners and counted my blessings, and Berners. I was so lucky to have five Berners with me, I threw another snow ball. Something was wrong with that statement. Five.
Up on the Bonsai Mountain I could see the fifth.
This was a big Berner.
I smiled and turned back to the cottage freezing mid turn.
That was a big Berner.
Bigger than usual.
I looked back.
This Berner was a curious shape and was going Moo.
Hetty was out and up the hill. My evening was in the balance, fall one way and it would be sitting in front of the roaring log burner with a new single malt to banish my newer cold. The other way led to chasing mental bovine across snow covered mountains.
We all held our breaths.
Hetty took a step forward and mooed pitifully, she like me had no wish to be out in the rain, but being over fifty yards away she could easily become free range.
I stepped forward and opened the gate to her pen.
The Berners sat and watched with growing interest, my move could tempt the cow into walking back inside where she could access her bed, equally it could be the gateway to freedom for two shitlands and thirteen Ryelands who currently share her quarters. The prospect of single malts looked increasingly remote.
I stepped back and prayed to the small god of animal cooperation to manifest quickly.
Hetty looked towards the mountain, snorted and very purposefully walked towards me and through the gate. As I closed it behind her, she turned and gave the "I could have gone if I wanted to" moo and headed for the dry straw.
Firesides and whiskey beckoned so I left the solving of how she got out until the morning. I presume it has something to do with standing in the feed ring, Trevor and falling over the fence into the lane.

Sunrise on Bonsai Mountain

We took a walk out to check road conditions yesterday. There was a bit of snow.
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Sunday, 26 December 2010

Winter Sports

Boxing Day is traditionally associated with sporting fixtures, and as Rock HQ is snowbound, what better excuse did we need for our own winter sports festival. Temperatures of minus 12 meant no real jobs could be done anyway. What we soon found was that sledging was not exactly as exciting or as fun we remembered it to be. Sledges, long broken, were dumped in favour of the ever reliable plastic feed sack stuffed with straw. A suitable steep slope was found with fresh virgin white snow and the festival of speed began. Or rather it didn't. The first run wasn't what you would exactly call a success. The snow, a fine powder type, refused to bind into any type of slippery surface.

The steeper section led to a greater amount of momentum thanks to the laws of physics, but again it wasn't really successful as there was no safe run out, the choice was crash early or crash into a fence or the huge dog that tried to join in when it was my turn.

What finally clinched it that it should be left to kids was the total loss of dignity. So we pulled the eject handle and baled out to the cottage for mulled wine and mince pies and sports on TV.

Enjoy the view

The rising sun gave everything an attractive pink hue as I went about the morning rounds.
Even Rock HQ was pink.

Saturday, 25 December 2010

Happy Christmas!!

Wishing you and yours a very Happy Christmas from all the bipeds and quadrapeds at Rock HQ!

Friday, 24 December 2010

All wrapped up

I found today that I am not the only person in the world who leaves Christmas shopping until the last minute. I need deadlines to be able to work you see, so months of planning, preparation, is all wasted on me, I need the deadline to get things done. So while I was over at Countrywide getting our bulk order of dog food, an order that should have arrived a week ago, that should have been there Wednesday when we went but in fact due to adverse weather only arrived today, I was watching a rather perplexed soul wander about with a strange assortment of items. Some pink novelty socks, a socket set, three calendars, a torch, some festive screen wash and a net of peanuts were among some of the things in his grip. I sidled over to hear him mutter, "huh, that'l do" as he added the last slightly crushed festive shortbread box, especially selected for Countrywide and only £14.99 (all butter I suppose) Fully laden he staggered over to the til, almost passed out when the bill came to £194 but as it was twenty past four on Christmas Eve he really didn't have a lot of choice. I felt rather smug as for the second year in a row I have managed to get all my shopping done before Christmas Eve lunchtime. He left muttering further bah humbugs and I got the Clans supply of dog food, biscuits and novelty chews for the month.
Quote of the day comes from my beautiful and oh so patient wife "Well its shiny, hes only 8 months old, of course he'll want to play with it" as I sifted through the debris of the Christmas tree after Reuben had rearranged it. Again. He tried to pass the buck onto Rocky, or at least share the heat, but as Reuben was the only Berner with Christmas baubles hanging off his fur I could spot the tree wrecker.
Having horribly abused Hazel the almost 4x4 with a ton of dog feed squashed inside her I was feeling the festive spirit beckoning. Well, jobs were done, everything was away, fed, warm, bedded down, time for a festive beverage. I opened the fridge. The phone rang. Tracey called me, the Technohermit wanted a word. Coal! I had forgotten he wanted coal. Technohermit was not happy, asked me if I wanted him to starve as I profusely apologised and told him there was no chance of getting any until Monday. I phoned the garage. Open for another fifteen minutes, they had coal, I might make it. I forsook the beer and set off to help the hermit. The forecourt was strangely quiet, five minutes of retail time left, I got the hermits coal. Success. The Karma Police can reward me later. I turned to leave, an oddly familiar figure rushed into the garage shop and looked desperately round muttering "Oh buggerit" . His eyes seized on what he needed and with a real sense of triumph he pushed past me and grabbed the last roll of Christmas wrap. Something else Countrywide had sold out of obviously.
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Thursday, 23 December 2010

Too much of a good thing

Even a dyed in the wool fan of snow like yours truly is starting to feel like we have had too much of a good thing. However the Christmas break has started, Hazel the almost 4x4 got me back safely to Rock HQ and the drawbridge has been raised until the middle of next week. Commence au festival!
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Wednesday, 22 December 2010

Serious shoppers

It snowed for most of the night so theres a foot of the white stuff hindering progress and making life generally difficult. Luckily we are well stocked up and we stayed put until late pm when a sudden desire to Christmas shop forced us to drive to town. Panic buying was evident, some serious shoppers had descended on the town like locusts, lots of empty shelves in the shops. I got what I needed, wiper blades and a headlight bulb. Hazel is prepped for the last long journey before the Christmas break.

Tuesday, 21 December 2010

In sickness and in Elf

Hazel the almost 4x4 surpassed herself today by boldly going where many other cars feared to tread. Despite her lack of radio and CD player (there is one fitted but when the battery was disconnected the security system means the code has to be typed in, and as yours truly has put the code in a safe place Hazel is deficit sound system) and various hand gestures from less competent drivers, Hazel held her chosen line and negotiated the labyrinthine network of streets on my patch allowing me, and several grateful colleagues to complete our duty visits, right wrongs, and for quite a few families, come bearing gifts.
Now I would have liked to have thought of myself as in the wise man bearing gifts category. Jolly fat blokes bearing gifts are also at a premium this time of year, and despite several requests from colleagues I point blank refused to don white trimmed red suit, false beard and utter hohohos to see the little kiddies faces light up because some complete stranger bearing gifts is in their front rooms talking to their mums.
So after five years university gaining an honours degree in psychology, a further four years part time to gain the diploma in social work, countless additional training courses that allow me to practice all sorts of specialties in my chosen field in child protection, today Matthew I have been one of Santa's little helpers. The worlds most unlikely Elf. The annual Santa appeal yielded a stack of gifts from generous members of the public, and as everyone else's Rudolf's were incapacitated by the white stuff, Hazel stepped into the breach and with the seats folded down was able to deliver several sleigh loads per hour.
There was half a thought at around lunchtime to stop at ASDA and attempt a bit of my own Christmas shopping, but as the traffic in the car park had spilled out onto the roundabout, the double ques of angry drivers mixing in with the ques of traffic for the sorting office where the backlog of post was being ransacked by an angry mob who were suddenly less than impressed with the ease of Internet shopping (no waiting round to be served, no ques, all at the click of a button, 24 hour delivery honest) As we resupplied with fresh gaudily wrapped packages at the office word spread of food riots in ASDA, those found with more than their quota of two litres of milk per customer were being flogged while a desperate horde of grannies had holed up in the bakery armed with baguettes and were forcing the on site baker to work overtime.
By late PM a lot of Christmas cheer had been delivered, the strain of not crashing in a fiery inferno every junction was beginning to tell, my cold was worsening and the "broken" selection box had only a finger of fudge to offer as sustenance, so Hazel was gently pointed homeward and through the worsening blizzard we headed off along the high mountain road back to the sanctuary of HQ.
We found a further 2 inches had fallen and up to twelve more are forecast in the next 12 hours. Tomorrow we work from home.
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Monday, 20 December 2010

Competition Time!

In a no holds barred competition Petal and Trouble, this years Ryeland lambs, are both keen to be declared the outright winner of the "Turn yourself into a snowball" competition. Petal, above is winning at the moment but with more snow forecast Trouble will have ample opportunity to steal the trophy.
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Long and lonely road

With a temperature of minus 10 showing I set off in Hazel on a mission to breakout of Rock HQ and do my duty. The journey was interesting, dozens of abandoned vehicles marked my route, the high mountain road was clearer than I thought it would be and mercifully clear of kamikaze horses. I finally made my destination, taking an hour longer than usual and made myself a well earned cuppa while planning the day. The phone nearly melted with the volume of calls, the majority of which were colleagues unable to get in. I spent a none too productive morning taking messages and contacting people to let them know there would be no one available to help. While I did this a further three inches of snow fell adding to the chaos. Some bright spark abandoned their car across the entrance to our car park and as I was the only vehicle on it I was keen to get it moved. Luckily I managed to garner a crew of volunteers who helped shift it just enough for me to escape. Roads were now treacherous in town, I helped push several hapless drivers out of the way and decided to abandon any hope of completing my duty visits so set off back for HQ. I had a bit of help for a long stretch, my own snow plough which led me up the tricky ice sheet of the mountain road. I got home late pm having achieved little.
As I was home in the daylight I fed and watered the critters at a leisurely pace. A liberal sprinkling of rock salt has transformed the yard, making it almost safe to cross. Geisha took no chances however and stayed put in Trixie. Occasionally she stuck an enquiring head out to see how things were.
Finding things were not to her liking she retreated to her bed and waited for room service.
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Sunday, 19 December 2010

Can you dig it!

Contrary to popular belief Sundays at Rock HQ are not for lazing around, especially when theres four tenths of a mile of deep snow between us and the Oracles yard then another another three tenths of deep snow after The Oracles yard and the main road. Normally we would sit it out but current work commitments mean that a breakout is needed first thing in the morning. I expect that when I get there it will all be agreed that things can wait until the thaw, meantime an exciting car journey is looming.

So for the first time since we moved in four years ago (and have been snowed in every winter since the everso nice man who sold us Rock HQ sold us our dream with the promise that you never get snowed in) I set about sections of the track with a shovel and ten dogs. It was time consuming, back breaking work but we have learned that when the snow turns to ice on the lane it makes it the dangerous side of interesting when driving. Being the almost shortest day the sun, which was shining, did not rise over our Bonsai Mountain until gone one o'clock when it decided that it was time for bed and set behind the wood some twenty minutes later. Thus, Mother Nature failing to assist in any way shape or form it was down to the spade action of yours truly. Minor sense of humour failure happened when I found two miscreants turning part of the track into a smaller version of the Luge. Their efforts to compact the snow into an ice run so they could lark about before running into a centrally heated house for hot chocolate and iced buns was, for once wasted on me. Anywhere else on the Bonsai Mountain I would have joined in and demonstrated my prowess at sled less sledding. But faced with several hundred metres of snow to clear I am afraid I told them exactly how unhelpful they were being, and as I had ten large dogs and a huge shovel they decided that I was right and left.
3pm I fired up Hazel, pretty sure that the almost 4x4 could get out, whether we would be able to stop before crashing into the farm gate was an uncertainty and any prospect of getting back to Rock HQ in said vehicle was remote. Suitably kitted out with survival gear which includes an emergency distress beacon (really it does) chemical light sticks, duvet, sleeping mats (for driving over) and, perhaps unusually, a tin of sardines in tomato sauce (Tracey my beautiful and oh so patient wife packed them so I didn't argue, I know my place) Hazel and I set out into the unknown waved off by my tearful wife and ten dogs. Who knew when we would meet again.

Well pretty quickly in reality, thanks to the furious spade action earlier and the demolition of the Luge, Hazel managed the journey back to the world without any problem, where she deftly danced on ice in the yard of the Oracle, turned and against all expectation got me back to HQ barely fifteen minutes after leaving. Forecast is for more snow. Bring it on. Me, the spade and my trusty tin of sardines are ready!

Saturday, 18 December 2010


The forecast was spot on, overnight we had a massive (for us) snowfall, and as I did the morning rounds another two inches fell meaning we were well and truly cut off. Plans to get out and visit my folks up Manchester way were put on hold as as I type our daughters boyfriend is stuck on the M5 and has been for some 6 hours.

Everything needed digging out, luckily we had learned from experience and troughs were overturned the day before so clear of the white stuff. Paths were cleared to stop the snow compacting into comedy slides, the several hundred gallons of water stored under the eaves of the stable meant that buckets only had to be carried yards and on relatively flat surfaces. So after the jobs were done there was little else to do for a change as the snow put a stop to everything. Instead there was time for fun and games with the dogs and enjoy the scenery which was even more spectacular than ever.

Friday, 17 December 2010

The Cossacks are coming!

Its been a harsh day at Rock HQ, winter tightened its grip and Arctic gear was needed as we moved around. These pics were taken before the camera froze, Tracey looking like a Cossack as she brings William to the feed station.
Everything was done slow time and under the watchful eyes of the critters who longed for centrally heated quarters.
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