Sunday, 31 January 2010

Famous first drafts

This is Faith our over excitable Gordon Setter full of the joys of a winters morning and I must admit I share her excitement today. Not that any great event has happened at Rock HQ, no great disasters, no one hurt himself tripping over his own shadow, no, its been a lovely pleasant winters day where all and sundry have bumped along in good natured harmony.

What is exciting though, particularly for me, is that I have finally completed the famous first draft of Tales from the Rock and have even delivered a hard and electronic copy to Mr20% for editing. Who knows, Tales from the Rock might be a new best seller, the film rights might be sold and Hollywood might seize on the opportunity to produce a gritty real life drama where man triumphs over adversity, and goats, to live his dream and become a smallholder. I would of course want to retain editorial rights and have some input to the screenplay, and perhaps some say in who actually portrays me as an actor. Some one like Brad Pit, or George Clooney would suffice, at a push Russell Crowe. Knowing my luck I would get Ricky Gervais. Well at least I dance better than him.

Saturday, 30 January 2010

A new species

The sun shone on the light dusting of snow this morning and as Tracey had been superwoman yesterday doing everything on account she married a wimp who hurt himself lifting a paint brush over his head, said wimp decided to let sleeping beauty lie in while he set about the smallholding morning routine, his good mood buoyed up by the fantastic winter morning. Even the antics of goats could not wipe a smile from wimps face as he knew their replacement was being visited later on, Hetty the Dexter Cow. This is her, closest to the camera with her mum and her little sister calf stood watching.

The goats were a smallholders compromise we made, thinking small animal, small amount of milk in return for bed and board, rather than a large animal like a cow, large amounts of food and buckets of milk that we could not use. There was also half a plan to have the billy kids accommodated in MrWhirlpool next to the pigs, deer and poultry that already rest in pieces. The lambs have so far been spared this fate on account they are so small, so cute, usually missing when a decision is made that it is time for the chop (over the hills and far away) or cunningly having been medicated thus rendering them safe from human consumption for 56 days. Bitter experience with goats has led to a lack of vegetables, a vandalised tomato house, a leaking roof, damaged cars and bruises whenever any attempt was made to extract milk from them. Having thoroughly outstayed their welcome they are in the exit lounge until some mug, er... keen amateur wants to take them on.

Hetty on the other hand will be a different challenge, and never one to shy away from challenges Tracey has been volunteered to tame the beast and train it so it can provide the inhabitants of Rock HQ with assorted dairy products. All being well Hetty will pass her TB test which will mean that we can move her here. The plan at the moment is that she will live the life of luxury chomping on hay and other cow goodies before being introduced to the bull. This will then lead to Hetty Mk2 being born, like in the picture at the top, how cute is that calf.

Once Hetty Mk2 is here we will then have milk, half of which the calf will drink, but as the milk yield is around 1.5 to 2.5 gallons of moo juice a day there should be sufficient for all here. She will also produce around two gallons of pooh a day, quite what we are going to do with this additional resource has yet to be decided. Hetty Mk2 will be for beef, no matter how cute it is, and so this little Dexter is a welcome new species at Rock HQ. They are a very docile breed and most usefully, considering the terrain and weather here, very hardy. A cow bell is top of the list of must have accessories, just in case the horns don't work.

Speaking of which she doesn't look the docile and friendly type in this picture, she looks more like paw the ground, snort, charge and gore you to death type. I also have my suspicions as to why Tracey insisted on buying me a red cape.

Friday, 29 January 2010

Joan Dives In!

Joan took a tumble as she ran down the steep slope of the bonsai mountain to get breakfast.

Well hung

Stable Sprite in all his miniature goodness hung the door on the annex yesterday as well as the guttering which is working. Major progress! The windows should be in soon and the nice man with the digger is coming to clear a nice flat space for the water tank that will catch all the rain water. As we get so much rain we have opted for a 250 gallon tank. Given today's downpour it probably wont be big enough!

Thursday, 28 January 2010

Where you live does'nt exist, sorry

Today I finally did a job I had been avoiding for a while as I knew it would not be an easy task. The paperwork and registration necessary to allow us to have Hetty our Dexter cow. Now you might think that smallholding would be a relatively simple task, free from bureaucracy. Think again. Sometimes it seems like a full time secretary is needed to keep track of the forms, logs, medicine journals and passports associated with keeping livestock.
The task began at 9am with a call to the the local Animal Welfare Office to clarify a few details relating to the annual sheep and goat survey, as our sheep and goats are naughty and often cross the track into England we needed the CPH number of the common land to complete the form. It clearly stated on the form that if you were in any doubt of the CPH number of common land give them a ring. So I did.
"Sorry, cant help you, unless you know your RCL number."
"Excuse me?"
"The common land has a RCL number, we need that to find the CPH. Can you give me the name of the common, I'll see what I can find on the system."
I gave the name. There was much bashing of a keyboard.
"Where you live doesn't exist, sorry. You need to phone your local office for the RCL."
Another phone call. A different office. I now have the RCL number.
I phone the first office to pass on such vital information. "Thank you, your CPH number is......"
Tracey filled in the boxes on the form while I paced around the kitchen and vented my spleen over the CPH being almost the same as the RCL but with the addition of five zeros in front. "Look on the bright side, at least they gave you the number to register Hetty, the BCMS office" she said soothing ruffled feathers.
I dialed. I could not understand a word but was used to the bilingual messages when phoning Welsh agencies. I waited for the English version. "Bore Da" the irate Welsh voice repeated.
"Bore Da" emphasising the Welshness of the phrase.
"Erm..... Hello" I could hear myself sounding more English.
"Ydych chi'n syraed Cymraeg?"
"...tipyn bach?"
Erm... Mae fy hofrenfad yn llawn llyswenodd" I stammered.
There was a frosty silence. "Your hovercraft is full of eels is it?"
"No I'm sorry I don't speak Welsh"
"Then why have you phoned the Welsh language helpline?"
"I'm trying to contact the BCMS"
"You have, the Welsh version, English farmers need to call a different number"
"But I'm English and farm in Wales"
There was an audible sigh. "Then you need to register with us."
"Great, can I?"
"Have you a herd number?"
"No that's what I am phoning for"
"No, (sigh) you register with us once you have a herd number, you need to get the number from your local office, whats your CPH....then its Cardiff, when you have that get back to us."
"Ok, what exactly does BCMS stand for?"
"British Cattle Movement Society!" each syllable delivered like a bullet.
Cardiff office. Very efficient. Like the Spanish Inquisition. "How many goats do you have? Why do you keep them? What purpose do the sheep serve? How many poultry do you have? Exactly how many ducks? Why? Pigs? What are they for? You? How many have you got, none? Well I'll mark you down as having one, but if you get more than six let me know. Herd number? Same as the number for your Sheep. What? of course I'm sure its the same number, yes the BCMS would have known its the same. Goodbye"
Back onto the BCMS.
This time the English language version.
A familiar acid voice answered.
"Hello, have my herd number, Ok I'll hold"
A friendly voice finally stopped Robbie Williams singing about Angels. "You wish to register your herd?"
Finally. "Yes please"
"What part of England are you from?"
"The Welsh part"
"Oh sorry I assumed you were in England as you called the English helpline, but don't worry I'll deal with it for you"
Three minutes of talking to the helpful lady in Peterborough later we were done. Despite the runaround we are now registered cattle keepers and Hetty will soon take up residence somewhere at Rock HQ. If the Government want to save a few quid I can think of a few offices where they could make a good start.

Wednesday, 27 January 2010

Pastures New

After reading these pages many of you will sense that I have a certain vendetta against the ubiquitous "How to..." books designed to "help" the smallholder in the daily battle against life, the universe and everything, as you try to maintain life and limb of your charges. My argument against these volumes with their grainy black and white photos illustrating all manner of interesting things like how to get honey from bees, tend goats and tether ponies is that they are all done in ideal conditions.
They don't show "How not to..." I suppose the authors assume that no one would try to burgle a beehive dressed in shorts and t shirt, aided and abetted by their daughter who helpfully screamed "Run" a millisecond before disappearing leaving yours truly to negotiate an end of hostilities with the angry swarm as I carefully tried to put the lid back on the hive. Neither does the "How to.." book on goats have chapters on how to coax them down off roofs without resorting to using half a brick, how to stop them sleeping on cars or stalking anything of the male gender.
Similarly the books use terms of reference that the real smallholder will fail to recognise, so Shitland ponies are termed "wilful" whereas a more useful description would read "mental", or "bloody minded" or most apt "borderline psychotic". The book singularly failed to inform the hapless owner as to the best way to approach the willful little beast and catch it in the pouring rain in the dark whilst wearing ill fitting boots and only having one useful arm.
However once you get past the deficiencies of these slim volumes they do make interesting reading while you are sat by the fireside nursing a medicinal malt whiskey recovering from your latest injury.
A useful source of these books can be found in the links section on the margin, The First Pasture Bookshop is where the wanna be, the dreamer or the expert can find all manner of useful books containing new ideas on how they can hurt themselves. If you follow the link you will also see one of our old neighbours, Monty Don, he of course probably won't remember this particular claim he has to fame, being neighbour to TFTR but he might remember a lazy sunny summers afternoon in his garden interrupted by me and my canoe. Well I was lost and it looked a nice place to get out and stretch my legs.
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Tuesday, 26 January 2010

Burns night burn out

Being English living in Wales it was only right and proper that last night we celebrated Scotland's greatest poets birthday. So invites had been duly sent and the dining party assembled for a 7 course blow out on traditional Scottish fayre with a Rock HQ twist. Scottish Salmon and Cheese tartlets were followed by Cock a Leekie soup, the cock had been spared as no one was brave enough to kill the brute and it seemed a shame to off one of the smaller less aggressive ones for some flavoured water. Stable Sprite disemboweled the Haggis but I refrained from launching into prose, however tradition held over the toast to the Lassies who looked absolutely fabulous in their fancy frocks. Stable Sprite looked marvelous in his black tie and tux while Tom and I let him down by bottling out at the last minute and opting for smart casual.
Haggis tatties and neeps consumed it was time for Medallions of Aberdeen Angus cooked in plum and whiskey sauce on tattie scones with a dollop of rumbledethump. Belts bulging we launched into sweets which were Tipsy Laird (probably a bit big given what preceded) home made shortbread (a nasty rumour that the trifle was about to served with sweetbreads caused by the hosts inebriated mispronunciation made our guest shudder but this was quashed when they saw the neat biscuits) and Kranaken. A home made whiskey liqueur called Atholl Brose was the nicest surprise of the evening, aside from the bouquet of flowers given to Tracey by the Sprite and his lovely lady.
By the time the cheese board appeared our guests begged for mercy and sloped off to the drawing room, yes we have a whole room for drawing, and sat about in contented silence while I recited my favourite comedy sketches. These went down very well. I think.
Inevitably after such a huge feast payback came by way of a fairly long walk today. A fox had taken advantage of the lull in hostilities last night leaving the tell tale scat blatantly placed on a rock not twenty yards from the front door. If only I could get as close to it as I did this one above on the walk. Jill was introduced to one of our favourite spots,Water Breaks Its Neck, and we also visited the standing stones close by reputed to have been dug out of our garden. Quite an achievement considering the stones weigh tons and were moved miles by hand. Its amazing what people did before they had telly.
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Monday, 25 January 2010

Going Cheep

As our hens are on go slow we are not getting many eggs so we took a top tip from the Stable Sprite and went across the valley to a farm where they have free range hens. Dozens of eggs are at the end of the lane and the honesty box system works really well. The eggs are fantastic, lots are double yolked, its a win situation as they are cheaper than producing our own, which might be why our hens look so worried.

So whilst the preparations for Burns Night were at full flow I kept getting distracted by a plaintive cheep cheep sound. Convinced it was from the eggs the 30 eggs were examined, no signs of life and the cheeping stopped. Must be a bird outside. No. Wait. Listen there it was again. Eggs dutifully inspected, nothing. Cheep Cheep. I must be going mad. Tracey and her Mum stood to listen, yes there was a cheep, and another. The eggs were definitely talking to us. As we went through them all yet again trying to find the lucky chick I spotted the dog alarm on the windowsill. Cheep Cheep. The dog alarm is a high pitched squealing alarm which is used to distract the dogs from barking. I found it on a clear out the other day. As it lay in a pool of water critically malfunctioning, Cheep Cheep, the "chick" was found. Its now in the bin. Minus its battery.
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Sunday, 24 January 2010

Death from above

The mystery of the fourth well may be on its way to being solved. When we first moved here there was a static caravan rotting quietly away, minding its own business. This was used as an impromptu kennel for a few weeks then as a store for old bikes (these bikes have since been moved 5 times and are currently stored in the "barn" just in case I ever need 4 rusty bikes) but primarily its use was for Maggie to obtain her breakfast.
She used to spend hours on the roof picking away at various tasty foliage before dropping to earth to gore innocent passers by.
We now think the well may have been some sort of cesspit/overflow for the inhabitants of the caravan. They lived there quite a while as the house was restored and essentials were put in place like roofs and windows. The new ditch currently drains into the new well and it has yet to overflow so the arcane pipes within obviously serve a purpose and we plan to get a dye to drop in to trace the drainage points.

The annex is nearing completion, finally we have walls all around the outside that go all the way up to the roof. A good thing really as the roof at one stage was trying its best to get down to the level of the incomplete walls. So, progress all round, now all we need is an external door and windows. Then some internal walls. Electricity. Water. Internal doors. Flooring. Steps. Door step. Walls plastered. The external walls clad in wood to match the stable. Heating. Soft furnishings. Nearly done then!
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Saturday, 23 January 2010

Keep fit

Confusion reigns amongst the Ryelands as their intensive training programme to stop them poohing on the doorstep continues. The food trough has been moved to the end of the "barn" along the lane. Ryelands who are at times the laziest brand of sheep like to snooze as close to their food source as possible which means they have to forgo the luxury of the yard and sleep under the trees in the lane.

This is causing them problems. Like Pavlov's dog they instantly start drooling when they see any food stimuli, in their case a bucket. They, not being entirely devoid of brain settle under the trees still in sight of the cottage and when they see yours truly enter the yard carrying bucket they complete the 100metres in a time that would put Usain Bolt to shame. They then blunder around looking for the trough, staring at the ground where it used to be, by the time they spot me, the dedicated bucket bearer I am half way down the lane to where the trough now is. This leads to a new 100metre dash where they gather where they should and devour their organic breakfast.
Halfway through one invariably looks up and spots their saviour and protector ambling back up towards the cottage singing to himself and generally minding his own business. This sparks a panic, as the sacred bucket is leaving them and without fail they run back up the lane to the yard, albeit this time slower to stand where the trough was looking at the ground expectantly. As they all check the bucket is empty one exceptionally bright Ryleand remembers that they have left a breakfast unattended and they peel off single file puffing and blowing the fat ones at the back back to claim it. This happens twice a day, morning and afternoon.
They all seem happy enough though, especially Sandy, and the doorstep is definitely cleaner. How can they be miserable living here? What with all the fresh air, exercise and good food its like a holiday camp!
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Friday, 22 January 2010

Stable Sprite's magic

Looking just like a little pixie as his name suggests here is Stable Sprite on the roof of the annex. Normal people fall through but thanks to his imp like stature and pixie dust he is able to stand where others fear to tread. Using his magic powers he has also convinced me, finally, to hire a man with a digger to move the rubbish from the side of the building project so he can do his job without hurting himself. The nice digger man turned up and was very helpful, even agreeing to clear the landslide from the turning space on the lane which will mean that vehicles with trailers can turn without unhitching, or perhaps vans can turn without mowing down slow moving sheep.

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Lurking with intent

Maggie getting ready to launch an attack on the food trough, like any fighter ace she uses height and the sun behind her to gain advantage over her foe. Having sharp pointy bits also helps.
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Thursday, 21 January 2010

Barry buys the farm

Life's tough on the hill for the sheep, that's why ours stay for the most part in the yard, often curled up asleep on the doorstep. You get used to having them around and although they are destined for a big sleep in MrWhirlpool you cant help but get attached to them. Especially as they are such teddy bear cute types. Which is why its been such a bad day here.
Not much passing traffic where we live, we get the odd militia member on a quad, the occasional ambulance lost looking for patients, but mostly there is no traffic on our dirt track other than that which we invite.
Cue white van man who thinks dirt track equals chance to show off road driving prowess and thunders into the yard to deliver much needed parts for wood burning stove. Cheers. No problem. Reverses back down dirt track almost as fast.
Militia turn up with large four by four dragging overloaded trailer full of much needed hay. Much joviality while unloading, hay safely stacked on the move twice principle, once from trailer, once to starving animal, not nine times like the last lot. Anyway it was while I supervised the militia reversing that the tragedy was discovered. Barry White, above, must have been slower at moving than White Van Man in reverse and was lay on his side by the trough apparently dead. Unfortunately he wasn't but his back leg was shattered, just the skin holding it together. The pain must have been unbearable. We did what we could to make his last mortal moments as comfortable as possible but thankfully he died quietly. Life's hard enough without having to dodge Ford transits. Poor lad.
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Wednesday, 20 January 2010


I had quite a surprise first thing this morning, not the tripping over a 50kg dog welded to the bed room door nearly fall headfirst down the stairs as I blearily made my way to my early morning caffeine hit type as sometimes happens, no, it was as I threw back the curtains in a dramatic welcome the new day gesture, tons of snow had fallen since I last checked at 2am. Once again our messy yard was a lovely whiter than white white. Fantastic! I put my fleece and boots on and went out to have a mess about with the Berners in the frozen playground and fed the sheep and goats.

I went back indoors to put the rest of my clothes on just in case someone got upset by a fat forty something messing around in the snow in his boxer shorts. Unlike most of the population I actually like the snow and I was happy to venture outdoors, meanwhile the majority of the country ground to a halt on account of the snow making things a bit tricky. It did put paid to our plans to finish clearing out the stables. Deep litter is a good idea, the bedding is put so deep that wees and poohs disappear into its cozy soft absorbent goodness and forms a layer underneath all the clean stuff you put down, then the little microbes get to work and breaks down the mucky stuff generating heat keeping your charges warm and also reducing the bulk so they don't bang their heads on the ceiling, a good idea that is until you have to clean it all out. By wheelbarrow 27 I was converted to a bucket of clean shavings and follow horsey round with a pooper scooper idea. So mucho snow meant no barrowing.
Not wanting to waste time I set about the ceilings in the cottage. A while ago I redecorated the kitchen when a temperamental bottle of elderflower champagne exploded staining the ceiling, walls, soaking me and nearly rupturing my right eardrum. Time to set things right and get the cottage looking pristine again. I had considered doing a fresco akin to Michelangelo's efforts on the Sistine chapel, a series of murals depicting life on the farm to gawp at while engaged in mundane kitchen chores. I set about the ceiling with enthusiasm, paint, patience and a tiny brush and slowly the dark brown stains were transformed to a very plain but brilliant white, just like Michelangelo would have done. Well he would of if he had as many jobs on his list as I have.

Goat gore

Geisha's leg is still a mess but she is definitely getting better.

Tuesday, 19 January 2010

In from the cold

Misty checking to see if there is any room by the wood burner

Monday, 18 January 2010

Mind the step

With the change in the weather we set about jobs today with a vengeance, lots got done despite Tracey doing the most amazing comedy fall on the doorstep. Having survived all the snow and ice she lost her balance stepping outside (her ME does make her a bit wobbly sometimes) falling face first onto the yard. Luckily she fell onto a clean patch where I had hosed the sheep pooh away minutes before.

Rene was taken to be repaired, his exhaust is under guarantee so thankfully that's a huge bill we wont have to pay. Fifi on the other hand was behaving erratically on the drive in to town following Rene and so the nice man at the garage was asked to check her over. The wobble in the steering wheel was caused by one of the tyres having a huge tear on the inside wall. Thankfully the dodgy tracking that had worn both front tyres to the metal hadn't caused any damage other than a huge dent in the finances.

More cash was splashed on a repair kit for our wood burner, having seen one in action properly yesterday we had a feeling that ours was not quite right. Simply put, you would feel warmer sitting in front of the fridge than sitting by our wood burner. Google to the rescue, the tech spec of our stove and a plan of all the gubbins inside was soon located. This showed ours was broken and put together wrong so after a bit of tweaking with a huge hammer and and some TLC from Tracey the thing is fired up and we are in shorts and T shirts its so hot. Well not quite but its an improvement.

Animal feed arrived aplenty courtesy of Stable Sprite who rather thoughtfully got us half a ton which I gratefully transferred by the bucketful from his trailer while he held the ravaging hordes of sheep, poultry and goats at bay. Hay is being delivered later in the week and so we are fully prepared for the country grinding to standstill later this week when 2mm of snow is forecast which means civilisation as we know it cannot survive.
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Sunday, 17 January 2010

Goats rule!

We had lunch with some friends today, they also have goats. After a lovely lunch we took their goats for a walk and they skipped and frolicked in the winter sun, the goats that is, not our friends, that would have been embarrassing, anyway they are far too sensible for that sort of behaviour. So whilst these two goats jumped around and playfully nibbled the hedgerows, displaying amazing traffic sense when cars went by I thought for a moment how nice it was to be out with such striking animals and indeed how lucky I was to own goats.
Then I remembered the damaged fruit trees, the vandalised garden, the distinct lack of fruit and vegetables, the broken greenhouse, the great tomato theft, the fights across the rooftop, the sexual harassment of the male gender when in season, the harassment of any gender when not, their complete disregard for the sanctity of car bodywork. Happy to own goats, am I mental? So another rule of smallholding was discovered today, that there are good goats, but they always belong to someone else. Ours will be very good when we sell them on. Or curry them.
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Saturday, 16 January 2010

Well well well.....well?

After days of conserving water we now have too much. Most of the day has been spent extreme ditch digging, that is digging ditches in torrential rain, through frozen ground covered in ice and snow, on a 45 degree slope with a million gallons of water rushing past and over you. All this to the accompaniment of dogs complaining that they are going to drown if the river that appeared outside their kennels got any deeper. The "How to dig ditches" book failed to give any advise on how best to attempt this mammoth task so I used an axe and shovel which seemed to get the job done. Digging has yet to be completed but the river has been diverted and all is well. Speaking of which I think I found another one, I found something anyway with a huge black cover on it buried a foot below the surface. As there are no reports of crashed UFO's its unlikely to be anything exciting like an entrance hatch or a portal to another dimension, so we shall wait and see what further digging reveals tomorrow. If its a well then that would be 4 on the smallholding.

Friday, 15 January 2010

Cold Breakfast

Here's the pocket rocket getting to breakfast first, as usual.

Thursday, 14 January 2010

Three degrees

Several times today I have broken out in a sweat, mostly from snow clearing, once when a chunk of ice the size of a small bungalow fell off the roof gutter and tried its best to part my hair, but partly because of the soaring temperatures. It has for the first time in ages gone above zero reaching the dizzy heights of three degrees. This was a source of celebration here as there is a possibility that the lane will be drivable in the next 48 hours but what caused most joy was the sudden return of the water supply. Clean clothes, working toilets, baths, oh happy days. The snow has been a lovely distraction but you can have too much of a good thing!
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The sky is falling in!

After 20 hours of snow quite a lot settled on the roof of the annex, which is still very much work in progress. It looked quite picturesque for a change yesterday at four pm.
By eleven, just as I did my final check of the homestead there was a slight problem.
The weight of snow was causing an interesting design feature. To prevent further damage to the roof and myself (to me as I had spent the day messing around instead of clearing the snow off the roof, this would no doubt make the Stable Sprite have a minor sense of humour failure as I had joked about collapsing roofs with him earlier) I began to carefully remove the foot deep covering. While I was doing this I thought of the advantages of steep sloped roofs in snowy countries and then remembered the not so sloped roof on the back of the stable which as can be seen from the picture below was also in danger of redesign. Happily I spent hours outside in the dark shifting the white stuff. For some reason I slept well last night.
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Wednesday, 13 January 2010

Let it snow

The promised thaw didn't arrive at Rock HQ, instead is snowed for nearly 20 hours and dumped six inches of fresh stuff into our playground. Totally marooned on our hill we are well supplied with everything except water, the pipes have been frozen for days now but thankfully the well doesn't get cold enough to freeze solid so we haven't had to resort to melting the snow, yet. Its at times like this you appreciate how helpful our neighbours and friends are who have been checking that we and our animals are happy and well fed. Steve the electrician phoned to see if we were still alive and kicking or in need of help, he even left us a few bars of a song on the answer machine to cheer us up, his song of choice "Let it snow"
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