Wednesday, 31 August 2011

In the groove

Iggle in a tight spot in the pig pen, there is a Mangalitza in there with her, luckily she found reverse gear and a crisis was averted.
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Tuesday, 30 August 2011


So there I was, plodding along up the track along the side of the Bonsai Mountain and onto the Ridge, my fellow commuters were sheep (two badger faced ones which were new) and my fellow foot slogger Rocky panting away by my side.

Signs of life down in the valley but up on the ridge the Rockmeister and I had it all to ourselves.

And then we spotted Mandy.

Never met her before, will more than likely never meet her again, but what an inspiration she was. Slogging her way up to the ridge line, huge pack with tango rain cover, obviously not out for a stroll. Me in my usual inquisitorial style had to know who why where when and so after a cheery "Hello" dived in with the looks like your set for a major expedition, walking far. Now I expected a Offa's Dyke response, as we were both on the track designated Offa's Dyke but this section is about as Dykish as a rugby pitch. John O'Groats to Lands End. Thats a top trump answer (see our meeting with the top trump walkers in the great TODO) So many questions to ask, but in essence, answers were, day 28, 15 to 20 a day, hope to finish end Sept, carrying all gear so camping out, made redundant so got the time to do it, loving it, mostly and feeling good about the whole venture. Amazing. The Jogle is on my to do list, but time wont allow even an insane attempt on bikes planning 100 miles a day. The great TODO was 30 a day on foot for 6 days, half an idea to do that again, all 180 but in 5 days, do able, but boring, done it. So nows the time to announce that all being well solstice next year will be spent doing the OTT, or the Over The Top, where yours truly and a select few are going to walk from John O'Groats to Cape Wrath, bivvying on the beaches, in 5 days or less. Raising money again for Prostate Cancer Research. Meanwhile good luck to Mandy, what an epic adventure!

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Monday, 29 August 2011

Harvest festival!

Getting this years bumper crop of plums off the trees and sorted as either pig treats, jam, pie filling or the flavouring for plum vodka posed a few minor problems but my bright idea of placing a piece of ground cover material seemed the ideal solution.

The plums would fall, good old gravity, you can always rely on it, then they would roll down the steep slope of "the garden" and collect at the bottom en masse thus allowing bipeds at Rock HQ to make the necessary quality control checks. Hetty saw the need to come over and check that preparations were good enough and the exercise began.

The sudden arrival of so much fruit prompted further arrivals, Piggle and the Mangalitzas (Not a failed 80's band, but the trainee providers of future pork based products)took it on themselves to "assist" in the quality assurance, while Hetty wandered round in the background like an out of work bouncer and cleared anything missed by the greedy pigs.

Provided they stayed clear of the main harvest I was unbelievably tolerant of this poor behaviour but Piggle soon discovered that there was no need to search the undergrowth for goodies.

Here was a great big stash which cut out the leg work. Sensing a SOHF, Piggles backing singers legged it back to the big pen where several buckets of grade 3 plums were distributed amongst the better behaved (read bigger so unable to exploit hole in fence) where they joined in the fruit fest. Piggle didn't take the hint so she and her minder tucked in and quit when totally gorged on juicy fruit. Piggle staggered off to the pen to sleep it off while Hetty made an issue of my trainers. Having salvaged what I could for human consumption I manfully repaired the fence once again, with some success. End of play saw all but Mangalitza piglets the right side of the wire, meaning my repair had simply reduced the size of the aperture available to curious pork. Last time I looked the three little pigs relaxing by the pool with Hetty making sure only ticket holders got in with them.

Taking shape

Looking like a bizarre industrial flower the chicken coop takes shape. Only door frame, edging, door, roof, nesting box floor and roof to go. And perches, lets not forget perches.

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Sunday, 28 August 2011

Lifes so complicated

Good news first. Our morning was heralded not by Biffer who usually wakes us around 5.30 am, not by the alarm clock, its Sunday its off, no, by a cow calling across the field. Fearing the worst as it was mummy cow stood over the stricken calf all seemed lost, she was telling the world he had gone. A twitch of the tail showed he was hanging on in there and she was calling for help. As soon as we could we consulted The Oracle. Within minutes he called back, a rescue party was on its way. Sure enough within the hour the militia turned out, mum and calf were taken into a barn and as of an hour ago both are fine. Good news.
The painting of the chicken coop is progressing slowly, as in the door was painted and the hinges and bolt, but in keeping with the smallholders rule that each job done creates two more I decided that as so much time and effort (lots of time, two years planning) had gone into making such a brilliant hen house then why spoil it by standing it in mud. George was summonsed for his second job and pretty soon a sizable concrete pad was installed in Stallag 14. Any one wondering why the shuttering boards are arranged as so, its so I didn't have to cut them, means we can use them again. That's the plan. Unlike most DIY types I have a few additional complications when approaching any task, aside from incompetence. Like, how do you get an even coat of paint on the hen house without fur and wool, see pics (click on image and super size it) but the best was how do I get a barrow load of concrete 50 metres without letting cow out of gargen, tripping over piglets, letting hens out or having Bernese Mountain Dogs step on finished product. Answer. Mostly distraction with foodstuffs or threats with big stick. Sometimes life's so simple!
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Six months old!

Little t is now six months old and adorable.

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Saturday, 27 August 2011

Fingers crossed

I found this sick calf last might, across the field in front of Rock HQ, it was lay on its side, all the other cows including its mother were in the next field. First of all I thought it was dead as it was lay down, but it was shaking its ear and occasionally its tail would twitch. I went over to have a look and it stood up, and as the Big Belgian Blue Bull was walking over too I left them to it and phoned the militia who owned it. Sure enough an hour or so later he appeared, saga over, calf would be saved.

This morning , one side of the field a beautiful rainbow, the other a herd of cows, and a very poorly calf exactly where I had seen it 12 hours earlier. I phoned the militia, not to worry, infected ear tag so it gone lame, needs to be inside, hoping to get it sorted today.

And now over 24 hours on, the calf is still in the same spot. We are fighting the urge to go over and bring it back in, its been rained on, not had anything to eat from its mother and although it has stood up for a short time it hasn't really moved at all. Fingers crossed it makes it through another night.
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Friday, 26 August 2011

Five a day

The piglets chomping on the windfall plums. Very happy with this diet suppliment!

Thursday, 25 August 2011

A round Tuit

Left to my own devices I finally got round to a job that has been hanging over me for quite some time. Its a good job Tracey, my beautiful and oh so patient wife is, as patience is a quality that is needed around me. MY sense of time is a bit different to most, days are shorter than I think they are, weeks are around 10 days, a month is twice as long as most and deadlines are to be avoided at all costs.
For a while a very nice collection of wood has been waiting my attention in the workshop. For a while it was out of sight out of mind as was most of the workshop. But I knew it was there, and what it was for, a chicken coop (the wood not the workshop), well two actually, and while its waited for me to assemble it chickens have hatched, got eaten (not all by us) and dust settled. Workshop cleared out, the wood got moved, and now this visible guilt trip finally prompted action. Another prompt was a large number of chicken coops suddenly appearing on the "watch" list on ebay. So while the love of my life took our apprentice smallholder to visit family I decided to use the opportunity to create a masterpiece. My extensive toolkit of biro, rusty saw, tape measure, drill, box of screws and computer game box (it was the only thing that had any sort of right angles, essential apparently) soon, as in 10 back breaking hours (but that's 10 hours of heavy metal music, bonus!) under the watchful eyes of the dogs, we had a flat pack chicken coop. End of play saw a fine chicken coop with nesting box, cute little door and a variety of excellent and almost neat joints, the one in the bottom left of the picture I am particularly pleased with, and all without having to visit casualty. Its in sections so it unscrews, which is just as well as it weighs a ton. All that remains is to put the roof on and paint it. Tracey returned and was very pleased to find that I had been so busy, apparently its only been two years since I first said I would build it so she thinks I am ahead of schedule. Roof and painting happens this weekend, that's this weekend as in Saturday, not Wednesday.
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Wednesday, 24 August 2011

Where do you start?

Not a trick question, where do you start to tell whats happened over the last 40 or so hours? Without going into epic like war and peace mode so much goes on here its hard for us to keep up, a summary of key events is needed. Firstly the moody Rayburn has been coaxed back into life, thankfully it was nothing terminal, the SAS repairman thought my attempt to hoover up the debris from its non stop combustion was something that falls from cows backsides (four letters starts with an S, don't step in it) and after he did the same, but in a SAS trained way and replaced the wicks the furnace roared back into life. Steve has no idea what happened or why it happened but it did, probably it was indigestion, or spite.

The traveller man returned and has turned out fresh horses on the Bonsai Mountain, this means the Technohermit is making sure horses have water, which in turn means his nearest neighbours suddenly found they had no water as Technohermit had requisitioned the pipe.

They did have a smile on their faces about it when I saw them, perhaps it was gin in their T pot. I continue with my route marches across the slopes of the Bonsai Mountain saving fortunes in car running costs but running the gauntlet of flying biting stinging things.
Unusually we had an incident on Monday night that didn't happen to me, but to Tracey my beautiful and oh so patient wife. As she fed the pigs she became aware of two figures in the bushes watching her, it was almost dark, and they were dressed and hooded in black or camouflage gear. Not one to err on the side of caution she challenged the intruders who responded by shining laser type red lights on her, the type you get on weapons systems. Brave wife was supported by big brave dog who, in technical terms, chucked a mental, and our two would be assassins ran off across the militias fields. Yours truly enters the arena, not knowing the previous paragraph, and saw across the way strange blue and red lights dancing around. Thinking this must be a zombie attack signal I rally the troops and prepare to repel any undead who dare to cross our borders. Finding Tracey safe surrounded by agitated pork and bonkers dog a brief update is given and using my excellent tracking skills, aided by the fact its now almost totally dark and about half a mile away a security light comes on, a door opens and a flash of red confirms view that intruders live over there.
Now being a social worker I am a very tolerant sort, yeah right, and I am not in any way a nimby, and so a children's home across the way is fine by me. Who would begrudge children who haven't had the best start in life a chance to live here in our valley. Not me. But, if they chase calves, try and feed our pony golf balls and now think its right and proper to hide in our lane and frighten people then a visit to see them is in order. Unfortunately the staff were not as concerned as we were so we called it in to the local boy in blue to pop along and have a word in their shell likes.

Why this picture? Well it illustrates the speed the season moves along. X on right shows where the sun set on the summers solstice, you can see just to the right of the second X on the left the sun setting a week ago, and X on left is where sun set tonight. Soon be Christmas!
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Still being weird

These two are still acting weird. Does ambrose think hes a goose? Or does Rupert have ambitions to be a goat. Perhaps we should get more geese and that might remind Rupert what species hes from. Ambrose knows what he is, so do I, ingredients for curry!
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Monday, 22 August 2011

My way or the highway!

Today's tale was going to be a gloat about how lucky I am to have the opportunity to forsake Vic and walk over the Bonsai Mountain and in to work.

Especially on day like today when the sun is shining, the sky is blue (mostly) and the birds are singing in the trees. Some of the birdsong is drowned out by the sound of Rocky panting like an asthmatic steam train, but you get the idea.

My heart sang (poetry this is poetry) and seeing the embryonic forest school where a dread locked youth leader gathered all the little children, like he from Hamlin, around him and told them what adventures they were going to have playing amongst the trees, all was well in my world. A new generation of tree huggers were in the making and from what I could see they were intent on making the biggest bivvies ever. Gone were the risks of the long distance commute, no more suicidal ponies in the dark, no yellow micra drivers who think Vics side of the road is better than theirs and so use it while Vic was (I still have no idea how we avoided a head on crash, other than it wasn't my time)and heavy duty tyre use, monster fuel bill and so on. Walking was great. Virtually risk free.

Virtually. The walk home revealed a previously unforeseen and extremely painful one.

This is the view from the Whet Stone looking toward the Bonsai Mountain, my route home the path leading down the left, around the other side, Rock HQ. What cannot be seen along the path is a silver shimmer in the grass. As I walked I could see first hundred, then thousands, tens of thousands, no millions of red ants with wings, their sole purpose in life to fly far from the nest and set up another colony. As I marvelled at this wonder of nature I pondered for a second whether Hergest was one big anthill, but that was folly, how extraordinary to see such a gathering, they were along every step of the path, all crawling amongst the grass trying to gain a lift off point. Ha! You car drivers dont get to see a sight like this ever!

As I passed they must have taken the sudden appearance of a sweaty fat bloke as a sign from the great (but probably small) god of ants, this is what they had been waiting for. Suddenly each step caused a ripple effect amongst the winged population and they took to the air en masse. This would itself have been amazing had it not been for the fact that many of the flying ants, intent on furthering the ambitions of the colony by finding the ideal nesting site on landing, found that what they had landed on was less than favourable, sweating and mobile. This caused annoyance and they vented their fury by stinging yours truly as hard and as often as they could. Having survived a swarm of wasps recently I was not going to be taken down by a lesser insect, however the ants were winning by sheer weight of numbers and an uncanny ability to find gaps in clothing. I ran like an Olympic flagellant, fresh clouds of soon to be angry ants billowed around me with each thunderous footstep. Eventually my rapid descent took me from the danger zone but the damage was done, bathed in ant acid I made Rock HQ looking a bit different.
Oh my God what happened to you is not the standard greeting from Tracey my beautiful and oh so patient wife (actually to be honest she says more often than most wives have to, fell off mountain bike, fell off gallery landing, got chased by wasps and others) but an indicator to the facial stings. I gibbered something about ants but she could see as there were still some determined specimens eager to go down fighting. Ordered to shower I meekly did as I was told while my clothes were bagged up as a bio hazard and incinerated.

Lets see what tomorrows walk brings!

Sunday, 21 August 2011

Heart of the matter

Its not one of the top ten most reassuring phrases heard as you sit and relax, reflecting on a day done well, probably the Captain of the Titanic heard worse when the lookout spotted the famous ice cube, but for me "Whats that burning smell?" uttered by my beautiful and oh so patient wife Tracey late yesterday evening alerted me to quite a serious situation in the kitchen.
Rock HQ's heart is a Rayburn, a moody piece of equipment at the best of times, one that is periodically tamed by a SAS trained repair man called Steve the Rayburn, naturally. The Rayburn lurks with intent to incinerate it not treated with respect. Usually it ticks over nicely giving the cottage a warm rosy glow. We wander round the kitchen like ready brek kids when its roused from slumber and cooking for us. Left to its own devices last night something had obviously upset it as it was smoking heavily, black acrid smelling clouds billowed from its oven and when yours truly tried to soothe its fevered brow, the temperature gauge off the scale, past 500 degrees, a jet of flame some three feet high caused momentary anxiety that the Rayburn was trying to kill me. Armed with oven gloves and shouting something about its gone nuclear I frantically tried to remember how to disconnect the oil supply. Finally starved of fuel the beast cooled down and peace was restored.
Part of today was spent cleaning the soot out of it and generally trying to persuade the beast to behave itself. For its part it allowed a thorough cleaning of all its internal organs but steadfastly refused to warm up and is still sulking in the kitchen forcing us to eat sandwiches or microwaved meals.
A call to the SAS will be made on the morrow.
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Saturday, 20 August 2011

Decent sorts

We get all kinds of people passing through our patch of paradise, ranging from lost Orthodox Jews to benefit claimants who, after being told their benefit office had closed for a fortnight one summer packed his suitcase and walked as far as he could for a week before turning round and heading back again. He pitched camp her for two nights and enjoyed a bit of Rock HQ hospitality. We also get geologists, mountain bikers, lost paramedics, members of the militia (searching for sheep, hopefully theirs not ours) and once a drunk who decided the pigs were so cuddly she got in amongst. Its an amazing sobering effect cuddling someone elses pig.

Occasionally we get what are technically referred to as R-Sole types, who are rude, have dogs that chase our sheep/poultry and who think that as they are on the footpath crossing our land they have every right to be as objectionable as possible thus reinforcing the stereotype we have of townies in the countryside.

Today we had several groups pass through, all of which were thoroughly decent types. One couple having enjoyed a meal at our local decided to walk off part of the calorific excess by following the well worn trail around the Bonsai Mountain. They made it as far as the end of our lane, took one look at the swamp in The Cauldron, decided that yes, Trolls do live there and doubled back. They knocked on our door, one of our pigs was in distress, it might be nothing but they wanted to let me know. Sure enough one was, a Mangalitza piglet with a cut leg, probably from a failed escape attempt.

The second couple passing soon after had walking poles, so were more than able to take on the Trolls thus undeterred by the challenge ahead. But they stopped and said hello, and get the award for the nicest hiker we have met here in nearly five years. In fact they were so nice and so complimentary about the pigs, the smallholding, life the unverse and everything that they left with a free pack of sausage. It pays to be nice, the Karma Police say so!

Friday, 19 August 2011

Getting to know you!

I have a plan to be a local eccentric one day in the future, the type who insists on taking his pony around the supermarket. However, having spent more time in our local town, thanks to Red Kite Fostering, I am getting to know the locals. Given this picture above is the norm round these parts I have a long way to go before I can even compete in the eccentric stakes.
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Breakfast menu....

...erm, plums, damsons, apples, hazelnuts, more plums, definitely more plums. Did I say plums? More of those please!

Pigs love autumn breakfasts!

Thursday, 18 August 2011

Keep still!

Bella barking in the Corral OK alerted us to little Misty's big problem. Up on the uber steep slope (trainee cliff) above the corral but under the rock (keep up) our brave and curious pony had boldly gone where no other pony had gone before and soon found out why when progress ground to a halt thanks to a section of old stock fence that had fallen from above and is on the to do list but never seems to get done. Thankfully I had my pocket bolt cutters amongst the detritus of baler twine, old mints and unlucky rabbit, foot.
Misty chose not to stove my head in as I fumbled around the danger zone and after several tense moments as I chose which wire to cut (cutting the wrong one would have meant an explosion, of one sort or another) Misty was free and scampered off without so much as a backward glance. Her not killing me was payment enough. Moving the old wire is now job five for this Saturday, its below clean the helipad, clear 2 acres of bracken, clear out the stable and pressure wash the inside and mats, and move my unmade Airfix models from the utility room as they are in the way. Apparently the cats need the space to sleep in. I know my place.
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Wednesday, 17 August 2011

Sign of the times

No, not my next means of getting to work, just Apollo being introduced to his leather gear. I walked to work today, but unlike yesterday it wasn't that arduous as I worked at home so while I did have the usual tricky first descent on the stairs to contend with the crossing the living room to the desk only took a minute.

Beth popped round for a quick visit, when she left this was on the front door, says it all really!
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Tuesday, 16 August 2011

Shank's Pony

In an effort to allay any concerns that I am turning into a petrol head, today a new method of getting to work was used, Shank's Pony. I have been meaning to cycle to work (so taking a leaf from Andy from Germany's book) since having the office for Red Kite Fostering a mere 3.5 miles away. Riding a bike requires several things, firstly the obvious, a bike, and I am a proud owner of a nice shiny new(ish) racing bike courtesy of he who cannot be named who spent nearly two weeks wages on the beast to go a cycling holiday in Spain last year. Once off the air con comfort of the aircraft and having covered 100k in 100 degreeson the first day he and his fellow cyclist binned the idea of a road trip in the saddle and hired a car. On his return I snapped up the bargain bike and it has lain unmolested in the workshop ever since.
Since the great workshop clear out and thanks to Tracey, my beautiful and oh so patient wife remembering where the safe place was that I had put the front wheel spindle (too obvious to keep it with the wheel, no it was in the settle in the conservatory) the bike has been calling my name and goading me to use it.
The second thing needed to cycle to work is two arms, well I have two, and one is held together with space age mechanno and I haven't ridden a bike since my little accident of September 2007. I am pretty sure my arm would take the strain, but as yet its not had the chance, and my sub conscious must have been having kittens over my idea that today was the day to cycle as all night I had graphic and explicit dreams of picking myself up off the grey tarmac and collecting pieces of shattered left arm. This went on until I told myself that the bike ride was off and around 4am I watched the imaginary sheep jump over a crashed bike until I finally slept.
Having decided that bike riding was the future I was a bit subdued over my breakfast tea and toast until the bright idea of walking to work came to the fore. By road its 3.5 miles, by Bonsai Mountain its a shade over 3.4. If I cycled I would have to walk the first .4 as our track is not built for Racing bikes with wafer thin wheels. Decision made I packed a rucksack, donned my wild weather gear as just to make things interesting it was pouring with rain.

The collage at the top is the journey there, while the one above is back again. It took just over an hour to get there and an hour and ten to get back. On the way I met one other person who was walking Offas Dyke, on the way back I met several more who were heading down to bed and breakfasts and a well earned pint. I have to be honest and say that I wont walk every day, but the plan is to do it at least once a week, and if the sub conscious allows the bike will be used as well. You can click on the collages and they supersize:)
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