Saturday, 18 February 2017

Then I'll Do It Myself (Said the Little Red Hen...)

...and she did!

As sick as a dog. Deefer on Thursday
Poor Deefer was not well. She was, literally, as sick as a dog. She did not have a good night on Wednesday, nor a particularly good day Thursday. I'm not 100% sure why. I suspect she reacted badly to a cooked roast-pork bone, a chunk of shoulder blade I gave her as a 'treat'. RAW pork bones are their absolute favourite food and have only good, positive effects but this may not be true of the cooked version. As we went to bed, I could tell she was not comfortable, restless, sometimes panting. By 5 o'clock she was 'telling me' she needed to go outside.

Oh Dear Oh Dear. Not happy. 
That walk round finding coat, wellies, dog-leads etc showed me that she had actually been up several times in the night and done an impressive collection of squitty poos and sicks. In 15 minutes or so outside she unloaded a bit more but then seemed brighter, so we all went back to bed. We repeated this at 6 and she continued to improve. She had a fairly 'moopy' day spending most of it just looking sad and sometimes shivering. She just wanted lots of cuddles and declined all food, treats and did not want the daily walk at midday, so I let her off. By evening she was almost back to normal, ate her supper (though not with the usual hoovering gusto) and we all got a nice long night's sleep.

A good haul of beer cans and food packaging
for an hour walking with my litter-picker.
There was even a dumped CD player. 
While I'm on dog walking, I will ask you to bear with me while I have a rare moan. Fly tipping and jettisoning rubbish from your car as you drive along. I was almost certainly deluded and naive when I was planning to move to Ireland, but in my head I had conflated the known respect the Irish have for children/parenting with the '40 shades of green' thing and calculated that the Irish must be much 'greener' and environmentally aware than are we Brits. Foolish Boy! I was quite disappointed when I arrived and started exploring and found that the locals are just as bad as the Brits for tossing beer cans, fag packets, dead CD players and food packaging out of cars as they drive along.

Back in the goose egg game.
There is no equivalent here of the council guy sent out to pick up litter with his Hi-Viz jacket and his neat little row of filled bags along the verge waiting for the lorry-crew to round them up. Tidying up here is all done by volunteers working with the appropriately named "Tidy Towns" group - the local equivalent of the "Village of the Year" thing we were part of in Kent. Tidy Towns do a brilliant and much appreciated job but they mainly do it around the village and they only do it (understandably) in Summer. If you want it doing out here in the 'sticks' and in Winter then you're on your own. I will do it myself, said the little red hen... and she did.

And I do. The locals may see me as a weirdo-eccentric (though a couple have stopped to chat, empathised with my annoyance at those who litter and complimented me) but I just decided one day that this would be one way of giving something back to the area and the environment. I usually wait till just after the verges are mowed so that I can see the stuff lying in the grass but this most recent time was because I was particularly aggrieved by a bigger-than normal dump of a dozen cans and a shopping bag containing glass bottles (broken by now, of course).

This goose may have been interrupted in her egg-making.
An egg and a bit?
I will draw a veil over the fact that these were cans of alcoholic drinks lobbed out of a moving car. Other piles have been of children's orange drink sachets with straws, so I would guess dumped by a family outing with parents present. Hey ho. At least for a short while you can now drive down our lane and admire the 40 shades of green verges and lack of shiny, colourful cans and Coke bottles.

A chicken having a re-think? 'Herme'
Finally and while I am still on red hens, we have a strange tale to tell of odd sexual happenings among the chooks. In short, one of our Buff Orpington hens seems to be having a re-think and turning into a rooster. Friends of the Blog will know that we recently offed our #1 rooster for being aggressive to humans and were left, we thought, with our newest Marans lad, Gandalf. So far so good though we believe, now looking back on it, that one of the buff hens has looked 'different' enough to have been described by us as "the one with the long neck" or the bright cape.

The ducklings discover the paddling pool. 
So this morning I noticed that this particular bird was chasing one of the paler girls about and this afternoon 'she' surprised Liz by jumping onto a hen and "treading" her like a rooster would. We are now seeing 'her' in a new light and can see that 'she' does indeed walk taller than a hen. She also has a bigger, brighter cape and a medium-big red 'face' (comb, wattles) but from thorax down 'she' is still a hen - little feet with no spurs, stumpy hen-tail, no big fluffy rooster 'pantaloons'.

So, what have we here? A very slow, late developer? She was hatched in spring 2016. Her clutch-mates and brothers have long since matured/differentiated into roosters and gone down that route (culled by me or killed by the fox). Google and 'book-learning' give you three possible other explanations which are rare enough to have me shying away from 'claiming' them - proper 'hermaphroditism' where the sexual differentiation gets muddled and the bird is neither one thing nor another, 'gynandromorhism' where the bird is 50/50, sometimes 'sided', where the left half of the bird is fully male and the right side female (these are usually sterile) or, thirdly showing "spontaneous sexual reversal (SSR)". In SSR, the left ovary gets damaged and stops producing oestrogen, so the bird changes sex. So far so rare and so weird.

Our 'weirdo' has been named 'Herme' by Liz because he/she may be hermaphrodite and we'll just keep an eye on him/her. If he/she turns into a full active rooster, then all well and good as long as he stays off the human-aggression malarkey. If the preferred route is to stay 'Little Red Hen' then we can do that too. Watch this space.

Tuesday, 14 February 2017

Legal 'Beagle's

Doggie Documentation
This is another rather short blog post as befits the relative lack of 'stuff' going on.

Our three dogs are so flippin' legal as of today that they were last heard of combing the Internet for a doggie lawyer in case they should need representation the next time they are caught chasing the kittens. In Ireland domestic dogs not only need to be licenced, they also need to be radio-chipped; one of those tiny grain-of-rice sized smart-tags injected under the skin between the shoulder blades.

The Ros go Run Committee pick up their sponsorship
cheque from Drury Oils.
The chipping is a one-off which we did last year, but the licencing works on an annual reminder - you trot along to your local post office with €20 cash per dog in your little paw. This year we had thought we might have got away with it, forgotten in the battle to get everyone chipped. The reminders normally come in December and we had made it through that month and January with ne'ery a whisper. Perhaps it was not happening? No such luck and the three reminder postcards hit the post-box with a resounding 'thunk' on Monday. I've been down today to pay up, tidying up the Postmistress's pad of forms in the process with documents number  599 and 600.

Buffers in process.
I mentioned in the last post that our #2 rooster, the Buff Orpington lad, 'Buffers' had started to attack us when we were trying to feed the birds or what ever, and was likely to need sorting. He persisted despite us warning him  so he is now 'late'. I went out after dark to collect him quietly from his perch (the least stressful way) and he is now  a rather lovely and extremely tender Coq-au-vin. He was a beautifully clean bird, completely lacking parasites or any damage and very, very well feathered, especially around the big, fluffy, Buff-Orp 'pantaloons'. He weighed 2.94 kg oven-ready.

Kato decides to help the plucking process by using the
sink full of fluff as a feather bed. 
He was plucked and then portioned up with all the easy bits (thighs, wings, breast, drumsticks etc) going into the Coq-au-vin via a 24 hour marinade in red wine - a whole bottle! The big remaining chunks (back, pelvis, neck) got boiled as stock and the meat stripped off the boiled bones for the dogs. The 'gribbly bits' (liver, gizzard, heart) went to the cats.

24 hours submerged in some generic Bordeaux softened
him up beautifully. 
It turned out a very successful 'processing' and Buffers should know that he did not die in vain. He went into the slow cooker yesterday afternoon but we judged that he was not really 'done' by supper time. We juggled the menu and decided to eat him tonight, so he got all that evening (6 hours) and then most of today (8 hours) in the crock-pot. You will probably guess he was fall-off-the-bone tender and seriously delicious. Without doubt the best cull-rooster meal I have ever had. That Lizzie is surely a genius in the kitchen.

The young ducks get some closely supervised 'out' while they
meet Mum and Dad. 
Meanwhile, on birds, the 'ducklings' are now almost 6 weeks old and quickly out-growing their little 2m x 1m rabbit run. Today we started the process of introducing them to the adult duck and drake (Mary and William) who are actually their biological parents (and sole duck survivors of the fox attack in November). Of course, the Drake does not know this and has no reason to be particularly nice to them - they are just unknown birds invading his patch and needing telling who is boss. We have to supervise to make sure this stays within decent bounds and nobody gets hurt. Ducks can be quite the violent bullies/rapists if that is how the mood takes them.

I am interested to see how the sexes work out on these three youngsters. The adult birds, as I said, are the 2 survivors from our original group of 6 which were 2 drakes and 4 females and which we noticed had what looked like sex-linked colour patterns. All 4 females had big splashes of white feathers down throat and chest, where the drakes both had solid dark heads and necks and brown bodies. They also had that mallard-style green iridescence on their heads.

We do not know whether white chested females is a Khaki-Campbell breed trait or possibly just true for this family/strain but the three new 'babies' all have this white throat/chest thing (see photo). I am hopeful that all three will be females, bringing our egg-laying number straight back up to the 2016 pre-fox level (4) without any wasteful drake appetites slowing me down. Too much to ask? Maybe not.

Friday, 10 February 2017

Last Logs and First Fixes

The Pulmonaria in the woods start into flower
A nice, compact, portable, user friendly, post today as we are in that quiet time between all the excitement of recent posts, and the burst of activity which is Spring. I have done a bit of planting in the tunnel and we have been buying seeds but the main (outdoor) garden is developing an "Elephant in the Room" status. It is THE BIG JOB this year. Fighting back into control of the 25*100 foot patch of ridged soil which I shamefully lost control of in 2016. I keep looking at it but the frosty weather, the rain and today's bitter wintry showers have so far stopped me getting the knee pads on and making a start.

The last bit of black spruce from the 2016
felling project, finally gets dragged out of
the woods and sliced up. 
If I feel bad about that, then I have been doing some bits outside lately to balance the books. I broke out the chain saw today and went round finishing off some jobs that had been on the list for a while too long. The last piece of black spruce trunk left from the 2016 'trees-on-the-lawn' felling project finally got dragged out of the woods and sliced up. Various fallen branches which had been lying in the sheep field and used as scratching posts and 'mineral' nibbles (sheep will nibble tree bark and twiggy bits when grass is not sufficiently nutritious) were chopped up so that they can be barrowed home as logs.

An elder and its neighbour growing from our boundary
bank at 45º were starting to impede our progress round to
the tunnel. (Base stump arrowed)
There were also a few branches stashed under the log store that needed dealing with - the bits were too long to go into the range (16" maximum) and the last of the "telegraph pole" sections and some big gnarly bits which needed splitting (too big diameter).

The dogs enjoying their daily off-lead time
Finally there were a couple of big, overgrown elders in the hedge by the poly-tunnel which had grown out of the bank at 45º. Each year they delight us with flowers and berries at easy-pick heights BUT they had begun to impede the progress of anyone walking dogs round the 'estate' or trying to get to the tunnel. I took these 'lads' down foot by foot and generated another useful stack of barrow-able logs, all be it elder is not that good a species for firewood.

Kitchen electrics 'first-fix'
The only other news is that we had our new 'Sparks' round to first-fix the electrics in the kitchen. It's not a massive job - we only need a light in the ceiling and a couple of double sockets with the new worktop. Only the latter bit gave the guy pause for a while - the plan had been to run a spur off a Sitting Room socket by drilling through the back of that socket to emerge in the kitchen.

When our original Sparks tried this he had the modern 'SDS' drill but had to buy a 1m long bit to get through our 50 cm walls at a 30º upward angle - he was installing 'carriage lights' out front. Conferring with this guy we decided that rather than buy another bit, we would take our spur from the old kitchen and 'chase' it through at one end of the new. This is now done and K-Dub and I can now proceed with the slabbing etc.

One of the marmalades makes short work of a chunk of
roast chicken pelvis. 
That is pretty much it. If you are feeling deprived (ha!) and in need of more 'Care Brothers' waffle, then let me point you at the blog of my younger bro', Mark. If my version of the retirement dream was to buy the 'farm' and keep livestock, then his was definitely to travel the world. He is a keen writer about these missions and packs his 'travelogue' posts with plenty of lovely photo's of the places he and his good lady have visited.

Most recently they have done a 4-weeker in New Zealand in which they drew heavily on the advice of a 'consultant/guide' for the itinerary. They went pretty much EVERYwhere and did lots of different things, so they have a wealth of pictures - scenery, cities, restaurants and food, a cathedral hit by the recent earthquake, dolphins. albatrosses and sea lions, 4 x 4 driving on dirt roads over the mountains, kayaking, even dropping in on 'Hastings' the town named after our own birthplace. The highlight for me, though was when they managed to do a light-aircraft "Sky Safari" over a superbly beautiful range of snow-capped, glacier-iced 'alps' on what must have been the blue-est sky clear conditions you could only dream about.

Go take a look at . Nice one Mark!

Tuesday, 7 February 2017

New Twins for Nanny

Nanny and the new kids, not yet 48 hours old here, under the
IR heat lamp.
A text from our good friend Carolyn tells us that her 'Nanny' goat has just landed twins. The timing of these new babies is correct for full term, going off the dates Carolyn has in her diary for when 'Billy' (they do like original names over there!) was with Nanny but they are tiny. Charlotte, currently working full time in Dublin (missed the birth again, Char'!) , juggles some holiday entitlement and races down to assist. One (curiously the larger of the twins) is struggling a bit, is very sluggish, breathes huskily, needs help getting onto a teat and starts to 'scour' (diarrhoea).

Those 2 kids.
They are put under a heat lamp to keep them warm. The vet is called in a hurry and the kid gets 2 injections, an anti-scour dose and electrolytes. 48 hours on he is much better - a bit 'drunk' but trying to do some clumsy bouncing around. Mum is doing a good attentive job but is (understandably?) very wary of cleaning the poo-ey end of the scouring one.

Charlotte steps in to clean him up a bit but Nanny seems to be thinking of abandoning him; Charlotte guesses that it is the new, cleaned, human smell off him putting her off so she smears a bit of the local Nanny 'flavour' back onto him and Nanny re-adopts him. Phew! It's all go in that Maternity Unit. As I go to 'print' everyone is still with us and it's all looking hopeful.

Sibling bonding. The twins nuzzling each other.
Followers of this blog who were with us a year ago will recall that this 'Nanny' is the same goat who spent last winter with us while C+C were moving house and were temporarily without an adequately fenced field to house the pregnant Nanny and her new beau Billy. Nanny gave birth to the big singleton kid 'Henry Óg' under the trees in our East Field. Billy was not, in that case, the sire. Nanny had been pregnant when purchased and collected by Charlotte and I from over by Kiltimagh (Co. Mayo). During the course of 2016, the humans sorted out some field fencing and we shipped the goats to their new home in the summer. Nanny is a lovely, sweet, animal and we have kept 'in touch' with her since, so we are delighted that she has now kidded successfully again.

Meanwhile a new venture for us, trying to organise a bit of a get together of the members of the Facebook group "West of Ireland Smallholders" of which I am co-admin. Pictures in this section have nothing to do with that event; they were just pretty frost scenes from our recent cold snap. Once a 365-er... always a 365-er? Anyway, there are 250 members in the group but these are spread very thinly right up the western half of the country, all the way from Buncrana (Donegal) down to Baltimore (Cork) - a distance of 600 km, or 8 hours driving. It was never going to be easy to get many of them together; would you drive 4 hours to a pub in the middle for breakfast and a chat, then 4 hours home? Nor would I.

Ewes with frosty backs get a bit of breakfast
In a post/thread on the group which was originally about still-born goat-kids some posters got into discussing how we on the group should meet up properly in 'real life'. This happens a lot on the Internet and can sometimes be easy enough to organise but our lot seemed to be fluffing around in "we should do lunch" style and nothing concrete was being set down. I decided to set up a 'straw-man' with a suggested date, time and venue which people could then either accept or argue with different suggestions. I went with today at 11 for 11:30 at Hester's 'Golden Eagle' (pub) in Castlerea which is easy to find, and sells very good, honest "pub grub" and breakfasts at comfortable prices.

Frosty bog-land view to the North from our East Field
My suggestion met with the expected mild flurry of interest as well as a smattering of counter-suggestions and some apologies for, as expected, distance, lack of transport, prior engagements, livestock issues, busy-ness etc. There were enough positives, though, for us to go ahead - we thought we might get a few takers even if there were last minute blow-outs, which there were - one poor friend had fallen badly and smashed a knee while racing to rescue laundry from a hail storm and another had "emergency dentistry" scheduled for the very time we were getting served our breakfasts.

Our willow tunnel. 
In the event, it all went off rather nicely. Half a dozen of us sat down for a chat at 11 am over tea and coffee before segue-ing gently into ordering breakfasts or sandwiches according to taste while the tea and coffee kept coming. It was lovely to meet the new faces and to put real 'people' to the Facebook versions and the chat meandered in a lively fashion around goats, pasture improvement, Tr*mp, Br*x*t and a hard border between Northern Ireland and the Republic, pension arrangements, newspapers and even music. A very pleasant morning's event. Hester's had done us proud (as expected) with the food and drink.

We are not sure where we go from here. Should we make it monthly and see if the numbers build? Should we start to move it around the patch - let someone from a distant corner of the 'West' organise one and start to get a network going? Should we possibly say that, No, we only attracted 4 people so there is not really a demand for this even though people talk a 'good game' on the net? My instinct is to sit back now and see if there is any ground-swell of support asking for a repeat and promising to come to another one. Watch, as they say, this space.

Friday, 3 February 2017

Missing the Cut....Twice!

A recent presentation to the village about grant money
available for improving energy efficiency of houses and
Once, so they say, is an accident. Twice is careless. Three times starts to look deliberate. Being your average poverty stricken (well, OK, maybe not so bad) farmers we always have our eyes and ears open for any new grant aid or assistance schemes dreamed up by the Government or the Min-of-Ag to support rural communities, prop up farming and try to stem the flood of village depopulation.

Followers of this blog back in 2011/2 may recall that we deliberately set up a small out-building behind the house with a mains water and electricity feed in case we might, one day, want to convert it (back?) into a small dwelling. We even left a hole in the concrete path there so that we could, if necessary, graft a sewage outflow from it, onto the existing pipework with a saddle joint without having to rattle up concrete. This building, which we call the Tígín (Irish for 'wee housey') was the one we lit with fairly lights at Christmas and I posted pics of it then. We are sure that it was once a dwelling (maybe even the main dwelling) because it has a front and back door, a window and a fireplace and chimney; not features commonly found in cow sheds!

Back in 2011 we had heard of a grant scheme called "Roscommon Leaders Partnership" which was giving money to anyone who was trying to enhance tourist facilities locally. We toyed with the idea of adding that build to the existing house project, still using 'Sparks' as our main man, installing a tiny kitchen/shower, re-roofing and slabbing out the room to make a nice cosy holiday let or sleeping accommodation for B+B guests. It all never quite happened as we got buried in the frantic, long-hours, days of April and May, finishing the main house and were delighted to be able to move in and start on the garden and live-stock spaces. It remains, though, in the long-term plans and the 'dream'.

Step forward 5 years to 2017 and we look just as bad at actually applying for these grants. We failed on 2 more recently for totally separate reasons and will not be converting that Tíg any time very soon either!

The first was a re-publishing of that 'Leader' money we missed back in 2011/12 - this time Liz heard about it in January and even printed the down-loadable forms and brought them home. This was just for what they call an "Expression of Interest" (EoI) to allow them to gauge how many people would be likely to apply for the real grants with all the architect drawings and signed off tenders by local builders which that was likely to entail.

Well, we got as disorganised as normal around early January and the forms sat and sat, part completed for a "few days" before I slotted in the last few bits of information and managed to remember to get them to the post office for posting. Unfortunately that crashed into the closing date for EoI forms and today I got back a rather forlorn e-mail saying that my application had been rejected because (tick box) "Ineligible". Reason - closing date was 16th, form was received on 17th. Ooops. Ah well. That one, at least, will probably still be there in 2017/8 and we have put a note on the calendar to get cracking.

The 2nd case was less frustrating and more amusing. Liz's work place, the 'village hall' is looking to improve its insulation and general facilities (incl. kitchen area etc) so had been batting around the idea of grant-aid. They had focused in on an organisation called "The Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland" (SEAI) which is currently doing presentations around the villages with a view to attracting anyone who wants to improve the energy efficiency of their dwelling, church, community buildings and even retail/commercial set-ups. The village invited SEAI along to do one here in the village and we went along to a well attended session to see what might be about.

It is a very good scheme which is willing to grant-assist you up to 80% in certain circumstances and, in fact 95% in special cases but it is aimed at improving poor buildings for, especially, those people who it categorizes as 'Fuel-poor' which includes pensioners on Fuel Allowances and so on. We turn out to be ineligible again, mainly because our lovely 'new' house is already up to scratch in too many ways (slabbed, loft-insulated, low energy lighting etc). I was amused and interested by some of those cut offs. You would be "Fuel poor" if you had been on Job Seeker's allowance for more than 6 months but also had a child under 7 years old in the house. Are they more expensive to keep warm than 8 year olds?

The other aspect that caught my attention was that they would pay for a replacement stove but only if you did not connect it to the water heating / central heating and only if it was a new fangled 'bio-mass' one or oil-only. Basically nothing that could burn solid fuels like the locally-ubiquitous turf-sods, logs or coal. The bio-mass ones take only chipped wood. The reasons have to do with carbon-credits from the EEC and the need to be 90% energy efficient, which no old turf-burner can match. As I understand it, the turf and logs need so much air to burn them that you pretty much HAVE to have a big chimney which conducts 25% (at least) of your heat straight up into the frosty night sky. This is true even of new stoves like ours which have a convoluted air flow inside where the flames/heat wrap round 3 sides of your water jacket before they depart up the flue. The SEAI mission is to pull as many turf-stoves as possible out of these little cottages and ask the residents to pay for oil or chipped wood instead of the turf they have cut for themselves in the local bog for generations and have stacked in mountains in their hay sheds. Good luck with that bit, SEAI.

A shiny new and beautifully flat and level
concrete floor in the kitchen-to-be.
Meanwhile, not all building activities have been snookered by lack of grant money. I have progress to report on the 'new' kitchen. We have a floor. A nice, smooth, shiny, dead-flat sheet of fine concrete. That was Wednesday afternoon's job and took about 3 hours all up. We mixed our own concrete in a huge 'Flexi' bucket using a 2-handed stirring paddle, carried it across from the pile of 'gritted sand' to the kitchen and tipped it out, before K-dub did the honours spreading, tamping and generally working it to spirit level flatness.

Because this area was originally outside the house and formed part of the concrete path surrounding the place and designed to shed rain-water away from the foundations, it had quite a fall on it away from the walls. We could not, realistically dig up the original concrete as it was new and hard, contained steel reinforcing mesh AND the sewage pipes from the house, so we went in over the top. The new concrete, therefore, goes from mm thick at the old kitchen wall, to nearly 3" thick at the new doors/windows. The area is about 8' by 11' and used around a tonne of sand and 5 bags of cement. We now have to stay off it while it sets/dries, before we can let the electrician in to do his first fix.

That, then, was a post almost devoid of photo's as befits my new 'post-365' status and the camera being mainly on the shelf for now. Until next time, then.....

Tuesday, 31 January 2017

The Eagle Has Landed

The 'Send' button brings an end to Lisacul 365 (for me). 
There's a relief! 31st January, so we come to the end of a big and attention demanding project to which I have frequently alluded for the last 14 months or so, 'Lisacul 365'. If you are new to the blog then you may welcome a brief explanation. This was a project started by the local village through our new website (LisaculInfo.IE) as part of the village promotion and heritage recording; we had to take at least one photograph within (of or from) the 18 townlands (sub-parishes) EVERY day from 1st Feb 2016 to 31st Jan 2017.

Last check of my final posting before I logged out. Job done.
Liz has been administering the rapidly growing gallery of images as part of her work. I volunteered to be safety net/back stop committing to take at least one pic every day just in case the other photographers failed to and, because I enjoyed it, I determined that this 'one' would actually be at least 3 so that the admin/judging/selection end still had a choice even if I was the only snapper and tried to make my 3 nice and varied (so, for example, a ruin, a cow and a sky-scape rather than 3 goats). In practise we have attracted 30+ different photographers across the year and have, on some days, had dozens of pictures sent in.

For my last days of 365-ing I tried to end on
an up-beat note; signs of spring, newness,
sunrises etc. 
We also went off on a bit of a tangent when the village 'Tidy Towns' group asked us to focus on wildlife and nature for their Bio-Diversity week. With the photographers' work done, the plan is now for Liz to sort all the incoming pics into a format where a judging panel (yet to be decided) can be shown all the possible pics for each day and select their best 366 (leap year, so 366, not just 365). They have given us all till the end of Feb to get those pictures in. You will recall that as well as a very pretty website with, now, galleries off to the side (on Flickr) for each month, for the Bio-Diversity and various other sub-projects, a very fine calendar came out of these photos. Working on a big-town budget, Faversham also produced a glossy 365-page book of all the pictures and had a lovely exhibition of all of them framed. I think we are not in that league, but we are very proud of what we did manage.

The snow drops did not quite make it open
by 31st but these were near enough. 
Everyone at the project will always acknowledge the lady who inspired all this, French-born Nathalie Banaigs who now lives in Faversham, our former home-town. Nathalie started all this in Faversham with the 'Faversham 365' version which then spawned various other 365s in Kent towns. When we suggested doing the first ever one in Ireland in our village, she gave us her blessing and has continued to follow, inspire, support and occasionally advise us. She was delighted when told that we had completed our year. Thank you very, very much, Nathalie. More on this project in this blog when we get all the rest of the pictures in and start judging/selecting

Misty frosty sunrise in the townland of Creevy
Where to now? I am going to miss the discipline of knowing I have to get out there and get some good, original, new pictures every day and not really being able to relax until I have scored - it was always there in the back of my mind. Sometimes I felt I had 'shot' enough ruins, boreens, cute calves and bog-flowers and I was driving round the deserted, misty, country lanes feeling completely un-inspired but something always seemed to turn up; a strikingly marked donkey or the break in a fence where I might sneak into that bit of forestry with the lovely green floor and all those toadstools.

Pussy willow after the rain.
In reality I love my photography and would generally be using the camera every day anyway taking blog-pictures or record shots of the building project(s) or new hatched chicks, so I don't suppose the camera will gather dust for long. Even though the website is through the 365 project, it will still need a supply of fresh pictures to brighten up or illustrate the stories. The camera is generally in the car when I am out and about, or slung round my neck as I walk the dogs.

Long straight grass-track in Kiltybranks bog
Talking of dogs, we managed an adventure worthy of those much-loved children's TV dramas which involved extra-ordinarily clever animals - Lassie Super dog, Flipper (dolphin) or Skippy the Bush Kangaroo. Although Skippy was a kangaroo he always managed to explain to the kids in the tale by wrinkling his nose and smacking his lips that there was a child fallen down the old empty well and in need of rescuing by the gang in time for a happy ending of that episode and the Director's moral message where someone's Dad reminded all the children that it was dangerous to play near the well. All good stuff.

So, there I was walking my gang down across the Kiltybranks bog-land, square miles of open space criss-crossed by hard paths but riddled with ditches, holes and soggy, sinky bits of sphagnum peat/moss. I'd turned right up a side turn and the dogs had dived down off that path for an explore of an interesting ditch. I whistled them up and strode on - it always works - they do not want to fall behind the 'pack' so they race back out and are soon nudging my calves with their noses, 'asking' me to pull over so they can pass.

Hubbard chicken thighs and stuffed peppers with couscous
Not this time, apparently. A few minutes 'striding' and I was 100 yards further on and noticed the lack of dogs. Looking back I could see the two 'pups' (Towser and Pops) in the distance on the path, but no Deefer. I called and whistled but those pups were not having any of it (which is unusual)  and when I shouted in annoyance and started back they turned and ran away from me (which is unheard of) a few paces and stopped again. I realised that I was being called back and had also still not seen Deefer so I realised that something had gone wrong and all the 'Skippy' stuff came into my head. Were they asking me to rescue Deefer?

Tray-bake haggis with neeps and tatties
for our Burns Night. A wee dram too.
We got our happy ending - the pair showed me where, much further back up the track I could just hear a repeated single whimpering yelp from the ditch to the side and then spotted the white of an ear down among the heather. Deefer had got herself down into a ditch which was empty but had overhanging heather and sides so soft she hadn't been able to clamber out. I had to lean down on my knees to grab a chunk of collar and haul her out, unharmed but very relieved that we'd not left her behind. Lots of praises and fussing for the pups, of course, they were not going to get any from old curmudgeon Deefer! We carried on with the walk and then related all to Liz as we towelled the dogs down from the rain.

Directions into deepest Sligo. 
Our only other mini-adventure had us exploring into deepest Sligo, off to visit some new friends whom we met via Facebook. CT is the guy who came and helpfully shot our fox back in November and his partner, AW is chief admin on the Facebook "West of Ireland Smallholders" group which I co-admin. They have a lovely set-up out there on a slope looking across a valley at an impressive, cloud-capped mountain.

Their big interest is horses and they have built a 40 x 20 m sand-school where they could, in theory, hold proper dressage competitions. They have 5 collie-sized dogs, one (Ivan the Terrible) of which is officially the "guard dog" who doesn't like people and never lets anyone (or any foxes!) in. Well, Ivan amazed and delighted both of them by taking to me like his new bestest chum. He came and laid his chin on my lap and 'asked' to have his hair ruffled and his ears fussed. I obliged, of course and only then did our hosts express amazement - he'd NEVER done that before to ANYONE. Perhaps I smelled of 'Skippy' dogs or curmudgeonly old bog-bitches.

Friday, 27 January 2017

Back In The Kitchen

K-Dub on the big Kango
This week saw K-Dub and myself swinging back into action after our respective Christmas breaks and in his case a call up to the big smoke to do some 'proper' work (as in 'paid' work). "What's the story, Bud?" (or just the Dublin slang "Story, Bud?") is how he announces himself on the phone and we are straight into discussing what, when, how on any jobs. This week it was the decision to finally go for the break through, smashing out the wall at the end of the existing kitchen so that the two spaces become one room with a little 'waist' in the middle where we will leave stub-walls to form a 5' wide 'arch'.

The hole is started but K-Dub has to make running repairs to
 the big Kango.  
You can imagine that our announcement that we were going to smash a huge hole in the end of the kitchen, caused a certain amount of anxiety within the 'main stake-holder'. Visions of rubble, dust and plaster fragments everywhere. What she hadn't realised but was also concerning K-Dub, is that the rumble set up by the massive Kango-hammer sets anything on shelves vibrating and moving gently towards the front of the shelves before leaping to its doom like a gang of lemmings.

Mad hour, then, clearing all the kitchen vulnerables into multiple shopping bags which are now stacked all around the corners of the Dining Room. Liz need not have worried, though. We are good, house-trained builders and we do not create mess inside your house. This kitchen has the internal walls lined with stud walling insulated with foam blocks and plastered over that. The Feb 1012 blog at gives you some idea - in one pic you are looking up at the bathroom floor / kitchen ceiling. We knew that we could chop out all the external wall (concrete, rocks, masonry)  and the window frame without actually breaking into the kitchen. We just had to screw a board a cross the window inside, so as not to leave a huge 2'+ square hole.

A board covers the hole where the window
was. This is the only change you see from
'indoors' for now.
Six or seven hours later after lots of noise, rubble, dust and shovelling, we have our hole, roughly 5' wide. We have thereby created a weakness in the upstairs (bathroom) wall which we need to fix by slotting in a couple of 6' x 4" concrete lintels at the top of our hole, and we have exposed the wooden joists of the bathroom floor, so those guys need a 'stringer' of 6 x 2 and a joist-hanger from this to each old joist-end. We reinstate the shower pipes which are mainly just 'push-in' hand-tight connections and we can safely leave the job for the few days over the weekend. Nothing will fall down and we can still use the shower. We are now also ready to get the 'Sparks' in for some electrical first fix.

Liz's tray-bake version of haggis using our own lamb bits. 
The main other event affecting the week was Burns Night which regular readers will know we like to celebrate. We think we are in a minority here; we know of no other people locally who do a Burns Night and our comments on social media meet with blank incomprehension and dead silence. I have never seen haggis for sale locally. That does not worry us as Liz makes her own haggis using bits from our own lambs (breast-meat etc. plus we keep a lung back from one of the carcasses specifically for this purpose.)

This year we could not do the meal on the correct date (25th) as we had a meeting in the village, so we moved it to tonight (Fri 27th). It was, as ever, delicious and the haggis, 'neeps' and tatties with onion gravy was nicely rounded off by a gooseberry cranachan (whipped cream, oats etc) and accompanied by a wee dram of whiskey. It should have been Scottish, of course but the nearest I could get in the local supermarket was Bushmills, which is from County Antrim. Close enough.

Our village's indoor handball court. 
Finally, there is the '365' thing now only 4 days away from finishing. My nipping around everywhere has made me something of an unofficial photographer for the village, certainly among Liz's circle. This brings me an occasional 'commission' - the most recent was to be sent down to the local hand-ball court. Coming from Sussex, hand-ball would be a sport I had had absolutely nothing to do with and first 'met' as a series of strange abandoned outdoor courts  in Irish villages.

Looking down onto the court, through the
perspex wall from the top of the 'stand'. 
These sit in their respective villages as just 3 walls around a rectangle which is roughly 20' by 40' and the walls are roughly 20 feet high. We have never seen an outdoor one still in use. But in the local village we are rather special in having a modern, fully indoor one and an active thriving club. Ours has a perspex wall at the top end which protects spectators but allows them to watch the action from a ramp of stairs and at the top of this 'stand' is a kitchen and bar area.
That's all I know and those are the photo's I have fired into the Village Development Co. I have never seen anyone playing the game, have little idea what this involves and am completely ignorant of the rules. I guess it is a little like squash but with a bigger ball and no  racquets.

Towser at speed.