Monday, 30 July 2012

Wandering Wendy and Lucy Long-drop

Thursday 26th
Hin3 does it again with the egg from 7 feet up stunt. Please don't let this become a habit. Mum and Dad like these eggs and they taste nothing like as nice when collided with poo-y sawdust and concrete.

A scorcher of a day here so what's more sensible, asks Dad, than to don a sweaty chain-saw hard-hat and thick kevlar glubs and go throw that petrol engine around again at the neighbour Una's? He is rewarded by more beautiful tea, scones and farmhouse kitchen. Lovely! Mum takes advantage of his absence and blitzes the floors. Kitten unspecified has managed to poo one end of the leather sofa and wee the other end. Happy, contented young animals will sleep in kitchen from now on. Living room is returned to 'best parlour' status and animals are barred.

The West Field gets mowed and Dad digs a third raised bed. Mum and Dad do lots of weeding in kitchen garden and thinning of young, but too close-planted carrots. There is lots of communing with happy animals in evening sunshine of yard. Dad even got the hand-held camcorder out to record but we promise not to inflict another cute kittens playing video to the millions on You-Tube. There is a SUPERB oxtail stew from Restaurant Feigh and so to bed.

27th /28th

Meanwhile, back in diary territory, we had a bimbly Friday. Dad was aching a bit from chain saw wielding Thursday, so he pottered and did tidy up jobs, thinned carrots, weeded, moved some corrugated iron sheeting and left-over concreting gravel and plastering sand off the "bit to the left of the hay-barn" (we have snappy titles for our bits of garden). 'Lucy Long-drop' did NOT, for once, lay her egg early morning from the 7 foot perch, so we know we got 100% productivity - 4 heggs from 4 hins. Go the Lovely Girls . All be it 'Wandering Wendy' still hops out of the run and nips off to our woods to sneak hers out privately. We have now 'busted' her and found where she's a-laying but we think she might be getting a clutch together to go broody on (5 so far) so we are sneakily date-marking them and returning them to the nest each day, leaving them be till she has, in her view, enough, whereupon she may start to sit, and will be gathered up, eggs and all and put in a broody-box somewhere safe from foxes and out of the rain, probably the calf house.

On the Saturday Dad is off up to Dublin to help Sparks in his attic. The alarm goes at 0530 and we have that usual flurry of feeding pup and kittens and mopping up any badly located poo and wee, then letting out bunnies and letting out and feeding chooks. Lucy Longdrop has, this morning, done another 7-foot up egg, so Dad has to clear that up, chuntering about stretching necks and the stock pot. He gets a good run up to Dublin (2 and a half hours on almost clear roads) and gets stuck in to 'slabbing' (cutting and fitting thermal panels and then plasterboard) in which we they, rather delightfully, joined by Dad’s old friend and Best Man, Billy T. He is a good friend but one of those you sadly let drift, till it's barely a Christmas Card a year and it’s always easier to make the effort some other time (all be it they have been chatting on Facebook for the last couple of months but never actually got together). Well, says Dad, they had a brilliant day working with Billy and chatting to him and it just highlights that you should never let good friends drift away in the first place. 

Sparks reimbursed Dad petrol this time in the form of a couple of chainsaw toys; a new chain/blade and a sharpener/grinder. Hours of fun trying to work out how to use that later. He has a nice run home into the sun always seeming to on a stretch of road just AFTER it had rained, so had all the spray and glare driving west into the setting sun, with his eyes already sore from the dust from the thermal panel 'foam'. He has a “beautiful shower” and lovely chickenny pasta provided by the welcoming Mum (love her!) and a glass of wine or two before we all settle down to watch a recording of that superb and uplifting Olympic Opening Ceremony. And so, via another try-to-open-your-eyes-under-water-in-the-sink eye wash, to bed.

Freedom of Association

The 24th (Tuesday) sees Mum and Dad thanking everyone for their anxious wishes for “Curmudgeonly Aunt Dog Freedom Day”. I won't keep you in suspense. It went like a DREAM! Nobody died! Nobody even got a bit chewed. Kittens romped, puppy bounced about like your one off the Dulux advert and I chased about sniffing them, following them and (as far as Mum and Dad could tell) shepherding them like a Mum. There were a couple of heart-stopping moments for Mum when the chase looked a bit more serious but I checked when they said "Gently!" and in fact only ever seemed to be trying to stay with the scampering kitten, never to grab and bite. We chased happily all through the downstairs of the house, out onto the front terrace and out into the back yard (former cattle-yard) where they all met the chickens. Mum and Dad got plenty of sweet pictures and these are on Flickr (see back up thread for link). Mum and Dad gave it an hour and a half and then declared nap time for small animals while humans breathed huge sigh of relief and sat down for a coffee. There was then a shopping interlude (buying fence posts, like yer do) and the building of Stalag Chicken II (You're not getting out into the lane no more, d'yer hear?). We did another 'session' pm and then just relaxed all the guards in the evening and 2 humans, 3 babies and I all chilled out in our various ways. Peace and harmony reigns! 

There is just one interesting development which we will have to watch and that is that small 1.3kg pup, no taller than you can spread thumb and forefinger tips and looking like a ball of fluff, has decided he can charge the (relatively) huge, tall chickens and they will run away in alarm. One good puck on the little black nose would sort him out but the 'hins' are not volunteering and William is protecting them by shouting encouragement from the rear. We'll have to watch that!
Weds 25th
We harmonious animals are all still peaceful, although kittens are incurring the wrath of womankind by trying to join them on dining table during supper. I think not, me ol' mateys!
Yay! We finally got the warm weather, so maybe that Jet Steam thing has fired a bit of high pressure our way too. "Animals in Harmony" had another successful day. I am trying not to call it Jollity Farm as per the Bonzo Dogs (see for details). Nobody died or got chewed. The Pup came out as far as the bunnies with me and Dad to say hello. He squeaked and writhed on the grass at them through the wire. They came up to the wire amazed at this weird new animal. At quarter past ten we hustled the kittens back indoors a bit quick when a short eared owl flapped silently down the eastern field. They'd been playing in the half light. They only weigh 780g, an easy lift for a birdie that big.

Hin1 and Hin2 laid nice perfect eggs in nest boxes as per their standing instructions. Hin3 decided to drop hers from the 7 foot high roosting beam before she came down in the morning. Bomb gone! Clean that lot up, Dad!  Hin4 is currently in habit of hanging on to hers till 10-ish and then laying it in the nettle patch. She was a bit frustrated to be 'caged' inside new Stalag Chicken and unable to reach nettle patch, so she clucked a quick "Blow you!", flew over the fence and went there anyway. She may be broody, hence extra determination, or it might just be a habit. Chickens do 'routine' and 'habit' very well.

With a chance finally to work the fast-drying soil of the allotment, Dad started the process of changing it into raised beds which if he'd done in the first place might have meant less drowned sulking crops this 'Summer'. We didn't Know, though. That's what everybody does here. Nobody tries to do veg’ on the flat. It rains too much, didn’t you know?

Curmudgeonly Aunt Dog

It's Sunday July 22nd and life is currently all about bedding in the new pup and kittens with me, the “curmudgeonly Aunt dog” as I now seem to be called. We are getting there. Tomorrow is the big moment of truth day, when I get let off the lead to go kill small animals or not as takes my fancy. Not today. No, not a Monday. Mum will tell you... "Animals DIE on Mondays". It's a family superstition at this stage, with almost talismanic status. It was a bizarre day weather-wise, always cloudy and always just ever so slightly spitting in the wind but with a hooley of a breeze blowing through all day which was bizarrely warm like a Chinook or a Foehn or something. Mum and Dad are invited round to neighbour Una to pick her black currants. We are welcome to 'jam' them, she says, as she's done enough jam from the bushes and still has plenty growing. We likes Una!

Light but persistent rain all day nearly had Dad giving up on plan A and mooping indoors, but decided that, blow it! He was not to be beaten. He will go do Plan A, he decides, get wet and grubby and THEN come back for shower and gorgeous home made soup - the remnant of the "most delicious lamb shanks in the history of the world" a few days back. I can vouch for the shanks having inherited most of the bones to either chew or bury where the pesky pup cannot find them.

Plan A was for Dad to nip round neighbour Una's (she of the blackcurrants) and chainsaw up for her a pile of old timber beams from her former hay barn. Sounds familiar? She is widow and no longer has chain-saw hefting bloke around so Dad is happy to oblige. He got wet but not a bother. You get so warm hefting the said saw (he says) that it's too sweaty inside his coat and hoodie, so he was working in ordinary cotton shirt and hoping his sweaty bod would dry the rain as soon as it landed. Sorry. Hope you're not all still eating your breakfast! Must have been minging!

Dad got an unexpected and warming buzz from realizing afterwards that he had been was sitting on a weather-worn chair, up at a battle-scarred table in a genuine Irish lady's farmhouse kitchen, being fed scones and jam and "a cup o' tay in yer hand", chatting about the weather and stuff. Not "brought there" by Mum but there, welcome and being hosted on my his own account because he’d just done her a neighbourly favour. He was feeling all 'accepted' and welcome. 

In 'train the dog not to kill small animals' we reach the planned final day of training and it does seem to be working. Although 'curmudgeonly Aunt' dog (me) is technically on the lead, in practise the lead is slack and I can go right up to the kittens and pup, lean over them, chase them about and (to a small extent) "play" with them as if I was off the lead. I have made no attempt to bite or damage kittens and seems, Dad says, indeed, to be playing mother-and-daughter games with them. At one point Mum and Dad think I may even have been 'protecting' one kit from the other as they were play-fighting. Rolo was in the small dog-bed and I squeezed in beside her facing out and batting off Blue. Bizarre (as well as exciting and optimism-inducing for tomorrow/today). Wish us luck. My only remaining vice and cause for concern (I am told) is the jealousy thing which comes out in snarling, growling and occasional snaps at pup when he approaches if I am on Dad’s lap. This is saved for the pup and does not apply to kittens. Luckily he (pup) speaks the same language and backs off. Wisdom in one so young! Mum and Dad tell everyone “We never did cure Deefer when it came to new-dog Coco” (or indeed, former matriarch dog Megan and patriarch dog Haggis) where I would try it on and generally get told to get lost.

Sunday, 22 July 2012

Towser and the Quadrant

Friday the 20th There is not much to report (no change there then, but we usually manage to string it out into a few para's) but it was a lovely warm, sunny, GARDENING day in Rosco. Mum wanted to attack the bit to the left of the hay barn but was struck by that 'blank page' awe which cripples writers. She needed, she said, a psychological step-up to start her off, maybe a wooden square metre to give herself a mini-target to achieve. Step forward Dad with 4 fancy left-over stairs/banister spindles and 4 triangles of ply wood. Very ornate and over-kill for a wooden quadrant it might have been, but Mum was away on a hack then, flinging it at the ground , marking the 4 corners with metal stakes and piling in with the border fork. She soon had 4 'hins' in close support and William the Conqueror keeping ‘obbo’ from a gate post. He does good 'obbo', shouting Cock-a-doodle-DOOO periodically in case we forget he's there being IMPORTANT. The 'Hins' prefer a more beak-on approach and are checking at your clod before you have a chance to prise it from the ground, and often sitting on the clod as you lift it. You have to chivvy them off before you can turn the clod to break it up. The chief gardener actually managed 4 square metres in the end so fair play to her.

From there we head for lovely nearby garden centre Ardcarne, Boyle where Dad is looking for rainbow chard seed but Mum and Dad get tempted by a bright red 'Lucifer' Crocosmia, a 'Goldsturm' Rudbeckia and a deep velvet red "Guinee" climbing rose. Very tall, it says. It needs to be. It is going up the former hay barn side, maybe 16 feet.

One of the ‘Hins’ has discovered that in the morning, between being let out of the coop into the wee run, and finally being let out of that run into the grounds proper, there is a time delay. She is obviously not happy with this, and thinks she should be allowed out-out straight away. Being a young, fit and fully-feathered bird able to roost on a 7 foot high beam (admittedly getting there in 2 ‘steps’ via a lower beam), she can also get out of the run if need be, by just flying up to the top of the 5 foot concrete wall where she can survey the scene and then descend into the cattle race. From there she has now taken to strolling in the yard while Mum is out puffing on a first cigarette and saying “Umm... is a chicken MEANT to be out yet?” She is now known as “Wandering Wendy”. She generally gets rounded back up till it’s proper time to get out, which is when at least one human is dressed!

And so to a lovely chilli and rice supper with LIDL's cheapo Ozzie Shiraz, currently less than €5 per bottle and pronounced “very quaff-able” by the House Somelier.

And so we come to Sunday the 21st which has become 'collect the puppy' day. This was a week earlier than planned but Mrs Silverwood reckoned the pups were starting a cage fighting club down there and someone was going to get hurt. Our sweet little white innocent boy, Towser, was implicated, but I can't believe that, can you? Steak Lady and Mr SL were also heading that way to collect "theirs". It's not for them but for SL’s neighbour, whose previous westie is 100 years old and not long for this world, apparently. Ah well, we arrive and deliver fresh eggs, and I can race round to say hello to Maxwell and Lily and meet (not so enthusiastically, the pups who are now 7 weeks old and getting very big, like baby rhino’s in miniature). The humans are fed apple cake and custard and we load car with assorted booty including various plant cuttings and pup in crate. The journey home is 2 hours for which pup cries and yow-yows most of way home. Only when a human sticks a finger into the crate through the 'gate' does he go silent. Fair enough, we suppose, as he’s alone in the crate and it’s the first time he’s ever been without the chance physical contact with dogs or children or people in his entire puff. I stand accused of playing "grumpy Aunt who never wanted nieces and nephews anyway" but I do not actually kill new pup. Noise has been opening my head and it does too for Mum after about Castlerea, an hour and 3/4 into the journey.
Back home the pup is allowed out of the crate into the living room to explore and meet the kittens. Dad races round to check on ‘Wandering Wendy”, convinced she’ll be out. He’s not wrong! All 4 ‘hins’ have now learned the trick of hopping over the gate so poor old William is all alone in his run crowing rather pathetically while the 4 Lovely Girls run around outside the wire, looking in and trying to work out how to get back to their man. I am allowed a ‘training session’ on the lead for the kittens sake. The pup, I’m OK with as he understands when I growl and snarl or do unwelcoming body language and backs off before I need to kill him. Let’s keep it that way, Towser! Finally all the ‘children are fed and showed their beds. Mum has cooked the most delicious lamb-shanks in the history of the known world having first had to suss out how to get the new cooker to come on remotely while we were out pup-wrangling, so it'd be ready for our homecoming.

Mum and Dad assure me we are now 'complete' as a menagerie (they have promised!). No more new animals for now. We have also evened up the male female balance a tad. Males include 1 human, 2 kittens, one pup, one rooster and one buck-rabbit. Females number one human, one dog, 2 bunnies and 4 Lovely Girls.

Back to Sligo

On Weds18th we are all off to Sligo and the Vehicle Registration office. The VRT people have FINALLY found the code for 1986 2CVs on their hamster-wheel driven Amstrad computer after 3 days short of 2 months and invited Dad back the 1 hour drive to come sign for it. Dad reports that the lady almost needed a slap anyway because she suggested Dad’s hard won exemption from Import Duty might have run out in the intervening time. Spit. Last time (May 21st!) we were up we were diverted off the proper road by a collapsed bridge and found a superb scenic route through the hills, past crags and caves, picturesque villages and post card Irish cottages and dry stone walls. No such luck this time. We took the camera but failed to re-find the route. After the drive we looked on the map and now know where we should have gone, but that’s not a lot of good to us now.

Other than that there was more Kittens-are-family 'therapy' for me and more free ranging fun for chooks but now excluded from Mum’s raised beds. A soul-food supper of bangers, beans, mash, and fried onions is cooked by Dad. Of course, I get the spare sausage.

On the Thursday Roscommon is given a day off from the rain and it is pure pleasure when wrangling chickens or bunnies , not to be kicking through calf-high (if you are human, nose high to me!) saturated grass, skipping round puddles or squelching into muddy dips in the grass you had not seen. 

For Dad, a chance then to break out the chain saw and 'log' up the big 15 foot lengths of wooden beams from the former hay-barn. This made an impressive contribution to filling the log-store but also wore out his wrists and arms. He didn't know you could get RSI from a chain saw. It must be the weight and hefting what is basically a small petrol engine around at bizarre angles. Not to mention chucking the logs around.

In Dog-meets-kittens therapy sessions we get braver, now giving kittens the run of the house while I am supervised and held on the lead, still allowed to approach and sniff but not to actually kill them. Mum and Dad think (hope?) it's working. They praise me up mightily and give me sweeties when I don’t attack them but they are still nowhere near to trusting me enough to let me off the lead. Sometimes they think they are battling to overcome hundreds of years of breeding terriers to exterminate small animals. They could be right. There is talk of the moment of truth perhaps coming on Tuesday 24th. Not the Monday. There is a sneaking superstition that ‘animals die on Mondays’ after what happened to Coco and Haggis.

In chicken-land, one of the 'hins' decides to go broody out in the nettle patch in our East field, making herself a nice nest in dense cover. We'd have never found her but for William the Conqueror deciding to stand guard and crow occasionally. Good camouflage, William. Very 'covert'! Cock-a doodle-DOOOOOOO!!!!!!! She's not in this clump of nettles! Honest!

A Proper Session

Monday 16th sees us all mainly ‘swerving hard work’. It feels like that kind of a day.  We played indoors with Mum and Dad on the computers, catching up with the finances, whacking some kitten pictures up on Flickr and cracking off a soda bread loaf and a couple of yeast-bread loaves, breaking in Dad’s new loaf-tins. Mum and Dad declare these breads “Very nice”. The soda bread is so delicious they have eaten most of it already.

Mum was maybe a tad more productive, constructing a couple of IKEA flat-pack CD rack/shelf units and Domestic-Goddessing bathroom and downstairs. Other than the indoor stuff, Dad was supervising chooks who DISGRACED THEMSELVES by climbing onto one of the raised beds (only the one with Dad’s seedling leeks in it!!!!) and laying it waste with their scratching. Dad’s own fault really - we've been saying for a while we should fence them "out" of that bit. He even have the wire sitting in the shed, but heh, mañana and all that.

As Dad describes it, the campaign to “try to make the 6 year old Westie bitch, Deefer, (that’s me!) learn to love the new kittens. Deefs is a natural "only child", (says Dad) fiercely jealous of anything that might come between her and her Dad, and also with a divil of a killer instinct when it comes to vermin and prey animals. We have worked our way through new (cat-friendly)dog-Coco, Charolais cattle and then chickens, all of which she got used to, bored by, and is now hearing our instructions not to kill. She's now on rabbits which are still worth a chase round the outside of the run and a shout at though the wire and we, foolish humans, have now introduced another prey species and this one IN THE HOUSE!” That sounds about right, Dad!
“There is no doubt at all that Deefer” continues Dad, “left to 'play' with kittens unsupervised, would do that shake-rat thing and we'd have two corpses in a few seconds. We are therefore trying to give her 30 minute sessions with her on the lead in the room where she can look, sniff, hear us trying to instruct her and see us doing "we love this kitten... it is a member of the family... it is a pet... part of our pack... it is not vermin" at her”.

On Tues 17th July, the main event is undoubtedly that Mum and Dad find, at last, a proper Irish Traditional music session. This is happening (and does each Tuesday night) in the Village Inn pub in Lough Glynn and was told about to us by John Deere Bob who goes to it most weeks even though he is Teetotal. It was, after 25+ years of searching and chasing down tips, finally a real traditional session, not some kitsch laid on for tourists and not a formal 'gig' where you go to see a specific band or person. It’s just a motley collection of blokes and a couple of young girls in a pub, grouped at one end of the bar behind a balustrade thing. It started off fairly 'formal' (probably because the team from the “Comhaltas” National Archive were there video-ing), so each of the regulars got their turn on camera if they wanted - as I said, mainly old boys dressed in dark suits, some with old venerable hats on (flat caps, but also a baseball hat), ties, black shoes and in one case wooden soled clogs. One had a superb Dubliners style bushy beard and a pink, Father Christmas face. The two gals were young teenage local 'celebs' having won the Roscommon Fleadh (Music Festival) with their squeeze box playing, but were demon penny whistlers too. As well as music there are “Recitations”.

The 'recitations' were something to behold, tales of missing home and eventually returning, tales of ganders which were no good at stud, tales of some Cockney trying to fool 'Paddy' in London that his ass (as in donkey) was actually his brother etc. The musical group even indulged a couple of local 'characters' ("a bit-een simple" was how one of them was described by our own John Deere Bob after the event) by allowing them to sing or 'clog dance'. To be fair, one of them was a good singer and parodied a well know song by bringing in local JCB contractor Noel R (Our own “Poetic Plumber”) who everybody knew and changed the lyrics to suit all the local landmarks, towns and pubs. The other was a bit of a dire singer and his clog dancing was the subject of Mum reporting to have been  "in awe" when describing it to friends. Loud, certainly but having a rather loose relationship with the rhythm of the reel. 

After the National Archive people packed away their kit it all went a bit more random and the group was joined by several more including extra bodhrán players, spoons and a bloomin' good banjo player, young lad. Mum and Dad report that it was just an absolutely meltingly brilliant event which they wouldn't have missed for anything.

Also on that day, Dad strings a length of chicken wire across the kitchen garden to fence the chooks out of the raised beds. He also clears the felled elder round to the shredder heap. This is now getting rather big and ‘we’ need to hire a shredder to process it through into suitable path material for the kitchen garden, between the raised beds.

KIttens Arrive

Our main event for Sunday 15th July was to head for Silverwood’s to collect the 2 new kittens. These little mites are only 6 weeks old which seemed a bit young to us but apparently that is OK for felines. They are called Blue and Rolo and were ‘bred’ by daughter of Tommo the Builder (though I’m surte that bher only involvement was to own the bottle-brush tailed cat, Bailey. Mum and Dad managed to wrap the 2 hour each way 'zoom' around a lovely roast pork dinner including Mrs S’s best ever crackling. It (the zoom) was preceded by the usual unleashing the chickens of war but we have now developed a handy rounding them up process involving going to fetch grain from the clangy dustbin in their shed (they hear and come zooming over to see if there's food on offer).

The drive itself was made slightly more scenic and less zoomy by us being diverted off the main road by the Guards (Police) to avoid 'Match Traffic' - some kind of GAA big match in Roscommon. So now we have 2 kittens who are doing ‘cute’ in a very thorough and professional manner but whom I am not allowed to eat. This message is being driven home very forcibly, as it was for the chickens, this time by a series of ‘training sessions’ in which I am kept on a lead and introduced. I am allowed enough lead to sniff, watch and chase them some of the way round the furniture, but never quite enough to poke them with my nose or worse. I think the plan is that we all end up one big happy family.

Oh and Dad’s Rotovator is sick. Something to do with the ignition, possibly as a result of him forgetting to cover it one rainy night, so that is off to the 'garage' this morning.

Sunday, 15 July 2012

AWOL Annie and Romantic Meals

Mum announces on Weds 11th that the forecast was for frequent heavy showers all day and she wasn't wrong. Dad was wrangling a log store (stops for rain) out of some wood and (stops for rain) left over tar felt (stops for rain) and it felt like every other saw-cut (stops for rain) and change of tool (stops for rain) he was stopping to avoid a rain shower (and relax). Never mind, the job got completed and he has now stacked what we thought of as our big pile of logs into it and the new store has swallowed them and is asking for more. Is that all yer got? Come on! We are going to have to go logging again, so today's mission to the lovely "Connacht Gold Garden Centre and Agric Merchant" will have chain-saw chain-lube on the list.

The Lovely Girls, meanwhile, have bizarrely decided that afternoon is a better time to lay eggs than morning. Not a one has laid an egg prior to midday for the last couple of days. We'd been hanging on keeping them in the run till we had 4 and then letting them out to free-range, but now we're letting them out even if there are no eggs and they can catch up with that side of things when they get back. Not a bother. We are currently on 4 eggs most days but we think all 5 are laying, just 2 of them might be doing it every other day (or 3 of them 2 out of three days?) Whatever, you get the drift.

Thursday 12th
As they say round here "Wait 'n'I tell yer!"; I have a bizarre and unique tale for you this morning; possibly an "Only in Ireland" one or possibly an "only in our unique circumstances" one.

A day of carpentry for Dad, building wee housey round the gas canisters and for Mum, Domestic Goddessery and painting said housey. Then Dad is mowing in the west field when neighbour one side Una shows up with bag full of rooted slips and cutting of broom and lilac. We feed her tea and biscuits, Dad nips out briefly to finish the mowing as it starts raining and Una is well enough entertained by chatting to Mum who then walks her home. At that point (about 6pm) we feed chooks and they are all present and correct.

We retreat indoors and Mum goes wild in the kitchen creating a gorgeous romantic meal of lobster, a green salad from our garden, pork ribs in lovely sticky peanut sauce and rice salad with peppers. She has Dad light the range for extra cosiness and they light the candles on the wrought-iron stand and one on the table. There is wine and nice linen. Mum and Dad are settled to a lovely romantic evening....sigh. They progress through lobster (yummy) and are just at the last scrape out of meat bits from among claws, cracking the claw shells etc when there's a knock at the door. It's other neighbour, John Deere Bob 

A bit non-plussed but not yet at the stage where they can tell this lovely old boy to scram on his tractor as it's not really a good time, Mum and Dad invite him in, flapping away any objections. He shuffles through in farm boots to sit by the range in 'his' chair, completely un-phased by the romantic scene and candles. Mum serves him tea and biscuits and returns to the table. Mum and Dad start back into the rather in-your-fingers, messy-eating ribs in sauce course, all a bit weirded out by having to wipe their mouths every now and then to hold snatched conversations with Bob, who alternates between sitting happily silent looking around him, or commenting on the car-port or the garden, weather etc. 

Dad soldiers on through my ribs and salad and wine and eventually finish, and Mum tries to do the same but eventually (as she puts it) her nerve cracks and she pushes aside the last ribs and salad pretending to have finished the meal, and clears away. Dad goes to help but they are curiously un-nerved by Bob and Mum always says to Dad, "No, you sit still, I'll do it!" as if she is worried Bob might think the less of us if a man is helping in the kitchen.

They all chat some more, now a bit more relaxed around the cleared table and glasses of wine half-hidden behind 'stuff' so it's not quite so in non-drinker Bob's view. Eventually he gets up and goes, put-putting back down the drive on his tractor and Mum and Dad both breathe out simultaneously, but any pretence of the romance being re-awoken vanishes when I go to lock down the chickens and find the one missing. One of the Lovely Girls seems to have gone AWOL. We don't yet know whether that's AWOL=lost and will wander back, AWOL=gone broody and is hidden up somewhere on a clutch of eggies or AWOL=snatched by Brer Fox. We searched everywhere but to no avail. Dad was rather hoping William's crowing on Friday morning would guide the 'lost' her back like Siren Song and she'd be standing on the porch all apologetic this morning. No such happy ending, so far anyway.

An everyday tale of country folk?
Friday The 13th
Dad decides, as it's not windy, to 'drop' the 2nd ugly Leylandii at the top of our woods, figuring that if he cuts the required wedge on 'that side' nearest the concrete wall and then slopes a cut through from 'this side' it would neatly fall 'that' way across the wall which would then act as a neat saw-horse while he logged up the trunk. Mum is happily weeding out to the side, 90 degrees from the expected (some of you may have spotted a pattern here!) direction of falling but is, cleverly, more than the tree height away. This turns out to be a salutary lesson to all readers who might fancy playing with a chainsaw one day. An argumentative Leylandii will not necessarily do what it's told. Still, no harm done and Mum was shaken but not stirred.

AWOL Annie stays AWOL. There is, so far, no happy re-union and Dad’s dream that William's enthusiastic crowing in the morning would guide her little lost but unharmed self home so she'd be waiting when we came to let the rest out, was not to be. Never mind. We have not yet given up hope. We keep the other chickens close through the day; they stay around our logging and weeding activity and we round them up well before the end of the afternoon and lock them up by 6pm. Little foxy chum (if indeed there has been foul-play (fowl play?) and he/she is the culprit) is not getting another one. 

Bizarrely, black and white doe-bunny, Padfoot. who has spent a week excavating a neat hole and tunnel under the fence of her run till she was down two body lengths (We're WATCHING you, Padders!), suddenly fills it all in again in half an hour in the evening, just before 'lock-down' and seals it up by stomping the soil down as if it had never been. She even leaves a bigger stone on the top as if to mnark the spot. We have no idea why. Perhaps she was upset at Mum and Dad poking a stick down it to see how impressively deep it is.
We have a bimbly day where not much is achieved but AT LAST the ground is drying enough that Dad can get onto the 'allotment' and hoe! He can enjoy the sight of decapitated and uprooted weeds wilting quickly in the sun's heat and the breeze. Up to now this has been impossible because the grass started growing again immediately it landed on the sodden ground (sodding ground?). Facebook still seems to have all our old Kent lot suffering under the still-relentless rain, so we sympathize with them.

Thursday, 12 July 2012

Working Away

On the 6th July we had what Mum describes as a “pootly-pottery day”. Mum and Dad moved Stalag Bunny, so confounding Padders latest attempt to tunnel out. They then spent some time looking at the weeds on the allotment bit, but it's too wet to even try to get on it so we have to hope the veg gets away quickly. They weeded and thinned crops from the kitchen garden instead. Lunch featured beet leaves, other salad leaves and radishes from there. After lunch we let the chickens out to mooch around – Mum describes this as “closely watched by Deefer and Coco who disapprove thoroughly of this proceeded but are willing to indulge us for the moment”.  Supper is heart and mushrooms, with baked rhubarb for pud. John Deere Bob turned up just as Mum and Dad were finishing so we had a nice gossip and some more gentle instructions on how to manage the land (raise the skirts on those trees, dry the wood out for a year, put the trenches in the allotment in north/south so the rain runs off towards the bog, etc) along with some praise for what we've done so far. Love him.
Saturday the 7th sees Dad head to Dublin to help Sparks with the first stages of an attic conversion, leaving Mum in charge. At one stage she is telling internet friends that, “Right now, there are three chickens in the run and three in the rain gully (a four foot ditch) that runs from the back of the chicken run down to the bog. And they're finding so many grubs and yummy stuff that grain is so not tempting them out. Devils! I've been calling 'chook chook chook' till I'm nearly hoarse and Deefer and Coco are trying to tunnel out of the house to join the fun. The three feathered hooligans in the run are alternating between laughing themselves sick and whinging about not being out there with the other girls. Meaniess.
Dad claims to be “Very busy at present due to helping Sparks to start the conversion of the attic. This means all the heavy stuff, hefting 8 foot RSJs up into the attic from front garden, sticking these into the walls and bolting together into one 16 foot beam. I hate to complain after a month and a half of wet miserable weather but it was BLOOMIN' HOT up under those roof tiles in the Dublin sunshine! Having done the 'steels' we then started on rafter beams, doubling up the flimsy rafters with sensible '5 by 2' timbers, so again, all that wood had to come up through an upstairs front window, then a hastily cut hole in the boy's (5) bedroom ceiling ("Daddy! Why is there a HOLE in my bedroom?"

On Sunday 8th, Dad reports a “big ol' fried breakfast up in Dublin cooked by Sparks for whom I was steel-erecting Saturday”. Dad fills the little Fiat car with scrap wood for range down here, and some kitchen goodies dropped off by Steak Lady, plus spare soda bread and SuperQuinn sausages. Dad headed for Steak Lady’s as he needed to take pics of Tut (Tutankhamen) the tail-intact Yorkie for a friend of Mum’s but Steak Lady was sweating on feeding breakfasts to 8 B+B guests so was a bit brisk and Dad fled.

Dad reports that he is not 100% on the navigation yet round Steak Lady’s and out to IKEA on the ring motorway (M50) but knew it was near the airport, so set the sat-nav to “airport”. On our sat-nav when you don't know the street name in a small town or village but you want to go to the village 'centre' you click on the name and then "City Centre". Like an eejit, Dad did that to the Airport, so he went the 15 minutes from Steak Lady’s to the Airport in 45 minutes via the Dublin City Centre and O'Connell Bridge. Sight seeing tour! Yay!

Anyway, he dug himself out and got to IKEA as it was opening (11am) and successfully completed mission to buy two CD shelf units and found a utensils-pot for the draining board. Mum approved. Dad rocks as domestic shopper! He has a 2 and a half hour run back to the sticks, happy re-union with wife and we doggies and lazy afternoon letting chooks out, mooching about. He mowed the enormous front lawn enjoying attendant swallows swooping along next to him catching the insects he was half-killing with the mower. Delightful. Dad cooked lovely Cajun chicken and veg supper to which Mum added yummy mushrooms in cream sauce.

9th July

On Monday 9th we quietly enjoy our morning as there is no chance of a badly timed visit by near neighbour John Deere Bob . He has caught Mum and Dad out still in dressing gowns before now at 0900 but on a Monday he is otherwise involved, away in Galway. Lay-in! Late breakfast. Yay!

Mum attacks an alpine range of ironing while enjoying Lord Black in the Leveson Inquiry. Dad is off to builders' providers "Cooneys" of Castlerea (we think we were probably their best customer Dec 2011 to May 2012) to order wood and sheeting for this week's carpentry projects, the car port, the log-store and the wee housey for the Gas Cannisters.

Then... Weeding. Dad’s lovely allotment, 25 foot by 100 foot all proudly ploughed and rotovated by tractor this April and intended to be kept clean of weeds by regular hoeing, and to be full to bursting by now with burgeoning rows of crops has fallen victim to the ceaseless June and now July rain. Everything small-seeded has sulked in the chill, wet and gloom, and has been overcome by slugs and general malaise, and the weeds and grass cannot be hoed because it's been permanently too wet. Dad says, “It is an embarrassing disgrace”. Despite the wet this drives Dad to get amongst some of it on his hands and knees with me helpfully licking his face now and then and was a-ripping and a tearing out grass, creeping buttercup, baby docks and any number of other wrong 'uns. These were tossed into the Carver bucket and onto the ever-increasing compost heap. It looks a little tidier but not much. Still needs to dry out like JULY should be, and he can hoe it. 
Sadly today also has its tragedy. Around 1300 we realise we have not seen little Coco for a while and start calling his name and then we start an anxious hunt. Outbuildings, sheds, fields and gardens are scoured. Dad’s heart sinks as he decides to check the lane outside and there he is horrified to find the small sad form of Coco by the side of the road. He is dead. The nature of the injuries tells us that it must have been instantaneous, quick and clean. Dad thinks he recalls a bulk tanker lorry going past at about the right time so maybe that hit him. The driver probably would not have even known. Dad gathers up the little fella and he gets a small grave in the kitchen garden close to Haggis’s last resting place. Poor little mite was only 2 years old. At least his final months were spent happily exploring and racing around on ‘the farm’ where he was loving it. We’ll all miss you, Cokes. “Small Brown Dog” Dad would call him.

On Tuesday 10th Dad is involved in heroic car-port building - big long 20' beams of '5-be-2' slung between the two sides of the former hay barn, 3-be-2's in the other direction and some nice shiny new corrugated sheets over the top. There is lots of iron-y clanging and banging. With Dad back in buildery mode Mum is encouraged back into "Catering Team" mode and there were, much to Dad’s delight, bacon butties!

It might have been the noise which put the Lovely Girls off their laying but not a one laid an egg in the morning. Only when they'd been out free ranging for a while did they all one after another get 'the urge' and like kids out on a football pitch being allowed sneak off back to the changing rooms for a wee, you'd see them slinking back to the coop doing their "I'm about to lay an egg" squawking and clucking. One poor lady ended up the wrong side of the chicken-wire. She could see the coop pop-hole but in her little bird-brain didn't work out that she could go round the other way to the gate, so was just fretting up and down the same 3 feet of fence till Dad 'helped her get over it'. I think the egg was so near she nearly laid it as she landed. Gotta love 'hins'. Not the brightest element in our menagerie.

Free Ranging

“Shhhhh!” whispered Dad on Wednesday (4th July) morning, “It's doing it again! Early morning sunshine, I mean. It happened yesterday but I didn't like to say anything in case I frightened it”. Today then, is all about LAUNDRY and rattling about 6 loads of back-log through the poor aul' washing machine and via drying on the line in a lovely "breeze" (it's when warm dry air gently riffles your hangy up shirts and sheets, in case you've forgotten). Mum and Dad kept at this all day, patrolling the line impatiently, whipping down anything even vaguely dry and immediately putting something else up. By 5 pm when the clouds started gathering we had a zero pile of dirty and a MOUNTAIN of ironing but, not a bother, Mum assures me that Heaven is the Leveson Inquiry (Phone tapping and the conduct of the newspaper men) and a warm steam iron, so roll on Monday.

We had to have Aoife (Rhymes with Deefer) the Vet out to little Yorkie, Coco for a ticklish cough like he had a frog in his throat. Mum and Dad are still amazed by this lady's prices. The call-out visit, 2 injections, a major clean out of his manky ears while she was passing and some tablets only came to €20. Blimey! We loved our Kent vet to bits but you never used to escape visits to his clinic for much under £70. We invited her to stroll round the menagerie and she loved Rogers and the chooks; well, all our mini beasts really. Even me!

Dad did a batch of soda bread and measured up for the next three carpentering jobs - the car port, a log store and a wee housey for the gas cannisters just outside the kitchen window.

At half 7 and the sun was (shhhhh) still shining. We hope it is where you were.

On Thursday 5th we make good use of the unexpected sunshine, and throw caution to the wind with the Lovely Girls . It is, finally, a warm sunny dry day which has Mum and Dad both feeling the urge to garden but it's way too wet underfoot to get on the 'real' land, so they get the knee pads and kneelers out and take on the burgeoning forest of dandelions, cow-parsley, bramble and grass coming up through the gravel of the front 'terrace' (parts of which were created by spreading gravel over the pre-existing forest, which is never going to work as a weed control method. Some of these weeds were now tickling the backs of human thighs as they sat on the garden chairs! Several barrow loads of greenery later we have a neat, tidy seating area and a clean, swept, concrete apron in front of the house.

Meanwhile the Lovely Girls and Will' ze Conq' have almost annihilated the greenery in their run (as chickens do) and were going to need a bigger area but Mum and Dad were not sure how this'd work with we 2 terriers. In former lives they have had chickens and dogs happily inter-acting, ignoring one another and nobody getting eaten, but former dogs (Megan and Haggis) seemed to them a bit more chilled than us, Deefs and Coco, the current “feisty pair”. Ah well, they decided, we had to bite the bullet sooner or later. After lunch, we got our leads on and Dad got Mum to stand in the 'car-park' bit holding us while he pulled back to corrugated sheet at the gate. The chooks came straight out and having looked around unable to believe their luck, headed for Mum's kitchen garden.

Dad nipped back to where Mum was standing and held me while we watched for a few minutes. Mum and Dad realised that neither of us dogs was pulling to get at the birds so, a bit nervously, they loosed first one dog, then the 2nd. Nothing happened! I trotted past the chooks to go inspect the rabbits, Coco sat watching the birds with fascination.
And that, apart from a couple of quick charges at the birds by one dog or another, seemingly triggered by human 'attacks' trying to ward chooks off the new veg' seedlings in the raised beds, was how it went. We dogs seemed to enjoy one or two charges, sending squawking chooks scattering but then got bored. We are not 100% sure we are safe yet but it's better than we ever dreamed.

The Lovely Girls marshalled and protected by William the Conqueror had a good old explore for 2 hours or so while we supervised. They 'did' the kitchen garden first, and then down into the west field to visit the rabbits and back up through the car-park onto the front drive. They seemed to love the grubs in the spruce-needle litter under the huge trees. From there across the front lawn and then down the east side into the yard and back 'home' to the cattle race. 

A happy event. We now have properly free-ranging chickens!