Friday, 31 December 2010

Looking back.

I wonder how many people have been reflecting on the year which is almost over?

It is strange to think that the New Year has already happened in Australia and New Zealand but we are still in the dying throes of 2010.

It has been a mixed year on the farm; this year we grew oats as a crop instead of barley. The maltsters have rejected our barley (and most other Scottish barley) for two years prior to this one. They said it was because the grain was too damp but they were inporting cheaper barley from Denmark. Millions of tons of Scottish barley ended up as feed for cattle and none went to the Scottish whisky market. Shame on the maltsters for almost ruining many a small farm.

This year, the oats were rejected too. Too wet.
The cattle and sheep are eating them (and I will admit to keeping a sack for ourselves as they are damn good oats!).

The ongoing fight with the landowner continues. One day we will have a farmhouse which is habitable and no longer dangerous. We will have clean running water and proper utilities.
We will not be bullied into leaving, regardless of the pressure to do so.

We have improved ditches, mended drains, planted trees and protected vulnerable areas. The reward has been a visible increase in wildlife and over the farm, red kites whirl indolently, a snowy owl hunts, there are various raptors, a woodpecker plus we once saw a pine martin. (Only once).
There are otters by the burn, salmon in the bigger river and lots of toads in the marshy places.

We have been lucky with the harvest and the sheds are stuffed with sweet hay plus good dry straw for bedding.

The cattle continue to thrive and the latest addition - a sturdy light brown calf, munch contentedly in the big shed.

The ewes are in early pregnancy and we hope the flock will increase next Spring. I sat in with them today when they were all eating and just enjoyed their smell and warmth and couthiness.

The little orchard has established well and hopefully the young apple trees will survive this harsh winter.

We are all a bit battered by the winter, the politics of farming and the feudal attitude of some and we know there is a bit to go still but we will continue our work and turn with the wheels of the year. Old cogs, us.

The Farmer and I will have a glass of Sloe gin by the fire, this evening. We will kiss at the 'bells' and I will try not to cry when I think about those we have loved and lost.
We will travel into the New Year together, the Farmer and I and our bairns. New steps down an old, familiar road.

I hope 2011 brings happiness, peace, health and prosperity to you all. I wish you all joy and love.

Thursday, 30 December 2010

The dreaded lurgy

The water supply has finally come back. Properly.

There has been quite a dramatic thaw and the hill is showing patches of old heather and bracken. It is the perfect environment for the Arctic hares and there are a lot of them in this area. The little stoat has changed into his winter coat and prances about in the snow like a tiny, mad Emperor.

The Farmer and I have caught the lurgy from the children. We both feel as if we are wading through treacle whilst wearing an iron lung.
Bags of feed become Sisyphean burdens, filling the water troughs akin to Prometheus and his liver problem and lest we forget, the Stables of the Minotaur and the mucking out of The Dung.

The fire has been lit, all the radiators cranked up to full, hot water bottles filled and once the animals have been fed and watered, we will not be moving too far today.
We will wolf down painkillers and have ten minute updates to one another on who feels the worst. We will punctuate our conversations with coughing and moans.......Oh joy.


 We can sit still and watch the little birds peck on the feeders at the window and if we are lucky, the red squirrel.
That is the sort of tonic we need today.

Monday, 27 December 2010

The book

I felt a bit tired of the ongoing winter and festivities today.

The winter, although technically only a few days old seems ageless and drags its slow, decrepit, icy body in a stiff walk. You become impatient and wish it would hurry up, loosen up and be on its way.

The house feels too warm, outside too cold and flickers of irritation settle like dust on the mantlepiece.

You want to rest but too much needs done. The children bicker and need placating. The Farmer is preoccupied and a bit cross. He worries that the ground is now so frozen, it will be months before it thaws enough to accept a crop.

The Farmer takes the children and PieDog for a walk and I choose to stay at home.

I'm not sure where to make a start as the entire house needs blitzed but I begin in the living room and eventually it begins to look acceptable. I allow the icy wind into the warm living room, just to freshen things up and for a moment they seem unsure whether they should mingle or remain in separate factions like my blood family at the weddings or funerals of strangers.
The icy wind no longer hesitates but rushes in and seeks out every corner. It has a sweet smell of honey and rapidly dominates the room.
I quickly close the window and the fire blinks in surprise as if to ask "What just happened?"
The chill wind has left a freshness but there is no hint of warmth nor the promise of Spring. "Not quite yet", it mocks.

I find a book under the pile of clutter on the table. Clutter shaped into a sculpture by large and small hands. It seems a pity to destroy its amorphous shape somehow as it illustrates the gathering of important things to each member of the family. Each object has helped us on the journey through the dark months.

The book is completely empty inside. The pages smell fresh as if they too were hastily embraced by the icy wind.
I stare for a while and then begin to see what is written.

I see notes and plans on our future year. Our optimism that the crops will be accepted by the ground.
I see childish drawings of fabulous creatures and impossible buildings and boxes with wheels which become the very latest Massey Fergusson.
There are shopping lists and memos of dates which will seem Very Important. There are phone numbers and addresses.
There are dreams written down hastily in the middle of the night so I can remember them in the morning.
Private thoughts and quotes which wrench a chord in your heart; they are all there.

The pages are as virginal as the fresh snow which has fallen outside and has yet to be walked on. You know the ground is there somewhere and trust that it will bear your weight, your burdens and carry you safely to your destination.

The book has the potential to articulate your day and plans for the future. It has the potential to share some of your burden. Your secret, whispered thoughts.

I hope the next year passes as smooth as the new pages of the book or will it be like the old book, bashed, fat with mementos, lists, battle scarred and weary...

I hope for the former.

Sunday, 26 December 2010

The morning after the day before.

I hope you all had a lovely Christmas.

My moment of peace yesterday was indeed brief and it ended up being one of the busiest days in a long time.

The Farmer had a bit of a day.
He and our youngest son had gone to settle the cattle on Christmas Eve; it was reasonably early and the little one was a bit over excited so the Farmer thought it would be a good idea to let him 'burn off some energy' then he would sleep well.
Some hay had fallen on the ground and the cattle could not reach it so the Farmer went to scoop it up but did not notice that our son had also gone to scoop it up using a large shovel that he had found.
The little one missed the hay but accidentally smacked his father on the side of the head with the shovel.

We managed to get our son bathed and settled for the night then I set to work on the Farmer's stoved in face.
"Do you think it was a message to get him Moon sand, or else the nose gets banjoed?" I asked as I stitched his wound.
I was using an old fashioned butterfly 'stitch' where there is no needle but you catch the wound using thin strips of plaster fashioned into a butterfly shape. He was lucky not to have been hit right in the eye.

On Christmas morning, the big container of water ran out.
The tractor had a puncture.
 Santa brought Moon Sand.

The Farmer could not understand why he was given 'a wee musical iPoddy thing' as a present and felt a bit disappointed.
"I won't listen to it, you know".
"No you won't. You will have a job getting a tune out of it to it because it is a camera".

The day seemed to pass so quickly between feeding the animals, mending tractor tyres, refilling the water container, feeding the family and Coping with Moon sand.
The parsnips caught fire.
PieDog stole a big lump of marzipan.
Colin the chameleon's heat lamp broke.

I enjoyed Christmas Day but in the evening, I felt as if I was wading around wearing two huge watermelons on my feet instead of slippers.

The Farmer and I caught up with each other about 11pm. We enjoyed roughly five minutes peace then the little one woke up and was brought downstairs which was a big mistake as he immediately got torn into the Moon sand and took on a second wind.....

Now it is Boxing Day.
I love Boxing Day as there is no cooking, just reheating. The manic excitement has gone for another year, crackers have been cracked, shattered nerves have been rested, Moon sand hoovered, cattle fed, wounds are healing and there is a big box of chocolates in the fridge.
There is even a full container of water! It does not get any better than this.

Saturday, 25 December 2010

Happy Christmas

It is early and everyone is still asleep.

In a little while, our daughter will waken up and remember that it is Christmas Day then come hurtling down the stairs.

The little one fell asleep quite early last night and when I went to pull the covers which he had kicked off (and check that he really was sound asleep),  I noticed he was clutching a tiny card which his sister had made. It said "Please wake me up tomorrow, love Rosie xxx".

I am enjoying the peace and quiet.

In a short while there will be squeals, noise, lights, excitement and wrapping paper nests on the floor and I can hardly wait.

So from this temporary bubble of calm, I want to thank all of you who have been so kind and supportive to our family during the last few weeks.
Thank you for your messages and shared experiences and thank you for your love.

The amazing Mumsnetters who have held out a virtual hand and helped our family get through a long and tough winter.
The messages from countries on the other side of the world. I was astonished that the little blog travelled so far. All those messages brought warmth and hope when things got cold here.

Our family wish you peace, happiness and lots of love this Christmas. x

Friday, 24 December 2010

Twas the Night before Christmas

'Twas the night before Christmas and all through the house,
not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse".

Many of us will have read Clement Clarke Moore's poem to excited children, on Christmas Eve.
They know they must go to bed to fall properly asleep but they dare not miss a single thing, especially a glimpse of Father Christmas himself!
Stockings are hung on the fireguard, mince pie, milk and a carrot for Rudolph, everything is ready but they have to be asleep before the magic happens.


Twas the night before Christmas that my son was born.

Twas the day before that when the first pangs of labour began.

It was not the easiest of births as he lay in a frank breech position, his tiny feet touched his mouth, his head using my stomach as a pillow. He was reluctant to leave this comfortable place.

I was so young and very scared. Terrified.
The midwives came and went and so did my awareness as the gas and air dipped me into a twilight sleep.
The Sugar Plum Fairy came to see how the labour was progressing.
A host of angels with golden wings hovered.
My Mum arrived.

"Mum, I can see angels and the Sugar Plum Fairy, am I dying?".....
Mum explained that all the midwives and doctors had dressed up as it was almost Christmas Day and No, I was not dying.

They all began to sing "Silent Night" and to this day I cannot help but cry when I remember them singing.......it was the most beautiful entrance that a Christmas child could have.

He was born by section just before midnight.

On Christmas Day, once I had sort of come to after the anasthetic, the nurse brough me my tiny bundle.
I could not believe that the child who rested heavily in my womb for all those months, who kicked and moved and who shared his very soul with mine, was now in my arms.
He had wisps of blond hair and fat golden eyelashes. He grasped my finger with his tiny hand.

He is 28 today.

The magic of the night he was born has never diminished. The powerful love which hit like a punch, has never disappeared, only grown.
I write this for Mothers everywhere, who know and understand and share this feeling. Those of us who have laboured and have loved.

The only thing I will ask you, son, is if you would read 'The Night Before Christmas' for your younger brother and sister tonight?

You see, I have such a job seeing past the first two lines. My eyes blur and my voice is stolen from my mouth but I really want them to share the magic too.

I'm sure you understand.....

Wednesday, 22 December 2010

Several shades lighter than perfect.

Perfect seems to be a very popular word this week.

Every celebrity chef is advising 'how to cook the perfect Christmas dinner', estate agents demonstrate how to have the perfect home and how to make the perfect jelly for the perfect child, using a seaside bucket as a mold.

Christmas trees in glossy magazines are perfect. They are colour coordinated and are set off by colour coordinated gift wrapped presents.
Fashion articles tell you how to be stylish yet warm and how to look perfect in the little black dress.

Perfection appears to have flown past the farm....it swooped past with its immaculately trimmed wings and thought "Naw. I'll away and see the neebors".

Perfection sends it's cousin - Slightly Chaotic, to the farm instead.

The Farmer's wife is in a bit of a burach.
(Only the Gaels could invent a word which describes beyond mess and chaos.)

The Farmer is in the throws of bad flu and Off His Feet.
He has a wicked temperature and wild glazed eyes. He coughs and splutters through the night and sleeps a lot during the day.
That said, he dragged himself into the cowshed, yesterday, when his wife also had wild glazed eyes and wicked temperature; not born from flu, I hasten to add, but from the Fear of being chased by Badass Cow and incomprehension of operating the tractor with the stab forks.
The Eldest son helped but is in a dark place just now, he wears his grief like a black mantle. It is a year to the day since his loss.....
They will both have to drag themselves round today and every day as Christmas is a normal working day on a farm.


She tries to make the farmhouse look festive but the paper chains keep snapping and falling off the ceiling. Some of the fairy lights refuse to work and sit there in a huff. The tinsel is now tin, singular, after the PieDog chewed it. And the baubles are all in a tangle but pinned en masse to the ceiling so as 'No one takes their eye out on them".
One of the baubles is real glass, you know, and you can never be too careful....

The little tree sits on the only table high enough to prevent PieDog launching an attack on it's bedecked branches.
Golden Christmas crackers are hidden in the big cupboard for fear of Sabotage from the younger family members.

The house adopts an air of a hospital ward at Christmas; walls brightly decorated and glittery things hang but underneath the glitz lurks the worry of unwellness.

The little one has caught a secondary virus and sleeps beside his Dad on the sofa during the day. They are both too tired to see the glitz.

It is not perfect.

Today, after everything has been done, I will insist the Farmer goes back to bed, properly under the covers, dose him up with things to get his temperature down and plenty to drink.
The wee one can have a little bed in the living room. He fluctuates from very listless to very energetic and would jump all over his Dad, so best keep them apart for a bit.

My daughter (who is still shaking off a bad cough) likes to sit with her colouring pad and crayons, sealed off from the noises of the house with her iPod attached to her ears, hugging the fire and keeping warm.

It is not Kirsty and Phil perfect. The mince pies are not Heston perfect and nobody wants them anyway.

If I can get them all back to health it will be good enough. Perfection is unattainable and unrealistic. It picks at our psyche as the raven picks at carrion and we are with feelings of inadequacy and despondence.

I will be content with good enough.

In sickness and in health

The Farmer really is quite unwell.

Farmers, like doctors, never get unwell. They plod on and try to get everything done and put their ailment about number 53 on the list of Things to Do. Unblock drains sits at number 25 so you can see where their priorities lie.

I'm going to have to do the psycho cattle.

Please let there be a miracle. An experienced stock handler who has lost their way on the hills and ends up on our farm looking for something to do...... or Ray Mears.
Someone who knows how to operate the stab thing on the front of the tractor.- It is not even 'my' tractor and probably has a complicated door catch thus rendering me incapable of entering the cab.

They have had cereals and water but need hay...served up by the stab thing.

Badass Cow is going to demand my fags and dinner money then push me around a bit.........

Right, the streetcred duffle is going on and wellies pulled on with Intent.

I'm going in but may be some time.......

Tuesday, 21 December 2010

Nothing is sacred...

Just a quick post script to last night's drama.

While I was blindly stumbling about, trying not to fall over and everything, SOMEONE stole the roast potatoes from my plate.

My little plateful of Linda McCartney leek puff with roast potatoes sitting plumply on the side........I was going to reheat it and have it for tonight.
There is nothing quite like the surprise addition of fairy lights in your brain for putting you off your food.

The PieDog was in a different room so it was not him.

Was it a collective decision? ("Quick, she is out of the room and can't see us anyway so two each")
Or did a solitary hand snake out and snaffle them by stealth?

An Omerta falls over the farm and only the Guilty know the truth.....

Fairy lights, A&E

An odd thing happened at 6pm exactly.

The Farmer and I settled to watch the news, usually with text on as the children save their more vocal fights for exactly 6pm.

I was trying to read the newspaper at the same time; keeps the mind on its toes, especially if the newspaper is two weeks old as this one was. I put the big light on as I could not quite see the words.

I looked at the television and could not quite see the reporter. Nor all of the text.

A 'C' shape of bright light occupied my left eye then gradually grew until it looked like someone had placed a string of fairy lights inside my head and gently started swaying them around.

"I can't see properly".

I went to phone NHS 24 for advice and reassurance. They asked a million questions then told us to get to A&E immediately......I felt sick, twofold. First was physically sick, the second was panic about having to go out at night on icy roads with the children. (worst case scenario).
The little one was in his pyjamas but we got him dressed and into his Arctic snowsuit. Our daughter always packs an extraordinary amount of stuff, even for the shortest of journeys and went around stuffing a huge rucksack with books, toys, make up etc.......

We set off and the road was very icy.
Stirling Moss started driving very quickly and we slipped a couple of times.
"Look, I'm fine" I said, not really feeling fine. "Please drive slowly or none of us will be fine!"

We finally arrived at the hospital and it was lovely and warm inside. Lots of toys too, so the little one went charging off to play. Daughter sulked.

The nurses were very quick and did a barrage of tests. My sight had come back to normal and I felt like a fraud.

You do tend to imagine terrible things and I tried not to think about stroke or the glioma which killed my Mum. You tell the terrible things to go away and ask for a Perfectly Reasonable Suggestion as to why someone put fairy lights in your head.

The upshot was a migraine. -No headache or any other symptoms. Bed rest and painkillers were the solution.

We drove home (slowly) to a cacophany of sneezes, coughs and splutters. Not from the patient, I might add.

"Two minutes in the hospital and you are all being the 'Unwell'. What's wrong?"

"I have the flu" croaked the Farmer........the children had been throwing in their very last vestiges of coughs, not to be left out, hence the noises. We were Typhoid Annie on wheels.

                                               ------------------------------------------


This morning, I've dosed up the Farmer and swanned about feeling unusual. I'm fine but my head is  hidden somewhere behind the lunar eclipse and stuffed with bumble bees.....(nothing unusual about that).

We will go and cough at the cattle and they will snort back. I will go and float around my sheep and they will nudge my legs and bring me back to Earth.
Fresh air will hopefully blow the migraine away. It has arrived at a bad time and is made to feel unwelcome.

Oh well, at least it was a night out.... :)

Monday, 20 December 2010

Dry containers and wet tears

Yesterday was a bit grim but is now behind us.

For a few hours, there was not a drop of water in the house as the bottles were empty and the Farmer had gone to fill the big containers.
The children and PieDog drank milk and Caused Mayhem.

I spent most of the day on the verge of tears. I don't cry often but tend to save it all up for a real blubfest. A veritable feast of tears, snot, misery and despair. A feast so grim, only the solitary diner may sate on it's desolate fare.

The children were bribed with food, milk and the promise of a treat if they behaved and settled to watch Elf. They were both on the mend but sniping and annoying one another.
I would then be able to get on with giving the house a domestic enema as it was so bunged up with clutter and junk that you could not walk properly through the halls.
Masses of amorphous clutter were thrown into bags and put outside. I was being indiscriminate and it felt good. An entire carpet, largely unseen for months, began to emerge as a butterfly from a chrysalis.
It scrubbed up well and I felt quite pleased with the result.

I joined the children in the living room. They were engrossed with Elf.
Now, Elf draws you in..... and I was ok until the Spirit of Christmas part, then my bottom lip stuck out like an overfull drawer.
When they all began to sing and the sleigh was powered by the collective belief in Father Christmas, I fell apart.

Not wanting to frighten the children, I went upstairs for a Good Greet, as they say in Scotland.
I dredged up every miserable thought that there was and some more, just in case........ I gorged from the Table of Gloom like Eeyore with tapeworms.

It felt good, cathartic and I went to wash my face to reduce it to less gargoyle proportions.

Except there was no water. Well, bucketloads, actually, pouring down my red, puffy face. Again.

The Farmer came back not long after with the large containers full of water. "Away off to your bed, lass, you look tired".......

We all slept well last night and this morning, I could hear the tractor very close to the house then banging noises and the smell of the gas burner going.
The Farmer's face looked all flushed with exertion but he looked pleased.
"You'll get water from the taps now".
He had filled a huge 350 gallon tank, transported it up the road then plumbed it in to the existing water supply.
It will last a couple of days then need to be dismantled and refilled up the road but we can shower and use the washing machine and everything.

I start crying again but out of sheer joy and relief. I am crying because I love him.

I feel purged of the misery and washed it away.

Sunday, 19 December 2010

Greasy Jimmy

I have been phoning various 'caring' agencies for advice or even some help.

Scottish Water were sympathetic but don't touch private supplies, the STFA have not replied yet, etc.

Now, I shall not name the quango but felt they may have been able to help us.

Ring, ring...."Hellooo, This is Useless Quango, Mr Completely Disinterested speaking, how may I help pew?"

I explained the situation in full and waited for his response........

.........there were munch noises.

Every one of my fifty years pulled themselves up to their full height and I was incensed.

"Young man.... would it be an enormous inconvenience if you removed the pie from your mouth and spoke to me properly?"... I was aware of my accent becoming more Scottish than was strictly necessary the angrier I got. I sounded like Mrs Doubtfire.

"It's a sandwich, not a pie".

I hoped he would choke on his pie, nay, sandwich and someone in the office would rush over and perform the Heimlich Maneuver except get it wrong and take their foot off his gluteus maximus instead.
I hoped that the Slavering Hounds of Satan would charge into his office, breathing fire and snot and one of them would accidentally knock his sandwich onto the floor then tread on it with it's cloven, stinking foot.
I hoped the sandwich was egg and onion and he would get terribly bothered with wind.

I knew straight away that Greasy Jimmy was going to be unhelpful because he was Having His Lunch.

"Thank you. You have been helpful in the extreme" I said, through a very tight mouth.

"Wfffuoooomumfff" said Greasy Jimmy the Piemuncher, through his second bite.

High and dry

Water is still off but we have a Plan.

The Farmer has designed an alternative so he is going to put a huge tank in the kitchen and pump water up to the tank. It might look like a nuclear reactor but hey.

We will have to go and find water and lug it home but at least it is easier than humphing 25 litre canisters up into the loft with rope.

I feel wildly thrilled about the new tank and system (if it works but I think it will) and it is funny how your priorities change. When the water is there, you turn on the tap and never give it much thought. When there is no water, you become obsessed trying to find some.

It is minging not having water and we are seriously thinking of a plan B except we cannot really come up with one yet. We both feel tired and cannot think properly.

Tomorrow is the run up to Christmas and you like things to be especially clean and organised but things are starting to slip and it is getting a bit overwhelming, to be honest.

Saturday, 18 December 2010

"Look what I am doing, Mum !"

I am speaking up to the ceiling.

Mum would be terribly cross and Vexed.

We are not leaving the house today so I have decided to clean out the tins cupboard. I find a tin of Ambrosia Creamed Rice and cleaning gets instantly forgotten.
I open the tin then add a big blob of strawberry jam. It looks back at me like a bloodshot eye.
I begin to eat out of the tin with a teaspoon and almost collapse with delight.

Mum would not allow us to eat out of the tin because it was Vulgar.
Elbows had to be kept off the table, soup was eaten with the spoon away from you, knees together nicely when you sat down, slurp noises were a Cardinal Sin and watching ITV was common.

I terribly wanted to watch ITV but we did not have a television.

Alcohol was forbidden but a dusty bottle of Bertola cream sherry was permissible for offering the neighbours at New Year.
Tiny little glasses would appear and a thimbleful was added to the bottom. Sherry, glass of, one.
"That Connie has a 'problem' you know"....Mum was all aghast.
Connie had consumed two glasses.
"She will fall over the fence getting home, you know" and would glare out of the curtain to see if Connie the Inebriated Woman would fail to find the gate and fall her length climbing the fence.

Mum was a district nurse and midwife in a rural area. She later became a Health Visitor but preferred the 'district'.
She had no qualms about discussing birth contol or intimate problems with her patients (tricky one given the strict nature of the 'Kirk' in the Highlands) but heaven forbid if anyone kept the volume of their television on during her visit.

She had a knack of being immaculately turned out. Shoes and handbag matched and she could do the scarf thing.
Some people can whip a scarf into an effortless froth and it lands on their shoulders as if adorned by Angels.
Some of us can spend all day trying the scarf thing and end up looking like a bag lady. No names mentioned.

She had the most marvellous voice and when she sang in church, her voice rose like a nightingale and the very angels listened.

She left far too early.

She told me she was Absolutely Ready and Unafraid. She embraced the next stage and slipped away when I left her bedside for a moment.
"Some things are best left private" I could hear her say and so her finest moment was just between her and God.

I speak to her sometimes. Ask her what to do and how to cope with things.

"Mum, I bet God lets you eat Ambrosia rice pudding out of the tin in Heaven,  I say to to the ceiling.

And Happy Birthday"

Star chips and egg

The little one has made breakfast for us all this morning.

Scunnered

Back to no water again.

The temperature fell to roughly minus 7 last night - I say roughly because the thermometer came from a toy weather station which St Nicholas brought the children last year. It is nailed to the front door instead of a Christmas wreath.

The North have had heavy snow and I'm not sure if the hills to the north of us took the brunt but we have had very little so there is not the same volume to shovel up and melt.

It looks like this cold snap is here for a while and the roads are very icy for travel but we are going to have to fill the water containers once they are empty. Four 25 litre containers last one day if you are really canny.

Sometimes, you want to run away but today, I know that I would get about ten feet away and fall on the ice. Walking slowly away does not have the same dramatic impact and besides, the dung brown duffle coat renders any dramatic gesture into an object of hysterics to an onlooker.
Try throwing a strop wearing a duffle coat with the hood up.....I rest my case, Your Honour.

Even Paddington has the sense to keep his duffle hood down.

So, no running or walking slowly away, no strops, yes duffle, yes humphage of water containers, no swearing or getting filthy in the big shed.

Am I being unreasonable to crack open one of the chocolate selection boxes in the wardrobe and placate my scunneredness in it's contents?

Friday, 17 December 2010

The old barn

It stood there when my husband's Great Grandfather took on the tenancy of the farm.

It stood protecting the front door of the farmhouse, just a little to the west and shouldered the worst of the west wind.
It is not the biggest barn, in fact it is a tiny barn, stone built, honest cobbled floor and has small nooks in the inside wall where stones have loosened at some point in the past 150 years and had become a resting place for  dim oil lamps. It has been whitened with lime a long time ago. The lime slakes off in long strips, revealing the cold, gray stone.

It is just big enough to house a dozen cattle, six either side of the gully which runs down the middle to the door. There are marks on the wall where the hay hake was once fixed. If you stand for long enough and free your mind, you can see the stockman tending to his herd. You can feel the heat from the cattle and smell their distinctive sweet smell.

You can garner a sense of the backbreaking job it was to muck the dung from the cobbles using only a 'graip' and shovel.
The old stones have captured a faint feeling of achievement, the calves successfully brought into the world, the sick cattle returned to health. Sadness too. The cattle who entered the little barn and never left. Their last breath absorbed by the stone.

Over the years and generations of the family, the barn stopped being used for cattle and became a coal shed and a workbench was built against the back wall.
It was dark in there and things scuttled. Owls swooped silently from it's rafters.

The roof timbers eventually became rotten and slates fell off. The little barn, dark and windowless now began to allow shards of light explore the darkest corners. It allowed moonlight to shine her soft light inside and the barn was transformed into something quite beautiful.

Repairs were attempted but woodworm had greedily consumed more than it's fair share of the pitch pine. Lumps of rafter fell to the dusty ground and it became unsafe to go near the barn.

The tenant farmer asked the landowner to repair the roof or at least make it safe because after all, it was his property and the Law of the day stated that once a fixture had lived it's life and could no longer be repaired, it had to be replaced.
The tenant farmer was worried about the barn as he had young children running about the farm and the barn was so near the front door.
The landowner was not worried about the tenant's children or the barn and constantly ignored his obligation and the letters.

The children grew up and one day the son, now the next generation of tenant, had children of his own.
He too had tried to make the old barn roof safe but there was nowhere sound enough to accept a nail.
He warned his children not to go near, just as his father had warned him.
He wrote to the landowner about his fears but the landowner still did not care.

The tenant finally went to the landowner and asked his permission to use his own money to fix the barn roof. He did not remove his cap nor tugged his forelock but he did feel humiliated and angry to have to ask.

The tenant's wife was furious when she realised how humiliated her husband felt. She knew this humiliation went back a long way to a time long before the barn was built.
She knew that tenants were given a very raw deal by uncaring landowners and were seen as hindrances and property.
She discovered that the tenant was now 'owned' by the landowner's grandchild.

In a rage, she threw a rake at the roof of the little barn. The roof gave a deep exhausted groan and completely collapsed.

"I am so sorry. So terribly and completely sorry" whispered the tenant's wife to the little barn. She felt wretched.

A few days later, a letter arrived from the landowner. "This is to remind you that the barn is my property and any home improvements must have my permission. Please instruct on your intention in replacing the damaged property".

The little barn stands  with four walls. It looks odd like a snowman in the snow, missing his head. It still shoulders the raw west wind from the farmhouse and protects the farmyard from the worst of the weather.




Sunlight floods the cobbles and rain has washed them spotlessly clean. Mice no longer feel they have found a safe, dark shelter from the owl's all seeing eye. The owl has nowhere to hide and moves to another barn.
The hunter and hunted left vulnerable.

The tenant makes a vow to make the barn complete again because he does care. He cares for the mouse and the owl and barn; the barn which has protected the family and stock for more than one hundred years. They are all part of the bigger picture.

"The prosperous man is asleep,
Nor hears how the whirlwinds sweep,
But Misery and I must watch
the surly tempest blow:
And it's O, fickle Fortune, O!"

Robert Burns

World tour of Scotland

His big eyes have filled with tears.

"I love Edie Mcready" he says and the fat tears slip down his endless eyelashes, taking an age to drop on to his little flushed cheeks.

He isn't well. He is full of the cold and had a terrible night. His temperature was frighteningly high and he kept talking (thankfully).

He is a little perkier today but knows today will be a pyjama day so he is in a nest on the sofa. His eyes look overly bright. I give him a big cuddle and pass him some juice.

"Do they really live in Balimory?". My daughter has beckoned me over and asks just loud enough so I can hear. She does not want her little brother's illusions shattered.

"Well, some of them might live in <thinks> Glasgow these days but Balimory is really a real town called Tobermory. The houses really are painted in beautiful colours".

"Shall we go there?"

I type Tobermory into Google and we are instantly there. The internet never ceases to amaze me; we take it in our stride nowadays and probably don't give it much thought but to our generation, it is an instrument of amazing potential.

We wander the streets of Tobermory and look for Susie Sweet's shop and Spencer's home.

I save my trump card until last.

"I saw Spencer in Perth. He was driving a bus and he waved to me". Four eyes look back at me with an incredulous look. The little one opens his mouth into an oval and his jaw drops. Spencer is his Hero.

It is true. When Balimory finished, Spencer became a Perth bus driver. He is quoted as saying that he loves his new job and loves when children recognise him.

"I think we need a Hero party" suggests my daughter. She has always loved a Hero party and the small teaset comes out and I make some sandwiches. Sometimes there are biscuits but today they appear to have evaporated in the heat of the kitchen.....

"Where shall we go now" I ask. The world is our oyster and we can go anywhere.

"Let's go to Skye!" offers our daughter. We love Skye and had our first ever holiday there this year. My husband had never seen the West and could not believe the Cuillan mountains.
We google earth Skye and are instantly there.

We might go to Orkney later to look for puffins.

We can fly around the world, magically like Father Christmas on his sleigh. We can look for puffins and dolphins and golden beaches. We can look at the top of Mount Everest as only Spirit can see and we can look for bears in Russia.

We finish our Hero party and soar....

Fridays

I love Fridays.

Friday is quite the best day of the week. It is interesting and colourful.Friday is a hopeful day.

It is a bit of tradition, I suppose, but Friday is the day we dress in our 'town' clothes and pile into the car to get supplies in town.

We get up a bit earlier on Friday and feed all the stock. You tend not to think much when you do it as it is a part of the daily routine like pulling on your wellies or brushing your teeth.
The cattle blow little puffs of frozen breaths in the air and the sheep mill around your knees, they nudge and push one another and move like a big woolly conveyor belt.
They all become overexcited when the tractor brings bales of fresh hay. "Now now" you scold gently but the big ram (Ramboullet) starts to do his thang with Bonnie so you try to fill the troughs quickly.
Bonnie looks a bit miffed.....

The hens and cats fuss until they are given food and fresh water or meat and milk, respectively. The farm cats have a wild look in their eye and only one will allow you to cuddle her. I pick up Tessie and she purrs and fusses.

Bob the duck flies in from her secret duckery high up in the bales. She peeps and fusses too until she gets her own heavy dish of feed. Her dish is an old stone soup bowl - it was the only thing I could find which did not tip when she shovelled for her food.

The really tinies, ColliePig the guinea pig and Colin the chameleon (who live in the house) are given fruit and nuggets (ColliePig) or locusts, fruit and maggots (Colin).  I spray his viv with warm water and he glowers at me but once I close the viv door, he stretches his neck and his long sticky tongue catches an insect and he sits back smugly. I could  watch him all day with  fascination.

We troop in to the house, grab something to eat then get showered and changed. Everyone is excited about going into town. We know that we have little time as we have to be back for our daughter returning from school so my husband steps on the accelerator and we go a little too fast for my liking, rattling and bumping along the country roads.

Town is a culture shock once you arrive. It is alive with hustle and bustle and noise. Your eyes see all aspects of life, the little old lady hirpling along with bad feet and hauling a little tartan shopping trolley. She looks tired.
There are proud new parents with shiney prams but the dad is proudly holding the baby aloft in his arms; he is saying "Look at my beautiful child, look at how wonderful they are!"
There are people who have emerged into the daylight and who have needed something to help them cope with the harsh reality of it all. They sway slightly and their eyes are glassy.
Teenagers huddle in a doorway, their hoods covering most of their faces. They are being Hard. "Good to see you covering your ears in this awfy cauld weather, son " I say to the Hoodie..... He hates me.

You settle in to the town vibe when you see little puffs of frozen breath and people pushing like a woolly coated conveyor belt....

We buy proper newspapers, ones to hold in our hand and line ColliePig's cage with, the local one, the area one and the Farmer. My husband will study it like an A level paper later. He will find his glasses and settle by the fire then carefully study all the prices of grain (and frown) or who did well at the mart. Farmers are known by their farm names and he will say "That's a braw ram from the Mains of TrauchleBog". There will be a photograph of a sheep's hind quarters or a rosy cheeked family with a trillion bairns proudly showing their flock. Ovine, bovine and human.

We head back with our spoils and some luxuries. We get home and crank up the heating and light the fire. It will soon be warm.

Our daughter returns and the family feels complete. We all settle to read and sit quietly by the fire with a bowl fancy savoury nib nabs, the Farmer with the Farmer, little one with a new farm book and my daughter and I in quiet conversation.

I feel content and warm. I think about some of the people we saw today and wonder what they are doing now. Have they gone home to a warm house, other people happy to see them?
Is the little baby being settled for bed?
Is the glassy eyed man still seeing the world through a dark kaleidoscope?

Friday has been busy but we relax for a while before the night time feed and settle of the animals.

But just for that little while, you think "I wish this moment would last for eternity".

Thursday, 16 December 2010

My brown eyed girl.

She glides into the living room where we all sit huddled round the fire.

I am momentarily taken aback by her beauty, grace and elegance. She arranges herself on the sofa and instantly it changes from a shabby non descript collection of cushions into a chic chaise longue made of finest silk velvet.

There is something quite elusive about her, something fey and otherworldly. Her long chestnut brown hair falls in a rich curtain down her back and she gazes in to the distance with magnificent brown eyes.

I have not spoken much about her when I have written but I feel a little maudlin just now, perhaps it is just this time of year....

She was born on a lovely autumn afternoon. It was so warm and I felt completely unafraid when I was admitted to the Maternity Unit. Instinct told me this was a daughter.

They cut her from my womb and later that evening, once I came to properly, the nurses handed her over to me.
I looked at her dark hair and held her tiny hand then cuddled her to me. She latched on beautifully and I held her close.

The doctor came by a short while later.
"What is wrong with my child?" I asked her. I could not put my finger on it but there was something...
Doctor checked. "Nothing obvious" came her reply. "What do you think is wrong?"

I had no idea and felt embarrassed to have asked. I just knew something felt not quite right somehow.

She grew into toddlerhood and loved to come with me in the morning to feed all the hungry mouths, was completely fearless faced with a clocky, puffed up hen or the shed full of goats all pushing to get fed first. She laughed a lot but never spoke.
We would read to her or ask if she needed anything or how did her day go, she still never spoke but would fix you with an old fashioned look. The brown eyes so old and wise.

She had such a struggle at school and kept silent about the beatings she received at lunchtime - I found the bruises on her little body when I bathed her. She never went to that school again.
We managed to find another school who promised to protect her and she settled in. We asked the local authority to help us find out why she was different. They did not want to know.

I am going to skip her primary school years and fast forward to her secondary ones.
The local authority chose a 'unit' for her in a city school. She said she would run away. We decided to home educate her while the Battle commenced.

She did so well at home and loved cooking, gardening, music, nature lessons down at the burn (stream), she loved art galleries and the ballet (when it came to the big town).
She had no comprehension of money, danger, how to count or add and was extremely vulnerable. She also had no friends - I have little to say about the children whom she attended school with but invites to birthday parties or Christmas parties were non existant. Our daughter did not have a best friend, simply no friends at all.

We found an amazing school and she went for a couple of days to be assessed. She loved it and told me when she returned home that "All the others are just like me, Mum".
We took the local authority to court and with the help of an brilliant Education Lawyer and wonderful Educational Psychologist, (after possibly one of the most harrowing weeks of my life), we won our case.

She started the school soon after and began to bloom. Her confidence grew and she had a Best Friend as well as a tight knit group of friends.
She began to hold her head up and take notice of a bigger world. She began to make eye contact. She tells me that she feels really happy in her heart to go to school and her friends call her for lengthy chats on the phone.

You would fight like a tiger to keep that happiness and God Knows we did.

The school are gently steering her towards a curriculum whereby her natural skills will be honed and help her in later life.
There are so many things that I fear for the future....how will she manage to get on a bus alone and cross town, how will she manage with money, driving, trusting strangers.....it is endless.
She is finally asleep now, I just checked and I look on her beautiful sleeping face and think how lucky we are to have her. She is such a rare soul.

She is safe now.
I pray that is how it will be for her always....

Ray Mears, the A9 and chips.

Yesterday was lovely, weather wise. The sun was out but forgot to throw in the heat.

The plan was to pick up my daughter from school, have a mini panic buy from the posh deli in the town then get home before it became dark.
My husband and sons would go into Perth to get their Chrismas shopping - they were going with a list of 'suggestions' and it was noted in Capital Letters that there were to be no axes (which the Farmer gave me as best present last year.....), no wellie boot socks size man 12, no novelty scent packs with beer glasses adorned with Homer Simpson saying 'Doh'.....none of that.

I got ready to leave and realised that this was not such a good day, mentally.
"Please not today", I muttered but there was a strong sense of panic and an overwhelming urge to retreat to my safe haven ie not step over the threshold of the door.
Agoraphobia is such a bind.

You try to allay the anxiety churning like butter inside and try to remember the coping techniques. You try to remind yourself that you are not having a heart attack despite similar symptoms.

I decide to do the journey in little bits. Get to the main road, get on to the A9 <panic> get off the A9 asap etc. Channel Ray Mears. He can do anything.
After a long journey, I arrive at the school. I want to vomit but know this is socially unacceptable so desist.
My daughter is  delighted to see me and her face lights up when she sees me peep through the classroom window.....you are reminded that this is why you would wade through floods or fight crocodiles (or drive on the A9).

I chat with the Caring Lady, a beautiful woman whom we all adore. She is one of human's gems and has such a gentle, sweet aura plus she understands so many aspects of fellow man and articulates them beautifully.
Her words give me food for thought.....

My daughter and I set off for the journey home. It is beginning to get dark and I don't want to be on the A9 where everyone rushes despite the temperature turning very cold and a possible risk of ice.

"Mum, could we please celebrate the end of terms with a fish supper?" asks my daughter.
A fish supper is a rare treat and the chippie in town is one of the Best in the World.
We hit the chip shop and our teeth water at the lovely smell - my daughter places her order and is thrilled with the little wooden forks. She gathers a few and makes a tiny crocodile while she waits.

We go back to the car and she begins to eat her supper- I am instantly rueful that my expanding waistline fobade me from getting some chips but there you go. She offers me one chip and it is devine.

We hit the dreaded A9. We are sprayed by a passing lorry and the windscreen fills with muddy salt and diesel sludge. The wipers stop working and I cannot see. Panic.
I pull over into a layby and climb on to the bonnet. A convoy of lorries whizz past and shake the car and I mutter a Swear.
The wipers get shoogled and I poke the screen water sprayer with a toothpick in a futile attempt to get something to work. A primal scream sits in my throat.

We continue on the road using a combination of hanging out the window to see and cleaning the worst bits with a Co-op bag, eventually we pull off the A9 and I feel drained. We are now on the country roads and at least there will be few oncoming cars to obliterate my view like the big lorries did.
I feel about 105 years old.

"Magic fish supper, Mum, that was the BEST tea ever", she says happily.

"Mfffph", I reply, incapable of coherent speech.

"Mum, we must do it again!".

Wednesday, 15 December 2010

Birthday greetings

Happy Birthday.

I have never forgotten the date, your birthday falls in that curious thirteenth sign of the zodiac, Ophiuchus. The odd one, the maverick.

I think of you now and again and think back to a time quite long ago when we were both so much younger.

You were extremely clever. You could create marvellous creations from stone and you understood it's grain and flaws and how to cut it in order to reveal a side which had never been seen by the human eye for a millenia.
Yes, you were good at that.

Do you remember how you used to visit me almost every day when I lay flat in the antisceptic confines of the hospital bed, trying to hold on to our unborn child? Trying not to let his tiny soul slip from my wonb?

Well, he was tenacious and a fighter. He held on and decided to make his debut at Christmas. His birthday is easy to remember; he shares it with the Baby Jesus.

We seemed to go on different roads after that, you and I? You, away with one of the nurses who looked after me and I, with our tiny son.....off on a journey filled with the fear of the unknown.

You missed all the milestones - the first time he smiled at me, his first few steps on his first birthday, first day at school.....all those sort of things.

He did ask about you and I told him the truth.
I never put you down as I felt that a child should not grow up with a mental image of an ogre or enemy. Life is confusing enough to a child without the creation of monsters.
I never glorified you either. Just explained the type of person you were and how you saw the world using different eyes from mine.
He stopped asking eventually.

I have a good present for you.
Here is a huge strapping lad, smart, funny, polite, compassionate, very talented at music. (You should have seen how I cried with pride when he piped at Rememberance Day).
He is so loving and kind and he tries his best to understand when life throws all those maverick cards which it holds close to it's chest.

You can feel proud of him.

Gone are the years of struggle, of moving house to try and get a better job so he had the things he needed, gone are the nights of loneliness when he was asleep and there was nobody to talk to, the dire poverty and making do.

We managed together, we bonded like glue and he realised that I was always there for him. I was his security and that was a solid foundation for him to progress. We did it together.

I see you every day. Your face looks back at me, his eyes, your eyes.

I wish you well.

And thank you for the most precious gift of our son.

Monday, 13 December 2010

Ice

There has been a good thaw and things which were submerged under feet of snow are slowly beginning to show face.

Including the farm road.

We are quite a bit off the road and have been creeping down the farm track by tractor. This compacted the snow and come the thaw, turned the track into a sheet of ice.

I was a slob today and loaded the car with sacks of feed and carrots for the sheep then drove across the sheet of ice which covered the farm yard to the sheep shed. That way, I only had to humph the sacks a couple of feet and there was minimal risk of killing myself on the ice.

I drove back to the house for buckets of water and drove back to the sheep shed, barely spilling a drop.
Of course, I now felt terribly pleased and became over confident. This was a dawdle!

Fired up with bravado, I decided to hit town and have a Panic Buy. More snow was forecast for later on in the week and we had already eaten the Christmas dinner so it seemed sensible to replace it, in case we became snowed in again for a couple of weeks.

Nothing prepared me for the horrible experience on the farm track. I crept along at about one mile per hour then felt the entire steering go light and I knew that the car was driving itself and I was merely a passenger. A very scared passenger.
There is a small incline halfway down the track and the car speeded up then it hit the really thick ruts and began to sway like a large cow going for water.
I closed my eyes and invoked every Deity that I could think of....The car finally skidded semi sideways onto the tar of the main road and came to a halt. Now that would have been uber cool in, say, Sunset Boulevard with surfer dudes watching. It lost it's street cred happening in backwater Perthshire.

I thanked all the Deities for being there, thanked them again that my children were not in the car, would have thanked my agent if I'd had one, then asked them if they would do their thang all over again because the need for Panic Buying had gone and now I wanted to go home. I may have been sobbing a bit at that point.
Like Gwyneth Paltrow.

The car was duly turned and the entire hideous excercise was repeated like a hellish Groundhog Day.

I got home and fell out of the car and tried to stuff about five cigarettes into my mouth at the same time. Eyes wild and bloodshot plus a Massive respect for Canadians and all of Scandinavia.

There is no WAY that I will go ice driving again and if we get snowed in sans turkey then the evil biting cockerel Gets It.

Later, fortified by hot sweet tea and some Dr Bach's Rescue Remedy, I went back outside and saw an icebow. It was very beautiful in a mysterious sort of way; it tried to make a proper rainbow shape but bits were missing. It lasted for hours.
I like to think it was a Sign assuring me that I had been spared (but am willing to accept an Oscar for Drama Queenery.)

Time

Where does it go?

I cannot believe it is now the 13th of December. It was May, the last time I looked.
How did Christmas manage to sneak up so stealthily?

Time steals the little things as well. You get up early and try to syncronise brain and body, feed all the hungry mouths, animal and human, attempt to create some semblance of order in the farmhouse by feebly pushing a hoover round and picking up toys, clothes and heaven knows what else.

Time sneaks in and steals a few hours and you think 'How can it be lunchtime, where did the morning go?"

Time sneaked up and rearranged my face and body, the rascal.
One moment I was a fresh faced young lass but now a stranger's face looks back at me in the mirror. She looks like a mixture of my mother and grannie. She smiles if I smile at her, so seems friendly enough plus her teeth are all her own, so a bonus.
I try to avoid seeing her, to be honest, as no amount of fancy creams nor make up can bring back the face which was once there.

They say that you get the face you deserve but I wonder if it was in my karma to receive more than a fair share of wind skelped cheeks or ruts in my forehead deeper than the frozen tracks which the tractor makes on the ground.
Laughter lines too. I quite like those. They make it easier to fold the face into position while the rest of you falls apart, helplessly. Human origami at it's best.

When did time make me a fifty year old woman? I only feel about twenty one inside....OK, thirty three on a bad day.
You puff a little more or take slightly longer rests than you did thirty years before. Your third bairn runs much faster than the first one ever did.
The bags of feed are that little bit heavier these days. Perhaps it is because they are in metric weight instead of Imperial. Yes, that's it. They have put more feed in them.

Time does not bother the little one. It is a long day packed with playing,  cuddles, adventures, stories,
food and after an eternity, bath and bed time. Christmas seems a huge distance away.....as far away as Russia where the bears live....and that is VERY far away.

He asks me "Am I big yet, Mummy?"

"Much bigger than you were, my dear, but there is still plenty of time"..........

Sunday, 12 December 2010

Fright night

All was quiet on the western front.

We were all sound asleep and I was having rather an excellent dream......then it happened.....

WAAAAAAAHHHH!!!!!

Right beside my ear.

It takes a moment to gather the demolished remnants of brain and nerves plus the discovery that Anglo Saxon is your first language after all.

"I'M LOST, MUMMY" roars the tiny, invisible presence somewhere to my left. "I CAN'T FIND YOU AND IT'S DARK". Cue tears and snot.

I muttered something about adjusting the volume control and started to fumble for the light. Said light fell on the floor and there was no point in trying to rescue it as the bulb had gone. I made a mental note to screw it to the table. With a six inch nail.

"It's ok, I'll find you, don't cry" I said and went round the bed with my arms sweeping blindly to try and find the source of the noise.
I find him and lift his tiny frame into our bed. He feels all tight and scared.

I cuddle him tightly and feel him relax. He starts to tell me what had terrified him but only a "There was a ..." came out and he fell asleep again.

Now, all the shehanigans had an effect on the Farmer's bladder so he got up and went to pad through to the bathroom. He managed a few steps before I heard a clatter, twang and an Oath.
When he came back to bed, he pulled the covers over himself crossly and I whispered to him "What happened?"
"I trod on the bairn's toy guitar" came the huffy reply.

Well, God forgive me and I don't know if it was lack of sleep or what but I could feel the giggle start somewhere in my mid stomach then it spread until I had to stuff my hand into my mouth. Tears came and everything.
We did get back to sleep eventually but I can honestly say that I cried myself to sleep.

Saturday, 11 December 2010

Bob

A lovely lady has asked to see a picture of Bob.

Bob is the Mystery duck who arrived out of the blue a few years ago.
It really was strange as nobody keeps Muscovy ducks nearby yet she seemed quite healthy.

She hung around the big shed for a while and we fed her - we did not go too close as she was a bit nervous plus I had no idea what she was.

Bob is ENORMOUS. I was puzzled as she looked like a duck but was the size of a goose. She did not quack but hissed and peeped. At first we thought it was a male (hence Bob) but she made a nest in the hay shed and laid a clutch of eggs.
Poor thing sat on the eggs for ages and refused to leave the nest so we left bowls of food and water as near to her as we could. She hissed if you went near.

Sadly, the eggs never hatched but Bob finally left her nest and tentatively began to explore the farm. She seemed quite lonely so I found a tiny drake as a companion. I could not find another Muscovy in the area and that made her even more mysterious.
Bob and SmallDuck wandered the farm together happily, looking with mild distain at the feral hens and splashing  about in the permapuddle (the size of Lake Michigan) in front of the kitchen window. SmallDuck would be the more vocal of the two and Bob stopped hissing, making tiny 'peep' noises instead.

We were very sad to see Bob waddling around on her own one day and we never did find SmallDuck again. We did, however, see the postman fly up the farm track one day in summer and deliberately aim for Bob. He was laughing.....

My husband quietly put up a big gate at the end of the farm road that same day and nailed a postbox to the oak tree on the roadside. He would never admit it, but he loves Bob as much as we do.

This morning, she flew from the hayshed and peeped quietly waiting to be fed. She likes to be fed from a dish and she trusts me enough to feed from my hand. I think it is easier for her to spoon the feed into her bill. Her plumage has changed colour but will change again in Spring.

I will look for a male Muscovy next year and hope that Bob is happy with her companion.

We are really lucky to have found her.

Oh well.....

I left the turkey and several of the trimmings outside when the temperature was minus crazy temperature. It made room in the freezer for important things like ice cream and my stash of chocolate.

There has been a thaw.

Guess what we will be eating tonight and for the next few days.......

Warm welcomes

We get up fairly early in the mornings.

Actually, that is a bit of an understatement. Sometimes it is so early that we seem to meet ourselves going to bed, like the Monty Python sketch.

This morning, I was the first one up and I went downstairs to make coffee.
PieDog sleeps in the kitchen, beside the Rayburn and I have to be all prepared as I know what is going to happen. I open the little hall door and the big front door - a blast of cold air fills my lungs and slaps me awake.
I open the kitchen door and PieDog squeaks with joy, his entire body becomes a wag and he moves from side to side like a salmon swimming up a river.
His nose and tail meet and he tries to jump up, snuffle your ankles, push his feed dish and squeak all at the same time.
I try to let him outside but he is now completely in Losing the Plot mode. I lift him up and cuddle him for a while.
"Look Pie, the snow is melting!"....I place him in the courtyard and close the hall door. I watch him from the little west window and he is busy sniffing the myriad of smells a farm can offer.

I open the curtain on the other window; the one to the east, and the sky is a glorious pink and gold. The light seeks out all the frozen corners of the farm and enfolds them in a warm embrace.

Friday, 10 December 2010

Mullets

I very rarely go near the cattle if I can help it.

They are huge and scarey and very unpredictable. I much prefer sheep as at least, they give you a sporting chance. Not so cattle.

Eldest son usually feeds or helps my husband to feed the cattle. The cattle are in the big shed for winter and they are given bales of hay and silage plus some sort of alchemist's mixture which my husband mixes up and dribbles over the silage (with MY watering can).
The barn is warm and dry and smells of cows, silage and oats. Plus a faint whiff of molasses and hope from the alchemy mix.

Today, my son was late, so my husband asked if I would help with the cattle. Now, I am banned from using the tractor which has the spikey prongs on the front. It is not 'my' tractor, I don't like to drive it and my husband fears that I might 'stab a cow'. The accelerator tends to go from stuck to whiplashed neck in a nano second so I don't trust it and avoid this tractor.

This is only my second time helping with the cattle. The first time was when my husband was very ill with flu and I insisted that he let me feed them.

Never again.......

I am still traumatised years later.

My job today was to open the gate and let my husband in with some bales of straw and hay, then quickly shut the gate. Any cows who were 'thinking about it' had to be stopped in mid rebellion by muggins.
While I was waiting, I decided to make some small talk with the cattle (who had gathered and were staring at me through the gate).
"Nice hair" I said to a big white mean looking cow. She had a terribly impressive  bouffant on the top of her head and she looked quite regal. A large brown cow pushed her out of the way and sauntered up sassily. She was Top Cow and as mean as the Hard Girl at school who smoked fags and went with the bad boys behind the Janitor's garage at lunchtime.
"Wow, get you! Check out your mullet !" Brown cow had the mulletest mullet I ever saw and was obviously having a bad hair day.
She looked at me in a way which said "I am going to chase your sorry ass then stomp you".

I got The Fear.

Husband returned with the bales and patiently waited until I opened the gate......"I am having the Fear" I shouted to him but he never heard me over the noise of the engine. 
The gate was opened very slowly and big bad cow did  a little stomp at me. Well, a huge This Will Work Better Than Prunes stomp. All the other cattle began to surge forward, just enough to turn me into a gibbering wreck, then they turned and followed my husband to the feeder.

Never was a gate shut so quickly. I had a furtive hyperventilate and wondered if a duffle coat hood would work like a brown paper bag.

My son turned up at that moment, all dressed up to the nines and wearing his good funeral coat.
 "OK?" he asked.
"No actually. I am triple incontinent with fear, the cows bullied me especially  the badass one with the mullet and I think my duffle has poo on the sleeve, my nose is running and I don't have a hankie and where are you going dressed up in the Death Coat.......?"
"It's Friday. We go into town on a Friday, every Friday and we are going to get the Christmas shopping. I made an Effort".

We filled the car with all the children, even the Arctic suited ones who had fallen in a puddle but were only wet on the outside.
"Oh, hang on a minute, I forgot something" and I went back into the cowshed.
 Brown  Cow glowered.

"I don't like your mullet, you big fat cow" I whispered, then galloped out of the barn.

I bet she is waiting for me at the gates. Her and her mates......

Counting chickens before they have hatched.....

I should have known.

The water has gone off again.

I am going to smack, nay, thrash the outside tap with the branch which has fallen from one of the trees, just like Basil Fawlty.

It won't do any good but, By God, it will make me feel better.

Harvest

I know we are in the middle of winter, well, not even the middle bit yet, more the mid morning stage but the best time of all is the harvest time so forgive me for digressing a little.

We grow cereals (oats this year) but usually barley. This is the cash crop. Barley is the crop which puts shoes on our feet, coats on our back and bits for the tractors.

On a good year, the barley is grown for the maltsters and made into whisky.

We begin by ploughing the fields in spring. Red tape does not allow us to plough before a certain date (set by a beaurocrat who has not realised that farms which lie very high up in the hills have a shorter growing season, but hey).
Once the fields are ploughed, we harrow them so the earth has a good tilth and accepts the seeds. too deep and they are buried, too shallow and they are washed away.
We then sow the seeds and hope for gentle rain and a bit of heat. It is such a thrill to see the first tiny shoots emerge from the ground.
We watch the barley grow and once it is almost ready, we check closely at it's colour and my husband squashes a barley seed to see if it is ripe. It is one of those farmery things that he does and he knows instinctively if we are ready to rock or if we have to wait a bit. He also scans the sky to ensure the weather will hold.
We get all the machinery ready, wash the tractors, grease and oil all the gubbins, order plenty of wrap and the big moment comes when the combine is rolled out of the big shed.

There are lots of amazing combines to be seen on farms, computerized huge beasts of things which are so sophisticated that they practically brew the malt. There are combines capable of cutting massive widths. Amazing. I bet they even have DVDs in them.
Our combine, however, is a vintage baby from the 1970's.
When she emerges from her sleepy corner of the shed, coughing and spluttering and puffing big plumes of oily smoke, my eldest son and I always stand with fake guitars and make "Waka taka" seventies guitar music noises as we are sure that Huggy Bear and Kojak are not far behind.
As she is driven out of the big shed, my husband always stops just in the doorway as the height of the combine is perfect for oiling the door mechanism, so hingey bits get oiled.

We set off for the field in a little convoy, husband at the front in the combine, me with the Valtra and bailer and my eledest son driving the Land Rover which is packed with the younger children, picnics and gallons of juice.
My son and I park up in a quiet bit out of the way and my husband makes the first cut. We always cheer at that bit.
I will wait for a while until there are a few dreels cut but meanwhile settle the children with their picnic and a treat, usually comics with freebies stuck on, so they can crayon or adorn their wrists with jewellery depending on the comic and child. You need the diplomacy of a UN dude at this stage as there is a window for fighting through envy. Hence more comics.

Now comes the very best bit.

I climb into the cab with a big bottle of water, bar of chocolate and some fags, have a minor panic as I inevitable forget what all the levers do, mutter a prayer so as I remember and nobody falls into the bailer, fire up the engine and the PTO (which fires the bailer into action) and off!

There is nothing in the world as good as bailing.
You are in a bubble where there are no responsibilities, no stress or anxiety, just you, the straw to harvest and whiles, the red kite wheeling overhead,  (trying to spy little mice or rabbits).
The view of the countryside is beautiful and I feel complete peace in my soul.

We go up and down the field, up and down until it is all neat and tidyily cut and full of fat, golden bales.
We just keep going until all the fields are cut but my son and I swap roles for a bit. I sit with the children until he carts the grain into the other big shed then when he comes back, I am back in the Valtra.

Once the straw and grain are in, I do the hay on my own.
It is cut with a giant lawnmower thingy (sorry but I cannot think of it's correct title), left to dry out for a couple of days and wuffled.

Wuffled! Isn't that the best word!

A big spikey machine gathers up the hay and throws it into the air then it falls back to the ground all fluffed up.
Once the hay is really dry then it can be bailed. I like, nay love bailing hay as it is very different to straw, less dusty, and the smell is heavenly.
My husband and son look after the children while I bale and I know they are safe.

After several fields have been done, you tend to forget you have a bottom as it goes completely numb. You make conversation in your head to people that you have not seen for a while as there is no DVD in the tractor (and I don't like faffing with those MP3 players; I like the peace).

By nighfall, you are ready to fall out of the tractor sideways and you have developed the 'thousand mile stare', your neck has developed the girth of a Soviet weightlifter with checking behind to see if all the machinery is doing what it ought and when you finally drive home and switch everything off, you walk all strangely as if you were on the moon.

Over the moon, more like.

Thursday, 9 December 2010

Been there, bought the t shirt

We have already been through this palaver with the water, you know.

It was nothing to do with snow and it happened when our son was a few days old.

We took our tiny, precious bundle home from hospital and as it was summer, I had hoped to take him out for walks and let him breathe in fresh air.
This was not to be.

A neighbouring farmer discovered that there was a cheap method of having 'fertilizer' spread over his fields and several hundred, I kid you not, several hundred tons of the 'fertilizer' were dumped in a huge heap very close to our house but on the other farmer's land.
The ash from the heap blew everywhere and the smell was sickening. It lay in huge lumps on the public road and made driving difficult. Nobody seemed to know what this stuff was.

I found out that it was human excrement. It came from sewage works and had lime added to 'compost' it down.

My tiny newly born infant was ingesting this vile stuff.

To make matters a thousand times worse, when the contractors sprayed it on the ground, our private water supply took a direct hit. The photo attached shows the same scene as the snowy picture and the little fenced area in the middle of the picture is the water tank which collects water straight off the hill.
The summer picture shows the spreader has gone too close.

We had readings taken of the water and it was not safe to drink so we had to boil, cool and store water to bathe the baby, wash all his clothes with water brought in, buy copious amounts of clean water to brush our teeth in, cook with etc.
Our daughter has difficulty with her memory so we had to watch her constantly in case she forgot and drank the contaminated water.
We could not hang our clothes out on the line outside as everything stank of faeces. We could smell it at night and had to keep the windows closed.
One fisherman who had been in the Army and had worked in places abroad remarked the smell reminded him of decomposing bodies.

We had to repeat the whole excercise the following year...ad nauseum.

Not one single agency was interested in helping us do anything to stop the 'sludge' being spread near us. No one was interested when some children and their parents swam in the burn beside the house - we had to tell them to go to their GP and get checked out.
Nobody, SEPA, SEERAD, Environmental Health, animal Health, MSP, police nor press, nobody wanted to become involved. And nobody told the public that the thick white stuff which stuck to their tyres, pram wheels and dogs paws at a famous local beauty spot, was human excrement.

The only reason that the practice has been delayed for next year is that the company has gone bust. I wonder who will buy their foul wares ?

Is it too much to ask that our water supply, which is fragile enough as it is, can be left unpolluted? Can I also ask that the farmer remove his animals either from the  land for the allotted timespan or even move them out of the field altogether whilst they spray the 'sludge'. I also object strongly to seeing newly born calves eat the 'sludge' from unfenced heaps. You can clearly see a cow in the picture below.

So boiling and lugging water is nothing new to us but I rather hoped that it was more convenient in winter.
It is odd how those responsible for setting down environmental laws do not seem interested when the guidelines are broken. You would almost imagine that they are paid to sit on their hands.....

It does not get any better than this.

I am smuggety smug in front of the fire, big cup of tea,  mince pie

aaaaand......



RUNNING WATER!

Curing addictions

Every single morning, part of the daily routine is to gather all the dirty clothes and shove them in the washing machine. We get particularly grubby on the farm so the washing machine tends to be on several times a day and then depending on the weather, the clothes go out to dry on the line or are put in the tumble dryer.

I'm not sure how many days the water has been off but there is an enormous mountain of clothes to wash but no way of running the machine.

I voiced my concerns to my husband and I should have known when a gleam appeared in his eye and the mearest hint of a wry smile.
"I have the very thing in the shed" quoth he. "Give me a minute".

Now his shed is an Aladdin's Cave of tools, tractors, things which Have No Name but Serve A Purpose, bailer twine, everything really. It smells of diesel, skulking and dust. There are bits at the back where I dare not venture because I once saw something move and it was wearing a rat disguise.

He appeared a little while later looking terribly pleased with himself and yes, there stood my new washing machine.
"You know how we watched Edwardian Farm last night, well, Ruth said the laundry came up nicely". "There is a mangle too".

I did not know what to say so just stared vacantly then my lips puckered like a drawstring purse.

"You know, we have not progressed MUCH since your Great Grandmother stood here at this very sink doing this very task".
"Well, she did not have to do it" he said sheepily.
"Of course she did. The women half killed themselves scrubbing clothes and everything. And they used soap."

"No. They had a maid".

Crimes and misdemeanors

"It was not me, Mummy, I am being a GOOD boy!"

The little one has emerged from his 'nest' behind the sofa. He has dragged in all the things that are important to him; Lego, his fleet of tractors, SockMonkey, half a packet of Abernethy biscuits, his Iggle Piggle blanket and a multi coloured PieDog. I should have known when he was being too quiet.

"Have you been colouring PieDog with felt pen" I asked the blue, green and neon pink vision which reluctantly joined us in the main body of the kirk, so to speak.
His eyes went as large as organ stops and I knew he was cooking up a real ghoster.
"No, I was making Christmas decorations, I could'nt find the glue and PieDog came into my den".

PieDog is now a Technicolour Collie. He is still splattered with the eggs he stole yesterday, so predominantly yellow, a hint of pink glitter pen and various blobs of blue and green. He also looked remarkably tinselly and after further investigation, I found a pile of deceased tinsel, circa 1960 and past it's faded glory.
(The thought did cross my mind that he would be a brilliant accessory to a dour frock which hangs forgotten in the wardrobe.)

"I think we will have to have a bath day" I announced to the guilty throng......Horror!

"Well, I can't because I am stuck"
"Stuck ?"
"Yes, I am stuck in mud. My Fordie can't get out of the mud".
"Shall we try the John Deere or better still the Valtra? The Valtra can get out of anything".

He thinks for a while.

"Naw. I'll wait for Daddy to come with the loader and dig me out. I'll just wait."

I think we can indeed delay the bath sentence for sheer ingenuity.

Wednesday, 8 December 2010

Tiny yurls and All That Jazz

Being an older biddy, I am faced with a daily confusion of new technology.

The nearest we had to techno stuff was the Language Lab at school whereby we listened to French through headphones and worried about catching nits from them whilst gazing idly out the window waiting for the school heartthrob to pass by.
Computers were not invented and if you had to make a phone call, you used the big bakelite one in the village centre and shove in two pence pieces.
We phoned 'Dial-a-Disc' and quickly passed round the phone to our friends who stood bopping on the pavement and saying "Is it Donny Osmond"?

Skip a few decades of child rearing and nowadays everything is tiny (and very easily lost). even the names for them are tiny..... MP3, DVD, <racks brain> Wii, and I just heard of Bluetooth only to then discover that it was 'so yesterday'.

We babyboomers put a man on the moon and we listened to Hendrix.
This generation sometimes look at the moon and listen to JLS (?) (tiny txtspk name) and get impatient with my generation who struggle to get to grips with all these New Fankled Things. We just buy them for our offspring, please don't ask us to figure out how they work. (And excuuuse me but the price of them <shock>)

So please forgive me for not answering the comments as I have tried but keep getting asked which box I want to be. I have pressed them all but still cannot comment.
I would not know a tiny yurl if one walked in right now and slapped me with a fish on the side of the ear. In fact, I have probably hoovered tiny yurls up with tiny Lego. The lethal ones which hide and get you when you have bare feet.

I really appreciate your kind comments and words of support. One day, I'll discover which box my identity lurks in and liberate it. Maybe it is refusing to come out because it is Amish and does not approve.
Or maybe I should concede and <whisper> just ask my children.   LOL

Arctic health and beauty

Well, it IS possible to dye your hair with snow and it is also possible to have a bath using 21 litres of water.

I feel like a new person after my micro bath plus managed to 'put a rinse' through my hair just to boost the spirit. The bath water went into the toilet cistern so nothing was wasted.

I miss little things like being able to properly rinse your toothbrush after using it and I'm going to say it. Melted snow tastes rank. There now, it's out and said.

The Farmer

I want to shine a light on the man I married.

He is older than me and we have not been married very long. He had lived alone on the farm for fifteen years after the death of his parents and while I had a smallholding further down the glen, I never knew of his existance.

We met when I was helping another farmer with shepherding and whiles, cow herding so it was on a cow herding day that he appeared into my life. He was so shy that he could not make eye contact, never mind talk and I remember laughing quietly and inwardly with joy as I knew immediately that this was the man I was going to marry.

Dating was painful as he had such a job with conversation. He was so used to being on his own and rarely had to attend social events (apart from the mart twice a year) so genial chat was difficult.
I helped him out on the farm for a year and grew to love his quiet determination, gentle way, his ability to manage the seemingly impossible tasks that spring up on a farm, his strength and humour.
He liked the fact that I could drive a tractor, weld, and only ever drank water.

He took me to the mart down in Stirling one day and it was a lovely day out. The other farmers all teased him in a very earthy way but were secretly pleased that he 'had a lass'. We drank big mugs of tea and ate rolls the size of a farmer's bunnet plus he did well that day and his cattle fetched a good price.
When returned to my house, I opened a bottle of sloe gin and we celebrated. He kissed me for the first time and never left.
We married a few months later and our son was born six weeks after our wedding.

I often look at my husband in the evening or when he comes in for food or a heat by the fire. He is only three years older than me but is often mistaken for being our son's grandfather. It does not bother him.
He is so good with the children and takes time to read to them or explain things properly and he never ever raises his voice.
I once heard him say, very quietly, to a stockman at the market that the cattle he was selling had never heard a raised voice nor had seen a stick and that he would stand and make sure that this practice would continue until they were loaded into the lorry as he had done the best he could for his herd.

He told me recently that the hardest time was a few years ago when the Foot and Mouth scare restricted movement to the farm and it was compounded with a very hard winter. He saw nobody for weeks and he told me the loneliness almost drove him mad.

His farmhouse shocked me when he finally got round to letting me in. It had stone floors, stone sinks and was heated by a single fan heater. No fire, no comforts.
The water supply was fed to the house by a lead pipe and was contaminated by eColi and various other nasties.
The house was so damp that the ceilings in various rooms fell down. I have never seen anything like it. He had resigned himself to the fact that this was how it would be as it was too difficult to get the landowner to do anything.

Well, since then, I took up the fight for him. We have fought hard to have the house brought up to 21st century standards but it is rather like wrestling an eel in a bucket of oil.  My Goodness, these multi millionaire landownery type do not like to spend their money!
We, as tenants, have to ask permission to use our own money on repairs. When an article is absolutely done, 'Through Fair Wear and Tear' (Ag Law) it is the landowner's responsibility to replace but they won't.
When the old shed roof finally caved in, we received a snippy letter to say that we had to ask permission to undertake 'home improvements'..........The landowners had known for years that it was dangerous but would not fix it....... God, I could go on, and will in a later blog but what on earth can you do when faced with this mindset?

It takes a very unique type of person to cope mentally and physically with all these things plus to work the 'wee bit hill and glen' that provides a family with an income and also act as a custodian for the land.

So a little bit of snow and no water are merely a drop in the ocean, if you excuse the pun.