Saturday, 31 December 2011

And a kick in the pants to 2011

What an unpleasant and difficult year it has been.

The final sting in the tail was to present the entire family with Norovirus or similar so we are seeing out the horrible old year whilst flopping on the sofa like beached fish, drinking copious amounts of water, unable to eat.
Even my hair is sore.

PieDog and Gracie are delighted to feast on all the special Christmas/New Year food and our pathetic attempts to walk them up the hill.

The good things this year have been incredible support, letters, emails, phone calls and generosity when our story went 'public'.
Your support has meant a lot to us and helped us stand up to the bullies when resolve was failing.

Things are nowhere near resolution yet but the New Year will see a new fight for our home/water and I will update with news.

The 'I hope you fall in a dung heap' awards 2011 go to the following:-

Elmer Fudd - you are not Rambo. Grow up, learn manners and how to close a gate. And stop telling lies.

Ditto to your 'mentor'.Times twelve.

Postie - stop swearing at and trying to kick the dog.

Richard Lochhead - for so many reasons.

The entire Tory government- for so many reasons times twelve plus VAT.

So, off you go, 2011, quickly. Glad to see the back of you.

Here is a glass (of bottled water until stomachs have settled) to you all.

I hope 2012 is a better year, so to your health, happiness, love, home and prosperity.

Let's hope it is good. x

Tuesday, 27 December 2011

Two mornings after the night before.

Happy belated Christmas!

Today is that floaty time when all the fuss and preparation of Christmas is over, you are not entirely sure which day it is as it feels like a Sunday yet the time holds in limbo until the New Year is over.

We feel a little like these sleepy creatures, today.

Our barley was collected from the farm on Christmas Eve, so it was both exciting and a relief to see it go.
Christmas Eve is also our eldest son's birthday so we celebrated the beginning of a new year with him as well as the end of the harvest for us.

When I look back to this time last year, I am thankful for the very mild weather we are having now and pray that it stays like this. Yes, the wind has artfully rearranged the garden and even moved the shed but the mild weather ensures that the taps have not frozen and moving around is so much easier.

I hope you all had a lovely Christmas.

Our Christmas was quiet and I admit to crying a lot this year because I missed my Mum and Dad even although they have been gone a long time.
I cried with overwhelming emotion at the kindness of the strangers who sent us gifts, so many beautiful things... so much thought and consideration from people who remained anonymous yet who sent love with every present.

Thank you so much.

It was as if my Mum was there as I unwrapped my presents. The same love and thought, the same choice of lovely scents, the warm mittens and scarf to protect against the winter winds...

The gift of Love.

We are nearing the end of a very difficult year and I know that our family will have an almighty fight on our hands next year - how I long for all these fights to end.

Life is bittersweet - the love and support of strangers and the battle against...well, you know...

I hope the strong winds blow away the negative and blow in the positive. May it sweep away all the blights and stains and the ferocity die down to a gentle breeze.

And may it carry Love and Peace to you.

Thursday, 1 December 2011

A toast

We sort of missed St Andrew's Day yesterday.

There was a lot of research to do, sheds to prepare for the cattle coming in for winter, rough weather to contend with. It was really rough yesterday, icy cold wind and sleet plus a driech grey light which could be used as a new Farrow & Ball paint colour on posh parlour walls.

It was late in the evening once The Farmer and I sat down. Our little boy was asleep in bed so we could relax a little.

I could not relax at all and felt frozen. Yesterday was a bit full on and the sleet had chilled me to the bone.

The Farmer brought me a hot toddy and a woolly blanket. The toddy was thick with honey, boiling hot and the strong smell of whisky told me there was a generous measure.

I don't like whisky, truth be told and am not a drinker but a hot toddy is different as it warms you like no other substance.

So here is a belated toast to all Scots, their kith and kin and to those abroad.

Here is to the future of our country, where we can pride ourselves on equality, where we can dilute our dram with clean water, where those without homes can be housed in some of the thousands of empty houses.

Here is to progress in land reform and all those who work tirelessly to campaign for our land to be freed from those who do not look after it properly and exploit land and Man.
Here is to the proper death of feudalism. Freedom of land and people.

Let us drink to the prospect of citizens able to provide their families with food grown from their own piece of land and a weaning from the dross sold in the large supermarkets.
To city children enjoying the countryside and learning new skills.
To the farmers of the present and the future. To all those who need our produce and support us.

Take a large drink to the toppling of the grotesque statue which dominates Golspie and which symbolises the very source of the wounds which never heal. People do not need a daily reminder, it is history. It is etched on their souls. Time to bury that entire vulgar episode and all those who were and still are responsible for clearing people from their land, plant rowan trees on top and move on.

I am toasting to a very different Scotland than the one I see now. I am drinking to the one that Wendy Wood told me to fight for. She told me it was worth fighting for and never give up the fight, regardless of the dangers.
It might benefit some of our government to reread her work as they appear to have selective memories regarding the people of Scotland and the land.
It would be wise of them to read Andy Wightman's "The Poor had no Lawyers" and consider making it part of the National Curriculum. To listen what the man has to say and implement his proposals.

The toddy went down in one followed by a small shiver from the effect it had on my frozen body.

If only something could act so well on our frozen land. Defrost it from the stasis it is in.

"Wha is like us"?

Wha indeed.

Tuesday, 29 November 2011

Water update

Firstly, our son has recovered but has lost a lot of weight. He is quite a skinny little boy so did not have much excess weight to lose in the first place.

Secondly, today we received a bill for water charges concerning the farm cottage. £164.27.

Here is the tank which holds the water to three separate houses. The holding tank had just been cleaned.

This is a view of the water coming in straight from the hill.

That picture shows the area once it was 'done up'. Just out of shot and to the left were pheasant pens.... to the right was the corpse of a sheep (not one of ours) which was in an advanced state of decay and which had fallen in the burn. The burn which feeds the water supply.

This entire glen is fed by private water.

Environmental Health will sometimes offer a grant towards filtration systems so a lot of public money paying for private water which is not fit for purpose yet the bill for £164.27 has arrived today. Payable to the Estate.
We are charged £5 per annum rent for the water pipe we supplied to the cottage and which runs through our field. The pipe is a proper plastic water pipe.
We supplied a filter system to the cottage once we realised the extent of the water pollution after consulting independent water testing companies.
Sadly, it was too late for my father who lived there and who died of renal failure. Or the visitor who contracted cryptosporidium.

The estimate for a system robust enough to clean our supply has come in around £3,500 plus a recommendation that the filters are changed once a year. We find that they need changing once a month otherwise the filter becomes so clogged with solids that the flow stops.

We discovered that last winter, when we were without water for 39 days (at the temporary accommodation) that due to the total population being less than 50, we were not eligible for help or emergency water.


Thursday, 24 November 2011

Water, water everywhere...

...nor any drop to drink.

My apologies to The Rime of the Ancient Mariner and Samuel Taylor Coleridge but I could not think of any phrase more appropriate.

The Farmer is beginning to despair. The wet weather has made the harvest impossible to gather so the remaining crop of oats, partially harvested, now stands in a sodden isolation, a little island in a sea of waterlogged soil.
The Farmer must try to reduce the moisture content of the grain from a harvest high of around 40% to 16%. This entails cranking up the old grain dryer which is run on a combination of diesel and electric, a giant tumble drier, if you like, albeit one which is eye wateringly expensive to run. (No pun was intended there, I can assure you.)

That is, if it runs. The wretched thing broke down but given that it is only slightly younger than me, these things happen.

I cannot help The Farmer just now as I am at home with our little boy. Our son developed an alarmingly high temperature, upset stomach and vomiting which lasted two days. We are keeping him from nursery even although he is over the worst now. We do not want to risk infecting the other children.

The thing is, our little boy drank some water from the tap in the kitchen in the farmhouse at the weekend.

He did so because he was thirsty and at the age of four, is independent enough to turn on a tap and pour himself a drink. He was thirsty and it only took less than a minute.
He had not asked me to open the bottle of water beside the sink because he wanted water *immediately* with all the impatience of a thirsty four year old.

Here are the latest water test results:

These tests were taken on 1st October 2011 and show unacceptably high readings of presumptive coliforms, presumptive E coli, presumptive Enterococci and very high levels of manganese.

The water supply which feeds the farm comes from a cast iron pipe which was interred through the farm fields in 1895 or thereabouts. Forgive me if I am inaccurate by a couple of years before or after.

There was an agreement between the landowner and a large public school that the school would have access to the water supply on the condition that the farm would be given 'free' water'.

The school bifurcated the pipe and laid a new one through our fields. We asked if we could have access to their clean water and were refused so we are still fed by the decaying cast iron pipe. The one that the school rejected.....

I was led to believe that everyone had a right to clean water.

I am no scientist unless you include a Ph.D in Cleaning Up Sick. I am, however, a mother who recognises the needs of a very distressed child who has 'picked up a bug'. I also recognise that the most likely source of this 'bug' was from the kitchen tap given we were at the farm trying to dry the grain and did not leave the farm.

The water was not tested for cryptosporidium as it costs approx. £250- 350 per test. This is why Environmental Health do not test for crypto.
Ditto Legionella, too costly to test for but someone must have as we received a 'Boil water' notice in July to safeguard against Legionella. The entire community received such a notice yet, to my knowledge, no further mention was given that the issue was resolved.

Our son was very apologetic and tearful when I asked him if he had eaten or drank anything he ought not.

"I drank the water from the tap although I am not supposed to".

A four year old boy who recognises that he is forbidden from taking a drink of water when he is thirsty yet thirst overcame the forbidden.

I will remind anyone who is reading that the landowners fitted a water filter to the farmhouse tap then disconnected the electricity supply, thus rendering the system useless. The filter then shattered when the temperature inside the farmhouse kitchen fell below minus 16 last winter.

It is patently clear that this government, in Scotland, are ignoring a fundamental right to clean water. An entire community are ignored, yet, alarmingly, there are plans to build new houses which will be fed by the private water supply. (n.b. full water rates are paid to the landowner by the community).

Why is this allowed to happen in Scotland, in 2011?

One would almost believe that the rule of pheasant over peasant was being exercised despite the Abolution of Feudal Tenure Scotland circa 2000. Profit over health.

We are asking for your help.

Sunday, 20 November 2011

Give us this day our daily bread.

Why do we continue to farm?

Given the hostility of the landowner, the factors, the erratic and polluted water, the wet weather which is detrimental to crop ripening, the mud, social and geographical remoteness. The absence of a wind and watertight farmhouse.

Why do we plod on amid such adversity?

Sometimes it is easier to see what you do have, what you have achieved, what you intend to aim for in the future.
You fight so that your children are spared a fight.

Regardless of religious beliefs, the land belongs to Nature and we are merely the custodians. Our job is to ensure all life is given a chance to thrive, the land is worked properly and if we do our work well, the reward is tenfold in the abundance of Nature.

It is not in our ethos to bully and kill, to exclude other people in favour of elitist 'sport'. We want to welcome people here to share in the peace and stunning scenery. We want those who do not have lots of disposable income to enjoy the countryside. It is their right too.

We are a strong family who are not afraid of work or anything life throws at us. Our family work hard and live quietly.

We fervently believe that Land Reform will happen in Scotland - it has to! Scotland can no longer bury it's head in the sand and ignore what is happening to the land or the has done this for hundreds of years and the very fact that our family are still legally bound to an 'agreement' which is 120 years old is one testament to the land reform stasis which exists.
If ever a country was suffering from social constipation, it is ours. Time for the 'Ballachulish Bagpipe', Scotland. Roll over. Clear the system.

There are thousands of acres of land locked up. Much of this land is used for 'sport' for those who can afford it but to the exclusion of those who cannot.

How many people like ourselves who just want to provide for their family without being greedy? How many homeless people need a decent home? How many empty houses are there in the country, houses left to decay for Goodness knows what reason?

Our family are supposed to feel oppressed by the harassment, we are supposed to become so worn down by everything that we submit the farm and move elsewhere.

Are those responsible unaware that rather than become worn down, we are fuelled with energy to continue which is given breath and oxygen by those who lived before us? Just because we were forbidden Scottish history at school does not mean we did not learn a thing or two.
One day, I hope to see this country hit by a change so radical, the sting of a thousand 'fual' tubs will enable the most blinkered to see.

This is why we continue. It is not for the money, it is for the passion. It is not for self but for others.

"Give us our daily bread
And deliver us from Evil
But keep an eye on Article 1 of the Human Rights Act, Dude."

We will continue to do what our family have done for more than one hundred years, our children will continue and their children. D.V.

We are all Jock Tamson's bairns and equal.

Friday, 18 November 2011

Nobody mentioned eff for feudal ....

Imagine if you had a landowner who came in and took your ground. Just took it, never thought to mention it, continued to charge you rent for it, did not compensate you for it, ignored you, prevented you from accessing your land which you pay full rent. Good land. In fact, the best land.

Imagine too that in order to recompense your loss in income through crop yield becoming reduced, you want to diversify in another area but this is also 'out of bounds' and you only discovered this a few days ago, much to your gobsmackedification.
If you were successful with your plans to diversify, you would have to pay the landowner a percentage of your income. You do the work, you make the investment, landowner gets the money *if* you get his permission to diversify in the first place. I may have mentioned this before but lest we forget.
Lest we forget to doff cap.

Now imagine, and I know this is a far stretch of the imagination, but just imagine they did this *because they can*!

Imagine too, that because of an 'agreement' written in the late Nineteenth century, you and the generations who follow you are still bound to this agreement, regardless of social change, human rights or progress.

Cures for disease may have evolved, men may have been to the moon, women may get the vote and equal pay, tolerance and equality begin to surface but somewhere in a little part of the world, there is a time warp .

And here is the best bit.

Imagine the same agreement states that "yearly and free of charge five days work of any kind by one pair of horses and one man by suitable carts to the aforementioned Station (said station was closed during the Beeching cuts but what the heck)...." and you are legally bound to such a demand in 2011 !

Imagine that this is not the rule of some wayward despot in a far away country but closer to home......uncomfortably closer to home.

Just saying.

Tuesday, 8 November 2011

Planets and the harvest

Yesterday was one of those days whereby the weather changed it's mind hourly.

We awoke to a very hard frost, iced puddles and lace etched windows so quickly threw on layers of warm clothes and went out to see what work could be done.

Mid morning, the sun came out, The Farmer vanished only to reappear with the combine and we (the farm hands!) realised that we would we would be harvesting.

Our small convoy headed down to the field of oats, combine, tractor and trailer, me.

The sun shone on the oats and using it's special alchemy, turned each oat into tiny droplets of gold and we may as well have been harvesting gold as this crop is important to us.

We are fairly high up and saw the mist snake in from the south. It was strange to watch as it lay low ,moved quickly and bit with wet venom. The mist felt damp and diffused the sunlight to such an extent that the surroundings became quite surreal.

The combine loomed out of the mist, dramatically and if ever an orchestra was required to play Holst's 'Mars', it was then. Two wet farmhands belting out 'DAN DAN DAN DAN DARAN DAN DARAN don't quite carry out the finesse of the London Symphony Orchestra but the sentiment was there.

Eldest son left to follow the combine with the wuffler and I hung around in case anything went wrong and lifts were needed back to the farm.

The neighbouring ploughed field had been transformed by mist droplets on a myriad of cobwebs and I fancied that it now looked like the surface of a distant planet.

There is a wonderful moment after the first cut when the grain spills from the combine into the trailer. It is the result of all the work and worries that go into making a crop and we cheered as the grain began to trickle then pour into the trailer.

I left the field late afternoon and went to collect Youngest son from nursery and from the other side of the glen, the farm looked as if it had been wrapped by a smokey ribbon of mist.

The Farmer and Eldest son worked until the light began to fade and the ground became too damp. They were unable to collect all the oats (and it is raining today so we will have to wait a while before the ground firms up enough to take the weight of machinery) but at least it is a start.

Evening gifted us with an intimate embrace between lace trees and the setting sun, the damp breath of the mist lingering gently like a lover's kiss.

The big, matron Moon watched over us, smiling benignly over crops, the trees, the glen, Perthshire and the World.

It had been a wonderful day.

Monday, 7 November 2011


It would be best if I did not write too much regarding the issue of the land which has been damaged as it is now being 'dealt with'. I will update once a satisfactory resolution has been realised.

That said, I will issue a warning to anyone who may wish to wander about in the field - beware of the bull. Beware of the massive, unpredictable Limousin.
He is red, not far off a ton, sturdy, possibly slightly mental. The bovine equivalent to a brick outhouse but fast.

Talking of bull and matters bovine but not fast, I received a reply from Richard Lochhead.

It would appear that many of you who took the time to write to him also received the standard reply, one or two paragraphs appearing verbatim in the Scottish Farmer so little effort for originality there, Richard.

My concern was; What do you do if you are either unable to qualify for legal aid (eg if you fall just within the remit) but are unable to meet the massive costs of the Land Court.
A case can easily cost over £200,000 and the insurance covers £50,000 so bit of a gap inbetween.

The reply offered nothing that new - approach the various farming unions, associations or approach RSABI, a support charity dedicated to 'the relief of hardship and poverty amongst people who have depended for their livelihoods on the land'.

Rather than copy the entire letter out, here is the abridged version.

Dear GentleOtter,

Talk to the hand, mendicant.

Yours sincerely

Richard Lochhead

I would offer back the suggestion that he gets on down and dirty with the farmers at the next roup. You know, put on a pair of government issue wellies and lean on a gate with other farmers before said gate gets sold to the highest bidder.
I would have said come down to grass roots level but that is a sore point for us just now - lumps of our pasture stuck to a 4x4 somewhere else.

Talk to and spend a day working with the shepherds who have to faff around eartagging thousands of wild, horned hill sheep, usually in the rain.
Come and help attempt to dry a soaking wet pile of grain if the farmer has been lucky enough to get the crop in or stand beside the farmer who has just had his crop rejected and choose that moment to spout some spin. I dare you. I will even offer a free "risk assessment".

Mr L, spend the day with tenant farmers who are facing daily adversity with lawless landowners, those people who wish the right to buy their own farms after working them for generations, those who do not have a farm but want to rent somewhere to work the land and not be ripped off before/during/after five years and there is an *awful lot* of land out there asking to be worked and freed....

Thought not.

Aye, keep those wellies clean. They might fit someone else.

Saturday, 5 November 2011

Roups and ruined pastures.

Neighbouring farmers held a farm sale today or roup as it is known.

All machinery, tools, odds and ends are sold and whilst it was a good turnout, I spoke to the lady who was the outgoing farmer about how she felt. She found it very difficult to see items which were part of her everyday life held up and scrutinised then flogged off to the highest bidder; a small collection of belongings which took a lifetime to collect, gone in two hours.

We will miss this family and miss seeing them when they were gathering hay, out lambing in all weathers, a wave from a tractor...
My father used to lend a hand on this farm (he and the farmer were cousins) and have a lovely photograph from the 1950s of dad and his sisters plus the farmer and his siblings all waving cheerfully from an old car. Dad said they had all gone out to help with the harvest and everyone looked tanned and happy, the farmer relieved that the work was done and for family celebration to begin.

It is the end of an era, another tenant farmer gone and many of us talked about how we felt.

The roup is one of those rare occasions where you meet people you have not seen for a long time, years sometimes so there is a lot of news to catch up on.
We had a few comments like "Oh my goodness, is that the baby!" to our strapping four year old and how Rosie had changed from a shy little girl to a beautiful young woman.

Now, roups at farms bring lots of cars, 4x4s, trailers and even the odd tractor and trailer. It churns the fields up something terrible and becomes a sea of mud where people try to jump out of the way of cars trying to leave the field, skidding sideways, spraying great fountains of mud everywhere.

We headed home with spares for the combine plus a huge chain and The Farmer thought he would have a quick look to check our cattle as we were passing.

We were left horrified.

While we were at the roup, a shoot had taken place in the field where the cattle were. We were given no indication that this would happen as we would have moved the cattle to a different field. Their pasture churned up by the treads of many 4x4s and ruined.

The field had all the fences completely renewed last month, new gates and posts added.

So where are the fifteen cattle which were grazing there this morning?

We will look for them first light tomorrow morning but my guess is that they have been scared off by the guns.

Would it be unreasonable to attach the big chain we bought at the roup to the gates?

To keep the cattle in, of course.....

Monday, 31 October 2011

Paddling in the Ocean of Everything

The last few weeks have seen me an utter joy to be around albeit if you are wearing a nuclear hazard suit and ear muffs.

I caught food poisoning, the flu then slipped some discs all at the same time. Right as the harvest finally got started. Right at the beginning of the 'tattie holidays'.

The harvest brought in itself like the scene in Nanny Mcfee, all magical shapes and glitter but that may have been the opiates, uppers, downers and sidewayers prescribed by the doctor. I made the sidewayers bit up but took to walking like a crab anyway, progressing to lobster mode after finding my Dad's old walking sticks.

The Farmer, possibly at the end of his tether, carefully drove me to a chiropractor in Aberfeldy and despite being convinced that one swift crack of the neck would end not only the pain but my very life, back was sorted beautifully.

Nothing shifts the cold and flu quicker than standing in a very cold, windy field, hauling lumps of stuck straw out of the bailer. The wind forgot it's manners and rather than a Victorian glove type slap on the face, it was more of a punch with a knuckleduster and a good eyeful of straw thrown in the eyes just in case it missed the first time.

The Farmer drove past happily in his heated combine, Eldest Son and I wrestled with the stuck bailer and oaths were carried away on the wind to be hollered in someone's ear who lived miles away and would be all shocked.

We managed to get some of the barley in before the rain came again and the combine got stuck in the field, the same as the next farm and the farm further past that one. The ground beyond saturation after months of rain.
The oats are still uncut and bar from hand scything them (which is *bound* to put your back out), there is little we can do except wait for a hard frost which will firm up the ground enough to take the weight of combine and tractor.

There was only one answer to the long faces, longer wet days. The Mother of Death by Chocolate cake. We would all burst our arteries but die happy.

I threw everything chocolatey into the monster sized cake, cooked it to slightly burned perfection, removed it from the oven then dropped it on the worktop where it smashed into many pieces. Many.
Undaunted and now *driven*, it got stuck together with a bucket load of salted caramel sauce (Thank you, MmeLindor) and a mountain of chocolate ganache to hide the damage. The ganache was so thick, I was tempted to mend the roof with it. The roof I am not supposed to mention so you never read that bit.

This is the panacea for all evils and ills, ridder of flu, sorter of backs, lifter of spirits, clogger of arteries and the Devil may care.

I would share but it has mysteriously vanished.

Thursday, 13 October 2011

Faster than fairies


Faster than fairies, faster than witches,
Bridges and houses, hedges and ditches;
And charging along like troops in a battle
All through the meadows the horses and cattle:
All of the sights of the hill and the plain
Fly as thick as driving rain;
And ever again, in the wink of an eye,
Painted stations whistle by.
Here is a child who clambers and scrambles,
All by himself and gathering brambles;
Here is a tramp who stands and gazes;
And here is the green for stringing the daisies!
Here is a cart runaway in the road
Lumping along with man and load;
And here is a mill, and there is a river:
Each a glimpse and gone forever!

Robert Louis Stevenson

My eldest son and I travelled to Birmingham on the train.

We left the farm at 6am then spent the rest of the day slumped against a train window (or sitting bolt upright depending on alighting passengers with baggage and respecting the 'British' thing of not making contact by accidentally brushing a knee or shoulder).

The journey was an education in itself - derelict buildings melted into forgetfulness, concrete forests sprung from long forgotten earth, there were few trees, curves or patches of green.

Chimney pots took on the persona of the passengers; different shapes and sizes, different colours, all piled higgeldy-piggledly as comfortably as they could, perched on their narrow plinths like roosting birds.

There were huge metal towers which looked like they were made of industrial lace, delicate yet sturdy and offering an almost etheral beauty, skyward.

People came and went. They ate, drank, laughed, sat silently, read. One or two slept seemingly unaware of the noise and movement all around them.

The journey and people were fascinating. We are so used to isolation at the farm, few visitors, few trips into town, it was quite overwhelming to make contact with enormous crowds of people and all the noise and bustle they make.

I found the Best Tree Ever.

It spoke of fairies and witches, probably housed a few yet stood with quiet dignity amid the urban chaos.

The journey home was this side of Hell.
Eldest son had three enormous glass boxes which could have easily housed a Great Dane or Newfoundland dog. There was no easy way of carrying them and I think I huffed to Morpeth then gave up the will to live.

Four men had a fight just outside Newcastle but two seats away. I worried about the glass boxes making contact with irate large men but the aggrieved alighted and continued their fight on the platform.

Hours later, the train broke down at Stirling so we had to continue by soul may have left my body at this point, aided by the person who coughed every three seconds then sniffed snot into a blocked nostril.

We arrived home after midnight. It was pitch black and the familiar mud squelched reassuringly under our town shoes.
The glass structures designed by Satan made it home in one piece, the carriers slightly more frayed.

I stood outside in the dark.

Not a sound.
Not a soul.
Big sky, tiny stars.


Thursday, 22 September 2011


Autumn moved in as silently and quickly as the swifts who have just flown away.

There has been so much to do, so much to prepare for winter and the rumours whisper that it will be another hard winter which arrives early.

There seems little we can do about our farmhouse; the matter was passed on to higher echelons and we can only hope that the issues are settled quickly.

The farmhouse roof groans a little with despair. It tries to hold on to life just as the leaves of the trees hold on to their summer vivacity then stung by the sharp drop in temperature, they reach the point of senescence, begin to wither and fall. Their death throes a blaze of colour, each leaf burns with the brilliance of a roaring fire.

They begin to fall and the ground becomes thickly carpeted and crispy underfoot. The air has a hint of honey and pine with an after scent of mushrooms.

The earth becomes denuded after the grains are harvested and the land ploughed. There is a rich tapestry of deep brown, purple heather, silver birch turned to gold, bronzed oaks, vivid reds of the little mountain rowans.
The land dons it's Autumn mantle to acknowledge the chill.

I had good fortune after offering to lend a hand to one of the local shepherds - he was working alone on the hill at the front, sorting out a flock of around 500 tough and tiny horned sheep, all wild and leaping over the sheep hurdles like salmon leaping in the river.
We worked steadily, ignoring the thumps and bashes of sharp horns on legs and arms, ignored the hail shower which stung, soaked us then moved on.

The shepherd very gently checked each and every sheep, he spoke quietly to them, checked their mouths and ears, their general well being. We dosed them all to prevent some of the myriad diseases sheep are susceptible to catching. Tiny hooves were inspected.

After many hours, the sheep were moved to different pastures, shepherd and helper ready for a hot toddy and hot bath. It was a good days work but did not feel like work.

From our viewpoint high on the hill, we could see the countryside in all it's glory, a huge and fat rainbow hugged the hills and briefly embraced our farm.

For a while, worries were forgotten, anxieties replaced with hope.

The pine trees which had been slaughtered by the savage winds and lay dying were briefly brought back to life by the rainbow's embrace.

I felt an energy in the air, one which fired energy into my tired soul and provided fuel to fight on for the tiny scrap of Scotland which is our home and life. The farm illuminated by a rainbow.

A farm washed clean. The dark negative influences of the past purged by the purity of the environment.

The change has begun.

Wednesday, 7 September 2011


We worked through yesterday with difficulty, it has to be said.

The storm threw small pieces of trees on the ground, the rain fell horizontally and stung eyes, the wind stole conversation from our mouths and turned them into Munch screams. The thick mud on the farmyard reappeared and made walking look like we had all slipped thorazine in our tea and our legs had been sedated as a result. Concrete welly weather.

The ground became too wet to take the weight of the tractors, the digger sulked in a broken digger way, PieDog ran off for no apparent reason.
I wondered what else would go into the broth of It Is All Going Pete Tong then I ripped my best working trousers on a sharp piece of metal.
Leg was showing.
Wind found leg.
PieDog came back.

We found alternative jobs inside the big shed and continued under the shelter only a large tin roof can offer.
Munch screams turned to wild gesticulations as tractors were dodged, dung coloured duffle coats blended in to the environment so well that they were mistaken as camouflage and suffered a few close shaves.
It is hard to make a "Look I Am Getting Angry Now" gesture at a big muddy tractor when you have become as one with the dung. An amorphous blob of beige and straw. There is no point, you just have to get out of the way.

My farm work stopped when I went to collect our little boy from nursery. He was tired after playing, needed food and a cuddle and a chance to wind down. Me too.

Rosie had given him her old suitcase and it became a wonderland to his vivid imagination. He was a pirate and this was his boat, I was relegated the role of 'sea monster', he was a train driver and I had to be the passenger sitting behind him, it became the 'Krusty Krab' restaurant where SpongeBob SquarePants works and we dined with eloquence. 'Squidward' brought pudding.

Afterwards, our son began neatly folding his clothes and packing the little suitcase. He packed pyjamas, a warm top and the snake belt to keep his trousers up. He added a pair of trousers and a clean vest. His tractor and bales went in last.
"I can't find matching socks but it is ok because they are just for wellies'. The family motto.

"Where are you going?" I asked him. "Are we going to Paris on the Orient Express or to Skye by the Glenelg Ferry instead of the bridge?"

"No" he replied. I'm off to the farm"

"Why? It is pretty wild outside"

"I am going because I want to" he said. "I am going to help Dad".

Wise boy. Wise choice.

He saw beyond the storm.

Tuesday, 6 September 2011

Where are we now?

I wanted to write about how we are all feeling, now that our situation is out in the open.

We are shellshocked by the response. We cannot believe how many people have written or sent messages of support from many countries, not just Britain.

Today, it is very wet and stormy here. The rain has poured into the farmhouse, we swept it out as usual, we gathered around the big table as we always do.

The farmhouse which, despite it's battered and dangerous facade, is still the heart of the farm. It is still home. It is where the family congregate and shelter from the wild weather outside.

We appear to be no further forward and I am waiting for phone calls or emails which will put my mind at ease. Have I done something terribly wrong by speaking out?
It feels that way.

It was easier for some when we were silent and tolerated all the issues which seem to have horrified so many decent people.
We were easier to control when we did not speak out, easier to bully.

I am steeling myself to go outside again. The rain is blowing horizontally and the dung brown duffle coat has come out of it's Scottish summer hibernation of, ooh, three weeks and lies heavily on my back. The hood never did sit right and the wind blows it off then slaps your face.

I never wanted anger, threats, anxiety.

All we wanted was a roof, heat and clean water.

And still we wait.....

Saturday, 3 September 2011

Our neighbours.

I would like to introduce you to our neighbours, not out them, of course, just show you around what is left of our community.

The farms in our immediate area or 'parish' in Scotland, are all tenant farmers. The majority of them are third or fourth generation so have been here a long time. The surrounding area is that of stunning beauty and testament to the care and work which has gone in to respecting the land.

We are a remote community, the one that people have never heard of. When you tell people where you live, it is usually followed by "Where's that?"
We rarely see others, rarely socialise as there is always work or looking after our children or some other issue which fills the day and leaves you quite tired in the evening.

Somehow, and I am always convinced it is by osmosis, you hear how others are, you catch murmers of the latest difficulty, the latest hassle by the landowner, how well livestock did at the mart and who has died.

When The Farmer had his heart attack, we had not seen anyone else except the postman for a few weeks.
My son and I carried on with the running of the farm while The Farmer was in hospital, we continued with the children's routine so they were reassured while their Dad was away. It was the first time he had ever been away from the farm on his own.

We still do not have a phone up at the farm and no mobile reception so there was no way of telling people. The Farmer had his heart attack at the temporary accommodation we had for winter.

There was a knock on the door one morning, just two days after my husband had been ill. Our neighbour, an enormous mountain of a man, shyly stood on the doorstep and asked if everything was ok.
I told him what had happened and how the Farmer was in hospital. Our neighbour said he would "Keek in roond the farm and see what he could see". He was going to assess what was what.

Now, I have no idea about cattle and have always been wary of them. My son was a singer in a rock band. We knew to feed and water the cattle but they were all in the process of calving and this filled us full of The Fear.

Our neighbours rallied together and came up every day. They expertly helped calf, settled the cows with new calves, sorted the cows who were in the wrong pen (some cows are very greedy and eat more than their share so deny newly calved cows feed).
Our neighbours tagged the new additions, kept records of the dates of birth and organised the ones which had to be sold.

Our cattle were bought by one of our neighbours and live contentedly only a few miles away. They had realised a very good price.

Somehow, Spring turned into a sort of blur of activity, fields needed ploughed, crops sown, drains sorted.
The neighbouring farmers showed my son what to do and helped him get started. They watched as he ploughed and praised him for making a good job of it.

When my husband returned from hospital, they dropped in to see him, kept him up to date with news, asked what he needed them to do.

Our farming neighbours are the essence of this community. They have lived through harsh winters, bitter disappointments, births, deaths.
They are hardy yet gentle, they do not ask for anything in return for their astonishing support.

Every single one of them has been treated like dirt by their landowner. Every single one has spent a fortune on legal fees, trying to help them keep their farms or asking for sheds where the old ones have fallen down.

Every one of them is angry and upset at the way they have been dealt the bad card, the get on with it and shut up card, the card which says 'complain too much and we will find some discrepancy in your lease', or the card which resumes their hard worked land for sport.

These are our neighbours.

I think they are worth helping.

Friday, 2 September 2011

Doffing the cap

I wish to illustrate some aspects of how the tenant farmer lives. I have permission from my neighbours plus from friends who have been tenants, to write it as it is.

In Scotland, there would appear to be two types of farm.

The first type are large and immaculate, efficient, well maintained, plenty of good livestock and sometimes quite a few workers living in good houses. you can bet your last halfpenny that these farms are owned by the farmer.

The second type of farm is a little different.
They can sometimes look less tidy, run less efficiently due to lack of help, poorly maintained. You can guarantee the livestock will be well looked after but fewer of them than on an owned farm.
Things will be higgledy-piggledy and you will always hear the words "We are a full year behind".

Don't get me wrong. Some tenant farms are nice, new sheds, new machinery. The tenant will have invested an awful lot of his own money to make his farm thus.
Landowners like this sort of tenant. They don't have to invest any of their own money yet will reap a good return with little if any input.
Nicer farm, higher rent, no investment by owner, Bob's your uncle.

Some tenants, however, are usually paying a hefty fee to an agricultural lawyer, often for years because oooh, some of these lawyers are slow.
These tenants may have tried to diversify in a non agricultural way. They may run a farmhouse B&B or may have invested a lot of their own money in doing up an old farm building to let out for holiday accommodation.

The landowner receives a percentage of this income but does not have to invest anything in it.
Tenant uses his/her own money, does all the hard work, owner gets a slice of pie.

Almost every aspect of the tenant farm, apart from spreading dung, needs permission from the owner.

"Dear Sir,

May we ask your holy permission to go and spend an absolute fortune on replacing a roof which has fallen down because it is 150 years old and really your responsibility but we know our place and know we will have a struggle taking you to court because you are rich but in the meantime, we are more concerned that our cows are getting wet, their bedding is getting wet, their hooves are going all funny and the vet had to come in and help; heavens knows how much the vet will charge but he is now miffed as he had to lie in wet too.

Anyhoo, would it be ok? Would it, Sir?

Sorry if I have been asking you the same question for 29 years now and the barn walls have now collapsed due to lack of roof but I now receive a Christmas card from my lawyers so that is a sign that they know me quite well these days.

I don't want to upset you by asking and hope that we won't have visits just as we are sitting in the combine in the middle of the harvest.

The people you send seem to have a funny attitude. It is almost as if they speak down to you. Maybe it is just me.
It is strange but when I received my degree from university, oh yes, I was there, can read and write and everything, I was treated as an equal. Is it my wellies? Your people seem to converse with my wellies.

Can I take this opportunity to ask if you can shift your pheasant pens away from my private water supply? I would hate for them to catch anything from it, especially from the dribbly green bit on the tank. The tank has a wee crack in it but I'm sure the neighbour's sheep will enjoy a bit of water while they go to the tank for shelter when they lamb just beside it. I have even seen sheep on the tank! Fancy. I hope it did not poo too much. I have to give our bairn a bath tonight and he is a wee devil for putting the bathwater in his mouth.
Bairns! It is almost as if they are too young to know not to drink the water!

Well, I'll not hold you back any longer. I know you are too busy to reply to the likes of me but look forward to seeing you in the middle of my standing crop during the shooting season. The fields that you took from us but forgot to compensate us for.
Sorry if my cows and calves got in the way during the big shoot. If I had known that a shoot was going to take place beside our humble abode, I would have shifted the livestock and my bairns.
It nearly gave me a heart attack, all those guns going off beside the house!

I'll write again soon and look forward to seeing you send men in to do the roofs. Please put off raising the rent for a while because the crop has been rejected again this year as it was too wet. If you need oats, we have a big heap of them but they are a little mouldy because the rain came in through the grain shed.

Tug of forelock

Shuffle out backwards on knees wearing hair shirt

Doff of cap

Tenant Farmer


Give us the Absolute Right to buy our own farms. Give us this right now so our children never have to write letters like this.

End the control and humiliation, the handing over of farm income to lawyers and freeloaders.

Open up the thousands of empty houses and disused land. Perhaps some of Scotland's 22,000 children who are registered as coming from a homeless home may thrive in the fresh country air with the security a home could give them. Some of them may become farmers?

Not tenant farmers, though.

Thursday, 1 September 2011

Best clothes and proper water.

This blog is a little bit hurried today.

It is such a funny feeling to have to rush when normally we move along at a much slower pace than I see in towns.

We are grounded by the farm, grounded in a good way. It keeps you down to earth in the truest sense of the words.

This morning, we have to check our stock, feed the children, chickens and ducks, cat, the dogs. Sometimes we remember to include ourselves in the list if everything else is ok.

We are going to speak with a man today and must get ready, all spruced up.

The Farmer has gone to buy some proper water so we can offer the man a cup of tea without e coli in it. No amount of Abernethy biscuits can disguise the fact that you may have inadvertently caused illness to people not used to our water.

I am feeling a bit nervous as we may no longer be the people who live at the farm at the back of beyond, the people who live 100 years out of date, the people who still live in a feudal system.

We are the people who you never hear about and we are merely a drop in the ocean. We are many.
Others will hopefully learn about our way of life and the culture we contribute to.
I hope that it can provide other tenant farmers a platform to stand on and voice how they feel, how they live and how they are treated.

I don't want people to feel scared. Not in 21st Century Scotland.

I want to hold my hand out to them and say "It's ok, you are not alone. Others care deeply for you even although you cannot see them. Take my hand because I am not scared'.

The Farmer lends me his reassuring strength, he is not talkative but when he does speak, his words are calming and wise. I gather my strength from him and our family, his source is from the very earth that he works.

It feels like an electric shock when I see references to our situation on Twitter, Mumsnet, facebook, it brings us back to modern times yet we realise that finally, someone has listened.

Somebody listened and did something about it.

I feel like the burden which we have been carrying has lessened, it no longer breaks your back or reduces you to tears of frustration.

I'd better go and prepare.

It is going to be a big day.

Wednesday, 31 August 2011

Your support

We are completely astonished and delighted by the incredible support given to us by many people who are outraged to hear of our situation and the plight of other tenant farmers.

It is a scary process, going public yet so many tenants cannot do this as the fear is real.

We have had enough.

We feel that every element of our rights as humans have been stripped bare and we have nothing to hide. We do not want the next generation having to tolerate what we have had to tolerate and fight.
It would not cross our minds to treat our animals the way we have been treated. They deserve better.
People living in sub standard housing, living in fear of recrimination deserve better.

All we ask for is our farmhouse to be wind and water tight plus some heat. We would like clean water too. It is not a lot to ask for.

Tonight, an invisible army walks beside us as we check the livestock, lock the gate then settle for the night. The warmth and protection is palpable and gives us hope.

On behalf of The Farmer, our children, every tenant farmer and myself, we thank you very much.

Tuesday, 30 August 2011

Awful news

We are doing all we can to keep our farmhouse.

We live quietly, work constantly on the land, never default on the rent; not once in 120 years, regardless of good or bad years.

My husband's family have always maintained the house and buildings but there comes a point when a rotten timber will no longer take a nail or falls apart when painted. The material is deemed finished 'through fair wear and tear' then it is the owner's responsibility to replace.

The farmhouse roof has crumbled 'through fair wear and tear'. It has covered and protected the house since circa 1800, before that it was thatched. I think it is safe to say that the roof has lasted well.

We have asked that the roof be repaired, to no avail. We have asked for years.

Yesterday, a chap from the council came up to look and informed us that a demolition order be served.
There is nothing we can do as it is the landowner's responsibility.

I asked what would happen if we moved in 'in protest' and the answer was chilling.

Once the demolition noticed was served, we would have 28 days to get out. After the 28 days, we would be put into a B&B, probably in Perth.
The children may be removed to 'a place of safety', if we were to inhabit our farmhouse. Our farmhouse which we pay rent and full council tax for.
Our farmhouse with the polluted water supply which we cannot purify due to the landowner demand that our electricity supply be disconnected.
Our farmhouse and our home.

The Farmer and I are utterly stunned.

We have done nothing wrong but due to an unscrupulous landowner, we must take the brunt of a very unfair system. A very unfair system.

This is the 21st Century Clearances which happen by stealth.

Now is the time to insist that tenant farmers like us are given the chance to buy our homes and cease being vessels which feed these parasitic tics of landowners who cannot or will not fulfil their legal obligation.

Please support the tenant farmer.

Sunday, 28 August 2011

New additions

The shepherd next door is leaving.

It is sad as he has only recently arrived in the area, the sixth in two years... says a lot about the employer rather than the shepherds.

Next door is a few miles away.

We rarely see our neighbours and besides, the shepherds tend to work long hours up on the hills. We had to ask the shepherd for some advice and after a few attempts, finally got him in.

He and his wife were lovely. I felt sad that they were leaving as I felt a real sense of warmth and friendship in the little while that we chatted with them.
They were very tactful and diplomatic about their reasons for going but I believe that what was left unsaid spoke volumes.

Anyway, we asked if they needed help and they asked if we would care for their ducks and also if we were needing another sheepdog.

Rosie is brilliant at catching escapee poultry and soon we had a car full of ducks, silently hissing and bobbing their necks as a warning, Muscovys all, companions for Bobduck.

I had this little bundle on my lap.

We have named her Grace and she is settling in very well. PieDog was a little miffed at first but he was given lots of reassurance and extra fuss. They are both tumbling around on the grass as I write, chewing one of The Farmer's socks. Brave dogs.

I am surprised that such a little dog can jump up and open a door but she can.

We are back to stair gates and all the safety measures we had when our son was little. I can never remember the day that these things were removed but possibly when he started climbing trees and unlatching safety gates.

We are all back to wearing one slipper or odd socks, a familiar pile of them 'rounded up' and chewed by Grace.

The ducks are overjoyed with the permapuddle and the grain store. Fat little ducks.

We are just waiting for the rough weather to pass and hopefully we will get started on the harvest soon. Sheds are being scrubbed out, combine worked on, paperwork ready.

All would be fairly straightforward if BT had not put a new phone pole at the end of the road. They never told us, just put the thing up (although we still have no phone) - we cannot get past with the combine.

Some of the new farm additions are very welcome.

Others however.....

Monday, 22 August 2011

The shearing

It was very late this year but we finally got the shearing done.

PieDog was thrilled to do the job he was born to do, namely rounding the sheep up and getting them into their pen. He was a joy to work with but we need to do a bit more training on the part when he is supposed to come out of the pen. He sat gleefully, waiting for the sheep to join him and studiously ignored my windmill arm actions and cries of "GET OUT OF THE PEN, PIE, OUT NOW".

It is always a faff rounding up the sheep but we got there. Eventually.

The shearer turned up fairly late at night. He has been busy shearing all over Scotland but it was worth the wait as he is a superb shearer and very couthy with the sheep.

We set up at the side of the field; a wooden board for the shearer to stand on, the shearing gubbins and big battery for power, wool handler to wrap the fleece, The Farmer on standby incase of emergency.

My sheep are enormous. Wensleydale are long legged, long necked, bulky sheep. They are not easy to clip as their skin is soft and papery plus they have masses of wool everywhere. (some breeds of sheep have no wool on their legs or heads and are easier to clip).

The shearer clipped the wool from the first two sheep but the third, a massive hogget, deftly kicked the man quite firmly on the ankle.
"Oh, there was no need to do that" he said quietly.
So the hogget kicked him again and brought the poor man down.

The Farmer switched the shearing machine off immediately as the blade snaked wildly over sheep and shearer. We helped the shearer to his feet and he steadied the big hogget. I noticed that the backside of his trousers had been ripped during the fall.
"That was very uncouth" the shearer said to the hogget.
The hogget eyed the shearer with the look of a teenager who was having his first shave.

'Uncouth' finished me off.

I nipped round the side of the sheep trailer and had a silent weep of laughing, made worse as it would have been impolite to laugh. I tried to look solemn when I came back to roll the fleece.

"Why are you laughing, Mum?" asked Rosie, undiplomatically. She was standing on the other side of the gate with her little brother and my friend, Pandora; a wool spinner extrordinaire. I had promised Pandora the best fleece as she creates the most amazing yarns.

"I had a midge in my eye", I lied. Well, sort of lied as the midges were out in force and we were all being bitten.

The rest of the shearing went without incident apart from having to take the tractor round for lighting. We were all a bit miffed when it became noticably dark around half past nine. Mutters about the impending winter were bandied about and we all tried not to think about the change in the season.

We finished up, loaded the shearers equipment into his truck, carefully stored the newly shorn and still warm fleeces into a safe place and returned the sheep to their field. They looked completely different and it was hard to tell them apart.

The entire shearing had been done very quietly. The shearer's clippers almost silent, unlike our outmoded and outdated ones which sound like an angry swarm of hornets. The sheep were silent and the very evening itself held its breath. Everything was still apart from the clippers and shearer's muscly arm.
We had all been able to converse normally during this shearing.

Not uncouth at all.

Thursday, 18 August 2011

Adding insult to injury.

We had an important visitor today.

Someone with clout came to see our house. The house, mind, not really us.

I felt ashamed that I could not offer a cup of tea, Highland manners. The lack of electricity or eColi rich water sometimes puts people off. We mostly boil a kettle on a fire outside or travel a bit to fill a flask with clean, boiling water so visitors are not poisoned.
Anyway, the visitor was offered tea but declined.

House was duly looked at, notes taken, visitor made to leave. All well and good.

What stung me to the core was an almost throwaway comment regarding the visitor having to ask permission to visit us. They did not need our permission as we had invited them.

They asked the owner's permission... then commented on how patently obvious it was that we were disliked and despised, by the agent working for the owner.

How unprofessional.
How humiliating.

How purile, unprofessional and foolish you made yourself look, Agent of the Owner.

If you need someone to tell you to grow up, you scunnering wee nyaff, then you know where we live. I will happily say it to your face and not behind your back.

I might even throw in a fish to go with the chip on your shoulder.

Tuesday, 16 August 2011

Talking of farm fashion....

....I took a notion for a balaclava.

It is just the thing for chilly mornings and bad hair days. The main thing is that nobody sees you.

I had no idea that there were so many balaclavas out there. Most of them are for motorcyclists but alas, I will never do the ton in the Massey, so do not need a bug guard to protect my mouth.

There are balaclavas with skeleton faces and dripping zombie features printed on. Why this is needed is beyond my ken.
Or ones with just eye holes and an open bit for your mouth, leaving the wearer with a permanent look of surprise and menace. A woolly gimp mask....might scare the postman.

Then I found it.


With special ear flaps for mobile phones.
Never mind that we don't get mobile phone reception here, you could just roar and shout but your head would be warm and you would hear everything.

No zombie features or gimp masks there, just thick scratchy wool and lugs.

Ban hoodies and issue these instead.
Urban troubles sorted.

Down dressed and out

I owe a gentleman a humble apology.

Our family had been haking around the farm, tidying up, shifting things, digging up potatoes (by hand) and we ended up looking 'like something off a country flitting'.
You dress for warmth and comfort, no two socks match, spots with stripes, tartan with polka dot. It does not matter as nobody sees you and anything does for your work.

Being a Black Isle lass, potato picking was a big part of our childhood. The tattie holidays were set aside for just that, picking potatoes. Squads of us would be picked up early in the morning (with our sandwiches and a wee tartan flask with soup) then taken to a farm which needed their tatties picked.
The transport was an open trailer so you held on tight in case you fell off. Sometimes a square bale of straw was added for the ultimate in comfort.

You dressed in 'tattie clothes', your oldest, raggiest clothes as it was muddy work. Wellies were obligatory.
It being the 1970s, most people owned a nylon anorak, usually brown, with a criss cross of stitching that always fell apart exposing the thin white stuffing in the lining.

The clothes did not matter, what mattered was that you could keep up with the potato digger-uppy machine, pick your dreel and avoid any rotten potatoes which were flung out of other peoples dreels.

You were allowed a boiling of potatoes for tea. They were stuffed into pockets or in to the plastic bag which you carried your 'piece'.(sandwiches)

I digress.

Our family were really hungry so we went to the nearest chip shop which is actually miles away. As we travelled, I was discussing one of the books I am reading just now. It is an excellent book, very thought provoking and guaranteed to compel you to go out and set the heather on fire.
For reasons that I cannot divulge, I cannot name the author except that he is a highly respected gentleman who has done an awful lot for the advancement of Scotland.

I raved to the Farmer about aspects of the book; of the angst and statistics and how harsh life was not so long ago.
I don't know if he was listening as he was wolfing in to a forbidden fish supper, his first since his heart attack. He was a million miles away yet memorising each bite. Fish suppers were banned food.

As I blethered away about the book and author one of those coincidences happened; the author was right there in front of our car; he too was going for a chip supper.

So my deep apologies go to the author. The last thing he expected to see was a wild haired wifie in tattie clothes, hurtle out of a car to ask him questions.
The 'just been howkin' tatties and clearing out middens look' was the last thing on my mind as this author writes some of the finest work I have read in many years and his writing has truthfully given ourselves and others, a glimmer of hope in the daily battle against certain echelons of Scottish society.

My apologies if I startled you (although I am kidding myself at the thought of him reading this blog...) but at that precise moment, you were the very person that I needed to speak to.

Thank you for being so patient and polite on a very wet evening in Perthshire with a wifie who could have stepped out from one of the pages of your books.....

Sunday, 14 August 2011

Let the sun shine.

I had not realised that it has been the wettest August for 60 years.

The Farmer has been walking on the fields and has come back with a look on his face. It is a look that I have unfortunately seen before and one which, I hope, may be resolved. Alas, only Mother Nature can intervene.

The ground is too wet to take machinery and the barley is not too far off being ready for harvest.

It is not just our farm; farmers all over Scotland are vexed to see the damage done by the heavy rain. Some crops lie flattened, some are ready to come in but the waterlogged soil is proving difficult for heavy machinery like combines.

I'm unsure as to what will happen now. The barley crop is one of our mainstays.

It has been rejected before; too wet for sale, too expensive to dry. It happened to hundreds of arable farmers and had a knock down effect on farms and families. A third year could be the end for some.

It did not deter some morally reprehensible landowners from putting the rents up. They took the fact that there had been one good year when 'corn was up' and the rent increases followed the next year, despite that year being a disaster.
The same landowners would have a job trying the same thing again. Three years of wet harvests and no buyers for the grain so the farm incomes plummet.
You cannot draw blood from a stone..... Not that this deters some.
They want the blood, the stone and the ground it sits on.

I hope for an Indian Summer as the Scottish one has been difficult.

Fingers crossed.

Dancing to the fiery bear

It was still dreich in Perthshire, yesterday morning, and Rosie suggested that we went to Fife.

It sounded like a damn fine idea so we headed off to Newburgh to see the Coble boat race.

The entire town had gathered down by the waterside and there was a real air of excitement. There were lots of little stalls; crafts, old photographs of Newburgh and the people, there were lots of things for the bairns to make, lino prints, lanterns, drums and painting.

The Maid of the Tay was taking people for a trip up the river.

The last time I was on The Maid of the Tay was in 1966 when the Tay Road Bridge was opened. You can just see the bridge in the background.

A band on a lorry played good Scottish music to the crowd.

Hardy young lads took part in the salmon coble boat race up the water and against the flow. It must have been very hard going as it was a fair distance and the cobles are very heavy boats. This race has taken part since 1880 when salmon net fishermen worked the river. They were strong and excellent oarsmen.
Salmon netting came to a halt in 1996 but the tradition still carries on, rowing the 18 foot salmon coble boats.

After the excitement of the race, it was lovely to find a tranquil area where these ladies (and someone who looks like Chris Moyles, now that I look), having tea and scones whilst listening to Cole Porter on the gramophone.
I wish you could hear it.

The Newburgh children had made amazing lanterns, all with a marine theme.
One huge lad came in to rescue the shark he had made. He was convinced that the lanterns were all going to be set alight after the lantern procession up to the Bear.

"Why do they set light to the bear?" I asked him. I had asked a few people but the answer always seemed to be a shrug of the shoulders and a 'they just do'.
"Ah dinnae ken, they just dae but they are no getting ma shark"

I thought it was a brilliant shark and watched as he carefully liberated it.

Once all the festivities by the river ended, everyone headed up to the bear.

It is a huge bear, carved into the hill by a local farmer. How he did it is a mystery, as mysterious as the reason they set on fire.
We ask an elderly gentleman about the bear and he is the local historian. He tells us that nearby Lindores Abbey had strong links with the Earls of Warwick and the Benedictine monks. The heraldic device of the Earls of Warwick is the bear and ragged staff.

"Why is the bear lit?"
"So everyone can see it" said the gentleman.

The bear gets lit.

It is beautiful and the small fires give the bear movement almost as if it is dancing and swaying.
Everyone is thrilled.

Our little boy (quite manic after a face full of sweets despite my hissing at the Farmer, "Don't give the bairn any sweeties. You know what he goes like"....)
our sugar fuelled little boy begins to dance with the bear.
I want to dance with the bear too, such is the feeling of joy in the air.

There does not have to be a reason why the good people of Newburgh light the bear. They just do.

We wait a while and watch the fiery bear then reluctantly head home; back up the A9 and towards the rainy hills.

It was an amazing day, a sunny day in Newburgh.

We dance when we get home.

Friday, 12 August 2011


Wettish afternoon and our little boy wanted to help do some baking.

I am a hit or miss baker, all to familiar with disasters but wanted to try baking with spelt for a change as I see it a lot in some of the local shops, these days.
This batch turned out not too bad and taste good.

Spelt is a very old version of wheat, grown by the Romans in this area but it is now quite extensively grown in parts of Europe. It has a lovely nutty taste and bakes up into not a bad scone. It does contain gluten.

I'm hopeless at measurements as the ingredients tend to get thrown into the bowl and the whole lot mixed up with your hand splayed like a whisk. It either feels right or too wet a mix or too dry. Add more spelt flour or milk to get a slightly sticky mix.

1/2 bag of spelt flour
2 good adult handfuls of self raising flour
a child's handful of baking powder
a good dollop of honey
3 eggs
1/2 a stick of butter
milk to mix
a muckle wedge of Wensleydale cheese with apricots (2 for £3 at the CoOp this week)
cheese for the top

Mix the flours and baking powder with the butter till it looks like fine breadcrumbs.
Add everything else and mix it with your hand until it turns into dough
Cut scone circles out of the dough

190 oven in the centre for about 20 minutes but they can take an extra 5 minutes if they look like they need it.

Eat hot with lots of butter and a slice of cheese.

Shed full of surprises

We lovely sunny weather vanished and heavy rain began to fall, flooding roads and leaving swollen rivers in its wake.

It was a good time to try and clear some of the sheds which have never been cleared out for years. The dark and gloomy sheds where nobody ever ventures and There Be Dragons.

It took a bit of doing to go into one of them as I was convinced there was a rat..... there were stacks of woodworm riddled wood and piled up furniture in the shed which is rather fancifully called 'The Garage'.

It turned out that this is the shed where some of the sneakier feral hens have been roosting and hanging out. And leaving mountains of guano.

We found one of the black hens sitting broodily on a nest. She had made her nest on a little cabinet which The Farmer had made at school. She eyed us with a beady eye and a How Very Dare You demeanor.

We had to gently lift the little cabinet and broody hen out and rehome her in a different shed. Easier said than done as she started pecking at our fingers and clucking angrily.

She was put on to the loader and carefully moved but not before making a furious protest.

She was settled in a quiet corner of the big shed and after a last few ranting squawks, settled down to caring for her unhatched brood. Not a single egg broke.

We hauled all the manky wood and finally reached the old furniture. The big rostrum type cupboard which my husband's Great Grandfather had taken with him when he left his job as a headmaster and became a farmer. This piece of furniture sat unmoved in the living room for 102 years until it had to be stored once the ceilings began falling down in the farmhouse.
It was extremely heavy to carry so we shifted it just enough to 'walk' it on to the loader.

"Get in the car" said The Farmer, quietly.

I was a bit surprised and asked him why.

"There is a very big rat in the cupboard".

I grabbed the bairn and flew into the car, wound up the windows and saw the rat run out of the shed. It was big alright, like a fat Jack Russell dog. It had been hiding mere inches away from where we were working and it had given me the complete heebiejeebies.

Unsurprisingly, rat stopped play, it made a change from rain putting a dampener on things.

We left the now empty shed for a couple of days.....

We celebrated Rosie's birthday by heading off to Fife - she wanted to go to Aberfeldy and Fife to celebrate so we took her to all the places she wanted to visit.

The Newburgh bear (which they set fire to this Saturday and I'm not sure why)

The Pillars of Hercules farm shop and tearoom for tea and cakes.

Rosie was fascinated by a very drowsy honey bee which she found a on a plump echinacea.

We headed home under the shelter of an excellent rainbow.

The shed has since been disinfected and washed.

There is one last shed to do but it can wait till next week. God knows what is in it apart from little dishes of rat poison which hopefully help Ratzilla to the Great Rat Nest in the sky.

There are some surprises which you can do without. Fat rat take note.

Wednesday, 10 August 2011

Blogger's block

I can't think.

I feel like a vessel which is filled slowly but constantly, sometimes drip by drip, sometimes a trickle or a tap full on until it cannot hold any more and the substance spills out.

Yes, we have been working when the sun shone; yesterday I fell asleep on the sofa, filthy and exhausted. I never made it upstairs until the first light of morning, woken not by discomfort but panic.

It is not the slow saturation of work which has filled me to overflowing point but the constant drip drip of niggly points, of anxious nights and an escalation in harassment from those who own us. Sadly, this is not a metaphor.

The news which floods in, changing tides so quickly; corruption, human tragedies, riots, mayhem.

We feel so isolated from the world here, cut off from the tide yet ebbing and flowing with the seasons.
We feel as if we are a million miles away from the fear and chaos of the cities in England yet feel raw for those affected.
The news pours in so quickly and powerfully that it is difficult to absorb.

The parents and friends of those who died in Norway.
The famine in Africa
The corrupt echelons who wield the power in this country
The inequality.
The unfairness of it all.

The emotions one feels when hearing the news is so perplexing. You imagine how it must feel yet the depth of the emotion will never touch that of the people who have to survive the reality.

I don't know what to say.

The rain has fallen, tiny spits at first then heavier. Little streams becoming torrents. The swollen streams pour into the river and it, in turn, rushes to find the sea.

The seas encompass the world.

Oh for the world to be flooded by humanity and equality, to wash fear and pain away, to soothe the souls of the suffering.

To find the balance.

Thursday, 4 August 2011

Scary monsters

The unexpected has been happening. Just to keep us on our toes.

A huge limb of an old oak tree fell off and took out part of the best fence on the farm. Typical.
Limb could have chosen any of the horizontal fences to launch itself on to but opted for one of the few nice bits which had new stock fence, new fenceposts and everything.

The bullocks in the field somehow managed to creep under the limb and over the squashed fence then made their way into the garden of new folk who had just, that day, moved from town to country.

The bullocks were quickly rounded up and put into a different field, townspeople were issued humble apologies and a dozen fresh eggs, limb was chopped up for firewood.

The limb looked like a big scary monster drawn by Gerald Scarfe; I suspect it has been creeping about the field on all its spidery limbs. At night.

Later that day, after good hot baths and the donning of Best Clothes, we headed for Dundee so The Farmer could see the cardiologist.

The Tay rail bridge rose out of the Tay looking like a giant ethereal ghost bridge.

The once graceful limbs, now slimy stumps of the original bridge lurk gloomily out of the water. On the 28th December 1879 at 7.15pm, the original bridge was felled by a wicked gale, bridge and train fell into the icy waters of the Tay resulting in the loss of 75 lives (including the son-in-law of the bridge designer).

Later, and suitably sobered by the gloomy Tay, we meet the cardiologist and are reassured that given sensible diet, lots of physical excercise and a good plan of stress management, The Farmer's heart will be strong enough to support him through a normal, healthy life.
No scary monsters there, thank Goodness.

The following day, the bothy is given a complete spring clean.
The pair of us humph all the old bedsteads, butter tables, kists, cupboards plus thirty years of rubbish and debris, old tools and toys and lots of rat poo.
It is a filthy job but finally the light comes back through the wee window and we can see the stone floor again.

Now that there is more light, ironically, it is harder to see inside.
In the darkest corner lies a big drum. We turn the drum round to read the label and it is a big drum of carbide. The top of an upturned pressure cooker serves as a lid.
I had been smoking over it, unaware that it was there, unaware that it could have been last fag and a swift entrance to Heaven complete with a bothy if bothies and fifty year old farmer's wives who swear and smoke are allowed past St Peter.

My sister-in-law, who has come up on a visit and ended up doing an amazing restoration job on the neglected garden, comes to see the bothy. She discovers that the rustling that I have been hearing all day is not a hen skulking outside the window but rats waiting to get in.

We quietly tiptoe out.

That night, I have a disturbed sleep.
An anxiety attack of monster proportions fuelled by exploding carbide, rats and water ghosts, of falling bothy roofs and Gerald Scarfe trees.
Of St Peter saying 'Fags or Heaven, your call".

We are waiting for SEPA to get back to us about the safe removal and disposal of the carbide.

I am taking the children out for the day, probably to Newtonmore, maybe further.

Far away from beasties, bothies and things that may blow up in the night.