Saturday, 22 January 2011


Hell's marmalade never set and the owls are at it again tonight.

I have reboiled the marmalade, re sterilized the jars, repotted the marmalade and re messed up the kitchen then gave up Hope and lobbed the lot into the cupboard.

One good thing came out of the whole sorry saga.
When I was looking in the old wardrobe for jam labels, I found some parcels which were hidden for Christmas. Everyone is delighted.
It is like the Narnia wardrobe and the bottom drawer is where I keep all the things that are either useful or precious (to me). The drawer is so big and difficult to open, I know that nobody bothers to go raking in it. Jam labels and presents are safe.

Small boy is painting a wooden tractor bright red, our daughter has a drawing set and The Farmer has a new pair of February socks. I found some old photos from my childhood so will pour over them later.

All is quiet (apart from the owls).

I like Saturdays like this, they mark the end of another week and slowly we plod on through the winter leaving the darkest nights behind us like old Christmas wrapping paper - forgotten, crumpled.

The cattle are growing fat and indolent in the shed. They are biding their time too until the grass starts to grow and they can be let out, kicking their heels in the air.

There is a fugue like atmosphere.

A stillness interrupted by the gentle hoot of the owls.

Friday, 21 January 2011

Owl rave.

The owls are fairly going for it tonight.

There appear to be lots of them, one in the tree, one in the barn and an entire owl choir whooing from various parts of the farm.

I have seen the big white owl. She works the bottom field and enjoys sitting on a strainer post by the road. She is magnificent and can appear from nowhere, leaving you in danger of swallowing your own kidney with the 'I've Just Seen A Ghost' type of Fright.

There are smaller owls and I once found a trio of baby owls sitting on a branch quite deep in the woods. They had identical puffs of fluffy feathers and large eyes.
I did not go too near in case it caused problems for them or their mother but lodged myself behind a big shrub and drank them in to the point of complete intoxication.

If you are very lucky, it is possible to see an Eagle Owl. They are about the size of a barn door and everything disappears out of their flight path, even the kites (which are quite huge in their own right).

Every owl in Perthshire seems to have gathered here tonight and it is quite a noise. The Farmer and our son are sound asleep; they can sleep through anything and I envy their ability to doze fitfully while the owls have a rave.

I hope the owls catch plenty of fat rats.

It will be good to listen to them all when I go to bed. The bedroom window is back to being wide open again (it only got closed when the temperature was ridiculously low) so you can hear all the nocturnal scamperings and screechings outside whilst wrapped up warmly in bed.

They are strangely comforting.
I like to imagine that they are reincarnations of those who lived here before us and they guard the farm and its occupants. They keep a watchful eye over the slumbering animals and humans.

The owls are gossiping now....."Who"?...."Whoooo"?....."Ooooh"!

I am off to eavesdrop.

I blame Nigel Slater.

He said it was worth it. Nigel.

I am making marmalade with Seville oranges and other citrus fruits (which lurked in the fruit bowl). There are some red grapefruit which I had vowed to eat for breakfast when I started the Diet 2011 but never got round to. Diet and grapefruit both ignored.

Nigel Slater made it sound a joy. So joyful, in fact, that I would swan around an immaculate kitchen wearing a freshly laundered Cath Kidston apron. The sun would be shining and small bluebirds would sing at the window.

The reality was a faff.

Like Nigel Slater, I too had removed some of the skin from the top of my fingers - occupational hazard - and felt the acidity of every single orange squeezed by hand into the big pot.
A few more chunks of finger were added during the 'slice the peel thinly' stage and the threat of a coma set in having to stand and slice carefully. That bit took ages.

The Seville oranges did not go far so a broth of the satsumas left over from Christmas got lobbed in as did the blood grapefruit and some lemons. It was becoming a symphony in citrus.
Then they all had to simmer for a looong time....

So long that I forgot about the marmalade.
It was taken off the stove and allowed to sulk whilst we got on with other things outside.
I remembered about it this morning so it has been strained and is now cooking.

Nigel Slater enthuses about the lovely smell. Well, it is having to compete with the pungent smell of silage, burnt toast, something mysterious which is vile but I can't find behind the cooker and under the window....something dead perhaps, rodenty and dead. Nigel won't have festering rodents behind his skirting boards.
Nigel does not have to drop everything and chase rogue sheep out of the front field.

In a few hours time we will have enough marmalade to fend off scurvy all winter plus enough left over to supply the entire British Navy. I am incapable of making small batches of preserve and we have cupboards full jams, conserves and forgotten label-fell-off things.

Next year I shall buy marmalade whereby someone else has shredded the peel, depithed the pith, tied muslin around the pips and aged visibly during the process. I shall eat thick slabs of unburned toast with dollops of bought marmalade of top. Bluebirds will sing at the window and the festering rodent will have turned to dust and no longer smell.

I better go and keep an eye on it like an acid fruit witch, stirring the cauldron whilst muttering incantations and trying to remember the shopping list. Seven kilos of marmalade toffee would be vexing.

Fanny Craddock would have made Johnny do it.

I shall hold on to that thought....

Sunday, 16 January 2011

Home via Paris, Texas.

Colin the chameleon needed more locusts plus we had run low on soap and the like so we headed for town.

We did not get very far until it dawned on me that it was all a big Mistake and we ought to have turned back. Colin really needed locusts, though.

The children began to fight, ooh, at least 500 yards from home. I had put a pile of coats between them and gave them each a bag of 'things to do and things to eat' but they were both on form. The Farmer threw me a pained look and we journeyed on.

Parts of the road had vanished under water yet the roadsides still had thick ice so it made for a difficult drive.
We arrived just outside Perth and discovered that the police had closed the road (severe flooding) so we took a looong detour via the industrial estate. It had taken three times as long to get into town and we decided to rush the shopping then hurry home.

We stocked up with swarms of locusts, plenty of meat from the butcher (which PieDog never so much as sniffed, bless him) plus other essentials then set off home.

We got to the main roundabout and the Farmer sat in the wrong lane. I think he was slightly shell-shocked with the children, shocked at the price of everything and over tired.
"You are in the wrong lane" I said. "We need to be in the north lane"....

He took the south lane and we ended up heading down the Glasgow road.
Rather than turn round, he decided to take the back roads home. Except most of them had been closed so we took the even more back roads. The ones where There Be Dragons.

Some places, the water came up to the top of the tyres and the car made a small screech noise as if it felt out of its depth....I knew how it felt.

We were now in the back of beyond and worryingly, it was a different back of beyond to the one we lived in.
We could smell a field of turnips which had gone mushy and sour with the frost. Acres and acres of good farmland was under water and nothing looked real.

"Oh look! Paris, Texas" I was being snarky and sort of regretted being a cow. But only a little bit.

The Farmer muttered something under his breath and we crawled along at snails pace. Hours had gone by, the little one had fallen asleep, daughter was in the huff and it was now dark.
The flooding was really bad and many of the roads had large chunks out of them. Potholes on anabolic steroids.

We arrived home terribly late. The house was cold and there were hundreds of things to do, all at once. Things needed fed, watered and settled. Human and animal. A clone or two would have been handy or octopus arms.. (Send in the clones).

I caught up with the Farmer just before midnight. He had the 10,000 mile stare in his eyes and was looking zombie like.

"That journey was rough, endless and terrifying. I was worried that we would not get home"...

"Aye" is all he said.

Friday, 14 January 2011

Light at the end of the tunnel.

It is raining today.

It is that 'Scotch Mist' type of drizzly rain which properly soaks you to the skin. It has filled up the small stream at the back of the house and best of all, it has melted much of the snow.

You cannot see the top of the hill. The hill is clothed by a low cloud like a ballerina in a gray tutu and has vanished almost completely. It emits an etheral feeling and it is easy to imagine the Roman soldiers keeping watch at the top.
This area once had a large Roman camp and the outline of their community is still evident, especially the aquaduct system they cut out of the hill.
You can still walk along the roads they built which go as south as Braco and up through the hills to Aberfeldy.

The area here is timeless and the Romans would easily recognise where their camp was as the hill and surrounding area have never changed much in thousands of years.
There is evidence of the very earliest farmers when the sun hits the hill in a particular way and illuminates areas which were ploughed over and earth walls to keep animals in or out.

The hill has stood as a sentinel at the foot of the glen and has protected the farm from the very worst of the wind ever since the first house was built here. It has easily shouldered deep snow, strong winds, baking heat, herds of deer and sheep. She sometimes turns a deep shade of pink when the heather comes into bloom and the sun sets it aflame at the right time of year.
She has blueberries and myrtle growing in the marsh areas and a solitary rowan clings tenaciously to a rock almost at the top.

Although she drifts in and out of view today, you know she is there. Constant and solid.

I am going out to look for the first sign of snowdrops today as it is the first time in a very long time that the view from the farmhouse has changed from white to green. The sad old lawn has taken an awful battering and the melted snow has revealed all the hidden shrubs and perennials which should have been deadheaded in autumn.
The garden is saying 'Look! I have been dormant and frozen but am past the deepest sleep!".
The turn of the year has happened and we slowly tune into synch with the changing season. The days are a tiny bit longer and a small seed of optimism germinates in our souls.

Spring is not far away.

Thursday, 13 January 2011

Paul McKenna and the rat

Last night was a little unusual to say the least.

Paul McKenna was having a live web chat on Mumsnet and I was determined to 'be there' so to speak. I wanted to ask him a question but could not think of anything and besides, the other Mumsnetters had already asked some brilliant questions. My brain was void of any though and perfectly ripe for suggestion.

What is it that comes over you when someone famous is live and willing to 'speak' but you become tongue tied and your brain goes into snooze mode?
Ewan McGregor once shoved me out of the way, rather boorishly I might add. He was with a group of friends in Perth and it was just after 'Train Spotting'. I was too awe struck to do my 'Now Listen Here, Young man' rant.
I will shove him roughly if it ever happens again though. Cheeky upstart.

Paul McKenna was in good fettle and I was drawn in to all the things he claimed he could help with... I could become a happy, skinny, non-smoking paragon of virtue. I could confidently waltz into a room and glow.
My inner Brian Blessed would be relegated to a shelf in the box room and I could be Amazing. He even offered some free tickets to go to London, "As his guest". (Not to me personally but there would be a draw of names).
It was all terribly exciting and glamorous.

Then I heard 'It' at the window.
Scratching and scrabbling.

A large rat chose that very moment to steal some of the new suet and berry bird cake from the little cake cage on the window.
I opened the curtains and shone the lamp on it and felt freaked out at the thought that there was only two millimeters of glass between myself and a Large Rat.

The Farmer had gone to bed early and I did not want to waken him so had to deal with the Rat myself.
We have sealed the front door off with cardboard and duct tape for winter. The rat gnaws had been filled in with tinfoil and a large heavy curtain nailed up to stop the draught.

I would have to go out in the pitch dark (because there is never a working torch when you need one), walk over ice right round the house, not fall, then chase a large rat away.
I bet Paul McKenna could 'encourage' The Rat to go.

Then the Dilemma kicked in.
I have been a vegetarian and occasional vegan for 36 years and cannot bear to harm any living thing. My ethics had to take a back seat when I met and married a beef farmer but that was Karma, perhaps.
I could not shoot the rat because a) it was dark b) it was slippery underfoot and c) I came over all vegan.
The only solution, therefore, was to throw a brush at it but carefully so as not to break the window.

Of course, it all went Pete Tong.
The commotion woke the Farmer, scared the Rat and all my Paul McKenna good intentions vanished as I craved a fag, handful of chocolate and a confidence boost all at once. I nearly munched the suet and berry cake myself.

The feeder has been moved today and strung up on the washing line. No doubt the cunning rat will creep with stealth along the rope but it won't bang on the window. My mind and concience are clear.
I have thought of a question for Paul McKenna.

Paul, where would a slightly overweight, agoraphobic, forgetful 50 year old woman have put the earphones of the MP3 player which contains your self help CD? (And what sorcery lies within this

tiny little player which can house a million tracks yet is only an inch high?)

Tell me, Paul, or the Rat gets it.

Monday, 10 January 2011

Grunge queen

Yesterday was cold and snowy. Water is still off.

I took a wild notion that we would have a restful Sunday, sitting in harmony by the fire and doing jigsaws or something.

The children were very crochety and bickered with each other. The volume of the bickering rose and it all descended into mayhem.

I had a mountain of ironing to do and get all worried if the little one comes within ten feet of the iron so I hemmed myself in behind the sofa and tried to iron in safety using bared teeth and the imminent arrival of savage bears from Russia as a deterrent.

The Farmer came in to the living room, ignored the bedlam and sat down heavily on the sofa (and the ironing...).
"I thought you might be feeling cold so I brought your woolly jumper" he said.
Despite the heat of the room, exertion from ironing and fending off little boys, I put the jumper on.

There was a massive hole in the arm.
There was a massive hole in the back of The Farmers jumper as well.

We scrutinised the damage and wondered how these holes happened. Was the damage caused by PieDog's little sharp teeth? A little boy with forbidden scissors? A mouse?

This was my very best jumper, knitted from Donegal tweed in glorious Autumn colours. I felt very glamorous when I wore it and actually felt quite bereft that it was so badly damaged. I did not have any matching wool and knew that the darn would relegate my lovely jumper into Something For Round The Farm. It would become Ordinary and grungey.

Grunge. Had the Seattle crowd picked up fashion lessons from working farmers? We have a knack of casually flinging on any old thing for work and looking like we were created from damp hessian rags. Someone once said that Marilyn Monroe would look great in a potato sack (and she proved them right) - I would just look like a hefty sack of potatoes.
We know that nobody will see us and we also know that our work clothes are going to be decorated in oomsk after the first few minutes so anything goes.

I darned my beloved jumper. The wool was the nearest in thickness and texture but sadly not in colour. I pondered as I was darning - would Courtney Love have darned Kurt Cobain's jumpers? She might have used a fishnet stocking as yarn, probably with her leg still in it. She was hardcore grunge.

I am going for the Look today. The grunge 'je ne sais quoi'. My bad hair year has a hangover and continues into this year. The hair sits like a sullen fat hen on the top of my head. I will complete the look with the freshly darned jumper and dung brown duffle.

And bright, Courtney Love red lipstick.

This doubles up as a safety feature in case I fall in the snow. The bright red lips will be an indication of where I lie. Bummer if I fall on my face.

I am predicting the 'Make do and Mend' look this year.
We will all be encased in layers of thick wool due to the winter lasting most of the year.
Hair will be 'chic messe' (that needs a French accent but I can't find one on the keyboard).
Lips will be red and double as safety features.
Footwear - sturdy wellies with added snow grippers, thick woolly socks (bonus if they match) carpet offcuts as insoles.

And Courtney Love will be beating a path to the farm begging for style tips....

Friday, 7 January 2011

Back to basics

Oh, the water is off again.

It was nice to have it running these past few days but the temperature outside has dropped to minus 7 and has refrozen the supply pipe. And my heart.

We are cutting and chopping wood today - the fuel is getting low so the limbs of the oak tree (which fell off during a big storm last autumn) will hopefully be burning on the back of the fire this evening. It was one of those jobs which was on 'the list' but we forgot.

The entire wood collecting act gets your inner radiator fired up, all that carting and chopping. The kindlers go into the bottom of the Rayburn to dry.

The sky looks thick with snow to come and the air is very still. I think several extra layers of clothes are prudent today as the house is bitterly cold inside.

So fuel and water are priority today.

Just like the cavemen.

Wednesday, 5 January 2011

10,000 yard stare

That was about the measure of it.

I think it was triggered off whilst munching on a piece of shortbread. Aeons pass, fish evolve, volcanos find yourself in another dimension.

Is it natures way of telling you that things have been hectic and that a lengthy winter compounded with Christmas Festivities, New Year Revelries and the beginning of spring cleaning have all been A Bit Much?

"What is this life if, full of care,
We have no time to stand and stare.

No time to stand beneath the boughs
And stare as long as sheep or cows"

It is restful in an exhausting way, staring. You do not move physically yet your mind can zoom to Venus or New Orleans. You wonder about the chemical make up of snow and wander around the jungles of Borneo.

You are a million miles away, yet here.

Your mind dwells on nothing particular, God, the sheeps' feet, the Spring, Mexican chilli, birch sap

....all thrown into the broth of your daydream.

Something moves outside and you return to your body. The shortbread in your hand yet to be fully nibbled. Time had stopped.

Just for a moment, you were not there.

Sunday, 2 January 2011

Is it just me?

Is it just my imagination or has it suddenly become a luxury to live as you used to prior to Christmas?

When did it become so expensive for a liter of diesel (£1.30+ here and rising)?

Power and domestic fuel have rocketed as well as staples such as bread and milk. Good God.

The greed of the large supplier far outstrips the means of the consumer and at this rate everyone in the country will be cold and skinny. All, except the Fat Cats.
We will all be bled dry and no longer have the means to afford the most basic standard of living. Nationally, we will all have to work more hours than a day can provide just to put essentials on the table and heat for our homes.

I would be up for a revolt. I think one is due. I think everyone in the land should demand their wages in cash or gold ingots and boycott large supermarkets.

A wild rant about the banker's bonuses or the perks of those in government would fall on closed ears - everyone is too tired or frozen to care so the greedy ones get off with it. The majority of people are not complacent, they just don't know where to begin, I feel.

This state of affairs is alarming and potentially dangerous for some of the more vulnerable members of society. How do they tighten the belt when it is already at the last notch?

We, as farmers, try to cater for demand, albeit on a tiny scale but the fruits of our labours lie unsold in the big sheds as it is cheaper to import than it is to buy homegrown produce.

I fear that our society will end up going back to Victorian times and already the hints of regression are beginning to appear...

Saturday, 1 January 2011

Looking forward.

Happy New Year!

Everything is so still and quiet this morning and I cannot help but hear Bono singing "All is quiet on New Years Day", thus shattering the calm in my head.

The farmyard is a sheet of ice and walking about is tricky. Walking about with armfuls of hay or a bucket of water whilst cats and duck mill beneath your feet....lethal but massive comedy points as long as it is not yourself that takes 'the overly long step'.
The farm track is almost impossible to drive down as the deep ruts are set with ice then smooth, fresh ice set after the thaw and rapid refreeze.
The Land Rover made its own way down the track yesterday and I was merely a passenger - a terrified one at that. It skidded and threatened to take out the fence and everything. The main road, woefully forgotten by the gritter, was not much better.
Eldest son and I had to go into town to replenish the Champion tup mix, cat food and carrots. I needed a decent pencil sharpener and lemonade (in case we had a First Foot). Town was mental and everyone appeared miserable and lots of people coughed right in our faces. Oh honestly.

The farm looks beautiful today, despite the lethal ice. The air is fresh and the sky is clear.

We are not keepers of resolutions on the whole but it would be nice to lose a bit of weight or find more time for leisurely pursuits. Put an end to puffing on cigarettes. A decent night of sleep sneaks into the list as well. That would be fine.

Our work and life are defined by the weather and the seasons. Our clocks are synchronized with the wombs and stomachs of the livestock, tied in to the heartbeat of the earth. She lies still under Her blanket of snow and ice, resting until She awakens slowly in Spring. She enjoyed a long lie last year and was late getting up.
We have to look for signs which indicate the Awakening and we must dance the same rhythm; hopefully a gentle waltz as opposed to an energetic Strip the Willow.

We are Dancers on Ice today, the gracelessness of a hippo in wellies. Actually, thank goodness for the padding courtesy of a mince pie too many and the surreptitious puff of a cigarette after bum and ice make contact.

We will start by taking things slowly.