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.