Saturday, 29 December 2012

A nip and a grouse.

I hope you have all enjoyed the festive period.

We are getting ready for the next few days which sort of morph into one; that strange period of New Year when you never know which day it is and visitors that you have not seen since last New Year appear.
I'm eager for life to revert to normality, sans tinsel and Christmas cake. The farm work continues regardless of holidays and the children are missing their friends. (This is not my favourite time of year!)

The weather is still pretty stormy, we have even had a smattering of snow which soon melted and made the burn swell up again. The cattle are dry and sheltered inside and the strange thing I noticed was that they seemed much smaller. The Farmer told me that the cattle's size was 'One of those things' and had something to do with the Belgian Blue genes.
They are stocky and healthy, just small, Lilliputian cattle who are not in the least bit intimidating, docile and a joy to work with. I'm studying some of my father's livestock books to try and find out the cause of dwarfism in some types of cattle.

On the Eve of Christmas, we received a letter from the man who is assisting us with the Battle of the Roof; the estate want us to provide a letter from the bank which proves we have £50,000 in order to do up the inside of the farmhouse once repairs are carried out on the roof.
This is £50,000 that the estate have estimated we would have to spend on their house. This in addition to a rent rise notice so you spend your money to do up their house and pay extra for the privilege. I will need a new cap as my old one is worn out with doffing.

Given that we have spent the last few years buying then storing all the articles necessary and the fact we would be doing all the work ourselves, £50,000 seems rather excessive unless you are installing a solid gold bath with real swans holding the soap, mink baffies and diamond toothbrushes.

How would the laird feel if I asked him to prove that he had fifty grand in his account?

What is sauce for the goose and all that.

2013 soon....how about Scotland wakening up and properly losing feudalism?

Slainte mhath.

Saturday, 22 December 2012

Roaring rivers.

I wish it was possible to let you hear the noise outside. It has rained incessantly, turning the small stream in the picture into a wide torrent.
The river at the back of the house is so loud that I thought there was a lorry in the yard. This house lies between  the two bodies of water which join then fall into a waterfall.
We are high enough not to become flooded although the tiny burn to our left has burst it's banks and is now in the garden.

I think we are just about organised enough for the forthcoming festivities but if anything has been forgotten then too bad. We are not going anywhere until the roads are no longer little rivers in their own right.

This is the wildest that I have seen the river in nine years and while I know it will recede, I'm a little bit scared tonight.

Keep warm, dry and safe. x

Wednesday, 12 December 2012

One of those days plus an invite.

You know the sort of days - you begin early with good intentions then as the day unravels, it all goes wrong, hideously so.

I think the zenith (or possibly the nadir) happened when our young son stood at the top of the stairs and his father threw socks up to him, the idea was that son would pair his socks and put them away in the drawer.
Son duly wanted to throw something back so picked up a phone charger.....phone charger made contact with The Farmer's head. Blood and staggering. Shock.

I went into Nurse Ratchett mode and cleaned up the worst of the mess. Our son sobbed and sat wide eyed until he became placated with a small bag of Moon Sand; this gave me time to carefully butterfly stitch the mashed skull.
Mid stitch, I heard voices shouting "Cooee", a couple were in the hall with an invite to the localish school Nativity play.

Why do people just walk in to our house? I think it is a farmhouse thing but I would never walk into somebody's house or hall.
Anyway, they were met with a blood soaked, wild eyed, scissor wielding fright. It was a Bad Hair Day to boot. The man took a step back and his wife did a nifty sidestep which took her outside.

I felt so rude. "Thank you very much for the invite and I would ask you in but I'm stitching my husband's head although you are welcome to come in".
They didn't want to come in, made excuses and practically ran back to their car. I went back to the slightly concussed Farmer and Moon Sand clarted small son.

The coal run was cancelled, we were not going anywhere until hot sweet tea and painkillers were dished out,  The Farmer bundled into a chair and told to rest then told to rest some more as he does not feel comfortable just doing nothing.

Thank you, Eldest Son for turning up and saving the day. Big brother took his small brother to after school club so The Farmer and I had a bit of peace for a couple of hours.
I hoovered up the Moon Sand, mopped up copious amounts of blood, made more hot sweet tea then just enjoyed the peace.

"I look like I've been dehorned, if I had been a unicorn" said the Farmer.
"That would have been easier, I mean, it is heaving with unicorns round here".

"And we found the phone charger !"




Friday, 7 December 2012

It's beginning to look a lot like harassment....

I wanted to sing that 'It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas' with the snow lying deeply around the farm, instead, we are back to day three without water.

The supply has not frozen but rather it has been turned off. Three days of manually supplying the livestock with snow and water hauled up from the burn.

The estate, of course, have not replied to my emails yet they did recently send a reminder of the outstanding water charge for the farm cottage. The one where we fitted a filtration system from our own pocket so the tenants there would not become sick then die like my father did.

We had to report ourselves to Animal Health as we were unable to supply our livestock with fresh water or at least not enough to cover twenty five cattle in the shed.
When this happened before, The Farmer did his best to supply the livestock plus ourselves with water and as the power was off, we had no way of filtrating the emergency supply which we needed for thirty nine days. Yes, of course we became sick and yes, The Farmer had a heart attack from the sheer physical exertion in sub zero temperatures.

We have provided bottled and jerry cans of water to my son who is living at the farm (someone must stay there when the cattle are inside) but I have only just discovered that our nearest neighbour, a blind pensioner, shares our supply and has been gathering snow for three days.

This is 2012, isn't it?

I do not give one whit about legislation, civil matters, legal matters. They are overly complicated, mostly nonsensical and have been created by pen pushers who go home to a clean, running water supply.
I would ask these faceless bureaucrats,where is the humanity? You do not have to sodding well lug buckets of water up steep hills all day or shovel loads of snow (which melts into a tiny amount of water).

Quote from the Code of Recommendation for the Welfare of Livestock Scotland paragraph 54

54 There should be enough water available for at least 10% of housed cattle to drink at any one time. Water troughs - especially those in loose housing or cubicle units - should be designed and placed where: they are protected from fouling; and there is a low risk of the water freezing in cold weather. where there is sufficient space and easy access for all stock and dead-ends are avoided. You should keep water troughs or bowls thoroughly clean and check them at least once a day to make sure they are not blocked or damaged, and the water is flowing freely. Checking for blockages is equally important where drinking nipples are used. Provision must be made for providing emergency supplies of water.

"Provision must be made for providing emergency supplies of water".

Shame such a legislation does not exist for humans.

Update: I contacted our MP and goodness knows what was said and to whom but within half an hour of phoning him, we had a visit from the estate, a telephone apology plus the promise of several large tanks full of water for the *livestock* (nb none for humans) plus a pump to fill the troughs.
Most of the glen have now had the water supply halted as from this evening and nobody seems to know why this has happened or how long it will be off.
The estate has assured me that the elderly and partially- sighted gentleman neighbour will be given proper drinking water.

Many thanks to Gordon Banks MP, Christine Sinclair and Haldis Scott plus all the support here and on Twitter.

Friday, 30 November 2012

Two steps forward, five back.

Sorry I have not blogged for ages.

There has been (and still exists) a real problem with our phone and broadband connection. I am writing this in a rush in the hope that the connection remains at least until I have posted. My gmail account and blogger was actually disabled this morning and I have no idea why as anyone reading my personal emails would probably die of boredom. My mail is as smutty and subversive as the People's Friend.

We are almost into December and I think the last few months have evaporated.

We managed to finish the harvest and bailing only two weeks ago. Worst Year Ever. Yields are down approx 75% for barley, oats never did grow.

The frost has hit, snow has been on the hills at the back for a month now so the cattle are in for the winter, fed on the decent silage and surprisingly good hay.
The Farmer is back to mixing his alchemist's brew which gets added to the cattle feed and which helps the cattle 'do well'. I am tempted to try it myself but knowing my luck, would end up having a shiny coat and glorious hoofs.

Home educating is going very well. Our young son is confident with writing and we have progressed to simple reading. His questions sometimes floor me a bit - "Are magnets affected by the north and south magnetic poles?" "Why do mountains become smaller?" "Why does the carpet burn my knees when I shuffle quickly?" (Answer - because it is industrial nylon to hide a multitude of agricultural oomsk brought inside and it will burn the toughest of feet and baffies. It is beyond friction and static as it is a Serious Badass carpet which will last forever.)

We are busy with repairs, tidying up, shifting mud and all that encompasses. You can close your eyes, walk in any direction and open your eyes to find a task needing done if you have not fallen in to a ditch first.

I feel much empathy for all the farmers and crofters who have had a rotten year. The battle with incessant rain and very little sunshine has been difficult yet again. Very few apples, three tomatoes, no plums and even the roses failed.

Work has begun on the permaplanted area and once my camera gets fixed, I will post up the progress.

The wretched broadband connection just had a blip there so I'll try and post this now before it goes off. The BT people in Mumbai have a problem understanding my Highland accent (which gets broader the more vexed I become so even I have a job understanding myself.)

Here is hoping for a mild winter....

Friday, 5 October 2012

The soloist and the choir.

I am delighted to see the emergence of landaction who are asking if they may lend a democratic voice to the people of Bute and Applecross. These vast estates are rather confusingly owned/ run by either trusts or companies. Sorry about the confusion but hereby lies the crux of the problem.

Who actually owns these large estates? Such obfuscation as to who has a say in matters which affect so many tenants yet unlike other important decision making meetings, minutes and members of boards are never mentioned. Those affected, namely the tenants, are never included in any aspect of these meetings.
Who owns us? Is it a trust, a grandchild or someone else? It is rather disconcerting to be in the dark as to who our owner is. Owner!

Say, for example, a board member of an estate had outside interests which were in direct conflict with the decisions made at a closed estate meeting yet there was no way of knowing their input and the decisions, possibly through ignorance, broke the law.

I am stating this hypothetically as, of course, this would never happen! Perish the thought! That said, there is no way of knowing.

Why the secrecy? Why are tenants excluded from either having a say on the way their very lives and livelihoods are directed or how they may add a valued input?
An area can be bought and sold without people knowing which could affect the tenant's right to buy.

Could fear have anything to do with it, fear and control?

Certainly, on several estates in this area, there exists a mindset whereby you do not vex the laird. Heaven forbid! I have seen with my own eyes, the fear of speaking out. The fear of eviction, loss of livelihood, homelessness. For airing a valid grievance!
In private, conversations are bitter, grievances often fiery, injustice recognised and voiced, yet the public voice is hushed.

Why this oppression? Surely in the 21st century, speech is free and uncensored?

Why would a tenant farmer be silenced by Media House of all places?

If that tenant had simply asked for a roof, clean water and recognition of an illegally resumed area of land, why the heavy handedness?

Why use fear and bullying tactics?

I recognise fear and bullying and have learned through experience not to feel fear. There are far more positive and productive methods of  achieving an aim using non oppressive techniques.

An open voice is one method. A collective open and supportive voice is better. The soloist may sing sweetly yet the power of the choir reaches the soul.

There is nothing to hide, is there? We all ask for transparency and what is best for a community to thrive, schools to repopulate, businesses to grow, employment to be solid and prosperous. A community input brings the produce to the table.

Let's look at these hidden minutes of past meetings and see where it all went wrong? There are many in the community who could offer so much to the benefit yet as it stands, a nameless handful call the shots.

Let's try singing from the same hymnsheet.

Saturday, 22 September 2012

testing

  • Am testing      the new layout of blogger and all the things on the top line

i don't think I like the new layout lurid colours might come in handy. michty.

The tattie bogle

This morning saw the ground crisp with frost and the air carries a faint scent of snow.


It is a typical 'tattie' morning.


The tattie man has been round to spray off the potato shaws hoping that the energy will now go into the potato and make it grow, ready for harvesting in a few weeks time.


The potato is such an integral part of my upbringing; we ate them, gathered them, roasted them on a fire on bonfire night, used them as small pocket heaters on cold days and they were used as an object of fear to coax reluctant children to go off to their beds and sleep. More of this later.


In the early 1960s, I had just started primary school and we lived on a cotter house on a farm in Angus. Mum was at home with my younger sibling but got roped in to the tattie picking on the farm.
There were two ways of doing this, one was to physically pick up potatoes which were unearthed by the tractor and the other method was to sit on a large machine which fed the potatoes over a big belt then stones and rotten tatties were removed by hand. the latter was a bit 'fancy' and only a select few (or good workers) were promoted to the machine.


I remember my mum, hair tied back with a scarf, oldest clothes carrying a pail to take a boiling home, my sibling in a pushchair with the other young bairns.
We lived off stovies and thick potato soups then and you could smell what was for tea as you walked down the farm track.


Jumping forward to the 70's, the Tattie Holidays were a long break in October where almost all the children had to go tattie picking to earn money for winter boots and coats.
You started early, the bogie would come at 6.30 am so you had to be ready with your 'piecey', usually a sandwich and a wee tartan flask of kia-ora or the like. We all waited for the farmer, pretending to smoke as the chill morning froze breath. It was frowned upon to be too grandly dressed and we all wore hideous nylon anoraks with wafer thin lining and diamond stitching.
Our bloody cat had attacked mine with her back feet so I had lumps of white nylon fluff hanging out of the pocket.


The farmer would chuck us all into a bogie with an occasional square bale of straw for comfort then we would be ferried to the field.


http://www.tractor-photos.com/picture/number158.asp


Your dreel would be marked out with sticks and you picked within your dreel as fast as you could, throwing the potatoes into an oval plastic basket. Fully grown men would collect the baskets and tip the contents into a trailer.


If the farmer speeded things up, there were howls of 'being hashed' and the odd ripe tattie would be thrown with deadly accuracy at the cab.


Piecey time was great and we would sit with our friends whilst munching our sandwiches and throwing a silent thanks that the thermos flask had survived the journey.


The second day at the tatties was murder as you had seized up by then and come the morning, every muscle ached but the pain went after a while once you started picking again.


The money was quite good, the crack even better and once the picking was finished, people seemed to evaporate into their homes for the winter only to reappear in Spring.


The tatties here are all mechanised now. Massive machines do the work of the squads of old, the plastic tattie baskets are now used by myself for the washing or to hurl the wee one round the garden in a makeshift sledge.


This year, the tatties are much smaller, the yields are down and the ground is wet. Blight has been a problem for some and the tatties themselves need watching while they cook or they turn to soup.


The Farmer and I had been working at something but needed to go into town for a part. We dress for practicality and warmth and if you are in a rush to go into town, we are often halfway there when the howl goes up..."We look like we are dressed for the tatties!"


"Well, you look like the tattie bogle but I'm fine" quoth the Farmer.


"Oh, I wondered when the tattie bogle would make an appearance" I replied, miffed.


The tattie bogle was one of those mythical creatures created by generations of Scots who thought it was wise to 'fleg' or scare children into going off to their beds or staying out of sheds. If children had been told the truth eg "Don't go into the shed as that is where the paraffin and creosote are kept and you might blow the place up" but no.

"There's a tattie bogle in the shed/ under your bed" was designed to both keep the child out of forbidden sheds and make sure their feet were not on the ground as the tattie bogle would get them.


No wonder we are a nation that would fight it's own shadow! All these tattie bogles lurking in sheds/ under beds and other dark places!


Bogles aside, I'm making a big pan of stovies for tea. Siverside and thick slices of onion for the meat eaters, vegetable ones for me. Cooked slowly all day in a low oven so the smell hits you as you come in the door and your teeth start to slaver then you get big shiney eyes.


Just like the tattie bogle.

Thursday, 13 September 2012

The nights are fair drawing in...

The year is passing so quickly and it would appear that Spring, Summer, Autumn and Winter all merged into one amorphous season.

It has been an utterly disappointing year, yields down, little produce in the garden, fields to wet to go and gather the harvest...I will leave it at that as it makes for such a demoralising read. So many farms have been affected and there is nothing that anyone can do about it. You just have to take it on the chin, tighten belts and hope for the change in the weather which never seems to come.

The wild rasps were picked before the birds took them all, the apples are in the process of being bottled or frozen, the potatoes are tiny this year, no plums at all and one solitary tomato which remains resolutely green despite my futile attempts to ripen it up with a banana nearby.

The little one and I have settled into a good routine for home education and I feel so pleased that he is learning how to read and write, bake and count, paint and garden, sing and play with happiness and confidence. We visited the school that we hoped he would attend but it really is too far to travel to, there and back, twice a day especially in winter.
He attends an 'after school' club and meets his friends.

I am not quite so hands on at the farm now and miss some of the work but it does seem the time of year for stocking up for the long months of winter, trying (and failing) to draughtproof this draughty barn of a house and mentally preparing for whatever Winter throws at us.
There is still plenty of work to be done but the bulk of our son's education has been my responsibility. That said, it is a joy to get out and throw myself into something where you can switch your mind off yet achieve a repair or maintenance and feel happily tired at the finish of the day.

One setback was when the farm water was turned off; no warning or explanation, five days with no water...coincidentally, it came back on today after I asked the nearby school what was going on.
Luckily we coped with ensuring the animals had water but these 'well educated' folk never seem to think about that.
It would have been mannerly to have written or phoned and even more mannerly not to be so rude and obtuse to people when they enquire.
Speaking of rude and obtuse, I spare a thought too for the poor landowner's agent who is worked so hard, he not only forgot to tell us the water was going off for five days but every time we phone, he is in a meeting. For seven years, always in a meeting. It must be great being Mr. Popular. Imagine!

Our hopes of clean water have been dashed. We hoped to have a water filter system in before the winter but have had an awful job getting plumbers to actually turn up to do the quote. We need two quotes for the council grant but they just will not come. One lady (a plumber's wife) who I spoke to told me that it was a waste of time, no plumber would turn up as it was petrol, time etc which could be used working rather than gathering quotes.
I'm terribly scunnered by this attitude but it seems to be the way in this part of Perthshire.

The plumbers have no idea what they are missing here as I would have offered them endless supplies of e coli tea or cryptosporidium squash. The offer is there, Perthshire plumbers...You filter the water and I will keep you fed and watered.

Our son is asleep now, lulled into an earlier bedtime routine by the turn of the Earth, itself. He sees it is darker earlier and falls asleep sooner. It is good to use the extra hours (ironically!) to catch up on my blog or cocoon under a woolly blanket and read.

These are the early days of the long winter months.

I think I will study "How to become a Brain Surgeon in six months" this winter.

Then I can offer homers to plumbers and land agents, of an evening.


Thursday, 23 August 2012

Taking stock

Following on from the outdoor classrooms and learning from the seasons, I wanted to reflect on where I stand today.

Like many others, I wonder where time has gone and how best have I used the time.

Our daughter has recently turned 16 and has turned into a beautiful, confident and happy woman. Perhaps it was reflection on how fast children grow up but I thought of our lives when she was young and how they are now.

I ran a small croft plus a fairly decent gardening service when Rosie was tiny. We kept a lot of various poultry, hens, turkeys, geese plus a small herd of milking goats. The field which came with the house was divided between the poultry and crops. Rosie was always with me and helped collect eggs, helped to drive the goats to fresh pasture and learned never to go near the turkeys without putting up an umbrella. (It makes you look bigger than them and they won't chase you)

When we both moved up the glen, Rosie was at school and I continued gardening for people plus had enrolled to study medicine in Edinburgh. I had to get up extra early to feed a reduced stock, get Rosie's school uniform and breakfast ready for the childminder then travel the long road to Edinburgh each day.
While I loved University and would have plodded on with this arrangement, my father became unwell so studies had to be put to one side while I cared for him.

It was during this time that I met The Farmer; I had been able to offer part time shepherding to neighbours and we met when we were both helping a neighbour round up some cattle.
I asked him if he could use an extra pair of hands on his farm and he was happy to accept my help.

When I look at where I stood then, my tractor work was a bit rusty. We were taught how to operate and maintain tractors and machinery when I trained in horticulture, twenty five years ago. We were taught how to weld (and I wonder how many trainee doctors were accepted for university with a certificate in advanced tractor driving plus level 6 welding in addition to their Higher certificates!)

Under The Farmer's patient instruction, I quickly learned how to operate the various machines around the farm and found a confidence once it was realised that I no longer needed his help, that I could manage it on my own.

My eldest son was the main carer for my Dad but his escape from the difficult job of caring for a loved one with dementia, was to help out on the farm. He learned quickly and learned to love the peace which comes from long solitary work.

Dad was a meat inspector/ livestock officer and had taught me a lot about animals. I began going round farms with Dad during the 1960's and he would point out what to look for in good stock whether it was cattle, sheep or pigs. I became familiar with auctions, the complexities of a Caithness auctioneer in full flow, plus the abattoir. Dad was also an accomplished butcher and taught me about the carcass of an animal and how to cut it correctly for freezing or cooking.

Once The Farmer and I married then settled into raising our family and running the farm, we found a rhythm and got on with the work. All the skills that I had learned in my life were utilised to the max, even the hated book keeping.
Dad's lifelong teaching on stock became invaluable and he loved nothing better than to keep a watchful eye from his window or walk up to the farm to 'check the beasts'. "Fine beasts, those" he would say and that was praise indeed.

I walked into that farm a novice and now, ten years later, can honestly say that I am familiar and comfortable with the running of a farm. At first, it seemed like a baffling array of work but now I have learned that it runs with the seasons. You get into a routine (although every day is different) and very quickly one year morphs into another. "The same but different" springs to mind.

The Farmer has taught me how to shoulder the blows, how to accept failures, how to look for realistic alternatives as well as hands on farming. He has illustrated the complexities of our profession yet has prepared me well to cope with them.

I asked him this morning if my son and I were farmers. He thought about it for a while and then said "Yes". In his opinion we were. He felt everyone was still learning, including himself but this was a lifelong learning which everyone experiences.
He felt we had coped when he had been unwell and had kept the momentum going. We had stepped into his wellies and not missed a step.

I feel a huge sense of achievement today. Some days, it is important to stand and take stock, see what you have achieved.

Agriculture/ stock husbandry ought to be taught as part of the National Curriculum with outdoor classrooms available on farms.

Looking the future, when our Land is freed up from feudal shackles, the demand for land workers will soar. It would be sensible to teach this subject from a young age and even create an O'level/ Higher in the subject. Imagine the input from fresh new minds if the subject was really studied in depth on a national level. Imagine the progress and improvement for human and land.

So here I am, using my past as experience, standing in the now, looking to the future. Through a farmer's eyes.






Sunday, 19 August 2012

School's out.

I have been very interested in the issues raised during the 'Scottish Six' debates by Lesley Riddoch and Andy Wightman last week at the Edinburgh Fringe.

Sadly, due to tatty rogueing, I could not attend however I feel passionate about one particular aspect of the discussions, namely huts, community allotments and the benefits for children.

We are extremely fortunate to have a nature kindergarten in Perthshire. The children are taught outdoors in rain, hail or shine. They wear Arctic snowsuits in winter or waterproofs and wellies for rainy days.
The nursery is found in a forty acre wood, rented from the local landowner. There are huts for the children to play or cook in, my favourite being the cooking hut, an open sided, circular, wooden structure with a fire pit in the centre, benches around the sides.

The children are taught how to make and respect fire. They are given proper (child sized) saws in order to cut wood, they are taught safety, environmental awareness, seasonal awareness, animal husbandry, maths in nature, cookery plus lots of play and tree climbing.They grow and maintain their own food - potatoes, salad foods, apples plus which plants help other plants and which ones are dangerous.

The children are happy, healthy children who have a wonderful confidence and a strong sense of community. They look after each other.




Once they have 'graduated' nursery aged five, they move on to local primary schools and the feedback tends to be that they are excellent at fine motor skills eg writing, the concentration is excellent and they show a maturity understanding environmental issues.

Our son should be in Primary 1 but as I mentioned in a previous blog, transport and boundaries were a bit of a problem for us so we are continuing his education outdoors and he is responding well.
Social contact with other children/ his friends is a vital part of his life, especially one who lives quite remotely so it is our responsibility to maintain a good social diary for him.

Parents know their children best. They recognise the individual personalities, requirements, strengths, ability. Mainstream education, in my opinion, tends toward a herd provision especially a herd kept indoors. Forgive the crude analogy; Asda may sell hundreds of pairs of size five shoes but are they any good for your feet?
I wish local authorities would be open to a wider vision on education; teach children outside, let them learn and grow their own food, be aware of the seasons and local food, open areas of rivers to be fished, teach them how to grow trees, make and respect fire, get fresh air and exercise and discover a wealth of interests away from electronic gadgetry and sedentary lifestyles.
The four 'R's' are not forgotten, far from it, they can be discovered in a different form.

There are millions of acres of land and forest in Scotland, most of it privately owned and heavily subsidised.

The answer seems obvious. Free up the land, teach the children how to work and manage it and my guess would be that children would respond extremely well.
Encourage parents to connect with their children by providing huts for shelter and social interaction just like they have in Scandinavian countries. Nothing fancy, just a decent wind and watertight, warm shelter. A bothy or the like.

Sorry, I still cannot do a decent link but here is a superb article on huts http://www.guardian.co.uk/lifeandstyle/2012/aug/17/cabin-fever-tiny-homes

We have the wealth of potential right on our doorsteps. The resources available for education and health. Retired land workers who have years of knowledge to pass on could teach agriculture, forestry, horticulture, fishing.

Heaven knows we need to free the land from the minority who 'own' it and create an equality for all the people of Scotland (and beyond).

Look beyond the inner classroom, past the restrictions of land ownership, past the X Box and computer, obesity and narrow thinking. Unite rural and urban.

We owe at least this to our children and their children.


Thursday, 16 August 2012

A,B,C,Democracy

The Scottish schools have reopened for the autumn/winter term and many five year olds will be settling in to an entire new routine.

Our son should have been one of them but given our geography, there is an issue with transport and we were never entirely sure which school he should have attended in the first place, boundaries and the like.

So, he is being educated at home.

He is very keen to learn and although this is only day two, he has been learning and writing the letters of the alphabet. Counting was cunningly disguised as a cookery lesson and he had to weigh out ingredients, crack eggs, cut out the scone mix then lurked until they were ready for eating.

We made jam yesterday.




He is a delight to teach.

The television is switched off, no radio reception here so the house was in relative silence. When we stopped for lunch, I wanted to check the news and was horrified to read that the Westminster Government had warned the Ecuador Embassy that it would walk in and arrest Assange.

Putting aside any personal opinion on Assange - the violation of our right to democracy and right to seek asylum in the safety of an Embassy, plus the right to peaceful demonstration appear to have been trampled over.
If this is sabre rattling by the Westminster government then they are even more foolish than they realise. Two billion pounds spent on the biggest PR coup in recent British history, only to be undone on the instruction of William Hague.

The world is watching.

A million miles away, on our farm in the middle of nowhere, today a child learned how to write 'a', 's' and 'kicking kay'. He learned how to make scones. He learned what democracy meant and what happens when it is threatened.

He understood today's lessons and even better, had questions. "Why are they doing that?" was one of them.

It is one of the questions that many people are asking today and waiting for an answer. The sad truth is that a child, living in the back of beyond has already experienced a perception of so called democracy (or rather, the lack of) in his own country.

Remind me. Who owns us?

I cannot even answer that.

Wednesday, 1 August 2012

Hell's bales

Yesterday, the sun came out properly. The sky was a clear blue with a hint of tiny clouds and the pasture which had been cut a few days before (then rained on) was to be wuffled and maybe even turned into hay.

We started early, The Farmer wuffling all the cut grass, the sun drying it out and a slight warm breeze aiding the drying. The air had that lovely smell of newly mown grass, all was going well.
The dogs were happy, running up and down the field, the children were happy as they were with their big brother and eating food that was normally frowned upon, the ducks were happy. Hell, it was happy farm.


The fields were wuffled a few times and The Farmer thought that all being well, we could begin bailing in the afternoon once the grass was good and dry. I love bailing and was ready with my bottle of water, fags and child ear protectors which Gracie had chewed.

It is one of those highlights of the year, enclosed in the tractor, cares thrown to the side, several hours of (almost) peace and the satisfaction of turning grass into neat bales for winter.

If ever a photograph could emit a feeling of absolute joy, this one would.


The ground was still quite wet but firm enough in places to take the weight of the tractor without giving you that horrible feeling when it gives way a bit as you drive over deceptively solid looking ground but which is really mud with a disguise on.
My mashed left foot was bound by several thick socks and stuffed into a welly.


It was at this point that things started to go a bit pear shaped.
The dogs started to 'round' up the tractor and were taken from the field to the stern and watchful eye of our oldest son.
The bailer refused to spit out the bales so we tried braking suddenly then reversing and braking suddenly but to no avail. The only way to eject them was to leave the back open then gather more grass to force them out then stop the machine, pull the grass out and restart the engine to close the back properly.

It was taking ages to make one bale and the sky had changed to a worrying collection of massive clouds, greying at the edges, bruised and slightly fearsome looking. A bit like the Farmer and I at that point.

Then the thing jammed. Something had gone wrong with the bit which scoops up the grass and feeds it into the bailer. The only solution is to shut everything down and manually pull the grass out bit by bit.


There is nothing more soul destroying than trying to empty a jam-packed bailer. Well, there are plenty of things more soul destroying but at that moment, you know that the next hour is one which is going to sap your strength and cut your hands to ribbons plus it was getting late.

I won't go into the gory details but after half an hour of tugging, hauling, calling the bailer all the terrible things Withnail called Uncle Monty, tears, snot and more tugging, the thing was still jammed solid.
The Farmer eventually joined me and we tugged together to free the compacted grass. A car full of children and collies even turned up and the entire family tugged at mass which eventually freed. A small "YAY" then children and dogs all went back into the car and went away again.

I started the engine, drove all of three feet and a hideous noise came from the bailer.

A bar had snapped and broken.

It had finally died.

I hobbled out of the cab and The Farmer gave me a big cuddle. Everything bloody hurt and it all got A Bit Much.

"I'll phone the Ring" he said.

Visions of hobbits, wizards and elphins turning up to make hay stooks did cross my mind but apparently the Ring is a collective of machinery/ helpers who can step in to help other farmers who need help.

Magically, someone turned up with a working bailer and worked late late to transform the grass into bales. It was too damp for hay so it is now haylage - halfway between hay and sileage. God Bless the person who did the work, I don't know who it was as I set off for home absolutely shattered but had to bathe and settle a very bright eyed five year old who was absolutely NOT wanting to go to bed.
My wonderful neighbour had baked a loaf of bread and made some raspberry jam and had tied the parcel on to the door handle. Her act of thoughtfulness made me cry.

This morning is wet. The bales are done, The Farmer and I have woken with sore bits we never knew existed.
We had bread and jam for breakfast and will gingerly go about our work today in a manner more fitting for a collective age of 107. I feel every year right now.

Plus VAT.

Sunday, 15 July 2012

50 shades of grey and IrnBru

The summer holidays are well under way, the children are pretending not to be bored.

Pretending as one sniff of "I'm bored" finds them with something hoovery or tidy your bedroomy to occupy their boredom. Oddly, they are none too keen on my boredom fillers.

Yesterday, the sun made a rare appearance. The ground here is too wet to go and cut the grass for silage (hay is a distant memory).

We set off for the Aberfeldy sheepdog trials armed with wellies, a picnic (which looked suspiciously like three enormous loaves of bread, no butter and a big bottle of water although I did remember to pack a bread knife.)

The Farmer's face was set on neutral mode. He does not like sheep very much but had never seen a live sheepdog trial before.
"Bet you are thrilled that we are drifting into the realms of living wildly, new territory, sheepdog trials and things"
"I am inwardly happy" he said, face stuck in neutral.

After we went up the wrong farm track, shot past the trial ground, ended up in Kenmore where I bought another loaf of bread, we finally arrived at the ground. There was a big turnout, collies everywhere, wellies were the footwear of choice, wily wee blackface sheep were the sheep of choice.

We hit the big tent where strapping young men were hefting sheep around then deftly clipping them, some used hand clippers, the others used the electronic shears.


The lad had hands like shovels and coped admirably with the feisty little sheep who kicked him, slyly. I imagined it must be the most awkward position to work in - bent double, holding a sheep with your knees, hands gripping the big clippers.
Nobody clapped when the lad finished but we inwardly cheered.

Despite an almost cathedral like silence in the main tent, Rosie found it all too noisy. It is one of her issues. I offered her some earplugs but she was horrified. "I'm almost 16" she hissed, which left me a bit bewildered.
She and I left the tent to go and watch the sheepdog trials.

The unexpected heat from the sun warmed up the surrounding forest and pasture and the air had the scent of pine, birch and sheep.
Shepherd after shepherd took their turn at commanding their dogs to round up the small flock of sheep, some used a melodic whistle medley, some used what seemed like telepathy. One young chap stood and roared like a bull. "MON FLY MIN BYE LIE DOON FLY LIE DOON".
He roared so loud, I bet half of Aberfeldy heard him and lay down.


This is where the dog drives the sheep through the gates.


This is where almost every entrant came a cropper as the sheep did hard stares at everyone then ran off.


The shepherd has turned scarlet and is muttering Anglo-Saxon.

Rosie had plugged herself into one of those electronic gadgets that are permanently welded to youngster's ears these days. It had headphones. She had locked herself in an electronic bubble which was unburstable.
I took out my knitting.
A lovely gentleman tapped on the window of the car and said he was reminded of the women who knitted at the guillotine and he hoped I did not drop a stitch as the sheep would run off.
This statement made me ponder my hagdom and I made a mental reminder for emergency dental treatment for my one blackened tooth plus a comb to tame la tricoteuse tresses although I fervently agreed, inwardly, with the entire French 'let's tidy up the aristos' idea.

The Farmer returned with our son. Said son had a multi coloured face, bright orange smile, telltale smears of chocolate cake and was so sticky, he was in danger of attracting flies. He was also overly bright of eye and bouncing.

"What has he been eating?"
Rosie removed her earphones to clipe.
"Dad gave him IrnBru and chocolate muffins". She was terribly pleased to be a food informant as she knew there would be a spectacular reaction which was going to be more interesting than the sheepdog trials.
"IrnBru? IRNBRU? He is forbidden IrnBru until he is 21 and has a hangover and we will be 70 then and going for naps. AND he won't sleep tonight."

The last few entrants worked their dogs and the catherdral silence became even quieter. It got tense.

We tried, truly we tried to tame the sugar loaded hyper 5 year old.

Just as the competition reached a vital stage and everyone held their breath, our son's huff boiled over to a nuclear fusion rage, he found The God Particle and shook the Higgs Hadron collider with an ear shattering "NO".




The sheep scattered, the dog bolted, people turned and looked. Tutting was heard.



The Farmer and I turned 50 shades of grey then puce. We had to leave.

As quietly as we could with a Land Rover with dodgy exhaust and nuclear reactor five year old in meltdown, we left the sheepdog trials.

We aged visibly as we tried to get the little one to sleep, camomile tea, soothing bath, gentle stories to no avail.
Finally, I told him a step by step guide of everything we had seen during the sheepdog trials and this seemed to do the trick. Even the Farmer looked glassy eyed as I regaled tales of penning and 'come by".

PieDog and I have signed up for lessons and we are both excited about it.

Not off our face on IrnBru, sugar rush excited, just inwardly so.

I will practice a neutral face and 'come by' whistling.

Inwardly.

Thursday, 12 July 2012

Aillidh

Aillidh Christine Kinnaird

2003-2012


Oh, I have slipped the surly bonds of earth
And danced the skies on laughter-silvered wings.
Sunward I've climbed and joined the tumbling mirth
Of sun split clouds - and done a hundred things
You have not dreamed of; wheeled and soared and swung
High in the sunlit silence. Hovering there
I've chased the shouting wind along, and flung
My eager craft through footless halls of air;
Up, up the long delirious burning blue
I've topped the windswept heights with easy grace,
Where never lark nor even eagle flew;
And while, with silent lifting mind I've trod
The high, untrespassed sanctity of space
Put out my hand and touched the face of God.

http://www.anthonynolan.org

Wednesday, 20 June 2012

Birthday blog

Double birthday celebrations here today - our son is five and I am fifty two. Some days I feel as if the 52 is reversed, other days, doubled with VAT added.

We held a party on Saturday and twenty small, excited children attended. There were balloons and bouncing, ball pits, castles and cake.
I loved how the children shared with one another; one little boy went round ensuring that 'they all ate up their sausage rolls' and another child handed me a fairy cake 'as I did not have one'.

Today will be spent outside in the (woefully neglected) garden. The strange weather made the grass grow so much, it would make good hay.
We have several of Rosie's trees to plant and now that the moon is favourable, we will choose their place to grow.

We have been looking at the areas of illegal resumption (which we still pay full rent for) and will take down the discarded fences then assess what to do with the land.

Here is a photo of two acres which has been illegally resumed. It is known as a game 'strip'.



It did not have a 'crop' last year so was left to waste.

What a waste.

I reckon this 'strip' or let's not beat about the bush (no sardonic pun intended), field. Let's call it a field because that is what it is.
This two acre field could provide quite a few homes with fresh food.

What an excellent birthday present to be able to share what we have with others, perhaps from town or on low incomes who would benefit from working in fresh air and growing their own produce.
No expensive import taxes on out of season food which may have flown half way around the world and it is good ground. Our best ground, in fact.

Two acres to share or two acres for one man to neglect and perhaps hold a shoot for a small party of wealthy guns one or two days of the year.
We both pay rent for these two acres, shooter and farmer although the estate appears to have forgotten that our family still live and work here.

What better legacy for the field, the community and local economy than a permaculture area where people are welcome to grow their own food? The ground has been well manured by a gazillion pheasants so nitrogen rich and excellent for proper edible crops suitable for for humans.

We are up for it if anyone is interested.

I would love to see a difference on my 53rd birthday. A lot can change in a year.

For the better.

Friday, 15 June 2012

June

When did June sneak past so quickly? Two minutes ago it was February and now we are almost at Midsummer.

We have had a couple of difficulties namely that the oat crop never grew, it failed to germinate completely so we are left with the dilemma whether to attempt a second seeding of kale or try something else.
It is late for sowing something else and there is such a short growing season here, time is against us.

The Farmer is his usual philosophical self; "These things happen", he said, quietly. No mention of the hours spent ploughing, preparing the land, seeding and waiting. It is just one of those things that occur and he thinks that the extreme dry spell may have affected the germination or there was something up with the seed.
Who knows?

I have every faith that he will chalk this down to experience, a few more furrows on his well ploughed brow, add a bit more salt than pepper in his hair colour then set to the field and try to sort things out.

Still no word either about a roof for the farmhouse. Man, are the estate slow in making a decision given that the first request went in in 1976 by the previous Farmer, my husband's father.

Crops have grown or failed, we have produced a new generation in the form of our children, hell, even the Planet has warmed up and sea levels risen in the time it is taking for the estate to make a decision.
I think they should just go wild and stick the roof on, as a gesture that they give a fig about the farm which the family have worked for 125years.

We can cope with crop failure, somehow.

Coping with abject failure of an uncaring estate is a little harder....

Friday, 18 May 2012

Wha's like us?

Recently, I had the opportunity to speak with some other tenant farmers as I am interested in hearing their opinions.

There is a growing dissent and concern amongst this forgotten sector of agriculture, the feeling that they have been thrown on the heap and ignored. They feel demoralised by two recent land court cases which went against the tenants plus they felt betrayed when the Absolute Right to Buy was shelved.

The accent tends to lean toward the new entrants these days and admirably so but many existing tenants feel that their problems are addressed in a dismissive manner or a daunting manner.
Daunting in the prospect of having to go to the land court to resolve issues.

The cost of going to court is enormous and it is well known that some wealthy landowners try to prolong cases in order to bring the cost up; I will not beat about the bush here, they are looking to bankrupt some of the tenants. "The rottweilers" as they are known.
The wealthy landowners have the means, the Q.C.s, the motive and the will to get the tenant out.
There is the added worry of trying to fight the case, run the farm, cope with all the paperwork that farming generates as well as the everyday problems which arise when you are hands on farming.

There appears to be a common complaint against the agents who seemingly run estates these days. I have yet to hear one decent word about these people as their manner is increasingly inhuman and arrogant. I would say that there is no respect whatsoever for these agents and vice versa is most definitely the case.

Tenant farmers tend to be a fairly tacit group of people and although this may be construed as an awfully broad generalisation, they are not usually known for protests, strikes or loud protestations. Probably because they are out working all hours of the day and night. They are in remote areas, possibly without broadband connection or mobile phone range.

Now here is the crunch. Why are most of them afraid of talking out, even if they did have access to internet, etc?
Why are they feeling threatened yet find themselves in a position where the law is prohibitively expensive? Where is the fairness in that?
Why are they afraid and who are they afraid of?

The answer is simple. They are afraid of losing their farms and afraid of the bullying tactics of landlord's agents.

The sleekit wee nyaff who is supposed to liase with us has had some pretty warped ideas in the short time he has been with the estate. How strange to blame our family for leaving gates open so our cattle escape. Who did he think was going to have to find them, round the cattle up, check that they were all there and that none were injured?
Who was going to get the vet out if they were injured and who was going to pay the vet?

Why would tyremarks from several 4x4s appear in our grazing field at the same time as we attended a farm roup along the road?


The refusal to give notice when shoots take place right beside the house.

Other tenant farmers have had barn roofs removed and no new barn provided. One neighbour had to rent a barn miles away, at a greatly inflated rent. Another ex tenant narrowly missed being shot when a 'careless' shot or two was fired as she hung out her washing...
Some tenants have already lost their farms.

Sometimes the police refuse to come out if an incident occurs on a farm. We were told that it was an 'estate matter' when an illegal shoot took place beside our house.
Tenants feel increasingly isolated and therefore become vulnerable.


There are so many other examples of astonishing bullying taking place and you would not be wrong in thinking that you were in Zimbabwe instead of Scotland in 2012.
An entire culture is under threat, a unique culture like the crofters. What some of us are experiencing is akin to a form of ethnic cleansing, we are seen as being inferiors or 'owned' by faceless large landowners.
Our family (under our farm name) are owned by the landowner's trustees and a grandchild, if my memory serves correctly.

Tenant farmers are indebted to people like Andy Wightman who is not afraid to speak out for them and has written a book "The Poor Had No Lawyers" which accurately illustrates the history and the present for Scottish tenant farmers.
There are so few books about us, so little in the media about us (I wonder why that is!) so those who speak out for a tacit culture are thought of very highly indeed.
Here is a man speaking up for those who are too afraid to speak.

Some still have no lawyers.

Some are still bound by agreements made 125 years ago without personal legal representation in 1890.

Yet this stubborn denial by the Scottish government that feudalism still exists?

The catch 22 is that it is cost prohibitive to exhaust legal issues in the land court then escalate them to the European Court of Human Rights.

Your average tenant farmer, therefore, has to bite their tongue and just keep working for the landowner. In one fell swoop, a culture is oppressed, allowed to slowly die out and the land grabbed back.

Eugenics at it's finest.

Wha's like us?

Damn few - and they're a' deid.

Wednesday, 16 May 2012

Look me straight in the eye and tell me this is not feudal

An area of our land was taken. Three areas actually.

This land was taken from us for 'sporting' purposes. No notice was given in writing, but the then factor visited my husband to inform him that the areas to be resumed were merely in the pipeline and if they were resumed, other land would be given to my husband as a means of compensation or a reduction in rent.

Nothing was signed, the then factor promptly left the estate and it was quite some time before a new factor took the post.

A fence went up one day in our best field. No notice, no knock on the door to say it was happening, nothing.

The land was simply taken.(2003)

An objection was raised (by our family), letters written, new factor informed etc. A lawyer wrote to ask about this 'resumption'. We continued to pay rent for this area. Still do to this day.

This 'game strip' is a full two acres. Not much you may think but it is a lot if you farm a fairly modest size farm, arable acreage of less than 100 acres. It cuts down the percentage of your grain crop, given that this was our best field for growing grain. It made it tight for turning the combine.
The grain was infested by pheasants. One gamekeeper from another estate estimated some 600+ pheasants in our field one day. In the non resumed side.

We continued to ask the estate to clarify re the land taken, we asked for written evidence of an agreement, we asked if they were going to compensate us.

They ignored our letters consistently. If we phoned, they were in 'meetings'.

In November of last year, we managed to resume a small area of resumed land back. It had been fenced off by the estate, a half assed crop planted in it for pheasant cover which was then left to become overgrown by dockens, the seeds of which blew into our other grain crop and contaminated the yield.

Today, we learn that the 2 acre strip resumed without paperwork is actually a much larger area than we realised which has not been resumed but 'fenced off (at considerable expense to the estate!) to stand guns during a shoot'.
I note that sheep are unable to graze in the fenced off area. which we pay full rent for.

Now, this is the bit that gets me.

The estate ignored our letters and phone calls. They were always very slow to reply to others acting in a professional capacity.

Today, we discover that not only do they claim that my husband 'must have thought it of little value' and that they can find 'little evidence of written correspondence' from my husband so therefore

"UNDER THE CIRCUMSTANCES, MR ******* IS PERSONALLY BARRED FROM OBJECTING TO WHAT HAS HAPPENED"

This, from an entitled, arrogant, junior member of the estate.
Our family have farmed this ground for 125 years.

Patronising and disingenuous do not even cover it.

21st Century Scotland, people. Where land grab is the order of the day and freedom of speech is forbidden.
21st Century Scotland where people are still expected to live in hovels, ingest foul water and keep quiet about it.
21st Century Scotland, the playground of the select few on land which is closed to the majority.

Mr ********, the farmer, may be personally barred from objecting about what has happened. Mrs ******* will have no hesitation speaking on her husband's behalf.

Unless someone from the Scottish government is willing to assist me?
I don't care whether they are SNP, Labour, Tory, Green, Independent or a penguin.

We need land reform urgently to stop this feudal high handedness in it's tracks and support for the tenant farmers who are enduring hellish tricks by unscrupulous landowners.

Mr Salmond, STOP ignoring this.

I invite you here, Mr Salmond, to our farm, to see this for yourself.
Just yourself, Mr Salmond, our family and your aides.

Fellow tenant farmers, land reform campaigners are welcome too.

The estate are not invited.

Sunday, 6 May 2012

The effects of 21st century feudalism

I wanted to write about the constraints on our family and families like ours who, despite The Abolition of Feudal Tenure (Scotland) 2000, are still bound by certain rules, terminology and burdens due to our ancient leases.

I have undertaken discussions with many people from all over the world, many who cannot understand how some parts of Scotland are still living under positively medieval rules, feudal 'superiors', etc.
Why do we continue to allow this to happen?

Why, indeed.

Our family are still bound by a lease, written in 1890 and where the new tenant farmer was unrepresented by a lawyer but which bound all the generations to a set of rules. Many of these rules contravene modern human rights, the tenant farmer being used like a pack horse.

Talking of pack horse, here is an extract from our lease. Remember, we are still bound by this lease.

"...it being understood that in the event of the Landlord wishing to use wood grown in his own plantations the foregoing obligation to perform cartage shall include cartage of rough timber from any of his plantations to any sawmill he may consider suitable, besides cartage of such wood to the farm when sawn;

And the tenant binds himself and his successors in this Lease, if and when called on, in the first place, to do yearly free of charge - five- days' carting of peats by one pair of horses and one man from any part of the ******** Estate to ****** *****; and in the second place, to cart yearly, free of charge, eight tons of any substance from Perth Railway Station or any place not farther (sic) by highway from the Farm than the Station to (names landlord's houses) or any place not farther by highway from the Farm than the nearest of those Houses, or instead of such cartage to perform yearly free of charge - five days' work of any kind by -one- man with suitable carts or ploughs, or other implements, at any place not farther by highway from the Farm than the said Station, it being agreed that the Landlord shall fix the places from and to the said tons of substance or any of the same are to be carted, and whether work is to be performed instead of any of such cartage, and, if so, where and what kind;"

Sorry about the lack of paragraphs but the lease is written in one solid lump.

Carting, horses and freebie work aside (and I can assure you that we will all be washing our hair that week), it beggars belief that our family is legally bound by the above in 2012.

This community has slowly been dying for years.

The church was the first to go; a previous landowner built a shiny new church but the deal was that the community change from Free Church to Church of Scotland....

The community dismantled the shiny new church, sold the stone and continued to worship in the manner they were accustomed to.

There are so many empty houses here - they are falling into severe decay, some are dangerous. They have the potential to house several families which in turn would ensure the local primary school had a healthy population: As it is, the school has a stay of execution for five more years....

There is little here. One pub closed, the other, which is leased from the Estate by an excellent chef, is only open on certain days.

There are plans for new houses to be built - 'eco' houses. These expensive houses will be fed by the wonderful water supply we have here which is 'organic' to say the least. Organic as defined by the dictionary...

If our family wish to diversify, we must ask the landowner's permission.
If the permission is granted, we would invest our own money yet have to pay a percentage to the landowner, simply because he is the landowner.

Sadly, the area we had hoped to use as diversification - a wonderful area untouched by machine and rich in flora and fauna, has been let out to the shooting tenant despite the fact that we also pay rent for the same area.

We had hoped to diversify in a low impact way; small scale camping, sharing the beautiful location with people who wanted to see nature as it was intended, peace and quiet...
No point in that when it is littered by shotgun cartridges and the peace shattered by shoots.
Plus, there is the issue of the water and public safety.

So, diversification is made difficult.

Many tenant farmers are horrified at the Scottish government's complete lack of support.

We are very fortunate to have amazing support from people like Andy Wightman, who works tirelessly for Land Reform and change.
Change which has been long overdue, possible for at least three hundred years but forgive me if I'm a few hundred years out.

Lesley Riddoch, journalist and broadcaster, has written about how the Scandinavian system would work here; the Scandinavians who have a common sense and fair system for their farmers, or Scottish communities who have successfully bought out the land from useless landowners and who have transformed their communities into places they are proud of rather than the neglected, run down places the absentee landowners created.

We urgently need to get out of this fugue.

Our buildings are falling down and antiquated; due to the landowner's refusal to invest.
It is far too costly to take the landowners to court to enforce their legal obligations. They just get off with it.
Tenants like us are expected to live in decaying farms, decaying houses. Those of us who have no intention on leaving should be given the chance to own our farms so we can invest in handing something worthwhile over to our children.

When our situation raised awareness in August last year, I was informed by several sources that I had been discredited to the press, that I owned several properties around Scotland (!).
For the record, my Dad bequeathed me a 1/4 share of a 2 bedroomed flat in a backwater Angus village.
I was informed by the solicitors who were dealing with the estate that there was nothing left of my share as their fees took the lot.....

Furthermore, I was insulted by the insinuation that the farm cottage, owned by my husband, was automatically mine.
His family worked for it, built it and therefore it belongs to them, not me. There are women who do not assume automatic ownership of possessions after they get a ring on their finger.

The modest rent pays for the upkeep of the stock.

What that had to do with our farmhouse is beyond my ken.

Dear God, do you think we really want to live like this, tolerating these conditions? I, for one, want my family and families like us, to be treated humanely. It is not asking for much.

It is time to truly end feudalism, to reform, to open up the land to others.

The feudal hangover simply does not work for communities or individual farmers. The existing system merely serves a select few and despite the protestations, the communities see very little, if any, investment as a result.

I am ready for change.

Are you ready to walk with me?

Wednesday, 2 May 2012

Trouble with Blogger

It is 4.19am and I cannot sleep.

Yesterday was incredibly hot and it was a joy to work outside all day but I took a bit more sun than I realised and have probably joined the ranks of many other pale skinned Scots who are also awake suffering from sunburn.

I thought I would try and meddle about with the blog settings to see if I can sort out the spacing issues. It was something to occupy my mind in the middle of the night while I waited for the copious amounts of aloe vera to work on said fried skin.

Honestly, it feels like the first day at school all over again. I can't find anything which relates to spacing and even ventured into the 'advanced' part of the settings for a look. That was a bit scary. Luddites and 'advanced settings' are an anathema.

It is easier to bring colour to my milk white tinged with woad blue Scottish skin than to find the Thing Which You Click On in order to create a space.

My fear is that I click on the wrong thing, wipe the entire blog then end up miserable, confused, with prickly heat and insomnia to boot.

I have mentioned before that as a child of the sixties/ seventies, our nod to technology was the Language Lab where we had to listen to French through earphones while the teacher listened in to our dreadful attempts at emulating French through a thick Black Isle accent.

'Dons the loomin ay, sil voo play". It sounded splendidly exotic spoken by the pupils from Avoch but not in a French way.

Our biggest worry was that if the person who wore the headphones before you had nits or trying to prevent yourself from slipping into a coma by the sheer tedium of the class. And the social isolation of being stuck in a booth so you could not elbow your friend to make her laugh.

"This is the future" the French teacher would boom. "This is the searing end of technology"....

I'm old fashioned and want to write to Blogger in a Dear Sir/ Madam, I am having a faff trying to sort out spacing. Please could you help me? type of letter. With a stamp on it.

What are the odds of this ending up in one paragraph when I press 'publish'? I am compelled to drink Ovaltine. That's it Blogger - you have sent me on the road littered with discarded People's Friends and support stockings.

I have aged and it is all Blogger's fault.

Tuesday, 1 May 2012

Not Dull at all.

Please bear with me as they have changed 'Blogger' and I am back to faffling about trying to find my way around again. I've had a right carry on trying to sort out the spacing of sentences and the last entry read as if I had wolfed twenty cups of coffee then some Red Bull anditreadlikethis. Anyway, still on the Perthshire trail, today, Dull. It was our fifth wedding anniversary today, five years which have flown past and have been as varied as the weather. We were married in this house, which has to be one of the most picturesque registry offices in Scotland.
It is not a million miles from Dull
Dull has been mentioned a lot in the media recently due to a proposed twinning with 'Boring'. Quiet and tranquil sprang to mind. We saw one or two new builds coorying up to the old established Victorian stone built houses plus an unusual stone which lends itself to many interpretations....
The village appears to be hiding behind some huge boulders that were left by long melted glaciers.
Now forgive me but this is the closest there is to photographing a swear. Ok, not one but just about all the AngloSaxon I know. AllAtOnce. Loudly.
Unseen and unheard was the military jet which divebombed the glen one millisecond after I pressed the shutter. What was seen and heard around the glen, was my nervous reaction freak out to said jet. The ducks of Dull raised their eyebrows.
It was time to return home, neck some chamomile tea, get our little boy to bed, dance with The Farmer. The road back from Dull. The hills of home.
Me and my farmer.

Saturday, 28 April 2012

Blowing the trumpet for Perthshire

I don't have very much to say today but instead will let the photographs of rural Perthshire speak for themselves.
Loch of the Lowes, Dunkeld
Melting hail on birch and willow
Bridge and burn
Mist on the hill
Snow on the hills
Spring snow........ As a hot-blooded Highlander, I feel that my homeland is a place of stunning beauty but Perthshire is a jewel. All these hills, moors and lochs are owned by fewer people than I have fingers on one hand. They are desolate and unpopulated due to being kept for 'sport' for a select few. I invite you all to come and sit beside that little burn which feeds the River Braan, empty your mind of troubles, breathe in the fresh air, forget lairds and simply enjoy what Nature provided for all of us.

Friday, 20 April 2012

Earthquakes, Casey Jones and twins

Spring sprang, the lambing happened, the calving has begun. The sunshine came and went and even the snow came back. All in that order.

Easter seems ages ago but it was glorious.

We all went for a picnic on Easter Sunday, became a bit lost but discovered the Comrie Earthquake House


And just along from the Earthquake House, a miniature railway having a rare open day.


Over the bridge made from a crane jib


For a little while, farm work was forgotten, wellies left at home. We were all being Casey Jones, steamin' and a rollin'. We thundered through the woods on the Cannonball express.

We waved wildly to passing trains and their cheerful passengers...


It was a magical day out.

We returned home to a tangle of twins.


The lambing has not gone so well this year but we do have a few good healthy lambs. The weather had turned at the worst possible time and many of our neighbours have lamented heavy losses this year.

The calving has just begun and already there are one or two good calves. The cattle are indoors as it is easier to keep an eye on those due to calf or to move those who have calved into a quiet area. They need fed and checked several times a day and The Farmer is never a million miles away from the cattle courts just now.

There are a gazillion tiny chicks too - they just appear out of straw bales or overwintered machinery led by proud and noisy mothers. The entire farm seems very noisy just now, everywhere echoes to the sound of lowing, bleating, quacking or cackling. And the odd muttered swear when things go pear shaped for the humans.

We have had tick bites, a spider bite (me) and the usual Spring work injuries. The Farmer had the worst one when he overstretched to reach something and did not notice the handle of the wheelbarrow just lower than waist height which rapidly made contact with bits slightly lower than waist height.
Our young son was miffed as his Dad lay on the floor gasping. Son wanted to see the lambs and his Dad would not talk.
I took him to see the lambs while his Dad tried to feel vaguely human again and his speech or normal gait returned.

So injuries healed, nuclear strength insect repellant applied, things are ticking over, 'scuse pun.

Barley and oat sowing if it ever stops raining.

Bagsy I get to be Casey Jones in the tractor. Steamin' and a rollin'.

Sunday, 1 April 2012

How not to take photos of a collie.

Grace.

Notoriously difficult to photograph.

She has a knack of wrecking a photo.

Here is her tail.


And here she is doing that 'lie flat as a pancake behind a potato sack' thing that collies do.


Or the 'merge into the shadow of the cow shed so we only see her tail' photo.


And 'dive out of shot before GentleOtter can click the thingy' pic.


Pie on the other hand is photogenic. He will sit looking like the saddest dog in the world because he is in the back seat while Grace is in the front seat having the worst dog photo taken.


Today, I managed to get a photograph of Grace's face. It has taken months and many, many bad photos.
So here she is....

Saturday, 24 March 2012

Changes

I rather nervously went in to the gubbins of the blog settings and footered about with bits here and there.

The snow has vanished from the hill a long time ago, there are cattle in the field instead of sheep and I had a notion to put up a new picture.

The photo I chose, one of the little stream in front of the house, ended up so large that you could almost sit with your feet in the water and slap wildly at the midges.
The size of the picture vexed my computer and set the fan off to tornado mode.

Next day (because I had no technical clue what I had done so shut down the computer and went to bed), the computer went crazy as it was fired up but settled down once the vast picture was removed and replaced by one of Bonnie the Wensleydale.

For Luddite technophobes like myself, computers tend to do irrational and unexpected things, whirring and the like. You have to have a basic language understanding of, oh, timelines, up and downloads, side loads, faffloads.

It is a great muncher of time, faffing and footering with a machine which remembers everything you have asked it to do. Unlike me.
The computer is forgiving of the Kafkaesque interruptions which occur when you are in mid faff and borderline panic at having pressed a key which makes the whizzing start again only to be asked "Mum. Do humans eat sea horses?" or "Why are Jupiter and Venus in a line?"

This has been a week of change for all of us.

The land around the farm has changed colour from the buff coloured pastures which slept all winter to the rich brown freshly ploughed soil. The fields are ready to receive fresh crops and new grass.

We have all responded very well to the sun which dried out the wet fields and warmed the earth, warmed our exposed limbs and started the hens laying eggs again.

I changed into my heron mode. I told my family that one day, I would stop colouring my hair to the colour it had been all my life and let it turn white.




I had gone through being The Maiden, had been enriched by children and learning during The Woman/ Mother years and felt ready to embrace the Wise Woman/Crone phase of my life.
Each stage overlaps and is intricately interwoven, creating a whole.

I see the vulnerability and fresh beauty of the Maiden in my daughter and feel able to guide her through her journey using the wisdom and experiences learned during my fifty one years.

The Woman and Mother are eternal.

The Wise Woman is just beginning her journey; slower in step, more astute and perspicacious, ready to embrace the new experiences.

I like the change. It brings freshness and regeneration.

A reflection of the Spring and synchronicity to the heartbeat of the seasons, the land.

Thursday, 22 March 2012

Happy World Water Day!

World Water Day trended this morning on Twitter.

So many people never give water a thought; it is just there. Turn on a tap, washing machine, shower, it is there and good for use.

So many people also give water a though. It is not there. For many it is a travail to gather it, a worry to drink it.

I wanted to show what is happening to our water supply. Just to recap, we are in temporary rented accommodation as our farmhouse is uninhabitable and our farm water supply is undrinkable.
Last winter, we were without any supply at all for 39 days.
My husband supplied us in the temporary home with raw water taken from our farm, a few miles away.
I believe that the physical effort of lugging by tractor 200 gallons from farm to here, every three days, led directly to his heart attack.
The raw water which we had no alternative to use (due to being blocked in by snow) was directly responsible for our family's gastro intestinal problems and ongoing medical treatment for inflamed oesophagus problems.

These pictures are taken from our 'temporary' home. It is fed by a private water supply which is collected from hill water.


It really is a beautiful view.
Note the scar made by the Beauly to Denny power line. The Roman fort (to the left) will house an enormous pylon.
Note also the large white pile of stuff to the right of the picture.
I hope you are not eating as I zoom in on the next picture.


This is a picture of several hundred tons of human faeces. Note how well it is fenced off and how well the public notices are displayed.


And a few hundred tons more although this was taken a couple of years ago. The smell is indescribable and can make people vomit.


This is our water holding tank. Leaks a bit and had a huge crack 2/3rds down it. Green slime oozes out of it. I have an assumption that if things are able to ooze out of it, things are also able to ooze in to it.
The tank belongs to the landowner. The hill is dotted with such tanks which feed individual houses. Mine is one of the better tanks.


This picture shows the human faeces being spread. The water tank is slightly to the right of the spreader. A fine mist of human faeces can clearly be seen being spread very close to our water supply. The line of reeds which are centre right of the picture, grow over the old cast iron in parts/lead pipe which leads to our house.


This is a picture of human waste being spread just beside a small lochan - you cannot see the water as it is surrounded by trees and shrubs but it is fenced off for duck shooting. The water from the lochan runs into a burn , past a local beauty spot and famous salmon jump then runs into a tributary of the Tay.


Cattle were grazing the day that the human faeces was spread. Their pasture had a good coverage of 'sludge'. It would have been impossible for the cattle to avoid ingestion.


This is a picture of our water filters. They were changed a week ago and will need changing in another fortnight, perhaps sooner. If the filters are not renewed every three weeks, we do not receive water.

Our own farm water supply does not have a water filtration system as we have not found one which can cope with the level of pollutants and organic matter in our water.

Please give thanks when you turn on your tap and clean water pours out.

This is happening in Scotland, 2012. Many thousands of people are supplied by private water supplies.

I wish we all had clean water.