Sunday, 27 January 2013

Monochrome farm

 Newly born bull calf

 Goose, hen and shiny eyed cattle

 Wensleydale sheep

 The river

 Valtra in winter

 The road home

Rosehips in the garden. A welcome splash of colour.

Saturday, 26 January 2013

Melting the sna' wi rage.

Hello from a very Narniaesque farm at the Back of Beyond!

The sun is making a brave attempt to shine and no doubt I will be tempting fate as the washing has been hung out and the windows opened to air the house.
Not that it needs the extra air; it is freezing in here despite the fire being lit.

"Cauld, cauld barn o' a hoose" according to our farming neighbour who used to live here before I moved in.

He drove down to feed his cattle and 'melt the sna' wi rage'. He had been sworn at for 'blocking the road' because he was in a tractor pulling a load of turnips for feeding his cattle; not just sworn at but shouted at and gesticulated to. He was also brandishing a copy of The Scottish Farmer and was incandescent with fury at the headline that the Absolute Right to Buy (our own tenant farms) was not an option, according to the NUF and Land Agency (as they are calling themselves this week).
Our neighbour was stabbed during the 'Night of the Long Knives' when lairds appeared at doors before midnight, demanding that the farmers sign their tenancies away, some lairds threatened violence. Many tenants lost their farms as a result of the debacle despite a long and complex legal fight.

Our laird never bothered but his did. He only has a few years left to farm here then that is it.

"Every tenant that I know wants the right to buy" he said. He mixes with many farmers as he always attends marts, roups and other social events (unlike us) so he keeps up to date with many.
I felt that the article was disinformation, designed to kick the last vestiges of morale away from the tenant. The NUF were always a useless union, in my opinion, slow, inept and predominately male....reminiscent of a fushionless, expensive bull who never performs.
I won't start on the opinion of the Scottish Tenant Farmer's a farm collie who has lost it's teeth and bark then become fat and complacent. Great for a lap dog, useless when you need the fighting powers of a rottweiler.

For the record, every single tenant farmer that we know wants the right to buy their own farm. We are sick of the oppressive and useless lairds, tired of bullying land agents and disillusioned by hopeless representatives.
Tenant farming needs to be recognised. It is our culture, way of life yet we are being slowly smothered and killed off by stealth.

We would thrive, given the chance. We would improve our own farms (as we already do due to landowners shirking their responsibilities). We manage to keep our faces clean through sheer hard work and long hours whilst the landowners grow fat from the cream of our travail.

Again, how many professions would have to produce a written letter from their banks demanding that they prove they have £50,000 in the bank to renovate someone else's house?

No wonder the snow is melting rapidly around here. The rage is palpable.

Yesterday, the snow was waist deep in places as I did the evening feed and check of my flock. The land around had vanished as there was a complete whiteout yet the work had to be done, regardless.

I can thole a whiteout but not a whitewash.

Monday, 21 January 2013

Snowed in!

I think we are sort of officially snowed in here.
The schools are closed and according to The Farmer, the roads are 'a bit iffy' which means they are almost impassable. The car has been forsaken for the tractor and the children were gleefully squabbling with each other about everything from marbles to makeup.

The family are outside flinging snow at each other with shovels and sledging with feed bags stuffed with straw. Gracie the collie is leaping about in the snow as if she has springs for paws; she keeps herding them all, especially the bairn and he finds himself being gently led and rounded up by Gracie to the safety of the front door. She is not happy that her flock keep scattering.
PieDog hates snow and is inside with me.

We stocked up on supplies a while back and are fairly prepared should any passing army need fed and watered. Or regular. I found eleven tins of prunes for some odd reason.
I did a big vegan baking which turned out rather a disaster so the little birds are stoically pecking at some spelt rolls although even the woodpecker is finding them tough going.

The land looks so beautiful, well, not right now as there is an actual blizzard blowing and it is a bit of a white out but a few days before, the land looked enchanted when the weak winter sun made an attempt to shine.

The cattle are doing away fine inside and yes, close eyes were kept on 'thon wee bullock' although he seems fairly docile. Maybe he was having an off day.

We have been wrapped up by snow here, the house is being insulated by the thick layer on the roof and I'm doing a battle with the draughts now that the wind is picking up. None of the doors fit so big curtains and blankets are going up everywhere. The wind whistles under the skirting boards so they are being stuffed with strips of newspaper.

We have gone into waking hibernation mode, the work gets done as quickly as possible, wandering around the farm in automation then hurrying inside to thaw out. Then out again to play.

The Farmer is just in - a vision in white, a huge snow farmer, blizzard kissed oilskins.
"C'mere and gie's a cuddle, lass!"......

It is days like these which make winter pass quickly, all too soon forgotten, come Spring.

Wednesday, 16 January 2013

Rice and Hamlet.

We are beginning to come to terms with the first week at school.

Our son said that his first day was "Ok, but dull". The best bit were the dinners, the rice pudding was 'warmed through, had peaches and was not like mine'....  Rice pudding; rice, milk, heat and sugar - a combination that I have never successfully mastered in all my 53 years on this earth.

Playtime was nice but there was not much to do and he missed the woods and fields. He also felt cold and uncomfortable in his uniform.

He was given a reading book home and proceeded to whisper the 8 pages.
"Why are you whispering?" I whispered.
"Because that is what you do in class." he whispered back.
We read all about Kipper and how he jumped on the bed which had the entire family in it, sort of like Charlie Bucket's house but with children and a dog instead of invalid aged relatives and the whiff of despair.

He was a bit surprised that he had to go back and do the whole palaver the next day but it turned out to be a bit more of a success as they had fish fingers, peas and Hamlet.
"Watch what you drink, Mum because Hamlet and his Mum just accidentally drank poison then died".
I wondered if Hamlet had taken some of the farm water but kept that thought inwardly.

We settled to tales from the Highlands and I told him the story of how the sea became salty, the Cromarty mermaid and other gentle stories. He listened with eyes the size of a young seal and bit by bit, added his contributions by remembering other things from his day at school, reminded by key words in the stories.
He eventually relaxed and fell asleep.

He was not for going today and tried every dodge, high temperature (him), low temperature (outside), the wrong vest and socks, then the announcement that it was all too much and he was going back to bed.

It will get better....I repeat this like a mantra.

The sun will return and it will all be better.

Sunday, 13 January 2013

Heart of lead.

Tonight, my heart is wearing a pair of deep-sea diver's boots.

Our youngest son starts primary school tomorrow and while I am trying my best to feel happy for him, I feel a bit lost.

The school will provide him with all his educational needs plus there are a few other children who are ready to welcome him. It is a tiny school with a dozen children.
His grandfather went to this school in 1919, his Grandmother taught there during the war.

His father and aunty attended during the early sixties. It was also Rosie's first school in 2001.
A long history between school and our family.

We cuddled after he had his Sunday night bath, toasting in front of the huge fire. It has snowed and is still snowing. The house is cold and draughty but the living room was warm and he was all wrapped up in the lovely quilt which his best friend and her Mum had made for him at Christmas.

He said that he was a bit worried about tomorrow as he did not know the other children properly. We talked about when he first started kindergarten and how he did not know the other children then but soon made friends, best friends.
He looked at his fresh new uniform which is laid out on the back of the sofa; all ready for a small boy to jump into in the morning. His new shoes, size adult 2... huge feet for a five year old laddie. His beloved schoolbag which he has worn non stop since I bought it last week, all packed and double checked for pencil case and play piece.
The duffle coat which first belonged to my eldest son, then Rosie, now his. All washed, aired and ready to keep another bairn warm for the winter.

We stared at the fire for a while, companionable silence, a quiet moment before a life change.

"Mum, there is one other thing but this is a secret" he whispered.
I listened carefully as he whispered in my ear...
"Watch yourself with thon wee black and brown bullock. It's a bit feisty, Mum".

His Dad took him up to bed and read him some stories until he fell asleep.

And my heart gently broke.

Tuesday, 8 January 2013

The Perthshire Nazgul.

I have been thinking a lot about the Victorian methods adopted by certain areas in Perthshire. Some are positively Medieval, mirroring the quirky, old vennels of Perth which lead to the Tay. You are never far from the Tay or a council 'owned' property.
It is a very municipal town, Perth, but not in a good way.

We are preparing our son and ourselves for school. Home education went fairly well but there is so much work to do on the farm this year that we would need 48 hours in a day to manage everything plus  being remote, our son needs company and friends.

Once a child is registered for school, they are in 'the system' and if for any reason things do not work out well with that school then it becomes difficult to revert to home education without the council intervening.
I fully understand the reasons given for intervention; they do not wish a child to be used as labour, as a baby sitter for younger siblings or if there is cause that a child is being harmed or worse.
There is no leeway for parents simply wishing to home educate their children - ideas of abuse or harm would never cross their minds. Perhaps mainstream school is not working for the child.

Perthshire council became very medieval when I home educated Rosie whilst waiting to go to court over her Secondary education.
Rosie responded very well to home ed and excelled in life skills. She is a superb cook, has an aptitude for gardening and the uses of herbs; culinary and medicinal, she had a couthy way with animals and knew how to deliver a lamb or how to feed an orphaned calf. She knew trees and plants, which poisonous ones to avoid plus enjoyed art exhibitions and ballet, when a troupe came to town.

Lots of these skills are not taught in schools.

One evening, the council education Nazgul descended on the area. This evil dragon swooped and descended at the wrong house (my eldest son's house) and was rude to him at the door. He refused to let her in on the strength that a) she had been rude and b) he had no idea who she was and c) it was 7.30pm and she could have been *anyone*.

P&K council tend to have marvellously puffed up ideas of themselves and woe betide if I had not been there to answer to the Nazgul (despite her going to the wrong house).

The week in court arrived. Hideous place court. There was a murder trial going on at the same time as my appeal to get Rosie into a special school and I should have been helping with the harvest that week.
Junkies hid syringes in the toilet paper roll and stole the soap for washing your hands. Naively, I thought the blue light in the toilets was for killing flies. My eldest son told me is was to make your veins disappear in case you were going to inject something into them.

All week, the invisible council shuffled in. All those who I had tried to speak with in the months before the trial but who had been 'busy' or 'on holiday' or 'in a meeting'. Here they all were, each more like a character from a Breughel painting, shuffling in, spouting municipal guff, shuffling out to get their expenses.

Their very expensive lawyer asked me why I had not met the Nazgul the night she swooped.

I tried to tell them that I was with my Dad but the words stuck in my throat. I wanted to say that I lived miles from the house she visited and that she was an evil dragon who had no good way with children. I wanted to ask why I was being treated like a criminal and why a Kafkaesque trial for the right to educate a child at the school which was best *for her*?
The council lawyer accused me of choosing this school "As a lifestyle choice".

That makes me spit bullets to this day as it was such a glib and stupid statement. Who was I going to boast to, the sheep? It was not going to be to the cattle as we sold them to pay for a trial term. We worked our socks off and had no social life whatsoever in order to help our daughter and keep our farm going.

I had not met the Nazgul that night because I was in the hospital with Dad and he died that evening.

We won the appeal.
 Rosie won the right to go to the special school and she is a different person as a result. She is confident, able, happy and has friends now, thanks to her school, the pupils, teachers and care staff.
 It was worthwhile standing in the fetid air of the Nazgul, Breughel weirdos, Kafkaesque trial, murderers and junkies so my daughter could have a chance in life. Sometimes you do things for your children because you love them and know what they need...and not because you fancy a lifestyle change.

Perth and Kinross.

Your mental health emergency system stinks. Your education services team were hideous and so narrow minded, they could all look through a keyhole with both eyes.
You award yourselves meringue titles like "Convener of Scrutiny" whilst the infrastructure crumbles in the county, roads become lethal, rivers flood and the rural 'services' cease to exist.
You are blinded by the foolish 'aristocracy' and are corrupt to the core. Allegedly. said through gritted teeth.
There now, it is out and said.

And the Nazgul never came to much, did they?

Thursday, 3 January 2013

A curious and unusual day.

Nothing extraordinary ever happens here. Until today.

We were leaving to go up to the farm to see what needed doing when we saw something unusual on the hill in front of the house. We had a look through the binoculars but could not fathom what on earth we were looking at.
Our little boy thought he could see Father Christmas, Rosie thought she could see an emperor.

The Farmer went up the hill to have a better look as he was concerned that something was not quite right. Gracie the collie went with him and began to bark as she arrived at the scene first.

Sorry about the blurred photo but it was taken from a distance with a zoom lens and no spectacles.

The Farmer stood and conversed with the person for quite a while then eventually returned and told us that this man was doing an ancestral ritual to reclaim the land. He was in full ceremonial regalia yet barefoot. He asked that The Farmer respect his desire to pray and give him space.
Normally, anyone who wishes to reclaim land would be lauded in this household yet something was not right.
The Farmer and bairns went off to tend to the cattle and my two lovely neighbours and I climbed the hill to see for ourselves.

I won't go into detail out of respect but we found a man who was really quite unwell and who had been sleeping rough in a very local location (unknown to anyone) whilst on his own private quest.

As it started to turn dark and cold, we led him off the hill, under the dodgy electric fence and through the stream as it is the safest way off the hill.

My neighbours invited the man into their home, gave him bread and he requested some water. They listened quietly when he began rambling and treated him with utmost courtesy and respect. I slipped next door to phone our doctor to ask advice and was told to phone for the police.

The police took quite a while to arrive as we are so remote here but once they arrived on the scene, they were kind and patient with the man. He was determined to go back up the hill and remove his clothing as his quest was unfinished. He told them that he had been sleeping rough in our area for a week (yet none of us had seen him). It took them four hours plus extra back up to take the man to a place of safety. Things became scary at one point and it was so alien to hear screams and shouting fill this quiet glen.
I dread to think what would of happened if he had slept outside on the hill, naked, as was his wish. It is bitterly cold and wet outside plus the wind is whipping up.....

My neighbours and myself feel awful about what has happened, very shaken yet we are relieved that the man will be safe and warm tonight. My kind and gentle neighbours probably saved that man's life.

Poor man. I hope he gets the help he needs and that he recovers soon.

Post script- I'm not quite sure how I feel about the way that the man's eventual admission was handled. The police were very good at handling a very difficult situation but seriously, if someone became agitated through, say, hyperglycaemia or some similar illness, handcuffing them and putting them in the back of a van?
I am shocked that there appears to be no provision of a doctor and ambulance for someone at risk to themselves through mental unwellness in Perthshire.
Perthshire has many outmoded traits but this one really shocked me. It seems positively Victorian.

My neighbours have gone to the hospital this evening to see if the man is settling and also to return the Bible which he dropped.

Tuesday, 1 January 2013

Bliadhna mhath ur!

Happy New Year!

Our family saw in the New Year with a modest celebration (the children had found and eaten most of the 'fancy' nibbles hidden for visitors) so with a dish of Bombay mix, some Christmas cake, lemon barley water and BBC Alba, we hooched, hugged and sang our way into 2013.

I'm not a huge fanatic of resolutions as I always have a fly puff or lump of cake just after midnight thus instantly squashing any good intentions flat, however this year I am going to learn some basic Gaelic.
We sang in Gaelic at school but it was only taught in lesson form to those who either excelled at German or were native speakers and sadly, I did not fit the criteria.

The musicians on BBC Alba included the amazing Duncan Chisholm, formerly of Wolfstone and an ex nextdoor neighbour of mine plus I recognised several very familiar faces in the audience and felt a bit home sick for the ways they celebrate in the North.

The finale was the Runrig song, 'Alba!', the passion in the voices was infectious and when I looked up a translation of the lyrics, I felt fired up with a love for our country that would have ignited a damp peat fire.


Air sgiath a' seoladh nan neoil
'S an domhain liath
Mar dhealbh a' tighinn beo tro na sgothan
'S mi a' tilleadh gu tir

Alba nam beanntan ard
Nan acraichean lom
Thairis air na lochan mointich
Nan coilltean 's nan gleann



Ach 'se sealladh leointe is gann
Tha an seo aig ceann thall an linn
Talamh alainn nan daoine
Fhathast an lamhan duine no dithis

Cuibhlean stolda mu dheas
Na fasaichean a tuath
An taigh-mor falamh an Dun-Eideann
Gun chumhachd gun ghuth



Sibhse chuir achadh ri achadh
Taigh ri taigh
Gus nach bi ait anns an tir
An gabh sibh comhnaidh air leth

Ach 's math dhomh bhith seo an drasd
A cur failt air a' bhlas
'San tir a tha cho ur dhomh an diugh
Is a bha i nuair bha mi 'nam phaisd




This flight is sailing through the clouds
And the blue heavens
The homeland appears like a developing photograph
Through the mists as I return to land
I see Scotland of the high mountains
And the empty acres
Flying low across the moorland lochs
The forests and the glens



But it's a wounding and a hollow sight
Here as we reach the end of the century
The beautiful soil of the people
Still in the hands of the few

I see the wheels of industry at a standstill
And the northern lands wasted
And the empty house in Edinburgh
Without authority or voice



You that have laid field upon field
House upon house
Till there be nowhere for you to be placed alone
In the midst of all the earth
But it is good for me to be here now
As I welcome the warmth
In this land that's as exciting for me today
As it was the day I was born

I hope with all hopes that this year sees a dynamic leap for our country and people, an end to the inequality which stifles our collective abilities, our health and our dignity.

Today, our family are off to assess what needs done inside our farmhouse in preparation of our return there because this year, we are going home.

May your year be blessed with health, happiness and enough wealth to provide you with what you need.
And here is to our country.