Sunday, 29 January 2017

Lights, camera, action

At this time of year, when you live in a part of the world with no street lights or any hint of illumination apart from that which you create yourself, it becomes all about how good your head torch is. No one wants to be shoving a classic old torch in their gob whilst trying to grab some ailing kale leaves for dinner or scrabbling around in the muck trying to catch a chicken. A fine head torch is what you need……and I had no idea just how many different types were available until we moved here. You have big ones, small ones, some as big as your head….  You try going out for a run with one of those bad boys on your bonce; it’s like wearing one of those deep sea diving helmets and you end up with neck muscles like a prop forward. But when you find the right one, the world (literally) lights up in front of you. I barely even notice that it is dark now when I’m out on the hills before daybreak. And it’s amazing what you can surprise at that time of the day. I’ve lost count of the number of snipe and pheasants and rabbits I’ve nearly trodden on. And I’ve just about stopped freaking out when I see the barn owls sweeping towards me at point blank range. Trust me, LED lights, a large white feathered face and zero sound are an eerie combination.

Take yer pick

But it seems that not everyone is in possession of one of these indispensable pieces of equipment out here in the sticks. I arrived back panting and spluttering and covered in mud from one of our early morning forays the other day to find a pick-up parked up on the drive, headlights blaring, engine running. Very odd. Lapsed momentarily back into my City mindset and thought, “just ignore him, just carry on, just go away and pretend you didn’t see anything” but then I realised this vehicle was on OUR land and was clearly not right so I plucked up the courage to go check it out (the dog most unhelpfully pissed off back to the house at this point). So there I was, sidling up to a complete stranger, trying to sound cool and relaxed when inside I was screaming “this is it, he’s going to bloody kill me”. At which point he emerged from the darkness behind the vehicle, squinting menacingly into the beam of my head torch, brandishing an enormous crow bar. “Well that’s it then”, I thought, “Game Over”. And not even the Skippy the sodding dog to witness it or spread the word. But instead of being bludgeoned to death on my own drive, it turns out the chap had a flat tyre and was a long way from home and just needed somewhere to change it. In the pitch black. Flooded with relief that I was in fact still alive, the milk of human kindness suddenly started to pour forth from me and I offered him (my very favourite) head torch and even suggested I bring him a cup of tea (even my husband doesn’t get this treatment when he’s working outside!). But he politely declined and so I retreated to the house asking him to leave the torch on the gatepost as he left. Which, to my great surprise, he actually did. Perhaps there are some good people still left in the world.

Although it seems my husband struggles to believe it. His latest gadget du jour is an infrared wildlife camera which you can cunningly disguise in the bushes and capture anything that moves – mice, rabbits, children, unsuspecting villains up to no good. Unfortunately it has also rumbled our farm cat, Cooper, who has now been caught on camera wilfully letting the mice and rats gorge themselves on goodies in the workshop, barely flickering a whisker as they cavort about the place as if they own it. So the Go Cat is now being very much rationed in an attempt to persuade our kitty to damn well get out there and earn his bloody keep.

Big Brother is watching you...
And finally, it’s not often you feel delighted when your husband comes home looking like the cat that got the cream (or the cat that got to watch the dance of the sugarplum rats without having to lift a single paw) to tell you that he has Finally Got Some Action.  Yes, after months of abstinence he has finally managed to secure some deer stalking not too far from the house. For a man whose entire existence is seemingly geared all around deer (perpetually dressed in camouflage, house adorned with various deery body parts, a veritable arsenal of weapons in the downstairs loo…) I cannot underestimate what a significant breakthrough this is. And although he has yet to shoot anything on his new ‘patch’, the wildlife camera has afforded us tantalising glances into the large herds of fallow and roe deer whose days I fear are now numbered. His trigger finger is twitching already…


Friday, 20 January 2017

Hen flu

There is much debate over whether hen flu, like man flu, actually exists. One the one hand you have much scare mongering in the media about avian flu and the risk of it rendering every feathered beast on our isle extinct. But then when you start looking into it the number of confirmed reports is miniscule.  Apparently, a wigeon (yes it is a bird and not a typo) was diagnosed with the dreaded lurgy at a nature reserve about 50 miles away. Stop press! Panic stations! Every bird in! Every bird in!

So being the diligent (i.e. clueless, farming-by-Google) smallholders that we are, we decided we needed to protect our flock of hens, if we’re honest more from the investment point of view rather than sentimentality. We could never afford the super strength Lemsip for all ten of them for starters. Plus you do feel that you need to right by your animals (in intent anyway even if not in actual action). So we decided we would decamp said birds to the polytunnel – it’s dry, it’s protected from wild birds (disgusting disease carriers) and there is the added bonus that they can scratch up the beds and manure them a bit, saving me the job later in the spring. I was a bit miffed though as my pak choi and winter lettuce was doing so well, but all in the name of sacrifice I suppose.

En route to winter luxury accommodation
Feeling the pressure from the media hype to move them but, for once, recognising the amount of chaos and coordination I can physically cope with, I scheduled an hour in my work day to move the birds while the kids were at nursery. Unfortunately it just so happened to be the last hour of the day and so in failing light my husband and I found ourselves skidding and sliding around the hen pen, blaspheming loudly (the real reason why we needed the kids out of the way) trying to catch the bloody hens who delighted in squawking between our legs and clucking indignantly as we huffed and puffed behind them like a scene from a Benny Hill sketch.

Two hours later... unimpressed!
We eventually managed to get them all into the old dog cage and then transported them the short distance to their new digs. Which we soon realised are like the poultry equivalent of being overwintered in a luxury health spa – soft bark underfoot, as many worms as you can possibly eat, the equivalent of a Waitrose finest oriental baby leaf salad and completely dry and out of the wind. Given they will be here for 30 days (so says our oracle the interweb) it gives a whole new take on Dry January. Plus with the slightest hint of sunshine the whole place warms up to sub-tropical temperatures. In fact, sod the avian flu, I think I’m going to chuck them back into their soggy hen house and move in there myself! 

Champneys for chooks

Postscript: we've since learned that the aforementioned wigeon was misdiagnosed – turns out he just had a bit of a sniffle and Match of the Day was on the telly...  

Tuesday, 17 January 2017

Digital detox

Well my friends, it’s been a while. My radio silence over the yuletide period in part the result of a planned ‘digital detox’ but mostly due to generally- knackered-can’t-be-arsedness and the inevitable end of year cold/flu which of course strikes the moment you take your foot off the gas.

So what the hell is a digital detox I hear you ask? Well, anyone not living under a rock in January will be all too familiar with the ever present reminders of the need to get fit, lose fat and generally deny yourself any pleasure during the most miserable time of the year. This year, we decided to partake in no such nonsense, after all life is too short and too damn full on with kids and 20 acres of unruly land to take care of. But the digital detox was a revelation to me.

I’m sure it has not escaped your notice that there is an inherent paradox in blogging and generally whoring yourself about on social media discussing something which is supposed to be all about back to nature and turning your back on the modern world and all its general online chaos and pressures. My Twitter feed in itself sums up this dichotomy so beautifully - it never fails to amuse me how I can have the very latest in ‘Digital HR’ and ‘Future of the Workforce’ trends scrolling up right next to all the hippy spiritual bushcraft type stuff and sustainable living feeds. While my day job puts me right at the forefront of innovation and all that’s new, my home life serves to anchor me with my hands in the mud and shit doing the same stuff that has been done for generations. Balancing the two is either going to send me insane or render me the 21st century’s answer to the wizened old crone with the whiskers on her chin and her gnarly old hands, with her Google Glass and her wearable tech ‘gemstones’ hidden discreetly under her vast green cloak.

More rolling, less scrolling
So anyway I took advantage of a two week break from work to completely detach myself from the internet – no Facebook, no Twitter, no Whatsapp, no general newsfeeds whatsoever. And you know what? It was strangely liberating. The first two days were the hardest (I removed all the apps from my phone to remove temptation) and then I just got on with the present, without feeling the constant distraction of vibrations in my pocket or automatically reaching for my phone every time I sat down for a cup of tea or had a spare moment. Instead I focused 100% on what I was doing, paid more attention to the kids and the conversations I was having, indulged in a LOT of people watching and generally felt more space and room for reflection in my head. Could this be the ubiquitous mindfulness we hear about more and more…?

Simple pleasures - the witchy witch hazel
Which then gave me the great idea that perhaps more people, especially the younger generation (eee by gum, it weren’t like that in our day, we had to walk ten mile in us bare feet just to get a stale loaf a’bread etc. etc.) might welcome the opportunity to switch off and focus on more practical, outdoor activities, engaging with their present and the people around them in the fresh air. I know I’m not the first to come up with this idea and won’t be the last but it has definitely sowed a seed. Watch this space.

As for my husband, I asked him what kind of detox he was going to be undertaking this January. He said it involved three days of preparation and would blow my mind. For the past week he has been up till all hours boiling and dehydrating and frying and microwaving pig skin. Yes, pig skin. Tons of it. After a very brief conversation early in January where he asked if we should buy a deep fat fryer at which I scoffed and said absolutely not, he has now made it his life’s mission to make healthy pork scratchings. The end result has so far been “interesting”. I’ve never been a massive fan of Mr Porky but these were slightly more palatable (maybe). The kids on the other hand went mental for them. Couldn’t get enough. I suppose this is one way to get through all the remaining Peppa body parts in the freezer before we get our next pair of porkers in the spring. Cleansing the freezer he tells me. Right you are then. Happy new year everyone!

Mmmmm guilt-free pork scratching anyone?!