Ian Sparkles and the flambé.

Although we have plenty of home sourced meat, we do get venison from time to time. As neither of us have the ticket needed to sell it, we get to enjoy all the benefits or pass some on to family and friends as gifts. It also ties us over if we are between stock available in the freezer. And over time, we have developed a few recipes we enjoy with venison.

So one recent evening was no exception. With many thanks to Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s Meat cookbook, there is a particular flambé recipe we enjoy. That’s all fine until the flambé’s flames are more then expected and end up melting the cooker hood and setting fire to the smoke extractor.

Yes, the house was evacuated while the Crofter used the fire extinguisher. All sorted. Apart from the hood now having exposed wire and still connected to the mains. But how to turn it off? The fuse was switched off for the kitchen while the local electrician, Ian, was called. Ian, the Sparkie (not Ian the Steer who recently went off to his forever home, nor Ian McQueen the Farmer who has also helped in emergencies in the past, but he does more, how do I deal with a boliatic, hormonal cow, then how to deal with a potential electrical issue). One phone call and Ian the Sparkie directed us to the exact spot, any further risk eliminated and we could now sit down and enjoy venison steaks (with no flambé sauce).

The Mini Crofter was intrigued. Not in flambé or how many minutes the steak was cooked for to make it rare, but the electrical points, and not just that, wanted to know more about Ian Sparkles. And with that, Ian the Sparkie may still exist to the wider community; but not in this house. We pass Ian Sparkles’ house on the way to nursery. Ian Sparkles has a van which can be identified from quite a distance. Ian Sparkles even came out to sort the byre so it now has proper lighting and electrics (rather then just a couple of fairy lights hooked to an extension cable). And just in time. Not in terms of an emergency but that darkness is no longer procrastinating in the afternoons, it lingers in the mornings too. But, although the cows may be disappointed in the lack of fairy lights this year, it’s replaced with the concept of Ian Sparkles.

So if anyone else in the community needs an electrician, our son can easily direct you to the one and only Ian Sparkles.

Old Blind Dogs

Gus, our Patterdale terrier is not old. But he is a dog and he is going blind. He is in fact not yet two. The diagnosis by the Ophthalmology Vet was not unexpected but still not something I expected to be hearing about our wee dug (that is not a typo before anyone asks).

In canine terms he is smarter then most dogs I have come across. He is not a drool-boy or a moocher, nor is he one to roll around in dead things too much. So he can be pleasent to have around (as long as he doesn’t chew his harness and take off to visit the neighbours or any one else willing to let him sniff about their garden). His latest escapade was ages ago. As in, hmm, two weeks…

Anyway, despite that, last Sunday was the confirmation I had been watching out for. He went out the back door and walked straight off the decking ramp into the house. A classic Laurel and Hardy black and white sketch (black dog, white house). But this time it wasn’t for comedy. I had been observing him for several days after I had become suspicious something wasn’t right. It had started off when I had Gus out with one of his favourite tasks. Chasing. To do this we have a squeaky soft toy (looks like a flattened idea of a fox, it is ginger, but no stuffing and this one squeaks from it’s tail. Don’t ask, I didn’t make it and Gus isn’t bothered, in fact, he likes it). So Foxy is tied onto a long lunge horse whip (they probably have a proper title for this implement in horsey terms, but I have no idea what, anyway, you can picture what I’m talking about). He then will run literal circles around you just to get it. More like a hamster in a wheel really. He eventually catches it, makes sure it’s dead, hands it back and off we go again. But this time, if it was more then two foot away from him, his nose would go down on the ground sniffing all over for it. Which made me start closer observations. He accidentally walked into the car door, the following day it was into the back of the trailer. Was he too distracted or something up? After the decking incident I knew I would need to take him to a vet.

First point of contact, our usual vets. Which isn’t your normal hamster vet, but cattle vet, so they are based down in Grantown, a 50 minute drive away. The protocol in the current Covid situation for the vets looks more like a stall at a wee games fair. An all weather parasol, a circular table, a notice board, and a bottle of alcohol gel all sat in the courtyard. The vet then comes out to see you, you have a chat while you have to keep an eye on: a) the dog to make sure he doesn’t pee against the parasol, b) the mini crofter working out the hinges of the notice board, and c) the micro crofter wanting to extract the alcohol gel.

Any other issues other than the eyes? Well, I had noticed he had been drinking more then usual. Is he ok with people? Hmm, yes, he will be delighted to go into your practice as there will be lots of new smells and someone giving him attention. And with that, off he goes, happy as Larry, while we go vehicle identification spotting (what else do you do with a three year old; ‘oh, look, there is an onion ring car’, ‘that’s another wind farm car, how many frisbee cars can we see, and so on (no points for guessing the makes).

Eventually the vet came back out. Yes, something is wrong with his eyes, but they only have limited resources, would I like to be refered to the Ophthalmology vets? Ophthalmology Vet? I really hadn’t realised they existed! Anyway, the only indication of eye sight issues and drinking is diabetes, could I get a urine sample and drop it off on the day I collect it? Hmm, yes, but can I just do it then and there and hand it back in? And if so, can I have something to collect it. With that the Vet disappears again and returned shortly with, which I am handed, a pair of disposable gloves, a metal kidney dish and the wee pot for the pee sample.

The next stage gave entertainment. Even as I was handed the kidney dish, Gus peed. The Vet and I looked at each other, I’m sure her eyes said ‘Good luck’. Once I had the gloves on and kidney dish, fat chance. By this stage I had decided to strap both boys into the car and give them their picnic lunch while I walked up and down (and up and down) the road waiting to catch the liquid gold. I tried taking him to lampposts, dustbins, even the spots he had gone for when we first arrived. A few times he would show potential, I would dive under and he would promptly decide naw, let’s keep sniffing. What felt like forever (and it was, the boys had finished their lunch) I finally got a tiny amount. Back to the parasol and bell to then hand it in. I was asked to wait while they checked it. The boys were getting restless but the idea of getting them back out of the car seemed silly. Vet then confirmed that there was no indication of sugar, but he did have a UTI so would need antibiotics. So, yet again, I nipped back to the car to try and prove to the random people walking past that I had not abandoned two boys and a dog in a car before sprinting back to collect the medicine and finally head home to await the referral.

It did not take long. Two days later we are then on the trip to the Special Vets. Same deal, hand over the dog at the door, give the history, supposedly go back to your car, enjoy a peaceful coffee and await the news. But alas, the two mini crofters and I ended up walking down a cycle path, eyeing up a Tesco’s freight train, watching a helicopter land at the local hospital and picking up oak leaves. Sounds great, but it was baltic. Try to convince two boys to stay in the car. Hmm, no. Eventually, the phone rang and I got the diagnosis. Gus has lost some of his sight and with the speed of it, will not have sight for much longer. The cause? No idea. Unusual for a dog of his age and breed. It will apparently cause him no pain and have no other implications on his health; he should go on and lead a somewhat normal life.

However, that is the issue for us. We don’t really have a ‘normal life’ and for us, he is a working dog who has a serious issue in his working practice. He can still sniff things out, but we have already seen limitations. And so, this is where we think he may be better off with a family or someone that can shower him with affection while still letting him live a doggy life. He can manage the usual walk, can even go mole trapping off the lead with me, but the risks are high in other areas. He is a cracker of a dog so one that I would prefer to find a safe home for. And that way, he would have a chance to eventually become an old, blind dog.

Stayin’ alive

Lockdown restrictions have changed again. So I can go to a pub but I can’t have two friends (from separate households) come into my home? I can mix with some but not others. Hmm, ok. Or maybe I just haven’t read the new rules properly to understand them. But I’m not the only one with communication issues though. The bees are currently getting fed sugar syrup at the moment (I keep wanting to call it sugar soap, something entirely different but rolls of the tongue easier). And they are drinking it (syrup, not the soap) like there is no tomorrow. Now, there may not be any tomorrow for some of the bees, but at the moment, they want sugar and they want it now.

All well and good until our weather picked up a bit. The sun shone and the midges disappeared (well, kind of). So you open windows to enjoy the warm air. As a newbie (no pun intended), I didn’t think anything of it. No issues before in opening windows in September on a sunny day. But now we have bees. And we had a plate of beeswax on the kitchen counter, melted down to remove the last of the honey.

The bees decided that they should implement some of the lockdown rules and avoid overcrowding in the hive. And it felt like half a hive divided itself to set up an ‘all you can eat buffet’ in our kitchen with the wax. Can’t socialise at home but you can head to a pub. So they went out for dinner. An all you can eat buffet with a discount if you not only invite a friend, but bring another with you. And they just kept coming. The place was buzzing. Loudly. Thankfully no Covid police went past the window at the time to hand out fines (honestly Officer, it may be in my kitchen but I did not organise it!!).

Although the bee rave was in full swing, I decided it was time to break up the party before more came. The beeswax was quickly moved outside and on seeking advice from an expert, opened the windows fully to allow the bees to yes, come in but get back out again while we waited for the hive’s contact tracing team to start notifying the masses that the wax was now on the bird table (now known as the bee table to the Mini Crofters) and NOT in the kitchen.

The information slowly filtered through; the bees finally seemed to decide it wasn’t as much fun anymore and they needed to head elsewhere. As evening fell, the beeswax outside was the only sign of a party. A fairly tidy lot I must say. The kitchen was back to its usual hum drum, the bee’s flight path outside the window stopped, the sun soon set and stillness returned to the air.

Until the following day. And today. We have tried to have the windows open but no, the bees like the kitchen. Today wasn’t as busy (with bee traffic) but still, their communications team need to up their game. The bee table has now been moved away from the house to see if that helps and the beeswax has been hidden away. Let’s hope the long party weekend is over for the bees.

The Final Countdown

Harry, Theo and Alan’s opportunities to perform their version of Shawshank Redemption are limited. In fact, if they manage to escape now they really will need to be added to the team in Hollywood’s Ocean’s 11. Yes, after the trio escaped on their first day, they were named after escapology artists: Harry Houdini, Theodore Hardeen, and Alan Alan. Harry was the ginger ninja who nearly became folklore by heading for the hills. Runty MacRuntface, who was no where like a runt now. Thankfully bucket training became a very useful tool. But they have now got to a stage where they are ready for the next chapter.

The livestock trailer was moved into place yesterday so they could get use to it, prod about and be familiar with it. For yes, in that they will then head to their forever home.

They have done really well digging up the ground, escaping (they would notify you in the space of ohh, about half an hour if you accidentally left the electric off) and well, just being pigs. They have covered more ground than I had initially calculated (based on the previous pigs’ digging ability; it turned out these guys were less moving and shaking and more digging and shovelling). Covering more ground was great. Ok, the electric fence needed shifted more often then planned but as it was set up to expand their ground area over time, it was very exciting when you could keep extending it for them. They then head off before winter hits. The winters here are not pleasant (we have done pigs over winter once and said, not again, not necessarily for the pigs, but for us). We are high up and can be hit with snow which doesn’t lie even at the neighbours (aye, it’s the tropics down that way when you head for the council road).

The ground the pigs have been on will still need some work. Stones have been lifted and shifted but there are plenty from more recently that need uplifted. When the pigs were smaller, this was easier. A smaller sized pig can come up beside you and want a good scratch. But they have grown. Now, they are not massive but have the potential to join a rugby scrum and win. So with that, I have left the stones recently for once they go and I don’t have to rugby tackle everything (because yes, they will play along and yes, they would win, I accept that so I just bide my time). Rushes can have a very strong root base so even they will need to be fully uprooted to ensure we don’t get a new crop next year. And then the soil needs levelled. Pigs are good at digging, less so at tilling. They aren’t really the immaculate golfer’s lawn makers. No, they are the serious ploughers, not the high demanding massive tractors needing fuel to run but muscle fuel doing what they want to do.

So, tomorrow we say farewell to them and soon hello to pork back on the menu. If they do escape think I will just claim full ignorance as I’m sure they would do well out in the hills, spooking hillwalkers and running like mad when they hear the sika deer shriek. So coming soon, is pork!

In the jungle, the mighty jungle…

Yep. The lion sleeps tonight. And as much as I come across as a lion to some, I don’t have the skill to sleep like a lion. I can go through phases more akin to the night owl. And not that I want to, but whether a career with night shifts and on calls did it but I can really struggle with sleep. This past week has been no exception. Now, it’s not just that I struggle with sleep. If I have been asleep and a mini crofter wakes up in the night for whatever reason, I can’t get back to sleep. Ping, that’s me wide awake and ready to go get ’em. I blame the on call rota for that. Which is fine if you need an emergency operation in the night. Not so fine if you still have to crack on with the day jobs and there really isn’t anything you can do during the night. One night of it is fine, a few start to take their toll, usually at the four plus I start struggling. Top it with about a 3 hour sleep night and I feel like I’ve just forced myself to stay awake after coming off of night shifts. The eyes are gritty. And you spend the day clock watching to bed time.

But as bed time approaches and I start closing curtains, I spot the cows. Not bellowing, but they have been mingling at the water trough for a while. Hmm, who’s serving drinks at the bar and why are none of you socially distancing? Cows usually meander to the water trough throughout the day. It’s unusual for them to be at it together. It’s not a group exercise to the water hole as it is for other creatures. I watch Tilly, she raises her head and there is no water dripping. Aghh, something has gone wrong with the water. Scrap the early bed calling. Grab a pair of gloves, my stick and off we (the dog and I) head up the hill to check the water source.

The thing is, it has been a wet summer. Or so it seems. And we did get a bit of a downpour the day before. Has gubbings come off the hill and blocked it? Hmm, no is the answer. Everything looking like it should be other than, there wasn’t much water in the burn. Gus and I snake back along the pipe. Fine, fine, fine, and there we are. A connection point with water leaking and a soggy mess down hill. The connection is more stubborn than I am so I quickly give up and decide to put the cows onto option two. If you aren’t happy with your drinks at one bar, head to another.

And this is where confusion enters the scene. I shut off tap one up stream, which is needed before turning on tap two. Start heading to the next one and I hear water flowing. Ehh? I go back up and check. The pressure gauge has gone up and there is definitely water coming down. Which means the tap was off. So the leak further up was only because of the high pressure (so hence I couldn’t get it any tighter). When did that happen? And how? I plod over to check the trough and sure enough the sound of water gurgling and spurting through is a lovely noise. The cows stop their mumblings, have a bit of a tussle as to who gets served first before each one soon starts heading off back to chomp grass.

As to how the tap got shut off? It’s near the beehives which I had checked the day before. I had forgotten the tap was so close to them as its under thick grass. I had no awareness of turning the tap when taking things on and off the hive but it would seem I and part of the beehive was the root of the problem. Although the idea of the bees joining forces to get the tap off for a practical joke isn’t far from the imagination.

Beautiful Noise

Neil Diamond sings about the beautiful noise:

“Goin’ on everywhere
Like the clickety-clack
Of a train on a track
It’s got rhythm to spare”

I have no idea when he wrote that but it could be adapted to the clickety-clack of zoom meetings in the current world situation. Maybe not what we had envisioned for 2020 but suddenly for those of us remote, we can attend meetings without having to clock up time and emission miles. One laptop, an ironing board (so I can sit on a comfy seat rather than a desk), and some internet connection. The clickity-clack of the train is substituted for a keyboard.

Does it fully compensate seeing and meeting up with people? No. But with zoom I was able to participate in the Scottish Crofting Federations’s (SCF) Young Crofter’s Virtual Gathering this week. I have no plans to go travelling at the moment but on that day I got to visit Lewis, Uist, Kishorn, and Glenelg to name a few. And with those video clips and virtual gathering came the beautiful noise. The sound of hearing what others are doing, the impact of Covid, and aspirations of other Crofters.

And on that note, here is my challenge. Covid has made people more aware of food supply chains, buying local and minimising their carbon footprint. There are plenty who have these aspiratations to use the land; but to buy land, you need money. Yes, to take up an expensive ‘hobby’ as some tell me; crofting for many of us is ‘on the side’. We have other occupations. But that gives us resilience. Nor does all our income go to one basket. A couple of pigs, some sheep, a few cows, bees and a veg garden mean that if one market flops for whatever reason (say a sudden influx of cheap beef from abroad), we have cover. We’re less likely to go out with a bang (we are probably also a fairly determined group that are use to battling everything from bulls to bairns, wedders to weather, so we don’t just take things lying down). Some pay huge amounts to go play golf, others croft. When pandemics hit, what would you prefer to have as your neighbour? A golfer or a crofter? A professional golfer may draw in crowds, but how much time and fuel goes in to trimming those immaculate lawns and how tasty is a golf ball? But here’s the issue. To want to use the land, to invest blood, sweat and tears, oddly enough you need money. Estate owners can have a huge area of land, not live in the area, not invest locally, burn patches of hillside, release thousands of birds to then shoot a few months later. Birds that often have little use in the food supply change. But they have the money so they have the land. Someone else may look at physically utilising 10 acres of land, live on site, but struggle to find anything. Or if they do have land, have the battle of their veg crop being decimated by deer or loosing their chicken flock to pneumonia passed on by the estate’s incoming pheasants.

So a call to politicians for land reform? The innovation of what business opportunities can be generated on poor ground is amazing. Major changes needed to help with this? Yes, but small changes can have big impacts. You will then get the ‘the sound of the kids’, future generations putting investment back into communities. But this is where everyone (not just those in crofting or want to be involved) need to make a beautiful noise. Anyone who values utilising the land and having food on their table can invest in it. Buy local when you can, find out what work went in to your food, support the SCF who fights for Crofters, and together we can make a beautiful noise.

NB, Ok, not all golfers and estate owners can be categorised together, I have generalised. I do not fully understand the full laws behind land but I am more than happy to invite any politician to come spend a day here to find out more. The work is outside and you can be sociably distanced (the cows aren’t as good with that but well, they have had the coronavirus immunisation). Ms Stugeon, you may not need such fancy clothes but don’t worry, we’re less likely to make comments about how you look and I’d more likely want to know what you can do with that law degree under your belt for the future Crofters.

The End of the Line

The Travelling Wilbury’s were probably not singing about electric fencing. Nor, guessing by their picture when I googled them, did they have the same problem as I do with predictive text. Both electric fencing and predictive text have the ability to cause a pent up feeling that you really are, at the end of the line. But its this song that came to mind (well, the one line, have no idea what the rest of the lyrics are or what the song is actually about) when dealing with both issue (fencing and predictive text; being able to memorise more than a line in a song is pushing it).

About 12 hours after the Crofter left for work, I had a pig on the run. Yep, after quite a drawn out bedtime (predictive text has tried to change ‘time’ to ‘line’; why does it think bedline is a word??). Try again, after the bedTIME battle with the mini crofters, I had finally broke free to fun, no, run (aghh, how do I switch it off??) and shut things up for the night. Dog let out, polytunnel shut, etc. Great. Get back to the house and whoa! There’s Harry, the not so wee finger (aghh, ginger!!) ninja pig on the wrong side. Thankfully, the pigs are now all bucket trained and will happily follow you at your heel (more so than the dog but we’re coming to that)

I should also now add that I have changed to a different device (yes, most of my blog posts are typed on my phone) to try and decrease the agitation of predictive text. It may also explain to some why there can be some really odd spelling mistakes and some random word selections recently, well, you now know why. A good writer will blame the annoyance of iPhone predictive text…

Harry soon joined Alan and Theo. This was after a quick sprint up and down the track to turn off (and then back on) the electric fencing. However, it soon became apparent that they were quite friendly with it. They are bright sparks, but we need them to stay within their means. Sorting fencing I figured would be a job for the morning. As I headed off to put the food bucket away, Gus, the dog, took off. I called him back. Great, he came. Turned round to shut a door and like that, he had disappeared.

And this is where I am also at the end of a line. His movement had been restricted back when the cows were near calving. It has been slowly reintroduced. Not always plain sailing but he has also been doing the job that we got him for. But over the past few days he has been doing the disappearing trick on us. All you have to do is turn for a second and he’s away. So what do I do? Answers on a postcard please, I’m away to look up some lyrics.

On the air

So the email went like this:

“I work on the Mornings programme on BBC Radio Scotland. On Monday the 27th July we’re going to be speaking to Donald Macsween about his new series of An Lot and I would like to widen this out a little and have a bit of a look at modern crofting. Ideally we’d like to speak to a female crofter who is relatively new to it. Could you recommend anyone like that who we could possibly speak to?”

So that’s when I come in. My response? Aye, that’s fine, but bear in mind I have no media background like MacSweenie (ok, I’ve done two days of filming with a German film crew but that’s not really a ‘be up there and go live on the radio’ deal). MacSweenie is on Series 5 of ‘An Lot’, he’s confident speaking AND he’s bilingual (this goes back to the David and Goliath blog when we were both shortlisted for the Young Crofter Awards in 2018).

However (as always, there is always a however). If it means helping people to understand that they don’t have to be from a family that have been in agriculture for the past 700 years, then ok, I’ll sign myself up.

The wee ‘research chat’ a week ago was fine. Easy chatting, nae bother. About three days before the event I started to wonder what I had done. Two days before I started thinking of question/answers they may ask. The day before I did a blunder; I listened to the programme by the same lady. And then I really wanted to know why I had agreed. I don’t really listen to Radio Scotland. Any programs that have call ins are an instant ‘turn-the-radio-off’ deal for me. But I had gone and signed up for this.

Insomnia and I are often pals, catching up frequently; the night before was no different. The brain rewriting answers to potential questions. It was becoming worse than preparing for an interview. This would be on the phone. I hate phones (I am much more likely to go round and tap on someone’s door than make a phone call).

The minutes were etching toward the time they said they would call. It ticked past. I had already picked up that each topic was snippets. No depth, no background. Just fire and run. The radio discussion was currently on gardening. Just started to think I had the wrong day, or maybe that they were running out of time so decided to skip it…I could be in luck. Fat chance, the phone rang.

All that to say, yes, it did feel like I was back at school in a French oral exam and yes, I was introduced by my maiden name (and no, people can still not pronouce it). At least both MacSweenie and I spoke of deadstock. He mentioned the abattoir. And I was about to post a blog about the abattoir. Which funny that, the German film crew got a trip to the abattoir and now Radio Scotland tie in to the abattoir.

And voila, it was over. Thankfully my mind pulled a blank screen over what I said so I can’t really reflect on it. I’ll go back to talking to the cows. Oh, and don’t make bread the morning of an interview, it will rise quicker than you have ever seen and will need the oven about, ohh, 15 mins before you’re on the air…

On the road again.

During lockdown, the bicycle and Thule chariot were in frequent use. But for this adventure, I needed the livestock trailer and although I’ve improved my cycling fitness, I am not in the iron lady category.

As Radio 2 hit speakers, I heard the road traffic report. Incidentally, they were all down south. So as I came across a hold up on the A95 into Aviemore I was tempted to ring them up. Yep, there were a small herd of cattle frolicking along, enjoying the gorse bushes while traffic come to a complete halt in both directions. On my left was an open gate into a field with another group of cattle. Not a field that they looked like they should be in, but never mind, that group weren’t trashing the lush, green growth. No, they were looking bemused at their new spectator sport of the Cairngorm version of Spain’s running the bulls. As the cows finally moved off to the side, traffic started to gingerly creep past. The deliberate slow moving traffic seemed to attract the attention of a few steers; they decided to stand like VOSA inspectors, checking license plates and road tax of passing vehicles.

There was no sign as to where they had come from and I couldn’t tell who they belonged to. Just because I was pulling a livestock trailer didn’t mean they were mine either (I got a look from one car that seemed to imply that). However, just a bit further on I spotted a quad bike racing for the road, the driver looking specifically for something (and not a lottery ticket search, but a ‘let’s stand up and peer frantically in both directions’ look). Figured I had just lost my chance to ring Zoe Ball to let them know about the major traffic jam for the road report. It may not have been a ring road round some major city, the slip way that’s blocked again or the lorry getting a wheel changed but it stopped traffic both ways and caused some excitement. Albeit, the traffic hold up was about three one way and five the other. Pretty major for those of us who haven’t been out much. Wish it had been the most exciting part of the day, but no, t’was merely the aftermath of the rollercoaster ride with one of our cows.

I was down that neck of the woods to drop a cow off at the abattoir. And it was Wild Thing (aka Breena) who was getting taken. Yes, that’s right. After two years of having more than enough stressful situations with her, a winter where she bullied several of the others yet looked like she was under duress, and her ability to show that for whatever reason, she didn’t like me, I had given her adequate warnings but to no avail. So she was told her she would be going. Which she did, just not quietly. And I still have a slight shudder when I go near the livestock trailer.

Covid-19 has affected one or two things in the croft and we now have to pre-book the butcher ages in advance. Add to this was her age, (being slightly older), which meant I couldn’t take her to my preferred choice of abattoir, but to the most ill thought through abattoir I have every seen (ok, I’ve only seen two but really, who designed the access!). Entering with a livestock trailer and having to turn the vehicles to off-load livestock is equivalent to getting a hippo to reserve into a hoola-hoop and ask it to do a pirouette. Once you are successful at off loading the beasts, you have to do some funny angled reversing to either drive out or reserve the entire way through a ‘C’ curve entrance. All do-able, just not the easiest with two kids in the car and a beast in the trailer when you want it to be calm and peaceful.

However, in this instance, I was more than happy to leave the job until the Crofter got back. Not necessarily because of the manoeuvring in this instance (I’m not bad for pirouetting a hippo in a hoola-hoop) but it was the idea of having to get Breena loaded and unloaded that terrified me. So we decided it would wait. But then I got the offer of a helping hand, someone else who could come, keep their distance but still help me load her. So I got a bit of courage and booked her in.

Loading her up went better than anticipated. She gave a final kick in my direction, a good shake of the head and a snort through the nose like a charging bull. The door was shut and I breathed a sign of relief. Except, where’s the entertainment when things go perfectly? I nipped up to the house to grab a coffee and to cancel my helping hand who was about to arrive. By the time I got back to the pickup, the trailer looked like it was holding a raving disco. I had been about to check the back lights but when she saw me near by; the bang off the side made me quickly change my mind. She was communiting her feelings perfectly. I set off. Pulling forward two feet and something wasn’t right. The jockey wheel had dropped and was now stuck. I rolled back slightly to take the pressure off; it was now the opposite way and still a problem. The vehicles now looked like they were swing dancing while the disco was still in full throw in the trailer. Eventually I got it up. The disco rocking of the trail now looked more akin to a Calmac sailing to Lewis on a stormy day. If the police wanted to check the back lights up close I was more than happy, I’d let them decide and figured it was safer to just get moving.

Arriving at the slaughterhouse, both of us were breathing slightly more normally. The hoola-hoop manuver was going pretty well until a sudden head appeared from a door and wanted me to change the angle. Slight problem was I couldn’t understand everything he was saying. That peeved him off. I was now slightly unnerved. Not only that, a Food Standards Inspector had also appeared at the back of the trailer with a clipboard. Now I realised why the abottoir man wasn’t quite himself. Before I got round the back to warn him, he had the back of the trailer down. Breena started to walk straight off. I breathed out thinking my time there would be short and sweet and what was all the stress. But no, one hoof off the ramp and she decided, fat chance, and high tailed it back in. Abattoir man told me to try pushing her through from the hatch. Upon opening the door and giving her a prod from behind, she pirouetted on the spot faster than I or Mr Hippo and charged at the open hatch, eyeball to eyeball before I managed to slam it shut. I glance up to find Inspector Man had dived behind me and Abottoir Man was running off up the entrance road. My brain,

‘Where pal, are you going?!?’ Heart rate now on a cardiac zone according to my Fitbit.

Give him his dues, he was racing up to shut the gates before she managed the Great Escape. How he thought I could win against a charging cow I have no idea.

‘Bit of a wild one?’, he said when he got back (Inspector Man still behind me).

‘Aye, why else am I bringing her to you?!’

‘Hmm, just poke her through the holes’ was the reply I got from a less peeved off man. And with one of us on each side she went straight in. Abattoir Man sprinted up to close the gate behind her and I sprinted round to close up the trailer and be out of there as soon as I could. Well, I would have done if I could have turned hippo in the hoola-hoop properly. But no, that day, I had to reverse the trailer the full distance back to the road. Good job I can reverse a trailer better than pirouetting it in the space of a hoola-hoop.

Eagle and pidgeons

Our newly planted fields has been getting visitors. Four legged bandits looting the place under the cover of darkness. Picking on young, self defenceless seedlings. They are not part of any union to represent them, can’t afford a lawyer, so they are under stress. Not only that, word has been spreading among the pigeon population and gangs have been congregating in the area during the evenings.

Now, I’m not about to invest both money and hard labour into a field for the benefit of our small herd and lose it to pigeons and deer.

But they know what they are doing. I can’t see the field from the house. Even when I can see it, I cant always access it with two boys. And its too far away to leave them to stand and watch. Options were considered. Back to the strategy plans. I decided to take an MI5 approach. So meet Mrs Spooks. No, she’s not spying on the neighbours, but watching in the direction of the looters. She does carry a firearm. She’s more akin to GCHQ than 007, but the enemy doesn’t know that. A general scarecrow wasn’t what I needed. I need to scare the deer, and we’ve all seen Bambi to know what the evil man does. But men aren’t the only ones with firearms licences. And the deer know that. And they will have seen that hoodie out working before. And they may remember losing their pal Big Red a few years ago to that woman (the fingerprint analysis showed its not just wee deer…).

So my beloved deer and pals. I may not be there 24/7, but Mrs Spooks is my new employee covering it for me. She may not always have a gun. She may be joined soon. If she is, there will be social distancing between them. Who knows what skills the next employee may bring with them. But sometimes it’s better to be alone. Pigeons may flock together, but eagles fly alone. Let’s let her be an eagle. And let’s not spook the neighbours.