Maybe it would have been better if I had just done the original saying and just grinned and beared it. But back at the start of the year, one of my goals was to make my own gin (by infusion with a neutral spirit I hasten to add before I have HMRC tapping at my door wondering why I don’t have the proper license; I’m not bootlegging it before anyone asks).
The moon may shine but this is no moonshine. It’s just a chance to experiment with what is used to make gin, to see what flavours come through, what can I actually taste. But, I have a slight issue (not the unhinged type of issue where life’s lessons have given me a love of sarcasm and alcohol). Firstly, I don’t like tonic, and so what I use gives different flavours than what the general masses use. Secondly, I don’t tend to like the bog standard. What’s a girl going do? Find someone or some people to help. Yep, I had to lo and behold, ask for help again. I needed some to trial some blind tastings. And I found someone. Thankfully the search for volunteers was not long and hard to give away four mini gin bottles at home and have a wee evening in (thank goodness for lockdown…). But this wasn’t any knock it back and say aye or nay. Mine got sent with a tasting note card.
So the far side was recently ploughed. The far side (not the comic), is also referred to as the rough field. The hint is in the name. But what’s in a name? For it is less so now. OK, it’s not a lush green meadow with oddles of new grass, wild flowers and pretty butterflies dancing in the sunlight. But, it was a field of thick, deep rushes; old, open drains, buried fences, and a rough, and muddy road going through it.
Initially, the flail mower was taken to it. And repeated repeatedly as the reeds lost their strength and the mower could go lower and slowly creep further into the thick of it. The reeds were weakened, but were still holding the fort. And then a ‘Rush Management’ course was attended to and we held it to ransom. It’s full potential was suddenly seen so we upped the standards. A battle began (cue music from some epic film of warriors heading out at dawn to take back their land…). Well, more realistically, another coffee was swigged and the gloves and matic were embraced. Strategies were analysied (maybe looking more like a clip from Blackadder but we’ll skip that bit). Drains were inserted and then last year it was ploughed and seeded. The goal of an extra decent field was within our grasp.
And that goal? No it didn’t put out roots and give us that massive, lush meadow. No, the seeds got absolutely decimated by pigeons and probably pooped into someone else’s field and they ponder why they now have so many rogue turnips (we did plant turnips and not grass deliberately, it’s just harder to visualise a turnip field than lovely, long, lush grass). I don’t remember counting more than five piddily turnips at its maximum. In the end, for the winter, we got a good crop of thistles and it had unearth stone. Lots of stones.
Stones became the focus. They grew over winter. Little ones would appear. I’m sure they were looking at the reproductive cycle of rabbits. The de-stoning became a battle in itself. At first, with a fairly young micro Crofter and a mini crofter, the energy levels were not high. The sleep deprivation didn’t help with the va-va-voom. When rhe zip-a-de-do-da was there, it started off with several attempts being abandoned due to being completely midgiefied (anyone who has been to the Highlands will understand, and if the mid goes like you, well, abandon ship!). That problem eased right when we swiftly went to either too cold or too wet (superglue effect). I’m not coming up with lame excuses, honest. Each time the opportunity was seen, tried and soon retreated. Wet mud, frozen hands, stones cemented in. Multiple times, we would try to spend some time taking out stones. Because of the age of the mini crofters, usually only one of us went. Over time, and with help to watch the boys, several day trips were hosted. Spring appeared and the good weather was just perfect for stone picking. The boys slightly older. Trailer loads were removed before it had a bit of peace.
And then the man organised to plough it again was in contact, he would be back, and be back soon (see Rock Chick of the Century post).
The sudden thought of the field being seen with still some stones upped the tempo. And men may not be able to move mountains. But one woman can shift a fair few stones (within reason, I don’t see the point on getting people to throw objects at Olympics when there are achievable things with a purpose that you can utilise the energy for). Then two of us started at it. Two of us have shifted even more. The tractor and trailer were brought in on the action too. Mini Crofters were involved. Which sometimes paved the way for helping to get the work done, other times, less so.
Muck (from the byre which has been sitting there for quite a while) was spread before it got plough. Lime was spread a few days ago and then grass seed put in and rolled. None were just thrown out without reason. Soil test results showed us what was needed and calculated. Old clay drains were discovered which had over time become blocked, leading to the jungle. Since our initial attempted at getting on top of the rushes, we have seen more oyster catchers and curlews. There is also still the pheasants and pigeons but hopefully the grass will get going before they eat the seeds. And with that, we now wait for rain.
‘Honey, honey…’ ahh, ABBA. They have quite a few songs adaptable to the crofting lifestyle. But this one cuts the mustard for Dryope (she is a cow before you ask and no we didn’t name her). Just need to change the lyrics from ‘love’ to ‘milk’ and it fits the bill.
The dizzy thing in the song? Aye, have that too, thats’s just from standing back up again after trying to get the machine on her. And not only that, bending down low next to a cow takes a wee bit of courage, particularly if they show signs of wanting to bend it like Beckham rather than practicing to be one of those live statues on street corners. And with that concept, when it comes to the machine at the moment, I too look like I should be at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival (if it was on this year); but not as those live statues, but as a juggler. Because yes, don’t go putting a wee drop of milk into your tea without a bit of appreciation to the work that goes into getting that milk to you.
Now, big farmers will have a much better and efficient set up than us to start with. We just have a wee mini milker that we wheel out. Once everything is in place, toddle out to the field and it can vary. One day, they are queuing up. The next, oomph, they adhere to social distancing rules to the extreme. Never fear, once in, we can get it going. Except this is where I look like I’m practicing to be a stand up comedian learning to juggle. I can’t always get the machine to stay on the cow. Simple in theory. Basic really. Until you realise the pressure isn’t always right. And you need to get four hooked up while keeping a wee pin at the bottom pushed in to ensure the right pressure. Start at the back, swiftly pull the pressure pin, after getting the back two on, try and get the front ones on before the back ones fall off and hit the ground. Swift grab to catch them while trying to keep pressing the pressure button thingy and you end up where you started. So the two hands, five piece juggling set speeds even further up (so really, all wanna-be jugglers need to go work on a dairy farm). But speed still doesn’t always do it. Don’t get me wrong, some days I can get it on, sorted and stand back up without a hint of dizziness. Some days the statue, some days the pigeon as the saying goes.
Before the certain tut tutting comes from the firm traditionalists, I have been doing some hand milking too. Yep, I can satisfy both camps on that front. But it is a different skill and even then, some cows are easier to do it on then others. So it needs a bit of work too. One of ours is really good at kicking the bucket. Good equivalent to jump star exercises as you’re always thinking it (her leg) is coming (the kick) at you (and the dizzy thing isn’t there at all because for this you now have dead legs). But it gives us fresh milk (we are pasteurising it).
And so with that, maybe the milk juggling act with a hint of dizziness isn’t so bad. Add the occasional swish from the tail right across your cheeks and we’re onto a winner.
Just put them in the wheelbarrow, grab yourself a mallet
See what we can smash up
I want some slate scree and revamp, a dodgy little section
With a merry wee wish and bang
From slates for the roof to chippings galore
But still, the whole ones left over for sure.
Swing a mean machine
Want rid of the moss
We were bent down, hands down, little bit of sit down
Giving it a good wallop across
All the punters will say
And you’d be join in too
Blue, blue slate, could have bought from Wickes
But that wouldn’t recycle, reuse
So Deep Heat, don’t be a tease
Now I’m down on my knees
I’ve put the mallet back down
For some rest if you please
Please note, this is a countried (literally) version of Paul Heaton’s 7” Single. If only he were a Crofter, he could be singing about breaking up the old slate pile. He doesn’t know what he’s missing. The moss covered front garden patch has now been replaced with slate chippings and am just waiting for a new log shed to be built; I’ll just go add it to the to do list…
The Crofter is home again. He got back having only been gone for five weeks. As he checked the orchard and polytunnel I was able to confirm: I had not needed the knacker man, no plants had died in his absence (to my knowledge), we had had no hospital admittance, no vet call outs and no calves. Not bad going, if I do say so myself.
Ok, I had had to get assistance with the plumbing, a pig had gone on the run, I had brushcut a field, we got the full paramedic experience, and oh, I had had a cow sprint at me while putting up some fencing. But you know, other than the usual maintaince of things that needed done with the dry weather (paint potting shed, mow lawns, treat decking, and laundry all the curtains), the main issue had been the polytunnel, or more so, the plants in the tunnel. It became the new baby. Not as in something to fill an empty void and dote over like some treat their dogs. But something that needed attention every couple of hours. Sun appears, 45 degrees, open doors. Windy, 14 degrees, shut the door. Too dry, needs watered. Frequently. Weeds appear, time to hoe. Seedlings need repotting. Time to plant new seeds.
But the worst to control was the temperature. Not just in the tunnel, but under the velux windows in the house too. With the sudden balmy weather (think shorts and a G&T to non farming folk), the plants really suffered extreme temperature differences. The seeds in the house shot at a growth rate not expected. Thankfully there has been a drop in helicopters flying over, otherwise someone would have glanced in and misunderstood what we had going on upstairs. The tomatoes and corn all needed planted out sooner than expected. Except, the nights were baltic. So much so that quite a few in the tunnel were needing a winter duvet and tucked up in bed as part of their routine.
Never fear, the weather pressure has changed. Now that he’s home, there have been less temperature differences. Or so it seems. The doors aren’t needing opened and shut as often, the nights not as cold. Typical. But hey, at least Hilda waited till he got home to have her calf…
Meet the three wee pigs. Who, after their arrival (ie, one day to collect, three days distracted with plumbing) decided to put on a show in line with Gilbert and Sullivan’s Penzance production.
Scene one, act one began as they were given access to explore their new surroundings. The electric fence was soon tested but they showed their savviness. I breathed out a sign of relief, and with that, a sudden sprint ensued, a synchronised limbo dance move and all three went straight under the bottom wire and off they trotted.
Yes, off they frolic in their new sense of freedom when, upon spotting the cows, changed their navigation route like true pirates and headed straight to the byre.
As I quickly approached the new lair (and shut the door), the pigs took note that I have deceived them. And rather than go quietly into a wee corner, they decided it was better to live and die as pirate pigs than go easily. And I’m sure anyone wanting to audition for the next Captain Jack Sparrow, just needs to chase pigs. Eventually, while out of puff and with several bruises (me, not the pirates), all three were placed in the dog’s crate (improvising at its finest) and hauled (they may be wee but heavy when lifting!) back to their home.
And it is at this point when things took a twist. I had used a sheep gate across the front of their home while they acclimatised, it had worked perfectly. The first out was Runty MacRuntface who, did a magic trick and went straight through the gate. How he did it, I will never know, but there, for split second, he stood outside of his home, glanced back and then, doing the identical breakdancing trick as before, off he trotted.
Now this time, the cows took an interest in the wee ginger ninja. So he changed his bearings and headed west. As I gained ground on him, he slipped through the next fence, swung wide and headed for the road. Bear in mind, piglets are small but they sure can move at some pace. As he started to then head back to the byre, a brief sense of relief was felt until, at the last gasp, he shot off back down the road, slipped through the neighbours deer fence, crossed the river a couple of times before disappearing into some heather. And then vanished. Completely and utterly vanished.
The mishap fugitive on the run had not gone unnoticed. The neighbours (whose property it was that he went AWOL on) cane out to help and started combing the area too. I checked for footprints. We got the dogs out to try and smell him. But no, he became the poor wandering one. And eventually I have to give up. The boys needed their lunch. I was needing a seat. But even then, while the sun shone (why, oh why could I not be sat with a G & T?), I scanned the east side of the glen like I was gold panning. Just as I have up and started cracking on with the other jobs for the day, my phone rang. He had been spotted, not in the glen, but high up, in the forestry woods and appearing to be having a whale of a time.
And this is when the concept of getting him back started to diminish. After several circuits, bent over, through the thick, sharp tree undergrowth, I had to call it quits. He had disappeared again. The idea of a Scottish ginger wild boar being discovered by a rambler in years to come and becoming front page news for the local press crossed my mind. I had to accept defeat and go give the confession to the Crofter. A pirate sherry was poured and the acceptance of loosing to a piglet hung in the air.
But, never fear, for their operetta does not end there. For that evening, as I trudged wearily out to feed the remaining two, both snuggled up in the straw; there, under their house, was the runaway pig. As the sun slowly dipped behind the hill, the blue sky turning to a very chilly hue, he was finally reunited with his comrades (ok, after five laps of the house trying to get him in).
And since that day, they have remained in their designated spot. Hill walkers and ramblers will not come across a ginger boar running wild in the woods. The local press will need to find other stories to cover. Oh happy day.
Ahh, lockdown. The time to sit back, get the spring cleaning done and spend some quality time with the kids. Aye, but no good story starts with the spring cleaning. Things had started off ok and were going tickety-boo until soon after I’d written the Rock Chick post. Then someone (not me, I hasten to add) decided to ramp up the tempo and figured I was ready for the next level up and needed a new challenge (all terms useful for zoom chats with all normal urban souls but maybe more applied to Scrabble than scrambling about like mad).
The first hint of a problem was a stream of water coming from the byre and exiting via an emergency exit. Upon turfing the cows out briefly, I discovered a leak in their trough. Not just any trough, their emergency trough (and certainly not an M & S one). The normal trough got a massive crack in it just before the Crofter headed off. A new one had been ordered. But this was just as we hit lockdown. The company didn’t know how long it would take. So with that, the emergency one was put into working order and all hunky doory.
Until the fateful day. From working with the Philips screw driver, the two of us soon made sure we had frequent catch ups. If we missed a day, we would be sure to make up for it the following day. Now, the main tap for the water supply is about 500 steps away from the byre trough. It supplies the field troughs too. And the polytunnel. And to check if the system was working, meant something more akin to the bleep test from PE class. For it’s not just a back and forward exercise class, it’s under the pressure that Child 2 is down for a nap which means there are other jobs to get done. And child 1 has been given use of the online babysitter (aka Peppa Pig) so I can move slightly quicker and not have to answer the ‘why’ question for the 482nd time while trying to gain a qualification in plumbing.
Nor has it been a straight wham, bam, strawberry jam solution either. The first overflow issue was initially resolved; the connector and the floating doofer had fallen out with each other (I’m not a plumber, in case you wondered).
In response to that argument, the trough then took a huff and decided to stop all communication with the connector and go dry. Philips and I took a look again. Soon, a wee trip up to the water source was needed. I say wee; distance wasn’t a marathon but if you need to transport two children up a hill I can now recommend a cloth sling for the youngest on the front and a strap sling to hold a toddler on your back. Parking two beside a burn may seem dangerous to Health and Safety awareness people. But believe me, it’s nothing to having to stop a toddler the urge from throwing stones in while you’re in trying to remain dry.
The walk down didn’t seem nearly so bad. The comment by the Mini Crofter didn’t help though. ‘Mummy, shall I turn the other tap back on?’ Aghhh, yes, please…to know he knew of another tap is one thing, but when did he turn it off?
Which is great, until the next day and I’m back to an overflowing trough and a dry polytunnel. Yes, my sons enjoyed wading through the puddled water. Did we eventually sort the water? Yes. A sheared tap was found and sorted, the floating doofer had more stuff stuffed into it, and the boys new paddling puddle dried up. Step count? Much higher than normal but I’m not really wanting to walk 500 more…
And other such lies. Life has been far from one of bonbons and more like a need for bourbons for that matter. Things started going amuck about three weeks ago. A burst pipe, then no water supply, three day bonding with a misbehaving water trough, a cow needing extra pre-calving support (ie, feed; not some antenatal class to tell her to practice her hypnobirthing), an overheating polytunnel, a pig on the run for an entire day, and a jungle of seedlings growing like weeds was my equivalent to ‘what level of Scrabble are you?’ while chatting on zoom meetings.
Not only that, my youngest decided I should have an adaptation to a Keeping in Touch (KIT) day with work. A late night call to NHS 24 with a child having serious breathing problems meant they called for an ambulance. Spiking fever, not eating, hardly drinking, minimal sleeping, crackly breathing had all been off and on rehearsals for several nights before. Nights were worse, days passable; always borderline about ringing the GP, but generally thinking we could manage at home.
Knowledge can be pants. Knowing your child has a high respiration rate is not an easy thing to assess what your response should be at 3am. A spiking fever hitting 40 degrees didn’t help. Things had seemed to be improving though. A day with a bit of food and no fever seemed promising. Until 9.30 at night. And several things were not right. Eventually I made the call to ask for advice. The ambulance was called. As I kept the lights on, waiting, unable to put him down, the soft lights of the neighbours slowly diminished. It felt like a long wait. And then vehicle lights could be seen. Just as I caught a glimpse, my son stopped crying and breathed normally. Nooo! Don’t tell me the paramedics are driving all the way out and you stop the exact thing they have been called for. But yes, he looked them in the eye (not the dazed, unresponsive look like earlier). He even smiled at the one by the end. Aghhh. No short, sharp intakes. No crying, no ridged body. Not even the sound of the stuck but contented cat came from his lungs. I know I should be thankful that he suddenly improved. I am thankful for the paramedics who came. I am thankful for the lady on NHS 24 who heard him and knew I wasn’t making it up. Thinking positively, I got to see some of the paramedics equipment. I have swotted up on paediatric observation norms. I didn’t have to commute for the KIT experience. Let’s not miss the opportunity.
The following day was proof that coffee does save lives. I had about five more than the usual amount. We got through. Thankfully with lockdown we don’t have to go anywhere and we rarely see others. Theoughout the day, the Micro seemed to have made a change not just for the paramedics.
So with that, we do now appear to be all quiet (well, if you ignore the sound of the bad radio connection coming from my son’s lungs). Apart from Hilda, who looks like she will pop a calf out soon and hasn’t been reading up on her hypnobirthing…
I really don’t think Amy MacDonald was thinking about agriculture when she wrote the lyrics of the ‘Mr Rock and Roll’ song. But, when you spend two mornings picking up stones to clear a field, you do feel like the title. Not in an egotistical sense, but more that you have just shifted more than a 100 stones and that you have a step count higher than a cricketer getting a century.
Maybe it’s time Rock Chick got a new image? Not a jumping up and down at a festival or singing along in a studio, but a ‘dancing in a boiler suit, on her own and no, she doesn’t care’ image.
A field of stones can be daunting. The field is not massive, but in terms of stone picking, it’s only slightly up from finding a needle in a haystack.
How to deal with the task? Focus on the road we’re building, not the field we’re clearing. This is not the first (or sixth) time I have been over clearing stones since it got ploughed last summer. Several trailer loads have been shifted. But there is still more. Shifting stones gives you time to think. It’s a good time to process events. Have epiphanies. Keep forgetting the lines to the third verse of a catchy song. And become an expert out standing in your field (sorry, but you must have known that was coming!).
I can now tell you the current terroir and climate are perfect for the job. The ground isn’t frozen, the soil isn’t too muddy, the ground isn’t rock hard. The grass/weeds haven’t swamped the stones, there are no midgies. So what better way to spend my time. It will help improve the soil. The cows (and tractor implements) will be thankful (well, we’ll be thankful they haven’t been damaged by stones). It will help access all the trees we have planted. It makes you appreciative of things such as the Romans, muscle rub and hot baths.