Wednesday, 25 August 2010

Big bums are very warming

Is a big bum better than a tiny bum? Ah, it’s one to ponder. Certainly for a lot of the animal kingdom, big is better. Take sheep, you’re standing in the middle of a cold, windy field and it starts raining. You might think of finding some shelter. You might think of finding a tree. You might even think of finding a hedge. Mostly you’ll be turning your back to the worst of the weather and trying to work out if the surface area of your own behind is big enough to act as a shield.

Personally, if I was a sheep, I’d be one of the driest in the field. I’d probably even have bad weather friends who’d congregate around my head to stay dry and warm; throwing the odd leg out halfway through the night when they get too hot.

Animals don’t have to worry about fitting into a pair of jeans and having a nice shape. What they want are big friends that they can cuddle up to at night. In the winter I pack my chicken sheds tight so the birds are snuggled together. Same with the pigs, though I do have a worry over one little girly pig.

Pigs get up at dawn, mooch about for a couple of hours, and then go back to bed during the day. Very Spanish siesta.

I do all the maintenance work on the pig pens at siesta time because it’s far easier to get anything done without a clump of pigs helping by trying to eat the hammer, or the saw, or me.

Shammy sow is in with a group of five adolescents. Shammy is a I’m-taking-no-nonsense-and-if-you-upset-me-I’ll-put-my-nose-under-your-belly-and-flip-you-a-summersault kind of mum. Adolescents need a firm trotter, and she gives it. Only, with one of her kids I’m worried she might have gone too far.

When I’m down there working they’re all asleep together in their house. All except one, this little girly pig. She sleeps outside, and I don’t think it’s through choice, I think Shammy won’t let her in, and I don’t think she’ll let her in because she snores.

She can’t help it. It’s not her fault. But it is bad.

I can hear it from the other side of the field. She sounds like a very low flying, stuttering, propeller aeroplane. Only louder. It must be awesome when she’s actually in the house, a house that’s made from acoustically perfect corrugated iron.

Yet she’s seldom in there. Most of the time she’s just outside it, which has been fine throughout the summer, in fact a lot of them sleep outside on the cool earth when it’s hot, but now it’s turning towards autumn I’m getting worried for her.

The way I see it I’ve got two choices, I can either try and cure her snoring, or find her another house. I’m not keen on finding her another house as I don’t want her to be on her own and lonely, so I Googled, Herbal Remedies for Snoring. I didn’t mention it was for a pig.

The first hit recommends you avoid smoking (she doesn’t), limit alcohol intake (mm, as far as I know, but she is an adolescent), sleep on her side (she does), aromatherapy (!), and losing weight.

I could cut her feed back, but she’s got such a big gorgeous bum on her I’m reluctant to put her on a diet.

So I’ve decided to build a lean-to on the house. Actually it’s more of a conservatory as the roof is an old double glazed window, but the wall is solid. It’s not going to be as good as sleeping inside the house, but it’s far better than being completely outside. And besides, her big bum should help keep her toasty warm.

Sunday, 22 August 2010

The worry of working a smallholding alone

It’s so stupid. Really, really stupid. But I’m… I don’t know. Not in trouble, not exactly, but not far off. Okay yeah I’m in trouble. I’ve got myself into this mindset and I can’t find a way out of it. Look, this is making no sense, so I’ll give you the bones and then try and work out what the hell’s going on.

Debbie developed this bad shoulder and she’s had some injections into the joint to try and help it, and then I nipped off to London to see my mother for a day, one day, that’s all, and left her with the farm. She did the rounds of the animals, and ripped her arm again. It’s as bad as it ever was.

I feel guilty because I left her, like it’s my fault, and I feel bad that she’s trying so hard to carry on around the home when clearly she’s in pain - though she can’t do the animals - and I worry about her, I worry about her a lot. But that’s not the problem. That’s not why I’m in trouble.

I’m in trouble because, and this sounds so stupid, I’m in trouble because with Debbie out of action I’m worried I’ll get injured and then neither of us will be able to do the animals, and the more I worry, the more I seem to keep hurting myself. Last night I pulled a muscle in my leg climbing over a fence. The night before I twisted awkwardly and caught my back. The night before that, the chainsaw kicked-back and smashed into my shoulder.

They’re not major, but it just seems every day there’s something. I’m trying so hard to be careful, but every day I end up feeling bruised and kind of beaten-up. But it’s not the physical thing I’m worried about. It’s who would look after the smallholding if I was out of action as well as Debbie. Not, you know, major or long term, something could be worked out for that, I mean an emergency day. A day neither of us could.

There’s nobody around here who can do the feeding and watering of the animals other than Debbie and me.

It makes me feel, kind of alone and kind of vulnerable. I’ve never felt vulnerable before, not really, and I don’t like it. There’s other stuff too. It also makes me feel angry. I’ve no idea why it makes me feel angry. The closest I can get is when I feel vulnerable there’s also this sense of feeling weak, and feeling weak is horrible, so, I guess, I’m smothering it with the opposite extreme and getting angry.

But it’s an odd kind of unfocused anger. Anger for the sake of being angry. Angry so that I don’t feel vulnerable, which of course I still do, so I just get angrier. It’s weird.

It’s all internal, I’m not punching walls or anything stupid like that. I just feel tense and on edge and angry, and the more I feel like that, the more I seem to injure myself, and the more I injure myself, the more worried I get, and the more worried I get, the more vulnerable I feel, and the more vulnerable I feel, the more angry I get. It’s a circle, but it’s a circle I can’t break out of at the moment. It’s horrible.

I know I just need to calm down and relax about it. I’m trying to. I’m trying to.

Tuesday, 17 August 2010

It comes to us all. Ish.

So I got out of the shower and towled down in front of the mirror thinking, you know, I might have put on a little weight, maybe gone up a jeans size, but it’s okay. It’s not a bad look. Not a bad look at all.

For a while my old 32” jeans had been, shall we say, a little snug. Even a bit Freddy Mercury, and I noticed I had been approaching the point where I had to throw my leg over the quad bike with more and more care.

Then a few days ago I’d been doing something particularly messy, probably involving the back end of a sheep, certainly the back end of some animal, and ended up changing three times that day, which meant I’d run out of work jeans. Desperate, I found an old pair stuffed at the back of the wardrobe still in the bag.

They were a pair Debbie had bought at some ridiculous knock-down price, something like two quid, and although they were a size too big, she said I could wear them on the farm with a belt.

I said thank you, but knew I’d have to be screamingly desperate to wear them.

I was screamingly desperate.

I put them on.

Oh. Oh, they were like slippers on tired feet after a long day. Man I could move. I felt younger, fitter. I honestly felt like I had more energy. I wasn’t tired, I was nineteen again. Oh!

I approached the quad bike and leapt on with all the abandon of Zoro leaping on the back of his horse.

So I’ve gone up a jeans size. I kind of feel okay with that, I think. Once you’ve made the decision, then it’s easier to accept. Something inside your head changes too, or maybe it’s your eye sight, I don’t know. I now believe a little extra covering on a body is good, healthy, sexy, and, um, will help keep me warm in the winter. That’s it, I’m preparing my body for winter. I’m not fat, I’m a boy scout, always prepared. Just, a, slightly, older, boy scout.

Friday, 13 August 2010

So pleased - Guest blogger Feltmaker

Frances Barker is in thrall to felt. In her Suffolk home there is an abundance of wool in various stages of being washed, carded, dyed and worked into hats, boots, and other functional, as well as decorative items. "I enjoy getting lost in the possibilities that felt provides. Some soap, water, friction and a little sheep's fleece are the foundations for an incredible textile that can be gossamer fine or thick enough to act as armour".

Felt is made when wool meshes with itself. It isn't a woven or knitted fabric; but relies upon the little scales on the wool fibre entangling with each other. To encourage this process along, the felt maker wets the carefully laid out layers of wool and rubs soap through them. Then the resultant soft felt is shrunk (fulled) to size, usually by rolling it in a bamboo blind.

Frances is in her final year of a city and guilds programme and although she is sometimes lured into spinning some of her wool stash, it is always the felt that she returns to. "Spinning is fun, but felt is faster. I can make a felted hat in a day, it would take me far longer than that to spin and knit one!".

At one point Frances was felting so much that she hurt her shoulder and it looked as though she might have to give up her precious pastime. Undeterred she turned to her washing machine to do the hard work. Wool as a fibre, shrinks dramatically as anyone who has accidentally washed a pure new wool jumper on a hot wash can testify. By carefully shielding the soft felt, the machine can achieve the shrinking, leaving more time to lay out more wool.

"I've noticed that some of the coarser natural wools do very well in the machine. This means that I can source my materials closer to home, which is good news for both producer and makers".

Felt is fantastic fun, if you ever get the chance to, then try it.

Check out more of Frances Feltmaker blogs at

Wednesday, 11 August 2010

Thoughts from a newish author

So my book has been out for a little over four months now. I was toying with the idea of writing a blog entitled 10 mad things authors do when they have a book out, like a funny list, and I started writing it, laughing and shaking my head as I typed. I was getting on quite well and it wasn’t until I finished number 5 that I started wondering if it was possible these were things only I did?

Mm, Number 6 – Paranoia.

Take Amazon for example. I check my book three of four times a day minimum, 1. To make sure it’s still there, 2. To check the ranking (though I have absolutely no idea how the ranking process works or what it means and I seem to bounce between 4,000 and 100,000 – though I’m guessing the former is better than the latter), and 3. To check where other books are that are similar in the ranking system that doesn’t mean anything anyway (though I then have to click lots on mine just in case I have given my competitors extra points by clicking on there’s).

But it doesn’t end there.

You can do an advanced search. You can type in the publisher, and then hit ‘Bestsellers’ and see where you come in the mysterious ranking system there. I was number 1 for a while, now I’m number 5. I carry on through the list, down the pages until I come to the book that was released at the same time as me. This sounds terrible, and I can’t believe I’m confessing it, but sometimes (often) if there’s a big gap between us and the other book is way down the list, I give a little yeah fist in the air. I can’t help it.

I’m not even competitive, and now I’m getting excited if I’m doing better than a book that’s nothing like mine in a ranking system that makes no sense and means nothing.

I never click on their book.

Then there’s twitter. I’m new to twitter, having avoided it mainly because I had no idea what it was all about and felt it would take far too much time to figure it out. I avoided it for two years, then spent an hour figuring it out.

It’s seriously addictive. I follow Stephen Fry, obviously, and as many writing related twitters that I can find. I even won a new release book from an Ebury Press tweet, how cool is that! (Will read and review right here in a week’s time.)

I like the different ways publishers and writers push their books—what’s the difference between a publisher and a writer? A publisher promotes books, where as a writer promotes blogs and websites.

I’m the same. I drawl in admiration when I find a writer who’s got more than a 100 followers to their blog. Now that’s a ranking that I can understand.

Sunday, 8 August 2010

Unusual dinner friends

You know what it's like when you go out to a dinner party and get stuck next to someone you're unsure about? Well spare a thought for my horse, bless her.

Friday, 6 August 2010

Homemade oak spoon

I quite like this. It's an oak spoon i made for a friend's birthday with wood from our land. The spoon next to it is a desert spoon. I put some olive oil on it and it really brought out the grain of the wood. I hope she likes it.

Beautiful, majestic stag

Quick video taken last night of an absolutely stunning stag in my top field.

Monday, 2 August 2010

This is how it feels...

Sometimes life on the farm feels like one gigantic revolving door, the type you used to get in swanky hotels, where lots of people would crowd into a sweaty cheese shaped compartment and shuffle, very slowly round until the gap was big enough for them all to tumble into the foyer. The farm may not have a foyer, but that doesn’t lessen the tumble, they just hit mud as opposed to posh Italian tiles. But just as the first group are tumbling in, unseen on the other side are another group falling out.

Ten new point of lay chickens arrived on Saturday, and on Monday two of the old flock died and a duck went missing. Then a pig gave birth to a piglet. A piglet. One. Pigs are supposed to have about twelve and she had one. And it’s tiny, honestly it is the world’s smallest pig. Running next to mum it looks like a spider. Okay maybe my revolving door theory falls down a bit here, but in my eyes one pig came in and eleven others refused to enter.

Actually it’s the duck that’s got to me. I’ve known her since she was an egg. She was a Valentines Day presents for Debbie a couple of years ago. I’d got three for her, and now we’re down to two, which is really confusing because they go everywhere together. They’re never apart. If a fox got one, you’d have thought it would have got them all. I’ve seen otters around, would an otter take a duck?

The river that runs along side the farm is the West Lyn, and whilst you couldn’t exactly go white water rafting along it, it can become quite bolshie, and over the years has eroded away the riverbank causing trees and bushes to sag down into the water. Maybe the duck got tangled up and trapped?

I’d never walked the riverbed before, in fact I hadn’t seen most of it. All the fields that back onto the river are edged with banks and trees to stop the stock from escaping, and me from peering over. I can get down to it at the far end of the farm, but other than that there simply is no other access. Not keen on walking all the way down and then all the way back up, I decided to start at one end by nipping across a neighbour’s field, which, incidentally, is the favoured approach of the ducks too. The river is about ten foot wide and from what I could see, varies in depth between a couple of feet and a couple of inches. The plan was to stay on the couple of inches part.

I waded out in welly boots and began walking up stream. I had no idea the river twisted and turned quite as much as it did, and within a minute could no longer see where I started. I discovered waterfalls I never knew existed, crystal ponds and clever dams. And I also discovered bones. Not duck bones, but very white bones none the less. It was quite eerie, especially as I have this terribly inventive imagination, and couple that with a heightened sense of cowardice I’m quite capable of spooking myself anywhere, and the only times I have ever come close to rolling the quad bike is when I’ve been convinced there’s a Scooby-Do ghost hand behind me reaching out for my collar.

The bones were old and undoubtedly sheep, but I lost interest in staying dry and splashed all the way to the end. I didn’t lose interest in looking for the duck, but I didn’t see anything that resembled her either. She was gone. But I do have the last fertile egg she laid. Maybe, just maybe that revolving door is still turning.