Who Let the Dogs Out

August 1, 2020

Since we’ve been living up here, we’ve been entrusted with the odd bit of animal sitting, mainly chickens, which comes with its own rewards. This week, however, our animal sitting activities have been taken up a level.

pigs in pen

Our neighbours up the road have gone off for a week leaving us in charge of three pigs, several sheep, a dozen hens, some pheasant chicks, three guinea fowl, two dogs and four extremely aggressive geese (the whole operation isn’t so much a smallholding as a novelty Christmas song). Fortunately, this mainly just involves checking that the various animals are still where they’re supposed to be and have water, chucking food at some of them, and shutting the door on the geese (hurriedly) at night and letting them out again in the morning.

The hens are still young uns so aren’t laying, but the guinea fowl are more than making up the deficiency (I have to confess, I had no idea that you could keep them for eggs as well as for just having fantastic polka dot feathers and making a racket; apparently they also eat ticks and don’t make as much of a mess of your garden as chickens do).

guinea fowl eggs

And it’s also been a chance to enjoy all the good bits of having a dog – going for walks, appreciating the aerodynamic qualities of a good stick, finding that specific spot behind the ear where it’s the most satisfying to be scratched – and none of the rubbish bits (mainly, picking up poo and paying vet bills). Even if the younger one (apparently a Labrador-kangaroo cross) has spent the week practising leaping until she managed to get out of the yard unaided today – and the weather has occasionally been a little suboptimal for walkies …

dogs in the dreich

People often ask us if we’re ever going to get some pets of our own. I do occasionally consider it but on the whole I think that the best kind of animals are the ones you can give back to their owners when they become tiresome (see also: children). Certainly, I’m no closer to wanting a dog, or a smallholding, of my own after this week … although I may have to stop googling ‘raising guinea fowl’ before things get out of hand.

Happy as a Dog with Two Tails

May 16, 2020

Outside a cottage I frequently pass on my travels, I sometimes see three dogs on the back of a parked quad bike, sitting and watching the world go by with an air of detached interest. Usually when I see them, it is earlyish in the morning, so I can only assume that their owner has been up at sparrowfart doing some agricultural task or other, and has taken a break to have his breakfast, telling the dogs to sit and stay, and so that is what they are doing. Two of them are sheepdogs, which is what you’d expect, and one is a black labrador, but they all sit there and don’t move, even when I cycle past, except to turn their heads to watch me go.

It always pleases me when I pass the house and they are there, waiting. It seems wrong just to pass them without acknowledging their professionalism, as dogs, doing their job of sitting and staying. But then again, it would be worse to pay too much attention to them and risk distracting them from their important task. So I have settled on giving them a brief nod of greeting as I would anybody else who was busy working out in the countryside. So far none of them have nodded back, but I’m not sure I would be surprised if they did.

I was hoping to see them this morning as I returned from my run, for it was about the time of day when I often do, but there was no quad bike parked up outside the cottage, and no waiting dogs. Instead the quad bike (and its owner) was out in the fields with the sheep doing agricultural things. And there on the back, tails wagging furiously with happiness, were my three acquaintances, getting their reward for their patience at last.

If there’s anything happier than a dog on the back of a moving quad bike, I have yet to encounter it. Except maybe three dogs on the back of a moving quad bike.

young calf staring through fence

In other news, the junior branch of Moo-I-Five have discovered the strange creatures living on the other side of the fence. We are apparently fascinating and terrifying in equal measure.

Lockdown Life

March 28, 2020

We’re so lucky to be experiencing this lockdown where we are – with a large garden and plenty of places to walk and cycle safely nearby – that I’m almost hesitant to blog these days because it feels a bit like bragging. The fact is, I’ve basically been preparing for this for approximately the last 10 years: not just the gardening and working form home, but the knitting (there’s a real danger I’ll finish the jumper I started more than a year ago if this goes on), sourdough starter to deal with the yeast shortage, and even the fact that I haven’t troubled a hairdresser for a decade so I won’t be emerging on the other side looking any different from normal, i.e. as if I was recently dragged through a hedge backwards. So I’m sure all of you will be tuning up your very tiniest of violins because I can no longer get my daily paper because it’s not an essential purchase and we’re too far away from any newsagent to take advantage of the free delivery offer (I was still super excited this morning when the other half went shopping for the first time in a week and came back with the Saturday Guardian – and I’ll be making it last all week).

Meanwhile, with spring battering on as if everything was normal, which of course for much of the non-human world it is, I am getting on with as much as I can. This is the year when there will be no excuses for not getting everything prepared and planted in good time, although at least the garden visiting committee is also under lockdown and can’t spring one of his surprise inspections on me (at least, I don’t think so but he’s a bit of a law unto himself so I’m not ruling it out). Indeed I have actually made a fair start of getting the veg underway and tackling various projects, like sorting out my fedge, but the real luxury now that everything is cancelled is that I’ve time to just potter, which is my favourite form of gardening of all.

Mostly I like to work in the garden with Radio 4 chuntering away soothingly in the background but these days that can backfire. Apart from the mysteriously coronivirus-free Archers, the radio now delivers a steady diet of doom and disasters, distracting me from the job in hand. I can’t remember what I was listening to when I was planting my kale and broccoli seeds – the coronivirus special Moneybox Live? The coronavirus special Inside Health? – but it was clearly a bit too compelling. As kale and broccoli are both brassicas, and hence basically the same species, you can’t really tell them apart until the plants are fairly mature so it’s important to correctly label your seed trays after planting. Even more important is not absent-mindedly planting broccoli seeds in the same modules where you’ve just planted your kale. Oops. Especially as broccoli is about the only thing that really produces anything to eat at this time of year … I’m just going to have to do another sowing that’s definitely broccoli and see if I can work out what’s what when the seedlings emerge in the other tray.

Meanwhile, I’ll maybe stick to Gardeners’ Question Time when doing anything that requires any concentration. Although no doubt even GQT will be doing a coronavirus special in a week or so’s time …

The Wind in My Hair …

March 3, 2020

Well, March nearly got off to the worst possible start with the discovery yesterday that I had lost my tweed cap. Normally it’s fairly safe from my tendency to lose things (see gloves, right handed) as it either lives on my head (if I’m out) or if I’m in the house then it will have come into the house on my head and so can’t have got far under its own steam. Unfortunately, on Sunday, faced with another gusty headwind home, I had taken the precaution of taking it off and putting it in my pocket in case it blew off and into the river. From there, it had undoubtedly fallen out, something I only discovered yesterday afternoon when I was ready to go out again.

This could have been a disaster as it would be tricky to replace. It’s not that tweed caps are hard to come by in Bigtown – every old boy in the town would appear to be issued a ‘bunnet’ on his 60th birthday with strict orders to wear it at all times. They are indeed the perfect headgear for around here being warm, waterproof and fairly secure in the wind; for the cyclist they also offer the benefits of a peak against occasional outbreaks of sunlight and a modicum of buzzard protection. The problem is that they do not usually come in my pinheaded size and they need to be a snug fit to stay on. Last time, I even investigated children’s hats, but they tend not to come in proper Harris Tweed, which is the only appropriate material for a proper bunnet. The current incumbent of my head had to be specially ordered for me by my mother and it might be a while before I was suitably behatted if I had to wait for that process again.

So there was nothing for it but to retrace yesterday’s ride, scanning the road verges with more than usual attention. And there it was, fortunately on a quiet side road, apparently unscathed from 24 hours lying on the ground, for such is the magic of tweed. It may not look like much, my little road-coloured hat, but boy was I glad to see it again.And yes, I did put it straight onto my head (after a good shake). It might be March and no longer actually snowing or blowing a gale but it’s still pretty bloody freezing all the same.

hat on road

101 Uses for a Brompton: Cattle Rustling

July 31, 2019

Of all the things gardeners don’t want to hear, ‘there’s a cow in the garden’ comes pretty close to the top of the list – perhaps second only to ‘there are cows in the garden’. Today’s visitor was just a lone beast, and fortunately, once it had been ushered away from the veg patch, quite happy to browse on the long grass near the compost tumbler, while Moo-I-5 stared at it over the fence, making helpful suggestions.

The question was where it had come from – unlike our usual coo neighbours it clearly wasn’t a dairy cow, being a rather fetching shade of dark brown (I would post pictures but these things inevitably happen when your camera is out of battery …). The likeliest source was the farm down the road, but we didn’t have their phone number so I hopped on the Brompton to rouse our neighbour to see if she was missing any cows, because obviously the person you need in a misplaced coo crisis is an octogenarian who stands about 4 foot 10 in her sparkly wellies.

She didn’t think she was one of theirs but came up the road to inspect our new resident anyway, and agreed that the best place for it was their field rather than the suspiciously lush grass around our septic tank. It took a bit of ushering from the three of us but the cow finally, reluctantly, relinquished the prime grazing of our lawn for the rather less luxuriant grass next door and we got the gate secured.

‘Do you get to keep it if nobody claims it in a couple of weeks?’ I asked.

‘It’s the owner to blame if it gets out,’ she pointed out with a twinkle in her eye. ‘Might fetch a nice price at the market …’

And then she headed back to the house to, I’m sure, make strenuous attempts to find out where it had come from and return it safely home.


June 19, 2019

I have been reading The Running Hare with some enjoyment (despite, perhaps, rather than because of its prose style). It’s an interesting excursion into what wildlife-friendly farming might look like and it has reinforced my recognition that much of what we think of as natural countryside is in fact a green desert. In particular, the dairy farm that borders our garden; much as we enjoy the annual visitation from Moo-I-5, for the rest of the year the field next to us is being put to work growing silage and it is much sprayed, cut, slurried and the like, making me wonder just how chemical free our own vegetables really are.

Fenced-off field margin

However, after the coos all but put paid to the garden fence last year, we’ve gained a bit of a breathing space. For reasons best known to himself, instead of replacing the tottering fence, the farmer just strung a new one at an angle to the old, creating a triangle of land which is now out of reach of cows and tractors (albeit not the sheep who usually spend a few weeks there in the winter). It gives us a little more distance from whatever is being sprayed and it has also created an uncut corner which is going a little wild. I’m watching with interest to see what comes up, assuming it’s allowed to remain – if you believe some rewilding gurus this will turn itself into scrubland, and then forest, unassisted, given enough time.

So far, we’re seeing nothing more exciting than nettles, dock, cow parsley and buttercups among the grasses (none of which are in short supply in our garden either), but rest assured you will be regaled with updates should things become more interesting.

I know, you can barely wait.

Exciting Trench Digging News

June 7, 2019

I suppose I should be grateful to my phone for choosing the morning after I had just met a series of unfeasibly tight deadlines to die on me. It has been proving erratic for a while, but I like to get as much life out of my stuff as I can before replacing anything, so I was resolutely ignoring it until finally I couldn’t. Rebooting, cache wiping and a factory reset all failed, the phone repair shop admitted that they’d just be googling it the same way I was, so it looks as if it’s time for a new phone (or new-to-me, anyway). Fortunately I have enough offers of people’s cast offs that I probably won’t be left stranded for too long – but today at least I have been phoneless, which also means cameraless.

Which is why you’re not being treated to the exciting (in the very specialised meaning of the word used in this blog) sight of two men digging a trench along the side of our tiny dead-end road (it was quite sweet that they’d even put out roadworks signs, even though it would probably have been less effort to just come round and warn us individually). Screeching to a halt on my bike I said the words that most rural householders can only dream of uttering:

… are you … putting in … fibre … by any remote chance?

Readers, they were. This was exciting enough news that I had to cycle back up the hill to tell the other half (OK, I had also forgotten the Guardian voucher but to be honest, such is our hill, that I normally just donate the Guardian the cost of the voucher if I realise I’ve forgotten it by the time I’ve descended). I leave it to you to calculate the bandwidth* of a slow cyclist on a steel tourer pedalling up a Category 3 climb, but believe me it won’t be the lowest we’ve experienced since moving to the country so this is exciting news

Looked at objectively,I would have to agree with the guy on the digger when he declared it mad to be running fibre up a road that serves a grand total of six houses, but it seems the Scottish Government is committed to rolling out superfast broadband to every house and business in Scotland and amazingly that appears to be what it’s doing. Colour me amazed.

Now we just have to hold them to turning their climate emergency promises into actual policies and we may just be getting somewhere. I might suggest 20mph limits as a good place to start.

* as the lecturer on my IT degree used to say back in the last century, ‘never underestimate the bandwidth of a station wagon full of floppy disks** heading down the freeway.’

** younger readers – ask your parents.

Party in the Back

April 21, 2019

Old military road

So we had a party to attend this afternoon – a 70th birthday celebration, just down on the coast, a mere 24 miles away as the bike rides and while, even for me, a round trip of 48 miles* is a bit of a reach, the weather was so gorgeous we decided to go for it anyway.

spring woods

There are so many reasons for embarking on such an adventure: saving some CO2 emissions, being able to take full advantage of the party catering (delicious), having something to talk about to your fellow guests, and the chance to properly appreciate all the glories of spring as it gets into gear. But never mind all that for we came back via papershop village and our old house and that meant a chance to check out developments at the ford.

Our ford correspondent has been keeping us updated on the stupidity of surfacing a road that is underwater 90% of the time with tarmac, and its subsequent deterioration, but I haven’t had a chance to see this for myself until now. After an unprecedentedly dry spring, it seemed like the perfect opportunity to check it out – but it turns out the powers that be are on to it. They have seen the error of their ways and reverted to concrete:

ford repairs

And they have not been messing around.

ford repairs closer

More on this important story as we get news.

* 49.9 once you’ve factored in the odd navigational error. Ahem.

Noisy Neighbours

August 23, 2018

So, we have got new neighbours over the summer, which is good because it means we’re no longer the newbies in our little group of dwellings (the oldest inhabitant is 90-odd and was born here so we’re never going to actually catch up). As custom dictates, we’ve dropped by to say hello and deliver some of their misdirected mail and, obviously, have as much of a nosy round as we* could manage within the social boundaries offered by being invited in for a cup of tea.

They have also returned the visit and we’ve since exchanged pleasantries as we pass through their yard up on one of our normal walks. And it was during one of these that we noticed they have a couple of guinea fowl – indeed they’re hard to miss because they make even more of a racket than the peacock that used to live down the road from the old place. They’re even harder to miss when you end up inadvertently herding them comically down the road in front of you as we did on our return from our walk. Fortunately, they didn’t make it into our garden but headed up the hill towards our other neighbours instead and we let them get on with it. Presumably any birds that free range must have at least more road sense than a pheasant and enough of a homing instinct to get back to their new place (unless of course the new neighbours started out with a couple of dozen of them and these are just the survivors. I hope not, because I really don’t want to cycle past a sad little heap of polka-dot feathers on the Nearest B-Road).

Anyway, whether they’ve lost their way permanently or are just of an exploring bent, this morning, we discovered we had visitors…

guinea fowl

It’s an interesting addition to the garden bird list, but I may have to upgrade my hare defences.

* And obviously by ‘we’ here I mean ‘I’ as the other half is above such things.

Breaking Ford News

July 24, 2018

My spies report with stunning news: the Tarmac Fairy has got a bit ahead of herself

tarmacked ford

She’s only gone and tarmacked the ford.

This has incited some local discussion on the advisability of putting tarmac on a piece of road that is, by design, underwater for most of the year. There’s a reason most fords are made of concrete.

Could it be that, like everyone else in the country, the coonsil have been so beguiled by the heatwave that they have forgotten that it will eventually end?

dry ford

Or do they know something we don’t?

(photos courtesy of Steve Jefkins)