Friday, 15 June 2018

Au Revoir. The Final Chapter.

Madamoiselle d'Armentieres (Parlez vous?)
Readers who have been with me for EVER may recall that I am (was) part owner of an ancient (1960s) Citroën 2CV from the 425 cc era, once a twinning gift from the French town of La Chapelle d'Armentieres, to the North Kent town of Birchington. This twinning happened in 1989 with Birchington giving a red phone-box to La Chapelle while La Chapelle gave 'us' a non-runner 2CV OK for photo-shoots but not much else.

David Austen rose (sorry, we can not recall the name)
This blog took up the story after our 2CV club (The Kentish Hoppers) got involved in a 4-man restoration (during 2007/8) of this car to get it road worthy so that it could be used in the 20th Anniversary (of the twinning) Carnival to be held at La Chapelle in 2009. This we did and we had a great weekend which included us being spoiled like celebrities and driving our car (and 2 other 2CVs) at the front of the carnival parade. Happy days. We four lads owned a quarter of the car each. It would have been worth about £3100.

Sometimes it is not mice and shrews the cats bring in. This is
a dragon fly (Brown Hawker).
With the big weekend over, 2 of the lads wanted out of the project, so Andy B and I bought out their quarters and now owned half the car each. I saw very little of the car but kept my 'end' up by paying half of any garaging, maintenance, MOTs, tax etc). When I moved to Ireland in 2011 I decided to pull out too, but as Andy did not have the spare cash at that stage, we decided I would slowly withdraw by not paying my share of the costs, and Andy would calculate how much this had eaten into my half. 6 years later I am down to about £600's worth of the car owned. In a blog post at the time, I called it the "Long Goodbye".

European lime.
This week, I got a text from Andy and one of the other original four (Ian C) asking if Ian might buy back in by reimbursing me for my cut. Although I will be sad to 'lose' my only remaining bit of 'real' 2CV (I have a gazillion models, toys and dead/used 'souvenir' parts) this seems like a sensible move and will help to keep Madamoiselle where all old 2CVs should really be - in use, on the road, getting regularly driven, not stashed in a dusty lock-up under a bed sheet. So, there you have it. I will receive a cheque shortly and will then join the ranks of 'former 2CV owners'. Good luck Ian and Andy. Cherish and enjoy that Lady as much as I did. Au revoir, Madamoiselle d'Armentieres. Bon chance. [wipes away a tear]

Storm Hector barges through. 
Meanwhile, back in Roscommon we were enjoying, as you know, that lovely warm spell and a bit unimpressed by the rattly but dry thunderstorms which were letting us know that things were about to change. Nobody was quite ready for the announcement by Met Éireann of a winter-style "named" storm charging up the Atlantic. This was, we found out, Storm Hector and he came with the usual Status-Orange weather warnings for winds gusting to 110 kph. Put all those lumps of rock back on the beehives, lads, and anything that might go airborne. Close the poly-tunnel. Batten down the hatches.

The 'Chinaman's Hat' part of a jackdaw pot. Not worth
putting that bit back up, then?
That evening I had to collect The Woman of the House from the train station, back from her stint of house-sitting for Steak Lady, so she was here to enjoy it all too. We spent that night as scared as normal listening to the wind raging round the house in the dark (I can never sleep properly through one of these) and worrying that trees would be blown down and chicken house roofs would go airborne leaving the poultry open to the weather.

A few branches blown down from that
gate-side larch was the worst damage.
In the event we got off lightly. The worst damage was a big branch blown down from that larch that suffered in the last blow (Storm Eleanor?). There were myriad smaller bits of tree strewn everywhere. The metal cone 'Chinaman's Hat' bit of our range-chimney jackdaw pot was sent flying but when I found it, it was so rusty and broken that it is not worth putting back. We'll just go with the 'cage' bit and the fire heat to deter the jackdaws. It is quite new, so I was a bit surprised by the appalling state of the thing. They are presumably not designed for in-use chimneys, which seems a bit lame.

Making the best of foxgloves broken off by
the storm winds
Oh, and we had no power. I had to phone the fault in (they were not 'yet' aware of it) and they managed to get us back on at about half past 2, just in time for Elizabeth getting home from an exam as part of her Horticulture training course. No problem there either - we have the gas hobs on which to boil saucepans of water for tea/coffee and on which to cook if power is still off at supper time.

Dublin Bay rose flowers knocked off by 'naughty' Hector.
The only other damage was the knocking down of some tall flowers (mainly fox gloves and aquilegia) and the knocking off of a lot of the open flowers on our lovely red, 'Dublin Bay' rose. That was as if Hector was just a naughty boy with a stick bashing all the flowers off out of spite. Never mind. The rose will flower again. The foxgloves may not.

The broken branches get tossed in to the sheep for browse. 
It is all over now, of course. The wind has dropped to a light breeze, the clouds have cleared (we did not get much rain off this one, either) and the sun has come out. Tomorrow promises a nice day so we can get out in the garden again and clear up all the debris.

Very little else going on here, so I will finish up at this point. Good luck to niece J-M who is currently sweating through her 'Leaving Cert' school exams (think 'A' levels for the Brits). Knock 'em dead J-M!

Tuesday, 12 June 2018

Appleyards and Cayugas

Cayuga duck. They lay black eggs. 
My title for this post includes, for the unfamiliar, 2 varieties of duck, but time enough for ducks further down the post.

Laura's legacy. Our ground is as neat as manicured parkland.
At the time of last writing, I was about to post our wonderful Help-X volunteer, Laura-D, onto a train at Castlerea station, bound for Kilkenny. Kilkenny is a lot further south in Ireland than here, and Laura's last few weeks were going to be spent in that part of the Island, doing a week's work in Kilkenny, then one in Cork and one in Tralee (Co. Kerry).

I don't mind admitting I was sad to see her go. She is a lovely person and brightened up the place as nicely as the heatwave she brought with her. We both wish her all the best in her future weeks, we hope she finds nice friendly people 'down south' (I'm sure she will) and she knows she is welcome back here any time, working or not.

Figs this year? It is a very young tree.
I have had a couple of texts since, saying that she was delighted to have found a direct bus from Tullamore to Kilkenny, that she was a bit sad over the weekend to have left us, to say that she thought of us as she was given a mower for her first job Monday in Kilkenny and that, no, she had not yet tried porridge (!)

Normal for here. 2 geese gone broody in the same nest. 
With no Laura and with Elizabeth away house-sitting for Mum, I was back on my own but with a healthy list of 'just jobs' to catch up on in the garden. I had a rake of stuff to re-pot and move on (cherry tomatoes, chervil, salad onions, basil, night scented stocks and shasta daisies, fennel and horse radish).

I had to 'coppice' out an ash which I'd planted too close to neighbouring chestnuts and oak and a 'Golden Hornet' crab apple which had been badly ring-barked by the geese. This tree had struggled on with its main trunk for a couple of years but never got enough water aloft to give it proper expansion of leaves (or much fruit), but had then shot out a back-up 2nd 'trunk' from low down. I have now cut the old tree down at 3' high and used the old trunk as a tree-stake for the new whip. Should work. Elizabeth's rescued peach tree is currently doing the same, so may get the same 'repair'.

Breakfast does not come with fewer food-miles than this.
Our own eggs and our home grown, home cured bacon.
The sunshine had brought the local silagers out but I was delighted to get a text from a friend locally who had managed to make hay. Now THAT would not be at all common here-abouts, as the correct grass stage (full grown but not over-grown) rarely coincides with a reliable 7 days of sunshine, so fair play to our friend for managing to make 400 bales of good, fresh green hay. More important, fair play to him for texting me to see if I would like some. Yes please! 5 bales.

Golden Hornet crab apple cut down and
re-started from a low down 'coppice' shoot.
He tells me that he put the hay up on "the Internet" for sale but the word went round the village so fast that he sold it all in a couple of hours and had to take the web-ad down again un-used. Then, cherry on the cake, while he was delivering my hay he asked did I know anyone who might want some young ducks.

Landing the new Appleyard family.
Readers will know that we are exactly those people, so the next day saw me round at his place with the dog-crate collecting a Mum-duck of the 'Appleyard' variety, plus 5 half grown but well feathered ducklings. Appleyards look very much like the wild mallards from which they are derived - green head, narrow white collar, purple chest for the boys, flecky brown 'camo' for the lasses. However, they do come in a range of bred colours right down to 'silver' (aka white!).

The grass is a bit too long for ducks in the Hubbard pen but
they will surely sort it out. 
The only sensible place I could think of to 'land' these newbies, was our old "Hubbard pen", scene of several rearings of the meat-chickens we have done in the past. The grass was very long in there and, unbeknownst to me, down among the brambles at the back, there was a hole in the fence, but in they went and promptly vanished into the forest of grass and new trees. They (especially Mum) are a bit wild and have not been handled at all so they tend to sprint for cover as soon as a person appears.

Mum duck is in there somewhere, watching me warily.
This is not usually a problem and we always allow a good bit of settling down time but on this occasion I needed, that evening, to persuade them back out of the long grass and into the fox-proof house. I set up a series of fence panels as a 'duck-blind' to guide them in. It nearly worked. The five babies went into the house as good as gold, but Mumma at the last minute took a left turn and vanished into the long grass UNDER the house. She then (horror of horrors!) reappeared outside the pen. She had found the hole I did not know was there.

'Shtumpy' teaching her 4 baby chicks to dust-bathe. The chicks
are close in to her chest here, not clearly visible. 
There followed 3 hours of trying to coax her home with half a dozen near misses. Every time she tried to come back she would quack to the babies, who would set up loud 'peep'-ing from the box, but she could not work out that she needed to go ROUND the fencing to get back in. Eventually I managed to corner her and grab her as she frantically tried to squeeze through the chicken-wire.

7 turkey eggs currently being brooded in a corner of the Tígín
but by a hen. She has nipped off for a toilet break. 
She was "home" and re-united with her children but I was definitely the Bogey-man. I had stolen her from her home using a dog crate, given her her first car-ride, dumped her in a grassy forest and then, several hours later, chased her back out, split her from her babies for 3 hours of run-around. Then finally I had unceremoniously grabbed her and man-handled her into this new, unfamiliar house through the roof. It may take her a while to learn to love me! You will be delighted to know that there was no repeat of this drama tonight. I set up my 'duck-blind' more carefully and the family shot into their house in seconds. No wrong turns or escapes tonight.

The bees are very busy in this hot weather. Ignore the ash seed.
It has just fallen from the tree above and landed there. 
While I'm on ducks, as well as these Appleyards, I had put the word out with our friend and ace stock wrangler, now back from Dublin, living at home and starting to accumulate stock, Charlotte. She currently has ducks, both Muscovy and the black variety Cayuga, which lays black eggs. She is hatching some of both varieties and will have some for me shortly. More on these when they arrive.

Friday, 8 June 2018

Donaldina in the Duck House

Time for a cuddle with Kato. 
Today's write-up brings us cruising slowly to the end of what has been a very pleasant interlude, our three weeks with French Help-X volunteer, Laura D. She's off on an early morning train from Castlerea tomorrow, headed (eventually) for Kilkenny and the next job. We have loved having her here and she happily admits that she has had a brilliant time, done loads of interesting things, learned lots of English and enjoyed our hosting. Everyone's a winner.

Wrangling new hatch chicks on the
Dining Table
2 other 'threads' are also coming to a close. These are the convoluted saga of first time Mum, hen, Donaldina-in-the-Duck-House (hereafter for this post, DitDH) and the lovely heat wave.

The latter seems to be breaking down now and has a few afternoons of thunderstorms and downpours lined up in our forecasts. Today's was impressively noisy and rattly but produced very little rain, barely laying the dust, and the sky quickly cleared. Roscommon's weather station on Mount Dillon was the 2nd hottest place in Ireland at 24.6ºC (after Shannon Airport (25ºC))

Clearing the gutters.
The forecast of rain had us racing around to complete Laura's last requested job, accompanied by the roar of engines from the local silage crews scrambling in those last (round) bales so that they could be wrapped up safe and dry. Whoa, though! Let me do these three stories in some kind of sensible order. Laura first and then DitDH.

Lemon meringue pie, Ardeche style. The
lemon-curd layer is home made and includes
very finely chopped hazelnuts. Interesting and
delicious.
On these final days we were scouting around rather, both feeling that she had done way and above anything we had expected, so she deserved a few days when she could pick jobs she liked. She had already said that she would love to give everywhere a final mow on the last day, so that she could leave the place looking really tidy.

Fox gloves out front.
We re-assembled the trailer, looking very fine in its new yacht-varnish woodwork. We got the ladder out to clear the gutters ("Evr'ns" here (literally eave-runs)). We clipped the three dogs with Laura taking the same patient, exact care that she brings to the mowing job. She got another crack at the brush-cutter, tackling the tall weeds behind the goose house and the yard-wall. That last mow, at 6 hours solid with just 2, 20-min breaks was typical Laura work-rate, 09:00 to 15:00.

Love this ox-eye daisy growing out of
the wall.
For the last of these few days, we have been on our own, with Elizabeth down in Silverwood-land minding the parental home for 'Steak Lady' who is off on hols. I have been left, of course with plenty of part-assembled meals (and instructions!) so it has been easy enough to be out there working alongside the 'help' but still able to do the catering and hospitality bit. Need a light lunch of filo pastry flan with ham, tomato and goat's cheese? I'm your man. Tomorrow, it all finishes with our run down to Castlerea station for the 08:18 train. We will miss the lass.

Donaldina in the Duck House.
The Donaldina story also ends happily with 7 successful chicks now being mothered very well by new Mum. One more chick hatched but then died in the nest (trampled? smothered?) so she actually managed 8/8. Readers will know that the clutch was added to daily till it numbered 20 eggs, but it would be wrong to link the 12 fails to this hen.

Donaldina is now out and about with all seven.
As it was, we did have the usual fun and games getting to this point, but I will give you only main points, not bore you with all the details. We moved the 'house' in from the goose area with DitDH, nest, eggs and all, to the yard to save the babies from getting attacked by geese. DitDH started hatching right on cue (Wed 6th) but then started coming off the nest to look after the 24-hour olds and left one wet new-hatch behind.

We rescued this bird and one of the first 6 who was a bit 'lazy' into the incubator for some TLC and food for 24 hours. DitDH started roaming around with the 5 but we were sure we would be able to re-unite the helped pair with Mum the next day. This is, indeed, how it went and we were delighted once again that hens cannot count. They just accept 2 more as long as they are the right size and shape and making the correct noises. Now DitDH has 7 to mind. No pressure, Donaldina, just keep them safe and alive for 6 weeks. Job done.

That about covers it for this one. It is 21:42 so I am, as ever, waiting for the dirty stop-out Guinea Fowl to make their weary way to bed. Everybody else is in their 'rooms', perched patiently, waiting for me to lock the doors. I have 'waited' through so many lovely sunsets in this hot spell, that I am a bit bored taking photo's of them!

The rose "Rhapsody in Blue"
Ah well. Good night all. Wish Laura a safe journey, tomorrow, as I am and I will talk to you again on Tuesday.

Tuesday, 5 June 2018

On Not Getting Your Ducks in a Row.

Our 3 young ducks prior to yesterday's dramas. 
Ducks. A sore subject round here at present and definitely not our strong suit this month. Not only have we only produced 3 hatchlings from the first 2 sets of eggs in the incubator but now we have had a total fail on 14 eggs set, due to hatch last Thursday.

Badly mauled duck in the sick bay. It did
not survive the night.
To add to our tale of woe, our attempts to introduce the 3 new birds to the old-hand drakes have resulted in a load of bullying and rape and now a youngster chased into the jaws of terrier, Poppea. That unfortunate bird was rescued to the sickbay but was badly mauled and died during the night.

Enormous poppy.
The eggs were a motley collection of our own plus some gifts from Sue and Rob. We are not at all convinced by the fertility of our drake/duck combination(s) and all the gifts were from untried, very young birds including Sue and Rob's new Muscovies; these were the first ever eggs from those ladies.

At least we are good at chicken chicks
The complete lack of action despite having candled them at day 12 and found the majority to be under way, has me wondering whether we have overheated and 'cooked' them in the incubator during that hot spell. The incubator is a Covatutto, so a low-price model. We know they are good at keeping things warm, but how good are they at not producing any heat when the ambient temperatures approach 27ºC.

On the left the little grey chick I saved the life of on hatch day,
now 2 weeks old.
One part of me was going to keep them going till Help-X Laura's last day to give them every possible chance to make a late showing. The more pragmatic half says this is a waste of time, and I might, instead, break the duds open in her presence so she can see them part-formed. Maybe I'll leave it up to her.

As to the dog-attack, I'd been doing the standard thing when trying to introduce new birds to established ones. The youngsters had been in a rabbit run in full view of the very interested drakes for most of their growing up weeks thus far. They are now 12 weeks old and plenty big enough to take care of themselves.

Elizabeth is delighted with this self-seed aquilegia.
What I expected to happen was the usual flurry of mad excitement while they all sorted out who the boss was, plus a bit of 'rape', which is normal for ducks. What we got was several days of the drakes making nuisances of themselves and giving the new birds (male and female) no peace. The drakes kept coming into the yard, where cowered the new ducks, hunt one down and chase it about till it submitted to being 'jumped upon'.

The hot spell has given us some lovely sunsets. 
Sadly, on one of these hunts, the frantic youngster tried to escape into the dog-pen where sat a very excited Westie, Poppea. The dogs have been good as gold and can now move among the calm chickens without anybody getting eaten but this squeaking, flapping, terrified runner was all to much for Poppea's 'red mist' instincts. She fell on it and bit it badly across the pelvis and 'saddle'.

Thriving on neglect? This climbing hydrangea,
stuck in by the dustbins and the water butt,
has finally started to look the part and is
producing flowers.
I rescued it's limp, wet-with-dog-drool form and we quickly did all we could in terms of hospitalising, checking it over, cleaning it up and bandaging the wounds. Sadly, it died during the night.

We went all Moroccan at supper - slow roast lamb, tomatoes
roasted with goat's cheese, aubergines with onions, flat bread
and hummus. 
After all these duck-failures we are left with only 4 living ducks - those horribly aggressive drakes whom we may never trust again with our youngsters, and the 2 slightly traumatised 12 week olds who are back in safe custody. I am not sure how this will end. Some tough decisions needed here over the next few weeks.

Round and round and round she goes. When she'll stop,
nobody knows. Loves her mowing, this one!
Meanwhile, in most other areas, all is well. Our current Help-X volunteer, Laura, who earned (above and beyond!) a third week with us is continuing to delight with her hard work and her dessert cookery. We've had her back at the mowing and the nettle-pulling. She has helped me strip old rotten wooden panels out of the stock-trailer, then make up replacements using all the carpentry tools and a tin of varnish.

Laura at work on the trailer.
She has come with me several times when I have been helping a friend repair fences. She has helped clean out the geese even with a broody goose in attendance, and has since done those ducklings and our geriatric hen Doris. She has also walked some more of those huge walks she loves doing.

A very careful coat of Yacht Varnish. 
On Sunday I was at indoor archery, so we were in a different part of Castlerea but not to be outdone, Laura worked out a route home on her smart phone up through the 'Demesne' (park with river) and back through the lanes of Cloonboniffe and Lough Glynn. Most evenings she takes herself off upstairs to watch a movie on 'NetFlix' through her 'tablet'. She is absolutely no trouble. We will miss her when she leaves. That is currently likely to be this coming Saturday when she is off to her next posting in Kilkenny via a weekend off with a friend.

Easily our most used book these past 3 weeks.
That is probably enough for this one. Hopefully a more upbeat, happy, positive post next time. Apologies for the sad tone at the start of this one.

Friday, 1 June 2018

Tigger is Almost Done.

'Shtumpy' brings her 4 chicks out into the sunshine.
As we all sat down to supper tonight at about 7 pm the much-forecast end to the lovely heatwave was sounding very 'imminent'. Distant thunder rumbled ominously from the direction of Moyne (East, then), setting the dogs off barking and grumbling. Dark clouds had been gathering all evening and soon the distinct pitter-pat of rain drops hitting the big tarpaulin roof of the chicken house could be heard.

'Cool' haircut for a heatwave. #2 all over, please.
As we took our places this turned to the roar and hiss of proper rain and we could see the big drops bouncing back up off the sheep-fence. The sheep had taken cover under the trees - this would be the first thunderstorm the lambs had ever seen and the first heavy rain to hit the ewes since their shearing. I knew how they felt - I too had been down for my spring-time "shearing" (No. 2 all over please, guv) and I could feel the rain on scalp, rather than via the hair.

Promising looking new asparagus spears from the new babies.
We've all been loving the heat after the long cold, bitter winter and we were never going to be the first to complain, but some of our friends had started to comment that they "needed" rain for their plants or for the grazing grass growth. Many neighbours have raced a first cut of silage in from some fields, so they would be feeling happy but Elizabeth did see one farmer turning hay this morning despite the Orange-status weather warnings. Once you've cut it you are committed, really, so you might as well keep turning and hoping. The rain we got, did not actually amount to much. As I type this at 9 pm it is all over and we are back to a lovely sunset. It is cooler though.

A mesh 'porch' to keep those hens out of Donaldina's
broody house. 20 eggs is enough for anybody.
The hot weather has also meant that we could get on with garden stuff, assisted by our current, wonderful Help-X volunteer, Laura. She goes at every job I have given her with 100% commitment, focus and work-ethic. The place has never looked so tidy and well kept even when the heat has made some of the jobs quite unpleasant with sweat, dust with no breeze to clear it, still, hot air in buildings with corrugated roofs and the need to re-hydrate at breaks with copious quantities of  the house home-made cordials.

Laura in muck-out mode. 
While I have managed to get 'away' to build mesh covered frames to keep chickens off raised beds and unwanted egg-laying out of poor Donaldina(hen - see previous post)'s broody house, Laura has mowed the whole site a second time, gone round all the edges and young trees with shears, mucked out the long overdue chicken house including scraping/sweeping all the yard paths. Today, with me, she has then gone on to do the goose house and the feed store and brush-cut all the billowing cow-parsley in the lane verges.

Those 20 eggs which Donaldina is currently sitting on. 
Indoors, she has slotted in as very helpful around the kitchen, (un)loading the dishwasher, washing up, laying/clearing tables and even cooking more desserts. We have had a very creditable chocolate marbled cake and, tonight, partnered with The Woman of the House, chocolate brownies. Mid week, she came and tentatively asked whether, if she could not find a place for next week, she might stay a 3rd week here and we both agreed without hesitation. She has been a real 'find' and a joy.

Meanwhile, in the livestock department, everything has been chugging along equally nicely. Mr Fox has been mercifully absent. Cat Basket Lady (hen) has kept her 6 chicks alive and well and 'Shtumpy' (another hen) has now brought her four out into the sunshine. She looks like mothering them as well as she did the 2 broods she reared for us last year. Donaldina is sitting tight on her 20 (see last Tuesday's story) and now protected from any more 'cuckoo' hens by a mesh covered porch. A 4th hen has now gone broody in the corner of the Tígín under the work bench. 

It gets like 'Bake-Off' sometimes in the kitchen with three
of us all rattling off favourite recipes.
In the incubator, having briefly been sharing with the Cat Basket eggs, are the 14 duck eggs due to hatch today or tomorrow. I hope you have more patience than me - I am anxiously checking them several times a day looking for any signs of movement and listening for any cheeping. I cannot wait for them to get a move on.

Still in full fleece (you don't shear the lambs), Tigger looks
nearly as big as his Mum. 4 and a half months old, he's nearly
'ready'
The pigs continue to thrive, but even closer to a visit to the butcher is our January-born ram lamb, Tigger. At nearly 5 months old and still in his full fleece (you don't shear the lambs in their first year) he looks as big as his Mum. He is still sneaking the occasional suckle but it will not be long now. We daren't leave him past 6 months - he is already 'playing' with his sisters/cousins and we cannot risk him getting Mum or an Auntie pregnant.

New shoots at last on the evergreen oak.
Ah well. That is surely enough for this one. I am off out to breathe a bit of that refreshed, cooler, evening air. Good Luck, now.