Tuesday 26 May 2015

Map of Shame. Spoon of Doom.

Roscommon/South Leitrim, the only 'No' constituency
in the state. 
If you have been following the news at all from Ireland, you will know that the Marriage Equality Referendum happened on Friday 22nd with the count happening on Saturday 23rd. By the time it was done it had turned into a massive newsworthy event which was being described as "more a cultural revolution than just a referendum"; the first time such a decision had been made by any state by popular vote. There was a huge turn-out and a massive vote in favour - over 1.2 million people voted yes and there had been a keen surge of interest across the whole country and social spectrum, especially in young people who had not even registered to vote before. There were campaigns running on Facebook and even one on Twitter (where users tag their messages with the hash-tag (#) symbol) called #hometovote, where everyone was sharing their stories of last minute journeys home from all around the globe, delayed planes, frantic taxi runs to polling stations and celebrations of having made it just in time. Many famous influential people had come out in favour of a Yes vote including the well respected former President Mary McAleese and singer Daniel O'Donnell.

Only one way to celebrate?
Many people gravitated towards the grounds of Dublin Castle (the National results centre), huge crowds with rainbow flags cheering each result as it came through, building in tempo as it looked like the whole country had voted in favour. Then a huge angry 'boo' for our constituency, Roscommon / South Leitrim when we flashed up red, the only constituency in the state to vote 'No', and a storm of taunts and insults on those same social media threads. Yes, we felt the shame, horror and embarrassment but then took some relief from the more measured analysis that followed. This was a mainly young-people thing and that is the demographic which Ros/SL lacks after years of farming run-down, emigration and rural depopulation. We have no University (or any 3rd level education), no tourism to give jobs and no big urban centres. The national "swing" had affected all constituencies, so that the usual city/rural divide was wiped out and had gone across age groups. It did actually happen here, and the No vote got it by just 1029 votes, so if just 515 more people had changed their minds we would have been 'green' too. We had just started from too low a base. No shame in that and as many people have re-assured us, we tried. Ah well, as one wag said, "At least everyone will know where Roscommon is!"

The new black cat looking a bit beleaguered
down behind Liz's knee. In her right hand (as
well as the wine and ciggy) is the (wooden)
'Spoon of Doom'
So with the politics done till at least early next year (Irish General Election) we can re-focus on things Smallholding. Our key job here at the moment is to bed in the new cat, Soldier and repress the 3-dog, pack-hunting instincts of Deefer, Towser and Poppea. You do this gently with short practise sessions with the cat in the crate/cage, then with dogs on leads, then just grab-able collars. You go from fully supervised to less so and by now Soldier is well used to the place but knows he can flee to the Living room where child-proof stairs-gate will stop the dogs. In the warm weather he has the window open there during the day, so that he can come and go without having to pass through dog-territory (bandit country?).

A new bog-plant on me, the tiny Heath Milkwort
(Polygala serphyllifolia)
Just occasionally the dogs forget what they are MEANT to be doing and try a little chasing, but we have a secret weapon up our sleeves for that, the Spoon of Doom. This is a wooden kitchen spoon which we brandish at them as we charge in roaring theatrically and they remember from puppy days that this is probably a good time to stop. Don't misunderstand me - nobody gets actually hit, nobody gets bludgeoned half to death or any bones broken. The threat is enough. We borrowed this idea from Mrs Silverwood who, when she had 7 by 7-week old pups chasing about and getting up to destructive mischief, she would have at them with the 'Broom of Doom', waggling the business end in between pups and 'prey' or using it like a shepherd's crook to hook pups back along the shiny floor. It works and the dogs stop chasing the cat and head for a safe haven. Soldier lives to fight another day. He has also been out into the 'farm' generally over the last 2 days so is learning sheep, geese, chickens, guinea fowl, turkeys and so on.

Just the one chick for the broody Buff. 
Our broody Buff Orpington successfully hatched only the one chick in the end. 2 others got to full term and almost escaped the egg but were found dead after drying out and the hen came off the nest with her one during the night, so the remaining (5) eggs had chilled right down by the time I got to her in the morning. 4 of these had been fertile but with embryos at very different stages, and just one clear and unveined (and so fresh that it was presumably an egg dropped in by a visiting chicken just before I realised what was happening). Ah well, she is a first-time Mum so one is good and she is now making like the proverbial "Hen with One Chick" - a proper fusspot. They are out and about today beyond the confines of the Tígín - we saw them in the East Field at one stage and round in the Kitchen Garden where Mum was dust-bathing in the asparagus patch while baby stood on a railway sleeper.

The tiny chick follows Mum for an explore
in the wide open spaces. 
Our other 'baby' chicks, the Hubbards are almost 5 weeks old now and fully feathered, so we are fast approaching the time when they will be let out free range during the days and then rounded up at supper time. We are enjoying warm dry weather at present, so that should work OK. We always enjoy the first releases and first tentative explorations by the young ones.

After our excitement of the swarm by T McC's bees we have been checking on his hives for him and reporting back as he had to return to Dublin for a few days (and to vote!) but we have also been extra-vigilant at our own hive. On the 23rd they gave us a bit of a scare but it was only a false alarm. It was a warm afternoon and at 4pm there suddenly seemed to be way too many bees out of the hive, all over the front and in the air. Liz and I suited up, grabbed the skep, loppers and secateurs and went down to watch. It all calmed down, then, and the bees all went back indoors. False alarm (and nothing since).

If you can't catch a swarm,
maybe you'll catch a cat?
They will not necessarily swarm, of course, they are a new colony with plenty of space and we do not feed them up (as does T) with sugar syrup, so they may well have been building more slowly on just the natural nectar, possibly in short supply through cold early May. No rule says they have to swarm; some colonies do a 'supercedure' killing off the old queen and growing up a new one. It's all part of the fun and interest of bee keeping.

Old and new
We treated ourselves to a new 'toy', a decent lawn mower. My old dog-rough beast owes us nothing. It must be 15 years old and was used for mowing the allotment paths in Faversham. The body shell is rusting through so that I worry the engine will come away blade an' all, the wheels wobble like a supermarket trolley and it rattles and bangs away as moving parts keep hitting off non-moving parts. It just about cuts the grass but no longer does a neat job, so we have pensioned it off and treated ourselves to a new Honda which I am delighted with.

A neat job with no tufts and no wads of cut grass lying about.
This one also has a grass-box, so I can even pick up the wads of damp cuttings for use as mulch and compost. If my old one had such, then I had long since abandoned it and it never came with us in the removal truck. The new one is also an 18" cut (as opposed to 16") so I seem to whizz round in (I guess) 89% of the time cutting wider passes; probably even better with the increased power and sharpness of blade.

Another tiny bog-composite. Mountain Everlasting, or
Antennaria dioica, easy to ID as it has different male flowers
(pink, fluffy) to its female ones (pictured)
Finally, we seem to be enjoying, at present, one of those phases of life where you gather lots of new friends. From the 'Yes Equality' campaign and the canvassing we can now count Tommy R and Steve F. Yesterday we finally got a visit from another of the 'Three Sisters' who sold us the house back in 2011. We are firm friends by now with Vendor Anna, of course, and yesterday she arrived with her sister Marian, hubby Tom and ( grown up) daughter, Sarah. They called by for tea and cake and a good look round, with M fascinated to see what we'd done with the place (where she grew up). Thanks you guys  and do come back again when you are next over.

Sheep liver-fluke meds. 
Then today we got a chance to meet some more small-holders who are over by Ballinagare and from whom we plan to borrow a handsome ram in September to do the business on our two (or three by then?) ewes. These are Sue and Rob and have an amazing place with a mass more stock than we have. They seem to have a gazillion chickens and baby poultry, geese, ducks, pigs, sheep and goats. They have a massive boar named Rodney (Trotter, of course!) who seems to have sneaked a stay as a pet by now. They also have as fairly new hatches, 4 of our turkeys which are doing very well in their Alladin's cave farmhouse kitchen and in another room a huge, upright incubator. Yes, the plan in September is that we haul one of Charlotte's goats across there and return with 'Rambo' in a one-month swapsy, so that she can get some of her she-goats in kid and we can get our ladies 'in-lamb'. I don't know if you read this blog, Sue or Rob, but if so, lovely to meet you today and to get to know you and look round your lovely place. As they say in the film Casablanca, we hope this will be "the start of a beautiful friendship".

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