Sunday 29 November 2015

Fear the Deere

Storm 'Clodagh' sets the trees rocking and a-rolling.
Our latest named storm, 'Clodagh' blusters through but she is a lady characterised by plenty of wind and not so much rain. We all get nicely frazzled by the chilly blast but the puddles and gravel-shovelling of last week ease up and things are, in general, starting to dry out a bit.

The big black spruces in the 'Secret Garden'
take some punishment.
Over at the Sligo house rebuild, excellent progress is being made and, with the concrete floor/base now in, walls are now starting to grow from the new bit. These are no ordinary brick or block walls. The front of the house is built from proper Sligo stone laid flat (like brickwork) with proper 'bond' (overlap) and genuine 'coin' stones at the corners. The new back is going to dovetail into this and stay in keeping with the overall effect with the same stone work up to window sill height. The new walls are to be a 4" concrete block inner 'skin', with a stone wall (up to 8" thick) laid outside of this up to that height, after which there will be a fancy pantile water-drip shedding layer and the wall will continue up to roof height as modern cavity blocks rendered with smooth cement. Should look superb.

Not bad for beginners - the inner bottom of the wall.
The most recent 'games', then have been to build the block wall up to the window sill height and then more recently to start building the outer stone 'skin'. The main man freely admits to knowing a lot about brick and blockwork without ever having done much and knowing a bit about stone masonry without having done any! "I can talk a good game" he said to neighbour Jimmy (owner and driver of HUGE excavators). The wall you can see in this picture is the most block our man had ever laid and I am merely the 'help' - lifting and carrying blocks, mixing cement (in our mixer left over from our own house build), but both of us are delighted to find that "we" can actually do this, and do it pretty well.

The very first 'coin' stone goes in. (bottom centre)
It has been a fascinating experience for me and so, so different from my 'proper job', which was desk-based, keyboard tapping 'Systems/Planning Manager' in a big food warehouse; my hands permanently soft and smooth. I have been especially taken with the process of building the corners, re-using (or finding new) the huge 'coin' stones which have to sit flat either aligned with the back wall or the side wall, their neat 90º corner outwards and their length having to be bound in with the smaller wall-stones. On a very cold, wet Saturday "we" (mainly the boss!) laid the new back side to the west gable end including it's 'step' in to the new wall-line and the corner at the other end of the extension, both up to the required 3' height. We rock, if you'll pardon the expression.

The first bit of masonry 'we' had ever laid. The old original gable
is on the right and the white breathable membrane covers
the new blockwork against which the stone is laid.
I must admit that in the cold and wet I was getting so perished that I was considering calling it a day and my thoughts turned to those hated 'Games' afternoons at school where I was forced to play football. None of we 3 brothers ever had the football gene in our DNA and the school was really well set up for sport. Many schools had huge grounds in those days and ours had room for many pitches. Pitch 1 was inside the grit running track of the school's grass-banked stadium. On that and the nearby Pitch 2, the first-teams did their practise. Both my brothers will remember that we were always sent right out to Pitch 8 for our begrudging, risible, pathetic football, where we froze to death in our shorts and gloveless hands, praying for it to all be over.

My office.
No such torture though on Saturday for we stone masons. Riding to the rescue came the ladies and our little 3-year-old helper, the 'catering department' armed with extremely welcome and deliciously meaty warm pasties, sandwiches, apple turn overs and hot drinks. We FELL on the goods and wolfed them down. We were quickly back to feeling human again, restored to a second wind, though we did not have that much more to do. We finished off, cleaned the gear and tidied up - we have to bring the mixer, genny etc out with us in the van as there is nowhere secure to leave it on site. It was a good day. We were both delighted to retreat to our separate homes and get out of the wet coats and clothing. I even had a fire going by the time Liz returned from her own morning's work, volunteering in the pop-up craft shop.

My English readers may not be aware of one particular Irish institution and 'national treasure', the most popular chat show on Irish TV, known as the Late Late Show. This airs every Friday evening but on the last showing of November gives itself over to the children, Christmas and a million TOYS and becomes for one week only the "Late Late Toy Show". It attracts the biggest viewing figures ever (around 1.9 million which may not seem much compared to a 'Fools and Horses' Christmas Special in the UK but is almost one third of the whole population here). The children are chosen from all round the country and they come to sing and dance, demonstrate the toys and generally make mayhem in the big studio. It's a hoot and we always try to watch it.

Another nice artisan beer I have found, Kevin Dundon's.
I love particularly the section they do on farm toys, which this year gave space to two superbly farmer's son types. One was showing off the toy tractors and farm machines and professed to be a fan of John Deere though he did say that his best friend would not agree with him and the two regularly had ding dong arguments about whether Massey Ferguson were better. This JD/MF rivalry is as fierce in farming circles as when the petrol heads set to discussing Porsches vs. Ferraris or Jeeps vs. Land Rovers and our lad here coined the expression "Fear the Deere".

The geese are still pumping out a few eggs.
These shows are always followed by the Social Media crowd, especially Twitter, with everybody 'tweeting' comments in real time as they watched the show, and the 'Fear the Deere' was quickly taken up by the delighted followers. Even show presenter, Ryan Tubridy said there ought to be a tee-shirt with that on. John Deere would be fools not to exploit it! The 2nd 'farmer's son' was a superbly chubby, rosy cheeked, be-hatted lad who ended up doing a brilliant, 2 minute rap around a tractor stopping but the funniest aspect for me was that I couldn't understand more than about 3 words of it. Excellent TV.

Thursday 26 November 2015

Everybody's Spare Bloke

"You're like everybody's spare bloke at the moment" That was how Liz described some of my recent days spent dashing hither and yon doing bits and pieces for lots of different folk and happy to not be achieving much at home while it's so wet and windy and I can't do much in the garden. Need some coal bringing to your house from the local PO? Need a lift out to the tractor repair man where your tractor is now fixed? A lift to work? To a training course? I'm your man.

It is all go, though, in the small holdering business. Today we had the local plumber (Paul C) round to move the sink unit and dish washer around in the kitchen. I saw him onto the premises and then abandoned him to it while I went shopping, leaving the dogs shut into the front room so that they couldn't come and 'help' him and nor could they escape and wreak havoc among the poultry should he leave a door open by mistake coming and going to his car for tools. As well as doing his job he was mightily impressed by the size of our young turkeys  and interested to get a look round the place as he has a hankering to do something like this himself; sheep, pigs, poultry etc.

The sheep explore the 'New Bit'
I returned from shopping just as he was finishing, so as I sorted out his money, we got talking and I was showing him round but I'd left the front door open knowing that the dogs were safe in the front room. Unbeknown to me, two of the young turkeys had wandered in and were checking out the kitchen. I bade farewell to Paul and came back in to release the dogs who headed in a bee line to the kitchen where I suddenly had noisy mayhem as two big turkeys were suddenly in a panic to escape dogs.

One was at each window scrabbling and flapping to escape through the glass and the slower of the two had already had a couple of dozen tail feathers ripped out where a dog had grabbed him. If you've never seen an near-adult turkey poult  close up you might not appreciate how big these boys are - this was not some tiny starling or sparrow come down a chimney fluttering ineffectually against the glass. These are great clumsy 6 kg oafs blundering about knocking everything that was on the window sill flying - cups, eggs, the wire chicken-shaped egg container, jars and a wicker basket were raining down. These boys' wingspan is wider than the window and their feet nearly as long as the sill is wide. In a bit of a hurry I had to evict the dogs, calm the birds and then reach past them to open the 2 windows before shoving them bodily out. Mercifully, no harm was done except for a broken egg cup. And to my nerves. The birds, in their panic had also poo'd copiously so I had a bit of fun cleaning up before Liz would come back and enjoy her new kitchen lay-out.

Sheep in the pig run.
Regular readers will know that I have invented a new area for the sheep - needed to let them into some grass in the pig-pen, around the compost heaps and behind the chicken house, so I had erected some short runs of fence and would use my new sheep hurdles as 'gates' in the gaps. This all started on Monday and it has gone very well. Sheep, when introduced to a new area will generally beat the bounds to see what they have that's new and taste a bit of the vegetation all around to find out where the best bits are. Ours were no different and spent the first hour or so exploring the new area. We are calling this the 'New Bit' for want of a more sensible name.

Craft pop-up shop in Ballaghaderreen
Liz's knit and stitch club are getting all 'ambitious' this year and, instead of just selling their stuff at craft fairs, they have decided to run a 'Pop-up Shop' for 4 weeks in Ballaghaderreen. The members are all 'manning' a rota of volunteers to keep it open from 10:30 till 5pm Monday to Saturday. They have called the shop "Kuirky Krafts" if you are interested and it is out on Pound Street just off the market square on the road out to Sligo on the left. They are reported to be doing very well and having to re-stock with new stuff as the stock sells - it is all nice hand made stuff and there are many Christmas gift items to be had.

Fierce concentration at the dress making.
Finally, for those following the recent goat story, I am sorry to say that the 'lonely' Billy pigmy-goat did not love his newly acquired 'Nanny' as a goat should and had started bullying her. She is potentially 'in-kid' so needs a quiet life, but the lad took against the idea of her eating anything. Even when two bowls of food were put down he would chase her about to stop her starting to eat either and was even found giving her some quite vicious butts in the hip and abdomen.

Ooops. The dogs got this young leveret before I even knew
he was down there in the long grass, frozen in fear. 
Obviously we have had to separate them. We did this by creating a 'wall' of pallets and concrete blocks so that now they can see each other and Billy can bleat pathetically that he has been denied his cuddles, but she can eat and do the pregnancy thing in peace. I have heard that Charlotte is now trying to convince Mum that she really needs us to go and retrieve Nanny's former 'friend' over by Knock so that she is not lonely. Good luck with that one, Charlotte.

Monday 23 November 2015

Patterns and Toiles, Bows and Arrows

Three and a half tonne of pea gravel arrives.
The heavy rain falling here while I was away, in the skirts and train of Storm Barney pointed up to Liz how worn and threadbare our driveway had become for want of a refreshing layer of gravel. Great puddles form down in the dip by the main gate, so that you struggle to open the gate without getting your feet wet. The drive slope is OK but at the top where it levels out, more dips and low points give us a few more puddles which push out a tideline of floating larch needles so that you can see how big they were even as they drain away.

The turkeys and Guinea fowl explore the new garden feature. 
My first job then, on return from the UK was to order gravel but I knew that the entrance to the sheep field was also getting a bit worn and sloppy, so I went for 3 and a half tonnes, the convenient size of load from our very reasonably priced 'man who can'. This man is also helpful enough that he let me take most of the load "up at the top" but kept a bit back to drop at the main gate on his way out; saved me a considerable amount of barrowing. Good man! The turkeys and Guinea Fowl were quickly on hand to explore the new heap and marched about all over the top of it till they decided it had no potential as food.

The three 'yows' having a lie down, but are they pregnant?
It is now my job to barrow it about and 'fire' it into the holes. The sheep turn out to be not entirely convinced that this represents an improvement to their field entrance and they are very wary of walking through this 'soft' surface; their sharp little feet quickly sink down through the 3 inches of gravel and don't seem to stop till they hit the original mud. Ah well. It's cleaner for the wellie-clad humans and we have delibrately chosen round-edged 'pea gravel' rather than the more abrasive 804 'maintenance' gravel because we had visions of all the sheep going lame with sharp 804 stones stuck up between their toes.

Whooper Swans - picture blagged
from the internet.
In another winter story, we are delighted that "our" whooper swans are back. These birds breed and do their 'Summer' up in Iceland and are normally here in this land of 1000 lakes well before now but this year, being very late, had not yet delivered them. Our quota seems to be 20-30 birds on the local lough - I had 15 by Saturday and now have around 22; they don't seem to move around much once they have flown in though you do see small groups (families?) coming and going.

They look beautiful down on the water - you can see them from the lane running along our hilltop - but the main attraction to us is the fluting bugle calls as they chat to each other down there. If the air is still or the wind blows from our SW you hear lovely bursts of honking and fluting when you are in the garden or, more commonly, when I am in the orchard, exercising the dogs of an evening. Once you hear them there is no mistaking them which is quite handy as they are difficult to tell from other swans just on the visual clues. They are midpoint between mute swans (bigger) and Bewick's (which are smaller and don't come this far 'wesht') and can also be told by the yellow on the beak extending down below the nostrils. We'll stick with those lovely calls, I think.

Cutting a piece of the final cloth out round a panel of 'toile'
Meanwhile, indoors, Liz has now been to enough of Carolyn's "Sewing Machine School" classes to be confident to take a step from making cushions and table cloths (very good table cloths, mind) into proper dress making. Specifically dress making for herself which is a landmark stage (I read). It frees up the dress maker from having to buy off-the-peg clothes which nearly fit an average 'size 12' or what ever, to being able to make clothes which perfectly fit the unique body shape of the wearer (which is presumably nothing like 'average').

Dress in kit form. 
This has landed Liz into the world of making and cutting out paper patterns and then from these creating the 'dry-run' temporary version of the garment out of muslin, callico or (in our case) an old sheet. This is called the 'toile' (pronounced twal) and I read that you can actually keep and wear the toile around the house if you finish it. Most people adjust the panel sizes on the toile and then create the shapes on the real cloth. That's been my job - helping Liz, who is by then dressed only in skimpies, to try on and pin up the toile. I know. Tough job, trying not to stick pins in your wife's skin, but somebody has to do it. The latest on this first go is that the garment is now pinned up in the final cloth and the machine is whirring away like a good 'un, though we do have the occasional issue with darts stitched up on the wrong side and the occasional outbreak of mild swearing. It probably happens behind closed doors in the best of seamstress/tailor/draper workshops.

Nephew M Silverwood (centre) is getting pretty good at the
archery. Maybe he'll teach me some tricks?
Finally, you may, like us, have a mental "bucket list" in your head; those things you are determined to do before you shuffle off this mortal coil. One thing on mine has always been archery. As kids we brothers used to go and watch the (Hastings?) Archery Club doing their thing on one of the practise pitches at the top of the land owned by Hastings Football Club (the "Pilot Field"). You could watch them from Ochiltree Road which is/was just round the corner from us, though (another story) we would occasionally climb up the mud bank from one of our childhood 'dens' and pop our heads up into the bushes at the end of the field where we could see (and were probably in danger from) the arrows coming straight at us!

I have longed to have a go ever since but have never quite got into it - there were no doubt archery clubs and groups when I was at Uni (both sites) and there would almost certainly have been clubs in range when I lived in the Fens, then Chatham and Faversham. Step forward then, Mrs Silverwood, who posted to Facebook some pics of the children all wielding bows and arrows at a beginners session down in their nearby big town. This is their latest activity - you'll know that clutches of children work their way through a good range - these young ones have been through Irish dancing, GAA and other sports, baton twirling, karate and more. It seems my best chance of ticking this sport off my own bucket list has landed in my lap. I have been invited to come down on a Saturday afternoon, join the gang in the archery on Saturday evening, get a bite of supper and stay the night. I just have to cope with getting my head around young M being streets ahead of his Uncle. He has taken to it like a duck to water, apparently and out-shoots them all. Maybe he'll teach me a trick or two and I won't miss the target EVERY time. More on this when it has happened.

Thursday 19 November 2015

Finish Holidays!

The plane home. 
Finish Holidays! That was the expression (with a sigh of regret) Diane's Greek friends would use on the last days of trips to Poros as the girls packed up their belongings and prepared to join the 'Flying Dolphin' fast ferry out back to the mainland and the plane home. That was me today; back to Ireland after a superb and very enjoyable break in the UK catching up with relatives and friends, former workmates and, in one case, meeting for the first time some chums who I 'knew' quite well but only through the internet.

All his days seem to be 'bad hair' days. The rather disreputable
looking but very sweet Rags (Ragworth)
Of course the 'main event' was a trip home to see Mum ('Pud Lady' on these pages) and, as it turned out, 'big brother' Tom who was around the house for both my visit days. My main base was Daine's husband John's place in Faversham so huge thanks to him for TOPP hosting. He has a spotless (and very newly refurbished) house and the bed in his spare room is easily the softest and most comfortable bed I have slept in for years. He was also keen to try out his cooking skills on the guests, so we were treated to a succession of the likes of "Panackelty" (a northern layered 'stew' of corned beef which he used to do instructed by Stockton-on-Tees born Diane) and Hungarian Goulash and side salads which were so generous that they dwarfed the main course.

Miles and Paul with the 'heavies'
The 'internet' lads are 2CV owners (which is how I first 'found' them) but also keep a smallholding and I had been following their antics which ran in parallel to ours as they got to grips with sheep-owning, bee keeping, turkey poults and chickens. I knew too, that they followed my blog and as they live at a mid point between my Faversham base and Mum's place, I couldn't resist schmoozing them up for a visit so that I could put real faces to the Facebook stories. I was also dead curious to see the two 'species' which we don't do here - heavy horses and the tiny 'Dexter' cattle. I begged some directions and we decided a time and date. I just had to rock up in the very bright red hired Vauxhall Astra. There was even the promise of some home made onion soup and excellent bread.

I'm 6 foot 1. These are BIG horses.
The visit was a huge success and we got on like a house on fire. Miles and Paul welcomed me enthusiastically and we had a good 'farm tour' which took us everywhere. Their place is a chocolate-box beautiful period farmhouse near Rye, recently restored and improved in keeping with local listed-building regs. They have a vintage grey tractor which I covet (as well as a quad bike!). The horses are three huge geldings with feet as big as dinner plates - Shires and Clydesdales if memory serves (do jump in and comment if I have this wrong guys). They were quiet and gentle but quite curious about this new person in their field, so I got well 'loomed' over. They run with 2 standard sized mares to keep them company. The Dexters were two mums with calves at foot. Like us they are currently without pigs (wrong season). The onion soup was to die for. Thank you so so much M+P.

From huge horses to tiny cattle - Dexters.
The visit 'home' was also a great success. Brother (Tom) and Mum were on fine form and we had some lovely chat catching up on the gossip and Hastings stuff. We played some Scrabble and although we both beat Mum, it was not by much and we reckon she was happy with our argument that this proved she had reared a couple of genius sons. What's wrong with that? Mum is, of course well able for the pair of us and whizzed around cooking us a lovely roast chicken lunch which she insisted on carving to show us who was really in charge here. Tom and I might be 58/60, but Mum trumps us with her 88. There's no arguing with that.

Pud Lady at 88 attacks a chicken. 
I also managed to sneak in a visit to see the widow of my old work mate Steve (see post of 3rd July this year entitled "Hen and Two"), who was also the breeder of our oldest bitch, Deefer. Jean (that lady) still has Deefer's mother (Mollie) and brother (Archie) though she has had to have the 'dad' (Hector) put down. It was fascinating that the dogs well remembered me after 4 years and were straight way into clambering all over me and loving me up as I tried to drink the proffered coffee. Thank you and the very best of luck, Jean.

2CV Llew on the roof fixing down some panels. 
Another Westie who remembered me straight away was Boris, belonging to old mate 2CV Llew who has featured many times in this blog. We'd arranged to meet for breakfast in the Wetherspoons pub in Herne Bay, "Saxon Shore" (and very nice it was too!) But it seems that these days I have a taste for the buildering and can't keep away from it, so when Llew said he was roofing his new workshop in Herne village on the Wednesday and I'd be welcome to help him, I found myself agreeing to go at this all day despite the arrival of the British Isles's next named storm, Barney.

Llew's new workshop.
Llew had already created the frame of this 16' by 16' building in 2 inch steel box section and angle-iron (it's what he does for work) so we could do a day of Llew being up on the roof fixing down the panels while I was 'man on the ground' cutting panels to size and the 'firing' them up to him, plus scurrying up and down the ladder bringing him bits, connecting up power tools and helping to fix battens to the erected panels so that they would more securely take the next ones. All good clean fun.

Hidden treasure, Derek's old Roller.
The workshop is in the yard of a superbly "wheeler-dealer"  type guy who by coincidence knows our part of Ireland quite well as his son has just bought a former nunnery in Lanesborough (on the Shannon) so he's often in and out of Knock airport. He also turns out to have a lovely Rolls Royce under a sheet in one of the garages which Llew wishes he would use to drive the two of them to the local pub. It would make quite an impression, thinks Llew. Probably have to wipe the fish and chip grease off the fingers before you got back in, though, mate. Anyway, we got his roof done despite some impressive gusts of wind from 'Barney', working right round till last light, so dark that we needed a torch to go round rounding up the tools to tidy up at the end of the job.

John's lovely little "Faversham" stove - really meant for
boat and yacht cabins. 
My final call was to drop in on good friend of this blog, Mazy-Lou, where John and I had been invited round to supper and Mazy was known to have been BAKING. Anyone who knows Mazy will be familiar with her legendary baking skills and we were due a steak and kidney pie with 2 kinds of pastry (she uses shortcrust on the bottom and flakey pastry above) and multiple veg, a fruit crumble and then a cheese course all washed down with excellent wine. She did us proud. We were full to groaning point by the end and had to take a couple of "trou Normande" breaks to recover between courses. An armagnac and a good coffee sorted us out for the journey home.

One of John's plaques - made near to where he was born by
Osbourne Plaques, this one includes a Thames Barge bottom
right. 
Of course, with me away, Liz was left in charge of the farm and coped but reports that she was run ragged what with work and a training course she had to attend, so was really missing the chance to drink a whole cup of tea without being interupted. There was also a day when she, too was away at the Dublin 'Knit and Stitch' show/trade sale and I cannot close this post without thanking two more people, our fellow small-holder friends, Sue and Rob (of the various piglet adventures) who stepped into the breach and came to let chickens in and out in the day-light, safe from Mr Fox. We owe you guys. So that was it. Aer Lingus flew me home this afternoon on an interesting, Jet-Stream affected, turbulent flight (it was like being driven home over rocky roads in an army truck! They "suspended" the refreshment service for half an hour for risk of bouncing hot drinks over the passengers while the pilot found a calmer altitude). Liz has had her tea and all is well with the world.

Friday 13 November 2015

Covering (a small bit of) Sligo in Concrete

Nanny (Óg) arrives home in our trailer. 
I had a nice chance to tease the 'Facebook lot' this week, when I was asked by our friend Charlotte to provide car and trailer to go off to buy a female goat (miniature in the original plan) for them. This goat was to be a companion to their existing goat 'Billy' who was sadly pining for his buddy, the miniature (gelding) horse 'Cody' who will be familiar to regular readers who have been with me for the last year or so. 'Codes' had been put back in his field and Billy was very vocal in his loneliness, bleating all day and all night.

Ain't she cute. Love the beard.
Billy is a miniature, so he really needs a mini-Nanny, but they are tricky to come by (as well as costly), so Charlotte has put herself on a waiting list for the breeder and meanwhile, sourced this Nanny to keep Billy company. She is actually in kid anyway, so Billy took one sniff and then lost interest till she wandered into his house looking every inch like she was taking over now, thank you! I have this running joke going with the Facebook crew that I am always sneaking off to buy new animals, usually with Charlotte as my accomplice, while Liz sits at home trying to rein me in. Something to do with having gone off to "look at" young turkey poults early this year and returned with our full sized adulrs, Tom and Barbara. It's not like that at all really, of (cough) course. I had put up on FB, a 'status report' that I was "NOT off to buy a goat" which, of couse, they all took to mean that I was off to do exactly that.

Cake mix ready for the oven.
Anyway, off we went to Knock village and following superb directions, found the bright pink 2 storey farmhouse we sought and the man showed us to the barn where the goats for our selection were kept. They were lovely clean healthy animals except for the feet and we got the distinct impression that they were housed permanently on deep-litter - a foot or so of old poo and straw over which the guy might have thrown some new straw that morning to fool us. That was OK. We knew we (I) could trim their feet up when we got home. They were all ear-tagged and official goats, so Charlotte chose one, paid up and we all retreated indoors to do paperwork.

Not bad for a first effort. This cake now gets well wrapped and
stashed away till mid December marzipan and icing time.
The goat is home now and we did, indeed, have some fun trimming her feet. She is a very sweet, well behaved animal and was no trouble to hold while I did "farrier" on her, lifting each foot in turn. I have never seen such long toe-nails on a sheep or goat, so it was very satisfying to give her the pedicure. Some of the 'toes' had long 'nails' on both the inside and outside, as well as a big thick horny growth at the 'heel' end, so that she was walking on tippy-toes on basically a tube of horn. No wonder Charlotte could see and commented upon how much more comfortably she was standing and walking when we'd done. Very satisfying job. The girl is officially called just 'Nanny' but we couldn't resist taking her a wee bit into Terry Pratchett territory by calling her 'Nanny Óg' (Young Nanny in Irish).

Pouring concrete at the Sligo house
The big story today, though, is of the major landmark achieved in the house build where I help just inside the Sligo border, that of pouring the concrete floor(s). This was always going to be a serious job and one causing a lot of concern to the 'main man' as he got all his ducks lined up in a row - men, equipment and concrete. This was going to be a new floor all through the existing house and out into the porch out front and across a 22' square extension out back, all tied together with 8 mm reinforcing mesh. It would involve 2 full concrete mixer lorry loads which if memory serves, translates into 17 cubic metres or 24 tonne, which is 320 heavy wheel barrow loads. The lorries would arrive at 1 and a half hour intervals, and there was no stopping once they arrived, so the main man had laid on a gang of 7 of us, mostly big, strong, fit, professional builders, mates of his from the building trade in Dublin. I say 'mostly' - 2 of us were obviously me and a tiny bar-man who they call "20%".

Of course, the weather chose today to totally fall apart and we were quite alarmed in driving out to the site at 08:15 to be driving through heavy sleet, some of which was laying on the tarmac. The day also laid on a few heavy rain bursts and a hail storm. Still, short story is we made it and main man is delighted that he got all the concrete in, spread and tamped, then 'bull-floated' down to a glass-smooth finish. He had 4 of the best lads on barrows running a shuttle service to/from the lorry's chute, and three of us on spreading, leveling and tamping. In the picture (which 'main lady' took at about 1pm) we are at the start of this, with just the first corner filled. I am on the right, main man in the middle and ace-tamper on the left. This was a first for me. I had seen our paths laid round our house but those lads pretty much asked me to get out of the way, so I watched from a distance. This time I was part of it. I am in awe of the work rate of these guys and massively impressed at the team work. I can see now why main-man needed all seven (and also deployed me to leveling; I'd not have lasted 5 minutes on those barrows!)

So, now the job is done and the guys have all adjourned to a local pub to celebrate with a few pints and to watch the Ireland (footie) match. I cried off this bit (though I was, of course invited) on grounds partly of knowing I'd not keep up with a gang of Dublin builders around the pints, but also because we had a special meal planned here tonight (Duck in Guinness) and by the time I was in, livestock done, dogs walked, shower taken and a glass of wine or two to the good, we were both a bit cosy and 'home' here. Good luck lads, and I hope Ireland win the match. Maybe we'll meet again further down the build. It was a blast. I could actually listen to those guys all day - they have worked together for years and the banter is superb.

Monday 9 November 2015

The Best Cut (by Mistake)

Round at the Sligo rebuild, demolition has finished leaving the
place rather like Hollywood set - looks great from the front but
round the back it is gutted out.
The weather here collapses into lashing rain and it's blowing a hoolie; the sort of weather we expect in November but had so far, in 2015, been mercifully let off. Foolishly you start to believe that you might have got away with it and I am reminded of a lovely local philosophy which looks at the weather around about now and sees that we are a good percent of the way through 'winter' without having felt any yet. What ever happens now, they say, it can't be that bad a winter (because, I assume, they will always factor in the easy October and part of November)

This pic looking the other way was taken after we had
erected the shuttering into which will be poured the concrete
for the new floor (including extension, of course).
The rain and a ticklish cough drive me indoors and it is time to get stuck into some domestic duties in the absence (but not for long) of Lizzie, so I am, once again, King of the Kitchen. Christmas Cake is the target today so I am surrounded by all the dried fruits, peel, glacé cherries, almonds and what nottery, which have to be soaked overnight in juice of orange and lemon plus 4 tablespoons full of Irish Whiskey. This is prior to lashing in the rest of the ingredients (flour, sugar, eggs, butter and so on) which we can mix up on "Stir-Up Tuesday" when Liz returns. You'd not do that in the absence of your Chief Chef, now, would you, or how would she make her wish?

Christmas Cake Mix
That left me with a thorny problem. The smallest quantity of Irish Whiskey I could buy was 350 ml and I only needed those 4 tablespoons for soaking the fruit (it barely wetted the fruit but I guess these recipe writers know what they are at). I'm left with 9/10 of the bottle and, being cold ridden, I can't think for the life of me, what to do with it all. Cheers.

Berkshire pork tenderloin.
Still on cooking, I was hunting in the freezers for something to defrost for just the one person for supper and we have a very lax habit sometimes of freezing our butchered meat in bags with no label written on them; we are possibly in a hurry and guess that we will easily know which cuts are which by the shape of the frozen 'lump'. There in the top of the freezer, was a double-fist sized, anonymous lump of pork which I thought would do. I assumed it was some old chunk of spare boneless meat or 'trimmings'. On thawing, it turned out to be a complete tenderloin, surely one of the best cuts of pork there is, and certainly our family favourite for the stir frying, where you can slice it into a good many lean 'coins' of meat.

Pork Stir Fry
Having come upon it by mistake, the least I could do is show it the respect of a good wok-up, possibly my favourite cookery technique. Very nice it was too and there is a goodly portion of left overs to go back into the freezer for me to enjoy on some future solo cooking session. I HAVE labelled that one.

Tenderlean pork 'coins'.
The rain, of course, is not allowed to prevent us from minding the livestock and today I did a deal with Charlotte - I'd pick her up from the Dublin bus and give her a lift home, if she'd lend me an hour of her expert sheep-wrangling skills. I did, of course, allow her to go home and get some scruffs and wellies on first, as she was dressed in nice 'college and coach ride' attire which the sheep would have made a mess of. It is surprising how much rain water a sheep fleece holds. The outer ends of the wool fibres act en-masse like a huge sponge (the inside ends are warm and dry against the skin in a healthy sheep) so if you lean on the animal with a knee or leg while trying to check its feet you get a very wet leg. We had to foot-trim and spray feet, and then dag out full-tail Myfanwy and docked-tail Dylan. By the time I'd nudged sheep around and knelt between them to do dagging, I was saturated in parts and then Charlotte also gave me a masterclass in condition-scoring them (finding out how fat they are), so we were fair dripping from elbows, knees, legs and, in my case, shoulders by the time we'd finished. It was good to get back indoors for a cup of tea, returning Charlotte home (Thank you so much, C) and then to light the range and get into some dry clothes. The sheep were probably very happy to have been able to towel themselves dry on the passing humans, get their toenails cut to as more comfortable length and have their bums freed up of all the heavy, dangly, wet, brown Christmas tree decorations.

Friday 6 November 2015

A Pea-Sized Problem?

Sheep meds - against Clostridium
More vetinary adventures for us in this post, this time involving sheep and our 3 year old Westie bitch, Poppea.

First up, the sheep. You will recall our little sheep-team was saddened by the rather sudden death of the ram we borrowed recently, Rambo, a couple of weeks after he was shipped home. Our research since and consultations with our sheep-vet have convinced us that this was probably the result of Clostridium infection which tends to kill quickly and without much warning. Sheep carry these bacteria around, by all accounts, in their tonsils area and something else - some weakness or shock sets the raging infection off. Most shepherds locally (we now know) innocculate preventatively for this in the same way you might do a dog; two shots 6 weeks apart to start you off, then repeat jabs annually.

The victims looking a bit anxious.
The vet recommended a 10-type (ten species of Clostridium) concoction called Covexin 10 which was not stocked locally, so we needed a mercy-dash to the Swinford branch of our local farms co-op for it, It is also rather pricey at €69 per 50 ml but this would do 50 doses and will keep till 2017. All these drugs are 'designed' for farmers with a size-able flock, and they do not sell a 'small holder' sized bottle. [Aside: The vet was horrified by this price and said it should have been more like €35, so I checked my receipt and found they had run 100 ml through the till, though I got a 50 ml bottle. I need a run back to Swinford and sort this out. Things you discover when you go to write a blog post!].

You'd not want to find THESE on the bathroom floor.
Sheep toenail clippings. 
The vet came this morning. I was ready with the four victims penned in my new hurdle-pen and looking a bit anxious. I had already trimmed Polly's feet and sprayed them, and was well into dagging Myfanwy's tail, so well they might. I got the vet to show me how to do the injections (simple subcutaneous ones) so that I can do the follow up ones, or any for friends' sheep, myself - I have 50 ml of Covexin to get through and each sheep only needs 1 ml per shot. I then quizzed her on the fluke/wormer thing and she advised drenching a bit later on - maybe after Christmas when we round them up for their 2nd jabs. Apparently the drench can cause issues with tiny new lamb foetusses and you are better letting the pregnancy progress a while before you start lashing in the chemicals.

There! You don't get many pics of dogs' boobies on any
other blog, do you? Poppea's little swelling.  This 'Lady' has
at least swung her tail down and under to cover up her modesty
Then there was Poppea, making a lovely recovery from her spay a few weeks back, when we found her licking at her scar. On checking we found she had a neat pea-sized swelling part way down the scar line. I was concerned that this might be a small hernia with 'innards' coming through an unhealed split in the abdomen muscle wall, so tonight we were back off to the other vet, in town for some reassurance. No need to worry, apparently.

Poppea back home and resting after her adventure
By the time we got there, of course, Poppea had licked and nibbled the swelling till it had burst and then licked the area clean. It was just a minor swelling (oedema) at one of the stitches with fluid trapped beneath the skin. The muscle wall is intact  The tiny flap of skin will heal itself. She will keep it clean by licking it. There's a relief. We had worries about her having to go back under the knife to get the 'rupture' stitched up.

A good name, a beer deserving of a second chance?
Home for a well deserved beer then, and I had spotted another of the modern glut of "craft beers" with fancy names and modern, garrulous labels. This was "Sheep Stealer" from the Black Donkey Brewery who are in a town/village so near that it contains my nearest Protestant (Church of Ireland) place of worship, Ballinlough, County Roscommon, were I so inclined. To be honest, I was not that impressed by the beer first time out. It was a pale yellow, very hazy, a bit acid and massively gassy. These, I know are deliberate in some beers and can be the sign of a good 'craft' beer but they are not for me. I was about to abandon it, but to take this picture, I picked up the old bottle and gave it a good read. I learned, as well as being obliged to read a rather spurious "legend" about farm women dressing as sheep and hiding among the flock to try to avoid being raped and pillaged by the local raiders, that this beer is "unfiltered, all natural and bottle conditoned". It ferments in the bottle and lays down a deposit of spent yeast as it goes. "Store upright", it advises, "at 8-10ºC, pour gently into glass. Don't disturb the yeast".

The bees still very active in the warm afternoons, chasing
ivy pollen and nectar. 
Ooops. I'd just brought it home at room temperature, whacked half of it into a French 250 ml glass, glugged away and gone back for the 2nd half. No wonder it was hazy but to be fair I point to 2 'excuses' in my defence. First, you don't expect to have to read the instructions before you pour beer and second, that wordy modern label covers so much bottle you'd struggle to see that you were stirring up yeast; only the head and shoulders and the 'arse' of the bottle are actually transparent!. Ah well. I am being fair too, and I will go buy some more as this is a local producer, and treat it correctly before passing judgement. I can't see that improving the 'acid' and the thin taste but it should sort out the 'hazy' and the 'gassy'. I'll let you know.

Well paired off now - Min and Belvedere. 
Meanwhile back at the ranch, a quick round up of where we are. Liz is still coming and going on her alternating half weeks of house/Dad sitting and work. She was last heard of opening a bottle of Mum-in-Law's Chateauneuf du Pape to let it breathe. Times is hard in austerity Ireland? The bees are enjoying these warm afternoons - I have even seen them 'fanning' to stir up an air flow through the hive to cool it and get rid of moisture while converting nectar to honey. They will be enjoying the ivy which is in full bloom now. Old widow Guinea Fowl 'Min' is now solidly paired off with our new cock bird, Belvedere. The other new bird proves to be a hen and is as solidly paired off with one of the young turkey cocks. She may be our first taste of local Guinea fowl, but don't tell her that just yet.