Friday 29 January 2016

'365' Project

Village web page advertising the 365 Project
From Monday (1st Feb) for the next 12 months, Liz has a 'new baby'. This baby is named Lisacul 365 (Lisacul is the name of our nearby village) and the mission is to promote the village and its environs. The plan is to get anyone who lives here or visits, to take photographs within the 18 townlands so that we can save one taken each day for all of the 365 (actually 366 as this is a Leap Year) days between 1st Feb 2016 and 31st Jan 2017.

The Twitter feed on the same website helps.
If only one gets submitted for any given day, then it is simple and I am the 'backstop' trying to ensure there are no blank days, but if there are many pics, then a selection committee sits to choose which one goes up to represent that day. You are not 'allowed' to sneak in an unselected one from the day before. It should be great fun and a lovely way of getting all the community to share in something - pictures can be of anything and anyone (with usual rules of permission and security allowing) within the 'patch', doing anything (or even NOT doing anything!). The collection of 366 pictures can then be used in exhibitions or promotions as well as being saved on file as part of the history of the village, a piece of heritage.

These are just old pics from this blog so would not be eligible
but they are the sort of thing that could well go in.
We first saw this done in Faversham in Kent where we used to live. There it was 'invented' by a good friend of ours, French lady pro-photographer and artist, Nathalie Banaigs. Faversham, having a more beefy budget than we do, were able to put on a big public exhibition of the winning pictures, all printed in glossy and framed, where they also had feedback sheets and a popular vote so that the public could pick their favourites. They also sold glossy colour books of all 365 photos. Lisacul is not in that market, but will make them all readily available on the internet and for digital 'slide-shows'. Faversham have continued to do these collections in some (all?) of the years since that first year and the project has also grown to include more towns and villages.

Liz had a quick consultation with Nathalie prior to this project and she immediately gave Lisacul permission and her blessing (Thanks, Nath') for Liz to launch Lisacul 365, the FIRST EVER 365 project in Ireland. Exciting times. For Liz, of course, a whole new lump of busy-busy getting it off the ground. There had to be a website and emails able to cope with it and the usual social media stuff (Facebook and Twitter). She needed a basic statement which could be read out at any event over the winter where people from the patch would gather.

There was a proper Press Release to go to all the local and regional papers and radio stations. There was a printed flyer to be displayed in all local shops, libraries, churches, tourist info offices etc. She has also lined up a number of visits to groups to present the project and garner some interest - the local School, the Ballaghaderreen Camera Club and (tonight, even as I type this) the village 'Foróige' Youth Club/Group.

Out of the Press Release came an invitation to be interviewed on Regional radio station "MidWest Radio" by morning presenter Tommy Marren - that had Liz out of bed super-early and dressed for work, seated at our table with all her paperwork and equipment spread around taking a call from an assistant first and then going 'live' for real. My part in that was a doddle. Get out of here with the dogs! Anyone who has been here will know the dogs' unpredictable triggers to start the game of chase-the-cat-up-the-stairs, which involves some very loud scrabbling for grip on the wooden treads. We couldn't risk that in the back ground of a live radio interview. Anyway, I wanted to hear the thing 'properly' through the radio, so that means the car-radio on this 'farm'. In the event it went really well. It was a lovely interview in which Liz came over loud and clear as chatty, friendly, enthusiastic and well informed, the project got a superb airing and even some 'plugs' for other village events were slid in. That is not just me saying that - the boss and work colleague(s) were all very impressed and all the feedback from many listeners to the programme has been positive.

This work will go on all around the year as the photographs start to flow in (we hope) - possibly encouraging the flow, possibly organising these 'selection' committees, but definitely answering all the emails and saving the pictures up to the ever-building gallery on the website. We are both very excited about this and I know Liz will definitely be having a few kittens on Monday 1st February, launch day. There are some nice daffs coming into flower in this garden which Liz has CLAIMED for her first photograph. Hands Off!

If that has been the main focus recently, then what else have 'we' been up to? We were involved in a rather sad duty on the Tuesday, that of 'helping' a friend to have a dog put down. This was an elderly Labrador which had been in the family for a decade so it was never going to be easy, but we were asked to be there at the end ('Mum' couldn't bear it) with vet Aoife, to discretely remove the body and to bury it in the garden of another friend where the dog's playmate of old was already interred. A size-able dog, obviously, so a biggish hole. Very sad.

On a happier (but in one case wetter) note I have been out helping with the buildering in Sligo. On the Thursday the weather was building up to our next named storm, Gertrude (bless her and all who drown in her) and we were outside finishing the fancy stonework around the front porch. It bucketed down, the sort of rain which doesn't take too long to find its way through even a good hi-viz coat and before that, is running off the coat and drenching the trousers, socks and so on. 3 hours in I was just miserable and called it a day. I needed to get home to a complete change of clothes, a hot shower and a commando raid on the contents of the fridge. Anyone for re-fried left over Burns Night neeps and tatties? Couple of fried eggs? Toast and ketch-up? TAY? Carb-loaded, I was beginning to feel human again and I slept comfortably through that night while Gertrude raged outside among the tree tops. Today, of course, not a cloud in the sky so, 100% dry, we carried on with the stonework and then transferred our attention to carpentry - fancy end rafters and architrave on the gable ends and the wooden valley 'trenches' on the roof which these days get fibreglass lining instead of tar-felt or lead flashing.

Also, of course, looking around the place for likely pictures to submit to Lisacul 365 this coming week, month and year. Good Luck Lisacul and Lizzie.

Monday 25 January 2016

Bucket List Item....Tick!

Back in November I wrote a post in which I noted that the Silverwoods had managed to find some archery and that I was going to join them and fulfill a life long ambition. The post is at

 if you would like to re-cap. At our age we are all supposed to have a mental or written "bucket list"; a list of things you would like to see or do "before you die". I am not sure why it is called a bucket list but my mental one includes plenty of pricey stuff we are never likely to achieve now that we are no longer DINKYs swimming in cash (African Safari, Mountain gorillas, terracotta warriors and Great Wall in China, drive a Mk 2 Escort (preferably red and with a POO 505R number plate) with respectable speed through a Welsh forest stage... that kind of thing). But one item which I should have ticked off years ago is the archery and now it seemed I would finally get this done.

'Playing' in the back garden - lots of bad
technique here (flappy sleeve, 4-finger
grip, stance etc) but I had not yet had
 a proper lesson.
Then along came one of the named storms of late November and made it unfair to leave Liz minding the farm overnight, and then the loss of Theo, then Christmas and so on, so I got postponed until January. We finally made it this weekend just gone. I drove down to the Silverwoods' Saturday lunchtime, met the gang all there. We had a first play and demo of the bows and arrows there - Steak Lady has a nice car-width drive up the side of her house ending in big thick solid gates, where Mr S sets up a serious, woven straw, circular target on a tripod so that they have a mini archery range out there. We adjourned for a lovely curry (Thanks, SL!) and then headed for the proper evening club session in a village near to Portlaoise where club-founders and instructors, James and Tom put a gang of around 17 of us (including myself and 2 other complete, Day 1 novices) through some paces.

None of your bendy yew tree wood
for us. A modern "riser" .
They use a big church hall where 5 archers can stand in line and fire arrows down the hall to either thud successfully into the foam targets or to be gathered up by a heavy drape curtain behind designed to catch and stop any misses. It is all very safe. Your group of 5 fire off a set of 4 arrows each before everyone puts their bow down flat in the floor, once all are ready, the instructor tells you "Go collect". You then get another 4 shots and on till you must stand aside (behind) while the next group of 5 archers take their turn.

'Caging' the balloon north, south east and west
The name of the game at this early stage is nothing to do with trying to hit the bullseye or even the target circle, it is about finding a consistent technique and stance so that all 4 arrows in your set land in a tight group. You can be anywhere on the target board as long as all your arrows hit within a few inches of each other. Beginners tend to see one go low left and mentally adjust up right etc, spraying arrows all over the gaff. You need to learn the correct process and stance (feet just so, Right* arm straight and rigid, left hand with thumb in and main three fingers round string, pull back till your first finger is at the corner of your mouth, breathe, relax, steady and release). You don't aim by looking straight down the length of the arrow with the feathers (fletches) poking in your eye, but rather along the top of the arrow and lining the point up with a likely place on the target. That way, says the theory, if you always line up on the same place and use the same pull and technique, your 4 arrows will all fly the same trajectory and all land together. What could POSSIBLY go wrong?

Happy Beginner
Ah well, I had an absolute blast and loved every minute of it. I did reasonably OK at the archery but also had a great time meeting people and talking to them. Towards the end of the session James clipped a load of balloons to the targets for a bit of fun and had us shooting at them. I achieved a certain notoriety by missing with all 4 of my first arrows but managing to cage the balloon with an arrow touching in north, south, east and west. The balloon was undamaged but held firm. "Bet you couldn't do that again!" they said. I nailed the thing with my 6th arrow. It was a brilliant day and my heartfelt thanks to the Silverwoods and SL for their hospitality and letting me play. Also to the newly formed "Laois Archery" club, James and Tom. I must now go off and find a more local group (There is one in Castlerea) to save me the 2 hour drive and to practise more and see whether this is something I do, indeed, want to take up properly and even get good at.

I pass the 700 Tweets mark on 'my watch'
The other pastime mopping up all my spare hours last week, you will recall, was the curatorship of the @SmallHoldersIRL Twitter account. That was good fun too but I am not a natural 'tweeter' so I was quite tired of it by the end of the week and happy to hand the account on on Sunday evening to the next man. He is a pig and water buffalo farmer on the Beara Peninsula (I kid you not - the buffalo are apparently the perfect solution to the rough grazing and wet bogginess of County Cork). My stuff seemed to go down well and I was quite popular as a poster. We had plenty of sharing and banter going on. I may take another turn in the future but it will not be for a wee while yet.

*'I am left-eye'd despite being right handed, so I shoot holding the bow in my right hand.

Friday 22 January 2016

Please Do Something with this Cake!

Liz is, as we all know, a lady of many talents, one of them being baking, cake making and all things kitchen. But that is at home - it does not normally impact on working life. This week, though, she was amazed to arrive at work one day for her 11:00 start to be be met by work colleague and boss flapping around  a very ordinary (but perfectly good) Victoria sponge (cream, strawberry jam, caster sugar 'frosting' etc) armed with a tub of whipped cream and a punnet of fresh strawberries.

If it wasn't so tragic, we'd be hooting with laughter - our
broadband locally has recently struggled to top
half a 'meg'. i-player TV is a total 'no-no'.
The story went that the indomitable ladies and gents of the local "Active Age" group were having one of their regular meetings and, as it was one of their birthdays they were going to serve Black Forest Gateaux as they ALWAYS do. A runner had been sent off to town, to the bakers they ALWAYS use to buy the gateaux but the bakery were running late and did not have one ready yet. Disaster. The runner bought the Victoria sponge instead and phoned 'base' whereupon another shopper was despatched to buy the cream and strawberries with which to enhance the cake to make it a bit more gateaux-like, all be it devoid of black cherries and kirsch. It was at that point Liz showed up and both shoppers were expressing concern about their inability to make cakes or decorate them, so a rather flustered Lizzie was pressed into service. Toughen the sinews, Summon up the blood.

A 'downside' of fully free range chickens?
Eggies all over the gaff
She carefully separated the two cake layers and sneaked a new rim of crescents of strawberries all around the edge. Then she created a lovely 'scree' of strawberry chunks at one end of the plate and scalloped the cream all around to create a vison of strawberry and cream loveliness. The staff were delighted but still had to present this gateaux to the Birthday Girl rather trepidatiously, fingers crossed that she'd not be disappointed by the lack of Black Forest. Well, history tells that it all went brilliantly and BG was delighted at the choice ("It makes such a nice change from Black Forest Gateaux"). More brownie-points too for our 'chef' when the left over cream was hustled into an option on the usual plain 'hot drop' (hot whiskeys) at these events, Irish Coffees. I think we'll call that snatching glorious victory from the jaws of possible defeat. Well done Lizzie. No pressure for the next Birthday Party, then.

First fruits from the Dylan carcass. This rack of chops
got roasted wrapped in a lovely bread-crumb and herb cover
I can claim no such heroics for myself. In fact, if you don't do Twitter, I have probably been more than usually silent, unavailable, un-engaged and hidden. If you do Twitter and you have been anywhere the SmallholdersIRL account you will know that we have been having a blast. I have fired off dozens of 'tweets' and pictures and we have shared stuff, discussed, bantered and made some good friends. I have spent more time at the PC (and glued to Liz's i-phone 5) than is healthy for me and I am tired out but I have enjoyed it immensely. I am not sure I would want to do it again too soon and I may be quite happy to hand it over to the next 'curator' on Sunday evening, but I'd not have missed it for anything.

George gets himself noticed for the
Twitter account.
Apart from that, a fairly normal week. I was out at the buildering the last couple of days, mainly 'labouring' while the main man and a builder-mate from Dublin clambered over the roof or up ladders installing new window frames upstairs. The house is coming on a storm. The roof is completely battened out ready for the (trad) slates, the guys have done all the stonework they are able to do on the north gable (we need the Electricty Company (ESB) to come and do their stuff dismantling the old supply which looped across to the chimney) and have created a natty stone arch indoors at the entrance to what will be #1 daughter's bedroom, plus created the wooden 'bridge' which runs between the two mezzanine floors. My jobs were passing concrete blocks to the "brickie" making the porch and 14 foot 2x2 battens up to the guy on the roof, plus clearing the (deliberately) fallen chimney rubble from the bedroom and the old soft-board ceiling and tar felt from what will be the kitchen. My ankles ache from all the heavy barrowing across rough ground and up hill.

Tuesday 19 January 2016

Curator (The Voice)

Possibly our new species for 2016 - ducks. To be more
precise, Muscovy ducks.
This week I am wired up to the internet like some teenager, thumbs glued to the touch screen and eyes taking in the feed of 'tweets' racing up the screen, oblivious to any real life going by, neglecting my duties, grumbling when interupted and asked to do chores....... Well, OK, not really; you can imagine I'd not actually last 5 minutes like that. I am, though, as predicted, this week's 'curator' of the Irish smallholders' Twitter account (@smallholdersIRL), the (Twitter) voice of Irish smallholdering, which I took over on Sunday night from the first ever 'curator', our friend Margaret from the Old Farm pig-management training courses in Tipperary.

The Goat Herd Registration docs finally arrive.
She'd done a good job and attracted 160-odd new followers and there was some excellent lively discussion and sharing, so I was a bit nervous of this responsibility and anxious that I might not do as well. In for a penny, though. I am, after all a fairly waffly and garrulous old sod and, after 4 years, a little bit knowledgable as to the ins and outs of smallholdering. We have worked through a lot of the common problems and we are still here. We knew that we could dish out advice with the best of them so I cracked on and seem to be well received and reasonably popular curator. Well... I was. At present Twitter is having a sneezing fit globally and users the world over are in and out like a fiddler's elbow suffering "internal server errors".

We decided to vac-pak that haggis to see could we simulate
the boil it would normally get in the chunk of sheep gut.
I am trying to be a little bit organised and 'themed' about my posts. Day 1 was an introduction and showing the readers ('followers') around the place, getting to know a few of them and letting them know a bit about me and our set up here. Today, when I can get it working, is a day for advising newbies and wannabes, people who might only be planning to make the leap into smallholdering and are still researching, dreaming and budgeting, of things they might want to think about and include in a realistic budget. If we knew then what we now now.... that kind of thing. Things like the usefulness of out-buildings and a cattle-race, the likely cost of getting connected to mains water and electricity, septic tanks, a trailer and tow hitch for the car and so on.

Breakfast of Champions - home made (pork) rillette
You are, of course welcome to go take a peek into Twitter and watch all this go through but if you are doing that go sooner rather than later. As I've already said, Twitter is a fast moving blizzard of short comments. Leave it an hour and the 'tweet' you are looking for is pages and pages of scrolling down the screen. Ephemeral is the word. More on this when I've done my week (and when Twitter is actually working, of course!) and I have a clearer idea of how good a curator I proved to be. Margaret loved her week and is quite missing it now; lots of time suddenly on her hands, she tells me.

Billy nose dives into the ivy branches.
A bit of a catch up then while Twitter is having its hissy-fit. Here the 2 guest-goats have settled in well. Nanny Óg does well out in her big field and happily follows me home to the shed of an evening. There have been no problems between her and the ewes. Billy has eaten himself out of house and home - there is not a leaf of browse (ivy, hawthorn or herbs) left in the pig run which he can get at. I had to phone his 'Mum' today to see if he was allowed ivy - I have whole forests of that on the other side of the patch which I could bring him but I needed to make sure it was not toxic. I remember our first sheep used to love it but I was advised not to let them have too many flowers or berries. Well, it turns out Billy can work away, so I have started cutting down great boughs of the stuff and dragging them across to hang them on his fence and he is in there, nose first with a huge smile on his face. At last! Someone who knows what a goat likes to eat! Sheep 'crunch' and slices of bread? I ask you!

Nanny Óg creating a Savannah browse-line
under our spruce trees.
I was saying a few posts back that we are quite good at the food date-rotation, using up the left-overs and minimising kitchen waste. This week we had a classic example. I had slow-cooked a chunk of pork loin (like 5 thick chops still welded together) in cider with apple to great success. We could not eat it all so a lot of the sauce and some of the meat and fat were left over. Liz took the sauce, enhanced with garlic and more apple, cream and mustard and turned some Hubbard chicken thighs into the kind of meal that had me proposing all over again. The remaining meat, shredded and combined with some of the apple-y fat became a rather gorgeous 'rillette' which I am using up as breakfasts on toast. Anything else went into a stock for a risotto and some soup. Waste not want not.

The big pond has fallen gin-clear in the cold weather
Amusingly we currently have the freezers so successfully loaded with portions of left overs that we were worried we'd not fit the lamb meat from Dylan into them and Liz has issued one of her periodic embargoes on eating 'stage 1' food - raw meat, raw veg, raw offal, shop bought stuff like frozen pizzas and so on. We must use up these portion pots and the cold-roast meat packs. Last year I was able to keep up with this as I would deliberately target them when ever Liz was away. It was nicer to eat a 'ready' meal, than to try roasting a great big joint and only use up one portion of it. Lately, though, Liz has not been on any of her away-missions, so we've been eating (and cooking) together.

Poppea in Jack Russel mode. No skirt. No feathering on the feet
We got fed up with the dogs always being muddy and wet and bringing the farm indoors, taking ages to dry out even when they lay in front of the fire. In Kent we had always clipped the westies in September and then let them go shaggy right round to my Birthday in April, so they'd be warm on their winter walks. I always cut them, too, in my (sorry) imitation of the Westie show-dog cut, big heads, skirts under the belly and great feathery feet like a cart horse. It is the skirts and feet, in particular, which pick up and then retain the mud like an old scrap of soggy carpet strapped to the dog's belly.

Pussy willow starting
This winter we reckon it has been mild enough that they could well do without, so at the weekend we ganged up on the little skanks. I took each dog in turn out to the Utility Room where I battled through the matted mess with the dog clippers, whipping off belly skirts and paring away all footy excesses. We are calling this the 'Jack Russell Cut'. As I brought each dog back indoors in turn Liz was there in swimming cozzie to grapple them upstairs for the multi-shampoo shower of their lives. Poppea, who was foolish enough to go out after this and roll in something, came back in as Liz was still in her dressing gown and about to take her own shower - she got it all again, much to her disgust. 2 showers in one day, Pops! In fact that day was one of those rare ones where all the planets align - the dogs were clean and dry, we had had showers too, Liz had blitzed the bedroom with hoover and broom AND we had changed all the bed linen. 2 people went clean and dry to bed with 3 clean dogs into a clean bed in a clean room - LUXURY. That does not happen that often on a smallholding in Roscommon in a wet winter. It was warm, dry, mudless, gritless, dog footprintless, damp dog-smell-less bliss.

Friday 15 January 2016

Ah Sure, He had the Breathing...

Liz gets a good Radio 4 programme running and
loses herself in a bit of rooster plucking
With the Christmas and New Year shenanigans all over, we are back into the old groove. Liz has gone back to the 'proper work' and I have been back at the buildering, livestock management and homestead stuff. This meant that the stay of execution enjoyed by the June born lamb (Dylan) and the 'two-chick' roosters was all up and they variously went on their final journeys. This post may be a bit full of killing for some tastes. Dylan was man-handled into the trailer on Monday 11th Jan and off to our excellent local small-business slaughterman/butcher, Ignatius G Victualler.

There are 2 roosters to process today, so I get to pluck
one of them
We never enjoy that job and we don't know anyone who does, but in our opinion you should never keep these meat animals unless you are happy with the exit strategy and are comfortable with the end game; otherwise you'd end up knee deep in geriatric livestock. Heartbreaking though this time - it is no problem dropping off your beloved 'child' in the slaughterman's lairage if there are a few animals already in there from some other customer. The lamb struggles to avoid being penned but then suddenly looks up as if to say "Ooh - new friends! Must go meet them!". This time, no such luck. The pens were empty, so we had to drive away turning a blind eye (and ear) to Dylan's little face looking at us through the gate and calling for his Mum, alone for the first time in his little life. It is a wrench.

The dodgy looking 'witches' cauldron' of a haggis boil-up
We collect the offal (heart, kidneys, liver and 'lights' (lungs)) on the following day. The carcass hangs for a week in the cold store and we go down to collect it on the following Monday morning (18th). The liver and kidneys get used fresh for supper that day (and very nice they are too). The hearts and lights go into a rather dodgy looking 'witches' cauldron' boil up prior to being 'whizzed' and added to the oatmeal, 'lean' trimmings (of neck in this case, from an earlier lamb), mace, nutmeg and cumin; our home made haggis, of course. We don't actually pack this into a sheep's "paunch" as per the official recipes - Liz does a 'tray bake' version in a greased (lamb fat) Pyrex oven dish with foil and the lid pressed down to exclude air. It works very well. Roll on Burns' Night.

Two identically fed roosters, one white, one 'red' in feather
turn out to have very different skin colour in carcass form.
Regular readers may recall the 'two chick' roosters hatched under an elderberry bush in our woods last summer. These lads were becoming a nuisance and, hunting as a pair, they were 'nailing' rather too many of our hens and we already had the two official roo's here, both Buff Orpington pure-breds. Once New Year was gone I needed to cull them out but I wanted to do this in our usual minimum stress, quick style. If you set out to catch a bird on a given day and fail, you just end up winding the poor things up by chasing them till the carcass would be so full of adrenalin it would be like jelly.

Haggis under construction
I wander about going to my normal business and wait till one makes the mistake of getting himself cornered where I can grab him quickly and then 'cuddle' him under my arm to calm him down while I walk to where my bill hook is and then to the quiet, secret place out of sight of all the other birds. Both these guys obliged me on Weds 13th when they took shelter from a rain shower in the turkey-house, formerly a milking shed, a place full of corners and bays. Easy pickings. One of these lads will end up as a standard roast chicken but with the other Liz fancies having a go at the 'sous-vide' cookery we have seen talked about and for which you need the carcass to be vac-packed.

The south gable stonework finished
With the coming of January, Winter turned up with a yellow warning for Co Roscommon for snow (orange for Co. Sligo). As I said, I was back at the buildering and was helping finish the stone-mason-ing up to the top of the south gable end (the boss was laying the stones - I was keeping him supplied up on his scaffold with buckets of mortar and plenty of stones). We'd just finished at about midday when I noticed that the sunshine on the gable and the ominous black cloud behind would make a good picture, so I'd called out the Lady of the House and her camera to come take a few pics (one is shown here). Half an hour later we were in drinking coffee when the cloud decided to deliver the 'orange warning' snow; an impressive heavy blizzard which immediately called a stop to our outdoor efforts and had the gritter lorries and snowploughs out to keep the road drive-able.

Only a dusting of snow for us in Roscommon but a rather
pretty thaw.
Meanwhile, Sparks will be sad to note the passing of a real character from our own house build, 'Suicide Dog'. This collie cross from down the lane plagued us every time we drove off site, down to Castlerea. He would sit in wait for cars and then charge out as if to bite the tyres and chase you along the lane. Real name 'Junior', we never knew whether to carry on maintaining speed and direction so that he could predict us and miss us, or to slam on the brakes and swerve to avoid him. We named him 'Suicide Dog', he seemed Hell-bent on self destruction under one of our cars. Well, he was fairly long in the tooth then and in the four years since we have noticed a slowing down in him and a reluctance to chase us. Only when we had a sheep trailer on would he jump up and run after us. More recently I had not seen him at all so I asked after him when I met the owner in the Post Office. Sadly they had had to have the lad put down. The owner was typically quiet on the subject and only volunteered "Ah sure, he had the breathing". We assume some kind of respiratory complaint. RIP Junior (Suicide Dog). We will miss you.

Guinness trying out some of the old fashioned flavours. 
Just one more thing. The goats are now well settled into their routines here and feel quite at home. I was joking with their real owner, Carolyn (of the mini horses) that now that I have a goat herd number, she ought to transfer them to my smallholding to make it legal. She was (tongue in cheek) worried that I might be trying to claim them as my own goats and she wants to hang onto them. I was joking that if the (possible) kids are born here then I would have to ear tag them with MY numbers. Well, she won that game of chess when she read in her own book of regs that she can move them 'to temporary grazing' without involving me or my paperwork. Sneaky.

Monday 11 January 2016

Of Social Media

The new group on Facebook
"Ah!", say those who know me well, "Now THERE's a subject on which this lad is ill equipped to write!" An astute observation, especially regarding the 2nd of these, but my post today concerns the networks "Facebook" and "Twitter", the only two on which I stand a chance of making sense.

The new Twitter account which only started today. I am
'in charge' next week. 
Facebook is probably my 'thing' and I have been on it for all of our time in Ireland. It is a place where you can write entries of a decent length, sharing stories, anecdotes and advice, plus pictures and (short) videos with friends, relations and like minded interested parties. I have found it a real boon on leaving work and moving to this 'foreign' land where I'd not know anybody and was planning to start in a lifestyle where I knew precious little.

Our favourite 'Brown Trout' brand (sheep) calendar and two
nice (sheep) books from Santa. 
When you leave a job you always go round muttering "Ah well, good luck in the future.. we must stay in touch" and you probably mean it with about 5% of your colleagues but it is always easier to write that letter or pick up the phone tomorrow and you inevitably lose touch. 15 years ago (or so) a good friend left work to go and take on a smallholding in the Welsh valleys (Hi John and Paula) and we stayed in touch for a couple of years (even went down there once) but that, too, faded. There was no Facebook then, so they might as well have vanished into thin air. In 2011, when we moved, we were able to 'befriend' no end of former colleagues and I am still in touch with dozens on a daily or weekly basis. It feels nicely 'connected' and we do not feel as if we have 'vanished' in any way. We flash up a picture of a new lamb or note a Birthday and we get 50+ "likes" and dozens of positive comments.

Guest-Goat (Nanny Óg) and ram lamb (Dylan) play King
of the Castle on our grassy knoll in the East Field.
One area in which I retained a great interest is the veg growing and allotments. Somewhere in Facebook you will find an interest group to cover any subject you can name and I quickly got involved with the 'Allotments' group. I posted regularly and sensibly and soon got invited to take it over from the couple of guys who had set it up along with 5 other 'newbies' so we became the 'Admin Team' for that group choosing who could join and keeping an eye on the posters to make sure they behaved. We keep a friendly and relaxed ship and have quickly grown the group to over 4500 members, we must be doing something right!

The kitchen gets a coat of paint.
This year/change, a good friend Alayne, actually she who bought the piglets from our other friends Sue and Rob, decided to start a group for the smallholders out here in the 'Wesht'. So was born the "West of Ireland Smallholders Group" and Alayne asked me to dive in and help her to 'admin' it. This is doing well, all be it still fewer than a hundred members and has had some good pictures and nice friendly, lively discussion as well as members starting to help one another to find good books, training courses, to source pigs or deal with problem wasps nests. I hope this one will 'work' but my suspicion is that the type of people who decide to do smallholdering are sometimes doing it to get away from it all and live a quiet life. The last thing they want is to stay "connected" and play on computers to invite into their day the clamour of on line 'experts', keyboard warriors, nerds and (sometimes unwelcome) advice. We'll see.

Hubbard chicken wings glazed with honey and sweet-chilli
For those same reasons I am probably even less convinced by Twitter which I see (maybe wrongly) as the territory of those smartly dressed, young, business and social types who walk the streets of cities with their thumbs glued to the touch screen of their i-Pad* or smart phone** and their eyes fixed on the flow of 'tweets' from celebs, politicos and journalists as well as their own gossip groups.

(* and ** I have no idea what these machines are or how they differ from one another. I have never owned one and could not even turn one on if it was passed to me. I just know the words and think they work in this context.)

Liz battles to use her i-phone from buried under a pile of
blankets, dogs and cats.
I have a Twitter account which I run from my old fashioned PC under the stairs, so I can only get to it when I come back indoors and wash my hands. I miss a good 99% of all the 'traffic' from people who I nominally 'follow'. These posts are limited to 140 characters which is enough for a quick comment, a thought or a link to an article or item the person has found interesting. You cannot really get into a conversation with anyone or discuss things and as quickly as they appear, they are gone, shoved off screen by the next 'tweet'. When I go in after a few hours on the plot (or whatever) a statement says 273 "new" tweets and there is no way (and no point) I am going to trawl through that lot. You can just click on the recent ones; the rest are ephemera. They may have been worth reading 2 hours ago, but I doubt it.

As clear as gin? Well, possibly poitín.
None the less, there is a small community of smallholders who use Twitter and they make use of the facility on there as 'guest accounts'. Here the interest group sets up an account (in this case it is called @SmallholdersIRL ) and then gets a different user to use the account (and do the tweeting) each week. You can apply to be that person, or you can get invited by the owner. The smallholder one on Twitter is very new and was set up in the new year by a friend (Margaret G) and first "curated" by another friend (Margaret whose Pig-Management Course I attended a few years back down in Tipperary). She is doing the first week (this week) but other smallholders have been invited to take the weeks that follow and so, by this means, I am to be the voice of Irish Smallholding for week commencing 18th Jan. Yes, I know. Get me, slagging off Twitter one minute and then up to my oxters the next! I hope I can do it justice.

Please do wish me luck in both. Thanks.

Wednesday 6 January 2016

My Ol' Man Said Foller The Van

'Mad Max' vehicle lurking under a sheet. It does good 'lurking'!
I hinted in the last post that we might be in for a busy time of it this New Year as our friends Carolyn (of the mini horses) and K-Dub had been bounced by a rather rapid house sale and the need to clear out of house, yard, out-buildings and garden by the 5th of January. This coming hot on the heels of a family Christmas and then the need to attend a family wedding up in Dublin just prior to New Year.

Billy is a shaggy, out-doorsy kind of lad, pretty close to the
feral Irish 'wild goat'.
Anyone who has tried to move house after living in a place for ten years will be familiar with the sheer amount of 'stuff' that you can accumulate, especially when you have a small-holding with associated animal-management gear (kennels, hutches, horse-tack, buckets, dustbins of feed etc) and a daughter growing up through the teenage years and then shipping off to college. Add to that, that K-Dub is a professional Master-Carpenter, so his 'stuff' comes in the form of fully tooled workshop with massive table-saw, substantial router-deck, BIG pipe-benders and various drills, nail guns and saws which come in suitcase-sized cases.

Nanny Óg - pronounce the 'O' long as in 'bogus'. It is Irish
for 'young Nanny'.
He is also a bike-nut who goes in for heroic bizarre projects like home-built "trikes". Don't get the wrong idea that a "motor-trike" is not much bigger than a motorbike. This project is based around a Ford Transit Van engine, gearbox, diff and rear axle and will have a front wheel the size of a tractor rear one. Unfortunately this was still a work in progress at removal time, and there was no driving out and whizzing round to the new place. Three of us sweated blood manhandling it onto a trailer and bringing it round to my place where it has been given dry-ish car-port storage.

The daffs down by our gate think it is Spring.
We had a punishing, bone-aching time for 4 days packing the stuff and transporting it, some here, much more to an unoccupied house near the new place, generously offered by a soon-to-be-neighbour and a smaller amount to the caravan they have bought as a temporary home while the real house is made ready. Liz, Carolyn and a couple of other friends packed, stripped rooms and cleaned behind themselves while K-Dub and I plus various helpers down from Dublin loaded and hauled what seemed like dozens of loads in a big hi-cube builder's van and a long car-trailer out to the various destinations, often starting at 8 a.m. and finishing well after we had lost the light. It always seemed faster to unload than load; none of us could work out why.

Last of the Seasonal left-overs. The last slice of pud with
ice cream and cream for my lunch today. 
We may have missed the midday deadline on the 5th (it was more like 6pm) but the buyer was cool with that as they were not ready to move in anyway. As to the livestock, they had unshipped most of that, selling off all but one of #1 Daughter's 40+ rabbits, the one going to a local friend for safe-keeping. We inherited the 2 goats, also temporarily much to the amusement of all my friends who have been hearing me shout 'No Goats' ever since we have been here. These are a shaggy, mountainy-looking miniature male and a sweet, possibly pregnant, short haired lady who are called Billy and Nanny Óg. The Óg is pronounced with a long 'o' (as in bogus) and is the Irish word for young but Terry Pratchett fans may have also noticed a pun on the name of one of his 'Wyrd Sisters'.

June born lamb Dylan (left) with Mum
Although we had applied for Goat Herd number registration way back, this number had lapsed with our non-keeping of the species. I had to contact the Ministry boys today to get goats "active" on my list, so that we can officially transfer these two animals into this holding. Nanny is in with the ewes during the day but gets walked home to her warm, dry shed at night. These short-haired 'domestic' goats are derived from Mediterranean animals and they do not thrive in cold and wet. Billy is much more of a shaggy, mountainy, 'Irish' strain, like a French 'Mouflon' (with horns to match) so he is in the pig enclosure for now and sleeping happily in the pig ark.

The Sligo house rebuild looking good now.
And in case you had forgotten, today is 12th Night and Epiphany but much more important to Irish ladies, it is 'Nollaig na Mban' or 'Ladies Christmas'. a day for the ladies to relax and be pampered by their men-folks as a big Thank You for all the hard work those ladies do over the Festive Season. Where are those frozen pizzas I bought cheap from 'salmonella corner' at Lidl's?