Friday 26 February 2016

Keeping us Waiting

Twin lambs tonight for Polly, both boys.
More good news and relief in the sheep department after the curing of Lily by vet Aoife. This time it is Polly's turn to supply the story and she had us sweating on it a bit. I knew she was 'on' when she refused breakfast and spent the day displaying 3 other good clues of imminent lamb-exit; going off on her own for a lie down away from the 'flock', 'pawing' at the ground with a front hoof and looking very uncomfortable so that she restlessly sat down, stood up, moved around and sat down again.

I had agreed to head out for Sligo to help K-Dub to tip a van load (64 panels) of plaster board sheets and walk them all indoors, plus some bags of bonding, beading and other bits. I judged (correctly, I am pleased to say) that Polly would easily go 2 hours without needing help so I flew over there at 9 and headed back at 11 when the unloading was done. When I got back I found that there had been no progress and Polly was still sitting out in the far corner of the field but had been worryingly joined by the 3rd ewe (Myfanwy) who was sitting in a copy-cat stance and, to my mind, seemed very pink about the vulva. Were to have two lambings today?

A close inspection of Myf's back end told me that this was a false alarm and she was not yet bagged up at all, so maybe she was enjoying the wind-up potential. Polly then, kept me on tenter-hooks all day and only started to 'move' (passing a mucus plug and some amniotic sac) at around 5pm. This was so long after breakfast that Charlotte (who we keep standing-by on these occasions) advised an extra careful watch as she may have been in labour "all day". I contacted the vet, Aoife, to confirm that she would be available if needed and she was a bit more relaxed about the 'all day'; happy to think of "things" starting only at 5 pm.

Wetting the babies' heads. One dark and one light. It seemed
only fair.
Well, I am happy to report that "things" did indeed crack on a-pace from that point and Polly whooshed out both twins while we had nipped in for supper at 18:30. Both were out, up and suckling by 19:00 and I decided to leave them where they were for washing and bonding for half an hour before we gathered the family indoors. It was pitch dark but I could keep an eye using my rather dim head-torch and my presence would stop any sneaky foxes creeping up on Polly to steal the newborns. At one point Soldier the cat wandered over all curious and got himself charged and nearly stomped on for his pains by the ewe, so I suspect even a fox might have thought twice. Ah well, they are safe in the Tígín now, warm and dry on new straw and it has all gone quiet so I hope that signifies bellies nicely full of colostrum (and some 'crunch' and a welcome drink of water for Mum).

Rosie - one of Lily's lambs. These ladies are nearly 2 weeks old
A new experience today for me, that of voting properly in an Irish General Election using the 'single transferable vote' system. My British readers may not know that here we do not use the 'put an X in the box', winner-takes-all, one MP per constituency method. Instead the constituencies can put more than one 'TD' into the parliament (up to 5, I think) so our voting sheets can have dozens of candidates on them and you vote by stating 1st, 2nd, 3rd etc preferences by putting numbers in the boxes; all the boxes if you like.

I will not try to explain the counting system here (though I do sort of understand it) but suffice to say that the winners get enough '1st preference' votes to make a quota, or hope to make quota by having themself as people's 2nd preference, or 3rd or whatever. Yes, I know. It actually works very well and is quite user friendly. I voted as far as my 6th preference. I am wary of trying to pretend to be expert in this and I usually avoid politics in this blog but here goes.

My problem is not the complexity of it all, but trying to work out who stands for what. In the UK you 'knew' that Labour stood for the working classes, the Tories for the management and affluent farmers, and the Libs were somewhere in between. Nothing so clear cut here. The two BIG parties, Fine Gael (FG) and Fianna Fáil (FF) are almost identical and the local wisdom is that you choose between them depending on how you stood in the Irish Civil War in the 20's. Were you 'pro-treaty' (i.e. were you in favour of accepting independence but with the 6 Northern Ireland counties partitioned off and left as British) or were you anti (i.e. you wanted the whole island to be independent).

A 'boreen'. One of this week's Lisacul 365 pics.
This was hugely contentious and split the country, communities, villages and even households, with father 'fighting' son and brother battling brother. A lot of that emnity and tension simmers on so it is a tricky subject to discuss but results in people voting for FF because "my Father did before me and my Grandfather before that" etc. I have asked many people and none of them can tell me, an incomer, why I should favour FG or possibly FF. One tongue-in-cheek view has it that they are all corrupt anyway but we like them that way and we ask them how they can help US specifically before we decide. More recently people seem to vote more on who last messed up the economy or depending upon who was 'on watch' when that hospital got closed.

Ash Bark
Throw into this mix the many and various minor parties and a wealth of independent (non-party) candidates to blur the lines even more and you have a confusing situation for a newcomer. There was one saving grace this time - a new website (MatchCandidate.IE) which asked you 30+ questions about all manner of contentious issues (the new water charges, legalising abortion, healthcare and so on) but then also asked all the candidates the same questions. The site compares your answers with the answers of the potential TDs and finds a best match (and next best etc). You can then drill down to find out WHERE you matched and decide from that whether to assign your 1,2,3 etc.

Anyway, suffice to say, I went armed with a list of 6 likely choices and only adjusted my list a bit at the crucial stage, pen in hand, in the booth. By now (22:12 pm) it is all over bar the counting (and then the negotiations between the parties which 'nearly won' to form a coalition (we rarely get anyone with an overall majority)). The count starts tomorrow at 09:00. History will tell you the rest. I am going back to being a non-political shepherd and off for a last check on Polly and the new babies

Tuesday 23 February 2016

Inventive Suicide???

The patient recovering.
It seems to be a "truth universally acknowledged" (if I may borrow from Jane Austen) that sheep are constantly on the look out for new methods of getting sick and dying, inventing new methods of committing suicide and that shepherds have to be as constant and inventive at trying to stop them and keep them alive. That, at least, seems to be the reaction many people will have to your announcing that you propose to keep sheep.

Some cold mornings but at last the days are sunny
They are rather like the stereotyped garage man who looks over the lady's car with a sharp intake of breath and a theatrical grimace before he makes up his list of the things (£££££) that he will need to do to make it right. There is orf and joint ill and watery mouth and scours and 'gunged lambs' and prolapse and mastitis and clostridium and scrapie and and and and.... you get the picture. None the less, people actually do keep sheep, some very successfully and it can go OK, believe it or not. Our own experience has been mercifully lacking in all these woes though we know of some sheep which have died (Rambo, the ram we borrowed, for one, last year) and a friend on Facebook has had a nightmare week of lambing involving lambs born dead and a ewe dying of sepsis. Touch lots of wood; long may our healthy outcomes continue.

Gorse in flower on Kiltybranks
We did have a little 'wobble' this week, though which we may have caught in time. On Saturday last I woke up to do my first livestock rounds and straight away knew something was wrong. Lily, with her lambs in the 'turkey' house was NOT shouting for her breakfast through the door of the outbuilding, impatient for me to open it and pass in some 'crunch'. I mentioned in a previous post that this was a lady who loves her grub and is always first in the queue. Not that morning; something was clearly awry.

The "pool of the dappled horses".
I completed my rounds and went back for a closer look. Lily was not touching her 'crunch' (a mix of grains and molasses), and did not want hay. She just looked miserable and uncomfortable. One saving grace was that the twin lambs were resting contentedly so were obviously still getting plenty of milk. Lambs do not take long to get hungry and these two were quite loud in their demands (they take after Mum!). An hour later I had decided that this was not going to be a 'keep an eye' job. I could hear those spoilers' warnings ringing in my ears. It was time to get the vet, and we had her on site by 11 am.

She quickly diagnosed a slight temperature and a dribble of rather nasty matter from the vulva which spoke of a small amount of retained afterbirth going infected. Lily got 2 BIG injections of different stuff (one anti-fever, the other an antibiotic to combat the infection) and the vet left me a 2nd dose for the Monday (having showed me how to administer it - it was to be my first intra-muscular go). She also warned me (un-necessarily in my case) to be sure and do the jab even if Lily seems better as well as to warm the mix first (e.g. under an armpit)  and to fire it in very slowly to prevent the needle blowing off the end of the syringe. Lily was to be kept in that day but could be let out for some real grass Sunday and onwards.

Not everyone gets this kind of water feature in their new garden.
This river runs along the Sligo house boundary and under
the main road via this bridge.
She seems to have made a full recovery. Slowly at first, so that I was beginning to doubt whether she was, in fact, getting better but then suddenly perking up on Sunday afternoon. At that stage she was trotting about the lawn obviously grazing away like a pro, followed by her still-thriving twin lambs. I had put her on the front lawn 'field' because the grass is better there after it has been rested since Christmas. She was happy enough to be led 'home' to her turkey house pen in the evening. She has then gone from strength to strength and has had her jab on the Monday. Liz helped with that, holding the front end against the pen-side while I did battle with the big thigh muscle but we needn't have worried; the warmed gloop slid in so gently that she didn't bat an eyelid. A good rescue, we think, and huge thanks to vet, Aoife, our guardian angel against 'suicidal' livestock.

Good progress on the Sligo house roof - real slates!
Guest-goat Nanny Óg is looking at methods of getting murdered instead of the suicide thing. She is currently driving me barmy by raiding the food dustbins at night. She has learned how to flick off the lids and is then necking as much of the contents as she can fit in. Not only is she likely to do herself an injury with bloat or indigestion but I no longer know whether her increasing fatness is a pregnancy or just plain over-eating! I tried wedging the lids down with sacks of feed or trays of catfood tins and later tying them down with baler twine but she learned to toss the weights off the offending bin, or moved onto other bins (she doesn't seem to care - 'crunch', milled barley, whole wheat and layers pellets are all grist to her alimentary mill). She even learned to tip the bins over to save her having to rear up and stretch her neck down into the bin to get at the crumbs at the bottom. She has eaten me out of house and home, that gannet! She then has the brass neck to look at me at breakfast time  'asking' for her customary carrot - she can't reach those because the bag is too high for her!

The west end prior to the block walls getting their pale
'scratch coat' plaster. This gable is not yet ready to be
finished as the electric company need to remove their old
cable, currently strapped to the old chimney.
Ah well. No other news except to show you these few pics of the excellent progress on the slating of the Sligo house roof. K-Dub is still working to a target move-in date of between mid April and mid-May. I have also been out felling ash and logging it up for a near-neighbour and I have made contact with the local archery group and organised myself onto a beginners class, but more of those two stories in a future post. Also, the next ewe, Polly, is due to pop in a few days, so no doubt more on that. Just praying for now that it all goes well and I can report that mother and baby/babies are doing fine.    

Friday 19 February 2016

Thank You, Whelan's of Limerick.

Sussing out the new toy. Yes. This IS a picture
of a man reading the instructions!
We had never heard of Whelan's of Limerick or how good they are until our fortuitous evening visit to the Acorn Photographic Society (Balla-D's camera club) on the evening when I was trying to find out what ailed my old Canon EOS and what I might do about it. A lady club member recommended Whelan's of Limerick and I was away. I have since had some nice long informative chats with the shop experts (John and Brian) there, bought the new camera and found out a lot about how one does close-up and macro work nowadays. I must admit that I have not used it properly yet in anger and no pics have appeared in these pages but bear with me. We are time-rich round here and the little faithful Sony Cybershot I used to fill the gap is a lot easier to always have in the car or a coat pocket so that tends to get used for the Lisacul 365 pictures. A couple are included in this post.

365 shot of a local lane.
Farewell, then, to our friends Dawn and the girls (plus dog Romeo) who sailed away early this morning, calling a halt on their try out of living in Ireland, off to see how they get on back in the Cheltenham area of England from which the family hailed. One of the girls, Kitty, was a student of Liz's and excellent times were had teaching and learning, so Liz will particularly miss that. We hope that the History and English Kitty gained from Liz is useful in her English school onward education. The family were also the source of our black and white cat, Soldier, and of the Billy goat we currently have as a guest from Carolyn of the Mini Horses. Good luck with that, ladies all.

Lily's twin lambs a few days old here.
No major stories in this post, just plenty of bimbling along 'between' things. Lily's lambs are thriving and are currently in their cossetted week 1 of being out of doors if the weather is good during the day but rounded up to their nice warm dry pen in the shed at night and if it starts lashing hail on them as it did on Tuesday. Moving them involves me carrying one under each arm with Lily trotting along behind apparently pleased that "my babies are getting a LIFT!" This way I know they are growing at a good pace - they seem noticeably heavier each day.

The geese have come back into lay.
Hot on Lily's heels is now Polly who is, we think, about a week off her own lambing date but has started to do the sitting away on her own thing and is, I detect, starting to bag up in the udder department. Our friend Charlotte was round this week (college half term) and came to admire Lily's children but also took a punt of a singleton for Polly, twins for Myfanwy. I am the other way round (twins, I think, for Polly) but I am still only going public on easy lambings and healthy lambs. Numbers are less of an issue. Either way we do not anticipate any problems as these are all experienced mums (in Polly's case this will be her 6th season) but you don't always gets that lucky.

One of this year's females will be a 'keeper' or 'replacement' to keep the flock going. We already have a rolling group - an 8 year old (or so), a 5 year old and a 3 year old (Myfanwy). The plan is to keep one of this year's who will be with the flock through this winter but will not be let with the ram (she'll be too small) this autumn. That way (our advice goes) she can watch the grown-ups go through the process and learn her mothering skills by watching, hearing, smelling, seeing and being there so that, when her turn comes in Spring 2018 it will be less traumatic for her. That's the theory, anyway.

Mark One Guinea Fowl Deterrent (wires)
With Lily and the lambs indoors at night, an unforeseen problem arose to do with some of the poultry's habit of roosting up in the rafters and among the strip-lights in the shed. Not to put too fine a point on it, they were pooping on my sheep! I decided to borrow an anti-pigeon-roosting idea from my warehousing days and stretched wires across a few inches above the roosts so that the birds could not settle comfortably on the timbers and would (I thought) go elsewhere. I have no problems with them roosting in the rafters or horizontal beams or even the other light where they'd not be directly above the sheep-pen.

Well, the best laid plans, as they say. I went out at lock-up to find a determined Guinea Fowl and our #2 rooster 'Captain' up there anyway, one looking very uncomfortable straddling a wire with the cold steel splitting his difference, the other hunkered down tight to the wood somehow ducked under the wires. In version 2 of this structure chunks of old political poster liberated after the Yes Equality campaign last year served as vertical "blades" sticking up from the perches into the roof. I saw a Sussex Ponte 'hin' trying to sashay into the perch from the electric cable on the left but she soon gave up and at lock-up there were no birds up there. A clean night for Lily and the twins, then, with no little gifts falling from heaven.

Frosty trees reflection.
That is about it for this one except for a sympathetic thought to some friends of ours in Kent who have split up and been forced by that to give up the small holding game and sell off all the stock. I know you read this guys, so I don't need to go into any more detail except perhaps to say that this was the holding I visited before Christmas where I met the heavy horses, Wiltshire Horn sheep and Dexter cattle. Sad for both of you. Hope you both find a new happier situation soon. I know from talking to you that you are both a bit devastated and heartbroken.

Monday 15 February 2016

Twin Ewe Lambs for Lily

Twins Rosie (l) and Lucy (r) only an hour or so old. 
After the worrying dog-related events of the last post I am hugely relieved and delighted to be able to bring you, in this one, some happy news; being the birth of twin ewe lambs to our 5-year old ewe, Lily on Valentine's Day (yesterday). Regular readers will know we had been anticipating a happy event for a few days now and my timings were based on the almost immediate "bond" (this is a family show!) between our loaned ram, 'Rambo' and ewe Lily on his arrival back last year.

Brought indoors against a frosty night.
We had been getting plenty of clues in the days prior - Lily sitting in far corner of the field well away from her 'sisters', looking uncomfortable and even 'star-gazing'. This is when they must feel the stirrings and get uncomfortable so they tip their head all the way back till their nose is pointing straight up. Then on Sunday morning the crunch-clue, no interest in breakfast. This is unheard of for Lily except on lambing day. The girl likes her grub. We were into hourly checks by now and the binoculars LIVE on the dining room table, so that we can sneak quick peeks in between the proper, up close, checks. I walked the dogs early as a relief from pacing and returned just as my normal dog-walk alarm went off at 11:45. It was at that Lily-check that I noticed the first signs of action - membrane and dribbly fluids.

Lizzie does 'shepherdess'
She had no problems passing the enormous ram-lamb Feste last year, so I was not expecting any this time and pretty much left her to it and kept a close eye. The first lamb slipped out fast and efficiently at around 13:00 - as I walked down the drive to get the gate for Liz nipping to town in the car, I could see Lily now licking intently at something on the ground. I sprinted back over there and could see lamb #1 getting a vigorous licking but already on its feet and trying to find some udder. This was a very dark lamb and looked like a ewe from my carefully distant viewpoint.

It was quickly clear that the show was not over. Lily continued to pace about with her back arched very uncomfortably, turning round and round to get at all sides of the new lamb, and soon passed another big 'balloon' of amniotic sac full of fluid; surely the 'waters' for a 2nd birth. Liz arrived home and quickly spotted that the 2nd lamb had now arrived (14:30), this one another ewe but beautifully spotted, blotched and streaked with black and white. Now we could see that this was the lot - Lily relaxed back into a normal spine-curve and started to shed the bloody, gloopy, membrane-y afterbirth(s). Well done Lily (and Rambo, we guess!) - 2 beautifully healthy ewe lambs and no problems all done and dusted in just 2 and 3/4 hours.

We'll call that a strikingly beautiful looking sauce -
Black Spring's Nan's Pork Hock
With the forecast giving a hard frosty night and our 2 resident hooded crows hopping about the East Field, plus the risk of foxes who will happily carry off a new born lamb we had decided to move the family indoors to the safety of the (now) turkey house. This is easy enough - I pick up the lambs while Mum looks on a bit curiously, and then walk slowly 'home' across the field with Mum following her anxiously-bleating babies and Liz managing gates to stop she-goats and curious other-ewes  from wandering. The new family are now safely penned into my sheep-hurdle rectangle on a nice dry bed of clean straw, warm out of the frost and safe from crows and foxes (and dogs!). They survived their first night and today we did the necessary iodine-spray of navels and (dock) banding of tails. The babies have already been visited and admired by 3 people.

Black Spring's Nan's Pork Hock with simple rice and cabbage
With good timing, the happy event and the should-be-celebratory weekend of Valentine's Day has coincided with the stock-control department here lifting the embargo on using 'new' food from the freezers. The freezers had become a bit over-run with tinfoil trays, 1 litre yogurt tubs and old plastic milk bottles full of portions of left overs from former meals, sauces and stocks. These all needed using up so we'd done a month of lovely but long forgotten curries, cold roast meats, risottos, stir fries and veg plus starting a goodly batch of "hedgerow" wine and creating a few fruit desserts. I also unearthed some brawns and patés.

Mucking out the nanny goat.
The end of this very enjoyable campaign happily coincided too with the Chief Chef having done a weird work-week on a First Aid course Mon-Weds, so that she got Thursday right round to Tuesday 'off' and was keen to get back into the kitchen and at the 'new' meat in the freezers. 2 superb cakes were followed by lovely bread, multiple pots of paté, roast lamb (which then yielded several follow-up meals), a salt-cured leg of 2014 Tamworth (bacon and cabbage plus a lovely Tuscan 'bean and bacon' soup). Crowning glory of this burst of Domestic Goddess-ery was probably a family favourite which I have mentioned before, 'Black Spring's Nan's Pork Hock' but this time enhanced.

An army marches on its sticky toffee pudding?
The recipe calls for "chilli bean paste/sauce" which is something we had never managed to find in Ireland so Liz had been trying to substitute in any kind of chilli 'stuff'; the dish had been delicious but we had no way of knowing if it was delicious 'enough'. Then at the last trip to Macknades Deli in Kent, Liz had found some of the real McCoy, so this try got the right amount of the correct ingredients and the sauce was blow-yer-socks-off gorgeous! A real lip tingling winter-warmer, which only needed simple white rice and steamed savoy cabbage to accompany it. The sauce also LOOKED rather spectacular bubbling away in the pan. Add to all that a heroic dessert of sticky toffee pudding (with ice cream or cream and extra toffee-sauce) and I will happily recommend this restaurant to any prospective customers. Bring your loosest waist-band trousers. No pressure on the sous-chef then, when the boss goes back to grafting and relinquishes the saucepans and the hob.

Thursday 11 February 2016


Succour at the neighbour's. "Black Bread" (or 'treacle bread')
Not happy. So angry and fed up, in fact, that I will warn readers that I am struggling to put the story of this post into a readable form; it risks coming out like a rant or a stream of exasperated consciousness. I should probably quickly re-assure you that no ewes have been physically harmed, no trauma, no lost lambs or miscarriages; you just might have jumped to that conclusion in alarm at my next sentence and that would not have been fair. My anger is more subtle, less focused than that, so far anyway.

We enjoy the pastel coplours of the bogland to our North
in the early morning light.
The pictures in this post are also a bit random as I cannot do pics about the real story. No, my subject today is sheep-worrying by stray dogs. Everyone who lives in a sheep-farming area or has sheep, worries about this problem and probably has stories to tell of their own distressing disasters or near misses. Everyone 'knows' the problem is big stray German Shepherds, lurchers, Rottweilers and Pit-bulls coming off the nearby "council estates" and chasing the sheep about till they mis-carry, abort or get caught by the dogs and die in a bloody mess. Some of them involve the dogs getting shot because, as everybody also knows, the farmer is allowed to do this and ask questions later. In one story we have been told, farmer sees dog attack his flock, recognises dog and although dog runs off he follows it home, comes into offending owner's garden and shoots dog in front of the children playing in the garden.

We have been mercifully spared that kind of drama. We have our own weird, local tint of the dog-worrying story which involves the lovely, friendly, sweet, 'harmless' collie-cross belonging to a very nice and well respected local family whose house is visible across the bogland to our North. Although the dog's brother and litter-mate never wanders far from home, this lad (whom I will call 'B') has ALWAYS gone a-wandering. He escapes from the farm when not properly supervised and wanders across the bogland, popping up somewhere along our lane as if he just fancied a visit to his friends.

All along this lane people know the dog and will tell you that he used to come 'there' and upset the tiny children or that they used to have to phone the owner and he'd come and collect the dog. We've had him off and on for all the time we've lived here and our problem is that although he is (as I said) sweet. lovely, friendly and harmless the sheep here do not KNOW this and they spot the unfamiliar dog and panic, running blindly to the safest (in their view) part of the field (a rather pathetic, 3 feet high mound of grass) or trying to jump fences to get away. They are heavily pregnant just now, with Lily actually due on Valentine's day (4 days away), so the last thing they need is to be running around in panic crashing into fences or trying to get over barbed wire.

In the warmth of sunny Wednesday the bees came out to play
We know he has arrived on his latest visit, of course, even in the dead of night because he runs around the house and yard trying to make contact and our own three dogs go ballistic. I have to go out, catch the dog (actually quite easy because he bounces up all excited and jumps up to try to get a fuss) and then phone the owner to have them take him away before I can go check on the sheep and calm them down. In one of the dogs circuits of the house, he will have sprinted through the yard 'exploding' into view of the sheep, who will now be standing terrified a-top their grassy knoll.

I am still trying to get a good shot of this group of Red Hereford
heifers for the 365 project.
Always we have a similar conversation with the man or the guy's sister, that we don't want him coming round, that he's upsetting the sheep, that they could get hurt or injured or abort or miscarry their lambs, that they are heavily pregnant but that yes we know he is nice and harmless and we are unlikely to have him shot and yes, it is a relief that we seem to have got away with it again and no poultry, rabbits, sheep, cats etc have been actually attacked. Yes, he has a heart of gold and yes, we know you will promise AGAIN to keep a better control on him and he will probably stay away for another fortnight or, if we are lucky, a month. Yes, we know it is driving you as mad as it does us, but we are the ones with the sheep who could potentially get hurt.

Snow stopped (roofing) play in this
lovely atmospheric picture by Carolyn
of the mini-horses.
We are distressed and upset and exasperated by this dragging on. Liz is all for getting the dog taken away by the dog warden or vet. Neither of us want any serious harm to come to the dog (it is not his fault, after all) but we wish there was some way of showing the owner that we are serious and fed up - perhaps if it COST something to get the dog back from a pound, or he knew the dog was on a 'warning' or some such. Realistically we cannot have him shot and anyway our man-with-gun who so nicely despatched our foxes would not go near the job - this is a well known dog owned by a family well respected in the village(s). We are mere blow-ins who have only been here 5 minutes and, in my case, also a 'foreigner'.

So where we are left, I guess, is that we are sitting here tonight after the latest visit today (in which I have to admit, I was a bit 'grumpy' with the lady) praying that the dog will not be back for 4 weeks while we get through lambing. Helpless though, to do anything about it. Lily is 'bagging up' well now (udder size) and due Monday, Polly 2 weeks later and Myfanwy 2 weeks after that. B's owner is presumably sitting at home praying that he does not have any more escapes (this one was, he says 'caused' by the Mother or the Sister). He is also (he says) helpless and has tried everything. He even took the dog to local sheep-dog training guru who quickly told him he should have the dog put down as it is a "liability".

Ah well. That is my rant over. I don't know why I unloaded it all on you as you can do even less about it than we can. Maybe it was the cathartic aspect of blogging. I will, of course, keep you posted about successful lambings or otherwise. Stay safe and keep those dogs under control when near livestock.

Monday 8 February 2016

Farewell Clara Bow

Clara Bow cleaned up for inspection by potential buyers
Readers of my previous post will recall that I alluded to a "hard decision and a life-changing move" described in this one. If you've been anywhere near my Facebook or Twitter feeds you will know by now that this referred to a decision to sell, at last, the 2CV, my precious, loved and cherished friend of 13 years. It was quite a wrench; not quite losing an arm, but up there somewhere in 'momentous'. She has been a big part of my life, a major hobby, maybe a part of my identity; certainly more than "just a car".

Back in the UK, 13 years ago when we first bought the car, she had the UK registration of C 692 BOW and was quickly named "Clara Bow" after the 20's Hollywood silent-film starlet and party animal. If you can recall any of those flickery black and white films of damsels being tied down to railway lines by the villain and rescued in the nick of time, then that damsel was quite often Clara Bow. Her story since then has featured many times on this blog, adventures to far away (or not so far) 2CV Club camping events and 'rallies' but for the last 2 years she has languished in our car port on a SORN (Statutory off road notice) ticket.

I had struggled to get her through the emissions part of the Irish 'NCT' (MOT) test and got fed up with spending the €55 NCT fees (and €28 re-tests) so that by the time I sent the carb off for a complete re-con (€240) I had already decided that I would SORN her to save the tax (€199) and insurance (€400+). We were sure to find something else to spend the cash on, like fencing, livestock feed and similar. She had become an expensive hobby too far. I nursed a vague plan that if the law in Ireland ever changed (ha!) to make this 29 year old bus a "vintage" or "classic" it might be exempt from emissions tests and tax.

Off she goes with someone other than me at the wheel
Black mark for the insurance boys here, by the way. Readers may know different but we could find no insurer willing to cover a car older than 15 years at more than Third Party. We use FBD for the house and for the Fiat and they are problem free and excellent BUT would not play ball on the 2CV. Not even 'Fire and Theft' and certainly no fully comp. Even the 3rd Party premium was €400+. There was no sign of the cosy discounts I had used in the UK (Thank you "Footman James"!) for agreed car value and for limited mileage all agreed through the car club.

Disappearing down the lane and out of my life. 
Ah well, to cut a long story short, selling used cars here is commonly via the huge, on-line classified ads website DoneDeal.IE. You assemble a wee collection of photos of the car including detail shots of not-rusty foot wells, 'new' carburettor, clean tidy engine bay, sound chassis etc and upload them with an honest description of the car and the asking price. My ad quickly accumulated 400+ views and more than a dozen 'saves' and the same evening 3 buyers who wanted to come look. These included a couple of lads from west Cork, a 4 hour drive away!

The car actually sold to a man from Moate, down near Athlone (1.5 hours) who came up to look, decided it was good enough to be drive-able (I was cautioning use of a trailer/transporter or at least an 'A' frame or tow rope in case) and then came back yesterday with a garage-man chum who had green trade plates and could drive it legally (apparently!) even though it was untaxed, un-tested, uninsured (by me) and SORN'd. He checked it over, dribbled a bit more oil in, emptied a gallon of fuel into her from a handy Jerry-can, tested the lights and happily hopped in, keen to get going with my buyer in convoy in a very nice, new, big Citroen saloon (new DS?). My bloke handed over the cash (and, of course I gave him his "luck money" in return by local tradition) and we signed the paperwork and off they went. It was lovely to hear that unmistakable engine note 'fart' off down the lane and I was very envious that it was the garage guy about to enjoy the hour and a half drive back down to Moate, not me. Ah well.

A final view as Clara disappears over the brow.
So now I am one of those people who "used to own a 2CV" and when I look out of the kitchen window, there is no longer that blue, familiar 'nose' pointing back at me from the car port. I must comfort myself knowing that at least now I can replace the 'big' camera and buy some archery gear without it costing anything (ish). Also I have solved that niggling guilt thing that a 2CV should be out on the road giving that superb driving pleasure to someone. It should not be a museum piece gathering dust in someone's barn. Well, now mine, I hope, will. Enjoy her, man from Moate. He was good enough to text me later that day to say that they had got the car safely and seamlessly home and it was now resting in his garage. A garage? Luxury. Clara will not know herself!

Saturday 6 February 2016

Biker Boy

Our first 2016 'clocker' goes broody in a completely useless
place. And sitting on NOTHING. No eggs. Nada.
In the last post, in all the excitement about the Lisacul 365 project, I managed to completely forget to note 2 good signs of Spring. The first is that lovely burst of realisation when your eye falls on a 'new' clump of crocus which you obviously planted at some point last year but then promptly forgot. I have two nice ones in the bank beside the driveway. One is nicely backward so may do OK but the other came out into the teeth of the last named storm and it's little retinue of fronts.

Barbara on some hay bales.
Crocus should (and like to) push their flowers up through the warming grass into the Spring sunshine where they can open the top part of their flowers nice and flat and bright. These poor things emerged into a howling gale and lashing rain, so they have sat and sulked, firmly closed, for the last week and I fear are being knocked about so much they may never open properly before they rot off. Our other spring note was our first 'clocker'; one of the Buff Orps went broody in the worst choice of place ever - in the car port. Yes she was well hidden behind the wheel of my pushbike and she was on the remains of a good, dry bale of hay. She was also slotted in between the 2CV and the hay-barn wall but she was, too, exposed on 3 sides to Brer Fox.

Progress on the Sligo house. The pale upper walls in the centre
are 'scratch-coated with a pale clement. 
We think from her subsequent behaviour that she is the one from last year who was fiercely determined to go broody under an elder bush and had to be protected in situ becuase we couldn't persuade her to move or quit. No option to do that this year and anyway she has gone broody on nothing - not one egg, so I am reduced to gathering her up at lock up time and carry her, chuntering angrily to herself, back to the safely of the main coop. When we release her in the morning she makes a beeline back to her little slot and humpily sits down on the empty nest for another day. Idiot bird. I expect when we want her to go broody on some pure Buff Orp eggs she will have lost interest.

The porch - I get to lay some blocks!
Good progress out on the Sligo house rebuild and, for me, 2 new experiences. The exterior is coming on well with 90% of the fancy stone work done and now the upper 'half' of those new walls given their 'scratch coat' (rough plaster) of special pale cement made with crushed granite sand and white cement powder. This looks gorgeous and sets off the darker stonework beautifully. The outer finish coat will be the same pale buff colour and will not need painting. The chimney stack has now burst out through the new roof and is being dressed with a stone capping and that same pale cement covering. The roof is now 99% covered with membrane and battens ready to take the natural slate which was delivered today. The 99% thing is due to the old western chimney still having the original electricty supply lashed to it and needing that removed (by ESB) before we are allowed to take down the stack and finish off that gable.

The way that day worked out found K-Dub minding his poorly young son in the mobile home while Mum shot off to the shops, giving us an enforced, rather long lunch break. I'd finished and was ready to go back to work but was on my own. We were all set up to lay blocks up into the gable of the new porch so the boss suggested I just start on my own. Never laid a block or brick in my life but I've (now) seen quite a few laid and anyway, if I made a complete Horlicks of it, it would have been the work of minutes to tear down and start again. I did OK. When I step through that front door now and look up, I will know that up there, above the 'head' (lintel) stone are 2 courses of 4 inch "solids" that were all my own work! "There's kudos in building porches!" said K-Dub. My work stood and he carried on up when Mum returned to look after the boy.

An old gravestone for the 365 Project
My second treat that day was to be given a lift home the 20 minutes riding pillion on K-Dub's 'serious' motorbike. This, I am told, is a BMW 1150 RT, a cruising bike with saddles like armchairs, built for comfort rather than racing performance. I have not been on any kind of bike since the 70s (I was asked to ride a moped home from the hay fields to the home farm) so all the leaning was a bit of a surprise (a thrill, if you like) but K-Dub was very gentle with this rookie who was hanging on tight round his waist. I survived and was delivered safe home intact.

Dead now, my faithful Canon EOS D1000
Finally, who knew that you could fry the mother board of a Canon EOS digital camera by taking too many long exposures of night sky in succession. I managed to make my lovely, faithful but old camera go sick while photo-ing the Perseid meteors (or, rather, failing to capture any on film). It was suddenly unable to stay turned on and would power down at the first hint of work (auto focus or the need to use the pop-up flash). I parked it and have been using a little 'compact' ever since but with all this 365 photography going on I decided to disinter it, find out what was wrong and whether it could be fixed. Liz was off to the local camera club to do a presentation about 365 to them, so I asked to come along too in support and might as well bring the EOS and see if there were any experts in the club.

To cut a long story short, long exposures can warm up the mother board on "some Canons" and successions of long exposures overheat the board. They only have a design life of about 10 years anyway so my 7/8 year old one is now not economic to repair (it would be €250 touch). This  thought-process and research has now led me to a rather unwanted conclusion and , combined with the imminent need to acquire archery equipment, to making a hard decision and a life-changing move BUT, that is for another post so you will have to hold yourselves in patience till next time. Mean, huh?