Tuesday 31 January 2017

The Eagle Has Landed

The 'Send' button brings an end to Lisacul 365 (for me). 
There's a relief! 31st January, so we come to the end of a big and attention demanding project to which I have frequently alluded for the last 14 months or so, 'Lisacul 365'. If you are new to the blog then you may welcome a brief explanation. This was a project started by the local village through our new website (LisaculInfo.IE) as part of the village promotion and heritage recording; we had to take at least one photograph within (of or from) the 18 townlands (sub-parishes) EVERY day from 1st Feb 2016 to 31st Jan 2017.

Last check of my final posting before I logged out. Job done.
Liz has been administering the rapidly growing gallery of images as part of her work. I volunteered to be safety net/back stop committing to take at least one pic every day just in case the other photographers failed to and, because I enjoyed it, I determined that this 'one' would actually be at least 3 so that the admin/judging/selection end still had a choice even if I was the only snapper and tried to make my 3 nice and varied (so, for example, a ruin, a cow and a sky-scape rather than 3 goats). In practise we have attracted 30+ different photographers across the year and have, on some days, had dozens of pictures sent in.

For my last days of 365-ing I tried to end on
an up-beat note; signs of spring, newness,
sunrises etc. 
We also went off on a bit of a tangent when the village 'Tidy Towns' group asked us to focus on wildlife and nature for their Bio-Diversity week. With the photographers' work done, the plan is now for Liz to sort all the incoming pics into a format where a judging panel (yet to be decided) can be shown all the possible pics for each day and select their best 366 (leap year, so 366, not just 365). They have given us all till the end of Feb to get those pictures in. You will recall that as well as a very pretty website with, now, galleries off to the side (on Flickr) for each month, for the Bio-Diversity and various other sub-projects, a very fine calendar came out of these photos. Working on a big-town budget, Faversham also produced a glossy 365-page book of all the pictures and had a lovely exhibition of all of them framed. I think we are not in that league, but we are very proud of what we did manage.

The snow drops did not quite make it open
by 31st but these were near enough. 
Everyone at the project will always acknowledge the lady who inspired all this, French-born Nathalie Banaigs who now lives in Faversham, our former home-town. Nathalie started all this in Faversham with the 'Faversham 365' version which then spawned various other 365s in Kent towns. When we suggested doing the first ever one in Ireland in our village, she gave us her blessing and has continued to follow, inspire, support and occasionally advise us. She was delighted when told that we had completed our year. Thank you very, very much, Nathalie. More on this project in this blog when we get all the rest of the pictures in and start judging/selecting

Misty frosty sunrise in the townland of Creevy
Where to now? I am going to miss the discipline of knowing I have to get out there and get some good, original, new pictures every day and not really being able to relax until I have scored - it was always there in the back of my mind. Sometimes I felt I had 'shot' enough ruins, boreens, cute calves and bog-flowers and I was driving round the deserted, misty, country lanes feeling completely un-inspired but something always seemed to turn up; a strikingly marked donkey or the break in a fence where I might sneak into that bit of forestry with the lovely green floor and all those toadstools.

Pussy willow after the rain.
In reality I love my photography and would generally be using the camera every day anyway taking blog-pictures or record shots of the building project(s) or new hatched chicks, so I don't suppose the camera will gather dust for long. Even though the website is through the 365 project, it will still need a supply of fresh pictures to brighten up or illustrate the stories. The camera is generally in the car when I am out and about, or slung round my neck as I walk the dogs.

Long straight grass-track in Kiltybranks bog
Talking of dogs, we managed an adventure worthy of those much-loved children's TV dramas which involved extra-ordinarily clever animals - Lassie Super dog, Flipper (dolphin) or Skippy the Bush Kangaroo. Although Skippy was a kangaroo he always managed to explain to the kids in the tale by wrinkling his nose and smacking his lips that there was a child fallen down the old empty well and in need of rescuing by the gang in time for a happy ending of that episode and the Director's moral message where someone's Dad reminded all the children that it was dangerous to play near the well. All good stuff.

So, there I was walking my gang down across the Kiltybranks bog-land, square miles of open space criss-crossed by hard paths but riddled with ditches, holes and soggy, sinky bits of sphagnum peat/moss. I'd turned right up a side turn and the dogs had dived down off that path for an explore of an interesting ditch. I whistled them up and strode on - it always works - they do not want to fall behind the 'pack' so they race back out and are soon nudging my calves with their noses, 'asking' me to pull over so they can pass.

Hubbard chicken thighs and stuffed peppers with couscous
Not this time, apparently. A few minutes 'striding' and I was 100 yards further on and noticed the lack of dogs. Looking back I could see the two 'pups' (Towser and Pops) in the distance on the path, but no Deefer. I called and whistled but those pups were not having any of it (which is unusual)  and when I shouted in annoyance and started back they turned and ran away from me (which is unheard of) a few paces and stopped again. I realised that I was being called back and had also still not seen Deefer so I realised that something had gone wrong and all the 'Skippy' stuff came into my head. Were they asking me to rescue Deefer?

Tray-bake haggis with neeps and tatties
for our Burns Night. A wee dram too.
We got our happy ending - the pair showed me where, much further back up the track I could just hear a repeated single whimpering yelp from the ditch to the side and then spotted the white of an ear down among the heather. Deefer had got herself down into a ditch which was empty but had overhanging heather and sides so soft she hadn't been able to clamber out. I had to lean down on my knees to grab a chunk of collar and haul her out, unharmed but very relieved that we'd not left her behind. Lots of praises and fussing for the pups, of course, they were not going to get any from old curmudgeon Deefer! We carried on with the walk and then related all to Liz as we towelled the dogs down from the rain.

Directions into deepest Sligo. 
Our only other mini-adventure had us exploring into deepest Sligo, off to visit some new friends whom we met via Facebook. CT is the guy who came and helpfully shot our fox back in November and his partner, AW is chief admin on the Facebook "West of Ireland Smallholders" group which I co-admin. They have a lovely set-up out there on a slope looking across a valley at an impressive, cloud-capped mountain.

Their big interest is horses and they have built a 40 x 20 m sand-school where they could, in theory, hold proper dressage competitions. They have 5 collie-sized dogs, one (Ivan the Terrible) of which is officially the "guard dog" who doesn't like people and never lets anyone (or any foxes!) in. Well, Ivan amazed and delighted both of them by taking to me like his new bestest chum. He came and laid his chin on my lap and 'asked' to have his hair ruffled and his ears fussed. I obliged, of course and only then did our hosts express amazement - he'd NEVER done that before to ANYONE. Perhaps I smelled of 'Skippy' dogs or curmudgeonly old bog-bitches.

Friday 27 January 2017

Back In The Kitchen

K-Dub on the big Kango
This week saw K-Dub and myself swinging back into action after our respective Christmas breaks and in his case a call up to the big smoke to do some 'proper' work (as in 'paid' work). "What's the story, Bud?" (or just the Dublin slang "Story, Bud?") is how he announces himself on the phone and we are straight into discussing what, when, how on any jobs. This week it was the decision to finally go for the break through, smashing out the wall at the end of the existing kitchen so that the two spaces become one room with a little 'waist' in the middle where we will leave stub-walls to form a 5' wide 'arch'.

The hole is started but K-Dub has to make running repairs to
 the big Kango.  
You can imagine that our announcement that we were going to smash a huge hole in the end of the kitchen, caused a certain amount of anxiety within the 'main stake-holder'. Visions of rubble, dust and plaster fragments everywhere. What she hadn't realised but was also concerning K-Dub, is that the rumble set up by the massive Kango-hammer sets anything on shelves vibrating and moving gently towards the front of the shelves before leaping to its doom like a gang of lemmings.

Mad hour, then, clearing all the kitchen vulnerables into multiple shopping bags which are now stacked all around the corners of the Dining Room. Liz need not have worried, though. We are good, house-trained builders and we do not create mess inside your house. This kitchen has the internal walls lined with stud walling insulated with foam blocks and plastered over that. The Feb 1012 blog at  http://deefer-dawg.blogspot.ie/2012/02/bathroom-floor.html gives you some idea - in one pic you are looking up at the bathroom floor / kitchen ceiling. We knew that we could chop out all the external wall (concrete, rocks, masonry)  and the window frame without actually breaking into the kitchen. We just had to screw a board a cross the window inside, so as not to leave a huge 2'+ square hole.

A board covers the hole where the window
was. This is the only change you see from
'indoors' for now.
Six or seven hours later after lots of noise, rubble, dust and shovelling, we have our hole, roughly 5' wide. We have thereby created a weakness in the upstairs (bathroom) wall which we need to fix by slotting in a couple of 6' x 4" concrete lintels at the top of our hole, and we have exposed the wooden joists of the bathroom floor, so those guys need a 'stringer' of 6 x 2 and a joist-hanger from this to each old joist-end. We reinstate the shower pipes which are mainly just 'push-in' hand-tight connections and we can safely leave the job for the few days over the weekend. Nothing will fall down and we can still use the shower. We are now also ready to get the 'Sparks' in for some electrical first fix.

Liz's tray-bake version of haggis using our own lamb bits. 
The main other event affecting the week was Burns Night which regular readers will know we like to celebrate. We think we are in a minority here; we know of no other people locally who do a Burns Night and our comments on social media meet with blank incomprehension and dead silence. I have never seen haggis for sale locally. That does not worry us as Liz makes her own haggis using bits from our own lambs (breast-meat etc. plus we keep a lung back from one of the carcasses specifically for this purpose.)

This year we could not do the meal on the correct date (25th) as we had a meeting in the village, so we moved it to tonight (Fri 27th). It was, as ever, delicious and the haggis, 'neeps' and tatties with onion gravy was nicely rounded off by a gooseberry cranachan (whipped cream, oats etc) and accompanied by a wee dram of whiskey. It should have been Scottish, of course but the nearest I could get in the local supermarket was Bushmills, which is from County Antrim. Close enough.

Our village's indoor handball court. 
Finally, there is the '365' thing now only 4 days away from finishing. My nipping around everywhere has made me something of an unofficial photographer for the village, certainly among Liz's circle. This brings me an occasional 'commission' - the most recent was to be sent down to the local hand-ball court. Coming from Sussex, hand-ball would be a sport I had had absolutely nothing to do with and first 'met' as a series of strange abandoned outdoor courts  in Irish villages.

Looking down onto the court, through the
perspex wall from the top of the 'stand'. 
These sit in their respective villages as just 3 walls around a rectangle which is roughly 20' by 40' and the walls are roughly 20 feet high. We have never seen an outdoor one still in use. But in the local village we are rather special in having a modern, fully indoor one and an active thriving club. Ours has a perspex wall at the top end which protects spectators but allows them to watch the action from a ramp of stairs and at the top of this 'stand' is a kitchen and bar area.
That's all I know and those are the photo's I have fired into the Village Development Co. I have never seen anyone playing the game, have little idea what this involves and am completely ignorant of the rules. I guess it is a little like squash but with a bigger ball and no  racquets.

Towser at speed.

Tuesday 24 January 2017

A Changing Dynamic

Miss Mini-Buff enjoys the indoor life. She is starting to recover
well from the over-amorous attentions of those Marans roosters
We have always been fascinated by our chickens. We could watch them for hours, with their little comings and goings. likes and dislikes, their individual personality traits and their little battles to try to be as high as possible up the 'pecking order'. We love to see the changing dynamics of who joins the small gangs under each rooster and how these relationships change as roosters climb up the rankings or get beaten back down again by their rival(s).

Flood control measures by the local drainage crew.
Sorry you kingfishers and herons.
Regular readers will know that we have been trying to favour the 'Buff Orpington' breed and trying to ensure that only pure bred Buff-Orps were incubated or brooded so that we would slowly but surely evolve into a Buff -only flock. You only have to look at our flock to see how badly this has gone for a whole variety of good reasons plus that fact that we tend to look at the 'misfits' and decide that they are perfectly good, healthy chickens laying perfectly good eggs, so we will keep them. To add another fly in the ointment, we also decided that the breed 'Marans' were also good and that maybe we could run 2 'approved' breeds here just keeping the roo's and purebred hens separate while we got hatching eggs.

Garlic emerges in the tunnel
As a result, as well as the Buffs we have a mad and merry mixture. We have a couple of Buff-crosses, we have a black Marans hen and another black hen whom we think is Araucana x Game. And then there's our belovéd "Enda Vaneera", the only Sussex Ponte (white with black markings) hen left from our first ever Irish batch of birds, bought in 2011. The Marans came as a dozen fertilized eggs for the incubator last year and hatched as 4 roosters and 2 hens. Mr Fox took one of the hens and we had to cull out 3 of the roosters as they were stalking round as a threesome and gang-raping any hen they could catch.

I found this rather lovely shed during a '365' hunt.
Through much of this time we have enjoyed the gentle, dignified dominance of our alpha Buff Orp Rooster who you may recall, was named Lt. Col. Sir Buffton Tuffton. 'Buffers' did a splendid job minding his ladies, seeing to their needs, keeping us in fertile eggs and never indulging in that short-lived behaviour of 'aggression towards humans'. I say "short lived" because sensible chicken keepers do not tolerate such attacks and tend to cull out anyone who shows signs fairly quickly.

The archers take a break for tea and some of Liz's most
excellent polenta, nut and orange cake.
Last year, an upcoming Buff Orp rooster (The Captain) took Buffers on in a spring-time fight and soundly beat him. We have been advised that we should then have culled out Buffers (who was obviously 'fading') but we did not know that at the time, we preferred Buffers to the Captain, and we offed the latter, so Buffers got a bonus year. The Captain was followed by another Buff roo' (The Corporal) and the same might have happened this spring but when Mr Fox came he managed to badly damage the youngster (he died of his wounds a few days later). We are not sure how, but Buffers came through that day unruffled and without a mark on him - we suspect he made himself scarce to the beer tent or to his London Club and watched the action on Cable News.

So now, if you are keeping up, we have a depleted collection of girls and just 2 roosters One is 'Buffers' who is/was nominally in charge and would by now be our only source of pure-bred Buff Orp DNA for use in the 'Let's go Buff Orp' campaign. The other is an ever-more magnificent, fast growing Marans rooster who we believe might be the 'Blue' colour variant. He lost most of his long tail feathers in Fox-wars and has only 1 left, but this is surrounded by half-length replacements which are coming on strongly. He struts and marches about and crows like a professional - even letting a few loud cock-a-doodles go late at night if we turn the yard light on and disturb his darkness.

Sausage meat, black pudding and apple pie filling.
This guy, named 'Gandalf' for the blue-grey of his magnificent plumage is starting to be a real challenge to Buffers and we often see him with a good collection of women around him while Buffers is quite often alone. The only fights we have seen have generally had Buffers come out on top but the only blood we've seen was on Buffers, rather than Gandalf. Buffers needs to be looking to his laurels a bit and watching Gandalf closely but instead he has made a big tactical blunder.

The way we shoot, safest thing to wear on your head is the
target! Wouldn't want to be the bloke standing next to me.
He has taking to attacking us, the humans, and particularly Liz. Now, fortunately, he has no spurs (we don't know if this is a Buff Orp thing or just a trait unique to this particular rooster), so his 'attack's involve a lot of 'looming' and some fluttery 'kicks' and wing-butts at your calves. However he needs to know that his sole-Buff-rooster status will not protect him if he starts to annoy Liz to the degree where she gives him the Roman Games 'thumbs-down' or if he loses in a proper fight with Gandalf. There is more than one way, as they say. to skin a cat. We can buy in a replacement rooster or buy in fertile pure-bred eggs to put in the incubator or under a broody. Meanwhile we would just enjoy having a blue-grey roo about the place instead of the old military 'buffer'.

Ducklings at 2 weeks get that long-bodied shape.
I suspect that this is enough on chickens. Meanwhile the 3 ducklings are the every definition of 'thriving' they seem to feel heavier and bigger each day when I handle them to taxi them outside each morning and back in the evening. They have long since left behind their spherical, new hatch, ball-of-fluff shapes and moved properly into young duck shape; long body with legs at one end and neck and head at the other. At a week and a bit they outgrew the first plastic crate and were promoted to our bigger crate. The new breathing-space did not last long and they are already tall enough to not be able to stand straight under the (cat proof!) mesh 'roof' and starting to look like battery hens on an A4 size allocated patch of floor.

A kitten-box for safe transport.
They are also very very messy as anyone who has tried to brood ducklings indoors will happily tell you. They need a constant supply of fresh water but are very sloppy with it, dipping their heads to dibble up food or to drink and then flicking their head side to side, spraying water everywhere. Their food is mainly a pelletized dry mix (chick crumb) which goes soft on contact with water and with which they are as clumsy and messy as they are with the water. As a result, the food/water end of their home quickly submerges under a grey mush of crumb, other food, water and poo and you have to change their bedding (newspaper is nice and easy to roll up even when sloppy wet) daily.

Those pies get a (lamb) suet crust.
We find ourselves buying the thickest, most page-iferous newspapers we can (Irish Farmers' Journal is good) and snatching up any free 'rags' on offer to meet the demands. The ducklings get evicted as soon as we dare - let them do their messing and water-spraying out on the yard for as long as it's warm enough! At present, that means they go out into one of my 2 x 1 m rabbit runs with a mesh roof and a 'bedroom' at one end. I move them each way in a kitten-basket because they were quickly able to leap out of the open-top feed buckets I had been using.

If you are doing this, I advise never let them even TRY to escape. If ducklings get out they will do what wild ducklings do by instinct every time they are threatened - they scatter (at high speed!) and go to ground hunkered down silent and still somewhere out of sight - a grass tuft or under your enamel bath. They will then stay hidden and silent till Mum sounds the all clear and calls them back to herself. Your problem, obviously, is that these are hand-reared babies so there is no 'Mum' to do this and I am guessing you, the reader, do not speak 'Duck'. You end up having to go stand close to where you think they went, stand very still and silent and hope to hear the first, tentative, piping calls of bored ducklings who think they have hidden long enough and are now hungry.

Friday 20 January 2017

Star Gazing

The '3rd Quarter' moon passes within 3º of Jupiter on the
night of the 18th/19th Jan
One of the nicest surprise 'bonus' gifts we received on moving here were the crystal clear night skies and the chance to look at the gazillion stars we had never seen from Kent. No air pollution and no light pollution mean we can regularly see the Milky Way and ever since we were building this place and living in the caravan in 2012 we have been coming back indoors and breathlessly telling each other that "Wow! It is a night of a million stars out there!"

A '365' pic of the church looking fine in the slanting morning
I have always been a bit interested in star gazing. Regular readers might recall that I fried the mother board of my last camera while trying to take repeated long-exposure shots of the Perseid meteor shower. A good friend of mine in Kent, John W, may have known this when he advised Santa to send me a brilliant book, the Collins/Royal Observatory Greenwich 2017 Guide to the Night Sky.

Clearing the local river
This is a lovely little paperback in full colour packed with maps, 'artist's impressions', charts and other graphics but is specific to the sky as seen from London. That is close enough; they all work. I have had some fun with it just knowing what the moon will be doing and what events are due. The moon was very closely aligned to Jupiter, for example, on the morning of 19th and on the 24th passes very close to Saturn. Next item on the shopping list is a half decent telescope.

We have muscari coming into flower.
Meanwhile, closer to home and working with a different group of 'stars', Liz has another project under way. This is this year's village play, due to hit the stage on Easter week. The play, 'Cupid Wore Skirts' was written by Sam Cree (who also wrote some 'Carry On' stuff) in the 60's  and was originally set in Northern Ireland in the 50s. The gang here have tweaked it into the 80s and moved it South to the Republic but with very few changes.

Director Tom C advises the actors how to deliver a problem
Last year, Liz got involved in theory as "prompt", sitting in the side backstage and watching progress of the dialogue like a hawk, whispering in reminders when ever anybody faltered or got lost. They described the role as "Continuity"  but she ended up doing all manner of other support tasks involving admin, tickets, costume adjustments, props and so on. The whole team thoroughly enjoyed themselves, the play was a huge, sell-out success and the Lisacul Players were back up and running after a gap of a few years.

Pussy Willow
This year, Liz is 'hired' as Assistant Director, so she will probably being doing exactly the same list of tasks as before, this being Amateur Dramatics where everybody does everything anyway. I went along last night just to watch them rehearsing and to take a few pics. I am the (unofficial) photographer. It is early doors at present, so the actors are all 'walking the boards' armed with scripts and Director (Tom C) dives in occasionally to get them to move in different directions or change their hand gestures or expressions. It is going to be quite a ride. Good luck to the whole team.

Rhubarb emerging.
Other than that, we continue to chug gently into Spring with some lovely, calm, blue sky days and some lovely sunsets.
Some lovely sunsets

Snow drops just starting
And here
Your basic tortilla.

Tuesday 17 January 2017

A Fictional Wife

Those ducklings are growing up fast. 9 days old here.
Somewhere in her 'legacy', followers of the late, lamented Diane ('Diamond' on this blog) will find a varied collection of sayings and expressions which her friends still use, always with a fondly remembering smile. One of these, 'Finish Holidays' , comes from the Greek island of Poros which Diane visited every year from teenager-hood (when she went with Mum). She loved the place and the people and knew many of them very well; some now café owners she would have bounced on her knee when they were baby sons and daughters of then café owners.

They learn about left-over petits pois
When she went to those cafés in recent years and tried to sit in the normal 'public/customer' seating areas she would be quickly gathered up by the owners in scolding tones and shepherded quickly 'out back' to the family seating areas and quickly plied with Metaxa. Many of them clung proudly (as you'd expect) to their Greekness and only learned the necessary amount of English to do the business of café-ing but also were proud to try out their stilted, awkward phrasings on Diane as Diane gamely delivered her quite reasonable Greek replies. One of these was when they all assembled at the quayside to see her off on the ferry back to the mainland - they would hug her and say, sadly, "Ahhhh Finish Holidays". Finish Holidays has stuck here as a catch phrase whenever holidays or breaks are ending.

Finish Holidays. The borrowed chooks
crated up for the homeward journey. 
Where is all this going? One of the jobs this week was to return our 'borrowed' chickens to their rightful owner at the end of their little Christmas sojourn with us. These half dozen came to us on 4th Dec when the owner was temporarily unable to keep them at home and have been living in one of our big rabbit runs ever since. I dared not put them actually in with our gang as the group contains a fairly feisty rooster and all 5 of our then roosters were trying to have a go at him through the mesh, as he was back.

15 more bales of straw for the neighbour's bullocks.
Well, that problem is now solved and their little holiday was over. We had to crate them up and whizz them home yesterday. The owners are fellow archers of mine and this delivery gave us a chance to sort a funnier, less tricky issue.

The clean air here allows for some lovely flamboyant
growths of moss and lichens seen on over-wintering trees.
There is a running in-joke at archery because so few of us/them ever show up with our spouses, that we are only pretending to be married and that our wife/husband/partner does not actually exist. This leads to a load of silly banter at shoot coffee-breaks when we try to explain where we got the cake or home made biscuits we have 'produced'. Liz was quite enjoying being a "work of fiction" and when I said that she could come too on the 'chicken-run' and meet these couple of friends she almost declined because it would blow the gaff and she'd lose her fictional status. It is now 50/50 whether the friends deny all knowledge at the next meeting (No! Matt didn't bring anyone -he came alone!) or decide to bear witness of Liz's existence.

Polly's fleece. She is a Jacob x Suffolk. 
Meanwhile, life chugs on and I have little to report. I am happy that no news is good news - our poor friends Sue and Rob have too much news and are not having a happy time; they are actually waiting for 'the third thing' to go wrong and professing that disasters always come in threes. First a pregnant Nanny goat went into labour about 3 weeks early and delivered 3 tiny kids, one still born and the other two managing only a couple of shallow gasps each but unable to start breathing. They died in seconds/minutes.

A 'pussy hat' and gloves. You may need to look that one up
in the USA/Trump news. 
The next morning they were still trying to get over that tragedy when the billy goat rocked up pumping blood from a horn-bud. He had ripped one of his big spiral horns clean off and goat horns have a very good blood supply. He was in real danger of bleeding out but they managed to grab him and stem the flow. Off to the vet then and he managed to only be 'woozy through blood loss'. He is quiet and recovering. We are told that he will probably grow back a smaller, soft horn.

'Our' Syrian refugees hit the national news. 
And local town Ballaghaderreen suddenly found itself in the national news when a story broke that a large batch of Syrian refugees was to be accommodated in a 200-bed 'failed/closed' hotel in the town. Initial reports were all a bit alarmist and had some local anti-foreigner types passing out leaflets saying these would be ISIL terrorists in disguise, images of jihadists beheading people etc.

I am glad to say that it has all calmed down a bit now and less alarmist, even welcoming voices have started to be heard. All the journalists have moved on, as they do and TDs are saying how proud they are of the way Balla-D accommodates its diversity. I expect when the (80) children and adults do arrive (in March) it may not even get a mention. The leaflet man is, by all accounts a local 'character' with 'form' in this area.