Friday 28 April 2017

Mazy Lou and Airy Fox

Happy chickens out in the sunshine.
In celebration of the lifting of the avian flu restrictions, I bring you a post full of pictures of happy out-door birds, scratching in the dirt, pecking at the grass and feeling the warmth of the sun on their backs. This is as it should be and in my humble opinion the Ministry's avian flu restrictions had absolutely zip, zero to do with the welfare of 'our' free range birds and was all about protecting the livelihoods of the commercial, factory-farming, (not very) free range boys.

Suzy's Six gather round the sheep feed trough.
In our own flock an interesting dynamic has developed. Friends of the Blog will know that we have been nurturing 6 youngsters since Storm Doris (24th Feb), given to us by our friends Sue and Rob. Back then we chose the 6 from one of her big rearing cages, trying to pick out the ones which looked like hens, though sexing birds before 21 weeks age is notoriously tricky. We had great hopes that all 6 might be female and that the new group, called "Suzy's Six", would neatly restock our depleted (by the fox) flock. Also that the two which are good Cuckoo Marans colouring would fill the gap left by the deaths of Bubble and Squawk.

Cuckoo Marans, but are they female?
Well, no such luck, it seems and our success with sexing birds has taken a thorough knock - we think that almost certainly five, and possibly all 6 are roosters. As they come of age, various of them have crowed, squared up to one another with capes flared, grown upright, iridescent greenish tails and started strutting around like lads. More recently they have taken to trying to jump Galdalf's ladies, sometimes more than one at once. Enough, we say! Time for a rooster cull. Good for the freezer but not a lot of fun.

Herme, our 'sex change' hen/rooster. 
One rooster my be given a stay of execution. Our friends Con and Niamh from archery are in need of a rooster and rather fancy one of our "grey" ones (the Cuckoo Marans. The other "grey" is the chicken we hope is a hen - 'she' has quite yellow legs which can be a sign that the bird is starting to build up yolk proteins in her body prior to laying eggs. Ah well. It will all come out in the wash, I guess.

Our five ducks.
Our existing hens, who now number only 7 fit and well, will certainly be relieved. 7 on 7 is not a good ratio. Hens like their 'manly' attention diluted down to about 1 on 7. We are also pleased that the restrictions have been lifted because that means the local poultry sale is also now back in action and we might be able to go and buy some genuine hens. We hope there are either Buff Orpington or Cuckoo Marans available.

Left to tight, LIz, Mazy and Airy
You may recall from my previous post that we were 'between visitors' awaiting the arrival on the Friday of our most excellent chums from the UK, long term Friends of the Blog, Mazy-Lou and Airy-Fox. Originally Internet friends, these ladies have been part of our story for almost as long as this blog has been running. They currently live in Dorset and this would only be their 2nd visit each.

Rhubarb Pavlova
It was, as expected, a lovely visit and we thoroughly enjoyed the company and 'doing' the hospitality. Liz created marvellous food with, on the second night, the help of Mazy who is also a brilliant cook.  First was a superbly tender roast pork - it was actually "steamed" over a shallow bath of beer under a little tin-foil "hood" to keep the flavour in.

Gifts from Dorset - local cheese and a jar of, new one
on me, "bacon jam". A delicious relish. 
The joint-effort second night was a chicken-based curry with a rather good dahl (lentil) and sag (spinach) veg course plus a cooling bowl of mixed yogurt, cucumber, mint and coriander-seed. The chicken was boneless, skinless, cubed up breast which had been marinaded 24 hours in spiced up yogurt. The whole was served with poppadoms and flat breads. It was all really good. Huge thanks to both chefs.

Naturally a little drink was consumed (only a little. We are very sensible these days) and the chat flowed the way it does in such lovely companionship. One little aspect which amused us was that Airy voiced that she would rather like a dog, specifically a Beagle. Mazy is currently holding hard to the 'No Dog' line but her guard may be beginning to crack. At one stage she asked 'how many' dogs should one have if dogs were, after all, to be part of the picture? We have 3, of course.

We DEFINITELY don't want dogs.
Of course, our dogs were happy to get their wooden spoons out and stir this brew on Airy's behalf, climbing onto her lap and schmoozing Mazy up shamelessly. Time will tell on that one. It may take a while. The girls departed Thursday morning headed for Dublin Airport, where they needed to drop off the hire car by 1 pm. The remainder of their tour they will do sans car. Good luck you two and safe home. It was lovely having you.

That was it for visits in this burst. We now have a bit of a break till mid May when we get three more 'sets' of guests.

Tuesday 25 April 2017

Between Visits

Apple blossom
Snow and hail showers come driving in today on a bitter northerly breeze to remind us that it's not quite summer just yet despite all the blossom and the blue-sky days. We are in "between visits" mode (If the gap between reigns is an interregnum, might this be an "inter-hospes"?) these couple of days having delivered Mum in Law home on Friday and expecting our UK guests (Mazy-Lou and Airy Fox) this afternoon. It is a chance to change all the beds and get a bit of laundry through and to spruce up the house a bit.

Not an easy picture but can you see the 'smoke' of pollen
top left which billows away from these black spruce (Picea
) male flowers at this time of year. 
Meanwhile what counts for 'normal' life round here, goes on. The need to renew car insurance comes round again and this year the process in Ireland is mired in scandal and near-riot outrage as (all) the insurance companies hike rates by amounts that make the national news, fill the radio airwaves on chat shows and cause questions to be asked in "The House".

Car insurance renewal. 
Rates for most people have gone up way above inflation, in some cases by as much as 50% or even more than doubling. Friends with small cars and (touch wood) long clean licences and no-claims history are finding that their renewals cost €1200, up from an already hefty €450 last year. Well-meaning Brits are yelling "shop around!" The hikes are blamed by the industry on a surge in claims including mischievous calls for compensation for 'whip-lash' but we have heard that it is more likely that the industry is in the poo having invested heavily in a planned change to compulsory medical insurance. When that government initiative foundered, the insurance firms lost their shirts and are now having to "gouge" their existing captive market to recover.

Our Brian John Spencer "originals" now
nicely framed and on the landing wall.
What ever the story they have, between them (The industry, Government and news media) neatly accomplished an unprecedented and amazing feat. They have messed with my head so much with all the horror stories and anxiety, that I was actually relieved and delighted when I opened my own envelope and found that my increase was "only" 14% or €66. Yes. I actually did a goal-scorer, closed fist 'Yessssss!' I made a little comment to this effect to the FBD lady when I phoned to renew; I got the distinct impression she had had such 'feedback' before!

Wild Burrow gin available at Lidl eventually.
Also in the 'battling with suppliers' department this week a mildly more amusing and way less fraught scrap around gin. Now I'm not a great gin person but it is currently Liz's nip of choice so we always try to have in the house a bottle of the "house stuff" with fancier brands for special occasions. Lately that means Lidl supermarket's generic "Castlegy gin" for hum-drum and trips further afield for quality.

Sweet woodruff doing well here in a tractor-tyre.
A couple of weeks back Lidl were all over Facebook and Twitter promoting the fact that they we re-launching an older 'quality' brand (used to be "Rabbit Island") as "Wild Burrow". Great, we thought. I will pick some of that up at the next shop. However, while plenty of city folk came on social media having tried it and enjoyed it, our local branches never seemed to get any. We suspected that the much-publicised launch had only gone to the busier branches and that out here in the sticks, we had been left out.

Cherry blossom
Well, guys, if you are going to publicise it out here, then you have to be prepared for some Facebook and Twitter grumbling and bad publicity if you fail to deliver. I pinged off a series of 'tweets' and FB posts tagging @LidlIreland but to no avail until, we were amused to see, our new chum Senator Frank Feighan re-tweeted my comment. Did I now have official Senate backing for my campaign??? OK, I doubt it but hey, as if by magic, Wild Burrow gin suddenly arrived in our local Lidl. I thanked FF of course, but he just joked that he doubted if his R/T did any good but he was happy to support gin drinkers anywhere. Good Man Frankie!

Will our birds be allowed out any time soon after the
Avian Flu shenanigans? In the UK they already have the
all clear. 
And while we are tilting at windmills, we wonder whether the Ministry here in charge of agriculture will declare an 'all clear' on the Avian Flu thing any time soon. We note that in the UK, the Min of Ag have declared theirs. The feeling here is that the Irish are just waiting till their next review date, which would be 30th April.

Meanwhile a couple of bits of catch up. First up, the olde hen 'Enda' named in the last post did not pop her clogs that day and is still with us. She is quiet and sorry looking but she is alive and currently 'rooming' with poor aul' Doris, the hen mentioned in an even earlier post ( ), the pair living in a redundant rabbit run with a cosy dark bedroom section.

Shopping for building materials again. Plaster (skim), skim-bead
and scrim tape. 
Last but not least, the play. Our Final Night (Saturday just gone) went brilliantly - maybe the best of the lot. The cast and crew played a blinder and were rowdily supported by a loud and enthusiastic audience. It was hugely well received over all and anyone involved is now riding a wave of kudos around the village. My part was small (moving furniture and opening/closing curtains) but even I got button holed in the pharmacy yesterday.... "It's your wife that did the play, isn't it? It was just BRILLIANT!" Indeed it was and all involved are very proud of what 'we' did.

Saturday 22 April 2017

Enda on the Exit Slope

Poor Enda. When a hen looks this rough there is usually
only one outcome. 
Enda on the Exit slope? No, no, no, not beleaguered politician Mr. Kenny currently battling to stay in charge of the country. This Enda is Enda 'Vaneera' our now longest serving chicken. We fear she may be on the exit slip-road of hen life. We've had her 5 years now and for the most recent 2 of these she has strutted around in charge of all hens, a real alpha female. She has also batted away any male attention - we are sure she has been barren for 2 years - and has been the keenest garden-helper when ever she saw a human weeding or disturbing soil.

Parrot tulips
Recently she amazed us by coming back into lay, giving us about a fortnight's worth of good eggs but this, sadly, seemed to be a reproductive swan song (at risk of mangling my metaphorage here!). A few days back she woke up suddenly unable to cope with the attentions of our rooster. He jumped her and rolled her onto her side, then finished and she just lay there instead of the usual huffy get to your feet and shake out those feathers. Seeing her still there, apparently submissive he did it again and again till I had to shoo him off and rescue the poor girl.

Pear blossom
I could see that all was not well and gave her some days in the sick bay and isolation to let her regroup. Bad news, I'm afraid, she is not recovering and is going downhill. Friends of the Blog will know that in our experience, chickens don't do "sick". They go from perfect health to dead with nothing in between, so it is amazing that she has lasted these few days. I think she will shuffle off the mortal coil today. I'll let you know.

'Our' pigs with their Mum (Iris) on their first day out of the
sty.  17th April here so 6 weeks old. 
Happily, there are winners as well as losers for every post. Our pig breeder (Hi Adrian) sent us the latest pictures of our soon-to-be piglets who are (we hear) bounding with health and full of mischief. He has also told us when we can collect them, any time from 7th May. We are so excited. We are getting 2 of these, probably a (castrated) male and a female, and our friends Sue and Rob another 2. I presume Adrian has also sold the 5th.

'Parma' Ham, Roscommon stylee. The "Parma" word has
protected geographic status dictating permitted breed, diet
and 'terroir' but we do our best with our local beasts. 
While we are on pigs, with our latest visitor, Mum in Law (Steak Lady to this blog) on site we wanted to crack open this season's first Parma-style ham so that we could taste some and declare it ready. Mum is often in the part of Spain which does the 'Serrano' equivalent and has even brought us back an official, wickedly sharp, designed-for-the-job, "Cuchillo Jamonero" carving knife, with its 9" long by slender 5/8" 'deep' blade which lets you slice off almost transparent slices of ham. The ham was a great success and we have been slicing bits off ever since for starters and tasters.

Our other local fan of this meat is Charlotte, normally now a Dublin resident but, by coincidence (or did she smell the ham?) down here for a few days to look after little H (5) while Mum and Dad were at a wedding. Obviously we had to have her over for a taster and packed her off with a size-able "doggie bag".

The ladies try out the new ham.
This whole leg will do us about 4 kg of ham, we think - the muscle loses 30% of its weight, ideally, during the air-drying process. The 2nd leg is being saved for similar treatment at Christmas. Any friends of the blog reading this and fancying a taster, get in touch while we still have some. We'll be good for about a month but it won't go much longer than that even as 'back up stores' in the freezer assuming there is any left for that.

We love the way Mum does these roasties. Liz calls them
"hedgehog" potatoes but I am told they are officially called
Hasselback. That could just be a foreign word for hedgehog.
Mum's visit, meanwhile, went off really well and was enjoyed by both guest and host. At one stage she even took over the kitchen and cooked for us - she know the way to our hearts! She had bought with her a lovely beef roasting joint knowing that we do our own lamb, pork, chicken and duck. She did this with a stir-fry of veg plus some superb special potatoes. These are cooked whole but see no water or par-boil prior to roasting. They are sliced almost through into very thin slices and the whole then wiped in oil including trying to get some oil down into the cuts. It is great to eat them in these slices. It is like having all the best bits of a roastie in your mouth at once!

Mutt and Jeff. NZ White cross bunnies.
I also took Mum across to see Rob (Sue was in UK) - she loves their place and is quite taken with Rob as he is with her. I think it is the nearly OVER-stocked air of chaos. "How many chickens have you got?" We had a lovely welcome from Rob and the enthusiastic, small and huge dogs ("Woool-ufs" says Mum) - they have terriers plus a St Bernard and a mad maybe-Newfoundland pup which is even bigger than the St B.

Get that grass cut you bunnies!
We came away with a couple of half grown bunnies. These lads (named Mutt and Jeff by Mum) are NZ White crosses, quite a big breed. They are surplus to Rob's breeding programme so, if they can avoid Mr Fox, they can spend the summer doing lawn-mower in our apiary. Bees, famously, hate the vibration of a petrol lawnmower, so rabbits are the perfect solution - the bees ignore them and they ignore the bees. The grass stays short so the bees will always recognise 'home' by sight.

A nearly full house for Friday night. Wednesday
and Saturday were quickly sold out. 
Last but not least among our "Winners" in this post, THE PLAY. This village event, having had a good but slightly wobbly dress rehearsal, played a real 'blinder' on the First Night. It went really well with no hitches and delighted the audience into gales of laughter and frequent enthusiastic applause. Everyone is over the moon. I have written a good review which is now up on the website ( ) and Facebook and Twitter have been a-buzz with nice pictures and favourable comment. As I write this (Saturday morning) we have also had a brilliant 2nd night and we have high hopes for Last Night which is tonight.

Watch this space.

Sunday 16 April 2017

Of Holm Oak and White Barked Birch

Would-be musician, Brian, tries to impress his Dad with his
latest 'number' in the Dress Rehearsal of Cupid Wore Skirts
When I last posted we were still awaiting the arrival of our latest group of guests, I was on the verge of a significant birthday and our most recent 'project' (The Village Play) was about to hit the Dress Rehearsal milestone. It has been a busy few days. We are now relaxing, recovering and sorting the house out between that and the next visitor's arrival. It is all going really well and we have been enjoying ourselves immensely.

Miss Stanfield puts her "purity" at risk by getting "flootered".
It is an old Roscommon expression which means "you fainted"
The guests, whom friends of the blog will have met (some of) before were Dan and Dan(ielle) plus Danielle's brother Jake. We tend to refer to them as "the children" because Danielle and Jake are the children of Liz's closest cousin when they were growing up (Cathy) but what ever way it is they were, as always, pure joy to 'host'. They love this place and the way they can relax here and they adore Liz's cooking. Liz, of course, gets a lift out of this and always goes the extra mile to lay on special, spectacular menus which we know the guests will enjoy - Dan loves his pies and his desserts for example, Danielle her 'dippy' goose egg breakfasts and Jake anything which isn't the 'student food' he gets back at his shared flat.

A 10" diameter Jaffa Cake
I will not bore you with a full menu list but I will note some high points which definitely hit the spot. There was a haggis and sausage pie. There was a meltingly tender lamb roast. There was a superb, 10" diameter 'Jaffa Cake', Madeira sponge on the bottom, the obligatory layer of double-strength orange jelly and a covering of chocolate mousse. There was a superb fish pie.

Left to right, Dan, Dan and Jake.
There was a top-rate trifle which included REAL custard made with eggs, dried fruit soaked in brandy and 'proper' trifle sponges. There were dippy goose eggs and Liz's unbeatable scrambled (duck) eggs. Drinking was restrained and sensible but included some Irish craft-beers and tasters of my birthday present 'Teelings' whiskey. There was, inevitably plenty of sleeping it off after meals.

Breakfast for the sheep. Danielle serves. 
Danielle's main reason for coming though, I suspect, is the chance to wrangle some livestock which she loves and dreams of owning herself one day. She is now at the stage where she can do morning rounds and lock up unsupervised but we like to lay on something new each time and for this one she was determined that 'baby brother' also get involved.

Shepherding the 5 ducks from night-quarters
to day-time pen.  Morning rounds.
Between us we rounded up the sheep into a hurdle-pen in the cattle race, I gave the three 'grown-ups' their annual (Clostridium) jabs and we trimmed feet and dagged the worst of the 'lady garden' bits while copping a quick feel of some udders to see if there was any bagging up happening. There isn't. We are beginning to be convinced that we will have no lambs this year; we may have to go out and buy some like the old days.

At one stage we were out admiring the night sky (as we do) and we discovered that this star-gazing thing is also a passion of Jake's. He was as excited at the clear, pollution-free and LIGHT-pollution free clear sky as we were and still are. I showed him the book (2017 Guide to the Night Sky) to which I have referred in previous posts and he showed us the modern electronic equivalent. This is an 'app' on his smart phone which detects where you are 'pointing' the phone in 3 dimensions, re-creates the stars and planets you are therefore looking at, draws in the constellations with more fancy graphics and names all the significant bits. Very clever. It even "sees" down through the earth to show you what celestial bodies are about to clear the horizon or have just fallen below it.

A good time was definitely had by all.

The perfect gift - new trees!
The Birthday was also a highlight and thank you very much to all those blog-readers, Facebook and Twitter friends and 'real people' who contributed to that. At risk of upsetting everyone else I will just select one present which was a real highlight to the day, a gift of such genius and appropriateness that we are both (giver Liz and Birthday boy) still amazed and delighted at it. This was, quite simply, 2 trees, a holm oak and a white-barked birch. If you know me, you will have some idea why this was such a good choice, but I suspect that Liz would be the only person in my entire orbit who would have known that and known why.

Trees do it for me anyway - I love the gardening side of them, lending your plot some vertical element, all that digging holes and then staking them safely against the wind-rock. I love the sustainability of them - the idea that you are planting something which you are unlikely to see mature in your life time, in the hope that anyone owning or using the garden way after you're dead will appreciate them.

An allowable mistake. I never could write
14-4 on a cheque without making it 14-4-57
instead of the real year. 
The choice of species was also spot on. We had a lovely white-bark birch in our Faversham garden which was 20' tall and just starting to look the part as we left. When I go back now to visit the former neighbours and peer over the fence I am delighted that the new owners may have "bulldozed" most of our garden but they have kept the birch and it looks splendid. A birch, then, is part of Liz's and my joint story and harks back to the Kentish chapters.

So too (even more so?) does the holm oak. There is a fine example growing near the main church in Faversham but we also know this species from our trip to USA and the Deep South. In Mississippi, the holm oak or evergreen oak is known as the 'Live' Oak (say it Lahhhhve Oak) presumably because it keeps its leaves. They were everywhere in New Orleans, growing like the Plane Trees of London. There. The perfect gift. Thank you so, so much, the Lady of the House.

Finally, that Dress Rehearsal. It went very well. Not perfect; there were a few gaps where the prompter had to chip in, but these theatrical types have a saying "Good Dress (rehearsal), bad First Night" (and v.v.). Nobody is panicking, all are still confident that it will be alright on the night. If there's any justice then just by the sheer force of the amount of man hours and work that has gone into it, it should go well. First night is this coming Wednesday so more on this subject in a post after that.

Thursday 13 April 2017

A Thousand Painful Deaths

The fridge as a danger zone - on the left, embargoed 'posh'
paté. On the right the coarse stuff. Fill your boots.
"In the fridge is a glass bowl of finely sieved paté", advised the Lady of the House as she took off for yet another play rehearsal. "Touch that and you will die a thousand painful deaths. Next to that is a china dish containing the 'coarse' one you prefer. Knock yourself out!" This kind of food embargo will be very familiar to most Irish people who have seen all the joke cliché stuff about Irish Mammies keeping the 'good biscuits' for the guests and woe betide any children with 'sticky' fingers who might try to snaffle one. In England we had "FHB" (Family hold back) of course and we all remember being told that if you cut the cake at Grandma's then you choose your slice last.

All the spring time stages of larch - new tufts of needles (green;
larch is deciduous despite being a conifer), female flowers called
"Larch Roses" (pink) and the tiny drab brown male flowers. The
'cones' will form around the fertilized 'rose' flowers. 
Yep. We are looking down the barrel of a mad succession of house guest events and stop-overs. Not long recovered from our visits by Sparks and Kim, followed by our new artist friend (Brian John Spencer) with Senator Frank Feighan and local hero Tom C, and then my outbound trip to the UK, we have lined up three more sets in quick succession and a fourth at longer range. This weekend we have 'the children', cousin Danielle with fiancé Dan, plus Danielle's brother Jake and a possible 4th cousin, Dubliner Keith. They are closely followed by some nights hosting Mum-in-Law (Steak Lady) and she in turn is hotly pursued by UK friends Mazy-Lou and Airy Fox.

Play posters
It will all keep us busy preparing food etc and then doing all the blitz and laundry in between guests when we are already in the thick of the run up to the play. Most of these guests will get involved in the play by default (unless they want to sit here and wait for us!); with the first group coming to see the Dress Rehearsal.

My trailer becomes a 72 seater! Myself and
Director Tom C bring the stacking chairs round
from the school building. 
Director Tom C likes to let a few 'audience' members in for this to give his actors a taster of what to expect. Many actors are novices and take a while to learn the comedy timing thing of stopping talking after a good 'joke' while the audience laughter dies down. These audience members are friends, supports and family members who cannot get away on the actual nights to watch the real thing.

6 stacks 12 high. Roped down well but we still
"take it steady" on the short road journey
It is great fun to see the nervous actors suddenly realise that they are laugh-out-loud funny and that they might actually enjoy performing this play for the village. They get a real boost to their self confidence and the whole show starts to lift and buzz. Of course, it is also their first chance to do it in the costumes which makes them all feel like PROPER actors and Tom can nail down all his techie stuff - sound effects and lighting cues.

Birthday cards with a *significant* number
on them
Somewhere in the middle of all this mad malarkey, of course, I will quietly turn 60. Obviously, with all the play stuff going on, we can't do any of the usual birthday stuff, so it has all been a bit postponed and anyway, I asked for "no fuss" so it'd be my own fault if everybody lets it quietly slide by. I will find out tomorrow and over the next few days, I guess. My prediction is that I won't "get away with it" completely.

Delight for Liz at these first ever lilac flower buds - these
bushes seem to have been keeping us waiting for several
Other than that, not a whole lot is going on - there's no time left for one thing! I have been out to get straw ready for the arrival soon of some non-human guests, our piglets. One of the young ducks has started to quack like a drake so we no longer think we got lucky with a 3/3 female batch. For those who don't know drakes and ducks 'quack' quite differently. It'd be hard to describe phonetically, but a drake tends to do a 'squelch' a bit like if a person tries to make Donald Duck noises just using his cheeks, teeth and tongue ( kind of 'week week week', if you like) with no use of the throat or vocal chords. The females do the real "whack whack whack" hard syllable like a person saying "Quack" with their voice and throat. There's a bit of a guttural grunt in there. Now you know.

There. Next time you take the kiddies to feed the ducks at the local pond... you take a listen and watch who is doing what noise.

Tuesday 11 April 2017

A Long Lost Twin Brother?

Blackthorn blossom.
We are at peak blackthorn blossom time here in Roscommon. The hedges are white with the froth on the still-leafless branches. We are amazed every year by how few actual sloes can be had from these bushes always loaded with flowers. Some of that is down to the 'haircut' given by the contractor hedge trimmers as soon as they are allowed (September) but the local bushes do not seem to produce many fruit even on the field sides of the hedge.

Meanwhile, by happy coincidence, I have found a friend who was born on exactly the same day as me, almost 60 years ago. Friends of the blog will recall that a couple of our archers have produced a lovely baby girl, now 8 months old, for whom Liz once knitted a hat in the colours of an archery target. Well, a group of us were chatting at one of the shoot coffee-breaks a couple of weeks back and one friend started quizzing me about a significant birthday which I had let slip might be fast approaching. Eventually I admitted that it MIGHT be this Friday, April 14th, where-upon the baby girl's Mother (Yulia) pricked up her ears and looked at me in amazement. She asked how old would I be at this birthday and it turns out that baby (Feliz)'s Dad (name Colly) is also born that day and will be the same age. We are therefore some flavour of 'twins', all be it him born in Dublin and me in Hastings. Small world. Happy Birthday for Friday, Col' !

The ceiling goes up first holding up the insulating wadding
Huge progress in the Kitchen project. K-Dub contacted me last Friday asking if we could have a crack at it on Saturday and get all the "slabbing" done. Slab is the word used to describe the modern 'dry lining' plasterboard which is bonded to a sheet of dense (and fire-proof) insulating foam of various thicknesses. We use 30 mm on the ceilings and 70 mm thick on the walls. We also used a bit of foam-less old style 'plasterboard' where we needed to marry in to the existing 'old kitchen' ceiling.

Slabbing in progress
Our ceiling also had armfuls of fluffy wadding wedged up between the rafters just because K-Dub had a load left over from his own house. We can all remember handling this material when doing the parent's loft in Hastings, when the wadding was itchy fibre-glass and you had to work with sleeves rolled down and without wiping your hands anywhere sensitive (eyes, neck etc) or you would suffer terrible itching for days. The 2017 version of this stuff is much more forgiving - soft and barely itchy at all.

View from 'old' to new through the new arch. 
The task also involved framing up the arch through from new to old kitchen so that we could slab round all these corners but this was money for old rope for K-Dub, a Master Carpenter. It took him about half an hour while I pretty much followed him round picking up discarded off cuts of slab and sweeping up shavings and debris.

...and we're done. Slabbed out and awaiting
the plasterer(s)
I was also chief gloop-mixer. The wall slabs are glued to the uneven wall by mixing a bonding agent to what you chefs will know as the "soft peak" stage. This thick gloop is trowelled onto the wall every couple of feet (horizontally and vertically) in big dollops which stick out from the wall a good 3 inches. That way the slab is sure to touch the 'peaks' before it hits a sticking-out chunk of the stone work.

A slab profiled to butt up to the exposed-stone
Another interesting feature of this task which may be worth sharing is the way K-Dub copes with a flat-sided slab butting up against a very uneven, stone and cement wall. It was fascinating to watch - you butt the slab up against the wall and then wiggle a pencil down the wall to create a template line parallel to the bumps and dips in the stone. The bumps and dips in your line are always just enough to cope with the 'deepest' bump/dip. The spare outside the line is then nibbled out with an ordinary wood-saw and Bingo! When you offer up the wobbly edged slab it should now touch the wall most of the way down. The plasterer does the rest, neatly filling in the small gap without messily splashing plaster on your nice clean stone-work.

Probably best not to ask.
That's the theory anyway. The "plasterer" here, though, looked like being K-Dub and I for a while, neither of whom can plaster, at least not in any free-flowing way that a pro would recognise. K-Dub has, in fact, done it on his own house, with plenty of this fancy edge-against-stone but he will freely admit that it was more of a 'tape and joint' style job (The American Way) using pre-mixed formula and around 6 cycles of slap it on, let it dry, sand-paper off the excess and repeat. We could do it but neither of us was looking forward to all that sanding and the Lady of the House would definitely not have wanted all that plaster dust drifting through her kitchen for however many weeks it would have taken.

Had to smile at this after our dog-prints in the new concrete
picture. This is a discarded Roman tile unearthed in Leicester.
2000 years on and dogs are still messing with we builder's heads!
By (another) happy coincidence I still have on my phone the number of one of the Mayo brothers who did our whole house back in 2011 and who subsequently became a great friend, sheep-mentor, breeder and supplier of store lambs for several seasons. A quick text to him confirmed that he was still in the plastering game, had lost my number but often thought of us and would be more than happy to come round in the week to look at the job and give us a price. More on this soon. If it works, it will save us lots of time and dusty mess.

Finally, every time I come into this blog-site to write a post one screen shows me how many views my most recent epics have had... how many people have clicked in to read them. Now, I gave up any dreams to have as many readers as JK Rowling ten years ago and have been happy to chug along with my 30-40 readers whom I know are mainly family and friends. My recent post about Senator Frank Feighan and the artist fella, Brian John Spencer amazed and delighted me by breaking this mould with a score of 210+ views - a record, I think, for the blog. I put this down to FF and BJS 'tweeting' links to it and my mention of it in the interview he had me do with him on 'Audio-boom'. Looking around I have had a couple more with good scores ("Stirring it" on 13th Jan had over the hundred and "Legal Beagles" had 136), but my norm is still between 28 and 80 so you won't find me on the Booker shortlists any time soon. Thank you for reading these who ever you are.