Monday 31 July 2017

Shannon's Cross Remembers

Western People from 9th July 1980
At one end of our lane lies the village of Lisacul. At the other is a crossroads which everyone local knows as "Shannon's Cross" (or Shannon Cross(ing)). It is just your basic junction, where the road from Lough Glynn to Ballaghaderreen meets our lane and a road off to the village of Moyne so it is very useful to us but very much anonymous.

Police car shot up at the scene.
You will find no sign saying Shannon Cross, or any road-signs pointing to it. The only map I have ever seen it on is the hand-painted "interpretive" map in the Garden of Remembrance in Lisacul. As far as we know it is named for the fact that the Shannon family owned the farm here and is nothing to do with the mighty River Shannon half an hour's drive away.

5 and a half tonne of Kilkenny rock. It is a very
fine Memorial Stone. 
This quiet cross roads was violently thrust into the spotlight of the national news here on the 8th July 1980 when some bank robbers trying to escape Ballaghaderren, where they had just held up a bank, rammed their car into a Garda (Police) car racing from Castlerea to try to intercept them and in the ensuing gun fight (Armelite rifles and pistols) two Officers were tragically shot and killed.

It is not my place to re-tell the story so I will provide a summary from the Internet. Wikipedia covers it well with... "Henry Byrne and John Morley, two officers of the Garda Síochána, the police force of Ireland, were murdered on 7 July 1980 by alleged members of the Irish National Liberation Army (INLA) during a pursuit in the aftermath of a bank robbery near Loughglynn, County Roscommon. 

Flags for Roscommon, Sligo and Mayo plus
the Irish Tri-colour and the flag of the Garda
The officers' deaths provoked national outrage. Three men were apprehended, convicted and sentenced to death for capital murder. Two of the sentences were later reduced to 40 years imprisonment while the third was overturned....and...

Police Brass Band doing the honours
"On 7 July 1980 three armed and masked men raided the Bank of Ireland in Ballaghaderreen, County Roscommon. The group held staff and customers at gunpoint before leaving with IR£35,000. Gardaí (Irish) police arrived on the scene but were unarmed and were unable to stop the armed men from escaping in a blue Ford Cortina.[1] The perpetrators were intercepted by a Garda patrol car from Castlerea station with four Gardaí, including Detective John Morley, who was armed with an Uzi submachine gun. The two cars collided at Shannon's Cross, Aghaderry, Loughglinn. One of the raiders jumped out of the Cortina and sprayed the patrol car with bullets, killing Garda Henry Byrne.

A good crowd for the unveiling.
One man left the Cortina and ran off while his two accomplices – wearing balaclavas – ran in the opposite direction. There was an exchange of shots in which Morley is believed to have wounded one of the men, but he himself was fatally wounded. Both of these men were later apprehended, while a third man - Peter Pringle- was arrested in the city of Galway almost two weeks later. The two other Gardaí - Sergeant Mick O'Malley and Garda Derek O'Kelly - survived the shootout".

The old original plaque on the wall of Castlerea Garda Station. 
There has been a Memorial plaque on the wall of the Castlerea Garda Station since the event, but the local people have now had erected a superb Memorial Stone on the crossroads and this was unveiled in a beautiful moving ceremony last week. There was a huge crowd, flags flying, politicians (4 from the 'lower' house, 2 including our friend Senator Frank Feighan from the upper) some giving speeches, a large group of Police including local 'top brass' and members of the Guards' families. 

A Memorial oak tree was planted by/for each
of the families at the Ceremony. 
Apart from the cross roads being a local junction, this blog can claim a couple of connections to the events of 1980 and to the Ceremony last week. First 'Civilian' on the scene after the shootings was none other than the Father and Son team who used to own and live at this house. Referred to in previous posts as the 'TK's they were father and brother to Friend of the Blog, 'Vendor Anna'. Dad was 70 at the time according to our old copy of Western People newspaper, son would have been (I think) 28. 

Manu (left) and Pedro (right)
They'd been shopping in Castlerea and were on their way home. Dad was a retired Guard. The paper tells that the killers "brandished guns at both and (Dad) struggled with one of them and knocked the gun from one before being overpowered". The killers then un-hitched Dad's trailer and hi-jacked his red VW Beetle to flee the scene. Dramatic stuff and very brave for an un-armed 70 year old retired 'cop' facing a man with an Armelite who had possibly already killed 2 Guards. More recently it has been some of Liz's work colleagues doing all the lovely stonework  for the Memorial, me taking a few pictures and Liz doing the Village website, Facebook and Twitter feeds advertising the event. It has been a lovely thing all together and the whole area has done the Guards and the families proud. The Memorial stone will be there for years to come. 

Manu in the 'gear'
In other news, we are continuing to enjoy and be impressed by our two Help-X lads, Manu and Pedro. They are working very hard and getting lots of good tidying, mowing, clearing and trimming done. We work solidly from 9 in the morning thru to 1 pm. They have settled in well and (regular readers will know we love this) are telling us that they feel very relaxed and at home. They are loving all the food and sleeping like logs. 

Tidying up the orchard. 
They are promising to cook for us (something Spanish) on Wednesday and Manu turns out to have an ability with the wood carving (totem poles etc!) so we have supplied him with a big tree-trunk and a set of chisels.  He will carve us "something to remember (them) by", he says. They have fallen in love with the pigs and now throw most of the cuttings/prunings in to the pigs rather than on the compost heap, so that they can say 'Hello' to the pigs and tickle them round the ears. The pigs are impressed too. More on these guys as their stay progresses.

Pedro's new 'best mate'? Pride.
2  minor dramas in the livestock section. One of the turkeys misjudges a leap from the 'patio' chair and gets his leg caught, leaving him half-hanging, chest on the ground but leg stranded 12 inches above him. I do not realise his distress for about an hour by which time his leg has gone numb. He is in the sick-bay now because his 'Brother' believes in kicking a man when he is down and was treading on him. Nice. He looks like he is getting the use back of his leg so we hope he will be better by morning. 

4 'minders' for the gosling. 
One of Beeb's 7 chicks, now 3 weeks old and quite well feathered, managed to get separated from the family by straying into the goose pen and incurring the wrath of Gorgeous George, the gander. The chick fled out the back of the pen and thus out of line of sight and sound of Mum. We tried to find her and re-unite them all but lost her in the long vegetation. We needn't have worried. She came back into the yard flying over a 3 foot wall, whirring wings like a pro! She landed close to Mum and scampered the rest of the way to a happy re-union. No mean flyer that baby. 

Friday 28 July 2017

Manu and Pedro

Manu takes a turn at the shovel.
Welcome aboard, then, Manu and Pedro, our first ever 'Help-X' volunteers. These are a lovely couple of lads, both 24 and currently students at one of the Madrid Universities. One is studying Agricultural Engineering and the other my own subject from Uni days, Environmental Science. They are both city-boys with no experience of farms or livestock and neither have been to Ireland before although one hails from Galicia in Northern Spain, where the scenery and green-ness are similar to Roscommon (he says).

Pedro shows off his brush cutter skills to the pigs.
They are both young and fit and willing to work hard for hours, so we are impressed already. They seem happy, too with our place, our accommodation and the food and drink so this one could be a winner all round. It is their first go at being Help-X volunteers as it is our at being hosts, so we are enjoying learning together. They are doing 2 weeks with us as part of a longer (1 month?) stay in Ireland; they want to go somewhere with better access to city life maybe near to Galway.

An interesting burst on yesterday's sour dough loaf. The
flavour was not impaired and this loaf has since gone the way
of all the others!
So we collected them from the train in Castlerea yesterday afternoon and had the afternoon and evening just for installing them, showing them round the place and getting to know one another. Their English is (as they'd say here) "middlin' good"; certainly better than my Spanish! We struggle on with the 2 lads occasionally running out of words, a quick discussion where one tries to rescue the other, and then with Liz and Manu whipping out their smart-phones and Googling up "Google Translate"

 I now know, for example that Pedro's Mum also makes sourdough bread and has a 'mara madre' (starter culture. Literally "original mother") in her fridge and we all know more words than we should around Guinea Fowl, black currants and fruit cordials! We are also both trying to say 'Madrid' with the soft Spanish 'the' sound instead of hard English 'D's. They are keen anglers and have brought some gear with them, so we have had to do a quick bit of local research to get them access to any likely fishing points. One is a keen photographer (Canon gear - good taste!). They also asked about hiring bikes, so we have come up with my old mountain bike, gathering dust in the caravan and K-Dub's little used pushbike, which he generously agreed to lend us for the duration.

I finally find an under-cabinet strip light
(LED) for the "office". Yay! I can
see the keyboard!
The guys were wiped out last night having only got 2 hours sleep on Wednesday night and then had a long day travelling so they crashed at 20:30, fairly quickly after a bit of a late supper and trying out some 'artisan' stout beers. They slept like logs, apparently but came bouncing down the stairs at 8 a.m. already in some overalls and work boots, keen and willing to get cracking. I got some quick breakfast into them, but then we were straight in.

I showed them the brush-cutter and explained 2-stroke fuel and so on; bit of a safety 'lecture' there. Well, it is Farm Safety Week this week. The fuel tank on that does you about 45 minutes of continuous fast running, so they alternated goes at that, whacking the tall stuff in the orchard, with scraping and sweeping the grass in the cattle race which was fast evolving from "the grass growing in the cracks in the concrete" to a "lawn".

Ouch! Taking chunks out of myself on the barbed wire. Nurse
Lizzie stepped forward with some nice sting-y TCP. 
I persuaded them (it was impressively difficult!) to stop for coffee mid-way but then we worked on through till 1 pm when Liz insisted we all stop for soup. I was very happy and so were they. You can, as they say, see where they've been! The cattle race is pristine and the little gosling can stride around the orchard in full view of his grown-up minders.

We decided to work mornings and they have their down-time afternoons. So, well fed on soup and bread, they have now disappeared on the bikes with their fishing gear in back-packs promising that if they would like some roast lamb with us tonight they will be back by 19:30 or they can eat later, plus they will bring back anything edible they catch. I'm not sure how 'allowed' this is; you may have to put every fish back into the lake but I expect they'll find out that soon enough.

The only fly in this ointment was my left knee. I fell over back on Tuesday, on some mud while trying to hop over some barbed wire. This was as I was while feeding some bullocks. I managed to bang the inside of my left knee as well as twisting it and, to add a cherry to this cake, scraped an 8" long surface cut down my calf. Ouch. I am hobbling around like an aul' wan, Nurse Liz has been at me with some very sting-y TCP so the cut is OK but the knee remains very stiff and sore. This is frustrating - I wanted to be fully fit to work alongside the Help-X lads, all be it I am 60 and they are 24. I am determined not to just sit there in the Director's Chair barking instructions through the 'bull horn' so I am limping about between locations and trying to keep at it, but at the stuff which is easier on the knee - pulling thistles rather than digging, for example.

The beautiful new Memorial Stone at Shannon's Cross prior
to the unveiling ceremony. 
And finally an end to the suspense that I expect you have not even noticed I have been trying to rack up; a promise of a 'reveal' on the story of the fancy stonework down at the crossroads. Spoiler Alert! The big unveiling happened today to big crowds, flags flying, the police brass-band and a series of politicians doing speeches from a real imported wooden pulpit/lectern. This the new memorial stone and garden to 2 Gardai (Policemen) tragically shot and killed in a bank robbery and car-chase back in 1980. Easily our biggest, most important local story. The full version of this in the next post.

Tuesday 25 July 2017

Pods and Poetry

Sheep after a shower. 
Friends of the Blog will know that we are both, separately, quite keen on the Social Media, veteran users of Facebook and Twitter and, more recently, receivers of that recent format "podcasts". Some of my readers are, I know, not well versed in these formats, so a quick description may help. Please bear in mind that I am not very good as a computer 'nerd' anyway and do not even own a smart-phone so I'd ask you to read these and smile indulgently if you know better and I have it all wrong. This is the blind leading the even blinder!

Dahlia. Some kind of 'Bishop' relative
Twitter is that fast-paced space where you can rattle in , using no more than 140 letters, what ever is in your head. Maybe a good thought has occurred or something amazing has happened, or you might be "re-tweeting" (sharing on) a good link or a picture that someone has put up. You collect as many followers as you feel the need for and people will follow you if what you are putting out pushes their buttons. I currently follow around 500 people and 500 follow me - not the same 500 but there is quite an overlap. I'd be a fairly minor user at this rate, mainly because I use Twitter from this computer under the stairs, so I can only get to it for small parts of the day in between activities in the real world. Twitter is mainly enjoyed by city types who can go round all day with smart phone in hand, walking into lamp posts etc.

The podcasts were originally a way of listening to bits of radio programmes which you had missed when they were first aired. Radio stations (like BBC Radio 4, particularly) would save the pieces digitally and you could go in much later and download them to your machine to listen to. More recently all manner of specialist media companies have sprung up just to do interviews for saving and releasing as pod casts (pods). This especially around the Donald Trump win and presidency and USA politics, but we have found plenty of other subjects on offer - Brexit, food, science and "how stuff works" and so on.

Cider apples looking promising. 
My most recent find, which actually came through Twitter, is a farming pod called Rock and Roll Farming. It has precious little to do with R+R bar the guitar-break introductory music. It is presented by one of my Twitter friends, Will Evans and he gets to interview for an hour all manner of farming great-and-good, plus people who have made a mark on the Social Media sphere; "famous" farm twitterers or people involved in big farming projects (Farm Safety campaigners, factory farming, experts on the current contentious area of badger culls against Bovine Tuberculosis and so on).

I find those pods fascinating but I should hasten to say that I don't necessarily agree with or believe all the opinions stated and no more would Will expect me to. He comes at it from the point of view that the 'pro' and 'con' camps in each area (usually farmers and 'townies' but sometimes organic vs non-organic or other splits) need to talk to each other sensibly and respectfully till we find common ground. Will puts the question to them in a form like "what would you say to the non-farmers, to convince them that....." . Some of them, though, are dyed in the wool commercial boys, trained in all the corporate wisdom and only able to see that they can make a living IN the system. I don't know how they will ever  'convince' we small-holder, trying-to-be-organic and eco-friendly types. One big Lincs arable farmer, defending the use of Glyphosphate said (and I quote) that "Glyphosphate is the safest chemical in the world" (!!!!). Quite a claim and not one likely to win any admirers as a sound-byte. The badger-cull guy was also frustrating in his one-track only-solution argument. Ah well. They all have the same rights to express their views as I do and fair play to Will for putting it all 'out there'.

Stumpy's chicks growing fast
As an amusing aside to all this serious discussion, one of Will's other guests set a ball rolling which I have been having some fun with back in Twitter in the @SmallHolderIRL account where I do most of my rabbiting. This was a farmer who has since been all over Twitter but who started, jokingly, following a boozy pub night with some fellow farmers, deciding to 'tweet' about his farm life in Haiku format. He became @FarmingHaiku and tried to do a Haiku every day for about 18 months most of which, he says, were absolute rubbish.

For the unfamiliar, Haiku is a very short style of 'poem' where you try to express an idea or a high thought in only 17 syllables, across 3 lines in a 5-7-5 format. They do not need to rhyme. You are also meant to avoid similes and metaphor because you are all about simplicity and directness of expression. Metaphors would introduce another image between writer and poem. Besides, with only 17 syllables you'd barely have room. They suit Twitter as they are short.

Lovely Birthday lunch with Sue and Rob at the
Golden Eagle in Castlerea (Hester's). Barman even
wrote 'ROS' in the beer head to celebrate our county's
recent win in the Connaught GAA champs.
I decided to try a few within the small-holder account and quite a few people found them amusing and came back with Haiku(s) of their own. Some examples of mine, which are nothing special were...

Early morning hen. Tapping at the window pane. You HAD your breakfast!

Meet the need to knead. The dough alive in your hands. Baking smells to come.

Timed to perfection. Golden dome of bread is here. Warm from the oven

Loud farmyard noises. Clamouring for their breakfast. Morning livestock rounds

Getting a bit braver with the sourdough. This a date and pecan
wholemeal loaf (with rosemary and cinnamon).
All good clean fun, I guess. They are actually quite difficult to write or, more precisely, to pare down to the right number of syllables. You try it and see.

Friday 21 July 2017

Dipping a Toe into 'HelpX' Waters

Another slow-news week and this time I really will keep it short. In the last post, I warned the reader that I'd not much to say and then went on a medium sized epic about concrete and what not. Not this time, I'm afraid - genuinely just plodding along the old familiar paths but about to embark on a new adventure, namely hosting some volunteer labour for the price of bed and board. Yes. A big change - instead of adding to the amount of man-hours we NEED in a day, we are adding to those available. Step forward the on-line service, Help-X.

From their own website ( "HelpX is an on line listing of host organic farms, non-organic farms, farm-stays, home-stays, ranches, lodges, B&Bs, backpackers hostels and even sailing boats who invite volunteer helpers to stay with them short-term in exchange for food and accommodation."

Black Marans hen decides to take a turn at this broody-ing.
So on one side of this arrangement are loads of places like ours with too much to do in the day and weeds taking over the veg' gardens, buildings in need of repair or, at the right time of year, lambing, sheep shearing or any amount of other livestock tasks PLUS spare room(s) and a willingness to take in complete strangers and feed and accommodate them.

Might be man-junk and old paint tins but at least it's TIDY.
On the other side, thankfully, are an army of people whose idea of the perfect holiday or the best form of research into whether they'd like to do this job for real. They just have to get themselves to you and then do, the general rule says, around 25 hours work for you per week. The rest of the week is theirs to go touristing, shopping or what ever they fancy. They live with you as family.

The 'bird house' still needs white lime at the far end in the
goosey bit. You can just see the broody bird holding the job up.
Both sides register their existence and advertise their wares on the Help-X website, with a view to trying to attract interest from the other. We, the 'hosts' have to make our place sound and look enjoyable enough to hook some volunteers and they have to apply to us and convince us they are the kind of volunteers we'd love to have around.

Amusingly, on the website, each side can see the other's previous 14 transactions/emails so while this negotiation is going on you can tell that your applicants are also applying to many other places. It is a bit like an E-Bay auction and we 'lost' our first 2 sets of applicants and began to wonder whether these people were looking with half an eye to the 'down-time' and hitting the night life and clubs and pubs of an anticipated nearby city. Perhaps, out here in the wilderness we'd never attract anyone.

The Hubbard meat-birds half way there at 45 days
But, No! No need for pessimism. Earlier this week we got a possible 'bite' from a couple of lads from Spain. These guys had a quick conversation with Liz on the website e-mail system and have now gone as far as booking flights and asking for directions to us from the airport. I do not want to tempt fate and say too much too soon so I will stop here and promise more on this when it is really happening.

We like a decent sized "new" potato on this farm. These are just
volunteers from the compost heap.
We are very excited and planning how we will feed them and what we will put them to work on and so on. We want them to be very happy with us and very happy here as well as wanting to be delighted with them. It is our first little dip into these murky waters, though we know of several friends who have used these websites before and have a long and happy history of using the volunteers.

Messing with the sour dough starter. Every now and then you
must split it and 'discard' half. A friend suggested make a 'gallette'
pancake/crumpet to eat with butter and honey.
Some are 'Help-X' but others use the stricter ORGANIC farming service "WWOOF" (website - the acronym is for the Worldwide Federation of Organic blah blah Organisations but is not in English). WWOOF volunteers are known as 'Wwoofers' but we are not sufficiently organic to qualify. Our new friend Anne, working with my Sligo-based Texel sheep owning chums, is a Help-X volunteer. She is in the middle of a 6 week stint there, she is delighted with how it is going and I know that Colin and Alayne are over the moon with her.

There now! You don't get a dog's ear-'ole on
every blog, do you? Towser is now all clean
and a healthy pink. More comfortable too. 
More on this later. Oh, and if you're into this post so quick that you saw it without pictures, an apology. The camera battery went flat as I was trying to download pictures (actually at the exact second that having selected the pics I wanted and chosen the destination folder and reached for the 'Paste' button). You will just have to be patient, like me, while I charge the battery and can then get the thing to boot up again.

Purple loose-strife
Until next time, then.

Tuesday 18 July 2017

Three 8-Wheelers of Concrete for K-Dub

2 tiny goslings led out to the big outdoors. The orange dog's water
bowl is their safe "pond" and they love paddling in it.
No real new news of this smallholding for this post; we seem to have spent the week just chugging along, progressing all the old stories a little bit, so I'll keep this one fairly short and sweet as per my pact with you, the reader. If I have nothing to say, I will not say it!

Beeblebrox with her 7 in the kitchen garden. 
No news, though, is also good news - everything which was alive in the last post is still among those present. 2 goslings and all 19 baby chicks have somehow survived the slings and arrows so far. That is an achievement in itself - just keeping the babies alive is worth shouting about.

The purple loose strife is taller than me
this year by the pond there.
I got a chance, too, to carry on with the white lime-wash on the inside of that shed. Readers who have shared our story from the move to Ireland will know that we arrived with no knowledge of the 'recipe' for lime-wash and have since blagged various solutions from the Internet, from builders providers and from fellow sufferers.

Looking a bit 'ox-tail' this venison soup was superb. 
The main ingredient is always 'White Rhino' brand lime powder by the 25 kg sack. You make up a more or less runny 'paint' by adding water, plus we have tried in the past, quantities of white cement or table salt both of which allegedly help the lime to stick or fix.

That lovely stonework 'thing' at the end of our road. Story soon.
This year, painting the INSIDE of buildings for the first time we tried out a whole new recipe and think we have now whittled the various suggestions to a 'keeper'. This is pure 1:1 lime and water. No additional ingredients. One yogurt tub filled with water to one flat-top tub of the powder. Stir the powder into the water and leave 30 mins to react and thicken.

This gives you a gloop about as thick as single cream. It works really well with the old fashion 'slappy' lime-wash brushes. It is thick enough to not dribble off down the wall when you smear it onto the clean surfaces of stone, and 'slaps' beautifully off the bristles, penetrating deep into the dusty cracks and crevices when you administer a good splat with the side of the brush over the joint-crack. I know I have to re-point soon but this stuff gives a re-assuring impression of reduced thickness gaps, as if enough coats would see you with a solid white wall.

That 30' x 40' shed base at K-Dub's. 
Meanwhile the various harvests are also continuing. We are getting so many strawberries at the moment that we have ended up 'exporting' them. Liz took some to work (as was) today and we shipped some more over to K-Dub's place where young H (5) loves his soft fruit and this weekend coming, Liz will take another big Tupperware over to Sparks's gaff in Mullingar, where there is to be a family BBQ. We are also well fed at present on broad beans, calabrese and courgettes.

Grooved, non-skid concrete for K-Dub's dogs' new run.
But I said no news of "this" smallholding. We did have an exciting time half an hour's drive away in Sligo, finally pouring the concrete for K-Dub's huge shed/workshop base and a bit of a dog pen. This was another of his major projects involving 23 tonne of concrete arriving in three 8-wheeler lorries in quick succession, to be handled (raked, spread, tamped down, bull-floated and finally power-floated).

A few archery pictures just to fill out the text. 
The good news on this pour was that K-Dub had arranged for the first lorry to be equipped with the optional 11 metre horizontal conveyor belt which would mean the lorry could fire concrete right to the back corners of the pad with no need for weary-knee'd wheel barrow men to move it.

It all went according to plan for 2 lorries and we were 'flying'; the stuff was going down really well and everyone starting to relax. Tired but happy. Then a few flies hit the ointment. Lorry #3 turned out to be a re-use of #2 with the same driver, so he needed not only to go back to base to re-load (about an hour and a half round trip) but also to take his lunch (call that 2 hours then). We just had to wait while the 7/8 finished shed base got tamped and re-tamped, teased and primped into a superior degree of flatness and polish, till the last cubic yard or two turned up to finish the missing corner.

4 archers line up on this cameraman who is hiding behind the
horns of the ibex target. Obviously it was all under control and
no-one really 'drew' till I was safely out of the way. 
That was all good so far, but then the driver needed to move the lorry further down the 'site' so that his chute would reach the dog-pen slab for his final 4 cu-yards. At this point he lost the plot and reversed off the edge of the hard standing, bogging down his right rear axles and was not going anywhere till we had emptied him and the neighbour's big 4WD tractor had turned up with a tow-chain.

Those 4 arrows in a nice pattern in the kill zone are mine. I am
not sure what the other guy was playing at with his scatter of shot
in the eye, spine and front trotter. 
Bad news for those workers who had been enjoying the lack of barrowing. We had to stick barrows under the chute of the badly leaning concrete lorry while the driver dispensed the 4 cu-yds barrow-loads for us (about 20 barrows per yard). I hate that job. It kills my ankles and knees and assures me that I am, indeed 60 and not a young one any more. I managed to stay with the younger lads for 3/4 of that base but lost my balance on one really heavy full one and sat the last few dances out to get my breath. Never mind.

There are actually 2 arrows in full flight in this shot, in the
yellow oval, but I bet you can't see them in this print!
'We' got the job done and the lorry was dragged from it's temporary resting place in the soft, peaty soil. This at the 2nd attempt. In the first, the big 4WD tractor just spun its wheels on K-Dubs drive, not enough grip. The driver went home to load 44 concrete blocks into the tractor's link-box and came back with a bit more traction. K-Dub is delighted. He is also, he tells, me, skint. 23 yards of concrete sets you back €1,700 so he now needs to go back to work and earn some more for the concrete blocks, roof beams and cement etc for the shed itself.

Log-Rat #2 nailed. 
Meanwhile the lovely smooth shiny concrete pad is a great bike-playground for H(5) and the dogs have been given the "Heras" fence panels for their dog-run so they were out enjoying the hot sunshine when we rocked up with the strawberries today.

Friday 14 July 2017

Kato goes A.W.O.L.

There's a pain in my left ear, Daddy.... Make it go away. Off to the
vet's with #1 Son, 'Towser'. Not happy. 
Off to the vets for #1 Son, 'Towser' this week, when he starts to show a lot of discomfort round his left ear. He seems to do this as an annual thing, so we are ready for him and know exactly what to do. Maybe he likes that 'pub regular' thing of being able to stroll into the vet's and ask for "The Usual, Mr Vet". His problem is a good old heady brew of ear infection going which gunges up his ear canal with nasty, dark brown waxy muck which sets hard and dry around the hair in his ear. He then spends all day shaking his head to flap his ears and try to clear it, or walking around rubbing the left side of his head on the furniture and door frames. Very sorry for himself.

Fancy 4-solution ear gel.
Unable to get him to the vet straight away, I tried a trick that used to work on my own ears which gummed up in my youth (well, younger than now anyway!) to the point of needing syringing, that being olive oil. I thought it would at least soften the 'muck' so I could wipe it out with tissues and I had also heard somewhere that if ear-mites are the problem, the oil 'drowns' them.  Turns out olive oil is NOT a good idea.

A goodly haul for our first pick over the strawberries.
Off to the vets then where our man has a good old look down in there and a wipe around as well as giving Towser a small pain-killer jab and an anti-inflammatory one. He also gives me a tube of ear-gel which he rates highly as it solves all 4 common problems at once - it is anti-parasite, "anti-infective" (?), anti-fungal and anti inflammatory. It is NOT an antibiotic as the vet explained, they are really cutting down on antibiotics now. If this gel has not solved the problem by Monday I must bring Towser back for an antibiotic jab but we don't anticipate that being necessary. "I wouldn't," he says, "put anything oily down a dog's ear as a rule". That's me told.

'We' also do not think we need the anti-parasite aspect as this is not ear-mites, just a heady brew of yeast, fungi and possibly bacteria. Anyway, the lad is on the mend now. The angry pink is gone from his ear, as well as most of the dark brown gick and he doesn't mind so much me dribbling stuff down there, folding his ear 'closed' and massaging the 'bulb' part. He just has to put up with the left side of his face being greasy looking where the stuff smears out onto his white fur, till we run out of gel and can shampoo his head back to Westie perfection.

We had no sensible jars for the strawberry
jam so here is a 2 litre 'bulk-pack. 
But my header says Kato was the one causing problems this week, so what is THAT all about? The pair of marmalade 'kittens' are by now a year old and while the female (Chivers) loves to hang around the house and be with her 'Mum', the boy (Kato) is getting a bit more adventurous. Friends of the Blog will know that on my daily dog-walk down to the bridge, I am sometimes accompanied by the full-grown black and white cat, Soldier, whom I have got used to having along and who is 100% sensible around traffic, quickly diving off the tarmac into the verge when a vehicle comes and staying there till he sees me come back onto the lane with the three dogs.

The cutter heads of my shears come back from the sharpener
with a good keen edge. 
Not so Kato, who seems to be a complete ditz and whom, if he tries to follow me down the drive, I will quickly text Liz to come and wrangle him to safety while the dogs and I get out of sight.

Deep-clean of the chicken house
That plan failed yesterday when I'd got a good half mile down the lane before a loud 'Miaow!' behind me alerted me to the fact that Kato had decided to chase us and had caught up. Ah well, too far 'gone' here to expect Liz to come rescue him, I foolishly decided to give him a try and walked gently on making sure he kept up. There were no cars about so I thought we could cope. I texted Liz to put her on alert.

The authentic lime-wash "slappy" brush
No sooner had I done that than a tractor with mower came round the corner. Kato froze. I flagged down the tractor and made to grab the cat but the cat fled, sprinting along the lane. The tractor driver gave me that "What yer gonna do?" look and moved off slowly, "following" the cat. I watched them go out of sight round the next bend with Kato still sprinting down the tarmac and the tractor carefully following. Every time the cat paused, the tractor man stopped too and tried to inch by but Kato wasn't having any of that and ran on again. That was the last I saw of him (at that stage).

Lime-washing the old stone work. 
Liz then appeared in the car (and in her PJs!) having seen the tractor pass the house safely by but no sign of Kato. I walked the dogs home and was clinging to the fact that no news (no splatted body and no sad marmalade shape in the grass verge) was good news. We then had that awful anxious wait that most cat-owners will know, re-tracing our walk/drive, calling, whistling, praying for Kato to be OK and to come home right as rain. Surely he's just strayed off the lane or gone to hide up, upset, in an abandoned building or barn somewhere. Well, to cut a long story short, he kept us on tenterhooks from midday-ish, right round to just gone 10 pm. I had gone to bed but Liz was still up and stepped into the Kitchen Garden for another hopeful look and spotted him sprinting up the drive, not a care in the world and a relaxed, unworried "Hi, Mum! I'm home!" look on his face.

Well be-spattered with lime wash
Other than that, not a lot of excitement. We have had, as you can see from the pictures, a really good harvest of strawberries for a first pick. These plants are protected behind a chicken-wire cage and I had just been checking the few fruit you can see near the 'fence'. I thought we had a couple weeks more to wait. Then I looked down in from the top and all I could see was red down in below the leaf canopy. We lifted the cage and started picking, quickly filling the tiddly, pessimistic punnets we had started with. In short order we had gathered  nearly 2.9 kg or gorgeous, ripe fruit. This is way more than we can use up 'fresh' so we had to re-think our 'no more jam' policy and go buy some sugar.

You don't want your best clothes on for
this job.
Then today we got stuck into the deep-clean long overdue on the old stone out-building we use as a chicken/goose house. In theory we are waiting till #3 broody goose finishes and abandons the nest but in practise we have become impatient and have started on the non-goose end. We are shoveling out barrow loads of old bedding and poo, giving the internal stonework a good brush down and removing all the old tired chicken wire (no longer fit for purpose and gathering cobwebs to a Gothic degree).

Finally we are going to lime-wash all that algae-encrusted, dusty masonry back to a clean, anti-bacterial, anti-insect white as only lime-wash will allow.