Tuesday 31 October 2017

Things that (don't) go Bump in the Night

Kato is un-impressed by my carving skills.
A quick (and short) post tonight as Hallowe'en night slips by almost un-noticed by the local Trick or Treaters. Or so it seems to us here, anyway. We have often only had one or two callers and on one occasion none at all. I think about 15 is our best score - across 4 families. Little armies of costumed un-dead usually safe inside Hi-Viz jackets and carted round by Mums or Aunties in big 4x4 vehicles. Some are let come up the drive by themselves, others come up shepherded by a parent.

They are invariably very well behaved, very polite and nervous and try to take only one or two chocs from our proffered tub. You have to insist and persuade them that it is OK to grab a hand-full. They look for re-assurance from Mum to check this is allowed. This is very different from the kids we got in Kent (UK) I remember, particularly in the Medway Towns where there was a real risk of running out of sweeties half way through the night.

As I type this it is 20 to 8 so it is probably all done (though, as I have said before, never say 'Never') and we have had a grand total of 3 kids in one family group. These were little ones we did not recognise but it now seems to be the local modus operandi that you, the householder, advertise your open-ness with a pumpkin Jack-o-Lantern lit up on your gate pier. If you don't want the visits, no pumpkins and everybody respects that.

Hi-tech cheese presses.
The only "Trick" mean-ness I have heard of is some 'egging' of house fronts in the village. My Honesty Box was empty (sold out again!) but we brought it in under the trees out of sight of the road as a precaution. Our neighbour(s) have in the past brought their small gang of 7-ish along but not this year, so I guess they are all feeling a bit grown up now and such childish pursuits are maybe not 'cool' any more. The Silverwoods are, from the blaze of pics in Facebook, still leading the charge down in Co Laois - there has been a fun-shoot at the archery and all the family seem to be carving the most excellent and intricate pumpkins.

Cheese just out of the moulds, waiting for their dry salt-cure
Ah well. What else is going on? The short answer is plenty but not a lot I can tell you about. The 'plenty' is one of those "someone else's story" things where I do not have the blessing of the key players to 'report' the story on the Internet. Sorry about that.

Home made wine. 
Other than that we are chugging along making bread, making cheese and starting into our home made wine, which is really nice and quite a revelation. We are now on GMT, of course, so all the bird lock-up and evening duties are now moved forward to 5 o'clock and the long dark evenings are upon us and I am back to being woken up by the dogs at around 7 a.m.

I think I'll leave it at that. Have a good Hallowe'en. Don't run over any little witches, ghosties or ghoulies. Or the Feast of Samhain, if you prefer.

Friday 27 October 2017

Pods and Pump Out

A size-able machine for manouvring on your precious
mown grass. 
Friends of the Blog will know that I have been eagerly awaiting the arrival of a man to do the pump-out on our septic tank. Probably not the best subject for a blog-post (I hope you've had your dinner!)  but a vital part of servicing a small-holding in the West of Ireland, where no mains sewage system comes within tens of miles of us. Also a service not met by some dinky 'Council' contractor with a small truck and garden-friendly equipment.

The huge tank and massive pipe make the "tiny" septic tank
 look really silly!
Here it is some local Agricultural Contractor who will turn up with a huge 4WD tractor and a slurry tank capable of taking massive doses of cattle slurry from the underground tanks below the big "slatted floor" of a winter cattle-shed. These rigs look to be 30-40 feet long (must admit, didn't actually measure it!) and need BIG spaces to manouvre in and to turn around.

For the first time in 5 years we can see the tank empty. The guy
also advises us to fit a 'T' and an up-pipe to the end of that exit
pipe you can see in the pic. 
When you book one and start to worry about this, you realise the lack of wisdom in all your decisions to put a rinky-dink gateway here which is OK for your Fiat Panda and a 6' by 4' 2-pig trailer, and a fence to contain your geese, or a few new trees planted just so. There is also the issue of the guy turning the rig round on your precious grass just so close to your pond. I ended up ripping out some fences and gateways just to get the guy to the tank.

Ah well, he came, he saw, he managed to turn the 'rig' with only one tractor tyre dipped into the pond (!)  and he sucked us all up. His huge tank/pump did such a good job on the 'water' that we might have been left with all the floating solids sitting on the sediment, but the guy turned the pump the other way and whooshed a great dollop of the 'water' back down into our tank to stir it all up and then sucked up the loosened up mixture.

Just the one tyre dipped into the pond.
The tank, we can now see, is a good solidly built sound affair, about 6 feet by 4 and 5'9" deep. Our man advised us to enhance the outflow with a vertical up-pipe and a 'T' - that way apparently the floating solids cannot block the outflow because the outflow draws 'water' from half way up the tank. We live and learn.

The other interesting aspect of this to us was that you are expected (most people.....) to have a place for the guy to empty the tank - a handy chunk of bog for example. They do not normally get asked to take it away and will charge you more for that add-on. Well, we have no such handy bog-field and I did not want 4000 litres of human "waste" spread all over the veg patch or the sheep grazing (even assuming the rig could get access). I happily paid the extra and watched the half-full tanker trundle off down the road. The guy was actually from nearby village Gortaganny and was off to a wedding after my job. He'd already met his friends for Breakfast in Balla-D where they'd joked with him that he better wash the tanker down before he arrived at the Ceremony. A nice lad. We will definitely use him again if we need someone, but we hope the tank with it's newly enhanced outflow will go another 6 years first!

In some lights this gnarly old bit of hawthorn reminds me of a
spooky dog. 
Meanwhile, while I'm on the entertainment value of Septic Tank emptying, I thought you might appreciate a list of our newest version of 'entertainment' out here where we have chosen to eschew TV, where we've watched all the 'old TV' we felt like buying as boxed sets, where we can't reliably get Radio 4 and we cannot get anything 'big' through the rubbish broad-band. That is the relatively new medium of Pod-Casts, or "pods".

We still follow, to a degree, the American politics pods from outlets such as Crooked Media, 538 and NPR (National Public Radio) but after the initial excitement of Trump's coming to power, these have waned a bit because nothing much is happening.


Baby Horse Chestnut doing its Autumn thing
We are glued, currently, to the Guardian's Brexit one, "Brexit Means" which seems to be standing aghast and watching with increasing horror as the Brexit process stutters and stalls and comes unravelled. The most recent, which covered farming, was truly scary.


Misty Autumn Morning
We also enjoy a series of pods from a pair of friends who cover modern Irish culture and direction by also describing the history of these aspects and how Ireland arrived at its current position. The most recent covered the very controversial abortion issue and the planned Referendum next year to "Repeal the 8th" (Amendment to the Constitution).


I am glued to a farming one by a guy (Will Penri Evans) who farms in Wales and who is on a mission to 'sell' farming to the wider public as a good thing. He gets a different guest on each week for an hour long interview, the guests being the great/good/influential from UK (and overseas) agriculture, particularly when they have a Twitter presence, most recently Tom Edwards who has, over the last few years, set up a company making a 'craft' gin (Warner and Edwards Rhubarb Gin)


Finally, there is a nice one I have only recently locked on to, done via Radio Cardiff by a friend I have 'met' through the Irish Smallholders' Twitter account. She is either Helen Joy or Valerie Chicken (according to taste) and the pods are called "World of Joy". The most recent one covered attempts to re-vitalise the rural economy in the Vale of Glamorgan.


If you fancy any of those, be our guests.

Wednesday 25 October 2017

Pimping Two Babes for the Lads

Diane (who died on 21st Oct 2014) and her disreputable
Border Terrier cross, 'Ragworth'. 
Ignore that dubious title for the moment. First up today we remember that most excellent Friend of the Blog, 'Diamond' (Diane Loraine Walsh). Rest in Peace, lovely Lady. Today (25th) would have been her 61st Birthday. The thoughts of this Blog are with her husband, John, Her Family and all those readers who knew and remember her. I am also told that today is the 602nd anniversary of the Battle of Agincourt and the 75th of the Dedication of the local village church here (Lisacul village), but maybe more on those later.

4 young poults. From the colour of them, almost certainly sired
by our Marans rooster, 'Gandalf'.
With the majority of this year's young chickens having hatched in June, a whole bunch of these are starting to come 'of age' (poultry keepers frequently use 21 weeks, or "point of lay" to denote maturity though that varies wildly between varieties.) from now through November. We had 19 chicks across those early batches and have since added another 7; the 'Manus' and the ABs, bringing our total to 26. The place is fair heaving with young poults. The law of averages tells us that we are likely to end up with 13 hens and 13 roosters though that, too, can vary wildly.

Existing alpha-rooster, Gandalf
In the hard-hearted 'business' world of small-holdering, we would generally keep or sell as going concerns, all the hens, especially if they start laying good eggs but have to dispose of the roosters. If you are lucky you might sell, or give away a few and you might keep one good one if your hen/rooster ratios can sustain it (you want about 7:1, so if you are adding 13 hens to your flock there should be room for one more roo', if not 2). If we can, we will make the(se) keeper(s) either pure-bred Marans or Buff Orpington. 

Our #2 rooster, sex-change 'hen', 'Herme'.
See earlier post
The rest of the roosters will be for the pot and you need to identify and cull them out as soon as they become a problem, fighting with each other or challenging your existing lads. As the girls start to come up to point of lay and (we hope) start popping out the good eggs, the boys cannot help but give away their own sexual identities by squaring up to one another, flaring their cape feathers and bowing down beak to beak preparatory to a few, beginner-ish flying 2 footed kick-outs. If you do not sort them it can get bloody and injurious very fast. What we will do between now and Christmas is to 'sort' them before they become a problem.

We love the colouring on some and we hope they are hens. This
one is optimistically called "Silvergirl"
That's probably enough on chickens. I said "If you are lucky" above (selling roosters) because just when you have your glut of spare males, so does every other chicken breeder you would know. It's like having too many courgettes and hoping other veg-fiends might not have grown courgettes this year.

2 Guinea Fowl boys in search of some female company?
Friends of the Blog may recall that our story of owning and trying to breed Guinea fowl here is not a happy one. We currently have, and have had for many months, two cock birds who are happy enough and tend to wander about like 'the management' minding any turkeys they can find or piles of food. In our Guinea story these guys are preceded by our first pair (Henry and Min; 2013) who tried to breed but we lost H in an RTA. This left M to desert her impressive stash of 16 eggs in the hedge on the far side of our lane. We incubated these and hatched, I think, ten. We managed to sell 5 as youngsters but then had the other 5 stolen by Mr Fox. So far, no roast Guinea fowl for the table.

Dillisk biscuits. 
Henry was briefly replaced by a white bird we called 'Blondie' but he/she was famous for his/her unwillingness to stay here and need to hike off Eastwards. Blondie eventually deserted for good. Subsequently we bought 2 boys (2015) from Sue and Rob (called Apollo and Belvedere) hoping that at least one would pair off with poor, lonely Min, of the heart-breakingly continuous 'buckwheat buckwheat' calls. Belv' did so and all was quiet for 2016. However we never saw more than one or 2 eggs and there was no breeding success. This year, Min fell ill and stopped being able to repel the attentions of our rooster, Gandalf. Before we knew he had nailed her well and truly, flaying all the skin off her 'saddle' with his spurs. We tried to isolate her (not easy to catch!) but she went downhill fast and died within a few days.

Cheesy fish pie. We missed this while we hosted Augustin
who professed a loathing for fish and cooked cheese. 
So in 2017 we are left with the 2 lads, Apollo and Belv' and, although we think they are OK, we think they might enjoy some female company. We livestock keepers are, after all, meant to keep our stock to the "Five Freedoms" (freedom from starvation and thirst etc), one of which is "Freedom to Express Natural Behaviours". In my opinion, that includes being able to mate, breed and bring up young if possible.

Growing fast, the young turkeys. This one is male.
Step forward, then, our newest friends who I mentioned a few posts back, who happen to own a goodly flock of Guineas and are happy to find me 2 hens of sure-fire female-ness (Guineas are notoriously hard to sex). They have promised to get the birds to us by early next week. I have, I hope "pimped" some lovely ladies for the lads. Watch this space.

New limbs for the archery bow.
I will finish with a completely random waffle, the fruits of an addled mind left out watching over dogs on the front lawn today. I said that today was Birthday for the late Diane and also the anniversaries of both Agincourt and the Dedication of Lisacul Church. Agincourt is 602 years ago and 602 (cc) is also the engine size of my beloved Citroën 2CVs. So today handily brings together all manner of "my favourite things". Diane represents friends and Kent, the 602 brings in France and 2CVs as well as archery (Agincourt) and Lisacul Church stands for the local area and the Community here whom have made us feel so welcome here in Ireland.

No Blue! It may BE fish on the menu but we are still not giving
you any even if you try to take up station on the Dining Table.
Sorry about that. It just kind of bubbled out of no-where.

Friday 20 October 2017

Au Revoir to AB

AB rocking the mesh visor. 
Farewell then, Augustin (AB), our Help-X volunteer of the last 4 weeks, who I dropped to the railway station this morning for his journey onward to Dublin. It nearly didn't work; as is commonly the case, Castlerea station was all locked up and gone away, unmanned and the ticket machine out on the platform was crashed and inoperable.

Nailing the docks (Rumex)
He and 2 other passengers decided to get on the train anyway and throw money at the first railway official they saw. A text later told me that they had all arrived safely in Dublin and had not been arrested for 'hobo-ing'. AB had done a month in Belfast prior to his month here and is now planning a month in the capital and one in Galway before, apparently, heading for Sweden. Yes. Sweden. It's a French thing, he tells me. They all want to see Ireland and Sweden. Works for me.

The pig paddock has never been so clear
Regular readers will know we've had a great time with the lad and we have done LOADS of work, mainly around Autumn-tidying, clearing nettle patches and pulling out of them, big heaps of old prunings and tree branches (incl. the Christmas tree from 2016!). If this was me doing the volunteer side, my mission would be to leave every place in a far better state than when I arrived. If that is also theirs, then AB should be very proud of himself. We are transformed.

Heavy rain stops play on what was to be
our last task.
His last working day was going to be yesterday and we were going to strip away all the grass growing from cracks in the concrete on the back "terrace" and then mix some cement and fill the cracks. Well, lashing rain in advance of the next named storm (Brian) put a stop to that and we both took a day off after having got up at the crack of dawn to nip down and help a friend move some cattle. AB's last job was on Wednesday, then, when he had a good session at bashing docks with the brush-cutter. We'd translated the stinging nettles as "ortie" but could find no such common name for French docks, so we called them 'Rumex' which amused AB ("It sounds like it should be an insurance company!").

My current favourite evening snack. Goat's cheese and strips of
our bullace-plum "fruit-cheese". 
All good things must come to an end, though, and although we loved having AB, we are home birds, a bit set in our ways and enjoying of our own company, so we were both looking forward to un-shipping the 'help' and getting our house and our routines back. No offence, we hope, in either direction.

One of the cats supervises the wine racking.
(pic by Liz)
One amusing side-line to this is that although AB was the easiest bloke in the world to feed (he ate everything we cooked for him and came back for seconds every time. Liz jokes that her worries were only about whether she'd "manage to fill him". He has a bullet-proof appetite) there were 2 minor mis-matches to his preferences. He does not like fish (he's OK with shellfish and prawns) or cooked cheese, so out of solidarity we avoided fish and cheese for 4 weeks. No pizza, then, and certainly no cheesy fish-pie. We are so going to make up for this, now that AB has gone!

I'll leave the last word to our friend and Archery Coach, 'Con'. We were over to his on Wednesday to help whacking in some tree stakes, to clear the shooting field of its 3D target "animals" (into dry store) and to fold Con's 2 enormous cone-shaped tent canvases. Con obviously likes AB and loved teaching him to shoot for those 4 weeks so in my little 'farewell' to AB on Facebook, Con replied,

"(He is) a big man with a big smile and willing hands - may he enjoy every step of his Path."

A dog on your lap is no protection
when this cat wants to come aboard.
Not NOW Kato!
Meanwhile, as we wait through the gap between Ex-Hurricane Ophelia and Storm Brian (how can you take those two names seriously in the same sentence?), our only other entertainment seems to have been racking off the wine. This was meant to be a 3 week kit but has taken us more like 2 months, possibly because we'd let the kit get old and maybe the temperature. yeast or the stabilizer were not up to much. We thought it had nearly done so we "killed" it with the stabilizer and it just took on a new lease of life, fermenting madly for 5-6 weeks before it finally calmed down enough to be 'racked' (bottled). It is surprisingly good and we find we prefer it to the shop-bought Ozzie Shiraz we had been drinking on the non-gin and non-beer evenings. Bottoms up!

Tuesday 17 October 2017

They Also Serve, Who Only Stand and Wait

There were some impressively colourful wind maps.
Friends of the Blog will know by now that the feared 'Hurricane' Ophelia has now been and gone, leaving us relieved, delighted and grateful to have largely got away with it. The feeling among my small-holdering friends is that up here in Roscommon we "dodged the bullet". Nationally the storm killed 3 people, felled a gazillion trees, left 360,000 without power and caused all manner of damage along the south, west and southeast coasts.

About as bad as it got for Roscommon (lined in blue). The red areas
are Force 8+. We stayed in the green (Force 6) and yellow (7). This
my favoured source, being Met Éireann's short-range forecast.
There were pictures and video all over Twitter and Facebook including, notably 2 bits showing the roof of a school gymnasium going airborne for several hundred yards before landing neatly between some houses without killing anyone. I also saw some road-side trees rocking away from the camera with their roots lifting bits of tarmac and road-base up like cartoon mouths opening and closing.

For us, though, mercifully a scary day and some exhausting watching, especially between about 2 pm  and 8 pm but the only damage was a few small branches broken down from trees and scattered across the lawn, and my big house-sign tumbled over. I must say, in fairness, how exactly spot on and correct (almost to the hour) were the forecasts considering this was an "unprecedented" event - Hurricanes never come over this side of the Atlantic - so they can't have had much practice.

A perfect spiral, uninterrupted by fronts. 
Ophelia was a perfect spiral so we knew as she passed up the west coast, hopping over a few headlands (like County Clare for example!) that we'd get winds which nearly went round the compass. We woke up to Nor'easterlies which get right into our yard. These veered round to the East and then the South; passing through the worrying trajectory of our remaining trees tall enough to hit the house. They carried on swinging through SE, where we are OK-ish and into full West where, again we are vulnerable for the poly tunnel and the barn which Doris took the roof off. It was not an easy day.

The Black Spruces got a good buffeting but
stayed put
There was (as forecast) a nice lull mid morning when the sun even came out and then one at bedtime but Ophelia had a possible sting in her tail with those Westerlies strengthening from midnight to about 04:00 Tuesday (today). The spiral had a diameter roughly 3 times as wide as the country, so as the eye cruised up 'our' side of the Island, the strongest winds were the Southerlies hitting the south coast and then sliding up past Waterford, Wexford and Wicklow up to Dublin.

The willow hedge gets turned inside out with each gust.
All we could do was stay indoors and sit it out. The only driving we did that day was to nip out to feed some bullocks for a friend. Our Help-X volunteer got introduced to the concept of "They also serve, who only stand and wait". Yes AB. You really CAN retreat to your room and sleep or play video games. We will shout if we need you. Your job today is to "stand by". You may physically achieve precisely nothing but we will still value you immensely. Honest.

A fine pair of legs
That, though, is surely enough on the Fair Ophelia. The only other news is that the 'Parma' style ham legs have progressed on from dry salt-cure to the air-drying stage. These big ol' lumps of carcass get 16 days in the mix of sugar, salt and spices being patted down each day with new cure and drained of any brine which the dry salt sucks out of the meat. They darken and become quite firm to the touch as they dry out. In this part of the world, the wise man does this stage in the fridge to give the salt a good head-start against the risk of flies and food-poisoning nasties.

Prior to scrubbing off the salt. 
After 16 days they are lifted out of the dry salt and the spare salt is scrubbed off using a stiff brush dipped in cider vinegar. They are then wrapped in rather nifty Muslin bags created by Lizzie, to deter the flies and hung somewhere fairly dry but with air movement for between 4 and 18 months.

Hung in the air for 4-18 months
During this time the meat continues to dry out and the flavour sweetens and matures. You are aiming for a 30% weight loss; too much and your ham will be as hard as wood; too little and the ham will not cure sufficiently (so may not be safe to eat). The 4-18 month thing is personal choice - how firm/dry do you like your Parma? We do 2 legs. One for eating in Summer (so about 11 months) and one for Christmas (15 months). Like us, the reader will just have to preserve their souls in patience and see how we get on come next August. It is not a fast food.

Enjoy the calm days after the storm. We certainly are.

Friday 13 October 2017

Soft you now, the fair Ophelia...

Hurricane Ophelia's predicted track. 
Like a rabbit caught in the headlights, this post finds us sitting here wondering whether the next few days will bring us brutal weather and the tree-toppling, airborne chicken house roof dramas of our former 'girlfriend', Storm Doris. If you believe the more dramatic and alarmist weather forecasters, we are looking down the barrel of Hurricane Ophelia.

Ophelia's southward track so far.
This angry young lady has already shown herself to be a bit weird, having formed up off the coast of Newfoundland and tracked SW down the US east coast before doing a small loop-the-loop and hanging a left out to sea off Florida. Not for her the usual targets of Haiti, Houston,Texas or Puerto Rico; she's steering well clear of Trump's Twitter storms.

The beech in the pig run starts to turn
I am, naturally, quite nervous despite this jokey bravado. We do not need any bad storms this winter. Friends of the Blog will recall that Storm Doris ripped a good bit of the roof off our main chicken house and this building spent the summer shored up with a nice new tarpaulin.

The plan was for K-Dub and I to replace the roof this year with corrugated iron salvaged from his house in Sligo, but the need to do the kitchen extension kind of got in the way. You can only do so many buildering projects a year. Re-roofing weather is probably done now till next spring, so our chicken house must go through this winter and Hurricane Ophelia (and friends) on a wing, a prayer and a hopefully strong tarpaulin. What could POSSibly go wrong? Soft you now, the fair Ophelia - be gentle with us.

Bank behind the poly tunnel now cleared of nettles and brambles
and over-hanging elder branches.
That said, we have had reasonably good weather so far and rain and wind have not yet interfered too much with the Autumn clear-ups I have been doing, working with my Help-X volunteer, AB. This is still mainly the wilder areas of perimeter including various neglected banks behind the poly tunnel. As well as nettles and weeds, these often have dumped piles of tree prunings and hedge cuttings which I could not burn on the day I cut them.

The bank also known as "The Turf Mine". Every home should
have one?
On one of these, regular readers may recall, we came across a buried stash of turf-fuel. The previous owner had obviously had a clamp of turf there which had at some stage been sheeted over with old (used) silage wrap and then piled up with good top-soil scraped from some other part of the farm. It has been, for us, the gift that keeps on giving - every time I need turf for fuel, I just clear some more weeds, burrow into the bank, pull out a few barrow loads to dry in the poly tunnel. Bingo.

Poly tunnel becomes turf-dryer for a few months. 
As part of the Autumn thing and part of battening down the hatches for the storm, we also decided to take down the Honeybee swarm 'lure box'. This, readers will recall, gets hung optimistically from the big ash tree down by the bee hive in the hope of tempting any emerging swarm to take up residence and not vanish over the horizon.

Brace comb created in the swarm-box.
Well, apart from a little flurry of comings and goings by scout bees from the hive when I first hoisted it into the tree (when you deploy it you load it with 'bait' of old comb, old honey and lemon-smelling plants like lemon balm or lemon grass), I had seen no activity.

Goat's cheese. Delicious. 
Bit of a surprise then, on getting it down and opening it, to find 4 nice chunks of "brace comb" in there. All dead and redundant now but there were some dead bees in there and some of the comb cells had obviously contained honey or pollen at one stage. No signs of any egg-laying or a brood nest, though.

I have perhaps been over-critical of the veg garden, suggesting
it was a disaster this year. It is giving us plenty of kale and chard
at this back end.
We are not experts, but we imagine that at some point during the year, while we were not watching, there was a swarm or a proper swarm followed by a 2nd "cast" swarm, probably with either no queen or a problem, infertile queen. These bees would have come out of the main hive, decided to set up in the swarm box and started to create wax comb where the new colony would be able to start storing honey and pollen. When no queen showed up or started successfully to lay eggs, this colony would have faded and died along with its new (start-up) workers, each bee only living about 6 weeks in summer here. Nice to know and Liz, at least, got the few ounces of beeswax from this.

Finally a bit of fun and a new experience for me. I have sheared sheep and clipped dogs but I had never done any human hair cuts. Today our Help-X lad decided that he was fed up with his flowing locks and that they were getting in the way of his 'farmering'. I joked that I could take him to the local barber's shop (lady rather nicely named "Barbara"!) or I could run the Wahl dog-clippers over him. He rather warily inspected the clippers (I think he thought they'd be as big and industrial as my shears!) and then decided that, hey, at least it'd save him the €10.

AB takes one for the team. Pics by Liz.
So, much to Liz's amusement we set up shop out front on the terrace furniture, I looked him in the eye one last time to check it was REALLY what he wanted and then went for it. No going back now, AB. 5 minutes later he was a "Number 5 all over" and delighted. For some reason Liz didn't choose to have the same and, when we went back indoors it was to find Towser, worried by the clipper noise, hunkered down in the tiny gap below the oven.

Young Scots pine all set up for next year. 
That's a bout it for this one.
Venison pie.
Keep your fingers crossed for us over the weekend and I hope to be able to post a safe, intact 'All Clear' post on Tuesday.

Mullein still in flower.