Tuesday 19 December 2017

The Dans

Mr and Mrs Dan tuck into a hearty breakfast after their early
flight into Knock Airport. 
In which we enjoy a lovely visit from Friends of the Blog, Dan and Dan, now Mrs & Mrs Dan. We fondly refer to these two as "The Children", because they are like the next generation down. Danielle's Mum is favourite cousin and play mate from Liz's youth, Cathy, who herself visited us earlier in the year. Dan and Danielle have been coming for a couple of years and set off on their scenic tour of Connemara, where Dan proposed to Danielle, last year. They were married this Summer on a cruise ship off the coast of Italy, hence 'Mr and Mrs Dan' now.

Dan accumulating animals. 
These two are the perfect kind of guests - they are immediately at home and relaxed on arrival, they slot in like members of the family. They make no demands on us - we do not feel the need to entertain them or make small-talk. They love the food that we serve them, enjoy the drink and sleep like logs in the spare bedroom. Dan is comfortable enough to slope off and take video-conference calls to do with work, or hide himself away and do a bit of "school" work (he's doing a distance course with LSE at present).

Danielle decking the halls. 
Danielle loves the livestock and can't wait to get out and round catching up with all her old 'friends', missing the ones who are no longer with us and greeting the new arrivals. She's actually on quite a hard-driven mission to 'evolve' from the vegetarian she used to be, to a high-welfare carnivore, but more of that later.

Dans relaxing in the evening.
My first job, then, was to nip over to Knock airport and collect the pair from their early flight. They'd been up since 04:30 and were due to land at 09:35. It was a frosty morning and Liz had sent me off in Mum's snazzy red, nearly new, chequered flag go-faster striped Skoda buzz-bomb. "Be Careful", she said, though I was not about to do anything silly in that low-profile tyre-shod hot hatch. Even so the run out nearly became a story in itself (and the ruin of a good weekend).

A venison supper.
Luckily I was only doing about 40 kph when I hit the black ice just beyond the local bridge. I was very grateful for a youth spent as a fan of motor rallying, messing about trying to rough-house our cars on any snow, ice or gravel we could get access to. The back end of the car stepped neatly out of line and I knew to whip on some opposite-lock to kill the slide before I got anywhere near the soft verges. Roger Clark would have been impressed by my graceful, crossed-up, drifting "moment". I took it even more carefully for the rest of the run and actually arrived a bit late, but luckily Ryan Air did the same to the Dans' wheels-down time, so we all matched up. I brought us all home with equal care.

'Shedders' admire the new premises.
I was briefly interrupted in my hosting at that point by a call on my camera-man services. The Men's Shed are getting a 'branch' (OK, a shed) in local town Balla-D, so they are doing tea and cakes at their new premises and could I come along and take pics for their website. I had not met 'Men's Shed' up to now though I'd heard of them.

A new space for the Shed. An old garage in the back streets
of Balla-D. Rent €0, which can't be bad. 
They are a charity set up to help give a safe and purposeful space to men struggling with general loneliness, or mental issues, drink or depression where they can find company which is not in a pub. That is probably a very bad 'flavour' of what they are about - I will do a fuller paragraph in a future post (when I know more, myself!)

So while I was gone, the gang started to decorate The Tree. This was once Liz had moved it a few times deciding where to put it. This was Danielle's first go at doing a 'real' tree. It is now a tradition here that Tree dressing comes with warmed Glühwein. Liz also lit the open fire in that hearth to get a really cozy, Christmassy atmosphere going.

Turkey 'stag' - brother to the one who went
just over 9 kg oven-ready. A whopper.
I mentioned that Danielle is on a mission to move from the kind of veggie who refuses to eat in any restaurant which had venison, rabbit or game on the menu (Don't try to understand, she says, I was young and foolish), to a relaxed carnivore who is happy to eat any meat grown "as well as we do it". At the last visit she was happily posting to Facebook, montages of pics of her cuddling piglets, feeding the full grown pigs and then enjoying the roast pork.

9+ kg oven-ready turkey.
This time she'd expressed an interest in 'helping' to slaughter something, maybe a goose. She wanted to be there and see it done, she said, though she might not actually want to do it herself. Well, it so happened that we had a couple of male ('stag' or 'tom') turkeys who needed finishing for Christmas, one for the Silverwoods, where Liz would be heading once she'd dropped the Dans back to the airport.

A fridge full of turkey.
I agreed, then, to let her watch. I was curious to see if she'd 'cope'; I suspected she could. She is that kind of tough underneath. I talked her through what I was planning and what she'd probably see and also what might go wrong and what we'd need to do about that. Then at 6 pm, when it was good and dark, we went out with head torches on to do the deed. Danielle was OK but maybe a bit shaken by the minutes of flapping and twitching it takes a bird to go still. She was happier when she could see the limp head hanging there, eyes closed and me able to poke the eyes with the billhook point to demonstrate the lack of 'blink' or reaction. Fair play to her. 

Dans and Dogs. 
This bird was bagged up the next day and taken by Liz down to Silverwoods for their Christmas, after dropping the Dans to the airport. I knew it was a heavy one - I'd carried it out to the killing place under my arm and then back, swinging from my hand by the feet - but I thought maybe 5-6 kg. Liz plucked and gutted it and then weighed it by hopping on/off the bathroom scales with/without it. Just over 9 kg was the amazing result. Easily the heaviest we'd done so far and quite an achievement for one of these old-breed, fully free range Bronze breed birds.

Fairy lights all up the fences and over the Tígín roof.
With the guests gone and Liz back down to Silverwood-land to mind Mum for some more days, I was home alone again. This time I had an even better supply of left overs in the fridge (venison, paté, rillette, soup, savoury flans, cake...). I also had two definite jobs. I had to string up the outdoor fairy lights and ice the cake. The lights are now in two strands by 25m so we can run them right down the drive and all over the roof of the Tígín but my it was cold messing about with cold, frosty fencing and cold ladders. It was pure pleasure to come indoors, warm the hands and start the icing.

This year's cake design might be seen as "a bit weird" by some critics (you know who you are!) but it made me smile and I thoroughly enjoyed trying to conceive of it and deliver it. I wanted to do it with one of our Oxford Sandy and Black (OSB) pigs which are, in icing terms, a nice bright combination of orange, black and pink. The only way I could come up with of getting OSB in there and having it a bit 'Christmas' was to borrow the OSB out of the singer's name Bing Crosby.

So there you have it. I am sure it will be every bit as delicious as the ones with Santas, polar bears and penguins on them.

And there, I think, I will leave you. Lovely having you, The Dans. Welcome back any time.

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