Friday 29 June 2018

Two (webbed) Footsteps Forward and One Back

Hot on the heels of yesterday's post comes a mainly duck-based one to catch us right up to schedule. Regular readers will know that we are running a small campaign to get back into ducks after recent losses to fox (and one of the terriers). We are also converting to some new varieties. The 'old school' Khaki Campbells from 2016/7 are now gone following our cull of the (2) aggressive drakes. That had left us with 3, then 2 youngsters hatched from our own eggs, the final eggs laid before the last female went extinct at the hands of the fox (13th May).

I had bought a Mum and 5 half-grown 'Appleyard' ducklings on 11th June. Readers may recall that these got landed into the long grass of the 'Hubbard Pen' and that although we knew they were settling in well, I had been unable to photograph them for you. They are real 'scaredy cats' and raced for cover as soon as a human appeared. Pictures of baby ducks in grass taller than they are is not really a thing.

"Rambling Rector" does his thing over the barn wall.
We knew they'd grow up eventually and want to come out and explore. We played the waiting game. In mid June, I 'ran out of breath', Elizabeth took over the stock and carried on with the feeding and schmoozing. She'd seen the two surviving Khaki's looking in at the newcomers through the chicken wire. It was looking good. We would let the Appleyards out free ranging when we were both there to supervise.

Mum Appleyard leads a first explore
Yesterday, I was just on a patrol, armed with a camera thinking I might get a pic of the 'Apps' around their new fruit-barrel drinker when I was confused to find a group of 6 ducks at the big pond. They must have squeezed out at the bottom corner of the gate and, by the time I saw them, they'd have met the Khakis and all seemed to be serene.

Pleasingly, there was not a sudden mass panic at the sight of me. The group gathered close round Mumma in that upright, vigilant stance that nervous ducks have. I sneaked a few pics, then quietly retreated to a distance to observe and texted Elizabeth. Not much point causing the big frightened upset rounding them all back up; we decided to bide our time till evening when they might just take themselves all off to bed. That was that for the pm, the joy of watching your new ducks explore the big pond, supervised by Mum and alongside the 2 Khakis.

New 6 meet old 2.
My 'backward step' of the title? Yes. It all went a bit downhill for a while, but not badly except for in the case of one Khaki. Elizabeth was home, I'd gone for a nap. I was getting up again when I may have (can't swear) heard an odd strangled squawk  out the back somewhere but Liz had heard nothing.

The only picture I have of all 8 ducks on the pond
It was a good hour later at the start of evening rounds, when she spotted that there was only one Khaki. The alarm went up and we searched far and wide but of the other bird there was no sign. We guess one more to the fox, returning on a day light raid 6 weeks after the last strike. 

Duck pond and blue sky
The evening was a bit of a mix of being sure that Brer Fox would not come back for a 2nd bird in the same day. This fox has not done that (yet). But at the same time, not wanting to risk him getting in amongst the new ones on their first day of free ranging. Long story short, it all ended well and everybody was safe for the night.

Not much else going on unless you want to hear of our continuing, decidedly non Irish heatwave which is now doing silly 30ºC stuff up in our corner. A friend has amusingly put up on  Twitter a couple of pics of her lane. She got hit by the bad snow when the 'Beast' struck over there in the East so her post has "The worst snow in 72 years and the hottest temps in 42 years, less than 4 months apart!"

Enough for this one. Wish us luck on keeping these ducks safe and enjoy the sunshine.

Thursday 28 June 2018

A Muck Sweat

Hi. As I write this it is half past 5 in the morning and a beautiful peachy-orange sun is rising into a(nother) cloudless sky right outside the back door. It is going to be another scorcher peaking up into the 29º to 30º area. The Woman of the House is still very much enjoying them, ambling about in her shorts determined to get "at least some colour" into her legs while batting away the mozzies. I must admit, my appetite for heat is a tad jaded at this stage but you will not see me writing a word of complaint; you only have to look at the endless cold, wet, snowy, windy blog posts from about September to April to know that we get enough of the "other stuff" and our memories are raw.

Blue skies
My current state of health has added its own seasoning to this mix. I am messed up completely and unable to do a stroke of work. Those antibiotics in the previous post ran their course and finished this Monday and although they had given me a promising explosion of 'productive' coughing, a muck sweat or two, bursts of dead-tiredness that had me snatching 2 hour naps morning and afternoon, they did not seem to free up my lungs. Shortness of breath still has me leaning, gasping on a fence after the shortest walk or easiest job.

Young ducks discover the pond.
I was back to the doctor's on Tuesday to see what was progressing but, not only was the real doc still away, but the very competent nurse who saw me was away too, and a locum was taking the calls. Obviously this means telling the story all over again and, in this case finding the locum unwilling to do anything positive as my notes were still not back from Sligo Hospital. So, take it easy Mr Patient and none of that heavy lifting / mucking out now (kinda got that one, thanks) and come back and see us next week when another new medic will be on hand to tell you whether your notes are back yet.

So, another week for me of shirking round the place doing a lot of healing sleep, while for Elizabeth, the stock tasks made a bit more interesting by the heat. All the birds and animals need extra attention to their water supplies, shade sheets for their runs (and even freezer packs for some). There are buckets and tubs everywhere. Those young 'Appleyard' ducks have outgrown their big Tupperware "bath" and the Duck-Master General has invented for them a paddly pool made from a big blue plastic fruit-juice barrel split in half and propped at a jaunty angle. Filled with a hose, this gives them a nice depth of water for some total-immersion baptism malarkey, one at once, supervised by Mumma-Duck.

St John's Eve fire heap
The perceptive among you (and those not knocked sideways by an excessive need to sleep in the shade) will have noticed that this post is 2 days late. I don't know what happened to Tuesday. I'd been a bit short on stories going into the weekend but on Saturday (23rd), Bonfire Night had happened so I was looking good for the Tuesday, business as usual.

Arsonist #1 soon has a good blaze going
Regular readers will know that the only day we can legally light bonfires in (Republic of ) Ireland is 23rd June, St. John's Eve, one of these Christian-ised festival dates presumably derived from Mid Summer's Day. The Ladies are traditionally meant to engage in lots of leppin' about, singing and dancing, while we blokes go in more for the feats of strength and athletic (cough) stuff. There was jumping through the fire and, I guess, the odd drink was taken.

Tha Appleyards get a new pond
There is also a fair amount of the 'warding off bad spirits' stuff. I read mention of a tall, herby plant which has the Irish name "hocusfian" (though I've not manged to find out what this is in English). Bonfire attendees would run round tapping their plant off as many folk as possible to pick up the bad vibes before throwing the plant in the fire. You could also pull up examples of all your most troublesome weeds and thrown them in which would ensure they were not so troublesome next year. Look out 'creeping buttercup', I say. I can see that working...hmmm..... the actual plant you throw into the fire would not trouble you again, I suppose.

January born lamb Tigger comes back from the butcher
In the morning, you could then scatter the ashes from the fire about your land to spread the good stuff about. If there was a new built dwelling in the village it was good to light the first ever fire in that hearth from the glowing embers of the St.John fire.

Apricot flan
Especially auspicious

Friday 22 June 2018

Bro Radio Interview and Pod

Elizabeth doing the stock duties morning and evening.
Update from the sick-bay. We are doing OK and definitely on the mend. This is Day 4 (of 7) on the amoxicillin course and I can now sleep though the night. This morning, for the first time, I was NOT sent back to bed by that fierce 'Nurse Elizabeth' at 0800 with the words "You look half dead!" ringing in my ears as a reason. I actually got dressed today and even did some easy out-door laundry jobs and strolled down to the gate to restock the egg honesty box.

I hope that this recovery continues and I can sign off on a new pair of healthy lungs, both capable of transferring oxygen from air to blood by Monday or Tuesday next week. I am, of course, taking the almost universal advice to take it easy and not rush straight back into heavy lifting till I'm good and ready. I hope you can cope with the temporary dearth of photo's in these posts.

That settlement cheque for the old 2CV arrives from Kent.
We are both delighted to report a solid up-side to the timing on this. If we were going to suddenly need to NOT do any jobs outdoors then we could not have chosen a better week, or better conditions. The whole site still glows with manicured parkland tidiness after our 3 weeks of French Help-X lass, Laura and the weather has been both benign (so no new damage to clear up) and dry, so the grass is growing really slowly and the sheep can keep up with the growth on it, plus way less mud/wet walked indoors than we might have had.

I do, though, seriously want to thank my Good Lady who has stepped so magnificently and heroically into the breach, mainly of the livestock rounds morning and evening. This despite not only having to keep up with her 'school' work (Horti-training course on Thursday) and also her volunteer day admin-ing at the Village Centre on Friday but also, this week, 3 days of a "Hard Landscaping" module which is  part of the course. Oh, and she also did a couple of shopping runs which I'd normally have done, including collecting 4 x 25 kg feed sacks plus my drugs and of course the 'offal' part of the lamb I had taken to slaughter just before my week went pear-shaped. So, massive, happy 'Thank You', Mrs C. This week would not be now where it is, without you.

Meanwhile, with some trepidation due to mistrust of my breathing ability and my chances of  not having a coughing fit live on air, I decided to go ahead with a pre-agreed, hour long radio interview. This was on a radio station called 'Bro Radio' based near Cardiff in the Vale of Glamorgan. Bro radio has nothing to do with  any 'gangsta' greetings between brothers (Yo Bro!), bro are the first three letters of the Welsh name for the Vale.

This interview was to be by good friend and Welsh smallholder, Helen Joy who I mainly know through the S/H Twitter group(s). I first 'met' her on a week years ago when I was having a first go at curating the Irish SH account (@smallholderIRL) and she a first go at the UK one (@smallholdersUK). We got chatting and got on really well and we have been good Internet friends since. We finally got to talk properly a couple of weeks back so that we could check we were compatible for a live interview, and we then booked up for Weds night, not knowing, of course that I might not have a voice by then.

In the event it went really well and we were both delighted with it as were plenty of our mutual friends despite a tech gremlin which lost us to loud music and sponsors chat for the first 7 minutes, so I did not actually get introduced. If you want to give it an air, then it is on

I did not have a coughing fit and we nattered happily for the whole hour about the joys of pigs, Guinea fowl, chickens and sheep. Great fun. I would definitely do it again.

Summer Solstice sunset
I think that is about enough for this one. I will report back, I hope from a much more healthy place, at the next one.

Wednesday 20 June 2018

Sick Note

Culled out male duck. Sorry, Laura.
this was Obelix
Hi. Your blogger has been knocked sideways by the biggest illness he has ever experienced since the move to Ireland, and in long memory. A chest infection. So hard do I cling to  healthy vitality and try to avoid any contact with doctors, nurses and hospitals that one of the problems we had to overcome when we went trying to make appointments of collect prescription drugs from the local pharmacies was that nobody has any record of me or any history in their files.

The elder flower bank.
This disease struck fast and furious. On the Saturday I'd been happily helping a friend in the village muck out some bullocks for 3 hours, healthy and vital. We'd finished that job, stopped for tea and biscuits and I'd made my way home. I had a slight feeling that I might have overdone it, a slight tightness of breath, a need to sit down in my easy chair for more tea. But nothing serious. I'd agreed with the guy to come down and finish it tomorrow (Sunday).

An elder flower head.
As Saturday evening progressed, it got a whole lot less funny. Any walk of more than 30-50 yards had me needing to stop for a breather,lean on a fence or sit on a garden chair, gasping and panting hard while my body came up to a normal level of oxygen and my breathing slowed back to normal. Clearly all was not well. Time to go and sign on with the local Clinic. Time to get the big-boy pants or brave-soldier outfit on.

Home grown lettuce.
Elizabeth was off to Day 1 of her 'Hard Landscaping' module and we had a lamb to capture, load into the trailer and then haul to slaughter/butchery in town, so we had to re-hash the schedule and who'd have the car. We got up early, loaded the lamb, then I ran Elizabeth in to Balla-D, returning to hitch up the trailer, whizzed the lamb in to Gannon's and finally was able to do something about the illness.

Rambling Rector fighting back after the
recent windstorm
Mixed feelings about the rest of the day (round till 7 pm, as it happened). I hate that loss of control but on the up side, I was very pleasantly surprised by standard of care and all those hours of very professional, reassuring, warming and calm TLC as I was processed by the reception, triage and then the real doctoring and then finally spat out the other end with my treatment in my hand.

Sligo Hospital is on top of a mountain.
To cut a long story short, 'my' doctor was not at the clinic but the very competent nurse did my work up including an ECG. Because I was not showing any normal chest infection symptoms (sore throat, liquid in lungs, 'productive' coughing. She then had a chat with the doctor and referred me to Sligo Hospital, 40 minutes away. Luckily this breathlessness does not kick in if you are sitting the driving seat. Had to smile when I arrived, though. The hospital is on a mountain and the car parks are all in the foot hills. If you aren't showing symptoms by the time you arrive, you certainly are by the time you have climbed up to A+E reception.

Amoxicillin for what ails you,
To continue with this short story, the hospital team could also not find any liquid on lungs etc but they did find infection trace chemicals in my blood work, so I was sent off with a hard-core antibiotic (amoxicillin) and just made it back to my car as the 4 hours I'd bought ran out. That evening all the expected hell broke loose and my infection exploded into the normal coughing, phlegm and unpleasantness. I've had 2 nights of that but then some good day-time sleeping. I batted away the 2nd half of the mucking out and Elizabeth has stepped in to live-stock feeding and open up/lock up rounds leaving me unemployed and able to spend time getting better.

Em-J makes 20 Happy Birthday to You.
That is surely enough for one, rather miserable blog post but just now a chance to raise the tone and finish on a high note. Huge happy birthday to our oldest Irish niece, long term friend of the blog and frequent narrow-boat holidayer. Emily Jane, who made 20 years old yesterday. She was celebrated by this rather lovely photo-montage  put up on Facebook by her Mum. Mrs Silverwood.

Friday 15 June 2018

Au Revoir. The Final Chapter.

Madamoiselle d'Armentieres (Parlez vous?)
Readers who have been with me for EVER may recall that I am (was) part owner of an ancient (1960s) Citroën 2CV from the 425 cc era, once a twinning gift from the French town of La Chapelle d'Armentieres, to the North Kent town of Birchington. This twinning happened in 1989 with Birchington giving a red phone-box to La Chapelle while La Chapelle gave 'us' a non-runner 2CV OK for photo-shoots but not much else.

David Austen rose (sorry, we can not recall the name)
This blog took up the story after our 2CV club (The Kentish Hoppers) got involved in a 4-man restoration (during 2007/8) of this car to get it road worthy so that it could be used in the 20th Anniversary (of the twinning) Carnival to be held at La Chapelle in 2009. This we did and we had a great weekend which included us being spoiled like celebrities and driving our car (and 2 other 2CVs) at the front of the carnival parade. Happy days. We four lads owned a quarter of the car each. It would have been worth about £3100.

Sometimes it is not mice and shrews the cats bring in. This is
a dragon fly (Brown Hawker).
With the big weekend over, 2 of the lads wanted out of the project, so Andy B and I bought out their quarters and now owned half the car each. I saw very little of the car but kept my 'end' up by paying half of any garaging, maintenance, MOTs, tax etc). When I moved to Ireland in 2011 I decided to pull out too, but as Andy did not have the spare cash at that stage, we decided I would slowly withdraw by not paying my share of the costs, and Andy would calculate how much this had eaten into my half. 6 years later I am down to about £600's worth of the car owned. In a blog post at the time, I called it the "Long Goodbye".

European lime.
This week, I got a text from Andy and one of the other original four (Ian C) asking if Ian might buy back in by reimbursing me for my cut. Although I will be sad to 'lose' my only remaining bit of 'real' 2CV (I have a gazillion models, toys and dead/used 'souvenir' parts) this seems like a sensible move and will help to keep Madamoiselle where all old 2CVs should really be - in use, on the road, getting regularly driven, not stashed in a dusty lock-up under a bed sheet. So, there you have it. I will receive a cheque shortly and will then join the ranks of 'former 2CV owners'. Good luck Ian and Andy. Cherish and enjoy that Lady as much as I did. Au revoir, Madamoiselle d'Armentieres. Bon chance. [wipes away a tear]

Storm Hector barges through. 
Meanwhile, back in Roscommon we were enjoying, as you know, that lovely warm spell and a bit unimpressed by the rattly but dry thunderstorms which were letting us know that things were about to change. Nobody was quite ready for the announcement by Met Éireann of a winter-style "named" storm charging up the Atlantic. This was, we found out, Storm Hector and he came with the usual Status-Orange weather warnings for winds gusting to 110 kph. Put all those lumps of rock back on the beehives, lads, and anything that might go airborne. Close the poly-tunnel. Batten down the hatches.

The 'Chinaman's Hat' part of a jackdaw pot. Not worth
putting that bit back up, then?
That evening I had to collect The Woman of the House from the train station, back from her stint of house-sitting for Steak Lady, so she was here to enjoy it all too. We spent that night as scared as normal listening to the wind raging round the house in the dark (I can never sleep properly through one of these) and worrying that trees would be blown down and chicken house roofs would go airborne leaving the poultry open to the weather.

A few branches blown down from that
gate-side larch was the worst damage.
In the event we got off lightly. The worst damage was a big branch blown down from that larch that suffered in the last blow (Storm Eleanor?). There were myriad smaller bits of tree strewn everywhere. The metal cone 'Chinaman's Hat' bit of our range-chimney jackdaw pot was sent flying but when I found it, it was so rusty and broken that it is not worth putting back. We'll just go with the 'cage' bit and the fire heat to deter the jackdaws. It is quite new, so I was a bit surprised by the appalling state of the thing. They are presumably not designed for in-use chimneys, which seems a bit lame.

Making the best of foxgloves broken off by
the storm winds
Oh, and we had no power. I had to phone the fault in (they were not 'yet' aware of it) and they managed to get us back on at about half past 2, just in time for Elizabeth getting home from an exam as part of her Horticulture training course. No problem there either - we have the gas hobs on which to boil saucepans of water for tea/coffee and on which to cook if power is still off at supper time.

Dublin Bay rose flowers knocked off by 'naughty' Hector.
The only other damage was the knocking down of some tall flowers (mainly fox gloves and aquilegia) and the knocking off of a lot of the open flowers on our lovely red, 'Dublin Bay' rose. That was as if Hector was just a naughty boy with a stick bashing all the flowers off out of spite. Never mind. The rose will flower again. The foxgloves may not.

The broken branches get tossed in to the sheep for browse. 
It is all over now, of course. The wind has dropped to a light breeze, the clouds have cleared (we did not get much rain off this one, either) and the sun has come out. Tomorrow promises a nice day so we can get out in the garden again and clear up all the debris.

Very little else going on here, so I will finish up at this point. Good luck to niece J-M who is currently sweating through her 'Leaving Cert' school exams (think 'A' levels for the Brits). Knock 'em dead J-M!

Tuesday 12 June 2018

Appleyards and Cayugas

Cayuga duck. They lay black eggs. 
My title for this post includes, for the unfamiliar, 2 varieties of duck, but time enough for ducks further down the post.

Laura's legacy. Our ground is as neat as manicured parkland.
At the time of last writing, I was about to post our wonderful Help-X volunteer, Laura-D, onto a train at Castlerea station, bound for Kilkenny. Kilkenny is a lot further south in Ireland than here, and Laura's last few weeks were going to be spent in that part of the Island, doing a week's work in Kilkenny, then one in Cork and one in Tralee (Co. Kerry).

I don't mind admitting I was sad to see her go. She is a lovely person and brightened up the place as nicely as the heatwave she brought with her. We both wish her all the best in her future weeks, we hope she finds nice friendly people 'down south' (I'm sure she will) and she knows she is welcome back here any time, working or not.

Figs this year? It is a very young tree.
I have had a couple of texts since, saying that she was delighted to have found a direct bus from Tullamore to Kilkenny, that she was a bit sad over the weekend to have left us, to say that she thought of us as she was given a mower for her first job Monday in Kilkenny and that, no, she had not yet tried porridge (!)

Normal for here. 2 geese gone broody in the same nest. 
With no Laura and with Elizabeth away house-sitting for Mum, I was back on my own but with a healthy list of 'just jobs' to catch up on in the garden. I had a rake of stuff to re-pot and move on (cherry tomatoes, chervil, salad onions, basil, night scented stocks and shasta daisies, fennel and horse radish).

I had to 'coppice' out an ash which I'd planted too close to neighbouring chestnuts and oak and a 'Golden Hornet' crab apple which had been badly ring-barked by the geese. This tree had struggled on with its main trunk for a couple of years but never got enough water aloft to give it proper expansion of leaves (or much fruit), but had then shot out a back-up 2nd 'trunk' from low down. I have now cut the old tree down at 3' high and used the old trunk as a tree-stake for the new whip. Should work. Elizabeth's rescued peach tree is currently doing the same, so may get the same 'repair'.

Breakfast does not come with fewer food-miles than this.
Our own eggs and our home grown, home cured bacon.
The sunshine had brought the local silagers out but I was delighted to get a text from a friend locally who had managed to make hay. Now THAT would not be at all common here-abouts, as the correct grass stage (full grown but not over-grown) rarely coincides with a reliable 7 days of sunshine, so fair play to our friend for managing to make 400 bales of good, fresh green hay. More important, fair play to him for texting me to see if I would like some. Yes please! 5 bales.

Golden Hornet crab apple cut down and
re-started from a low down 'coppice' shoot.
He tells me that he put the hay up on "the Internet" for sale but the word went round the village so fast that he sold it all in a couple of hours and had to take the web-ad down again un-used. Then, cherry on the cake, while he was delivering my hay he asked did I know anyone who might want some young ducks.

Landing the new Appleyard family.
Readers will know that we are exactly those people, so the next day saw me round at his place with the dog-crate collecting a Mum-duck of the 'Appleyard' variety, plus 5 half grown but well feathered ducklings. Appleyards look very much like the wild mallards from which they are derived - green head, narrow white collar, purple chest for the boys, flecky brown 'camo' for the lasses. However, they do come in a range of bred colours right down to 'silver' (aka white!).

The grass is a bit too long for ducks in the Hubbard pen but
they will surely sort it out. 
The only sensible place I could think of to 'land' these newbies, was our old "Hubbard pen", scene of several rearings of the meat-chickens we have done in the past. The grass was very long in there and, unbeknownst to me, down among the brambles at the back, there was a hole in the fence, but in they went and promptly vanished into the forest of grass and new trees. They (especially Mum) are a bit wild and have not been handled at all so they tend to sprint for cover as soon as a person appears.

Mum duck is in there somewhere, watching me warily.
This is not usually a problem and we always allow a good bit of settling down time but on this occasion I needed, that evening, to persuade them back out of the long grass and into the fox-proof house. I set up a series of fence panels as a 'duck-blind' to guide them in. It nearly worked. The five babies went into the house as good as gold, but Mumma at the last minute took a left turn and vanished into the long grass UNDER the house. She then (horror of horrors!) reappeared outside the pen. She had found the hole I did not know was there.

'Shtumpy' teaching her 4 baby chicks to dust-bathe. The chicks
are close in to her chest here, not clearly visible. 
There followed 3 hours of trying to coax her home with half a dozen near misses. Every time she tried to come back she would quack to the babies, who would set up loud 'peep'-ing from the box, but she could not work out that she needed to go ROUND the fencing to get back in. Eventually I managed to corner her and grab her as she frantically tried to squeeze through the chicken-wire.

7 turkey eggs currently being brooded in a corner of the Tígín
but by a hen. She has nipped off for a toilet break. 
She was "home" and re-united with her children but I was definitely the Bogey-man. I had stolen her from her home using a dog crate, given her her first car-ride, dumped her in a grassy forest and then, several hours later, chased her back out, split her from her babies for 3 hours of run-around. Then finally I had unceremoniously grabbed her and man-handled her into this new, unfamiliar house through the roof. It may take her a while to learn to love me! You will be delighted to know that there was no repeat of this drama tonight. I set up my 'duck-blind' more carefully and the family shot into their house in seconds. No wrong turns or escapes tonight.

The bees are very busy in this hot weather. Ignore the ash seed.
It has just fallen from the tree above and landed there. 
While I'm on ducks, as well as these Appleyards, I had put the word out with our friend and ace stock wrangler, now back from Dublin, living at home and starting to accumulate stock, Charlotte. She currently has ducks, both Muscovy and the black variety Cayuga, which lays black eggs. She is hatching some of both varieties and will have some for me shortly. More on these when they arrive.