Wednesday 19 September 2018

Sonja and Asbjörn

Happy Birthday Deefer, 12 years old on Monday. She's only 7
in this 'memory' picture dredged up by Facebook. Many more years
old lass.
Welcome aboard, then, our 2 latest Help-X volunteers, a German couple in their early 30s, Sonja and Asbjörn, much travelled back-packers with experience of Help-X-ing in Iceland and New Zealand as well as closer to home. He a trained chef and she a pastry chef. Very welcome, in fact, after we'd thought that Help-X was all done with the August blow-out French lad. These two are excellent, capable, workers as well as happy, friendly and relaxed - easy company and a joy to host.

Sonja clears an old spent strawberry bed.
I collected them at 7 pm from the bus stop in Castlerea. Dead easy to find, of course. Castlerea bus stop does not have that many young back packers getting off buses at 7 o'clock on Saturday and I already knew my man (Asbjörn) sported a magnificent gingery beard from their Help-X website "advert". They had been hiking and back packing around and were looking forward to some days based at a single place, where they did not have to pack everything, tent included, each morning and move on.

Asbjörn bones out a pork leg.
We fed them a soup and cold buffet supper and told them tomorrow (Sunday) was a rest day, so they were not to set any alarms or come down stairs suited and booted at silly o'clock. Monday was also going to be a bit weird but time enough to start proper routine work on the Tuesday. Elizabeth and I were off to Sligo on the Monday for me to have another chest X-ray, then dropping down to the pork butcher (Webb's) in Castlerea to collect our pig carcasses. So I showed Sonja the 'livestock rounds' on the Sunday, so that we could leave at 08:30 with the birds safe from Brer Fox, and the Help-X-ers could get up at their leisure and feed and release the birds.

A car full of pig
These guys are both trained cooks but had not, before, had to deal with a whole pig carcass. Sonja was not keen, and opted to go to work in the kitchen garden, clearing an old strawberry bed and weeding a newer one, but Asbjörn fancied a try at the butchery which is way 'upstream' from his normal experience. Brilliant for me, still on 'light duties', and good for the Lady of the House too, as this freed her up to onward process the heads, hearts, livers, tails, ears and so on into excellent brawns, patés, dog-treats and there was even talk of brains soaking in milk (I avert my eyes at that level of offal).

Splitting a pig head for the brawn.
With me 'training' him and his dexterity with knives and the bone saw, we soon had each half carcass reduced to lumps that he would be familiar with, and then there was no stopping him 'running with it' into areas we have not yet explored here. He was soon boning out the 'H' bones (pelvic bits) at the top of my 'Parma' ham legs, completely boning out other legs, rolling and tying them, extracting good looking boneless pork 'steaks' from the shoulder meat and so on. A master-class in food prep. I was just able to take it easy bagging and labelling the cuts for the freezer. I just need to salt down my 'Parma' ham legs and we are all done, all safely gathered in.

Boned, rolled and tied leg.
As I said, while we all played 'pig' indoors, Sonja was working her way down the 5 big 8 x 4 foot railway sleeper beds to brilliant effect, weeding, clearing old, spent, strawberry plants, cropping where appropriate (carrots, spuds, broad-beans-for-seed), teasing out the few volunteer spuds from among the new asparagus "spiders" - a delicate job because of the shallow, horizontal roots on those bad boys.

Cheek meat
Into work proper on the Tuesday and Sonja and Asbjörn prove to be those kind of workers who get stuck in, don't really want to stop for coffee and then carry on after lunch "just to finish off this....." We are delighted. They clean all the pig-poo out of the trailer, and clean the big 1010 litre water butt (IBC) inside and out. Asbjörn then starts chopping a big heap of fencing pales into kindling, while Sonja starts clearing the poly tunnel of volunteer spuds and an enormous fennel plant. The spuds prove to be quite a significant crop with some enormous ones - 600 grammes plus.

600+ gramme spuds. Volunteers from the tunnel.
Other than the work, the couple have settled in well and are much enjoying our food and hospitality. They are proving to be very helpful about the place. They have also introduced us to a fun, 6-dice counting game belovéd of back packers (because the whole game only weighs six dice!), called 'TenThousand'. The scoring rules are good and complicated and the skill is in 'gambling' whether to 'bank' your points or risk rolling some dice again and losing those points. Entertaining.

So, as I write this it is only 10:30 a.m. and I am hunkered down indoors waiting for the worst teeth of Storm Ali to blast their way through. Not the worst ever storm we have had here but plenty of bluster in the trees and some 'apocalyptic' rain squalls. I had delayed letting the birds all out and even held the dogs in for a while, lest they get soaked.

Further down in the 'midlands' the biggest agricultural show in the Universe (The Ploughing Championships 2018) is due to start today but it is, like a lot of these shows, really a massive city of tents, gazebos, marquees and other guy-roped canvas. The organisers have taken advice from Met Éireann and postponed the start while the wind dies down (this morning) lest they garrote or bury anyone under airborne tent-age.

Ah well. Enough for this one. Good luck surviving Storm Ali.

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