Tuesday 30 October 2018

2000th Post

A first frost and an icy sunrise across the East Field
In the last epistle, I drew attention to some votes happening in Ireland and said that I might let you know the results, this mainly for my UK readers. Well the standing President (Michael D Higgins or "Miggledy") did indeed get re-elected by a huge margin and stands for another 7 years. The "crime" of blasphemy was also voted to be removed from the Constitution.

Vicky doles out breakfast on the early morning livestock rounds
Farewell to the Help-X lasses, Vicky and Judith who were our final Help-X guests of the year. We have received a couple of requests since but, honestly, we are so tidy and so ready for winter after the last couple of sessions, that we cannot see a week's work for even a single volunteer.

The ducks get their breakfast.
Vicky and Judith were brilliant, hard working, enthusiastic, hugely useful around the house and pure pleasure to host. They also bonded very closely with the dogs, especially Towser and Poppea (Deefer mainly chose to stay with her 'Dad'). We have never had the dogs so 'loved up' by any volunteers and we are sure the girls will really miss the dogs and vice versa.

First frost for the Help-X-ers' final morning
The last working day for the pair was Saturday and they chose to continue the pressure-washing job, this time on the back terrace, an area of shamefully broken up concrete which is forever growing grass in the many cracks and can be quite skiddy, partly with chicken poo in the wet. This is a high traffic area as it is the route from Kitchen to Utility Room, and is also in the "when we win the Lotto" plan; the concrete will be ripped up and replaced by new block-paving PLUS it will all be covered by a lean-to "cloister" arrangement. In the meantime, a good blast with the pressure washer at least has it free of grass, mud and chook-poo and a nice pale grey, dry, clean, concrete colour.

The ducks hesitate when they see the frozen pond. "There's
something wrong with the water, Dad!"
The Help-X-ers woke up to our first frost on their final morning. We were able after the breakfast rounds of poultry, to watch the young ducks discover the frozen pond and try to work out how to cope with it. The clocks had changed to GMT over night, so it was also bright sunshine. They were very wary. All 6 hung back, peering over the brim and wondering what was wrong with the water. Even the 'Mother' duck who had lived through at least one winter stopped but it occurred to me, she had lived up till we got her in a concrete yard with only paddling pools for water, so may not have needed to cope with ice.

Khaki drake does "ice breaker"
Eventually, having worked their way round the pond a bit to see if there were any less 'scary' places to jump in, the Khaki Campbell drake slid in and promptly skated across the pond to the 'beach' as if  frightened by the unfamiliar feeling under foot. This broke up the ice enough (it was only thin) that the rest of them felt safe enough to follow.

That was pretty much it for the girls. Elizabeth did them the house speciality "Eggs in Purgatory" as a light lunch before I dropped them to Castlerea railway station and hugged them a fond farewell. They would spend a couple of days in Dublin doing 'tourist', flying home to Germany on Monday (yesterday). They are, you will recall, 5 years into their Doctor-training, so they have completed the basic course and now get a year of learning their chosen 'specialities'  (one "radiology", the other "internal medicine"). This is going to be a parting of the ways for them after spending 5 years as best mates and fellow students. Judith will do one of her specialities in the island of Reunion, off Madagascar. They were sure they would meet up again in the future but possibly not work closely together again.

I have taken up card-patience again as a way of passing the
time while I can't work any sense.
We will miss them a lot, but we also love to get the house back. Help-X-ers are dead easy to host but they are here full time and sometimes you just want to be on your own, or just the two of us. I also get 10 days of making sure I am up for breakfast for/with them and sorting the  out tasks, showing them the machines or the jobs and generally feeling like I need to be on my best behaviour. It is a bit unrelenting and the end of it comes with a big sigh of relief.

200th and possibly final post 
...And so, my 2000th post. 12 years or so of posting 2 a week. Maybe I should have saved something momentous or land-markish to go in this one but, no, it has just come out with the usual hum drum everyday tale of small-holdering folk. I should probably say a huge thank you to all the readers out there and supporters - there are now around 130 to 200 of you look at each post. I must confess I am wondering whether to park it for a while, to give it a bit of a holiday. This being ill thing has me at a bit of a low ebb and, unable to actually DO anything round the 'farm', so it is a struggle to come up with material to put in here. Ah well. We will see. If a post does not appear on Friday, you will know what is what. Good luck now.

Friday 26 October 2018

Jack o' Lanterns

Lidl 'special' pressure washer.
Friday and we are winding down a bit on the Help-X volunteer labours. When we get this close to the end (penultimate day) we let the help choose tasks, particularly if they have been as good as this pair and steamed through all the 'to-do' list. I needed them to clean up the chicken-poo encrusted 'junk' we had evicted from the Tígín earlier (ladders, cat baskets etc) and then put it all away in the shed.

It does a good job of stripping the algae from concrete.
Next we could break out the newest 'toy' with a clear conscience, a 'Lidl Special' pressure washer. No meaty Kärcher brand machine this one - it only cost around €80 and we spotted it in Lidl about a week before the drought stricken heat-wave country slapped a hosepipe ban on us all.

Pumpkin carving.
It has been in its box ever since but we decided the girls might enjoy un-boxing and assembling it. Being 'Lidl' it had instructions available in German and we soon had it put together and connected up. It proved to be very good at the little DIY jobs we had in mind for it. Mainly this was stripping the algal layer off our yard concrete. Across a couple of 'shifts' the girls worked their way round most of our paths. They got fed up with repeatedly getting soggy socks and work-boots, mind and, it being a mild day did one session in sockless Crocs and pairs of Elizabeth's 'rag-bag' jeans. At one stage I saw them using the machine to pressure wash their own feet and the Crocs!

Judith focuses on the knife-work.
Ireland goes absolutely enthusiastic mad for Hallowe'en and the parties, dressing up as witches and zombies and 'Trick or Treating'. Learning that there is some kind of kiddies' party on Sunday in the village, we volunteered to do some pumpkin carving, which turned out to be a first for Vicky and Judith. So we bought 3 decent sized pumpkins and sat down one evening with the appropriate amount of boards, knives, spoons and a bowl for the seeds and debris. We did OK. I cut one of my standard scary-face ones, Vicky did a very convincing pussy-cat and Judith a funny face with big round ears. The party is Sunday so these have all now been delivered to the venue. Much appreciated.

Robyn in elabourate costume
While this was going on we got a nice post on FB from Mrs Silverwood. The 'lower' schools (=Juniors?) also do parties for the end of the half term and have days when the kids are allowed come to school dressed up as if for Hallowe'en. Mrs S is famous locally for her elabourate costumes and we are sure her kids are the best dressed on the day. Here is a pic of our youngest niece, Robyn to give you some idea. This is just for school.... Mum has to do it all again for the real night!

Showery day. This picture taken by Vicky.
Today we let the Help-X away with any 'real' work as they were determined to take our 2 younger dogs out for long enough that they got really tired just the once plus they had offered to cook supper for us. I took them, with Poppea and Towser down to nearby bog "Silver-field" (Cloonargid) where I would regularly walk them for 2 different one-hour routes off the leads. The girls were going to do both, one after the other (hence we'd let older dog Deefer off and given her a short 'normal' 3-dog walk in the morning. It was a bit showery but they didn't get too wet. Back indoors we'd lit the range so they had a nice warm house to come home to. Supper, pizza, was superb, by the way.

Meanwhile, back in grown-up land, Ireland went to the polls today to elect a 'new' President and to decide (or not) to remove a reference to the crime of "blasphemy" from the Constitution. I say "new" President; in fact the 'old', very popular Michael D Higgins will almost certainly get re-elected to serve a 2nd , 7-year term. He very much looks the part - he is a tiny, dapper guy with a shock of white hair round his head monk-style and owns (and is frequently seen with) 2 superb huge St Bernard dogs. Amusingly he is affectionately known as "Miggledy Higgins" after a young school child's answer to a Civics test was spotted by a staff member and posted on Social Media. It went (as they say) viral and is now a common nickname where ever you go. There are 5 other candidates. That vote is going on now, till 10 pm and the count will be tomorrow. I'll let you know.

I think that is probably enough for this one. My next post will be my 2000th!

Tuesday 23 October 2018

(A Very Polite) Bollox to Brexit?

Season of open fires in the Sitting Room
Good progress on all fronts for this post.
Progressing especially well, this Help-X 'session', 10 days with Judith and Vicky. I have gone in constant fear that they will use up all the jobs and we will have nothing left for them to do, they are so fast and efficient. Having mowed their way round all the nominal 'lawns' and grassy places, I sent them off yesterday to 'top off' all the old nettle patches in the sheep (East) field. One had the mower set to its highest setting (and no grass-box), the other the brush cutter.

Sheep field mowed in stripes
The brush cutter is quite bad for vibrations into your hands and wrists, so we always advise the volunteers to swap over every hour, to avoid anyone getting coal miner's "Vibration White Finger" (OK maybe not that bad).

A bit lost in the acre field. Our 16" cut mower.
As I said, my intent was for them just to buzz off the old nettle flower-stems, but not only did they run both machines out of fuel, they had started to join up the 'dots' running the mower between clumps of nettles till it was easier to just mow the whole thing like a lawn. We have, I suspect, the only sheep field in Roscommon mowed in neat stripes. They have not, in fact, taken much length off the grass, so we hope they have not damaged our supply of winter grazing.

Towser is in the sink here and has both girls "at" him!
The girls have also fallen more and more in love with the dogs and are now always found with a dog on their lap during 'down time', bathing the three on one occasion and now taking them for their daily walks, either down to the bridge or out across the big local bog, 'Kiltybranks' (a favourite walk of mine before I got sick).

Veg lasagne, Medical Student style! Delicious.
We like our volunteers to cook us a meal from their home-place (if they want to). Vicky and Judith went for a superb veggie lasagne and very delicious it was too. They also expressed an interest in trying our goose eggs but NOT in cooking them as we would for breakfast with toast 'soldiers'. They wanted them 'a bit stiffer' than I had described the 'UK Dippy eggs', so a 12-14 minute boil rather than our ten. They like the yolks to be nearly set.

Goose eggs for breakfast, Cheers!
Then for bread, they had a slice of my good sourdough each on-the-side and in Judith's case buttered and smeared with jam so she could swap between egg spooned out of the shell, and mouthfuls of bread/jam but ne'er the twain shall meet. Each to their own, I guess.

Finally on the Help-X-ers for this one, they took today as a day off going touristing to the coastal town of Westport. I dropped them to the railway station for a 10 am train and collected them again at 20 past 7. Elizabeth and I had an easy, free day.

Brushing the dogs out after their shampoo.
But what of my Brexit reference in the header. When I am not just focusing on this, my own blog, I sometimes wander over to the one being written by the brother, Mark.
Mark is similar to us in having retired early and now 'living a dream' but his dream (as is only right) is very different to ours. He was never a one for the farming. He and his wife (Susan) spend their days travelling all around the world, cruising or rolling their own holidays, walking nearer to home, seeking out good eateries or interesting shopping in cities. They are an amusing read on occasions, especially knowing Mark well and being able to see how he is seeing things.

His most recent post has them headed to London to see an exhibition of "affordable art" but accidentally clashing with a gazillion other people packed like sardines into the train, headed for the "People's March" for a 2nd Brexit Referendum. The 'madding crowd' had them changing travel plans quite a few times as they tried to get to the art and then later to Fortnum and Mason for some shopping and I was chuckling away at his description of the polite, middle-class, 'protesters' obediently leaving their placards with the Fortnum's door man while they nipped out of the march for a little shopping on the side, presumably to collect them later. Nice one Mark.

Friday 19 October 2018

Judith and Vicky

Help-X-er Judith turns out to be a nimble whizz at the tiny
Origami. Here are 3 crane-birds with normal dice for scale
Busy people. The biggest pieces of news for this post have got to be that we successfully "landed" our two latest Help-X volunteers and saw Auntie Mary (The Nun) off on her final journey. The other jobs have all been a slow chug through that "ever extending task list" detailed in my previous post, none of which are particularly blog-worthy.

Judith gets loved up by Poppea and Towser
The Help-X lasses are Judith and Vicky, 2 Berlin-born medical students just at the end of their 5 years of 'basic training', now completed (successfully, they believe) their final exams and released for a while to party, travel, enjoy themselves and find hospitals to work in where they can do a 4-part 'rotation' round possible speciality areas of medicine for their chosen careers. One fancies radiology, the other "internal medicine" (e.g. surgery).

Vicky with Towser.
They are both, currently at Lübeck University Hospital in far-north Germany. The rotation, 4 chunks of 3 months, does not have to happen in Lübeck, and Judith has plans to do one chunk on the French owned island of Reunion, just off Madagascar. As I've said before, these Help-X-ers get about. Ireland is chicken-feed!

Ah the mowing!
They are very similar in appearance, both being tall and slim, with similar hair styles and colouring, and both wearing glasses, so that I struggled for the first day to tell t'other from which, but I have now sorted them, Judith is slightly fairer of hair than Vicky. They are both delightful and also very keen and hard working. Exhausted when they arrived, they enjoyed a light supper but then retreated to their room where they managed an 11 hour sleep and still got up for my suggested 08:30 breakfast and set to work.

Hidden between the trees, Judith mows the drive banks
Popular first jobs in the dry sunshine were mowing and pulling nettles. Mowing is also a good job to make a rapid visual impact on the tidiness of the place.Even though the grass is not too long anywhere and had been well grazed off by the sheep on the front lawn, it was still looking a bit shaggy. Well, not any more! The girls, in 2 mornings have mowed almost every grass blade we own; front lawn, Primrose Path, drive banks. pond garden orchard and the paths down to the apiary plus along the lane outside (the daffodil verges). Tomorrow they have asked if they might give the dogs hair-washes and shampoos (sorry dogs!). The Lady of the House is never going to turn down an offer like that!

A tidy front lawn.
Welcome aboard, the pair of them. This is working out well and though we will still probably call them our final Help-X volunteers of 2018 (we've run out of jobs!), we will miss them and definitely be doing it again in 2019. Like all these 'travelers' they are fascinating to talk to. One, in this case, is from either side of the Berlin Wall, though they were not even born in 1989 when the wall came down (They are 24), so their 'divided' experience is all parents and grand parents.

A 'Kanzan; flowering cherry tree for the
Auntie Mary Memorial garden
Thursday, then, saw Elizabeth off up to Drogheda and Dundalk, away on the east coast of Ireland, north of Dublin, for the funeral of Auntie Mary, the (Franciscan) Nun (90). She had been asked to source a flowering cherry tree for a memorial garden. Our brilliant local small-business garden centre guy came up with a 'Kanzan' variety tree which nicely fitted the bill. Elizabeth and the various other nieces and nephews are, of course, known to the Nuns from previous visits, who LOVE to be visited by 'outsiders' and her main impression of the day was of being swallowed up by a sea of fluttering little-old-ladies all wanting to make a big welcoming fuss and feed her tea and mountains of good biscuits.

Beech in the Pig Run turning colour.
They were also all invited to stay for a good lunch after the formalities, though they got away with being asked to stay the night (as happened to Mum-in-Law, 'Steak Lady') in voluminous borrowed Nun-nighties which enveloped their bodies from chin to ankle and wrist to wrist. I mentioned 'tea' there - in fact Elizabeth tells that her day was full of cups of tea barely sipped at before she was moved on to be shown the Reading she'd have to do, or to retrieve the cherry tree from the car. She was as thirsty when she got back as if she'd been deprived of tea all day.

Enough, though for this one. In the absence of Mrs C, I must look to livestock and possible supper making. Laters.

Tuesday 16 October 2018

The Ever-Extending Task List(s)

One of my favourite pictures of Auntie Mary. It is fairly old at
this stage - Friends of the Blog may recognise the little girl here
as (now) University Student, Emily Jane. 
Just 2 posts ago (9th Oct), I noted that Auntie Mary (The Nun) had been causing a little concern with her health. Just prior to her 90th birthday she was taken quite ill but then had rallied well. Ah well, the rally was not to be and Mary passed away peacefully in her bed this afternoon with Mum-in-Law (Steak Lady), friends and members of staff and co-residents of the home at her bedside. The funeral will be on Thursday up there in Drogheda. Elizabeth (and many other family members) will be there but I regret not myself. RIP Mary. You were a lovely Lady and will be much missed.

Storm Callum clears away so the sheep
get to rest on the good grass in the sunshine
Even without the funeral, this back-end-of-week is turning into one of those whirlwinds where the jobs, events and appointments add themselves to the calendar at a faster rate than we can cross them off, and a lot of them involve some lengthy car journeys, especially for Elizabeth. Even the weekends are no longer free. This workload at present is mainly being picked up by the Woman of the House, so I need to re-iterate my gratitude both to her and to the 'Health Gods' - they laid me low but at least at a time when help is at hand.

Work has gone a bit mad-busy for Elizabeth lately and she already had her Horticultural Course on Thursday and a voluntary work shift on Friday, both of which are now sidelined.

Did I mention that the goose egg season
had started?
Tonight (Tuesday) is the Lisacul Players meeting to read the 2nd possible play. I have no idea what they are reading tonight but I can, at least, update the previous post with what last week's choice was, being "Love Thy Neighbour" by local playwright Jimmy Keary.

The small-batch gin makers are getting
a bit lairy with their branding. The gin is
very nice, says Elizabeth but definitely
Our main man, Tommy C knows Jimmy quite well and Jimmy has volunteered to come and sit in on one of the readings or rehearsals. Even better, if our cast man/woman balance cannot be made to fit and we need to have a woman play a man's part, Jimmy may be able to help us with a re-write. Naturally we all hope it will not come to that, but the Players need young men to come and fill the likely vacancy.Thursday evening, of course (funeral mission permitting) is furniture restoration evening class.

'Parma' ham leg now sleeved and air-drying
My contribution to the 'to do' list is definitely easier. I am off to the Doc's tomorrow for a catch up. I need to re-assure myself that "we" (Doc and me) are doing all we can to make this heart surgery happen and to stop my occasional bad nights of coughing and losing sleep. Have we chased paperwork and responded to all contacts between the hospital and the GP? Nothing we've missed? Nothing she is thinking I've covered and me vice-versa? I am 12 weeks out of hospital today and it's all gone worryingly quiet.

Lamb leg (plus a whole bulb of garlic in the wee 'tagine' thingy)
Talking of which (quiet), we were homing in on the arrival of our next pair of Help-X volunteers, Vicky and Judith, German medical students. They had gone very quiet too, such that I was just starting to think we might be victim of another blow-out, like with our French lad for August.

In the down-time, such as it is, Mrs C gets on with some
furniture restoration 'homework'
No need to worry on this occasion; an email and a text had them 'awake' and responding. They were all excited, packing, booked on flights to bring them into Dublin at 12:20 on Wednesday. Collecting them from Castlerea station at either 5-ish or 8-ish is just another task on the list.

Completed piece. Elizabeth always was THE
BEST gloss painter I know.
We will settle them and then Mrs C will head off to 'Sparks' for an overnight much nearer to Drogheda than here, to ease things in the morning. I will look after them that night and for breakfast and then give them some jobs for Thursday, plus feed them round till Elizabeth returns.

I hope that by the time I write again, we will have ticked off a lot of these jobs and be feeling a little less 'buried'.

Friday 12 October 2018

Callum Comes a-Calling

Storm Callum
Named storm 'Callum' arrives heralded by the usual colourful wind maps and weather warnings from Met Éireann and (National broadcaster) RTE. He looks from the first predictions, that he will split up either side of the island's SW corner and will mainly be a coast problem. Co Roscommon is a land-locked county, so we only got a 'yellow' warning (for rain).

Upholstery "stuff" will need an official
storage place.
And so it turned out. We'd taken all the normal precautions (hives strapped down, lumps of concrete on hutch roofs etc) and we have our new chicken house roof, so we felt safe enough but no-one here was complacent and we all saw the sorry pictures of the devastation caused by Hurricane Michael which took out great tracts of Florida. I was woken by heavy rain at about 3 a.m. and then again at 6 a.m. and there were puddles but we got away with no damage.

Rooster Gandalf (right) minds a group of hens sunning them
selves and preening. 
We had even got away with a 2 day "Indian Summer" prior to Callum, with the south winds bringing unseasonably warm air up from Spain. We'd been able to sit outside, in my case with the camera, and take a few pics of the various birds relaxing in what might be their last warm days this year. For 2 days we did not light the range (I have now!). There was plenty of bee activity in both the hive and the swarm box.

Despite appearances, we think this may be a hen.
I noted in a recent post that we did not seem to be able to produce here, a white coloured hen despite having Sussex birds in the flock for all the 6 years we have done chickens here. All our white babies seemed to grow up into roosters, way outside the Law of Averages.

Rooster Gandalf has had enough of being magnificent and full
of breeding season glory. He goes for the moult.
Very recently we 'offed' the last youngster as it started to shout Cock-a-Doodle-Dooooo! and grew an impressive long tail and the big facial features (wattle, comb) of a cockerel. He also started trying to jump/rape women belonging to Gandalf and Herme and was getting a good kicking from those two boys. It was not going to end well.

Now, that lad was one of a small clutch of babies hatched in spring, a 2nd one of which was also white, and we watched anxiously as the two white "boys" both grew up, were seen play-fighting one another and seemed to be heading for similar tall stature. We were sure they were both roosters.

Pretty hen enjoying the sunshine
Then a month or 2 ago, the 2nd bird suddenly stopped growing and never developed the tall tail or big face, never crowed and did not start harassing the 'sisters'. She(?) is a bit rangey and long limbed so she will be a big bird but we think we might just have a hen, there.

Turkey hen, 'Deo' seems quite happy solo.
We have been keeping a close eye on the turkey hen, 'Deo' after we had to cull out the 'tom' ('Excelsis' - there was a bit of a Christmas theme developing there, for a while). Turkeys can form very close pair bonds and can pine away and die at the loss of their partner. Deo seems to be OK and happy enough hanging with the three Guinea Fowl cock-birds. So far so good anyway.

In line for some culling action, these two "spare" Appleyard
Also in this inadvertent tale of culling and death we have 2 'spare' drakes quietly getting on with enjoying a bit of a stay of execution. They were due to go on their final journey back at the end of our Help-X visit by Sonja and Asbjörn but that was when the turkey-tom decided to lose the plot and attack me. He stepped into harm's way and the processing department had enough on its plate. Never mind, the Lady of the House will not be that busy for ever and their turn will come.

I can never see how this is comfortable.
Did I say 'busy'. Oh yes, I have not yet mentioned that that other big 'time-suck' that mops up our free time each year, is about to re-start..... The Village Play. The Lisacul Players wake up about now each year and start planning the next Easter's production. The 'wake up' meeting was on Wednesday and involved a big gang of them (13) reading one of the (3) plays short-listed by main man and Producer Tommy C. I went along as the reading started late enough that I had all the birds locked up safe from Mr Fox. I am sorry I did not make a note of the play or writer but it was by a well known and prolific local play-wright.

Plenty of bee activity round the swarm box in the warm days.
The Players have to try to find a play that suits their male/female cast balance and they also prefer plays where there is not just one major spoken part. We prefer well balanced 'ensemble' plays. The one we read was very good and very funny and may end up being "The Play", but the Players are going to read another one next week and another the week after, and then decide. I will keep you posted.

Finally, we came to time for the big 'Parma' ham legs of pork to come out of their dry salt/sugar cure and to move on to the next phase: 4-18 months of air drying hanging up from the ceiling in a nice airy, well ventilated space. This change involves having to scrub off all the encrusted salt using cider vinegar (or the odd splash of hot water which you must quickly pat off once the salt is gone).

Legs scrubbed clean of salt
They get wrapped in a muslin sheath or a pillow case to deter the flies but they should not really need that, being so salty and vinegar-y by now on all the cut surfaces and skin. I could not actually find the muslin when I went to do this but pending a rescue, hung them up naked anyway and I have seen no flies on or around them, so we should be OK. They hang for 4-18 months gently drying out and maturing, and losing around 30% of their weight.

That must be about it for this post so I will wish you Good Luck and hope you all survived 'Callum' as painlessly as we did.

Oh - one last thing. We have had our first goose eggs of this season