Wednesday, 29 April 2009


The kingcups (or Marsh Marigolds) are fully in bloom at the moment. Their golden petals are almost too bright for the camera to handle.

Kingcups grow in wet meadows, marshes and wet woodland and grow happily in shade, although ours are currently basking in the April sunshine. They are common throughout the British Isles and were traditionally used as a remedy to remove warts. They are also known as Mayflower after the custom of bringing the flowers into the house on Old May Eve.

The pond is teeming with tadpoles. Last year we had newts too, but I haven't seen any yet this year.

Thursday, 23 April 2009

Oh Darling, how do I HATE thee? Let me count the ways...

1. Your mismatched eyebrows and hair. I know it is petty and childish, but there we have it.

2. You look, sound and act like Mr Bean. Now, I have nothing against Mr Bean. He is quite sweet and charming in many ways, but NOT as Chancellor of the Exchequer.

3. Two pence on fuel duty? What the f...? Talk about kicking us while we're down. Some of us live in rural areas and have no choice but to drive. (N.B.: Rural areas are those pretty green leafy bits at great distance from London where city folk like to go and play of a weekend. People actually live there all the time. I know, astonishing isn't it? Who'd have thought.)

4. Two per cent increase in alcohol taxes. You know we'll want to drown our sorrows after that Budget. That means more money in your pocket. Cheers.

5. Two grand for my ten-year-old Honda CR-V? Only if I can 'scrap' it by crashing it into a wall. With you standing in the way. Splat.

6. What have you got against old cars anyway? Mine passes all its emissions tests, so it's no more polluting than a new one. It's already built, so no scarce resources required to build a new one. And thanks for the two grand, but where am I going to find the other £16,000 for a new CR-V? Have you not heard of the "Credit Crunch"? Don't you know there's a recession? Who can afford to go and buy new shoes at the moment, let alone new cars? It's not something you can just stick on "expenses" without a reciept, you know. Oh. It is. I see. (See point 9. below.)

7. Economy expected to "pick up" in 2010? While you've got the crystal ball out, could you tell me next Saturday's Lotto numbers and the winner of tomorrow's 3.15 at Kempton?

8. Twenty quid extra on Tax Credit. Cheers again. That should just about pay the extra tax on the extra wine I plan to drink. (See point 4. above.)

9. Government savings? Good idea. No more patio heaters, sinks, bath plugs and pornography etc. We civilians have to pay for our own; so should you.

10. "The Government is delivering a comprehensive and coherent package of targeted support to continue to help households and businesses..." Yeah. Right. Whatever. Really? I mean, like, really?

...and, if British voters choose, I shall but love thee better after thy hath been defeated by the Tories.

(With apologies to Elizabeth Barrett Browning.)

What do you suppose...

...happened to this little chap's tail?

He just came looping up the drive (I love the way squirrels run) with his sibling and I noticed a gap in his tail. His brother/sister was fully tailed, but this one almost looks as if he's been shaved.

I'm not really sure what I am supposed to think of grey squirrels. In Britain they outnumber the native reds by 66-1. We don't have red squirrels on the Preselis any more; the nearest ones live in the forests of mid-Wales near Llyn Brianne. So in lieu of reds, I'll carry on seeing these greys as cute (even if they do eat all the nuts!)

Tuesday, 14 April 2009

We shell overcome*

We have been having trials and tribulations with our chickens of late. We have had blood, guts and gore. In fact awful things have been happening.

The first was the death of a bantam. Brian found it at the crack of doom, decapitated, blood splattered over the inside of the coop.

Then things started happening to the eggs. They were laid and then they were pecked. Shell, yolk and white everywhere. We didn't have a single whole egg for days.

Then bantam Number Two went the same way as bantam Number One (but with slightly more head and a little less blood on the walls.) More eggs were pecked. Not so 'Chicken Run' any more, unless you imagine it as a new version as directed by Quentin Tarantino.

We immediately suspected the new birds and started removing the ones that looked the most suspicious. These girls have had a tough start in life. Where the bantams were fluffy little country bumpkins and not street wise at all, the new ones were Girlz from the Hood, all ferocious of beak and feisty of attitude. These birds would look at you and say "Dead bantam? Whatever. Loser." Then strut off to eat another egg.

These had their wings clipped and a cable tie put on a leg for ID purposes. Still the eggs were pecked, but we did have a couple of sunny days with fluffy bottomed hens scratching prettily around the vegetable garden. They may murder each other and eat their babies, but they're still cute.

But still the eggs got pecked, although (touch wood) there have been no more bloody feathery corpses in the morning. But no more pretty white bantam eggs either. Happy Easter from the brown hens.

We tried mustard eggs for a few days. They enjoyed eating those too.

So Brian spent yesterday constructing a roll away egg box. This required many hours spent in the company of the murderous birds (amazing how innocent they can look, scratching around, fluffy bottoms in the air.) He observed a hen sneak away under the potting bench, so he followed her and found her adding to an impressive clutch of eggs. It seems she had found away of hiding her eggs from her egg-pecking peers. She laid another one there today too. But it's not just her. Her contribution today has been joined by yet another one. It's almost as if they're laying a trail across the garden to a nice, secretive nesting place.

As for the roll away nest box - it works! (See picture).

* "We Shell Overcome" is the heading suggested by Brian. I think he has spent too long with the hens.

UPDATE: In a previous post I wrote about Itsy (aka The Prettiest Pony in the World) who had a hoof abscess. She's all better now and today had a visit from the farrier for a hoof trim. All, it seems, is well again.

Monday, 13 April 2009

Happy Easter

We had a lovely sunny Easter Sunny here on the south slopes of the Preseli Hills. It was the perfect day for drying washing too - wall to wall sunshine and a brisk breeze to ward off torpor. We began, of course, with the traditional egg hunt in the garden.

All eggs were discovered before they melted in the warm sunshine.

Then it was off for a long walk with the dog to run off all that chocolate.

The sheep had the right idea and spent the day lying around in the sun. Even the lambs found it too warm for much frolicking. Only three are left to lamb now and Lazarus, the lamb from the previous post, has rallied and is busily trying to grow into his too-big pyjamas.

And we have a world record - I'm too poorly to eat chocolate, so my Easter eggs, for the first time ever remain untouched. I had to make do with a couple of stiff hot toddies instead. Oh well!

Saturday, 11 April 2009

Chilly little chap

According to Calico the cat, there is something quite, quite wrong with this photograph. She should be on the inside and the lamb should be outside. But the lamb, who is a matter of hours old, got a bit cold outside and had to come into the Granny Annexe to warm up a bit. I got to lamb sit while Mum went to move a few sheep so that lamby, his sister and his mum could move to a pen nearer the electricity socket and so enjoy the delights of the heat lamp.

In the meantime lamby got to sit by the wood burner, which was why I was babysitting him - Mum didn't want to come back and find he'd caught fire (or been eaten by her dog). A couple of hours of snuggling in the warm and a belly full of milk and he was back outside with his family, firmly ensconced under the heat lamp.

Friday, 10 April 2009

How peculiar

I have lost my sense of taste and smell, thanks to a particularly nasty cold, and it is most peculiar.

It's astonishing how much you take your senses for granted until you lose one of them. I once lost my hearing for a short time when I was a student and it was an isolating and embarrassing experience. Isolating because I just couldn't communicate with the world around me, or rather it would try to communicate with me and I'd ignore it because I didn't know it was. Embarrassing because I would overcompensate by my own lack of hearing with an increase in vocal volume. Unknowingly.

The whole day, it seems, is pervaded by smells, I just hadn't really noticed them until they weren't there any more.

First thing, for example, going into the warm mugginess of my daughters' bedroom, sour with nighttime breath. Then the first coffee of the day and the joy of opening the jar and pouring the hot water onto the granules. The aroma, the aaahhhh... except not, any more. Now coffee tastes hot, wet and slightly bitter. Breakfast is worst. I usually have Dorset Cereals muesli, a grated apple, a little water and a heap of natural yogurt. At the moment that tastes mushy and sour, so instead I've been eating Cheerios just to satisy hunger and because at least they are crunchy and sweet.

In the middle of the morning I always have a large wide Nigella Lawson cup of real coffee made in my battered Espresso maker. This is a pleasure of sense and aroma. Usually. Back to hot and wet and the memory of good coffees past.

Lunch is usually a wrap into which I toss a heap of salad - rocket, watercress, spinach, coriander - and some slivers of brie, cheddar, ham, some grated carrot, chopped crunchy celery, olives and gherkins. It's a riot of flavour and crunch and makes me drool just thinking about it. Now it is only about texture. The softness of the tortilla wrap, the waxiness of the cheese and the crunch of the salad. Brie and cheddar may look different, but without a sense of smell or taste they are pretty much just a lump of fat.

Then there is chocolate. Don't mention chocolate, the love of my life. It's the thing I adore. Oh the smell of it, the voluptuousness of it as it melts on my tongue! Um, no. Now it is just sweet wax. I may as well sprinkle Tate and Lyle on a candle and eat that. My favourite Green and Black's Almond chocolate is just sweet wax with crunchy bits.

How depressing.

Then there is wine. Wet, slightly sour and cold. Chamomile tea. Just wet. Curry? Hot, salty and wet. Rice? Mushy and, well, wet.

I can't smell things that are nice, like my daughters' hair, for example. I never realised just how many times I sneak a sniff of their hair, it's just now I sniff and there's nothing there.

Cooking is fraught with danger. If I can't smell when things are good, I can't tell when they're bad, either. Or when they're burning.

Then there's sex, which smell is a vital part of. It's a curious thing, suddenly becoming more reliant on other senses such as touch and sight and hearing. Odd how much the lack of a sense of smell affects that too.

I can't wait until it comes back. This is not fun.

Thursday, 2 April 2009

Could somebody please tell...

Could somebody please tell Gordon Brown not to smile? Well, at the very least not to grin. He tried a grin during the family photo with the G20 leaders and the Queen yesterday and it was, well, creepy.

His was a Hannibal Lecter I'm-going-to-rip-out-your-liver-and-eat-it-with-fava-beans-and-a-nice-bottle-of-Chianti-ff-fff-ff-fff-ff smile. It was the sort of rictus you would imagine him wearing as he roasts Jacqui Smith on a spit over hot coals. It was not a comfortable smile at all. At full beam it was a terror, a slit of lips and incongruous teeth. He put it on half-beam for the actual photograph itself, but it was still creepy.

Gordon Brown's face is Heathcliffian, best given over to dourness and mood, like a dark grey cloudy sky threatening torrents of thunder and passion. Like Eeyore and Jack Dee, this face is not for smiling.

GB was at it again this morning as the G20 leaders arrived in London's Docklands. The camera hovered as leader after leader arrived in armoured tanks, while a blond woman flitted to and fro looking nervous.

"Smile Gordon!" she seemed to hiss after a while.

So Gordon smiled and put a nation off its cornflakes.

Barack Obama, meanwhile, like the new cool kid at school, provides a grin full of charm and confidence. This grin is everywhere, accompanied by its beautiful fragrant female version in the form of wife Michelle.

The pair are like new exotic fruit on the supermarket shelf; all glossy and shiny and juicy and delicious within. All the other fruit are jostling to be the ones to sit next to them and bask in the beam of their glory.

MO, arriving for breakfast yesterday with GB and Mrs GB, was polished and lovely in a beaded sequined cardigan. Number 10 has never seen such glamour so early in the day. GB looked flustered and grinned a normal grin for once, even managing not to look surly as the Presidential magic dust glittered around him.

Then it was off to the Palace for the First Lady and the First Man to meet the Queen as all good folk should. BO and MO towered in their glory above the tiny doll-like Toytown Queen. While the Duke of Edinburgh, his ears hearing details of the No. 10 breakfast meeting while his eyes gazed upon the Obamas, said what was undoubtedly fermenting in his un-PC brain: "How can you tell them all apart?"

Meanwhile the good old Brits were doing as good old Brits should and having a riot. What fun to march through the City and burn an effigy of a banker*. Bankers** looked on from the rooftops above in amusement as the rioters, bored with boring old fire and chanting in fancy dress, took a major dislike to the Royal Bank of Scotland. They smashed their way in and pinched a few computers while a lone peaceful protester pleaded with them to calm down.

The police, meanwhile, looked on with their video cameras (as is the modern way) and jostled a few demonstrators. Blood was shed on both sides and all eventually went home happy, ready to do the same again today.

* That's bankers as spelt with a w.
** Again the W is taken as read.