Sunday, 28 June 2009

Shearing day

Shearing day 2009. Waiting their turn in the pen. The big chap at the front on the left, with the blue ear tag, is Baary our Lleyn ram. Our pet sheep, Chops, is at the back on the left.

For some, the removal of the fleece can only be an improvement...

Being shorn...

Once off, the fleece must be spread out and any dirty wool removed...

...then the sides are folded in and it is rolled up...

...before being placed in the woolsack.

Done! Run!

Returning to the field. The lambs wait anxiously at the gate for the ewes. They cannot understand where their big woolly mums have gone, but who are these bony creatures? They smell familiar, they sound familiar, they just look a bit different...

Friday, 26 June 2009

A rather too slimy start to the day...

Today started badly. Nothing to do with the claps of overnight thunder, lightning and subsequent power cut and not, as Alanis Morrisette might say, anything to do with 'black flies in my chardonnay'.

No, today started badly with a largish beigey-black slimy slug stuck inside the bottom part of my stovetop espresso coffee maker. We're told to be thankful for small mercies, so the small mercy I am thankful for is that I saw the offending slug before I cooked my coffee (or perked it, or espressed it, or whatever it does).

You see the cold water goes into the bottom, the coffee in between in the funnel/sieve thingy, then the jug bit gets screwed on top. I could have, quite unwittingly, have add 'eau de slug' to my morning coffee. I would only have found out tonight when I cleaned out the pot. And that would have been Very Bad Indeed.

As it was all I had to do was turf out the slug, which meant leaning out of the kitchen window and banging the coffee pot on the sill.

"What on earth are you doing?" said Mr PM, who was cleaning the cars in the rain at 7am. Like you do. Well he does. Anyway.

"Woof!" said the dog, as he always agrees with His Master.

I explained about the slug. The slug was still stuck to the pot.

"Poke it with a skewer," Mr PM added helpfully.

"Woof," ditto dog.

I poked. Slug fell out. I then put water in the pot and boiled it, adding salt as it seemed the right thing to do for a sluggy sort of a problem and I scrubbed it and scrubbed it.

I then cooked the coffee.

That was why it was a bad start to the day. Was there suspicious looking scum on the coffee? Best not to look. It tasted okay, but I can't say that I totally trusted it.

My coffee was ruined by a stray gastropod mollusc.

Things didn't improve with the addition of BBC Breakfast. Since when did we start to say IrARnian, not IrAYnian? I'm sure when we had that to do at the embassy in 1980 it was the IrAYnian one not the IrARnian one? Or is it that I have been happily saying IrAYnian all these years, when in fact, everyone else was saying IrARnian and I was looking like an idiot?

At least they don't say Eye-ranian, like the Yanks. Yet.

But heading back to 1980, remember the SAS storming the building? How fantastic was that? We could do with a bit of that again to make us feel properly British. Forget Armed Forces Day - a bit of men dressed in black leaping from a helicopter down a bit of rope into a building full of terrorists is what we all need to feel patriotic again.

That or a Brit winning Wimbledon. That would do too.

Saturday, 20 June 2009

Brain-washing Disney-style

We have had one of those weeks when the children have taken it in turns to be ill. Both have been visited by the sick bug and today R5 succumbed to one of her regular ear infections.

One thing it has meant is more telly than usual and, of course, good old Disney. Rosie revisited 'Bedtime Stories' on Monday and since then we've watched 'Sleeping Beauty'. The latter is a visual delight on Blu-ray, all cleaned up and glossy and gorgeous. It's a good old-fashioned princess tale of course. The heroine is slim, pretty, blond and blue-eyed, the kind fairies are tubby and jolly, the evil witch is bony and green-eyed.

I'm sure I remember reading somewhere about some boffin saying such films are "bad" for children. That they give them delusions about life; they're not terribly feminist - the heroine only wants to fall in love and get married. Where's the career, the feistiness, the girls-are-just-as-good-as-if-not-better-than-boys-ness? Not in this tale, that's true. But does it actually do any harm? My two little girls have always adored it. They adored it so when they were really little that they insisted on watching it every single night before bed. They wanted to be woken with a kiss too, but not by any smelly old handsome prince. Mummy and Daddy were good substitutes fortunately. Neither expect to be a princess when they grow up (maybe there was a brief interlude of that, especially with R5 who wore her Sleeping Beauty dress-up dress incessantly).

It's a cute tale, if old-fashioned, but we've just watched it again today and it's still gorgeous. Dare I suggest too that it's a work of art? Hand drawn animation rather than CGI? Rather clever really.

One thing Sleeping Beauty has which you don't get in the current crop of films is that it's only on one simple level. Good triumphs over evil, they fall in love and live happily ever after. Not so Wall-E, a recent offering from the Disney Pixar stable. We managed to miss this one at the cinema (for no good reason) so were delighted when it (like Sleeping Beauty) arrived courtesy of Think Parents.

This time there are many levels. Wall-E is a lovable solar-powered rubbish disposal robot, living alone for hundreds of years on Planet Earth after it has been abandoned as a rubbish dump by humans. Then one day he encounters EVE, a sleek search robot, sent back to the planet to look for signs of life. When she returns to the space station with a plant, Wall-E hitches a lift and the tiny pair find themselves in a battle to save the plant evidence and convince the humans that Earth is worth saving.

I didn't see it in the cinema and I wonder how I would have felt if I had. The humans in the film sit in what look much like cinema seats, wiggling their fat useless limbs, slurping cola from giant-sized drinks cartons, eating popcorn. Like looking in a mirror for some, perhaps.

This is an animated 'Inconvenient Truth'. More palatable perhaps, or more insidious. Do children know they are being brain-washed in this way? But is this a bad thing? My seven and five-year-old know a great deal more about saving the planet than I did at their age, and not by being scared witless by Al Gore, but by gentle preaching courtesy of the likes of Wall-E and the dancing penguins in 'Happy Feet'. Both show the 'little guy' triumphing in the face of massive global ignorance. Both include the message that you may be small, insignificant and gender non-specific, but you can still save the planet. As far as the kids are concerned, Wall-E's cute and his message is 'grow your own greens' and 'tidy up the planet' (to quote H7).

So which is better? Tell little girls that they're going to grow up to be princesses and get married, or tell them they can save the planet? I'd probably say the latter, but I still love a good fairytale.

* The photograph is of today's bargain, a metal patio set from Tesco. Two chairs and a 60cm table for £35 and I didn't even have to build it myself. As I unpacked it I automatically wondered where it had been made, by whom, and what was its cost to the environment. But I still bought it.

Wednesday, 17 June 2009

It's a dog's life...

We were discussing this morning, Mr PM and I, as we hurtled off to our various workplaces and school, that the dog really Has It Good.

His day begins when he is awoken from his slumbers and taken for a good run around on the hay fields. The fields are big and flat and full of long grasses and are simply perfect for jolly dog leaping, larking about and general rabbit chasing.

After that it is back home to look at the hens and have a sniff at various interesting smells (his doggy version of Today), before returning to find that breakfast has magically appeared. He drinks water slobberingly from his bowl before flopping, with a big, satisfied sigh, into his dog cage (big doggy domain, which he loves) onto an old king size duvet.

That's it.

We buzz around finding school shoes, trainers, remembering last night's homework, have I paid the dinner money?, applying factor 50, finding raincoats, sports kits, where's the other trainer?, school cardigans (I think I left it at school... or it might be in the car... or I might be sitting on it...) working out if it's a work day or a home day (me) or what shift it is (Mr PM), cleaning teeth, brushing hair, ow! ouch! stop it!, putting fruit into school bags for amser chwarae, sandwiches into box (me), last night's leftover lentil dahl and rice into a Pyrex dish (Mr PM), telling the girls AGAIN to clean your teeth and put your shoes on and For God's Sake STOP Fighting!, feeding the guinea pigs, watering the hanging baskets, where are my keys? And my glasses? And my security pass?... and all the while the dog does this: Zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz.

Then the door closes behind us and peace descends, so the dog does a bit more of this: Zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz.

Then we come home at 3.15pm and he looks pleased to see us. Then he does more Zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz while we do homework and change and other things. The he goes out for another run and comes home to another bowl of food and then he does more Zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz. Then it's out in the dark for a quick last minute wee and a lot of Zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz again.

It's quite simple really. I could do that. Occasionally he has to have a bath, perhaps four times a year, mostly he just potters about in the garden while we do too. From time to time he is called upon to take a role in the girls' games. He sits stoically, beatific expression on his face, while little children run around him playing vets with squeaky voices. Sometimes strangers come to the door and he pretends he is invisible should they be burglars and he be expected to bark or (horror!) bite. Sometimes there are women and children to be protected, so he must Look Fierce, which he does, but then he has a special look of utter relief when potential foes are unmasked as friends.

He sometimes lies on his back and grins (see picture).

I think I would too, if I were him.

Sunday, 14 June 2009

Running smells...

Running smells unpleasant sometimes. One hill I run up is regularly visited by a dog for purposes of defecation. These poos (and the dog must be HUGE because its turds are monstrous) are lined up the road like a hideous canine olfactory alternative to cats eyes. What I really need is a heavy downpour or a road sweeper. We get the former regularly, but the latter only about once a year and I'm pathetically grateful when it does come.

The other thing I notice as I'm bounding along like a gazelle (really?) is the bubble of cigarette smoke when cars pass containing smokers, and the funny stale fridge smell when the air conditioning is on. At the moment the roads smell of hot tarmac and horse dung, which isn't so very bad, and freshly mown grass mingled with diesel, because everyone is furiously making silage.

I have been traumatised this week by rats. We have hundreds again, partly because the resident population of feral cats cleared all the rats and then moved on to solve someone else's problem. Now the rats are back and all our movements in the garden are accompanied by sinister rustlings in the hedges. I see them pitter pattering from the chicken coop to the bird feeders and I was out quietly weeding the other day and looked up to see this lot:

So Granny in the Annexe ordered three new farm cats from the local cat rescue centre. They arrived on Wedneday, three identical black neutered toms. They have to live in large cages for a fortnight and all we see of them at the moment are belligerent yellow staring eyes. They'll get used to us, we are told.

More rat trauma occurred today while I was in the polytunnel pottering. Just outside the door, lying on a pallet is the last bag of Fertile Fibre potting compost. As I was tying in the cucumbers I watched, idly, as the bag moved. Then I realised the bag had a tail.

Being a country girl, I immediately whacked the bag and its wriggling contents with the nearest thing I had to hand, which happened to be a border fork. Then I came over a little squeamish and fetched Brian. He surveyed the situation and fetched The Dog. Now The Dog (aka Mido) is half Labrador, half terrier. Unfortunately he has a Labrador's instinct for killing rats (i.e. Hey! Let's play!) and a terrier's instinct for being a gun dog (Ooh look! Rabbit hole! Dig! Disappear!) He thought the idea of a rat in a bag was a jolly wheeze and then bounded off to bark at the hens.

Brian whacked the compost bag with the handle of a mattock and left it to one side, presumably to allow the rat, should it merely have a headache, rather than something more terminal, to come to and stagger home. (Now can you see why I decided to go back to work?!)

Meanwhile, on a happier note, a whole nest of little wrens fledged. Sweet.

Tuesday, 9 June 2009

Back to the past

This telephone box is in the hedge of our friends' house in Devon. It had its date with demolition, but that passed and it sits, forgotten, under a blanket of ivy. It has long since been disconnected. If you lift the handset the line is dead and there are some impressive spiders' webs inside. I hope BT never remembers to come and take it away; I quite like its air of decaying elegance.

We were in Devon for the latter part of half term. Wall to wall sunshine, pub lunch, Sauvingnon Blanc, barbecued Bampton butcher's burgers and a lovely trip to the National Trust's Barrington Hall just about sums it up. Oh, and the small matter of trimming the hedge, mowing the lawn, weeding the garden and planting seeds too (we have to earn our keep!)

Then it was back home to Wales and back to reality with a bump with me returning to my old job after being on maternity leave for seven and a half years. I'm covering the present incumbent's maternity leave for a year. I'm there for five hours on three days, so it's not onerous and actually it's been quite fun (so far!)

It's interesting too being back in the newsroom with adults talking about grown up things and with the news on the telly (not CBBC or HSM). Plenty of old faces to catch up with as well, although I was slightly overwhelmed for the first few days. One problem with living out in the sticks is that I don't see that many people. I can't remember the last time I was in a room of so many people all talking at once and sometimes talking to me. It was a bit of a shock to the system, particularly coupled with being faced with a Mac, Quark and a page of news to sub and write sensible headlines for. It made my head not exactly ache, but my brain felt stretched or strained, like a muscle after unaccustomed exercise. Then on Monday this week I was handed the good old Mart reports and suddenly the mists cleared and everything came flooding back.

It was odd to go back to the 'same old same old' after so long. Things are different, but much the same. The newsroom has moved into a bigger office in the same building and there's a new desk, but on it sits my old telephone with the extension number in my handwriting on it. Funny to find that old relic after all this time. Unlike the BT telephone box, however, it has not been disconnected.