Monday, 28 June 2010

We love our hay meadows

According to this story on the BBC today traditional hay meadows are in decline. That's a very sad thing indeed because there is nothing so lovely as a hay meadow in full bloom in June.

We have two hay meadows (pictured above and in my page banner) and I'm impossibly proud of them. They are magnificent fields to visit - the high point (literally) of our farm and of our usual walk around it.

Our current agri-environmental scheme supports our care of them as meadows. The management encourages the proliferation of species of wild flowers and an enormous variety of grasses. We have yellow rattle, a parasitic flower which inhibits grass growth; plantains, which turn black in the hay/haylage and are picked out as delicacies by the sheep; timothy, fescues, bent grasses; buttercups galore, red and white clover and sorrel which puts up pretty red flower spikes in the summer.

Mum was once offered a paltry sum for her 'weedy patch' by a property developer who wanted to buy the empty house next to the hay meadows. He, no doubt, realised he could add those eight acres or so to that nice big house and sell it at an enormous profit as an 'equestrian' property. He was too fool to realise the enormity of his insult both to the 'weedy patch' and my mother's intelligence.

On Sunday it was full of butterflies - meadow browns, gatekeepers and ringlets - and on another recent walk we were nearly mown down by a sparrow hawk.

Managing the two meadows comes with rules: No fertilizer, no harrowing after March (we rarely harrow anyway), the dew pond must be left to regenerate (and we try to remember not to drive the tractor into it!), we cannot mow for hay or haylage before July 15th and the field must remain closed for six weeks in the summer. All this is to protect the flora and fauna in the fields and we respect those rules. Perhaps it wouldn't be economical for a big, intensive farm, but it suits our little enterprise and the ponies and sheep think the resulting winter fodder is great.

Friday, 25 June 2010

The grass IS greener...

When planning to change our garden a few years from a bumpy bit of vegetable garden/field confusion into something more 'designed' with flowers instead of rampant rhubarb we considered 'lawn' and promptly crossed it off our list.

Grass was something we had 22 acres of. We certainly didn't need more to mow or strim and we certainly didn't need anything as fussy as a lawn, we thought. There would be no Sunday morning lawn mower drone, no piles of composting clippings. Our 'formal' garden was small and not suited for lawn. We thought.

So the swing and the slide were placed over deep bark chippings, nice and soft (the theory went) for children to play on and fall on without breaking bones. The garden was terraced from slope into three layers, top for patio, bottom for bark, middle for flowers.

Then we lived with it for a while.

"What about a little lawn, on the middle layer," I suggested tentatively. Just a small patch, a mere handkerchief. I could mow it with a push along mower. That was last year. Lawns, even from seed, are fast. The lawn was green and lush almost as soon as I'd finished suggesting it as an idea.

Teddies appeared, as if by magic, waiting for a picnic.

We liked sitting on the lawn too for afternoon tea, with teapot, cups and saucers. Cucumber sandwiches on white bread without crusts. Sitting on a tartan picnic blanket. Pimms too in jugs. Those activities must be on a lawn.

The dog too loves the lawn. He likes to lie on the fresh green grass and drag himself along by his paws talking like a pirate ("arr, arr, arff, grrr arrr, grr") in a canine ecstasy of cool green grassy enjoyment.

Then we obtained three new farm cats. Black rat-catching thuggish cats. They made a bee-line for the bark which had turned itself into what looked to us like a nice dark mulch. To the cats it was perfect kitty litter. Cat  poo is not a pleasant thing to land in when sliding down a slide. It stank too. We barrowed it away and searched the internet for a replacement. NEVER USE PLAYBARK yelled Netmums. Repeatedly. Other alternatives included shredded car tyres. CARCINOGENIC screeched another site. Use grass, was the murmur. Much nicer.

So we've lawned the bottom part now too. It is green and lush and waiting for teddy bears.

And it needs mowing...

Monday, 21 June 2010

And still the sun shines...

It's been both a busy week and a quiet one. Running, gardening, running again and then sleeping, sleeping and more sleeping. Sleeping of the swoon-on-the-sofa-like-an-Austen-heroine sort, pale and wan and breathless and frankly quite useless.

 "You're anaemic," stated my former haematologist mother, so appropriate steps were taken and I'm feeling better now.

In the meantime the roses finally began to bloom, starting with this yellow patio rose:

The lower lawn, sown a few weeks ago, had its first cut. It's still a bit patchy, but I'm a very proud lawn-mother. The upper lawn is now a year old and is coming along nicely.

Unusually the strawberries have ripened, including this variety which runs wild in the garden. It is fully ripe when pale pink with pink seeds and has a tangy sweet old-fashioned flavour. I can sit at the table and reach forwards to pick handfuls of these at my feet. Bliss.

The potatoes are flowering too. This is Charlotte who is, I think, a second early. She's not really quite ready for eating yet, but we still dug up a few for Sunday's dinner which were delicious with beef and Yorkshire puds. She has the most ravishing and exotic flowers for a humble potato and gorgeous lush foliage.

R6 has a new passion: All things creepy and crawly. Most of the weekend was spent in pursuit of bugs. Her favourite was this little chap, a green leaf weevil. We let him go in the evening and R6 duly recaptured him the following morning. I fear Brian now has the excuse he was hoping for to renew his acquaintance with stick insects...

Wednesday, 16 June 2010

Have we forgotten how to behave on holiday?

Is it just me but have some members of the Great British public forgotten how to behave when they go on holiday? Now I sound like a grumpy old woman but honestly the way some people behave leaves me speechless.

Let's begin in the public lavatories. An unsavoury place to begin, but it illustrates my point. The woman in the cubicle next to me answered her phone. She didn't say, 'hang on, I'll call you back' and immediately end the call, but carried on with her 'business' both on the WC and the mobile. Is anything so important it won't wait? I wouldn't want to have been the person on the other end, wondering perhaps about the odd noises and then the huffing and puffing as the woman pulled herself back into her undergarments.

I've seen worse though in a queue for the lavatories at a motorway service station. I was behind a woman who was eating a sandwich from one of those triangular plastic cartons. While she was in the queue. For a toilet. She got to a cubicle slightly ahead of me. When I came out of mine, there she was coming out of hers minus the plastic carton and the first sandwich, but STILL EATING the second. Ach ach ach. No, she didn't go and wash her hands either. How could she? She was holding her sandwich.

Eating food in a public place is a major bugbear of mine. Buy it, carry it to a convenient place (no, please, not the public conveniences), sit down and eat. Not buy it and eat it walking along and going into shops. Not even if it is an ice cream. No! Sit down, take the weight of your feet and enjoy it. And don't speak on your mobile while you're doing it either. It is not polite to talk with your mouth full. Burgers count as food, so does chocolate and the same rules apply to drink.

Sunshine seems to bring out the worst in people. Pushing and shoving for one. So you're on holiday. Lovely. But that doesn't give you the right to push me out of the way when I'm looking at something in a shop just because you want to look at it too. Wait your turn. Just because you've paid for a caravan in Saundersfoot for a week doesn't mean you own Tesco in Haverfordwest or Marks and Sparks in Carmarthen either, so don't behave as if you do and yes (weary sigh) it IS exactly the same as the one back home over the border in England, so don't sound so surprised.

This isn't Spain, we all (most of us) speak English, even the ones speaking in Welsh so you can't understand them. They can understand you quite clearly and you wouldn't want to understand them anyway because they're talking about you and it's not complimentary. At all.

Oh and if, when you're negotiating our narrow country lanes and I'm coming towards you, I will realise that you are hopelessly unable to reverse your car so I will reverse up a steep hill, round a double hairpin bend and into a gateway to pull out of your way because I can. I don't mind doing that much either. But SAY THANK YOU  when I do. Don't drive past staring stonily ahead as if I don't exist. A little wave is all that is required. You could smile too. It doesn't cost anything and then we'll both go away happy. If you don't I will call you an ignorant f******* &%$£! for the next three miles or so, until I feel better.

I mean REALLY! Is it just me?

Sunday, 13 June 2010

Not just knickers...

We're running a bit of a tight ship here at the moment. In the last few years we've changed the upstairs windows, the kitchen and the bathroom, we've bought vital and large pieces of furniture, a fancy pants new telly, fixed the roof and the chimney and now we're refitting the utility room and having new downstairs windows. After that there's the small matter of painting the outside and the inside.

That doesn't leave a whole lot spare for treats like going out or other such frivolities, which is where M&S steps in. I'm a cook it from scratch kind of gal, so it's a bit of a treat when someone else does the cooking, or at least some of the preparation.

M&S dine-ins for two feed the four of us for a tenner, with a bottle of wine thrown in. Usually we get one of the big chickens, which gives us left-overs for a noodle dish the following day and a carcase to make into stock for soup. I love to stretch a good chicken. My record is six meals from one (very large) free range chicken which cost £7.

So tonight's dinner was a bit of a treat and a very easy Sunday roast. We had a rotisserie style chuck and all that needed was to be popped into the oven in its tray. The juices made a nice bit of gravy too. With that we had some new potatoes with herbs and butter. Not quite enough for four, so I added a few extra local new potatoes from the crock. Then some green beans from Tesco as the garden ones haven't got going yet. Dessert was a strawberry and rhubarb pie with vanilla ice cream. All washed down with a Californian rose.

Simple, easy and (a sort of) a night off from cooking - or a least the thinking about cooking - for me. There's a portion left for Brian's lunch too. So that's four people fed and wined, plus one lunch and a pan of stock all for £10.

I love M&S - and not just for knickers - do you?

Saturday, 12 June 2010

We're all mad here

When I was quite small I fell in love with a cat. Not just any cat, but a literary cat with a big smile and a nice line in wit.

"But I don't want to go among mad people," Alice remarked.
"Oh you can't help that," said the Cat: "we're all mad here. I'm mad, you're mad."
"How do you know I'm mad?" said Alice.
"You must be," said the Cat, "or you wouldn't have come here."
"And how do you know that you're mad?"
"To begin with," said the Cat, "a dog's not mad. You grant that?"
"I suppose so," Alice said.
"Well, then," the Cat went on, "you see a dog growl when it's angry, and wag its tail when it's pleased. Now I growl when I’m pleased, and wag my tail when I'm angry. Therefore I’m mad."
"I call it purring, not growling," said Alice.

I'm not sure what it was about that cat, but I remember being completely captivated by him and the fact that he could evaporate leaving behind just his grin. I liked the white rabbit too with his fob watch.

I asked my two who were their favourite characters after they watched Tim Burton's Alice in Wonderland on Blu-ray (courtesy of Think Parents) and H8 said: "Alice because she's pretty when she's wearing the armour."

R6 just said: "The Dormouse," and then added in an It's Important We Find Out Now voice: "I still don't know which one was Stephen Fry."

So then I had to hurriedly (it was past bedtime) find a quick Youtube of the Stephen Fry character.

Perfect don't you think?

"He sounds like Paddington," said R6. Of course he does. That's their favourite bedtime listening. I read them a story (Bella the lost bunny at the moment), then Stephen takes over on the Paddington bear CD. We'll have to watch Alice again now because they'll need to watch it knowing which one is also the Voice of Paddington.

That won't be a hardship though, because we loved it. It's quite bonkers as you'd expect from a Tim Burton film. I might even make an Eat Me cake to go with it and some Drink Me drink and we'll see if we can make ourselves bigger and smaller, like Alice. In fact we could go the whole hog, have a complete tea party and then Futterwackens to our heart's content.

* Blu-ray pack shot is copyright Disney.

Wednesday, 9 June 2010

One step too far

Okay. Now for the serious stuff.

Where does 'harmless' end and 'abusive' begin? Is a wolf whistle at a pretty girl harmless? What about a suggestive comment? What about touching or grabbing?

One step too far is a Welsh Assembly Government campaign. There's a short film in which a pretty blonde woman is repeatedly subjected to comments about her appearance, a leer down her top and then a man follows her down an alley and wolf whistles at her.

Just harmless? Or abusive? Watch it and decide.

I have had all of that happen to me, when I was younger.

"You don't get many of them to the pound love."

Yeah. Right.

I had an alleyway incident too. But it wasn't at night, it was in broad daylight and I was just a few yards from the main police station in Worcester. I'd parked my moped in the car park and was walking along carrying my handbag thinking of which shops to go to first.

I entered the alleyway just as a group of lads came towards me. They were laughing and joking among themselves and I didn't think anything of it, I just moved to the side to let them past. As they drew level with me one in the middle of the group reached out and grabbed my breasts. I tried to shake him off, I screamed, but he was bigger and stronger than I was. Eventually he let go and they all walked on, laughing. It had taken just a few seconds. I fell out of the alleyway, dazed and blinking into the bright sunshine of the High Street.

I was 16. I was a pony-mad teenager. I wasn't dressed provocatively. I was wearing a pink M&S jumper, jeans and trainers.

You don't get any training on how to react to a situation like that. Should I have reported it to the police? What could I do? There were seven or eight of them and one of me.

It made me feel frightened, powerless and ashamed.  I couldn't understand what it was about me that made them do that to me. I realise now, of course, that it wasn't to do with me at all, it was to do with them and their attitude. This is the Page Three mentality. They reacted to me the way the men react to the woman in the film.

And it's wrong. Quite wrong. I hope the Welsh Assembly's campaign helps to change a few attitudes so this doesn't keep happening to young women.

Above all I hope it doesn't happen to my daughters.

Monday, 7 June 2010

Half term

I wonder if I am the only mother who spent the Monday after half term doing nothing except staring blankly into space listening to the ringing in her ears?

For once, for one glorious once and despite the Bank Holiday Monday, the sun ignored all the usual rules and shone in its full shiny heat for the best part of half term. This was welcome as we were staycationing, keeping an eye on things while mum was away and having builder type jobs done (DIY and Jim the builder) while the sun beamed.

Vests and socks were cast off. Shorts and flip flops were the order of the day and of course we went to the beach. Our new shortie wetsuits arrived from Big Orange Watersports so body boarding and splashing about in the sea became a whole lot more fun.

The ponies were ridden too. This activity has been delayed for a few years as the children had to grow to a size big enough to fit the ponies that we have. They had sat on Pippin before, but found her at 13hh too big and too scary. Now they are big enough and confident enough to have a proper go. Pippin too is older and wiser and took her job as schoolmaster very seriously. She enjoyed ambling about as they took turns as much as they did. Perhaps she sees this as investment in a not too distant future of pony fun involving her friend Itsy, two little girls and 22 acres of space.

Another thing that has been cast off is bicycle stabilisers. R6 is off and away, with H8 a little behind but nevertheless flying solo. They had interestingly different attitudes to the no-stabilisers thing. R6 found wobbling funny and worked out the pedal and steer conundrum by herself. H8 found the wobbling made her angry and cried furious tears when she couldn't immediately conquer the problem. Both ultimately succeeded in their own sweet ways.

We had lovely visitors, the kind that bring Prosecco and mini bars of G&B chocolate, stay for lunch and dinner, walk around our farm enjoying it and then have to shake off my clutches as they leave, me sobbing: "Don't go!" and having to be peeled off their ankles finger by finger.

Mum was away for second half of the week and I was left in charge of cats, one indoor, three outdoor. The indoor one did that aloof cat thing and went off in a huff for a day or two. Cats don't like being left. Then there was a hint of rain and she reappeared, ravenous and aiming to spend the rest of her time on the duvet. There were the two orphan lambs to feed - Maary and Snowdrop - but H8 and R6 took care of that, I just made up the Lamlac. The sheep meanwhile managed to swap fields without leaving any actual evidence of how they achieved such a miracle. They're impossible beasts to herd with their lambs in tow and when we want them to move they usually scatter to all four corners of the farm. This time they were all in a different field with the gates closed behind them and all ewe and lamb combinations intact. They were also completely silent. How? Who knows!

Lots of gardening was done too. Courgette plants were planted, strimming was strum and the lawn that I sowed on the Friday before half term grew from clean shaven to stubble to beard by the end of the week. It will need a shave soon. Brian was on 'digging the new path' duties. He installed our old Belfast sink outside as a boot washing facility which gave him the excuse to dig a trench. A Brian is a happy Brian with a trench to dig.

Then, with perfect timing, it rained an hour after the girls had gone back to school and Brian had gone back to work. I was left with an empty house full of silence and housework.

Wednesday, 2 June 2010

Once more unto the beach...