Thursday, 31 March 2011

The F1 lambs #1

In previous years we've had half-hearted or accidental themes for the names of our lambs. We've tried the practical such as cuts of meat (we still have the cuddly Chops) - and we've had spring flowers (Daffodil, Snowdrop etc). We've had the whimsical Baary and Woolly and we have used identifying marks such as Patch, Red Dot and One Spot. We've had Horse (because she was huge) and Peanuts because she had little horns like... well, I'm sure you get the picture.

This year, however, we are organised. This year the lambs are being named after Formula One drivers in the order they finished in last year's world championships (I'm a bit of an F1 fan). So, as their namesakes raced in circles in the 2011 season opener in Melbourne, we eagerly awaited the arrival of Number One.

Don't be put off by the sleepy appearance. Sebastian arrived fast, alone, efficient and first. By miles. Eventually followed by:

Fernando and Alonso.
No problems. No drama. Fernando and Alonso just got the job done. They are expected to make good solid progress and provide no cause for concern.

Mark and Webber.
Mark and Webber arrived okay but they now are restless. They seem unhappy with their current accommodation and keep making angst-ridden bids for freedom. At the moment they're inclined to bother Fernando and Alonso and bleat at whoever will listen.

Lewis and Hamilton.
Lewis made a big splash with his arrival in the rain at 11pm last night closely followed by his sister Hamilton. He crashed out of the lambing pen and ended up covered in mud, becoming separated from his parent in the process. Now reunited with his family he's doing really well and is showing impressive bursts of energy and enthusiasm.

More to follow...

Tuesday, 29 March 2011

Open letter to BT

Dear BT,

Thank you for the problem with the Maenclochog exchange last Thursday which deprived the village and the entire surrounding area of its broadband connection.

Thank you for saying that it could not possibly be a widespread problem as you had not had enough complaints. Thank you for not taking into account that this is a sparsely populated rural area so it was impossible to reach the mythical number you required. Perhaps you should have counted the pupils at the school and the customers of the Post Office on an individual basis.

Thank you for the continued instruction on how to remove the front of the telephone socket inside my house. I keep unscrewing it to look but a test socket has still not magically appeared. Thank you for reminding me to turn my PC off and on again and to unplug my telephone for the afternoon.

Thank you again for telling me to replace my router and microfilter. Both were working perfectly but I understand you require me to drive the 30 miles to Carmarthen to spend £60 on replacements just to be sure.

Thanks also for the threat of a big bill when the BT engineer calls round and finds the non-existent problem with the telecommunication equipment inside my house. I told you the problem was external just as it was last time but I understand I am a clueless woman and you know better. Thank you also for confirming that my telephone line is working perfectly because obviously I couldn't work this out for myself when I dialled my ISP to report the problem.

Thank you for sending out an engineer to begin visiting my neighbours on an individual basis because, obviously, all of our routers, microfilters and PCs mysteriously failed all at the same time.

But I save my biggest thanks for the engineer who drove to the exchange and fixed the problem. It turned out that it was a fault at the exchange after all. Who'd have thought huh?

Just one more thing.


Kind regards.

Wednesday, 23 March 2011

Pointless exercise

The phone rang the other day which was an event in itself because the land line is largely redundant and ignored in favour of the mobile, text and email versions of contacting people.

"Hello?" I said in a friendly and welcoming manner.

"Hello I'm an irritating person ringing on behalf of something-I-don't-remember (but it was a government department) to ask you if you wouldn't mind spending a few minutes answering a pointless and tedious survey," is approximately what the voice said the other end said.

"Um, er, how many minutes?" said I.

"Ten," said the voice using the sort of maths I apply when eating 'a few' biscuits.

"Okay," I replied, instantly regretting it but being too polite to say what I wanted to which was no, go away, bog off and never phone me again.

"I just need to ask a few questions first to check we're covering a sample of the population," said the voice happily and proceeded to ask a list of very personal questions about age, gender and how many adults and children live at this address.

I answered reluctantly. How many more minutes of this? I wished I'd timed it.

"Now to make sure we're covering a random selection of the population I need to ask the survey questions to the other adult who lives in your household," the voice continued.

"I beg your pardon?" YOU WHAT???!!!

"I need to talk to the other adult, your husband," the voice said as if talking to a simpleton.

I summoned the fury of a woman scorned.

"He's not available," I said. "He's at work."

"Can I ring back at a more convenient time?" the voice carried on hatefully.

"No," I replied. How dare you reject me after all these minutes. It's me or nothing. "He won't talk to you and he doesn't like telephone surveys anyway so there's no point you ringing back."

"Oh," said the voice, crestfallen.

"Goodbye." SLAM. Mutter. No wonder this country is going to the dogs. How much did that all cost? How much are they paying that idiot to do that?

RING RING (actually it's more of an electronic tinkly tinkly tink...) but anyway...

"HELLO." This can't be good. The phone only rings with idiots and pointless surveys. I'm not going to even think about being friendly this time.

"Hello, this is Kylie Minogue calling on behalf of Practical Classics. Can I speak to Mr Preseli Mags please?"


"No worries." (She really was Australian.) "I'll call back another time."


I drew myself up to my full height.

"Just wait one moment. My husband isn't interested in whatever it is you are selling. He does NOT have a classic car. He does NOT want a subscription to your magazine so please take his details OFF your database and DON'T CALL AGAIN!" SLAM.

I'm thinking of having the phone disconnected. Really I am.

Saturday, 19 March 2011

How to grow your own hens

Dig a trench. Place hens in trench about a foot apart...

Of course I'm joking! These are two of our lovely new Calder Rangers assisting me with the planting of the first early potatoes. The problem was, with their enthusiastic scratching for bugs, they filled the trench in almost as fast as I could dig it. We got it done in the end though.

My next task was clearing the weeds from one of the other beds. I sat on the wooden edge and three of the hens all but sat on my lap so keen were they to grab the first worm.

It's a long time since we've had hens this friendly. The last lot were ex-batts and were too traumatised to be cuddly, although they loved a good chat. These four won't leave me alone when I'm in the garden. They follow my fingers as I weed and lean their fluffy chests forward on to my legs when they scratch at the earth with their feet, all the while encircled by my busy arms. It makes it difficult to see what I'm doing but I don't mind.

I won't leave these charming creatures out loose and unsupervised though - we've lost too many hens to foxes that way - so at 5pm when I have to go in a cook dinner they have to go back into their coop. With previous hens that would have involved chasing and squawking. These four I just pick up and pop back into the run with a few tasty treats as a reward.

Spoilt? You bet they are.

Thursday, 17 March 2011

Bathing der Schnauzer

Schmell? Vot schmell?
Das wasser ist varm.
Close der eyes.
Ist dry now.
Vat? I ist duck? Oh der schame.

The Gallery: Trees

This week's The Gallery theme at Tara's Sticky Fingers blog is trees. It dawned on me yesterday, as I ambled around the farm looking at and photographing some of the hundreds of trees we have here, just how we rely on them as sentinels.

At the moment I'm studying them hard for signs of spring. The days are sunny but still chilly and only the hazels are showing signs of life with catkins hanging from their branches like little lambs tails. All of the other trees, including the mighty oaks and this ash, are still firmly closed up for winter, the branches like arms and fingers tracing shapes against the sky.

From time to time they fall down and provide a sudden burst of hard work and a lot of firewood, like last Easter Sunday. We moved our Easter egg hunt from the garden to the fields and spent the day hiding and finding chocolate eggs among the branches.

Tuesday, 15 March 2011

A is for Amazon

I just played a little game with my Google Chrome browser. It dawned on me (maybe a day late and a dollar short as usual) that I access many websites just by typing in the initial letter of their name. So I typed in the whole alphabet and this is what I got:

A is for Amazon
B is for Boden
C is for Jonathan Cainer's horoscopes
D is for Damn You Autocorrect.
E is for eBay.
F is for Facebook (of course).
G is for The Guardian.
H is for Horse Games. I blame my children for that one.
I is for The Independent.
J is for e-cards from Jacquie Lawson.
K is for Knit-a-Square.
L is for Laura Ashley.
M is for Money Saving Expert Martin Lewis.
N is for Next.
O is for The Observer.
P is for Pony Magazine - kids again.
Q is for cashback site Quidco.
R is for Ready for Ten.
S is for Sarah Raven.
T is for Twitter.
U is for U-handblog - a blog about making handbags.
V is for Valued Opinions - a survey website.
W is for White Stuff.
X is for nothing. Apparently I don't visit X.
Y is for You Tube.
Z isn't for anything either. No Zeds.

So what does that all say about me? Guardian-reading internet clothes-shopping money-saving mummy, horse-mad kids, likes gardening, knitting and sewing and a bit of a laugh. Hmm.

What does your browser alphabet say about you? Meanwhile, I'm off to look for some X and Z sites...

Monday, 14 March 2011

Catch up

Oh goodness! Nearly a week since I blogged. Here's a quick catch up.

Pancakes for breakfast, children off to school, four mile run, cleaning, washing, walking dogs, two miles walk/run to school with Big Dog. Collect own children, spontaneously collect R's friend M for good measure run/walk/scream/laugh the two miles back home. Reward Big Dog with many biscuits. Feed children, feed dogs.

Children to school. Discover packets of just out of date fruit in cupboard, hurriedly make fruit cake. Make Oreos cookies and cream brownies too. Walk dogs, clean other bits of house in half-hearted fashion.

Children to school. Take coffee, cake and join Jo on seven mile walk around Llysyfran dam. Return home. Doodle about in garden for a while. Eat cake. Take H9 to Adran for annual parent duty. Toss pancakes for an hour. Return home. Open wine.

Accompany children to school. Park adult-sized bottom on child-sized chair. Chat to parents not seen for a while. Watch singing and recitation entries for this year's Urdd Eisteddfod. Marvel at talent, cry at cute ones, laugh at funny ones, damply watch own offspring's efforts, clap. Complain in silent text to husband-at-work that bumb has gone numb. Escape at lunchtime to un-numb bumb. Walk dogs, collect children plus (different) extra. Feed same and send two elder ones off to Brownies. Eventually children go to bed. Settle down happily with Monty Don and glass of wine.

R's friend M over for the day. Scamp sick. Chat with S while five children amuse with wonderful Wii. Feed three children, take elder daughter to friend's for Brownies fun day. Return home. Scamp still sick. Bake more brownies for non-Brownies. Walk remaining children and dogs. Allow all to climb trees, run about in fields, chase sticks. Return M to fond parents, arrive home to greet returning Brownie. Feed all. Collapse on sofa. Watch The Edge of Love. Fail to spot Neris as extra in court room scene. Finish wine. Contemplate sitting up all night holding sick puppy's paw.

Pancakes again. Washing. Puppy restored to full bouncy health. Nine mile run. Cold shower. Swear. Wait. Hot shower. Cook beef cobbler. Feed puppy again and again. Fold mountain of clean washing. Rub liniment on sore knees. Collapse on sofa. Discover lack of wine. Cuddle sleepy puppy.

Tuesday, 8 March 2011

The ice age

I have decided that we can no longer afford the luxury of warmth and I have turned off the heating.

This is despite the fact that the thermometer is still hitting minus figures overnight but the price of oil is now stupid dollars and I want to be able to afford to eat.

I announced this new austerity measure over our Shrove Tuesday breakfast pancakes to H9 and R7.

"What happens if we're cold?" they protested.

"Put on an extra jumper," I said remembering chilly childhood mornings where I scraped patterns in the frost on the inside of my single-glazed bedroom window.

"I can't wear a jumper to bed!" said H9.

"Put on an extra blanket then," I said, thinking fondly of the heavy layers of sheets, blankets and bedspread that preceded the arrival of the duvet.

We have double glazing (newly installed throughout the house), we have loft insulation (with extra mice for added warmth) and we have to very efficient wood burning stoves. Who needs oil?

Well, we do, to heat the hot water. I lay in bed this morning trying to work out how long it would take us to save up for a solar hot water system. Doable, surely, if we put our minds to it.

I was inspired to turn off the heating by Lins Lleisio who has a lovely warm unheated (except by wood burners) house. She tweeted a link to the BBC website about How Warm is Your Home? Which basically points out that we're all sitting round in T-shirts in well-insulated homes, heated to a toasty warm level while the Earth quietly runs out of oil. Food for thought.

So the heating is off and the time that the water is on is much reduced. It's not raining so the girls and I will be walking the school run again this afternoon to save petrol. Little things, but it all adds up.

Friday, 4 March 2011

Three books for my babies

I was inspired to do this post by Chris Stovell at Home Thoughts Weekly, so I urge you to click the link and read her lovely choices too.

One that helped them learn to read:
Room on the Broom by Julia Donaldson.
The witch tapped the broomstick and whoosh! they were gone.

One that helped them not to be afraid:
George and the Dragon by Chris Wormell.
'I say, you couldn't loan me a couple of lumps of sugar, could you?' asked George.

One that made us feel cosy:
Some Dogs Do by Jez Alborough
Sid's dad slowly raised his head. 'I know a secret, Sid,' he said.

What are your three books for your babies?

Thursday, 3 March 2011

Hedge planting

When the sun shines on a farm, even one that's only 22 acres like ours, there's a great deal of work to be done. Our work is currently the refurbishment of the hedge bank which borders the lower part of the green lane.

We have 250 hawthorn, blackthorn and hazels to plant, guided by advice from the Tir Gofal agri-environmental scheme that has brought us various environmentally friendly things including proper fencing and some lovely wooden gates.

They look like little twigs at the moment.
 The plants, which just look like little twigs, were bought from Ty Rhos Trees, near Newport and arrived in spiky bundles which had to be heeled into a border in the veggie garden while we waited for some good planting weather.

That finally arrived this week and we set to with the plants in a bucket of water and an old saucepan full of bonemeal. Mum is on plant and bonemeal duty and I've got a metal spike with a flat blade on the bottom which I use to make the holes.
A hedge will grow up on the top of this bank. That stone was too big to move.
 Making holes in our soil requires a metal spike to bash the stones out of the way. I have to bash a bit and wiggle a bit until the hole is big enough. Sometimes a hole takes just two or three bashes with the spike, mostly it is much more than that. After ten holes my shoulders and arms are screaming complaints but I can't stop after ten. 

This is the drop. A nice soft landing in the stream.
We've been planting twice a day, two lots of 25 which take about an hour to plant. Mum started on her own but we're faster as a team of two. What isn't terribly clear from the pictures is that all of this is performed precariously balancing on top of the bank which is about eight feet high in places. We're trying our best not to fall off!

By the end of today we had planted 125 - only the other half to go. On sunny days like those we have had this week it is a fun task. Hopefully it won't rain until we're done.

Tuesday, 1 March 2011

St David's Day - the first nine years

2003 to 2010

St David's Day 2011