Tag Archives: daily life

Like snow in …

The may blossom begun to open around our holding. First we have the blackthorn, which is more ethereal, and more important to us. A good flowering well fertilised by the insects will give a good crop of sloes for sloe gin, the spirit ordinaire of the holding. The go-to after failed poetry competitions, and declined books, disastrous lambings and sheep found in ditches. So you can see it is essential.

Actually the sheep in the ditch ended well for the sheep and was only a disaster for my wife’s dodgy shoulder. And the fruit trees which nourished the sheep as she recovered.

We have a number of sheep on the holding who have arrived after getting themselves into difficulties. One is now fully recovered, but in her first days here she was the cause of much sloe gin consumption. The sensible decision would have been to cull her to improve the health status of the herd. But she had been let down by human kind, and we felt unable to do it. Our (lovely and wonderful) vets comment that with us it can be hard to know if they are treating a pet animal (please save this, whatever it costs) or a farm animal (well we are planning to eat it later, anyhow). It was an astute comment, for we rear both lamb and turkey for the freezer. Ironically, the companions cause sloe gin consumption as we worry, and the farm animals home made elderberry wine to wash them down.

But I digress. Blackthorn is ethereal but may is the true glory of early summer. Pouring over the place from hedges and up trees. It is there for a week, maybe two. Then it fades, and one knows that the year will never rise to such heights again. When it comes, I look and look, but I have never managed to see enough before it goes.


Confused? You soon will be!

I have a lurcher who is liable to chase sheep. In fact the the only reason he does not chase sheep is that he is never off the lead near them. Remember this fact gentle reader, but let it rest at the back of you mind while I discourse on sheep.

I have three female sheep and this year all of them lambed (they are not all ewes but let go too). Bernadette had twin ewes, poor Martha had two dead lambs and one live one, and Hilda had two live ewe lambs and a little cold still tup lamb. I picked him up, and he was so tiny I knew he could not live. But in my hand he drew his first breath, and so I dashed him up to the house and plunged him in warm water, the quickest way to fight hypothermia. After a bit, I got him out and wrapped him in a big towel and put him in a low oven.

Astonishingly he did not die after all and with careful nursing in the kitchen, he grew strong and well, and doubled in size which made him a small size for a new born lamb, but a perfectly viable size. He is called Martin, in honour of Martin of Tours. (My other wether is called Gregory, and the historians among you will appreciate the joke).

Then Martha’s only lamb broke its leg terribly badly and could not be mended. She had to be put to sleep. leaving Martha frantic. So the decision was made to try and foster Martin on Martha. The trouble was that while Martha, a kindly soul, went along with the deception, Martin was bemused to be asked to take milk from a huge smelly woolly mammoth (Martha is not a small sheep). Milk came in bottles from his real mother – the first one he had set eyes on when the oven door opened. Me.

After a struggle, instinct kicked in, and Martin began to feed. He had lost a lot of weight he could not afford to lose, and it became apparent that after all the disasters, Martha had lost much of her milk supply.

So Martin remaines with Martha for care, comfort and small snacks of milk, and I go twice a day and feed him a bottle of milk. At the smallest chance he runs to the kitchen, and into it, since that was his first home and he hopes I will feed him before his due time if he looks cute enough (Martin does cute big time). Martha, determined not to lose her lamb a second time, runs after him, and if I am not quick enough, into the kitchen too.

This brings us back to the place I started. My lurcher,  Max, who would like to chase sheep. This evening I had let him out because he expressed an urgent need to answer a call of nature. I had forgotten that I had not yet shut Martha and Martin into a pen for the night. Martin saw me and hurtled towards me. I looked in horror at Max, knowing both how vulnerable a little lamb is, and how precious to me Martin is. Martha, with the same motherly thoughts, forget she runs from dogs, and also hurtled towards me. Max took one terrified look at 100 kilos of sheep charging towards him turned tail and fled into the very back of the kitchen.



I have been having trouble with my balance lately. Not physical balance (though I am as clumsy as ever) but my life balance. At all times, there is a pretty fine balance in my life between work and play, which is not helped by the fact that many of the things I really ought to do present as play.

There are a number of hours a week dedicated to simple hard graft for dosh. These are non-negotiable, so we will leave them to one side. Of the remaining hours, there are a number of possible activities, all of which need doing. They are: prayer, writing, reading, learning Hebrew, riding, animal care, rest, home maintenance (tidying, cleaning, washing), gardening, restoring the house, and dress making. Oh, and blogging. All of these need to be done. Few of them can be combined by any other. And that is the problem.

Currently what I actually burn to do is dress-making, and I spent last weekend making a ‘dressing-up’ dress for one of my grand children. It was a beguiling but tiring job, and it brought great joy to both me and the child. I did rather therefore miss out on actual rest, and as I get older I do find I need down time doing nothing. Not even blogging.

Hebrew, gardening, and until yesterday, house restoration, and riding have been all but non existent, and this must not continue.

So this week sees a renewed effort to parcel out my time – oh and if any of you have solved the work/life balance thing – do let me know!

Put not your trust in Traveline

It is delightful to have a Scottish travel card and to be able to use buses for free. when I had a meeting of the Scottish Episcopal Historians group in Dundee on Saturday starting at 11 am I decided that economy and ecology dictated using the bus.

Accordingly I spent some time researching times and buses on the Traveline website, which is very clunky indeed to use, as every place has to be verified. When I type ‘Buchanan Street Bus Station, Glasgow’ do I indeed mean Glasgow City? Er, yes. I was very careful to put the right date, as Saturday buses can be different. With a sinking heart I realised that in order to go by bus I would need to leave the house at ten to seven in the morning, which meant starting on the animal work at ten to six, and therefore, allowing for some organising and stretching, waking up at half past five. Driving meant leaving at 8.30 and therefore rising at a civilised seven. Still …

I booked the 8.30 bus form Glasgow and resigned myself to catching the 7.30 from Kilmarnock.

I drove to Kilmarnock. I parked. I waited for the bus, which did not come. I checked the bus stop paper-behind-glass timetable, and it appeared that on Saturdays there was no 7.30 bus. The next one would make me miss the connection I had booked. I therefore got in my car and drive to the nearest park and ride, and tried to catch the underground – the train left just as I arrived, and the next one was ten minutes later, and it got me to the bus station just in time to see my bus departing. Had I only driven straight to the park and ride I would have been in plenty of time. Still …

I enquired when the next bus would get me to Dundee – and the next bus was fully booked – bus travel would now get me there horribly late. ‘This happens all the time with Traveline…’ sighed the girl behind the counter.

Having now wasted a fiver, I went back to my car and began the drive to Dundee. It was expensive and wasteful and I had now been travelling for nearly two hours.  Still …

I got to Dundee just before 11. I had sat nav. I got to a roundabout just in front of my destination. It was utterly shut. I could not turn left. There was no indication of how one might later turn left, where there were endless obstructions.  In vain I sought a way – my poor sat nav did not understand and endlessly tried to re-route me to the roundabout. I sought to climb above it so as to drop down. The sat nav offered bus routes, and pedestrianised streets. On and on I drove.  My desperation increased. Finally, I managed to climb and fall slowly down to my destination, where I finally arrived at ten to twelve.  I had been travelling for five hours. The bus should have taken an hour less and driving should have taken a little over two. Gentle reader, put not your trust in Traveline…

Honesty and openness

There really is only one way of meeting another person: directly. All prejudice, all assumptions , all standing back from that person must be laid to one side.

I think I always knew that.  Certainly when I first encountered Martin Buber’s Ich und Du it did not come as any kind of surprise or revelation, but rather as a more elegant expression of what I already knew; a sophisticated working-out of my daily assumption.

I was reminded of what a great and astonishing work it was when I ran full tilt into some numbing prejudice the other day. So for the record: the only way to enter into any encounter at all is to seek to meet directly with the person before one. Each person is unique, valuable, and the only way you will ever know them (or know anything about them) is to stand quietly before them, and to seek to meet them intimately, openly and without reservation. Keeping back information about oneself is necessary, but one can never keep back the self. One should always be open as an equal to the person who is there. This is the quality I call ‘simplicity’, which is always about relationship. It does not mean reckless self-giving, but it does mean honesty, in the sense that what they do meet of you must be all you. The truth, and nothing but the truth, though it does not need to be the whole truth.  Yes, this is a bit of a tight-rope walk. Better, it is somewhat like a came of cards, where what you hold in your hand must be hidden, but what you put on the table must be the cards you acquired according to the rules of the game.

The opposite kills. The opposite states that before I meet somebody I know what their worth is. That worth is determined by their being as close to my tribe as possible. They must share my ethnicity, and they must hold my assumptions. There is one correct code of behaviour and one correct set of cultural assumptions, and they are mine. The other, who should be ‘du’ or ‘thou’ is judged to be wrong from the start.  They are not ‘thou’, the equal of ‘I’ but a mere object of judgement. This means that ‘I’ can never, ever actually meet the person, only judge them to be right or wrong. There can never be a relationship, never a meeting.

This is why my father, difficult man as he was, was utterly right to argue (passionately and to the detriment of every Sunday lunch, and in the teeth of opposition from my delightful but racist grandmother) that there is no superior race, no better culture. There are simply people. And failing to acknowledge this does not just impoverish ‘du’, the person one meets. It bankrupts ‘I’ – for that ‘I’ has already judged most of those who are met as non-equals, and really as non-people.

Proust in fifteen seconds, nearly.

Oh the memories food brings.  I have just been unwell, in the horrid ‘in the bathroom half the night’ way.  It was a condition which much afflicted my childhood.  As the blessed moment once again came, when I could seize an glass of water and drain it, without disgust or nausea, and once again taste that it was actually almost sweet, I remembered how that moment would so often come in the dead dark of night, or as the first stirrings of dawn were nearly visible to hot eyes seeking the window.

I no longer have any devoted nurse, so today I got up  and considered food, as a way of putting some strength into wobbling legs.  In the end it boiled down to a choice between my grandmother’s stand by of bread-and-milk, or my mother’s chocolate egg custard.  I had forgotten just how delicious chocolate egg custard can be.  I had totally forgotten the crispy bits round the edge of the dish, which are always the best bit.

I am much restored.

Birth and copulation and death

First death. Both of the smaller lambs died. They appeared to be making splendid progress, and then, suddenly, between one feed and the next, they were dead. Not both on the same day, but a week apart. Probably an infectious disease, but that is only speculation as to why. I rather pour my heart into lambs, devoting myself to seeing they thrive, and the deaths hit me hard.

But if you live as I do with many animals, you become accustomed to deaths. I don;t think the pain of it is any less, but you learn how to deal most effectively with the pain. You have any number of strategies in place to keep yourself going until the sorrow, until the sharp ache, fades away a bit. And so I answered kind friends with, ‘Yes, I’ll be fine,’ which is not at all the same thing as ‘No, I don’t feel it.’

And there are funny things to lighten the load. I surprised my gander. I have always wondered if he knew about copulation. Then one day I walked around the corner and found him enjoying lawful congress with his own wife. He was mortified, and fell slowly off sideways. Not from a sense of sexual shame, but because he had had to let his defences down – he had made himself and her vulnerable to attack, since a gander can in fact only think about one thing at a time, especially if the one thing is sex. But this year I do have a little hope for the hatching of eggs.

And birth: while I was at work, Bernadette safely delivered herself of a huge tup lamb. When I saw the size of him I was astonished that he had survived birth, but Bernadette was always a most calm and sensible sheep. Her son is not. He has a regrettable tendency to get on the other side of the fence to her and to be unable to get back. After three occasions, I have finally evolved a strategy which enables them to be reunited, and will, I believe, in future enable the whole thing to be done in about twenty minutes. To date the record is and hour and a half, most of it with me moving as fast as my legs and lungs allow. I have not had occasion to use the new treadmill yet.

Springing into action?

At the start of spring, in fact on Mothering Sunday, two orphan lambs came to live here. Orphan is a bit of a misnomer, as in all probability their mother is still living. Lambs usually become orphan from either being rejected by their Mum or being one of triplets … and due to the habit of lambs drinking at the same time from the ewe’s two teats, this is not good news.

Anyhow, looking very small and lost, week old lambs came, and were duly named Hilda and Cuthbertha. I am currently giving lambs Judeao-Christian names. After a slightly wobbly start they survived. My craving for lambs and need to expand the flock was satisfied.

Then on Tuesday the shepherd turned up on my doorstep with two more, this time known to be the third of triplets. They were – well, skinny. They were two weeks younger than mine and half the size. I softened. I weakened.

So, knowing I cannot face hand rearing lambs, and then eating them, the Hannah herd has expanded. The two new lambs are now putting on weight like nobody’s business, and bounding around all over the place. Mind you feeding two while being mugged by the other two is a feat in itself.

The virgin Virgil

Bird life other than barn owls is however in a very healthy state. I have great, coal, and blue tits in numbers, robins, dunnocks, house sparrows, blackbirds, thrushes and each day now two herons, frogging in the pond. A neighbour saw a goldcrest, but sadly it did not make its way up here. I worry over the frogs, but it is plainly a bad time of year for herons.

I would love to have ducks, and last year I was visited by a flight of my favourite of all ducks, Muscovies. They sat on my gates and talked to me. I was so tempted – but ducks eat frogs. Muscovies would soon clear my pond of all amphibians. Despite their intelligence (Muscovies are at the top end of farmyard avian intelligence, just as guinea fowl are at the bottom) I cannot permit all my frogs an toads to be annihilated.

I am however going to try my luck with the geese again. Horatia and Virgil have never manage to have any babies, and I suspect they have never mated. I don’t know for certain that Virgil is male so I am buying in a young gander and two geese. If Virgil is in fact a goose and not a gander, the gander will have four wives, not an impossible thing and if Virgil is male, but not able to bring himself to mate, the new geese will in time provide fertile eggs for Horatia to sit on. I am eagerly anticipating the delightful task of finding suitable Roman names for the new trio – preferably from among the ranks of writers and not the warlike or statesmen.

Introverts in conversation

Outside there is a moon, rising huge over the trees. The trees are bare now, ‘inscapes’ against an indigo sky, introverts wrapped in conversation with themselves. The shapes of the ponies are just visible as they stand on the bank in the warm night, still autumn though November. In utter silence, the lady barn owl passed overhead.

The nearest street lights, though I regret them, are four miles away. The most clearly visible, eight miles. Every so often traffic hums, but it is not as loud as the sounds of the ponies cropping the grass.

I have been away for a week, dog-sitting and house-sitting in warmth and comfort, luxury even. It is the nights here that I miss most.