Friday, 24 December 2010

Seasons Greetings!

Merry Christmas from David, Philippa & the menagerie to family, friends and all the guests who made Banceithin's opening season a special one. Thank you one and all for your support and best wishes for a happy and healthy New Year!


Or as they say in Wales …. Nadolig Llawen a Blwyddyn Newydd Dda!

Wednesday, 22 December 2010

Glitter, Glue & Gin

If you want a shabby chic homemade Christmas and a home fit for a “Country Living”  magazine feature, follow the style tips provided by “Kirstie’s Homemade Christmas” courtesy of Channel Four. If you want a make do & mend homemade Christmas and a home fit for a Blue Peter festive special, follow the lack of style tips demonstrated during the Banceithin Christmas craft day. Actually, it was perhaps more of a Christmas sweat shop. The second the breakfast plates were cleared away, I emptied out my “craft stuff” box onto the table - cardboard, felt, glue, glitter, assorted gold beads, coloured paper, shiny paper, tissue paper...  My poor parents only came to stay for a day, and my dad spent his time struggling to cut out cardboard stars with blunt scissors, while my mum spent it painstakingly recreating the felt Christmas trees I’d seen in a magazine but was too penny pinching to buy and, just because she could, she knocked out a few crochet stars as well! Meanwhile, Dave got busy with the glue and glitter and I worked on the ultimate retro Christmas decoration, the paper chain – we’re shunning shabby chic in favour of the primary school look (but without the clothes hanger halos and tea towel & dressing gown shepherds)!

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A few days later it was time to bottle up the damson gin and vodka. With hindsight it would have been wise to label the demi-johns, but after a sample tasting or two, … three, four, one to be sure, and one for the road (not that either one of us would have been fit for the road by this point), we figured out which was which. In theory we bottled enough to keep some aside for next year, in practice we’ll probably drink the lot before new year. And when we run out, there’s always the chocolate coated gin soaked damsons to see us through to the end of Jools’ Annual Hootenanny.


Tuesday, 14 December 2010

It’s Chris-mouse!

Most people like mice, they even keep them as pets, let their little ones feed and care for them, put them in perspex balls and watch them run across the lounge floor, like something out of ‘Rodent Gladiators’. I on the other hand despise the furry little pests.

Having three cats and two barn owls you would expect our mouse population to be kept under control………ha! With the cold weather the little blighters have started to find their way into the house. The odd one or two were all ‘removed’ swiftly and sent on their merry way to rodent paradise. The main problem is that one lone trouble maker got himself into the wall space, and started to grind it’s perpetually growing front incisors on our recently installed plumbing!

Last week I noticed the pressure dropping on our central heating system, and eagle eyed Phil noticed a growing water mark on the ceiling below the bathroom. With the heating on all through the cold spell, I couldn’t believe that it was a frozen joint, so the only explanation I could come up with was that a joint behind the wall wasn’t properly fixed and had been leaking all this time, and worsened recently.

So with a heavy heart and big hammer, I started to smash through the tiled wall to get to the suspect pipe work.


When I finally got down to the lower joint, I was amazed to find that the hardened plastic elbow joint had been gnawed all the way through!


I couldn’t believe it, all this trouble was caused by a furry rodent just three inches long.

I’ve had an emergency meeting with the feline occupants of Banceithin, voiced my disappointment at their performance (or lack thereof) over the last few months, and explained the new regime of ‘food for furries’, which basically equates to no rodent catches, no tasty cat biscuits!

Monday, 6 December 2010

The Pepsi Challenge

Being a Litter Champion brings out the sleuth in me, my inner Miss Marple. Every trail of litter tells a story. In my mind’s eye I build a picture of the litterbug (or bugs) in question.

Yesterday, the thaw began, so I grabbed my litter picker and with snazzy blue collecting bag swinging off my arm, set off to snatch up litter as it emerges from the melting snow and ice.  By the end of the walk my bag was no longer swinging, it was weighed down and clinking. I returned home and surveyed my stinking booty – 36 cans of Diet Pepsi of various ages, from mint condition through to ripped and rusty, all of which were collected from the same 50 metre stretch of road.


Miss Marple deduced that this was not the result of a single litter dropping incident. It seemed improbable that a coach load of Pepsi addicted Weightwatchers members should pass through the lanes of Bethania. No, this was the work of the lone Diet Pepsi drinker who, judging by the state of the cans, has been driving this way for some time. The discarded cans were all in the same verge, so our litterbug always drinks the can of Pepsi on the same leg of the journey, I’m guessing it’s a pick me up caffeine hit for the early morning journey to work. Given the lack of convenience stores round these parts, I’m also guessing that our litterbug’s shopping list for the weekly supermarket run includes at least one multi-pack of Diet Pepsi. The random assortment of cans left in my bag suggests that in desperate times our bug has had to resort to Diet Coke as a substitute for the preferred brand. What saddens me most about my find is that the only conclusion I can reach is that our litterbug lives locally and cares not a jot about the Welsh countryside. Our bug speeds through the lanes slowly enough to wind down the window and toss out the empty can, but too fast to see the ugliness left behind. 

My fear though is that the bug is more observant than I give him/her credit for, and is perhaps both well aware, and perversely proud, of the trail of glittering aluminium in the hedgerow. In collecting up the cans I have inadvertently laid down the proverbial gauntlet and initiated a Pepsi Challenge with a twist. Can the bug drink Diet Pepsi faster than I can collect the litter? Am I destined to be the owner of the world’s largest empty Diet Pepsi can collection? Just who is the demon Diet Pepsi litter bug? More importantly, has he/she actually lost any weight?

Friday, 3 December 2010

Pheasant Plucking

Going to our local pub is a risky business. Not because of the food (the homemade lasagne with garlicky garlic bread never fails to please), nor because of the beer (the weekly real ale is as pleasing as the lasagne, especially when you’re 2 pints in). No, the risk is that by the time you leave you’ve agreed to something that you had no intention of agreeing to when you left the house that evening. Such as buying a Welsh collie puppy. Or, as on this occasion, buying a brace of pheasants from the local shoot.


I reached the grand old age of 38 without ever having plucked a bird. Dave popped his bird plucking cherry back in the dark days before I moved up the Banceithin. His stories of duck feather hell did nothing to ease my nerves as the pheasant plucking day drew near. Thankfully The Shooting Times came to the rescue with an online video of a nameless faceless man demonstrating how to skin a pheasant. The voiceover promised that it would be as easy as “removing an overcoat”. Knives sharpened, cats at the ready to catch feathers, dog at the ready to catch whatever may be going, time to grab the pheasant by the neck and get up close and personal with dinner. But not before cracking open a bottle of red and supping a fortifying glass of wine.


WARNING: If you’re of a sensitive disposition, click away now!

Step 1: remove the wings. One crunch, two crunch, and off they came. If I had a posh party to go to I could knock up a fetching fascinator. Sadly, the social calendar is rather devoid of parties, posh or otherwise, so into the bits bag they went.


Step 2; remove the tail feathers. Don’t tug too hard or the bottom comes with them. Whoopsie, too late, Dave’s bird was missing a chunk of bottom already! Step 3: snip the tendons and remove the legs. Tug, tug, tug, it’s not coming off!


Tug, tug, tug, hmmm, the first blood. There wasn’t any on the video. This is where it all became a bit Texas Chainsaw Massacre. I was so intent on following every detail of the instructions that I forgot my Llangybi Youth Club survival weekend training from the 1980’s and completely failed to re-enact the “pull the tendons and see the leg move” comedy moment. Funnily enough, this did not feature in the Shooting Times video.

Step 4: remove the head and crop. I’ve spared you the visual. The gag reflex kicked in when my headless pheasant revealed a bulging crop, so crammed full of seeds pushing at the membrane that at first I thought it was the bird’s brain! Reason soon kicked in and I realised that not only was the grotesque bulge too big for a pea brained bird like the pheasant, but the brain was also unlikely to be sited at the base of the neck. My courage let me down at this point though and I made Dave remove the crop. No way was I going to touch it – yuk yuk yuk. Little did I know that the yuk was going to get yukkier.

Step 5: slit the skin and peel it off “like an overcoat”. Overcoat?! Not any overcoat I’ve ever come across. How about, “like taking off an overcoat while wearing a straitjacket underneath”. Sticky feathers, sticky fingers, sticky skin. Shot hole in the breast – yikes! Blood clots – double yikes! Seamless transition from Texas Chainsaw Massacre to The Generation Game and back to Texas Chainsaw Massacre, and there we have it, a fleshy body.


Step 6: there’s no gentle way of putting this - slit her open, shove your hand in and pull out the guts. YUK! Alien baby alert! Eyes closed, throw the whole mess in the general direction of the bits bag, deep breath, finger through the anus, run to the sink and scrub the hands until they’re raw. Good God, the casserole had better be damn tasty.

Step 6: take a gulp of wine.

Step 7: joint the bird, survey the bloody mess in your kitchen, and drink a toast to your local butcher.


Friday, 26 November 2010

Snow in November!

Well the first snow of the year arrived this morning. The thermals are on, the porridge steaming on the hob, and the wood burning stove blazing away. I think it may be an “in” day today.



Terri did not know quite what to make of it, after one minute of skidding around she quickly decided to come back inside. IMG_5353

Friday, 19 November 2010

They don’t make them like they used to

Puppies are destructive. There are toys that are built to last and there are toys that simply can’t cope. Now, call me naive, but in a Duracell bunny type test between a bespoke puppy toy and a standard kiddie toy, I’d put my money on the puppy toy. Puppies have razor sharp teeth way before a teething child develops seam ripping gnashers. Puppies are well down the road of manic toy in mouth head shaking while babies are getting to grips with mashed bananas with pureed carrot. And who ever saw a baby leaping into the air, performing a back flip and snatching a soft toy from mid-air. Naturally, the manufacturers of puppy toys have taken all of this low level research into account. Or have they?

Exhibit 1: Beanie Baby Cow. Cost: £4.99. Date of submission to puppy machine: 1st August 2010. Condition of toy: nearly new, no significant wear or tear. Date of complete destruction by puppy machine: 18th November 2010. Condition of toy; ears & horns missing in action, severe facial reconstruction, loss of brain matter, bean stuffing distributed across kitchen floor.

That’s a good three and a half months solid play by a mad Welsh collie with hard core nibbling, ripping and licking skills, at a return on investment of approximately 5p per day’s play.


Exhibit 2: Puppy’s First Christmas Reindeer Toy. Cost; £2.99. Date of submission to puppy machine: 19th November 2010. Condition of toy: brand, spanking new. Date of complete destruction by puppy machine: 19th November 2010. Condition of toy: Stuffing removed; squeaker surgically separated from innards; outer casing soggy, dirty & shredded.


You do the maths. That’s the last puppy toy I’ll be buying. I’ve got an entire childhood’s worth of soft toys to sacrifice to the puppy machine.

Wednesday, 17 November 2010


Litter sucks. It’s unsightly, hazardous to wildlife and bad for puppies who eat anything and everything (and equally bad, if not worse, for owners who have to clear up after puppies who eat anything and everything and consequently end up with a dicky tummy). The litter bugs even find their way to “the middle of nowhere” (to quote our city dwelling friends). We are victims of the drive-by, burger eating litter monster who frequents the MacDonalds in Aberystwyth, spends the 25 minute journey from there to here scoffing his burger and fries (it so has to be a male!), then tosses the packaging out of the car window and into the hedgerow down our lane. Perhaps it’s the same person who drinks McEwans Export and kicks the can into the ditch, where it magically doesn’t disappear but becomes a nutrition free gum slashing snack for the ponies in the field. Teri and I regularly return from our afternoon stroll with a booty of assorted plastic bottles – last week we bagged three 5 litre Morrisons vegetable oil bottles, no doubt discarded by a hard up farmer who’s reluctant to spend his precious pennies on diesel for his decrepid Land Rover.

Where am I going with this mini-rant? Well, as of this week I will be going by the title of Litter Champion. Keep Wales Tidy heard of my one woman crusade and rushed to sign me up to their campaign. Ok, so I’ve bigged myself up a little there. In fact I contacted them, had a coffee with my local Project Officer, signed a bit of paper to say I won’t sue anyone if I accidentally fall in a ditch and break my ankle, and took delivery of my Litter Champion Pack. Here I am modelling the latest fashions that the Litter Champions of Wales will be seen wearing on the streets this season...

Check out the practical yet stylish all weather poncho in cherry red; the logo emblazoned t-shirt with complimentary litter grabber and blue litter collecting bag guaranteed to mesmerise even the most excitable of puppies; and the highlight of the autumn collection, the one size fits all high-vis gilet, available in fluorescent yellow only.


It’s not all fun, fun, fun for the Litter Champion. I’m accountable for my litter collection performance, keeping monthly records of my hoard and providing photo evidence to prove I do actually pound the streets sporting my poncho and gilet, striking fear into the hearts of the litter bugs of Bethania. I’m watching you!

Saturday, 13 November 2010

Stairway to heaven!

So the work has started in earnest on our own house now the cottages are completed. The first area was the hallway. The stairs were covered in a horrible dark brown stain which took over a week to sand off as it had to be done by hand.


There was also a nasty stain on the ceiling where in a previous life the water tank leaked, and the old lathe and plaster had to be removed as it had cracked and was falling off. We decided to get a decorator in to do this work as we didn’t have the ladders to work at that height (not that we didn’t fancy doing it at all!!!)

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The biggest issue with painting the stairs was how to stop the pesky pets from trailing white paw prints around the house. In the end a complex arrangement of a fire guard, boxes of computer games and a step ladder seemed to do the trick (apart from one incident where Charlie decided to clear the handrail, leaving some tasty gouges in the nice new paintwork).


Terri is still not allowed upstairs, as this has been designated “Cat World”, but as all teenagers, as soon as our backs are turned, she guiltily tries to slink upstairs into the forbidden territory.

Thursday, 4 November 2010

Chops away!

The pork wagon is on the road!


As I write a Ford Focus full of top quality pork product is heading for its first destination – a freezer at the Love residence. From there, the meat wagon speeds along the M4 delivering cases of piggy yumminess to the lucky folk who bagged themselves a half pig. Let’s hope the freezer space is cleared and ready as a half pig sure is a whole lot of pork, trotters included. Thank you, pigs, for providing us with such a porky feast.


So its sausages for tea, and a ham hock for Sunday lunch!

Friday, 29 October 2010

To eat meat or not to eat meat

I’ve always been a meat eater. There was no teenage dabble with vegetarianism. My refusal to eat liver had nothing to do with principles and everything to do with taste and texture (plus it’s really stinky when cooked). But then I never had to confront the reality of what it really means to be a meat eater. Actually, no, I remember one incident in my childhood when, while on a family holiday in France, I came face to (furless) face with a skinned rabbit and realised with shock and bucketfuls of tears that the nice Mr French Farmer did not, like me, keep the bunnies because he thought they were furry, cute and fun to play with.

In recent years, the principles have moved up the food priorities leader board, leaving taste and texture trailing behind. Luckily for me, in many cases superior taste goes hand in hand with principles. Who wants bacon rashers that stew in a frying pan of milky liquid? Who wants chicken breasts plumped up & glistening with injected salty water? Unluckily for me, in most cases superior prices also go hand in hand with principles. This is where rearing our own pigs comes in.

Yes, I named our four pigs, but somehow, the fatter they got, the more emotionally detached I felt. Nevertheless, knowing how worried I get if Nessa disappears hunting for a whole day, and how tearful I get when the sick little kitten on “"Animal Hospital” fails to make it through the night, I was not completely confident that I would get through the “taking pigs to slaughterhouse” experience emotionally unscathed. As I collected windfall apples for the last supper a feeling of guilt crept over me. The pigs would simply be happy to get an extra afternoon treat. I knew what was coming next. This wasn’t a good sign. A few weeks before I had reached a deal with myself – if I couldn’t accept the slaughtering of the pigs, then I would have to go the whole hog (pardon the pun) and embrace vegetarianism. No halfway house of no pork, bacon and ham, all meat would be for the chop (oops, pardon the pun, again!).

So the pigs are now gone. On Thursday next week, Dave will be collecting our bag of pork products. How do I feel? To be honest, I’m still working that out.

Thursday, 28 October 2010

That’s life……

Well the pigs have gone off to ‘meat’ their maker, and it was our first experience of seeing the animals we had cared for, taken to the abattoir to complete the food cycle. We were obviously a little apprehensive about this final chapter, but knowing that the pigs had had the best life possible, we were also keen to make the last two days as stress free as possible.

The butcher had kindly loaned us the use of his trailer, so we picked it up the day before so I could do some practicing of reversing. I had already done a dummy run to the abattoir which is a small family run unit with  a tight 90 degree reversing manoeuvre  needed to back the trailer into the unloading bay. After a couple of tries back at Banceithin, and with Phil waving me back, I thought I should be ok. We decided to load the pigs up in the trailer the night before so we weren’t having to mess around in the dark the next morning, as our time slot at the abattoir was 7.00am. We put a bed of straw down, and the girls happily trotted up the ramp into their bed for the night.

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(not sure about my facial expression)

We were ably assisted by my niece and nephew, Helena and James.

We then left them to get acquainted with their new surroundings for the night.

The alarm rang at 5.45 am (I used to get up at that time every day for my 2 hour commute into London!) and the team headed off into the night. It took around 40 minutes and we were the first to arrive. I managed to reverse first time into the slot, and 3 of the girls trotted out round the corner, one proved a bit stubborn but eventually made her way out to join the others. It was all getting vey real at this point, and we were all keen to get away. Phil had got the paperwork completed, including the ‘food chain’ form which I had forgot, and with a queue of farmers behind us we took a deep breath and drove back out into the Welsh hillside. Thinking our ordeal was over we talked about how the pigs had had a great life, especially when you compare it to the majority of animals whose meat fills the shelves at the local supermarket, and that made us feel slightly better. It was at this point we remembered that we didn’t retain our copy of the animal movement licence, as well as forgetting to pay the  slaughter man! Take a deep breath……..  9 point turn with trailer, we’re heading back to the abattoir. Due to the amount of farmers waiting, and the lack of space, I parked further down the lane while Phil and James jogged up the road to sort the paper work out. It was very busy at this point and Phil was drastically trying to get someone to take the cheque. Finally a friendly bloke went past with ‘paint’ splattered overalls and pushing a wheelbarrow, saying ‘Oh, I’ll take that me darling’, popped it in his mouth and trundled off….

It is quite strange not having the pigs to look after any more, but I am looking forward to trying some of the pork in a weeks time!

Tuesday, 26 October 2010


Yesterday Dave was pierced by a bee stinger. This morning we pierced the pigs ears. Bad things come in threes. Who’s going to get pierced next? Maybe a nose ring for the puppy.

The bee sting was my fault. I lulled Dave into a false sense of security by telling him the bees were sleepy, but “accidentally” woke them up minutes before Dave approached the hive. Well they looked sleepy when I peered under the feeder, but maybe my shifting of the feeder sent the aroma of sweet sugar syrup dregs down into the hive. I’m all togged up in my beek suit, gloves and all, and Dave’s in jeans & jumper and gloveless. Off comes the hive roof. All’s well. Off comes the feeder. Yikes, angry bees! Whoopsy. I’ve never seen Dave move so fast in wellies. He has a lovely red swelling on the wrist to show for it. Meanwhile, back at bee central, small clusters of disturbed drowzy bees are clinging onto leaves of the sapling in front of the hive. They’re clearly not up to clearing the 5 inches between them and the hive entrance. I lend a helping hand by transporting them one by one by gloved finger from plant to door, but many are either too weak or too recalcitrant to get from plant to finger. It’s a lost cause. That’s a handful less bees for the winter cluster. Obviously this will prove a crucial mistake come March!

As for the pig piercings, the weather was, quite frankly, bloody miserable, perfect for a spot of trauma (ours) and blood (theirs) before breakfast. The mean looking piercing gadget was primed and ready.


The tub of disinfectant was on hand. The rain was coming in horizontally. Roused from slumber by the promise of a late breakfast, the girls stumbled out of the ark blissfully unaware of what was about to happen. Heads down in the trough, time for the dirty deed. Clunk! In it goes. Did Davina squeal? Did she even flinch? Nothing. No reaction. She just carried on eating. Not even the blood was a distraction. Unbelievable.


So with a distinct lack of any trauma whatsoever, the girls will for the remainder of their days - being precisely 21 hours and counting - be known as Pig Number 1 (Davina), Pig Number 2 (Ally), Pig Number 3 (Harriet) and Pig Number 4 (Alice).

Friday, 15 October 2010

My Big Society

Stuff the coalition, two fingers to Red Ed, come the next election I’m voting for the honeybees to take over the running of the country. Instead of Dave’s (as in Cameron not Pickworth) “Big Society” we’ll have “The Big Colony”. There’s a queen, the males are only good for one thing & collapse & die after that, the females do all the work … so far, so normal. OK, so there are some downsides, like the fact that most of us will only live for 30 days, but everyone will have a job and somewhere to live, and there’s a 24 hour all-you-can-eat honey buffet. Bees are great, that’s all there is to it.

As some of you know, last month I had a bee related disaster. My colony was on the brink of collapse. The likely cause was starvation. How guilty did that make me feel?! Thousands and thousands of little buzzy lives were relying on me, and I let them down, but who’d have thought that in two weeks of bad weather a whole colony could work its way through its honey stores, leaving themselves with nothing to feed themselves or their brood. The poor queen stopped laying. At the start of September much of the colony had died, there were no eggs or larvae and not a drop of honey or a speck of pollen left. Needless to say there were tears and much self-recrimination.

There was not a moment to lose, “feed, feed, feed”, advised the Bee Inspector. Twenty kilos of sugar and 8.5 litres of water later, and my amazing little colony has restored itself, winter brood is hatching and the foraging bees have been out and about collecting replacement nectar and pollen. Today we saw a bee staggering up to the hive entrance dragging along its bulging sacs of bright orange pollen, like a shopper heading home after the winter sales. A last minute flurry on a Michaelmas daisy perhaps?

So it’s time for final preparations before the bees settle down for their long winter sleep. The hive roof is insulated, the final feed is being guzzled and the mouse guard to ready to be screwed over the hive entrance. The key question is whether the bees now have stores of honey to last until March. They say that an experienced “beek” just has to heft the back of the hive to know instantly the precise weight of honey stores. It seems to me that hefting is a risky business. An overly hearty heft could launch the whole hive into the hedge. I hefted my hive with caution. As a beek of a mere 4 month’s experience my assessment of the weight of honey stores was “bloody heavy”. Lacking a “bloody heavy” to kilos conversion chart I’m thinking of using my own measuring system by estimating the hive weight based on equivalent number of Charlies, with each Charlie equating to 7 kilos. He’s a whole lot of cat!

Anyway, I shall leave you with an interesting fact picked up at last week’s meeting of my local Welsh Bee Keepers Association (a monthly mid-week autumn evening highlight on the Lampeter social calendar). During winter a shrew will climb into a hive, pick off individual sleepy bees from the edge of the colony cluster and precisely nibble just the bee’s furry thorax to snack on the energy packed muscles used by the bee as it beats it’s wings to regulate the hive temperature. The shrew equivalent to a Kellogg’s Special K yoghurt coated snack bar!

Tuesday, 5 October 2010

The grass is greener on the other side……

We have all used this saying throughout our lifetimes, but I am taking this literally this morning.

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The ‘D’ day for the pigs is 4 weeks away, and it was decided to move them to the pasture on the other side of their ark, where indeed, the grass was greener (in fact it had grass). This wasn’t for the idealogic reasons of letting them frolic in long grass before heading to the butchers, though they will enjoy it. But for the more selfish reasons of giving them extra grazing to hopefully improve the meat texture and flavour. They are also getting a bucket of windfall apples most days for the same reason.

The pigs did love it when they ventured into the new pasture. We opened up the rear door and they came cautiously through before sprinting around, ears flopping around.

We do have very happy pigs

Tuesday, 28 September 2010


There are scaredy cats, and then there are scaredy pups. We’ve been living with scaredy cat Charlie for years, with his fear of the hoover, his hatred of the guitar and his noisy plastic bag phobia. Now we have scaredy pup, the collie who’s afraid of traffic, barking dogs, bats, inanimate objects and who, on encountering 30 errant sheep rampaging in our field, turned tail, ran home and left Dave to do the herding all alone. Don’t expect to see Dave and Teri on “One Man & his Dog” any time soon. In fact, the only things Teri isn’t afraid of are people and cats. She enthusiastically greets any stranger and refuses to be rebuffed by the spittings & hissings aimed in her direction by the Three Amigos.  Toilet training has been successfully completed (praise the Lord!), but there’s a long way to go with every other form of training. I growl, I praise, I shout “no, no, no”, I wag my finger menacingly, I give up and sacrifice my slippers for a moment of peace and quiet.


Thursday, 23 September 2010

Dirty Knickers

Dave and Phil Herriot were called into service for the first time this week. The Welsummer chickens have stopped laying for the moment, but the Rhode Island Reds have been merrily popping out one a day since they started laying back in February. 

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Then Athena stopped laying and we noticed a large object hanging from her rear end. We were concerned that she may have had a prolapse (inside out vent - nasty). This could mean that she wouldn’t survive, so we donned our veterinary gear and attempted to examine her. The first stage involved Phil herding the chickens towards me, and then I tried to throw a blanket over Athena. Sounds straight forward enough, but for the fact that chickens are surprisingly speedy, especially as they are free range and not used to being handled. This went on for a while and turned into a bit of a farce, more Tristan Farnham than James Herriot!

I eventually caught her, and she remained quite calm so we whisked her into the clinic (the utility room in disguise), and ran her a warm bath. She appeared to have a huge hard growth on the exterior which was blocking her vent (the egg exit hole next to the poo exit hole, for those not familiar with a chicken's rear end). After 5 minutes in the bath and some careful massaging, the lump started breaking up, and an unpleasant aroma filled the air. The good news was that it wasn’t a prolapse, but several days worth of solidified chicken poo! It was so hard that Phil had to cut away her feathers to get the last bit off.

On returning her to the run (after a liberal application of Anusol to her sore behind - no really, that's what the poultry forum recommended - it works for piles so it works for sore chicken bums), she immediately went off and layed an egg. I can only imagine how eye watering it must have been hanging on to that poo rock for 2 days!

Monday, 20 September 2010

All shapes & sizes

For nigh on 38 years I’ve waged war against parsnips. As a child I disliked seeing my yummy Sunday lunch roast potatoes sharing a bowl with yucky parsnips and would gingerly pick out the tatties from amongst the devil’s root vegetables lurking in the bowl. As an adult, I’ve avoided that same root vegetable in all its forms, soup, mashed, roast, snuck into a casserole. Yesterday, something strange happened. I ate a parsnip and I liked it. I didn’t love it. Let’s not get carried away. It wasn’t too sweet. It wasn’t too mushy. It was a whopper and it came out of my garden. Perhaps I’m psychologically predisposed to favour my own vegetables, or maybe the thrill of eating a meal consisting almost entirely of my own produce (until Hera meets her maker that is) simply overpowers my parsnip phobia.


Aside from whopper parsnips, colourful chard and carrots with legs, the garden continues to yield fruit and veg of all shapes and sizes. The debut blueberry harvest amounted to a bumper three berry crop. Hmm what to make ... blueberry muffin, blueberry pie, blueberry yoghurt … so many options so few berries.


The damsons are falling from the tree faster than we can gather them. A wheel barrow was needed to carry the squash home.

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The brussel sprouts are ready about two months too early and are growing to cabbage proportions. The chillies are fiery red and doubling up as a source of entertainment for Dave (I’ve spared you the chilli earrings and comedy mouth shots).


And my one and only aubergine is a weeble.


Monday, 13 September 2010

Feeling Fruity

Fruit, fruit, glorious fruit. The old damson tree is laden with fruit this autumn. I eye them greedy on a daily basis waiting to pluck them at their peak of fruity loveliness. I dream of having oozy dark damson jam for breakfast again. After last seasons bumper crop of sloes there are none this year, but with plenty of damsons on offer we’ll be steeping a batch of damson gin for a Christmas snifter or two. The apples are also thriving after years of neglect, so the freezer will be packed with stewed apple for those emergency crumbles when Squaddie Dad comes to stay and, heaven forbid, I’ve forgotten about pudding.

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We’re big fans of braised red cabbage, so this year I ditched some slug magnet savoys to make way for the red drumhead cabbage. I’ve been watching the dusty purple leaves curl in tightly as the heads swell. I’ve scattered eggshells and slug pellets galore to protect these braising beauties. Then lo and behold, I turn my back for a day and my prize drumhead cracks wide open, unable to hold herself in for a moment longer. Quick as a flash I whipped her out of the ground and into the kitchen before any sodding slug could squelch its way inside. Hmmm, yummy with a juicy pork chop.


This time last year I was searching for recipes to use up my sorry looking basketfuls of green tomatoes, but no such problems this year. The tomatoes went into ripening overdrive a couple of weeks ago and are still going strong – one batch of roasted tomato sauce is already in the freezer, and tomorrow it’s time for the passata. Cherry tomatoes have been a success story – we tried “Minibel” this year (not to be confused with Ba-ba-ba ba-babybel) – so I’m going to test my new found confidence in the kitchen and attempt to turn the trug load sitting on the kitchen counter into jars of slow roasted tomatoes in olive oil.

With the dip in temperature as the autumn weather approaches, the conveyor belt of courgettes and cucumbers is finally slowing down. None of the glut has gone to waste though, as the pigs scoff those that are too far gone and large enough to house a family of mice and their aunts, uncles and cousins, and the rest have magically (after much chopping and a fair few minutes of slaving over the vinegary fumes of a hot maslin pan) become jars of relish. Dave has already blown my cover and blurted out the secret plan to sell my wares to the unwary tourists of Covent Garden. My poor little jars looked a little lonely on the shelf, but as of today I have reinforcements ready to keep them company, and each jar has its own little mob cap. The shop launches this Saturday - get there early to avoid disappointment!

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