Presence, absence and processing

Life is different, but the ‘old normal’ shows no sign of returning yet. A steady flow of visitors has been arriving, staying and departing since last Tuesday. 12 days now. We’re not currently offering camping, B&B or the big house.

There’s more space between bookings. Which is just as well – we are a smaller team and the whole changeover between guests takes longer. There are more processes and safeguards in place. And we’re slowly getting used to the new system.

Two of the smalls just asked to feed the fish and we all noticed that the eco pond cleaner has stopped working. Once again, the water is green and gloomy. Also, someone has donated two small yellow plastic bath ducks to the pond. It’s a little mystery.

There’s been lots of outside activity. A newer yard tipi has been put up. An ugly old farmyard wall is now white. After a couple of weeks of lifting, carrying, climbing and lifting again the husband has hurt his back. Earlier, he took a couple of anti-inflammatory tablets and went for a brief siesta.

While he was resting, a neighbour came to tell me about ragwort – evil poisonous stuff – which has popped up uninvited in one of the fields we use for the donkeys. I immediately went and pulled out what I could. But there was still some left, deep-rooted and resistant to my feeble tugging. Reinforcements arrived in the form of a young male volunteer and the loan of a very conveniently located small fork. The husband emerged just as we’d finished and has now removed all the ragwort we’ve collected. All’s safe in the donkey field for now.

Earlier today I was reading that it’s the first anniversary of Mr Johnson as Prime Minister. The headline, I think, was – ‘Twelve months at the helm of government.’ I’m not sure that’s strictly accurate .

Ragwort – a poisonous weed.

Byebye tipi and feeding the sheep

Today the chaps have been taking down one of the tipi frames in the yard. We’re going to leave one frame there and cover it – when time permits. But the other canvas is beyond repair. It’s over eight years old now so has lasted well!

The frame was made on the farm with Welsh poles we brought back to de-bark here. The canvas was 50% flax and 50% organic canvas. At that time, (the end of 2011 and beginning of 2012), we couldn’t find a British giant tipi maker. All giant tipis seemed to be imports. Which is why we chose the self-build route.

Taking down the second skeleton is part of the tidying-up the farmyard project. We plan to offer socially distanced eating and drinking there soon – maybe twice a week. There’s painting to do and the creation of a mural based on local children’s designs.

However ready you are for guests, it’s the last details which eat up time. When you’re not on mains – for gas, water or sewage – there’s bound to be an occasional glitch too. It’s part of the way of life here and keeps us from complacency.

But our first visitors have arrived – three units were occupied from yesterday and a fourth today. It’s all short breaks. Harder work now though, with the additional hoops to jump through.

The weather has been a bit disappointing for our first two days. Yesterday the forecast worsened as the day moved on. I wanted sun. I wanted our little smallholding to look at its best. But the barometer had other ideas.

The husband, and the guy who lives with us on the farm, have been working long and many days. We’ve been on a mission to get ready for our partial re-opening. Even the in-theory-office-bound one has been busy physically. According to the gadget on my wrist I walked over 16,000 steps yesterday. No walk, just visitor-preparation activity. For the moment at least, the rather more relaxed way of life of recent months is submerged.

Apparently there was a success on the plumbing front yesterday. It’s a complex system here, a black art understood only by the husband. It needs documenting for the ‘Clapham omnibus’ scenario…though he assures anyone who asks that there are ‘schematics’. Would anyone else understand them? I rest my case.

Early yesterday evening I was mucking out the donks and two guests toddled past – a child of about 18 months and his grandfather. I gave them a bucket of sheep treats. Sheep have very soft mouths and nibble gently when hand-fed. It reminds me of one of the really good aspects of doing what we do. And for now, that, and a G&T is enough reward for one evening.

One year ago

A friend sent me a picture of the boys making hay a year ago. There was no pandemic, no furlough and there was a sunny window of opportunity between weddings. So we made hay. While the sun shone. Although it looks overcast and brooding in the photo.

Our first guests arrive tomorrow. It’s been like a March pre-season flurry of busyness, only it’s mid-July. Some of the activity has been the usual stuff – bringing yurts and their contents out of their winter hibernation, putting them up, re-waterproofing them and getting them ready them for occupation. But there have been processes to document, forms to fill in. A lot of paperwork. Added to this has been the return to part-time work of a few of the team, and introducing them to the way things have to be done now. The new normal which is anything but normal. It seems sad that we have to pare down what we provide in accommodation, prune it right back. No frills this season.

There’s been productive busyness down the lane. My daughter’s hive was overpopulated. Just before the weekend, her beekeeping mentor visited and helped her to set up a second hive.

There are 44 big round wrapped bales waiting to be taken away. This strange year, we decided to sell hay off the field, rather than deal with it ourselves. Three fields were cut and I think they’ve made haylage.

I’m a romantic. I confess it freely. I love the scent of fresh hay and the look of the small rectangular bales stacked high in a barn. The job has been done anyway. These bales will be gone soon.

Pizza, fleeces, bees and a tree

I mentioned gluten-free pizza. Finding the perfect flour for a gluten-free pizza dough has taken a long time. But the company we buy our pizza flour from also produces a gluten-free flour. It is, albeit eye-wateringly expensive, amazing.

The youngest and largest sheep, Gwilym, has been getting bossier. When sheep nut treats arrive there’s great excitement, followed by a little tussle with Gwyneth. Gwilym wants the lion’s share. However, he’s usually very respectful of the old lady, Blackberry. Not so today and yesterday. Despite his size and greed, he’s more cautious than the girls, less interested in being petted. Though he will now eat from my hand.

We have the beginnings of a plan for their fleeces.  I’m not a spinner or knitter, weaver or felter, so insulation is the answer. We’re going to wash the fleeces and then incorporate them into the insulation of the upcycled hot water tank for the new showers.

Today, the men worked between and during downpours. It was cats and dogs. Stair rods. When the donkeys finally made it out to their field, I told them to be sensible, take cover in their purpose-built shelter or hide under the trees. I didn’t want to find them standing in the rain, at the gate, looking mournful and accusing. Did they listen?

The bus roof repair is completed. Two yurts have been put up and waterproofed. One more to go, as we will only have three bookable this season. We going to have to leave out some of the frills and the non-essentials this year to minimise the risk of infection.

Cleaning materials, PPE and essential pieces of kit arrive almost daily. I’m trying to find the greenest way of complying with all current advice and recommendations. A package which arrived today contained a note saying my order had funded the planting of a tree.

We love trees. Bees too. My daughter, a novice beekeeper, has a surfeit. Her mentor is currently advising her on the setting up of a second hive. There’s also a new swarm which arrived a couple of weeks ago and seems to have settled next door. They must like it here. Long may this continue.

Soundtracks and a guilty secret

Ennio Morricone, conductor, composer and trumpet-player, died yesterday. Amongst a long career of achievements he wrote the scores to over 400 films and TV productions. Westerns were a particularly successful genre for him. Many of his film scores are classics, (including those he wrote for Sergio Leone and Giuseppe Tornatore). They’ve been absorbed into our popular culture for over 60 years.

The husband is a man of endless resourcefulness, a combination of optimism and problem-solving ability. Recently, I have found myself in a virtual world of ebullient, noisy plumbers. Weekday lunches often have a soundtrack of YouTube tutorials, jolly chaps teaching all sorts of skills not normally on my radar.

We both had one very disturbed night over the weekend. He was fretting over some technical issue and had to get up to draw his way out of the glitch. He then stayed up, wide-awake, to watch a film. Probably involving guns and all things macho. Upstairs, I kept hearing a single plaintive ‘mew’, one note of anguished cat. It lacked Miss Baxter’s range, her ascending scale and volume. The sound occurred every ten minutes or so. I searched the house for an injured animal. Turns out it was a branch, scraping in the wind against a bedroom window, which made those feline-imitating calls of distress.

My current guilty pleasure is wandering through animal rescue websites. I had to stop myself from clicking ‘reserve me’ next to the image and description of a delinquent, anti-social goat. One bossy sheep, Gwilym, is quite enough.

I wrote a haiku or three yesterday…

Define spaniel?
Committed to living life
with limitless joy.

Your brother could have
had webbed feet. Instead, you ran
joyful – till you stopped.

Just an afterthought.
The cute pup chosen: how could
we leave you behind?

A hard act to follow? For now, I need to keep resisting the lure of unfriendly goats.

Let them eat cake

So, the five-mile-limit will be dropped from Monday in Wales. Since this started I’ve only done one trip beyond this limit, to a supermarket in Cardigan. I haven’t really felt deprived, except of course, for seeing the family I don’t live with, friends beyond the ‘zone’, the occasional evening out and…the sea. There is a plan to visit the sea one evening, possibly Wednesday, after work.

Confusing opinions abound in the media – many brickbats, some fear, few plaudits. My concern is that the impetus to restart the economy is pushing aside any environmental gains we may have made, amongst the losses of the last few months. I hope we don’t just slide back to the way things were.

I also hope that the leaders who have actually done some good, (or even are just wading through this as best they can, but in an honest, compassionate way), are rewarded for their efforts. Not the  bamboozlers and the blaggards.

Yesterday, pubs opened in England and it was Independence Day in the US. After seeing some film footage of non-distanced socialising in London, I decided not to depress myself further. I watched one of the Alan Bennett’s ‘Talking Heads’ – this time with Tamsin Greig – reminding myself both of her acting talent and her beautifully expressive eyes. A tour-de-force, but not cheerful viewing either.

It was take-out pizza Saturday yesterday. The son-in-law has been experimenting with gluten-free dough. He’s absolutely nailed it now! After responding to some accommodation enquiries – it was, once more, small central here. Activities comprised visiting the horses, feeding the rest of the menagerie, cleaning out and bringing home the donkeys. There was also Hunt the Teddy, a puzzle, a couple of storybooks, watching Jungle Book, (the more recent version), and making, icing and eating cupcakes.

All being well, we’ll have our first visitors here from 14th July. So, between now and the two hundred and thirty first anniversary of the Storming of the Bastille, our little smallholding will be a hive of activity. It won’t just be the bees. But we’ll fuel ourselves with pizza… and cake.

A postman and two specialists

‘It’s worse than Christmas,’ said the postie. Several building/DIY related parcels arrived for the husband and a gift for me. It was a lovely pack of butterfly playing cards. I predict a heated game of snap very soon.

Today, there was huge excitement. Hot water now comes out of the cute copper taps in the loo block. This hot water is stored in a cylinder which used to live upstairs in the farmhouse (until it sprung tiny leaks). A local guy repaired the tank and it’s now being heated up by the second-hand solar panels on the barn roof (first lockdown project). Still a few tweaks necessary, but we’re almost there.

Despite changeable weather, the bees are very active. Lavender is popular as ever but there’s been a lot of to-and-froing near the last windblown roses on the yard pergola. More by chance than design, these co-exist amiably with jasmine and clematis. Today we have a few new clematis flowers, not a full second flush, but I’m optimistic.

Pink roses on the wall

Yesterday a friend passed on good news about her pet’s clean bill of health. At its recent annual booster and check-up, her dog’s heart was behaving oddly. With great haste, pet and human made their way to a local centre of excellence for doggie tickers. There, every test known to veterinary cardiologists, and pet insurers, was carried out. With hindsight, my friend thinks that her pet’s heart irregularities were probably due to panic. Under current C-19 precautions, owner and pet separate at the door of the surgery. The owner waits in the carpark, unable to hold a paw or make encouraging noises…

This tale brought back a time when we too lived in the Home Counties. Rosie, the dog we had, injured her eye badly. Almost immediately, we found ourselves in the consulting rooms of a pet eye specialist. He was a magnificent specimen, with a manner which soothed all canines and their owners, (particularly the female of the species). He also had a helicopter parked jauntily in the clinic garden.

When our patient was convalescing, we went to stay in a farm cottage, one of a pair, near Cardigan. Our next-door neighbours had a black Labrador and, for the three or four days of the mini-break, humans and dogs socialised. One early evening, perhaps over a cup of tea or glass of wine, the couple told us about their recent pet experiences. There was much praise for the vet who had cured their dog. ‘And you’d never guess what,’ the lady said, ‘but on the lawn of the clinic there was a helicopter. And it was his.’