Fall falls early, barn camping and the inspection of feet.

And now it’s September. We have been seizing the day or making the most of a flurry of staycation activity. A whole month has gone by. My blue notebook is filled with scribbles – such a long time since my writing was neat or even legible – but they’ve not made it to the blog. So I must apologise for my tardiness and try to catch up with extracts from my notes!

‘Almost the bank holiday. Almost the end of August. And, buffeted by the latest storm – Francis I think – it feels like Autumn is here already. Branches are laden, still very green but now weighed down by fruit and ripening nuts. The loss of a bough in high summer wind is a much more serious proposition than it would be in November or February. We drove up the lane earlier to get animal feed – donkey nuts were still unavailable due to a problem with deliveries – and there were sticks, twigs and small branches everywhere, several getting caught under the car.’

Keats was so right! I do love Autumn – mist in the mornings, cooler evenings, scents of ripeness on the air and underfoot. Crispness to come. But we did not welcome that blustery intruder in late August.

Warmth, humidity and wetness didn’t do any favours for two of the outdoor pets – one sheep and one donkey. There were weeks of checking feet and applying, amidst strong protests, the purple spray. Of the two donkeys, Treacle seems susceptible to anything going – infections, allergies, thrush… Now both of them have begun to look scruffy again, losing their glossy summer coats and acquiring the unkempt between- seasons look.

As ever, I was concerned about our guests, sharing their disappointment about ‘unseasonal’ weather. In the midst of the worst rain two families of campers abandoned ship, or rather canvas, and slept on the floor of the barn.

Unlocking seemed to be progressing everywhere with news of new cases, new ‘spikes’ outside the UK being consigned to the footnotes of journalism. We read articles with graphs showing, beyond the possibility of contradiction, that cases of C19 were climbing again.

‘It’s our fault, our own stupidity,’ one of the barn campers said as he left. ‘We are the virus’.

A June day sampler

A fourth horse has moved in. We went to visit them this morning and all seem happy with their new quarters. The foal is as delightful as all baby animals are.

Waiting for the shearer yesterday, organizing the sheep and then getting them back to the right field – it seemed to take up most of the afternoon. One of the donkeys, Honey, put her head over the fence and seemed amused by ovine antics. Especially those of the big boy, Gwilym, who was less than 100% engaged with the process. I’m hoping we find a use for three fleeces. It’s such a waste otherwise.

There’s slow, steady progress on the loo block in the first shipping container. This is turning out to be a huge undertaking, far more so than anticipated. Only the husband, and the one guy who lives on the farm with us, are working on it. Everyone else is furloughed or, in one case, abroad.

Next year, (how hard it is to imagine 2021 operations), guests using the Pole Barn won’t have to use portaloos or wander down the yard to use those at the Dairy. This project follows the usual pattern. We repurpose or upcycle as much as possible. We buy what materials we can locally, and then the rest arrives via Parcelforce, or Hermes, or any of the national carriers. Deliveries are slower than before.

The weather’s changed over the last few days. It’s cooler, cloudier and windier. Petals and blossom have been shed in the breeze, so the whole effect is wayward and unruly now. Not that anything was manicured before – far from it.

I’ve heard news that my niece’s zoom interview went well this morning, and that she has a second one next week – good news from over the border!

But here a single magpie almost flew into the office. I’ve inherited the superstitions of my female forebears, so I’ll need to find a second magpie soon…

Earth, dust and the memory of ghosts

Earth, sand, mud – what’s not to like if you’re a young child? My daughter and son-in-law have just made their two children a mud kitchen for their newly created garden. There’s great excitement about this. A family friend left a box on their doorstep containing pots, pans and kitchen equipment she no longer needed. So the project is completed and ready for play.

One of the donkeys likes to roll anywhere there’s a loose surface – earth, sand, concrete dust. Her morning routine is two rolls in the farmyard. Down to the ground, onto her back, from there to her left side and then up onto her hooves again, with some effort. Now we have no need to keep the camping area donkey-free, the ladies have the run of the whole field. Over the last couple of weeks, Honey has made herself a grassless, dusty, shallow indentation, an earth bath, in the middle of the flat camping ground. She can now complete her ablutions there. Like Baloo the bear, she’s found her perfect place to scratch.

Earth clings beneath my nails. Over the last eight weeks or so, it’s become difficult to keep my hands properly clean, keyboard clean. My excuse for not wearing gardening gloves is that adult ones are just too big for me.

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If there are ghosts here, we’ve not yet met them. Or they’re extremely benign spirits, just minding their own business. We had no ghostly encounters in the last house either. But in the house before (two houses ago), where I planted that pittosporum, there were definitely presences. We all felt something.

When we left that house late in 2002, I planted, (or buried), a  glass bottle and this is the poem I wrote about it.

Kitchen comments and weather wishes

As far as culinary success goes, the last couple of days have been mixed. There was fabulous pizza on Saturday evening – take-out again – but that was created by my son-in-law, with my daughter assisting. No, I meant personally. Me. Moi.

My new creation on Saturday was radish greens pesto. Using the leaves on the top of some polytunnel radishes and substituting sunflower seeds for nuts. Absolutely delicious.

The cornflake flapjack experiment today was not a triumph. The plan was to make something simple and sweet to be enjoyed by all ages. And not to waste anything…even if the cornflakes were slightly soggy. And gluten-free. I’d also run out of cupcake cases, so I pressed the mixture, flapjack-style, into a square cake tin. And refrigerated it. Sadly, what went into the fridge as a gooey mess came out of the fridge as a slightly colder gooey mess. No suggestion of setting.

But it’s not all about looks, or even texture. We’ve been happily using fingers to scoop up the stickiness.

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Despite the breeze, when we brought the donkeys in tonight, the air was heavy, slightly sticky. The sky was all shades of grey, even bruised grey-purple to the northwest. The right gatepost of the field had rotted away at the bottom. It must have just collapsed today. We felt extremely lucky that the donks hadn’t discovered it, and gone roaming.

May and July are usually are our busiest wedding months. Under normal circumstances, I’d be watching the sky, comparing forecasts and silently willing the weather to hold. or to turn, by the morning of the next wedding. Despite our location – in the west, in the UK – many guests seem to hold us personally responsible for ensuring good weather for their festivities. I blame Pinterest and Instagram.

This desire not to disappoint, meteorologically speaking, weighs heavily on me for the whole season. But, tonight, what we need, what we really need, is a clearing of the air. An absolute downpour.

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The barometer drops

The barometer has dropped. It feels chilly but rain hasn’t cleared the air. I was nursing a dull headache earlier in the day. Apparently, barometric pressure headache is a thing. Maybe that was the explanation.

There have been surveys, more of the ‘how is Covid-19 impacting your business?’ kind of thing – two completed and one shelved for another day. An email from the registrars, a furlough payroll to run – but mostly I’ve been holding the day at arms’ length.

Before the temperature fell there were supersized bumblebees, usually more than one, in the conservatory every day, and I was getting up-close-and-personal to several – trying to rescue them. So a little bumblebee sting research over a coffee seemed apt. What did I discover? That only the females – queens and workers – sting. That a bumblebee can sting more than once. That they are less likely to sting than a hornet or a honeybee, and, most unexpectedly, that they are sensitive to colour, and particularly partial to light blue.

We’ve had most sorts of rain today, except the dramatic torrential sort. There’s been mizzle, drizzle and steady persistent dreary rain. The donkeys, whose coats are not waterproof, have a purpose-built shelter in the field where they usually graze. We took them out late morning when the weather seemed to be brightening (and when the BBC had told us it would). They were quite Eeyoreish, biddable, a little droopy, palpably below par. A donkey does not necessarily do the sensible thing and take cover in her shelter in inclement weather. This evening, they stood soggily at the field gate, seemingly pleased to see us and disinclined to dawdle on their way home.

We passed the pink clematis which, suddenly, has fully clothed the telegraph pole in the yard. I’ll look properly tomorrow.

Night skies, failure and fridges

The fridge is full, jam-packed to bursting, from the bottom two salad drawers to the top shelf, with tomatoes, and there are more puzzling things I can’t even describe. For the first few seconds I’m not sure if I’m sleeping, recalling fragments of dreams or even where I actually am. This has happened a lot in the last few lockdown weeks.

The fridge in question is the small old one which works. It is totally lacking in tomatoes.

It seems like the edges of sleep, dreams and being awake have blurred a little. I’m not getting any assistance from the fancy watch I was bought for my birthday – my laziness really. I’ve mastered the basics of how many steps a day and how my heart-rate fluctuates, but the sleep analysis part leaves me cold, confused, with cramp in my left foot and half the duvet missing. The fancy watch, in broad terms, seems to be all about circles, completing them and then colouring them in; it beeps happily when either of these is achieved.

Apparently, my differing sleep patterns have been noticed also by the husband; I am regularly found face down planted in the bed. And this has never happened before.

Astronomically speaking, the week thus far has been an unmitigated disaster. Despite two attempts of wrapping up warm and gazing attentively and patiently up at the night sky, the results have been failure. Nothing at all. We were hoping to spot either Lyrid meteor showers or satellite trains launched by a megalomaniac billionaire. Nothing, except a spectacularly bright Venus and close observation of space-sharing cat politics – Miss Baxter and Oliver.

But in the afternoon, there was good conversation with old friends, a slowworm discovery on our walk, and an amusingly slow amble with the donkeys, gathering mouthfuls of herb Robert, of dandelions and of willow on their unhurried stableward way.

The poem below is from a very slightly more successful stargazing night – it’s in ‘Cardiff Bay Lunch’.

 

 

 

 

16th April – asses, loss and lemons

Yesterday marked two weeks since we lost Dougal. There is still a very large Spaniel-shaped hole in our lives but, fortunately, his brother and litter-mate seems less bewildered now.

Yesterday was also our anniversary, an oddly low-key day although, since low-key is the new normal, it shouldn’t have been surprising. The twin highlights were donkey-rustling and dessert. Donkeys are cunning. Donkeys are clever. They lull you into a false sense of confidence when you occasionally relax security measures. On one such occasion, yesterday, they took themselves off to explore greener pastures and to evade capture for the day.

Now what you don’t want is an over-indulged donkey grazing unchecked on lush new growth. You don’t want a donkey (or two) having stomach-ache, or colic, or laminitis. You also don’t want a donkey (or two) getting out into the lane and meeting traffic. At this time of lockdown however, there is almost no traffic to worry about and the two escapees seem unscathed by their adventures. They were relatively easy to catch after hours of gorging, and happy to be led home late afternoon, with no dawdling or hedgerow foraging en route.

I mentioned pudding. Having discovered a really simple vegan recipe for lemon posset back in January, the husband has made it for me many times since. Last night’s pudding surpassed superlatives. We over-indulged too!