Making hay, thunderclaps and uncertainty

It has been a period of incessant activity. Juliet’s birthday, Lammastide and another glorious full moon came and went. Barely remarked on.

Weather of all sorts has visited us. Of course there have been blue skies and staggeringly beautiful sunsets. But also days of brain-fogging humidity. Clammy, restless nights. Thunder and lightning. Hot heavy showers. Brief power cuts when the storms were close. For a minute or so technology was extinguished. I was mid-conversation with a prospective guest when this happened two days ago. He rang back. ‘I think there’s a problem with my phone,’ he said. I didn’t correct him.

Bad weather is a problem in this holiday business. You feel – or I do anyway – personally responsible – when it rains or is unseasonably cold. Many guests expect perfect, sun-filled days. Some are in lush, green West Wales because their foreign holiday is not feasible or sensible this year. They’ve been locked in for months and their more exotic plans are just not going to happen this summer. And some visitors are here because they know us, have been here before and understand the vagaries of the UK climate.

I am aware of the emotional investment in a short break to the Welsh countryside. I want, in some small way, for a stay on our little farm to replenish these visitors after months of confinement. And I want them to appreciate what an amazing part of the UK we live in… Most do, I think.

Making longterm plans is impossible now. But today we’re making hay, with thunderclaps in the distance and the odd scary shower. This hay will feed our pampered pets for the winter. We have no illusions about being ‘real’ farmers.

It was stickiness in the extreme earlier. Even Miss Baxter looked worn out, overwhelmed by the heat, albeit in a languid feline kind of way. Two buzzards and a red kite circled above the farmyard this afternoon. The newly turned grass was obviously the draw, but, to us, it seemed as if they were waiting for one of us to drop.

Hay is being baled, despite late afternoon thunderclaps and fat globules of rain. The husband rang down earlier. ‘Get help,’ he said. ‘There’s more than we thought.’

It’ll be a late supper tonight.

Flight and the jynx bird

Finding somewhere which feels like home has a lot to do with luck. This little farm has been our home for thirteen years now, the longest we’ve lived anywhere. Finding it was a rather odd process, and the ‘it’ we found wasn’t necessarily the ‘it’ we thought we’d find, or were looking for. But there were good omens on the day we found it – a hare, and then later, in early evening, dolphins.

In a way I envied the two of you,
the box lid farmyard prettiness, it all
unmarred by serial improvements
ripping it apart.

I saw the pristine canvas, past lives shed.
You arrived, cabin-bags-only, freshly
severed from your partners, your stories
scattered from the Bridge.

You were sold the dream of the new start, bought
your farm, while we turned up trailing baggage,
failing parents, ailing child, itching scabs,
partly mended souls.

We stumbled over tyre mountains, decades
of buried rubble, brambles which burgeoned,
a wealth of unconnected gutters,
mud, flood, persistent rain.

Last five years and you’ll stay forever!  Like
it was an ordeal or trial. That’s what
he said, the deal struck, some hay bought, lobbed
in the back of his truck –

as if weightless. City folk. I prickled.
He shrugged and left. Like we were strange, foolish,
like it was hard. That seen-it-all-before look
in our ramshackle yard.

As if he knew about winter, and the fact
of all we’d had before at the turn of tap,
the flick of switch. We learned to live with
unpredictability…

Yet the Jynx bird picked you, curdled the milk,
turned the hens off laying, drained the well to dust.
In that husk of a home the cracks widened:
you started to hope

for a new chance, another flight. But here,
us, despite all soothsayers, we put down
roots. This place, of all places, has hooked
us in to stay.

Grief and a lesson

We’ve been living here since 2007. The animals we’ve shared this space with have been, and still are, only pets. We’ve lost two cats, rescued siblings we brought with us – first Cooper and then Chaplin. Both are buried under the little walnut tree which is not thriving. We’ve lost two sheep – English Dave, saved from the pot in Buckinghamshire, and the young lamb, Gwilym 1, who died at the hands of a cocky locum vet. A sad waste.

And now both the spaniels. Our two English Springer Spaniels were brothers, bought from the next little farm up the lane in late May 2006. This was the year before we moved here permanently. The surviving one, Dylan, died on Friday, ten weeks and a day after we lost his brother. If he’d had a death certificate I believe ‘died of a broken heart’ would have been a contributory factor.

In the human world many worse things have happened over the last five or six months. Thousands and thousands have been bereaved and have suffered hugely. Globally it has been a grim year and there is no quick fix to the situation the UK is now in. I get all that, and obviously it is affecting us too.

But this morning we are still in the early stages of processing the loss of our furry companions, the legendary duo, who, for the last fourteen years, played such a key part in the experience of all who lived here or visited.

The lesson I’ve learnt? Do not acquire two pups from the same litter. The chances are that their lives will come to an end at around the same time.  And that is heart-breaking.

The boys

Faradiddle – what a firkin!

Yesterday, mid-afternoon, the incident of note was a minor explosion. It must have been about four p.m., and I didn’t actually hear it. The conservatory where I was sitting, writing lists, is across the other side of the farmyard from our little rustic bar. More of a phut than a bang then.

‘Y Bar Bach’ is of course not currently graced by punters, but the door to the bar also leads to our laundry area, so when I unlocked to take a pile of washing out of one of the two machines, I was met by an unmistakable smell – earthy and sweet. The floor was sticky, in parts treacly; the plug was absent and there was a slight dusting of scum on the top of the last plastic firkin of local beer delivered before lockdown. I wiped it, revealing the label – ‘Amber Ale, 4.0%, duty paid on 39.35 litres.’

My immediate thought was that it was gone, wasted, useless, yet another casualty of the current chaos. And then I wondered if 39 or so litres  could be poured onto the compost heap, or could I hive a little off first for some sort of smelly hair treatment? But two of the menfolk appeared and a pint glass was found to test it. ‘Absolutely fine’ said my son-in-law, who knows a thing or two about beer. ‘But it won’t keep. It’ll be spoilt within twenty-four hours.’ What a shame.

I needn’t have concerned myself. The firkin was propped on its side on the wall by the farm gate, next to a charity pot and a packet of disinfectant wipes. One-by-one the husband, son and son-in-law, plus a few locals from the hamlet, (meticulously observing hygiene and social distancing rules), turned up with bottles, jugs, flagons and buckets. Within forty-five minutes, it was emptied.

Not everything that happens in lockdown is grim. There are occasional serendipitous plusses.