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.

Lost, lavender and another birthday

George the cat seemed confused. Outside the pizza wagon, on the conservatory windowsill, in the yard, up in the vegetable garden. He’s been spending time here for the last few days now, but then, yesterday especially, it was as if he’d forgotten where home was. And he seemed distressed about it.

In the heat of Wednesday and Thursday who could blame him for losing the plot a little? For two days the sheep barely moved till mid-afternoon. A couple of times I had to check that we still had three of them. They were so utterly still. May was, without doubt, a record-breaker, followed by a few weeks of more mixed, more normal Summer days. Then came Wednesday and Thursday. Scorching and humid. Brain foggingly, ankle swellingly humid. The kind of heat when it’s impossible to feel fragrant for long.

The barometer is not entirely responsible for my recent sense of being overwhelmed, under-achieved and exhausted. I’ve found the images of the British beach madness depressing too.

We had thunder and lightning last night; and rain, just enough to clear the air. We watched Bennett’s ‘Talking Heads’  – just the one monologue with the brilliant Sarah Lancashire. Excellently acted but bleak. And Radio 4 was right about the appalling knitwear. Have always found Bennett challenging. He’s very talented and has such a great ear for speech, but it’s quite a dark, narrow furrow he ploughs.

On what would have been the beginning of the Glasto weekend, it’s also my elder son’s birthday. Have been round for tea and, inevitably, cake – this time a Hugh F-W carrot cake which my daughter-in-law and two smalls baked bright-and-early this morning. My son took the day off and he woke to smells of baking.

I’ve never been to Glastonbury, (as in the festival). I love the abbey though. It was the place we visited the day I discovered I was pregnant (with today’s birthday boy). I think the scale of the festival would put me off now – smaller festivals, yes, but not something that massive.

The lavender is finally out and spectacular as it always is. I brushed past it earlier. Then, on their way home, the two youngest brought me flowers from the cutting section of one of the polytunnels. And they fed the fish – a pinch each.

A happiness expert spoke on the radio yesterday. ‘Happiness,’ she said, ‘is not having what you want…but wanting what you have.’ And, despite all the conflicting emotions, I do.

Flowers delivered by the youngest two

Sourdough and sad tales

It was a quiet weekend, cool, grey and yes, we had rain. The real wet stuff. Which makes the lowering of water level in the new pond all the more surprising. The pond-clean sachets have finally worked. The water has cleared from the grime and slime of a week or two ago. There’s no leak, so this level drop has to be caused by evaporation. This evening we’ll hose in water, otherwise the fish will soon be paddling. Not swimming.

Yesterday afternoon, while the spaniel was dozing across the husband’s lap, our neighbour knocked on the door. To warn us about foxes. On Saturday afternoon he’d lost eight laying hens and four ducks. He thinks there must have been two predators, working together.

Many years and a house ago, we had two young rescue cats, siblings, who did this. They picked on the weakest baby bunnies in the field adjoining our garden. Sometimes they’d drag a victim in through the kitchen cat-flap – one pulling, one pushing. Clever, efficient and appalling.

The rabbits weren’t always dead, or even injured. I vividly remember watching some TV drama one evening, when a young rabbit darted out from behind the screen. Hale and hearty but startled. And hell to catch.

The spaniel was needy at the weekend. No walks, little food, much falling over. He’s still drinking and he wags his tail. Much cuddling seems to be necessary. We know that what we’re dealing with is a slow goodbye.

Lunch today majored on homemade sourdough baked by my son-in-law. I almost certainly ate too much and am now feeling it. It’s warm in the conservatory. The dog whimpered so I lifted him onto the sofa beside me. A fortnight ago I wasn’t able to do this alone.

What sort of urinals should we have

The temperature’s dropped. We’ve had some trifling, inconsequential rain – nothing that seems like it means business. The atmosphere’s still and heavy. Typically, for Saturday afternoon and evening, when my son-in-law will again be cooking wood-fired pizzas, more serious rain, and wind, is promised. The canopy will need to be repaired by then.

There’s been talk of how to set up the shearing tomorrow. What happens re social distancing? What if it rains?

The four fish have survived their house move, and, since nature abhors a vacuum, the kids have conjured up a toad. As a new resident for the former pond. I’m not yet sure if this is a real amphibian or a product of their imaginations.

I couldn’t sleep last night. My brain was racing. So many conflicting views of what’s actually the right way forward now; so much information but who to trust? So much feeling of impotence about the current US situation. And there, in the middle of the night, the quiet awareness that our spaniel is slowly fading. I drank a glass of water – (yes, it works!) – sat in the kitchen with the dog and let it all wash over me.

Earlier yesterday evening, after checking emails and posting my blog, I returned to the farmhouse kitchen. ‘Good,’ he said. ‘You’re back. What sort of urinals should we get?’

This is not my area of expertise, so that line of conversation was not going anywhere. But I listened, and I did learn a little. He’s made his choice, but along the route to a decision, it struck me what a balancing act design and construction is, with different costs, financial and environmental, for each option. A minefield, or a reed bed, of possibilities.

And so the project moves on.

Flaming June

The first day of Summer, though it feels so familiar. And there have been flames, a grassland and forest fire a couple of miles away, which started late yesterday. Driving to buy some garden plants this afternoon, from a small local nursery with an honesty box, we saw plumes of smoke. And a flash, as sunlight caught the moment a helicopter tipped its cache of water on the blaze. It’s just so dry. We came past scorched lawns and banks – very unlike West Wales.

It would have been my mother-in-law’s birthday today, an indomitable little Yorkshire woman. Tough exterior but a soft centre. I still miss her. In a rare moment of abandon, she slipped off her chair at my sister’s wedding. She blamed the upholstery rather than the bubbly.

Today is also my sister’s wedding anniversary, her 29th. She’s messaged me a picture of the table set before the celebration tea-party. Fizz, flutes, cakes, china and a tablecloth – very English country garden. The wedding was like that too – a small affair for about forty or so people. A Victorian church, top hats and tails for the key males. The bridesmaid wore Laura Ashley. There was much sunshine and it was all quite lovely. More charming and more understated than the traditional weddings of ‘Four Weddings and a Funeral’ three years later.

It’s been a day or two of projects. My son has hung cargo netting – donated by a friend – between trees in the veggie garden, for the older ones to play on. It’s in an area of dappled light, not the full glare. Just what these fair-skinned girls need.

The husband has been making taps – copper ones – out of odds and ends, leftovers and gifted pieces. They’ve been drying outside in the sun post their anti-rust coat of oil. My one-and-only washing up bowl was deployed in the cooling process after soldering yesterday. I’d only just retrieved it, after it had been borrowed on Saturday as a temporary home for goldfish. They’ve been moved now from small pond to bigger pond. The eco pond clean solution has still not worked, so it was hard to find them this morning. But we did. All four.

This evening the new equine guests are moving onto our fields. I’ll visit them tomorrow.