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’.

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.

Being in a heightened state of readiness, or not

The in-box is full of directions, instructions, imperatives. What happened to ‘please’ or ‘have you considered?’ They’re all at it – websites, forums, agencies, the bigboy channel managers, the free and not-so-free consultants. Stand out. Get ahead. Catch your competitors napping. Hit the ground running. Make sure you’re Covid-ready.

The problem is that it’s difficult to prepare for the unknown. More of it. Here, in Wales especially, we don’t know what we’re going to be allowed to do, how much of it, with what provisos and restrictions, and when. In tourism and the hospitality industry, the future is still very fuzzy. So it’s becoming beyond frustrating to be harangued continually. What actions are we taking? What announcements are we going to make on our websites and social media? What reassurances can we give our future guests and customers that we are primed and ready to go?

Apart from anything else, these exhortations to us, as business owners, suggest that there’s a huge team of cleaning and maintenance staff here in hazmat suits, raring for the end-of-lockdown whistle to blow. And there isn’t. Our little team has been furloughed. We won’t be calling anyone in until we have the relevant information from the government, and we can look at it, understand the implications and make a plan. Until then, we’re not making guesses or empty promises.

Perhaps I’m not alone in feeling bullied. I’ve always had rather a glass-half-full role in every situation I’ve found myself in – a kind of blend of Heidi and Pippi Longstocking. Today, I’ve let tiredness and grief overwhelm me. But I will be more than ready when it’s time.

Too hot to trot, or the blackbirds bathe

I’ve put two eco pond-clean sachets in the trough in the conservatory wall. Sadly, all is still green, gloom and murk. Not in any way fish-ready. Hoping for a miracle I checked again earlier and disturbed Mr and Mrs Blackbird, who were cooling off and enjoying their private ablutions. I’m not sure who was more startled.

The husband is walking the boundaries with someone who may be renting three fields to graze her horses on. It’s been over six months since the last ones moved away.

He called to the old spaniel, who was dozing on the quarry tiled kitchen floor, to see if he too would like to inspect the hedges. Enthusiasm – zero. It reminded me of a poem I wrote in a May when we had both spaniels, and they were young and full of energy. But still capable, very occasionally, of being underwhelmed and lacking in enthusiasm. That poem, ‘Against the grain’ was read on Radio 4 in an Ulster accent – surprising to me, but effective. The only time I’ve had one of my poems chosen to be included on ‘Poetry Please’ and a great honour.

Update. We will soon have three new four-legged guests. Their owner pronounced their new residence to be ‘lovely fields’. But we knew that already.