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.

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.

Sunstroke and water

Around 200 hectares of damaged grassland and forest. The last time I checked the local news online, the fire was still burning. A hectare is just under two and a half acres, so this is insignificant set against Australia or Indonesia. But’s still horrible and it will have caused, and be causing, enormous harm to our wildlife.

Nellie has sunstroke and has to be kept in to recuperate. Her owner popped down the lane for a couple of bales of hay for her this morning. She and her mother, Bonnie, are Welsh cob x Shire horses. For the last few years, they’ve pulled our cart for the wedding couples who’ve opted for this mode of transport.

Investigation of the on-and-off water situation was ongoing today. The current thought is that the level is low but not critical. A pipe leak was found and repaired. So far so good.

The sheep have barely stirred today, except of course for their evening nuts. They’ve been immobile, hugging the shady edges of their paddock. Two days to shearing. I want to tell them – not long to wait – but they wouldn’t understand. I’ve had to cancel the spaniel’s coiffure appointment for later in June. Trisha, the lovely mobile dog groomer, has been allowed to resume her work, but with very strict guidelines. I’ve decided this new regime would be too traumatic for our old spaniel, so he’s going to stay unkempt.

On the phone to my sister this afternoon, we riffed on the endlessly entertaining topic of the state of our roots, and what we may or may not be doing about them anytime soon. Despite being more unlocked there, over the bridge, than we are here…there is still no salon excursion on the cards for her. Neither of us will be going purple.

Jenny Joseph’s ‘Warning’ was written in 1961 when she was only 29. Its purple referred to clothes, not hair. In 1996, There was a BBC poll for the most popular post-war poem and ‘Warning’ won, beating Dylan Thomas’ ‘Do not go gentle into that good night’. Jenny Joseph’s poem, (however dated some of the references seem today), has been a notable ode to nonconformity, especially female nonconformity, for almost sixty years.

We had a few wedding enquiries today, one from a woman who should have got married in Barcelona two days ago…so many personal disappointments and thwarted plans over the last ten weeks or so. I’ve been recalling the only two non-UK weddings I’ve been to – one in Northern Spain and one in Croatia. Both sunny and warm as you’d expect, but there was a fierce thunderstorm during the Croatian reception.

Rain, rain, rain. We’ve been promised a drop in temperature and light showers tomorrow. Fauna and flora – everything needs it.

Rainbows – yes, lanterns – no

Back then, we did all the research that seemed required. Our main concern was fire. We didn’t want to be responsible for a chimney or a tinder-dry meadow being set alight, or even a hay-barn. We were assured that the paper structures would drift gently downwards when the flame went out. And, should one happen to snag a branch on its descent, it would just stay there glowing until extinguished. No problem.

Our other concern was eco-friendliness – we didn’t want the carcase, the thin wire ribs to be left, littering, polluting. We wanted it all to melt away into nothingness, leaving only the memory of flight. So, those that we sourced had slender twiggy struts, with not a wire in sight. We felt safe, pleased with our sustainable alternative.

What we didn’t think of, and only heard of afterwards as these things gained in popularity, was how one in flight might be mistaken for a flare, might alert one of the rescue services, might waste someone’s precious time, resources.

But it took an image of an owl punctured and mutilated for us to realise that a paper bird, whatever its bones were made of, could still maim and kill.

So be uplifted; share the symbolism of airborne hopes, but just breathe your thanks and wishes into the night sky. No lighting of lanterns. We know better now.

The picture is of the tipi meadow lit up, but with wild flowers.