Losing things and finding Jane again

Jane Austen is a regular preoccupation. Though not a complete Janiac, quotes and phrases from her novels do pop into my head quite regularly. And soothingly.

It is a truth probably universally acknowledged that a new sock and its mate will soon be parted. I recently received a thank you email from my brother-in-law for a pair of merino walking socks which we sent as a birthday offering. Unexciting, predictable but extremely postable. And he walks a lot, even more so since lockdown. My sister made the sock suggestion and we knew that merino wool would be appreciated. Unlike the husband, my brother-in-law’s also the kind of guy who doesn’t lose things.

With me, there’s a constant loss of pens, not socks. All guests arriving on the farm, whether to stay or to eat, have C-19 contact forms to fill in. Just before a Saturday pizza afternoon/evening,( the first at which guests were going to be able to eat their pizzas outside if they wanted to), the pen shortage had escalated into a mini-crisis. Orla lent me 10 of her store of writing implements, fully believing that she would be able to reclaim them. I’m afraid to say that only 7 remained at the end of the evening.

Early in lockdown I bought three or four packs of pens and stashed them in a top drawer in the farm office. I naively commented to my daughter – ‘that’ll keep us nicely stocked up for the summer’. All have gone without a trace.

A small delivery of wine arrived about two weeks ago (the first since February). With it came a rather smart pen bearing the logo of the local West Wales wine business. I claimed the pen as mine – not for sharing, not for folks to borrow. Of course it’s vanished too.

The last three weeks have been hard, exhausting in fact. Once the donks are in bed, the sheep are fed and we have eaten I have no energy left, especially mental energy. Talking to friends, blogging, reading – all are temporarily on hold. The pendulum has swung too far the other way, but it is as must be for now.

I return to Jane Austen…the other evening, I collapsed happily in front of the concoction that is ‘Becoming Jane’. I’d seen it before, probably twice. But it had a watchable cast and sufficient wit to sustain me until bedtime.

The donkeys have a visitor

The farrier has been. We cancelled the last visit because it was too early into lockdown. But, by this week, it had become a necessity. As with sheep shearers, you cannot know an exact arrival time. Even if the farrier is a regular visitor, (so with no chance of getting lost), there are the unknowns about his previous calls. His day had started at 5.30 a.m. and we were fourth on his list.

I was ready early. We’d run out of both carrots and apples but there was no shortage of donkey nuts. The farrier was of course delayed, arriving at 10.15 rather than the estimated 9.30. In anticipation, I had put on both donks’ head collars. However, since this is generally a precursor to leading them out, they smelt a rat. Or quite simply realised that something was afoot.

They are, for all their bickering, inseparable. The larger donkey is Top Donk – first to be led in and out of the stable, expecting also that we will approach her first with a head collar and a feed bucket. She is first in the queue for a pedicure also. We have tried to mix it up occasionally, to give the other smaller donk the option of being first. But the natural order is one they are comfortable with. And it always prevails.

Top Donk was just about co-operative with the farrier, compliant provided that a non-stop supply of food was available as bribery. Her companion is less food-driven and far more intelligent. She had plenty of time to view the proceedings and to decide no-thank-you-very-much-and-if-it’s-all-the-same-to-you-I’d-rather-not. Second Donk is more than capable of refusing point-blank to fit in with human schedules. If the opportunity had presented itself for her to hoof it, she would have done. One very strong small donkey did have her toenails trimmed eventually but she made her displeasure obvious.

When the farrier left, the floor of the stable was sprinkled with hoof parings – grubby potato peelings on the outside with a touch of silvery grey iridescence on the inside.

There are limited distractions for children right now, so the whole proceedings were watched in rapt silence by the four smalls. All at a safe distance from the rear end of feisty Second Donk.

Furlough in the fairy kingdom

In the three months or so of containment here, there has been much hair, and some teeth, activity. The third little girl now has a neat bob, courtesy of the skills of my daughter-in-law. Despite the Welsh accent, she somehow looks very French. 

The guy who lives on the farm with us, (and is helping the husband in the loo block project), has a painful broken tooth. He’s waiting for a call-back to discuss when he’ll be able to have a socially distanced dental appointment to sort out the problem. The six-year-old with a new haircut has lost two teeth in lockdown. The going rate, I’m told, is £2 for the first one and £1 for each subsequent loss.

I was becoming rather concerned. For three nights the smalls reported that there was a tooth fairy no-show. Was there a late furlough amongst the community of fairy folk? Were they working at reduced capacity and thus taking longer to respond to new under-pillow-packages? Was each sprite overstretched, having to fly over a much wider territory?

Or even, was the lack of entertainment and diversions for children of a wobbly tooth vintage, causing excessive wiggling, a swifter shedding of milk teeth and a greater workload for the already stretched miniature winged creatures? These possibilities and more popped into my head.

Finally, on the fourth night, and without apology, explanation or sicknote, the West Wales designated tooth fairy put in an appearance. Everyday life was visited by magic. All, once more, was well.

Slow-mo and speedwell.

Sleep and dreams are disturbed and strange. Energy plummeted, then has stayed low for days. I am not alone; we are not alone – in experiencing odd, conflicting symptoms and emotions. So many I know seem to have hit the lockdown wall in the last week.

A friend says – ‘I almost cried yesterday. My toothbrush was taking too long to charge. I felt exhausted waiting for it: the tears were just there, ready, willing me to let go.’

And from another  – ‘I’m not even going to try to teach any more. I’m a parent, not a teacher. Juggling classroom, kitchen and office  has pushed us to the edge. I want our relationship back. Home-school can wait.’

A third friend tells me she’s given up the news for a fortnight now. TV. Radio. The ever-present phone. She’s given it up. She’s at saturation point. There’s nothing she wants to watch or read or hear. She’s full of stuff, sounds, images, information and misinformation – not sad or anxious, just overloaded.

Meanwhile witch-doctors, purveyors of webinars, gurus and influencers assault our senses. We are urged both to enjoy the slow-mo, to be kind to ourselves but at the same time to be prepared, to get in training for the cut-throat competition on the other side of all of this.

I’m not keeping a gratitude diary or forcing myself to look for any end-of-tunnel lights. When I step away, I’m cheered by a small story about the hoopoe blown off course. And by the sight of bright blue speedwell sprinkled in the hedges.

Don’t mention the flour shortage

For a cat in lockdown it’s more or less business as usual. Eating, drinking, dozing, hunting, being fussed, basking, sleeping. Repeat.

For Miss Baxter, life is pretty good. Food and water are plentiful. There is no flour shortage to furrow her brow, no compulsion to spend her days usefully, creatively or socially – facetiming, zooming and skyping. Even if she doesn’t learn a new language, upcycle an old teapot, forage and pound wild garlic pesto into pungent submission, or make the flourless cookies, (as suggested by Hugh F-W), her world will not end.

Because there are no visitors, she’s less elusive than normal. She feels no need to hide away from the noise and bustle of people arriving, leaving and just being around.

Miss Baxter is unapologetic about pleasure.

Throughout the day she follows the sun around the house, finding the warmest spot to lounge, curled up or stretched out, whisker to tail-tip. Just now she’s moved to the conservatory to lap up the full benefit of afternoon rays. The only sounds to disturb her are a few frantic flies, distant bleats and occasional snatches of half-conversations drifting in through the open windows, from the once-a-day exercisers, walkers, cyclists and a couple on horseback, making strenuous progress up the hill.

For a cat in lockdown in exceptional April weather, it’s business, more or less, as usual, but wound down, slowed down and enjoyed with pure, sensuous, feline satisfaction.

 

 

 

 

 

Epithalamium (sort of) and chocolate sticks

Writing my last post was triggered by the NHS lantern suggestion. This reminded me of August 2008 when, for the first and only time, on the evening of my son’s wedding, Chinese lanterns were lit and released from the farm. Knowing what we now know, I naturally wouldn’t do it again. Whether or not it’s legal, it wouldn’t feel right.

I wrote a poem for that wedding (but it was for the couple, not specifically the bride, so not really an epithalamium). However, this is such a lovely and unusual word that I’ve borrowed it for the title of the post! The poem was in ‘Juice of the Lemon’ and I’ve popped it in below.

A word that does occur in the poem is ‘matchmakers’. In their human form, they’ve featured in the nuptial process for centuries, and they still exist in some cultures. In their confectionery form however they were invented and named some forty years before my son’s wedding – in 1968. They were packaged in boxes, (with gold sheen and black lettering), made to a slide and shell design, similar to the way in which boxes of matches are constructed. They were tiny, a third of the length of the current chocolate sticks, with about seventy of them placed into each box. They were launched originally as a quality ‘nibble’, intended for sophisticated late 1960s adults and for special occasions, not for everyday.

What has happened in the last few weeks in my home, and in others I know about, is that the normal, the everyday and expected have all gone into a giant melting pot with the treats, the unexpected, the celebratory and the special. The future is no longer mapped out or known with any certainty, but there is pleasure and comfort in family, in friends and in the little things. And that doesn’t just mean chocolate.

 

 

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!

For my daughter’s mother-in-law’s sister

For my daughter’s mother-in-law’s sister
is a splendid specimen of woman, lady
of a certain age, not old enough
to be at risk, not at leisure and so,
alas, furloughed.

For my daughter’s mother-in-law’s sister
is fine in style and substance, efficient,
proficient in many areas. No shirker. She is
a grandmother, and she keeps a flat in Hove
with a view
of the promenade.

For my daughter’s mother-in-law’s sister,
deskbound for decades, now footloose, fancy-free
but for how long? She has signed an official piece
of paper. Latter-day landgirl, she must
make ready, hold steady, join willing ranks
who’ll plug the labour gaps
this summer.

For my daughter’s mother-in-law’s sister
will be a classy fruitpicker, in eyeliner,
bright blue, in cropped white linen slacks, a panama hat,
red painted toenails, practical walking sandals.
Decrees say she is needed; she must dirty her hands
for this country’s good.

For my daughter’s mother-in-law’s sister
must go down to the fields, a trug just hung
carelessly at her elbow. No shirker,
she’s a wonderful worker. She will toil
and labour and save the day
this year’s harvest.

My daughter’s mother-in-law’s sister.

Cheating, scandal and milking the media

We’ve just been watching ‘Quiz’, a drama based on true events – the supposed cheating , mostly in the form of strategically placed coughs, which enabled someone, a Major Ingram, to win a million pounds in a TV quiz show Over three nights the story unfolded of the build-up to the contest appearance of Major Ingram, his win and the subsequent investigation, persecution, trial and conviction of the contestant, his wife and a co-conspirator, ( a man with a tickly throat irritation).

This furore dominated the papers and TV – headlines, gossip and editorial – late in 2001 and beyond. The flames of public interest were fanned further by an ITV documentary about the scandal.

What struck me, and the husband, yesterday evening was that this story wasn’t even glimpsed on our radar at the time.  In September 2001 we were staying at the airport in Atlanta when the Twin Towers were hit. There was a brief lockdown and our return to the UK was delayed. In the following weeks and months we were totally focussed on trying to deal with the dramatic downturn in the fortunes of our little airline-related business.

Did they do it, and does it matter were questions we didn’t consider, until last night

I won’t underline any parallels but here is a poem I wrote called “12th September”.

 

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.