Byebye tipi and feeding the sheep

Today the chaps have been taking down one of the tipi frames in the yard. We’re going to leave one frame there and cover it – when time permits. But the other canvas is beyond repair. It’s over eight years old now so has lasted well!

The frame was made on the farm with Welsh poles we brought back to de-bark here. The canvas was 50% flax and 50% organic canvas. At that time, (the end of 2011 and beginning of 2012), we couldn’t find a British giant tipi maker. All giant tipis seemed to be imports. Which is why we chose the self-build route.

Taking down the second skeleton is part of the tidying-up the farmyard project. We plan to offer socially distanced eating and drinking there soon – maybe twice a week. There’s painting to do and the creation of a mural based on local children’s designs.

However ready you are for guests, it’s the last details which eat up time. When you’re not on mains – for gas, water or sewage – there’s bound to be an occasional glitch too. It’s part of the way of life here and keeps us from complacency.

But our first visitors have arrived – three units were occupied from yesterday and a fourth today. It’s all short breaks. Harder work now though, with the additional hoops to jump through.

The weather has been a bit disappointing for our first two days. Yesterday the forecast worsened as the day moved on. I wanted sun. I wanted our little smallholding to look at its best. But the barometer had other ideas.

The husband, and the guy who lives with us on the farm, have been working long and many days. We’ve been on a mission to get ready for our partial re-opening. Even the in-theory-office-bound one has been busy physically. According to the gadget on my wrist I walked over 16,000 steps yesterday. No walk, just visitor-preparation activity. For the moment at least, the rather more relaxed way of life of recent months is submerged.

Apparently there was a success on the plumbing front yesterday. It’s a complex system here, a black art understood only by the husband. It needs documenting for the ‘Clapham omnibus’ scenario…though he assures anyone who asks that there are ‘schematics’. Would anyone else understand them? I rest my case.

Early yesterday evening I was mucking out the donks and two guests toddled past – a child of about 18 months and his grandfather. I gave them a bucket of sheep treats. Sheep have very soft mouths and nibble gently when hand-fed. It reminds me of one of the really good aspects of doing what we do. And for now, that, and a G&T is enough reward for one evening.

Pizza, fleeces, bees and a tree

I mentioned gluten-free pizza. Finding the perfect flour for a gluten-free pizza dough has taken a long time. But the company we buy our pizza flour from also produces a gluten-free flour. It is, albeit eye-wateringly expensive, amazing.

The youngest and largest sheep, Gwilym, has been getting bossier. When sheep nut treats arrive there’s great excitement, followed by a little tussle with Gwyneth. Gwilym wants the lion’s share. However, he’s usually very respectful of the old lady, Blackberry. Not so today and yesterday. Despite his size and greed, he’s more cautious than the girls, less interested in being petted. Though he will now eat from my hand.

We have the beginnings of a plan for their fleeces.  I’m not a spinner or knitter, weaver or felter, so insulation is the answer. We’re going to wash the fleeces and then incorporate them into the insulation of the upcycled hot water tank for the new showers.

Today, the men worked between and during downpours. It was cats and dogs. Stair rods. When the donkeys finally made it out to their field, I told them to be sensible, take cover in their purpose-built shelter or hide under the trees. I didn’t want to find them standing in the rain, at the gate, looking mournful and accusing. Did they listen?

The bus roof repair is completed. Two yurts have been put up and waterproofed. One more to go, as we will only have three bookable this season. We going to have to leave out some of the frills and the non-essentials this year to minimise the risk of infection.

Cleaning materials, PPE and essential pieces of kit arrive almost daily. I’m trying to find the greenest way of complying with all current advice and recommendations. A package which arrived today contained a note saying my order had funded the planting of a tree.

We love trees. Bees too. My daughter, a novice beekeeper, has a surfeit. Her mentor is currently advising her on the setting up of a second hive. There’s also a new swarm which arrived a couple of weeks ago and seems to have settled next door. They must like it here. Long may this continue.

Soundtracks and a guilty secret

Ennio Morricone, conductor, composer and trumpet-player, died yesterday. Amongst a long career of achievements he wrote the scores to over 400 films and TV productions. Westerns were a particularly successful genre for him. Many of his film scores are classics, (including those he wrote for Sergio Leone and Giuseppe Tornatore). They’ve been absorbed into our popular culture for over 60 years.

The husband is a man of endless resourcefulness, a combination of optimism and problem-solving ability. Recently, I have found myself in a virtual world of ebullient, noisy plumbers. Weekday lunches often have a soundtrack of YouTube tutorials, jolly chaps teaching all sorts of skills not normally on my radar.

We both had one very disturbed night over the weekend. He was fretting over some technical issue and had to get up to draw his way out of the glitch. He then stayed up, wide-awake, to watch a film. Probably involving guns and all things macho. Upstairs, I kept hearing a single plaintive ‘mew’, one note of anguished cat. It lacked Miss Baxter’s range, her ascending scale and volume. The sound occurred every ten minutes or so. I searched the house for an injured animal. Turns out it was a branch, scraping in the wind against a bedroom window, which made those feline-imitating calls of distress.

My current guilty pleasure is wandering through animal rescue websites. I had to stop myself from clicking ‘reserve me’ next to the image and description of a delinquent, anti-social goat. One bossy sheep, Gwilym, is quite enough.

I wrote a haiku or three yesterday…

Define spaniel?
Committed to living life
with limitless joy.

Your brother could have
had webbed feet. Instead, you ran
joyful – till you stopped.

Just an afterthought.
The cute pup chosen: how could
we leave you behind?

A hard act to follow? For now, I need to keep resisting the lure of unfriendly goats.

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

Elderflowers – one day at a time

In the afternoon, my daughter popped in to borrow scissors and to check we were ok with her collecting elderflower heads for cordial. There are still plenty left for berries, but higher up, less accessible. We’d saved Welsh apple juice bottles from the bar – months and months ago when the bar was open. I had thoughts of making elderflower liqueur when I woke up yesterday – but listlessness took over.

It was the second morning of waking up in a spaniel-free, dog-free house. Inconsiderate of our need for sleep at night, the cat had brought in one after another mouse to consume at her leisure under the bed. First thing, I’d had to slither underneath to scoop up five piles of small rodent innards. As soon as we’d vacated, post tea and muesli, she fell asleep, replete, on our bed.

For the second consecutive day, Miss Baxter absented herself from the conservatory – on Saturday, probably to avoid a noisy invasion of small people, while two of their parents were making pizzas. Then, on Sunday, her absence was doubtless due to the previous night’s strenuous antics and maybe also she was avoiding an embarrassing display of human sentiment. We were looking at spaniel photos and videos on the PC. We hadn’t realized there were so many. Lovely memories. But Miss Baxter does not like fuss.

Late afternoon, I tried to pull myself out of the low mood to collect some elderflower heads for my own use. A small bored person appeared, looking for distraction. She helped to strip the flowers from their tiny stalks. Somewhere between two and four weeks from now, we will see how drinkable this liqueur is!

The small person stayed to feed the sheep and help get the stable donkey-ready. She’d tired of the other project on offer in the yard– painting a new house for the growing brood of chicks.

In the evening I felt too exhausted for anything other than submitting to i-player. Our kitchen/living-room felt curiously empty. But it felt good to have done something.

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

A June day sampler

A fourth horse has moved in. We went to visit them this morning and all seem happy with their new quarters. The foal is as delightful as all baby animals are.

Waiting for the shearer yesterday, organizing the sheep and then getting them back to the right field – it seemed to take up most of the afternoon. One of the donkeys, Honey, put her head over the fence and seemed amused by ovine antics. Especially those of the big boy, Gwilym, who was less than 100% engaged with the process. I’m hoping we find a use for three fleeces. It’s such a waste otherwise.

There’s slow, steady progress on the loo block in the first shipping container. This is turning out to be a huge undertaking, far more so than anticipated. Only the husband, and the one guy who lives on the farm with us, are working on it. Everyone else is furloughed or, in one case, abroad.

Next year, (how hard it is to imagine 2021 operations), guests using the Pole Barn won’t have to use portaloos or wander down the yard to use those at the Dairy. This project follows the usual pattern. We repurpose or upcycle as much as possible. We buy what materials we can locally, and then the rest arrives via Parcelforce, or Hermes, or any of the national carriers. Deliveries are slower than before.

The weather’s changed over the last few days. It’s cooler, cloudier and windier. Petals and blossom have been shed in the breeze, so the whole effect is wayward and unruly now. Not that anything was manicured before – far from it.

I’ve heard news that my niece’s zoom interview went well this morning, and that she has a second one next week – good news from over the border!

But here a single magpie almost flew into the office. I’ve inherited the superstitions of my female forebears, so I’ll need to find a second magpie soon…

Surely time for shearing

The sheep need a haircut. We’ve got three. They’re pets. The eldest, Blackberry, is a bit scraggy and scruffy now, quite frail with regular foot problems. She still likes being petted, enjoys eating, shouting and she is  indisputably the boss.

The highlight of their day is sheep nut time, early evening. Sheep nuts must be absolutely delicious, but, sadly, slugs like them too. Some huge slithery specimens have made it into the dustbin where the nuts are stored and have gorged themselves. We’ve swapped bins today for a newer one with a snug fitting lid. It might keep them out for a while but I’m not holding my breath. What we really need is hedgehogs!

Our first sheep was Dave. My sister, (who lives in Buckinghamshire), was given two orphan lambs to bottle feed. Mildred didn’t survive, however her brother thrived and became friendly and inquisitive. He soon outgrew my sister’s garden. When the farmer next door offered to take him back so that he could fulfil his ovine destiny, my sister and family baulked at the thought of Dave as lamb chops.

So, he came to us. Or rather, the husband collected him. A round trip of 416.4 miles.  208.2 miles of it were spent with Dave bleating on the back seat of the old Landrover, and in the driver’s left ear. Dave, not Dai or Dewi or Dafydd, was a noisy and nosy individual, who charmed both us and our visitors. Although, we hadn’t planned to have a pet sheep, when he died there was a woolly hole on our little farm which had to be plugged quickly.

We’re waiting to hear back from the shearer, hoping he can fit them in soon. It must be unbearable under all that wool.

The old lady herself, Blackberry

Three pet sheep and a long Latin name

On Saturday, we moved our pet sheep down from the fields by the bike park to the little paddock opposite the stable. Where they were before they had access to far too much grass. We were concerned for their health. Also, the oldest of them, Blackberry, has recurring foot issues and we wanted to be able to keep an eye on her.

Getting them down to the farmyard was an interesting operation, facilitated mostly by shaking a bucket of sheep nuts. We were also assisted by three small herders, two six-year-olds and a three- year-old. We are now re-familiarising ourselves with how vocal the sheep are.

Over the last few days, bird noise has intensified, but the air has become much clearer of ovine bleating and calling, (from the fields of neighbouring farmers and smallholders). Our three – Blackberry, Gwyneth and Gwilym – are filling the sheep noise vacuum.

The sheep paddock is also close to the new flower bed and to the tyres where we’ve planted seed potatoes. The potatoes, so far, are not doing very well, but I have hopes for the little shrub we planted just pre-lockdown. I’ve always loved any flowers, plants or trees with variegated leaves. Pittosporum tenuifolium variegatum. I don’t know if it has a non-Latin name. We had one before, two houses ago, and it was an absolute corker.

There were lots of odd things about that house. It was beautiful but in the wrong place. It sat awkwardly in a garden which had had two chunks bitten out of it in the name of property development. We planted the pittosporum just after moving in. In the nine years we lived there, it flourished. It grew from a tiny plant to a huge, healthy specimen over eight or nine feet tall. I’m hopeful about this one…