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.

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…

Kitchen comments and weather wishes

As far as culinary success goes, the last couple of days have been mixed. There was fabulous pizza on Saturday evening – take-out again – but that was created by my son-in-law, with my daughter assisting. No, I meant personally. Me. Moi.

My new creation on Saturday was radish greens pesto. Using the leaves on the top of some polytunnel radishes and substituting sunflower seeds for nuts. Absolutely delicious.

The cornflake flapjack experiment today was not a triumph. The plan was to make something simple and sweet to be enjoyed by all ages. And not to waste anything…even if the cornflakes were slightly soggy. And gluten-free. I’d also run out of cupcake cases, so I pressed the mixture, flapjack-style, into a square cake tin. And refrigerated it. Sadly, what went into the fridge as a gooey mess came out of the fridge as a slightly colder gooey mess. No suggestion of setting.

But it’s not all about looks, or even texture. We’ve been happily using fingers to scoop up the stickiness.

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Despite the breeze, when we brought the donkeys in tonight, the air was heavy, slightly sticky. The sky was all shades of grey, even bruised grey-purple to the northwest. The right gatepost of the field had rotted away at the bottom. It must have just collapsed today. We felt extremely lucky that the donks hadn’t discovered it, and gone roaming.

May and July are usually are our busiest wedding months. Under normal circumstances, I’d be watching the sky, comparing forecasts and silently willing the weather to hold. or to turn, by the morning of the next wedding. Despite our location – in the west, in the UK – many guests seem to hold us personally responsible for ensuring good weather for their festivities. I blame Pinterest and Instagram.

This desire not to disappoint, meteorologically speaking, weighs heavily on me for the whole season. But, tonight, what we need, what we really need, is a clearing of the air. An absolute downpour.

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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.