The Spring bypass

The temperature rose to 25ºC today here and over 29º in London, which apparently has been the highest April temperature in the UK since 1949, and was hotter than Corfu or the South of France.  Since we had enough snow to block roads, even major ones, last month, it’s all quite exciting.  We rather expect this country to have sensible, warm and wet or cold and wet weather – though we’ve had quite enough of the cold and wet sort in the last few weeks – rather than swinging to extremes (British extremes, that is, it’s hardly Equatorial or Arctic).  Anyway, I’ve painted the chickens’ greenhouse with Coolglass, and they don’t seem to mind the heat.  There are a number of panes replaced by wire and mesh, so it’s well ventilated.  I also spray water in there to bring the temperature down.  They’re laying well, anyway.  I put a dozen eggs aside for Wink to take home; some for her and some for her neighbour but, inevitably, they were forgotten.  We’re having eggs for dinner, anyway.

Johnny the farmer came round today to check what fencing needed to be done before he could put cattle on the field.  If you remember, Dave built two brick pillars back in the autumn to attach the fencing to, as the posts at one end weren’t strong enough.  Johnny hadn’t realised how much work was needed, but they’ve removed, welded where necessary and replaced the angle irons that are the posts in between the pillars, and put up a couple of wooden posts for the time being, so that ten cattle could be put on the field this afternoon.  They’ve been beating the bounds, checking out their territory, and they look quite happy young things, all racing each other and jostling cheerfully, like any youngsters.

The only thing still to be done is for the cappings to be cemented on to the top of the pillars.  They’re just resting there at present, though they’re very heavy and stable for now.  The biggest difficulty will be lifting them off and back on again.  It’ll take two strong men.  Or a couple of female weightlifters.  Even in the days when I was pretty muscular myself, I’d not have been able to shift my half.

Z plans frivolity

We had a jolly family party on Sunday and it’s been a lovely visit from Wink.  She’s off home again in the morning and we’re planning to meet in London and so on, and for us to visit her – and, now she’s more retired than not, she can come here whenever she has the whim to do so.

I keep trying to develop my frivolous side.  I’m not terribly good at it.  Everyday levity can be managed, but genuinely letting go isn’t so easy to manage.  I don’t, of course, mean in the dancing-on-the-table sense, but in the sense of thinking, not what I should do but what I’d like to do.  The one thing we’ve stuck to, for the most part, is having lunch out every week.

So that’s what I’ll aim for this summer.  Days out, just for fun.

In the meantime, today it’s mostly been rodding out drains.  Oh yes, Z knows how to party 🙁

Happy birthday, big sister.

Still a bit obsessed with chickens, though it’s all going well.  Rose, who has an affinity with birds, used the week we were away to train them into going to bed when asked.  They wouldn’t for me, but now they do.  So there’s no more problem there at present.  Next job will be introducing the newbies, though, which I’m not looking forward to.  But it’ll be all right in the end, I’m quite sure.

LT has put up a perch in the new shed and will do another one in the next day or two.  I’ve put in one of the trio of nest boxes, leaving the other for the newbies.  I leave the door open and the original lot are wandering in and out.  There’s no hurry.

Wink is arriving tomorrow for a few days – did I mention that it’s her 70th birthday today?  Celebratory champagne would flow like water off a duck’s back, if you’ll excuse the mixed metaphors, except that she was unwell a few weeks ago and hasn’t started drinking again since.  She might concede a point or she might stick with the fizzy water.  I now count alcohol in half hours rather than units.  Do I want another glass of wine enough to wipe half an hour off my life?  The answer is likely to be yes, I can’t deny.

It’s all a matter of what you can relate to, and a random allocation of an end-of-life position that might be tomorrow or might not happen for decades is not something I can.  I devised a financial equation years ago, though.  I think that we might have bought a piece of Lowestoft china – thing was, next time I was considering buying a mild extravagance, I thought, hmm, it costs a middle-of-the-road teabowl and saucer…yup, it’s worth it to me.  I explained this excitedly to the Sage, who was entirely in favour (he always approved of me buying stuff, he always felt I didn’t spend enough on myself).  Now, my attitude is slightly different.  It’s “hey, it’s barely a week’s pension, it’s worth quite that!”  Or something.  I’ve relaxed, anyway.  Which can’t be bad.

LT cooks while Z blogs

I’ve never been so late in sowing seeds – that is, there have been odd years when I have grown no vegetables at all, but I’ve always got going by the beginning of April when it’s happened and usually much earlier.  There was a time when I started some plants off in January in the greenhouse, but I don’t do that now, I really don’t think it’s worthwhile for me.  Seedlings are much slower to get going and, though the plants are a little earlier, they get leggy in the propagator.  And I’m a fair-weather gardener nowadays.  I do it for pleasure and satisfaction, not any obligation and I don’t supply anyone else, unless I offer a friend a few plants.  Time was, some 20 years ago, when I ran a plant stall at Ro’s Middle School Fete, which was always held in the morning/early afternoon of Cup Final day in May (this is the soccer type of football, for overseas friends) – the idea was that you hadn’t got any other plans for the day, you could come along, spend your money, helpers could clear up and everyone be home in time for kick off.  I never watched the match, but a brisk three hours suited me nicely.  The growing of the plants had taken months, though.  When Ro left the school and the supply of lovely vegetable plants and bedding plants dried up, it must have been a disappointment for anyone who’d relied on them for the previous four years.  And, a few years later, Al opened his greengrocery, so I grew stuff for him instead.  Now, I’m not obliged to anyone and I suppose I never was.  I just liked to help and I did enjoy the growing of the little plants, though late frosts were always a worry as the greenhouses were full of tender plants.  A cold night in May is often followed by strong early morning sunshine, so the risk was young leaves frosted and then scorched.

Anyway, this year the winter weather kicked in late, so I delayed it all.  Then we went away for a week and the forecast still wasn’t very good, so I didn’t bother.  Anything I’m too late for, I’ll buy as plants.  But I decided the moment had come and looked for the seeds….that turned out to be a bit of a do.  I’d got some part-packs from last year, so hadn’t bought some things, including herbs, tomatoes, chard and so on, and I had brought all the seed packets into the house to check what I did and didn’t need.  But that was last November and then we’d cleared this room because we were going to decorate and then have the new carpet laid.  So stuff had been taken away and some of it hadn’t returned.  Though actually, I didn’t think the seeds were in here at all, I thought they were in the porch.  And I looked and Tim looked and we didn’t see them, so I started to check other possible places.  We both did.  Several times. And then I gave up.  I then looked for the bag of new seeds.

Yes, that wasn’t simple either, but memory did kick in quite soon there; I’d taken some packs through to Rose and so I went to check, and they were all still through in her house.  So I finally made a start, less than half an hour after I first said I was going to.  And a little later, I had yet another look in the porch, and the original seeds were there after all, just a few inches from where Tim and I had finished our first two searches.

As Horrid Henry puts it so well, it’s not easy being me.

I came in to a conversation among friends yesterday evening in time to hear one of them say that her daughter very much wanted to visit Beirut.  I wondered why, just for a few moments, until she corrected herself.  Bayreuth.  As a Wagner buff, she’s seen the Ring Cycle three times, but only in Britain and she really would love to go to the Bayreuth Festival.  I know how it is.  Sometimes, you only know you’re saying it wrong when you actually hear yourself.  Mouth overtaking brain, my sister says.

Z relaxes

There used to be no internet and no phone, here at the Pembrokeshire caravan, but an intermittent connection is gradually creeping through, so I’m writing on my phone, which is something I haven’t done since the days when I determinedly blogged every day.

It’s such a pleasure to be here. I see why LT loves it so much. He had a connection going back to childhood which I don’t, and also a link to his late wife, which I think is lovely – we don’t lose the past when we move on to a happy new life, it’s all part of our experience of life. I love it too and enjoy being shown his old haunts. We went to one of them today – first to Fishguard, to show Wink the marvellous embroidery that commemorates the French invasion of 1797, that I wrote about last year, and then on to Porthgain, where he has excellent memories of convivial evenings with friends.

Sound sleep at night and afternoon naps mark my time here. It’s the sea air, I suppose. LT calls it the Pembrokeshire effect. We’ve just one more day and the forecast is good, so we might manage a stroll along the beach. Possibly to a pub.

Z sorts things out. I hope.

Because Rose will be looking after things for a few days, I showed her the ropes around the henhouses, as they are at present.  I know it’s funny, but she was kind enough not to laugh at me.

The three newbies are fine.  It’s just a matter of giving them their evening treats, collecting the eggs and shutting them into half the hen house.  Any that come near are stroked and they’re all very calm and friendly.  The others, in the greenhouse, are also fine, but not quite so easy.

For the first couple of days, it was easy.  The big brown hen was broody and dozed away in a big container rather like a bucket.  For safety, i picked it up in the evening and put it inside a wire cage, which I then wrapped in netting because I’m paranoid, but sometimes they are out to get your poor chickens.  Then she decided she wasn’t broody any longer and was quite upset because the other chooks were inside Rose’s spare run and she couldn’t be with them.  They were happy enough, it’s quite big enough for four hens and there were only three.  The only reason BBH isn’t in with them is because I’m worried about the disparity in size in a small, confined space.

So, on the third day, I let the three out to be with BBH.  That was fine, they were perfectly happy all day and in the evening,  I went to put them to bed.  They ran around a bit.  Then they all went into the tunnel, thinking it was time to go to roost in the hen house.  I crawled down the tunnel, caught the three small ones and put them in the coop, then cornered BBH and put her in her bucket in the wire cage.  And I’ve been doing that every night since, though I now put old feed bags along the tunnel so that I’m not crawling through mud.

I’ve assured Rose that they’ll be fine in their run (she was quite rightly, unimpressed by the tunnel-crawling idea) and, if she wants to experiment with putting BBH in with them, under close initial supervision, I trust her judgement.  We will be away, and she and Lawrence will put together the new shed at the weekend, and the next stage will be considered once we’re home again.

In the meantime, I have written all emails, paid all bills, checked the gas tank, turned down or off the storage heaters, caught up with all the washing and nearly all the drying (some of this will happen overnight) and have frozen stuff from the fridge that we aren’t taking.  Astonishingly, I’m entirely up together with it all.  I’ve even remembered to take an electric blanket off the single bed, to take with us to air Wink’s caravan bed.  And I’ve posted Weeza’s birthday card so that she’ll get it tomorrow … no, I haven’t.  I wrote it and stamped and addressed it, and LT posted it.  I have remembered to cancel the milk and papers, though.  I’ve also read a whole book, which is always a good sign.  And had my hair cut and taken LT out to lunch.

I might be able to blog from my phone, but please don’t depend on it.  Not that I suppose you do, of course….

Z buys a shed

It’s been all week since I was last here  – when I’m on my own, I tend to have very early nights unless they’re very late ones because I’m watching something: either way, the time tends not to be spent blogging.  And then, once LT was home, events took over again.

Afternoons, at the start of the week, were spent with young Pugsley, who had to continue with half days at school until the end of the term.  A fortnight and a bit to recuperate fully should see him right.  We went to have lunch with them on Friday – it was a long and extensive meal and we didn’t really do a lot when we arrived home.  And today, Ro and co, with Zain (not the cat, the Best Man) came for lunch, so we’ve had a leisurely evening again.

I’ve lost another chicken to a predator, which got in where I didn’t think it was possible.  I suspect a mink.  The chickens are now being shut up in a coop at night, which is surrounded with bricks so that weasels and other small nasties can’t get in, with the run of the greenhouse in the day, and the three newbies are using the whole chicken house in the day and half of it at night.  I’ve blocked off everything, i hope, but am still very anxious every morning.  As always, it was a favourite that I lost.  I have ordered a shed – I looked up coops but they’re not big enough for me, I want something I can walk into to clean out – and it’ll arrive on Thursday.  I have nest boxes and we can add roosting perches.  It will go into the greenhouse and I’ll know they’re safe at night.  I suspect that we’ll need to take out the window and replace it with wire, to make sure there’s enough air circulation.

Of course, this catastrophe was the main reason I didn’t blog all week.  I was upset.  And I’d like to have a few more chickens but, on the other hand, if I lose any more in horrible circumstances, I’m not sure I can take it any more and might just rehome the survivors instead. But I’ll give it every chance, I do rather love the chooks.  My next task will be to integrate the newbies with the old stagers.  The trouble is, the newbies are very big and prepared to stand up for themselves, and one of my others is tiny.  The cock will support her, but he’s small too.  I’m thinking that I’ll introduce one, to start with, but I’m anxious about that too.

Eggs for supper, by the way.

Sunday and Monday

There’s a lovely red sunset tonight.  The west-facing window is opposite me as I type.  We have a row of Scotch pines by the road and the evening sun looks very effective through them.

We lost one of them in the strong wind a few weeks ago, but luckily it fell inwards, towards the field.  Since, I’ve noticed that the leaves on the north side of the trees are sparser than usual.  The tree has been cut up and is drying out for a year or two.

I’ve been looking up food mixers – I offered an evening out to each of my children for their birthday last year, but only one of the three got around to taking me up on it.  The other two thought it was a great idea in theory, but they didn’t book and tend to fall asleep mid-evening anyway – so I said to Weeza the other day that I owe her a double present.  And the food mixer was what she suggested.  I bought a new Kenwood about three and a half years ago, it was the traditional mixer but came with a blender, food processor and all the whisking and slicing accessories.  I thought that the same thing would suit her nicely.  But they don’t seem to make it any longer.  You can buy them, but at quite a high extra price on top of about what I spent for the whole shebang.  There is a machine that includes all the attachments, but it’s less expensive, so I don’t know if it’s not as powerful or is smaller or what.  I don’t think we can buy it without seeing it, and I’m a bit peeved that they seem to have dropped a very good product.

I wrote that last night and it somehow passed me by that I hadn’t finished and posted it.  What happened was what LT realised he’d have to go back to Reading, which hadn’t been planned until after Easter.  Discussing that put other stuff out of my mind.  So he’s down there eating Waitrose lasagne and I’m here eating scallops and home-cured bacon (yup, we agreed my dinner has the edge) and we had a half-hour chat on the phone to help our hearts grow fonder.

Z prepares for the weekend

LT has been away at his place all week, but arrived home today.  And the new chickens seem happy – that is, they’re crooning relaxedly and they’re eating and at least one of them has tried out a nest box – and Rose and I lit the bonfire, which hasn’t been possible for months because it was too wet and/or windy, so the remains of her rather rotten shed, a load of chopped off stuff from the autumn and various cardboard things that wouldn’t fit in the wheelie bins have gone.  It was mild enough that insects were flying about, so I don’t think there was anything hiding.  I did look and didn’t see anything.

There are a surprising amount of midges about already.  Great clouds of them, as soon as it wasn’t actually freezing. Good for the birds, I suppose, they’ll have plenty to eat.

Pugsley still isn’t strong enough for a day at school – that is, if he managed one, he’d probably not cope with the next day at all.  So tomorrow, my friends Bex and Dave are bringing my ex-dog over, now their dog, just for a visit and a cuddle, then I’ll go and fetch Pugsley from school again.  And then, I have it in mind to spend the weekend mostly cuddling LT, because I’ve missed him very much.

Z winds down, though I wasn’t that wound up to start with

I fetched Pugsley at lunchtime and took him back home until his parents got back, which was within a few minutes of each other, as it happens.  For some reason, we started talking about how chubby the children were as small children.  We all agreed, they were fat – but it was just baby fat, they all slimmed down as they grew past toddlerhood.  I mentioned the photo I posted of toddler Squiffany the other day, with her ankles rolling down over her shoes, but she’s a slender girl now.  Pugsley was quite possibly the one with the roundest face and anyone would have thought it would be his physique, but he now has razor-sharp cheekbones and his little brother’s face has slimmed down in the past few months too.  They never were fat, past babyhood, but they looked stocky.

My three were the same.  None of them overweight as children nor as adults, but well-padded as babies.  But Ro’s little boy and Weeza’s two have all been skinny, even as babies.  Zerlina is an object of wonder to us all – she’s nearly five foot tall and she isn’t ten yet.  Turn sideways and she pretty well vanishes.

Anyway.  Pugsley is still feeling sore inside, so it’s a good thing that it’s only a week to the Easter holidays and he can recuperate fully then.  In other respects, all is fine.  A friend of mine in the village wants to rehome three of her chickens, so I’ve offered to take them.  I’ll split the hen house in two (there’s a door between the two halves) while they get used to each other.  I’d had an elaborate idea for a coop until I realised it isn’t necessary.  And my friends who took my dog Benji are planning to bring him over on Friday.  I haven’t seen him for ages, it’ll be lovely.

Yes, it’s only Wednesday evening and I’m winding down for the weekend.  I’d curtailed my plans somewhat – Rose and I had planned to go out yesterday evening but we were both really tired, so I made kedgeree and we had supper together instead.  And I didn’t go to Nadfas, which I didn’t mind at all, to spend time with Pugsley instead.  So it’s been quiet.  I made yoghurt, but didn’t deal with the leek mountain nor make bread, as I’d planned.  Leeks tomorrow.  I suspect bread will wait a bit.