Monthly Archives: August 2014

Dog Latin

‘Cave canem!” I exclaimed.  “Carpe panem!”

You can tell it was a while since I took Latin A Level.  But it seemed to fit the occasion.  Sadness when a chicken comes to the end of her natural life retreats into its proper place when you hear of the despairing death of a much-admired man.

But I rarely mention current affairs, so I shall explain myself instead.

I have two Ladies What Do for a couple of hours, once a month.  Mostly, I do my own housework (or say ‘pfft’ and don’t bother).  But today was the day, and they arrived just as I was making Russell’s lunch, which was a salmon pâté sandwich and the rest of yesterday’s minestrone soup.  I went upstairs to find the sheets for them to change the beds.  I was a few minutes, chatting (and explaining why there were about fifteen pairs of shoes all over the place) and I came back downstairs and heated up the soup, thinking that I’d already taken the sandwich through……..what was that plate doing there, then?

Yes, bloody Ben had reached up to the kitchen counter and pinched them.  And, though I had more salmon, I didn’t have any more bread and had to go out to the bakery.

The Sage hoped for a second helping of soup – this was a bit less easy.  He’d had it all, except for the vegetables (he has thoroughly taken against vegetables recently and, since he is being indulged to the nth degree, that’s fine with me) so I’d put them into a bowl for myself.  But I did have the casserole I’d made of the lamb chops we didn’t have yesterday.  So I took the gravy and veg from that, reheated them with the veg I’d been going to eat myself (with a sneaky half cup of water, because it was all very flavoursome and could take it) and was able to produce another bowl of broth for him as well as the replacement sandwiches.  I asked him not, on any account, to save any scraps for Ben.

The weather has changed and won’t go back to the heat of summer and Edweena has already started to burrow into the earth at night.  Last year, she took us by surprise by stopping eating much earlier than we expected, so I have to get going with an indoor enclosure for her soon.  I’ve talked it through with the Sage and we hope to have it done by the end of next week (it’s not that I think it’ll take ten days’ work, but that we’re always fairly busy, even though it’s meant to be my month off.  Once it’s done, we can start by bringing the tortoises in at night and then keep them indoors when the weather is wet or cold, until it’s chilly enough to have them indoors all the time.  I hope to keep Edweena feeding until November and asleep from December to April.  I’ll let the tots hibernate for a month at most – I’m quite nervous about that, but a few weeks should be fine.  I’m seriously contemplating buying a small fridge especially for the purpose (though I can use it for drinks in the summer) so that I can keep them at the temperature I want them.  I’m aware that this is OTT, but it was so mild last winter that I was very concerned that Edweena would wake up and use all her energy before she was due to finish hibernating.

Yes, I know that I overthink this and worry too much.  If it reassures me, does it matter?  I feel that I’ve had enough anxiety this year and should take care of myself.  That this seems to be done by buying a tortoise fridge is a bit dispiriting, but that’s how it is.

Big brown hen and sentimental Z

Most of today has been taken up with nursing a chicken.  I went out to give the hens their breakfast at about 9 o’clock and my favourite one was having a dust bath.  So I went to give her a caress, slightly surprised that she wasn’t first in the queue for breakfast – but I leave the feeders full at night so they can eat when they want to, so it isn’t as if they’re especially hungry, they just like the attention.  Yesterday afternoon, I took them the scraps from the day and, as always, I saved her some of the best bits.  Usually, she was crowding round me with the rest but, whilst they had their heads down eating what I scattered or put in a dish for them, she always craned her neck up to receive the food I gave to her.  She was getting old and tended to have food snatched from her beak by some of the younger birds.

Yesterday, she was sitting on top of a nest box, unusually.  However, she ate the food eagerly enough, I stroked her and went about filling the feeders, taking the day’s eggs and refilling the drinkers.  I should have taken more notice, I suppose, not that there was anything I could have done.  Because today, she stayed right where she was, in the hollow she’d made in the ground.

She’s one of our oldest hens, though I’m not sure how old.  We’ve had her for at least seven years, maybe eight, but we don’t know how old she was when she came to us.  Someone asked the Sage to take a few hens and she’s the last of them.  So she could have been ten or so.  Chickens can live to their teens, but eight to ten years is more likely.

The reason I’m so fond of her is that she used to follow me around when they were free range all over the garden.  She noticed when I was carrying a spade or fork and scurried behind me, knowing I’d dig her up some worms and bugs.

Here she is – IMG_0160

This is June 2010

IMG_0355And April 2011

She was not a flock bird by nature, she’d chase others away rather than share her treats, though she got on with them well enough in the run.  Anyway, it seemed clear today that she had reached the end of her life and was not going to live out the day.  But she was settled, so I left her and went to tell the Sage.  I left it a couple of hours and went out again.  She’d left her hollow and was lying by the wire – I thought she’d died, but she hadn’t.  I picked her up and brought her into the porch and sat with her for a long time.  However, it takes a long time…in the end, I put her in a towel in a box and went to let the dogs out, have some lunch, make some soup, checking on her every so often.  Later, I sat with her on my lap again, feeling very sad.  I shouldn’t be sentimental, I suppose – but there it is, I am.

I left her again to feed the dogs, then went to give the chickens their snack – nothing exciting this afternoon, some spinach, cabbage and other leaves.  She was breathing, eyes closed at five o’clock, but not when I came back ten minutes later.  People and animals so often wait until they’re alone to die.

I went round the garden, looking for somewhere I could dig, but there wasn’t anywhere.  I’m not strong enough in the arm to dig through grass any more, poor old woman that I am, and I’m not going to use R’s disconcerting trick of burying a pet hen in the veg plot, for some poor sap (me) to find the next autumn when it’s time to dig the garden again.  So she’s in her box in a bag in the bin and will stay there, unless I find someone who will dig a grave for her in the next couple of days.  I’ll miss her awfully.  Many of the chickens will feed from my hand, but she was the only one who really trusted me and came to me whether I had food or not.

Times five

Oh darlings, I wrote one of those posts again that I couldn’t face posting – which spared you from reading it – but it took ages.  So I’ll say five things about my day instead.

1 I woke up at 9.05 this morning, which was oversleeping to an inconvenient degree, as I’d intended to leave the house around 9.10.  I dressed, fed the dogs and let them out (into the garden and left the back door open), brushed my hair but didn’t apply a face, let alone a contact lens and scurried out at about 9.20.  I meant to take my glasses, but forgot.

2 It rained hard in the night and the chicken run was muddy and slippery – the outside part, that is.  They’re fine, almost all of them have finished moulting and they laid ten eggs today.  I was only able to use five, even making Cake.  At least I gave Ro a dozen eggs yesterday.  I also have a glut of cucumbers.  And courgettes, but everyone has that. 

3 Russell slept so poorly last night that I suggested he go and have a rest in bed.  I cooked bacon and eggs as a late breakfast for me, a second one for him at 11 o’clock, but he didn’t actually go to bed until well after 2 – and then he slept until nearly 8.30.  When he came down, he assumed he’d slept through the night and helped himself to a bowl of cereal.  I suggested that salmon would be a better supper than chops and he agreed absently, but it wasn’t until I found him about to swallow his cocktail of morning pills that I realised he thought it was 8.30 am.  I have no idea if he’ll sleep tonight, but he obviously really needed a good rest after a busy week.

4 I’ve got a load of school emails to reply to.  I’m pretending to be away and not answering any of them for another day or two.  I did all my school stuff by the end of July and I hoped to have August off.

5 However, there are some fun things planned for this week.  Supper with friends, lunch with another friend and we’re going to have Zerlina and Gus to stay next weekend.  We still have little Rupert here and he is adorable.

Z goes shopping

I have no time to write in the day and I’m too tired in the evenings.  I’m not sleeping well, but going to bed early doesn’t help – it just means I’m wide awake again at midnight instead of at 3 am.  So blogging may be spasmodic, but I’m still about.

Yesterday, I drove over to Framlingham, where I’d been told of a lovely dress shop.  I invited the Sage along for the ride and thought he’d wait for me in the pub before we had lunch, but he wanted to come with me.  The lovely shop owner found him a chair and a newspaper to read and we went off to choose clothes to try on.

The first dress fitted me perfectly, looked good but wasn’t quite dressy enough.  The second dress and coat was very nice and I might have chosen it.  The third was lovely for an evening, but not quite for a wedding.  Number four was the one.  I knew and, as soon as the Sage saw it, so did he.  He immediately said I had to have it – this is a man who is singularly uninterested in my clothes normally.

It was expensive, but worth it.  The hat and shoes were pure extravagance.  I’ve had to revert to my practice of evaluating clothes in terms of a piece of Lowestoft china.  The ensemble cost a good sparrowbeak jug.  What was also a pleasure was that every dress fitted – she didn’t ask my size (and I don’t know what size the dresses were, they didn’t have them marked) but judged me by eye.

If you’re prepared to buy dresses starting at around £160, I can heartily recommend Darcy B in Fram or Woodbridge.


It was raining before St Swithin’s Day, we can’t blame him

I could easily have been annoyed.  I did lose a bit of patience.

But let’s start from ten past five, when Rupert woke me up.  Why, I have no idea, as his owners assure me he gets up at least as late (when possible) as they do.  I’ve seen pictures of him on Facebook, fast asleep in bed at 9 o’clock.  Today, he wanted to get up early.  So I took him downstairs, of course – it was possible he needed to go out – and let both dogs out of the back door.  I make tea and toast – buttered, darling, I felt in need of great indulgence – let the dogs in and went back up with Roo.  Frankly, I wish I’d just sloped upstairs and left them to their own devices, because Rupert wasn’t keep to go back to sleep.

As you can see.  This was 5.23 am.  However, i took no notice of him, callous brute, and managed to catch a little more sleep in the end.

Today, it rained.  In fact, it was quite odd.  I was slumped in the porch, having fed the chickens and dogs and tidied up, and having no energy yet, when i heard it start to rain hard.  I looked outside and it wasn’t raining … not for several seconds.  I’d heard the rain falling out of the clouds and through the sky, well before it hit the ground.  This may be well known, but I’d not noticed it before and was duly amazed.

Before long, it was bucketing down hard enough for me to hurry for the pans, just in time to catch the water pouring into the passageway.  We’d run out of time to mend the gully.  Unfortunately, some water still comes through by the study window (that’ll be cured tomorrow, I hope), but I’d left the trays in place there anyway.  All the same, I got a bit miffed for a few minutes.

But then Dilly arrived with her three, then Weeza with her two.  And we had a lovely day.  Dilly was going to Norwich to see her sister, but Weeza stayed.  When I was preparing lunch, with help – one child grating and one child chopping cheese, two cutting up cucumber and one slicing red pepper – and I was making a cheese sauce for pasta and cooking sausages, I observed that I was completely relaxed, although four young children behind me were wielding knives and the fifth was using a grater.  So I’m evidently not too agitated after all.  Not yet.  But if we get much more of these violent rainstorms, I may not be responsible for my actions.

Z gets going

As a result of the Sage’s illness, I’ve cancelled a holiday I was due to take in the autumn, as I can’t rely on him being well enough to look after himself and all the animals.  It doesn’t matter, I’ll do it another time.

What it does give me is the money I was to have spent, so it’s going on the house … that is, mostly on the garden.  And I’ve lost patience with things being put away, or else just left out somewhere in the garden and so, not only are things going to get done, but I’m buying new tools as they’re needed and I’m taking charge of them.

This means, of course, that when something goes missing, it’ll be my fault.  Maybe I didn’t think this through…

Anyway, I’m fed up with having to pump up the wheelbarrow tyre every time I want to use it.  So I’ve bought three inner tubes, for the two barrows, and one has been fitted, the others to be done tomorrow (this is the sort of thing that never actually gets done around here, for no reason at all except that the Sage is a great one for procrastinating).  Also being fed up by the electric pump having been mislaid, I’ve bought another.  It’s worth £20 not to be fed up.  The new one will live in my car.

 I have chopped back nettles and thistles to make a path to where the battens and spare guttering were kept. The first leak in the roof has been mended, still one to go.  Flints that had been piled up (as they were dug up) where I want a flower bed to go have been shifted.  The new field gate has been ordered, with the post and the fencing to go alongside it.  I’ve cut back some long growths of climbing rose that were, sooner or later, sure to catch someone in the face.  I’ve made numerous cups of tea and glasses of squash.

Little Rupert will be here for the next couple of weeks, while his owners are on holiday.  The two dogs are tired out, having played together all evening.  Roo will sleep on my bed as usual, though I’m going to have to open a window in another room, it’s very warm and muggy.

Al, Dilly and the family called round this evening and the children are coming back tomorrow to spend the day with us.  I’m really looking forward to that, I don’t see as much of Squiffany and Pugsley as I’d like to, now that they’ve moved away.  And then Weeza phoned to suggest coming over with her two as well, so that’ll be lovely.  Ro is coming over for lunch on Saturday.

All in all, pretty good really.

The guard dog

I went out to give the chickens their breakfast and had quite a surprise.  One of the cows was bent lovingly over a calf on the field.  Assuming it had been born in the night, I hurried in and asked the Sage to phone the farmer.

It turned out that the calf had been born before the weekend and they were rather amused that I hadn’t noticed – but sometimes the cows are on the other field and sometimes they’re lying down – they were this afternoon, and I couldn’t see the baby.  Anyway, all is fine.

A couple of chickens had stayed out overnight when the others followed me back, but one of them was waiting to go in this morning and the other wanted to go home this afternoon.  She wouldn’t go past me, though, and we walked up and down for a while until I tired of the game and just picked her up.  She was furious and squawked, but it did the job.

It was just as well, because little Rico let Ben out this evening.  He went straight round to see the chickens, so if one of them had been waiting there, it could have been disastrous.  He had a good run round the field for ten minutes and then returned – if I could trust him to do that, I’d often let him run free, but he might go on the road and has no sense.

I learned something new about Ben the night before last, though.  He’s an exceptionally friendly dog and I’ve never heard him growl.  He will bark, but not very often and usually very cheerfully.  However, at around 4 o’clock in the morning, I was woken by him barking loudly.  The motion-sensitive light outside was on, so I got up and peered through the window.  Nothing was moving, but Ben still barked, so I went downstairs to hush him.  He was quite sure someone was outside, so I opened to door to the porch and then was going to let him out when it occurred to me that I wasn’t wearing anything.  Just in case there was an intruder, and I wouldn’t want to traumatise the poor chap, I put on a mac before I opened the door.  Ben went and stood there, barking in a deep, steady voice.  Really, darlings, he sounded like a determined, though not bad-tempered, guard dog.  There was no one there, so I put my hand on his collar to bring him in – and he jumped!  He was actually frightened, but was standing his ground in front of me, to be ready to defend me.  I was charmed.



Z sets to stuffing mushrooms

I have been making plans – the Sage is a great one for plans which take years to be put into action, but mine are more purposeful.  The first thing to do is to make the leaky bit of roof watertight, but after that I am getting a new gate/gatepost/fence to the Ups and Downs, because I am going to finish the flower bed by the Wall.  I had a load of manure delivered by that last small area, but that’s nearly been cleared now.  I can’t do that until I’ve replaced the fencing and that has to be attached to the gatepost and that to the gate – it’s all long overdue.

After that, we have two cherry trees and a broom that have died mysteriously, and they have to be taken out.  This is an ideal opportunity to put in the old lamp standard that we bought a couple of years ago.  It’ll be just like Narnia*.

After that, I’m going to do away with a smallish round flower bed that has never been any good because a seam of gravel runs through it, so it dries out in no time.  A potentilla and a hebe hold on to life, but I shall dig them up, taking cuttings first in case they don’t survive.  It’ll be a nice place to put a table and some chairs, to enjoy the evening sun.

After that, the pond needs clearing out and re-lining.

Then, it might be time to turn my attention to the summer house.  But that might have to wait until next year.

Oh, and I’ve rebooked my motorbike test, that I had to abandon six weeks ago, when the Sage got a last-minute appointment at the hospital.  I’ve not felt able to make plans since, it’s all been too distracting.  But now, I feel compelled to get on with things.  Life’s too short to wait for the right moment.  Wisely, Russell completely agrees with me.  Heh.

*only in respect of the lamp.  I don’t expect eternal winter, let alone a dodgy Queen with poisoned Turkish Delight, let alone talking animals.  And I don’t have a fur coat.

The churchyard chickens

Someone dumped a lot of bantams in the churchyard – about fifteen hens and a cock.  To start with, people thought they might have escaped, but it was soon obvious that this wasn’t the case.  After a few days, the Sage started to feed them, but we were diffident – no one knew whom they belonged to – however, he also started to construct a hen house.  It was November and the nights were frosty and, one morning, a bantam was found dead.  We were very upset.

There was nothing else for it, they had to be rescued.  They weren’t that keen, however.  Roosting in the trees and bushes, running wild during the day, they were not easy to catch.  The Sage, Weeza and Al went out every evening at dusk for a week or more, noting where they roosted and catching a few every time.  Ro was a little boy and I was getting him ready for bed at this time of the evening, so I wasn’t involved in the great bantam rescue.

During the day, we put out food and water for the remaining chickens and eventually they were all caught and put in a run.  This was about twenty-five years ago and some of our chickens are descendants of those original girls.  We have acquired a few extra over the years and the Sage always brings in a new cockerel from a different bloodline when necessary, so that they don’t get in-bred.

It has to be said, chickens are very destructive.  They have ruined several areas of the garden over the years.   R used to keep extending their run, so that they had more grass, but they ate it down to the root and only nettles and docks grew back.  Years after they were moved from an area, the grass has never taken over again.  Of course, it’s possible to manage them so that this doesn’t happen, but it means moving their run regularly and R was never that organised.

The bantams were very sweet-natured and exceptionally good mothers.  A sitting hen would never abandon her eggs and looked after her chicks devotedly.  The Sage would move her to a coop until the chicks were big enough to be reintroduced to the flock.  My mother-in-law kept bantams and I remember that a mother, taken away in this manner, would be bullied for days once she was returned.  Ours never did that, they were quite accommodating and accepted new members of the flock readily.

For several years, they were allowed to run freely in the garden.  A crappy lawn and well-pecked flower beds were counteracted by the pleasure of having chickens run to greet you as you came out of the door.  A few of them were bold enough to come indoors – no, we didn’t mind … yes, we spoil those chickens.  But eventually, I tired of having a lawn I couldn’t use and, since I was very busy and didn’t want to grow many vegetables for a year or two, I suggested that we use the newly-walled kitchen garden for the chickens to live in, with the greenhouse as a hen house.  It so happened that, not long after we enticed them inside, we had Ben come to live with us, so it was just as well.  However, they would fly out and, this year, I wanted my kitchen garden back too.  That’s why a new run was constructed, with a wire roof as well as fox-proof walls.  Half of it is under a lean-to against a barn, so they have a dry area.  It’s not as big as I’d like, though adequate enough, so I let them all out several times a week so that they can forage in the field and garden as they used to.

There were often more eggs than we needed, so Alex used to sell the surplus in his greengrocer’s shop.  Since he sold that and moved on, we’ve had to give away the eggs we can’t eat.  We do seem to eat a lot of eggs, all the same.


I used to wonder at the time the Sage spent with his chickens.  Now, I’m almost as bad.  Although I probably spend less time watching them and more time working.

Indi was out again this morning, but now I’ve remembered the little gap I saw a few weeks ago, between their run and the barn.  Remarkably, she is the only one to have found it.  Endearingly, she waits for me now, because she knows that I’ll drop her morsels to entice her back home, then she can scoot back out again until it’s time for the next meal.  Except now I’ve blocked the gap.

I’ve also raked out all those moulted feathers, cleared the old bedding, dusted for mites and generally cleaned and tidied.  It wasn’t great in the late afternoon heat, but it’s done.  I was slightly late with the mite-dusting – not bad, but I should have done it a week ago.  As it was, I picked a few off me as I went along, and went for an early bath.  I’ve been busy and distracted, and also had run out of powder, but it’s not good.  The nest boxes and other places they rest have been treated, also their perches, and I’ll deal with places they dust-bathe tomorrow.  Peculiar that such minute bugs can tickle so – although it’s just as well, because it gives a warning that treatment is required.

Up to six eggs again today, though several chickens are moulting heavily, including Indi (this is good, it means I don’t have to search for her eggs as she won’t be laying any).  Blue Witch suggests that layers’ pellets might be better than mixed wheat and corn for them – I don’t know, they’re Russell’s birds and I have never looked after them.  Now that they’re more confined, it’s probably so – when they were completely free range, I’m sure they got all the nutrition they needed naturally.  All the same, however they’ve been kept, we’ve never had any illness in the 25 or so years we have kept chickens.  A couple of weeks ago, I was getting up to 18 eggs a day, so they seem to be in pretty good condition.

Did I ever tell you how we acquired the bantams in the first place?  It was quite by accident.