Z continues to loaf…

Weeza and co and Ro and family came over for the day and, as the forecast was so fine, we risked a barbecue.  It went well and the children played outside very happily.  I’d decided to make it easy by buying cakes from the local deli, but I decided at the last minute to try my hand at pitta bread, which meant I did spend an appreciable time in the kitchen this morning after all.  We also decided to fry onions, which take ages to cook, of course, so the kitchen was quite hot…

The pitta bread recipe is almost exactly the same as naan bread, which I make regularly and usually have in the freezer.  The main difference is that naan is made with milk (and sometimes yoghurt) whilst pitta has water.  I usually make brown bread – a mixture of white and wholemeal flour – so all white dough is a doddle to work with.

It has to be said, the price charged for “artisan” bread is not that easy to justify.  There’s a regular baker’s in the town and also a specialist baker’s (which is sited in Alex’s old shop; they did a lot of renovation, turned his upstairs store room into a café and seem to be doing very well).  The specialist bread is very good, but I’m not sure how they can charge £3.50 – £4 for a loaf that is not even sourdough.  I know that smaller quantities are made, not least because the dough is risen more slowly, but doubling the price of the other baker’s bread is quite a lot.  It costs less than £2 for 1.5k of flour from the wholefood shop, £1.24 for 125g of yeast and I add some seeds, a bit of oil or butter and so on, but it costs well under £1 for a loaf using 500g of flour and takes little actual working time.

Having said that, I do think that better bread is a very good thing.  I don’t hesitate to buy the good stuff if I haven’t got around to making bread – and it does make one more aware of quality.

We’re about to have some bread and cheese for supper, in fact.  Tim has got it all ready – so Eloise cat came to sit on my lap, just in time to prevent me going to eat it.  I’ll make it clear I love having her here.  That’ll soon shift her.

Chickens again – a mystery

It was hot and sunny again and I went down to the greenhouse to spray some water around – plants usually don’t mind being hot as long as they aren’t too dry – and a cock and a chicken were ambling around the kitchen garden, which isn’t unusual as Rose’s lot are let out in the day: but I did a double-take.  It wasn’t any of her chickens, it was my Seramas; Crow the cock and Yvette the little female.  They were perfectly happy and composed, so I shot over to the chicken greenhouse and could see hens through the netting … and I could also see Rose’s cockerel, Jenga in there.

None of us has any idea how this happened.  All my other chickens were in their greenhouse and Rose’s girls were out in the garden.  Even if there had been a gap big enough for Crow and Yvette, but not the others, to get out, that doesn’t explain how Jenga got in.  It’s possible, I suppose, and the only explanation I can think of, that I’d not fastened the door properly, my two escaped, Jenga went in and then the breeze blew the door shut again, but that seems pretty unlikely.  However *all quote Sherlock Holmes* …

I went to fetch Rose and I must have looked anxious because she was instantly worried.  But it was fine.  My two had decided they’d like to go home, so Rose went and invited Jenga out into the garden by the door at one end, and I opened the door at the other, and it’s all back to normal.  But it made me check the greenhouse thoroughly and then we did a job we’ve meant to do for a while – we’ve got some fairly dense mesh that I think was originally for a poly tunnel frame; but shading rather than polythene, which never got put up.  I’ve got sections of the chicken greenhouse covered in this already but I wanted some more.  It’s an awkward job, but LT and I managed it between us.  And this evening after dark, unless we can’t be bothered, we’ll go out and put the chickens in the coop into the shed.

Otherwise, we’ve mostly lounged around.  Because it’s a holiday weekend and we’re in the mood for enjoying the sunshine.

Possibly the last chicken post for a while

It was interesting to watch the chickens last week.  The biggest hen kept out of the way whilst the smallest stood up to the head newbie, while safely the other side of the wire.  But yesterday, I decided to put them all together.  I felt that it would be all right not to remove the head newbie, though Tim and I were on hand, just in case.

I let the old guard out first, went to feed the cats, came back and let the others out.  And, rather as I expected, nothing much happened for  a few minutes.  They pretended not to notice each other, whilst sizing up the situation.  After a few minutes, it was Mona, the elderly bantam, who asserted herself.  She and the head newbie went at it, for a few minutes.  Crow the cock joined in on Mona’s side and it all petered out – but then Yvette the tiny Serama went on the attack.  She’d have needed a box to do much good, but she had a go.  And Crow was at her side as well. And then they all went off in a huff and they’ve been a bit careful about territory since.

The big brown hen feels comfortable with the newbies, maybe because they’re much of a size.  Last night, she went in the shed to sleep with them, though she’s chosen the coop with the others tonight.  I’m leaving it another day, then I’ll go out after dark and put the ones in the coop into the shed.

I spent an hour clearing out the old hen house, raking up old straw and hay and generally tidying up, and also powdering against red mite, as I have in the new shed. I’m going to let the chickens go through the tunnel into the henhouse, it’ll be more space and cooler for them in the summer.  The greenhouse is airy, because I’ve replaced quite a lot of the glass with netting, and have also painted the glass on the south side with Coolglass, but it does still get very warm.

It’s been fabulous weather today.  I timed an hour for the cleaning out – and put on a facemask and rubber gloves, because it was dusty in there – and finished a few minutes before the timer went off.  Having done the work, I felt totally justified in having beer before lunch and then relaxing on the lawn afterwards.  This weekend might be all of summer, after all.  i wouldn’t want to think that I’d let it go, unappreciated.

LT barbecued fish tonight, a highly expensive but very fine turbot.  And the family is coming on Monday and we’re having another barbecue.  I went to the deli and bought cake.  Coffee, chocolate fudge, Bakewell tart and treacle tart.  And ice cream.  With the usual suspects for the main course.

I’m glad I didn’t put the chickens together for a few days, I think it went easier as a result.  It could be that I was overcautious, but I’d rather that than blood being drawn.  They’re still learning to live with each other and there’s still the occasional skirmish, but they’re all laying eggs in the same nestboxes, so they can’t be too unhappy.

Back to three dozen eggs, though.  Maybe I can palm some off on the kids.

Springtime at the Zedary

There’s a small patch of grass just outside the side door which I have always left for wild flowers.  It’s looking so pretty at present.  I do have some bulbs in there and the tulips are looking lovely among the buttercups and bluebells.  Later, there will be marguerites and then it’ll have to be cut back, once the grass has seeded, but it gives us pleasure every time we go outside for now.

The old meadow by the drive, known as the Ups and Downs, is also exceptionally pretty at this time of year.  Ten young bullocks graze it and the next field, and it’s covered with wildflowers, mostly buttercups and saxifrage.  I know there’s lady’s bedstraw and all sorts of other, less colourful wild plants there too, with mosses and lichens and liverworts on the bits where it’s almost too dry for any grass.  It’s down on the maps as Saxon and, apart from some small-scale gravel extraction, there’s no reason to think it’s ever been dug up, and this ancient grassland, worthless in monetary terms, is the most valuable part of this property, to me.  I just love it.

Z is a bit obsessed with chickens

Things are getting better in chicken land.  The newbies are still perfectly happy and all are laying most days – I’m giving away eggs, it’s all a bit much, which makes it remarkable that I want some chicks from Rose’s bantams …but there is a reason for that,

Bad things have happened and I’ll just say what’s the current situation.  I have the last of the original bantams, one Serama hen and one cock, and one other hen, the big brown one.  The rest are dead.  I am frantically trying to get rid of vermin that kill my chickens, it’s making me overreact perhaps.

Watching them, over the past few days, has been interesting.  The old guard are still in the coop.  The big brown hen is mostly in the sleeping quarters, as is the final bantam, Mona.  But the cockerel, Crow, and the Serama hen, Yvette, are out in the open part.  Crow hops on to the drinker, presumably to make himself look as big as possible to the newbies (the three new black  hens) and I’ve also seen him *having it away* with Yvette, which I’ve only previously seen once in the year he’s been living here.

Yvette is tiny.  She probably weighs about a pound, whereas the Newbies must weigh about 4 pounds each.  But she is being assertive with the chief newbie – they mimic each other, with the wire cage in between them.  They both scratch in the earth and seem not to notice the other, then square up, puffing up their breasts and posturing, then go back to scratching.  When they finally get together, Yvette will run away, no question, but she’s being braver than her bigger cousins right now.

The old guard are in a wooden-framed coop with a sleeping area and a wired area.  Rats are nibbling away at the wood and I’ve had to protect it with bricks.  They’re getting so bold that they are out in the day – Rose’s cat Rummy has caught a few of them, but not enough.  I can put up with them eating the food left over – I always pick up the dishes at the end of the day, but there’s some scattered on the ground – but I’m scared of smaller rodents getting in and attacking a hen, because it’s happened already.  So I set traps last night, and caught rats, and will have to carry on with it.

Anyway, on a brighter note, the reason I want some chicks is not that I really need more chickens, though there is a bit of that: – its that we’ve had the churchyard chickens for over 30 years and I don’t want the strain to die out.  Mona doesn’t lay eggs any longer, she must be quite old.  But Roses still has three of them, and an unrelated bantam cock, so a few more would carry on a strain of lovely, healthy, long-lived bantams that are a link to good times gone by.

Z minds the weather

I looked at the forecast on Sunday morning, and it was pretty bad.  So, at breakfast, I suggested to LT that he might change his plans and leave for Reading that afternoon, rather than Monday morning when it would be getting really wet and blustery.  He said, in that case, he might as well leave after breakfast and have time to shop for food (most shops here shut at 4pm on a Sunday as they’re limited to 6 hours trading: this doesn’t apply to small shops).  So that’s what he did and he had a quicker than usual run, because there were no HGVs on the roads.

I’d thought I’d go to London to view an auction, but I didn’t fancy that in the rain, so I thought I’d go on Tuesday instead.  Now that it’s Monday and I have to make up my mind, I still haven’t done so.  Allowing half an hour each way to the station, an hour and a half each way to London (bit more, in fact), an hour travelling each way to South Kensington and walking to the saleroom, all for an hour looking at china that I’m not going to bid for, seems less and less appealing.

The black chickens have settled in splendidly, but the others aren’t happy at all.  They spend most of their time in their sleeping quarters – though they’re coming out to eat, they aren’t that unhappy.  I’ve put a sheet over the open part of their run, so that they can come out there without being looked at by the newbies, but they don’t do that much.  I do have a plan – I’m thinking of giving it another day or two, then removing the dominant black chicken, letting all the others out together and keeping DBC in the coop for a couple of days.  With luck, this should mean that the rest of them get used to each other without conflict.  Then I put the DBC with the rest.  She should have lost a bit of nerve, having been shut up on her own (within sight of the others, I don’t want her unhappy) and, even if there’s a brief squabble, it’ll only be between her and whichever is the leader of my flock.  I’m not quite sure which of two is, actually.

It might be best if I put a blackout curtain up on the shed window and put her in with the rest overnight to start with, as they are docile in the dark, but that depends on getting it dark enough.  The shed had one small perspex window, we removed the perspex and nailed on chicken wire instead, for increased ventilation.  If anyone has thoughts, advice is welcomed.

My timekeeping goes to pot when LT is away.  I almost forgot breakfast and had a quick bowl of muesli when I remembered, then it was 3 o’clock by the time I had lunch.  Now 6 and I haven’t had anything to drink apart from coffee with Rose, which isn’t a particularly good idea … not drinking anything else, that is.  I don’t see anything wrong with drinking coffee with Rose.  I’m not that bad an influence.  Tonight I have hake, asparagus and shiitake mushrooms.  And have put a bottle of New Zealand Pinot Blanc in the fridge.  It should not be thought that I don’t take care of myself, however much nicer it is when LT and I are taking care of each other.

Z scurries back to blogging

I hadn’t realised how long it was since I’d written anything – I was sure it was only a few days.  I should be more organised.  I’ll try to catch up over the next few days.  It’s the phone wot does it – I don’t come to the computer very much any more, as I can do most things I need to on the phone, but it’s not the most convenient for blogging.

The hot weather didn’t last.  In fact, it’s bloody cold again.  Having thought we’d finished with fires and radiators, they’re all back on again.

Tonight, we have moved the newbie black hens into their new shed in the chicken greenhouse.  That was easy, in fact – Rose and I picked them up and carried them through, and just put them on a perch.  Rather to my surprise, they stayed there without fluttering and we were able to fasten the shed door and leave them to it.  Tomorrow, I’ll let them out and keep the other chickens in their coop, to see if there’s any aggression.  There isn’t a strongly dominant hen in the old guard, so I hope it’ll not be a problem, but I’ve got a couple of possible plans.

LT is going to be away for a few days next week, so I’ll catch up with things here, unless I’m needed to look after young Rufus, who isn’t very well.  There’s time for him to get better by Tuesday, so we’ll see.  My plan at present is to go to London on Monday to view an auction, but I’m slightly doubtful if I’ll make it.  There seems to be a lot of problems with the railway line recently and I’m tired and rather low, and really don’t want to spend a long time on a broken-down train.  I don’t really want the journey at all, but if I don’t go on Monday or Tuesday (if not needed for R), I won’t have another chance as the sale is on Wednesday.  I’ll make up my mind tomorrow.

In the meantime, I’m relaxing by a log fire, while LT gets dinner ready.  He’s made a warming beef casserole, on the grounds that winter has returned and we need something hearty.


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.