Posie's Blog. Tales of island life on a hebridean hill farm

Posie's Blog. Tales of island life on a hebridean hill farm

Thursday, 31 May 2007

A huge climb to get over that hill

I am feeling ever so slightly challenged just now. It started last week when I realised that I had somehow got to find beds for about 15 people in our house and one of the cottages, which I had kept free for a few days to cover the party celebrations. As I said in an earlier blog, cool as a cucumber the happy farmer suggested people camp in the horse box.

The weather forecasters, after promising sunshine, suddenly introduced huge rain clouds on the map last night. I had sat up specially to watch the forecast as my mum had said it had promised to be a good one. Oh well the men can cook the burgers on the barbecue under umbrellas if necessary, but sunshine and a breeze to keep the midges away is what I really want.

Just when I am managing to get my head around the accommodation issue, I was woken up at five this morning by the happy farmer being ever so slightly sick. I didn’t manage to get back to sleep, worrying about the possibility of sick bugs, five children staying in the house and an army full of people arriving over the weekend to celebrate birthdays. Thankfully he seems a lot better today, has had breakfast and gone off fencing, well that is what he said anyway, he is probably sleeping behind a hill somewhere, and putting a brave face on it all to convince me I have nothing to worry about.

My brother announced he is planning on taking my son out ‘bivvy whacking’ tomorrow night. Apparently it involves a good walk over some rough terrain, out to a very remote spot, to have a camp fire on the beach, before sleeping in survival bags, ‘bivvy’ bags, out under the stars for the night. Never mind the ticks, the midges and the possibility of rain and the fact that we have oddles of people arriving off the ferry. In fact he wants me to join him on the expedition, along with my nephew and one of our old school pals, who is making the trek up here for the birthday celebrations. At this point I am seriously considering disappearing over the hill myself with a bottle of champagne and hiding, after all it is ‘over the hill’ I am venturing, in years anyway, do you think they would notice if I wasn’t around to celebrate?!

My beautiful daughter has become a teenager today; she was the best birthday present ever when she was born 13 years ago, even if she was an 'early' birthday present. I cannot believe she is now hitting her teen years. We all gathered on her bed to watch her open her presents, it would usually be on our bed, but I decided the children and the happy farmer should steer clear of each other this morning, as I ran from bathroom to bathroom armed with bleach and fresh towels. It was good having the cousins here too. She got some lovely girlie pressies, but her favourite is of course is Hansel, her horse. She has been out riding everyday since he arrived, and is absolutely delighted with him. We are going for a birthday bar supper tonight to celebrate, and she had a birthday sleepover last weekend with her cousin and a pal.

Our lovely Dutch friends came to say goodbye last night, they leave today for home. They bought me a beautiful bunch of lilies and a card, which I was trying to keep until my birthday, but just couldn’t resist opening today. Inside they had written a beautiful letter to us all and the words on the front of the card read ‘Count your life by smiles not tears, count your age by friends not years.’ Sometimes it is the little gestures that make those special moments in life.

Until next time…..

Wednesday, 30 May 2007

Grass Cuttings....

I went to the beach yesterday with my brother and his children, my kids all had to go to school, they don’t get the Whit week holiday in Scotland. It seems quite cruel packing them off to school each day when the island is filled with holiday makers, and their cousins are over to stay for the week, especailly today when the sun is shining.

It was good to get a blow on the beach, smell the sea air and listen to the roar of the waves rolling in and the squeals of the children as they climbed the highest sandbanks only to leap into the air and roly poly all the way down the slopes. Kilchoman beach has amazingly high sand dunes so it always a popular choice.

The house is filled with grass today. The happy farmer decided to strim the grass around the paths and hedgerows and give the place a tidy up. He reminded me of a hairdresser, cutting and preening the land as he went. Unfortunately he didn’t sweep up the mess after himself though. He says that the lawnmower will ‘hoover’ it up when he cuts the grass; so as the children happily went from trampoline, to den, to horse, popping in and out to grab chocolate and other goodies as they went, they left a trail of cuttings behind them, up the stairs, through the hallway, through the bedrooms, and all over the house.

The happy farmer went to visit our holiday people in the cottages this morning. We had run out of milk, the children had devoured every last drop, so at coffee time the happy farmer did his rounds of the cottages, milk jug in hand. He returned with a big smile and milk for the coffee. We have had some lovely visitors staying recently. Last week we had a bit of a trauma though as one of our guests had a serious back injury, NHS 24 and doctors and an ambulance later and we managed to get him sorted out. It was a bit of a nightmare in that they have come all of the way from Holland by car and it was obvious that there was no way he would have been fit enough to make the long drive home at the weekend. I was offering to set up camp for them in the living room, as the island’s accommodation is pushed to the limits this week with the festival on. Luckily a friend came to the rescue with their cottage which had just become vacant from a long let, and a few pots and pans and a dinner service later and they were sorted.

The happy farmer has gathered the Highland cows in today to dose them and tag the ears of the new calves. He assures me they are fairly tame now, but I accosted one of the happy potters to go and get the photo to accompany my blog, I still like to keep an ever so healthy distance between me and the cows, even if there is an old dry stone dyke between us.

Until next time…

Monday, 28 May 2007

Music, malt and 'May'... hem

The farmhouse is filled with children just now, my nephew and niece are over to stay for a week, at the weekend we had seven children staying as the kids had pals over too. The sun has been shining constantly and it is the stuff that childhood dreams are made of, as they all make out of the door, clutching lambs' bottles, making their way to the shed to get feed for the pigs and chickens, the happy farmer can retire at this rate!

They have been lovingly grooming Hansel each day, helping him to get settled into his new surroundings, taking him out for a canter through the fields.

Youngest daughter has been reclaiming the small garden shed as her den, and has been busy clutching old kettles and lobster pots, traipsing across the fields to the garden with them, as she sets up a new home for her and her pals. Of course the happy farmer is getting nagged to move out all of the horse paraphernalia and his secret stash of lager, to accommodate all of the junk she has found lying across the farm as she turns her den into a ‘home’.

The island is buzzing again. This week it is festival of malt and music. Yesterday we went over to Bruichladdich to listen to the pipe bands, watch the highland dancers, taste the oysters and of course sample some of the island’s malt whisky. The happy farmer supping away on whisky cocktails, as the children gorged on Islay tablet, soaking up the atmosphere.

The farmhouse kitchen has been busy, welcoming friends and family. We have so many visitors calling by at this time of year. Next week we will be bursting at the seams as family and friends make the pilgrimage over to celebrate my 40th. I am panicking slightly about accommodating them all. The happy farmer, as laid back as ever, smiled ever so sweetly and reminded me that they can always sleep in the horse box, it is clean and dry after all, and he wonders why I am panicking!!

Until next time…

Sunday, 27 May 2007

A late blog posting.

23rd May

Back at last. I have been meaning to blog all week, but have had such a hectic time that I haven’t had a chance.

I had a good time away, the party was brilliant, and the happy farmer and children managed really well without me. I arrived home however to heaps of washing, piles of ironing and farming mayhem, as the happy farmer took off the following day, with horse box, to collect the new horse, leaving me once again with the lambs, the pigs and the chickens to feed.

Hansel arrived off the late ferry on Tuesday evening. What a beautiful horse he is. My daughter was out in her pyjamas filming as the horse box made its way up the single track road and into the farmyard. We put him in the fank for the night to get settled in, before introducing him to Meg and Muffin, the resident Clydesdale, and the cheeky pony. Meg is definitely the boss at the moment, they seem to be getting along okay, but are still sussing each other out. Eldest daughter came home from school and took Hansel out, groomed him and took him for a walk around the farm and introduced him to everyone. It is lovely to see her so happy.

Yesterday we buried our friend Paddy. We made the journey over to Jura on the ferry, and along the winding single track road to the church in Craighouse. It was a very busy funeral, the church was packed. We squashed into the vestry to hear the service. Outside people huddled, withstanding the fierce Jura midges, listening to the service through a speaker. Paddy as I said in an earlier blog was an institution, at the very heart of the island’s community, anyone who really knows Jura, would know Paddy, and so yesterday people travelled from far and wide to pay their last respects to an outstanding Jura character.

The service was lovely, local boys played on the accordion to accompany people into and out of the church, they sang and played various instruments throughout the service, as they had sang and played music with Paddy at Ceilidhs for years. We were reminded of the lovely stories that made Paddy the unique character he was. Of the day he went to collect a pig, for a friend, off the ferry coming into Islay, from the mainland. He left his van over on Jura and travelled as a foot passenger across the Sound. However when he reached Islay’s shores, he felt it was too good a chance to miss, and decided to nip to the bar for a quick pint, his only problem being what to do with the pig. His eyes rested on the telephone kiosk. He placed the pig in the phone box, and went off to the bar. He returned to collect his pig sometime later and then continued on his journey back to Craighouse.

We were reminded of when Paddy phoned the owner of the local hotel in the middle of the night, and demanded that he come and open up the bar.
‘Why Paddy, what’s wrong?’
‘I can’t get out!’
Paddy had fallen asleep in the toilets and had woken up to find he was locked in, and could not get out. When the local lads asked him the next day why he hadn’t just climbed out through a window he had replied he couldn’t, he felt someone might have seen him and thought he had been breaking in.

There were the lovely stories of Paddy teaching the youngsters to fish, to appreciate music, and giving them a shot at driving tractors and dumper trucks, years before they were old enough. Paddy lived for the moment, finding contentment in the simple pleasures of life. He loved machinery, was very mechanical and good at building. It is so sad that he died so young.

We all made the journey to the Jura cemetery, set in the most idyllic of surroundings, in the shadow of the Paps, a mountain stream flowing by, with views out across the bay to the sea. A lone fiddler, one of the Jura boys, played. Oatcakes, cheese and whisky were served at the graveside, an island tradition at burials. Later people made their way along the single track road back to the Jura Hotel where soup and sandwiches were served. I returned home to meet the children from school the happy farmer stayed on. As the evening wore on the bagpipes came out and friends and family celebrated Paddy’s life. The happy farmer got the last ferry home. The celebrations would continue long into the night, giving Paddy the send off he would have appreciated and expected.

Until next time…

Thursday, 17 May 2007

Happy farmers and Happy Days.

The happy farmer’s social life is jam packed just now. Yesterday, a visit from one of the Jura boys calling for some eggs saw the happy farmer knock up an impromptu lunch of kippers, fresh from Loch Fyne, with crusty bread and mugs of hot tea.

In the evening the BT boys came over for a soiree. The happy farmer excelled in his culinary talents serving up Mexican fajitas all washed down with lashings of whisky and wine, by the end of the evening the caterwauling that was coming from the kitchen was something else, realising I only have two weeks left in my thirties, I did somewhat get caught up in the celebrations, complete with the air guitar for AC/DC, although quite what we were celebrating I am not sure. Needless to say a good time was had by all, but today I am feeling ever so slightly jaded, as I try and get my head around packing for a weekend of partying as my sister in law hits the big 40.

The happy farmer is off on a ‘boys’ lunch. He has met up with a crowd of friends who make the pilgrimage to Jura for a week’s fishing each year, partying across the island as they make their way over. I think the happy farmer is just having an early weekend of it, as this weekend he will be stepping into my shoes and looking after the children as I head off to the city. Luckily not my stilettos, they will be packed! As I race around leaving copious instructions and notes on everything from what kits the children will require at school tomorrow, to what sheets will be needed in the cottages for their changeovers, I wonder how they will all manage without me, and I will only be gone for three days. I will miss them all though, and do wish they were coming along too, but such is life, I will just have to party for all of us.

I was regaling my pig fiasco from last weekend to a friend this morning, and she beat me hands down. Next to her house there was a shed with a huge sow and a load of piglets in it. Somehow the sow and piglets got out into the yard and the gate onto the road was open. She asked one of the farm, workers to help, as she hadn’t a clue what to do. He said he didn’t ‘do’ pigs, but would go and get help, and sped off away on his quad bike, leaving her and a horde of squealing pigs racing around the yard. She got a bucket and began shaking it, the piglets came running, as she bent down to feed them the sow got behind her, and whacked her on the behind, tossing her into the air, she landed just as help arrived. ‘Help’ being a jeep load of men, who were all too scared to get out! She did eventually mange, with the help of one ever so brave gentleman, and two buckets to eventually round them up and get them back into the shed. I think she deserves an award for bravery. She of course thought it was hysterical that I was scared to go in with two little pigs to fill their trough with water, but I did, and I managed, perhaps I should get that bravery award too.

Happy farmer has just phoned to say the fishermen are on their way up here for a quick drink before their ferry, better dash.

So until next time….

Wednesday, 16 May 2007


It is raining here today; the bright colours of the hedgerows and hills seem even more vivid in the rain at this time of year, the bright sap greens contrasting with the purple heads of the bluebells, the flags bursting with yellow and the primroses lining the hillside.

Jura was shrouded in veil of mist today, the Paps were completely covered. It seemed appropriate as Jura is an island in mourning today. Paddy, died yesterday. He was an islander and his passing was sudden and totally unexpected. It has shocked the community and left them with a huge sense of grief. He was only in his forties. He was part of the ‘furniture and fittings’ of the island, a real character, who formed part of Jura’s unique personality. An island is made up of its community, and Paddy was deeply embedded and rooted at the very heart of that community, an old friend of the happy farmer’s, across the water, we too feel the loss of this very unique man.

Until next time…

Monday, 14 May 2007

A Pigs' Tale

I totally overcame any fears I had of getting close to the pigs yesterday, I had no choice. The happy farmer away, I went on my morning feeding rounds, got to the pigs, they looked at me, grunted, looked at their empty trough, jumped in it, grunted, and made sure I was aware that they had finished their water, a job the happy farmer had assured me I wouldn’t need to worry about. You see to fill the trough entails a journey into the pigs’ enclosure. While most of you had a weekend of torrential rain, the sun didn’t stop shining here and the trough was dry.

I filled a bucket with water, braced myself and climbed in with the snorting, grunting pigs, who immediately started to squeal with excitement, chasing at my heels, as I closed my eyes and tried to ignore them, reaching the trough at last, pouring the water in and luckily that took their attention away from me. Phew, much to my relief they didn’t want to eat my legs after all! I felt incredibly brave after that, but worse was to follow, and by now you will all have me down as a complete wimp, while I see myself as aspiring to step into the shoes of the happy farmer, going about my duties with a confident air, well almost.

Everything was going like clockwork, the happy farmer and eldest daughter were due off the late afternoon plane. Roast beef was in the rayburn, slowly cooking away all afternoon, all the veg prepared, I had worked out that it would be cooked in the hour it would take me to get to the airport and back if I sat it on the rayburn as I was leaving. Yorkshire puds cooked and in the bottom oven with the now sliced meat sitting in a dish of thick gravy, when I heard squealing children, and looked into the garden to see that the pigs had made a hole in the fence and were being rounded up by a very happy sheepdog as they all played chasey round the garden. Now this is where the farming skills become really quite impressive, I shut the sheep dog in the kitchen, raced and got a bucket of feed from the shed, and this is where the phrase ‘as greedy as a pig’ comes in, I hopped into the pigs enclosure, second time in a day, and emptied out the bucket of food. Those greedy pigs came running, found their way back through the hole, no problem, and began gobbling away. I meanwhile got some old plastic deck chairs and secured them over the hole, I couldn’t quite stretch my farming skills to putting up a new fence, well not today anyway. I just had time to put on some ‘lippy’, before rounding up the children and racing out the door to go and collect the happy farmer and daughter from the airport.

Of course the pigs knocked down the deck chairs, and found their way happily back into the garden, but they didn’t do too much damage, just managed to pull the washing off the line and trample all over it. Maybe I will leave the farming to the happy farmer after all! It took him about two minutes to round up the pigs, although he did use my technique of the pig food, and another two to fix the hole!

The farmer and our daughter had a very successful weekend too, judging by the huge pile of shopping bags that accompanied my daughter off the plane. They fell in love with the horse too, he was just perfect, and will be joining us at his new home here on the farm shortly.

Until next time…
PS I loved all of your comments on the chicken fillets, was thinking of exmoor Jane's comment that you would never go hungry with a chicken fillet in your bra, got my imagination going. For a super huge clevage, place charcoal in the bra, under the chicken fillets, raw for this style, and once you set the barbie a light your clevage would be hot stuff and of course you would have a dish to eat later!!...Wish I had Blossom's cartoon skills for this one!

Saturday, 12 May 2007

A girly blog

I had my sister in law in hysterics toady when she phoned about her forth coming party to mark her 40th. We were discussing outfits, and I happened to mention that I had read an article about Trinny and Susannah, the well known ‘clothes’ duo. We were talking strappy little numbers, and not having much of a bust to shout about I had read that Trinny places chicken fillets in her bra, as I had read the article and then re read it I could not help thinking yeuk.

I was telling my sister in law about this, asking what she thought. I mean does Trinny just place the raw sticky fillets in her bra, or does she cook them first? Would she place them in a plastic bag, rustling along as she bops the night away,or does she go for the whole full on salmonella thing, raw and sticky? I began to imagine the aroma that must follow her about as the evening hots up, surely if she is dancing away in a nightclub, with chicken in that bra of hers, sweating away, it must get awfully pongee.

These issues had been troubling me for a few days. I couldn’t get over what seems to be such a stylish young lady even admitting to carrying out such a disgusting pastime all for the sake of a cleavage. I mean you just wouldn’t share that kind of information in a national magazine, and no it wasn’t the latest issue of our ‘old monthly’! Of course by this time my sister in law was positively wetting herself and took a while to find her voice again, when she did manage to surface for air, her response was ‘that’s it, you have been living in that place for far too long…’. Apparently they sell these chicken fillets, not just in supermarkets, but in lingerie departments, although the ones in lingerie departments are made out of silicone, they are just called chicken fillets. Now I might have been gullible enough to believe the chicken fillets I chop up for curries or a stirfry have become the latest fashion accessory in the city for a cleavage, but thankfully I am not so daft or desperate to have such a cleavage. Phew. Now I know my blog is about country living, and here is my point, I find more and more that fashions and accessories go right over my head, and I hardly get to hear of them, in the country. Luckily next weekend I will be away joining the city girls for the birthday bash, without my chicken fillets. Must spread the word on the island, just in case someone is as gullible as me, but slightly more daft. Feeding the chickens took on a whole new perspective today!

Until next time….

Friday, 11 May 2007


I got taken on a tour of duty around the farm this morning, the happy farmer is heading off on the plane tonight with our daughter so I am going to be the farmer for the weekend, with my two little helpers of course, they can feed the chickens and the lambs, well that is the theory anyway. I will be in charge of feeding the pigs. I now know where the phrase ‘eating like a pig’ comes from, you should have heard the chomping, slurping and lip smacking sounds they were making this morning as they gorged their way through breakfast. I followed the happy farmer about his duties, but passed on the quad bike ride to check out the new Highland calf, that was born this morning. He always goes too fast on his quad bike for my liking and then he gets far too close to the cows, better to stay away and let the real farmer get on with it. He returned to report that not one but two of the heifers had calved. Clever old Pringle, the bull, who only met the ladies last summer, has obviously been working away, and the Highland cows are so good at getting on with calving themselves, so no problems all round. I am glad they got on with the births while the happy farmer was still around, I don’t know how good the happy potters are when it comes to calving, and I am afraid I will be keeping my distance, they might look cute and cuddly, but I am not a fan of getting too close to cows, I don’t even like going in a field with them, let alone the prospect of getting involved in calving. I wouldn’t know where to start. Years ago I did see a farmer try to calve a cow with rope and a winch type contraction, it looked pretty gruesome, and painful, but a day or so later and cow and calf were fine.

Our German guests came over to settle up today and presented us with beautiful knives made in their home town in Germany. Our Australian guests arrived with pens and fridge magnets for the children. We have been totally spoilt, and have met some lovely people along the way.

Happy farmer is away now with eldest daughter, just had the phone call to say she has forgot her PJs, book and so on, no worries on that score though, being her mother’s daughter she dragged her dad into a few shops at the airport to replace the necessaries, happily spending his money.

Back on the farm, I couldn’t count on my little helpers to feed the lambs, luckily I managed to copy the happy farmers technique of a bottle in each hand and one squeezed between the knees, the greedy lambs didn’t seem to mind, and went happily off to bed in their straw pen, so much for the idea of owning pets leading to children learning about responsibility then.

Until next time…..

Thursday, 10 May 2007

It Doesn't Just Rain, But It Pours.

The kitchen was full of men again today. The happy farmer was busy with a man from the RSPB, discussing his birds, not the blonde ones that turn up in open top sport’s cars at the pottery, no the feathered variety that frequent our fields during the summer months.

It all began a few years back; one summer’s evening, when we heard the distinct croaking of a corncrake coming from the fields. We all got really excited as it was the first time the happy farmer had heard the corncrake on the farm since his childhood. Now every summer the corncrake returns, with that distinctive call, as it cries out, looking to attract a mate. It cleverly echoes its voice off stones and rocks to disguise its actual hiding place. Corncrakes like areas thick with nettles; they provide early cover before the crops grow. So we have fenced areas to keep the sheep out and allow the grass and nettles to grow especially for corncrakes. The happy farmer is also considering cutting the crops of silage and hay after 15th August which would provide continued shelter for the birds during the summer months.

I disappeared off to get petrol and slug pellets, my vegetable patch cannot survive without them I am afraid. We have loads of slugs here, and I have tried sinking pots of beer into the ground, but still they demolished my plants, so I gave up on the eco friendly methods a few years back, unless anyone has any different tried and tested methods that discourage the ‘naughty sluggies from eating all the vegeboles in mummy’s garden’ as my youngest used to say?

Of course as I am stood at the petrol pump the heavens decide to open and I get absolutely drenched. I am a total novice when it comes to petrol pumps, I am not sure whether it is just petrol pumps in general or whether we have a particularly awkward one, but there seems to be a knack to getting just the right amount of pressure on the handle to get the petrol flowing. Needless to say I haven’t mastered that knack yet, in fact at one point I was busy admiring the garden flowers and plants for sale on the benches, listening to the hum of the petrol pump, happily getting soaked, when I looked at the meter and realised that actually none of the dials were moving, I wasn’t applying enough pressure and so it had all come to a halt, felt a complete twit, but did eventually manage to fill the tank, just as it stopped raining!

I spent the rest of the morning getting all of the plants I have grown from seed planted in the vegetable plot, I decided a wet morning would help them get established and save me watering them. I then raced up the hill with the dogs. I had just got back, peeled off my wet socks in order to wash my muddy grit covered feet when there was a knock at the door. I won’t even begin to worry about what they must have thought when I answered the door, bare grubby feet and wet running clothes. People always time their arrivals to perfection and of course the happy farmer had disappeared, leaving his mobile phone on the table as I discovered when I tried to contact him to let him know the structural engineer was here to discuss building warrants and so on and do a survey for the next part of his renovations. Anyway, bare feet or not I ushered him in for a cup of tea, hurriedly slipping on the happy farmer’s ever so big boots to go out to the ‘well’ to fill the kettle with spring water. I think the poor man must have heaved a huge sigh of relief when the farmer returned. I made a hasty exit.

There is big excitement on the horse front too. One of our contacts on the mainland looking out for a horse for eldest daughter has located what looks to be the perfect one for her, or so she tried to convince me as I watched a video of the horse show jumping and doing cross country, my heart in my mouth, trying not to pass on my fear as her eyes were lighting up at the very prospect of a horse that doesn’t need any coaxing to do a perfect jump.The happy farmer is flying away with her to meet this beautiful creature, it only costs the price of a small car….eek.

Until next time…

Tuesday, 8 May 2007

Our Farmyard Friends

April showers in May that is what it felt like today as purple rain clouds stained the blue sky with huge inky blotches that led to torrential downpours, feeding the thirsty ground, and hopefully encouraging the seeds in the vegetable patch to grow!

There was pandemonium here yesterday when upstairs doing the ironing I heard shrieking children, squealing, giggling and shouting, and a lot of clucking and squawking coming from the kitchen. I went to investigate to find a rather plucked cockerel running for shelter across the room, before flying onto the windowsill. We eventually managed to coax him out and get him to safety; well away from the snapping pup who had game fully chased him around the garden, plucking out a huge mouthful of feathers as she went.

I went to feed the cockerel this morning, he appeared looking not quite so confident and proud as usual, his backside bare, totally bare, he looked more like a chicken today with not a tail feather in sight. I have not posted a photo as that would be too cruel, but he does look rather funny. He is our gay cockerel, a present from Farmer C a couple of summers back, he lives with his two girlfriends, the Black Rocks, who follow him everywhere, but between them they have not produced one chicken, in fact suffice it to say he is a total gentleman and does not participate in any ‘outdoor sports’, apart from ‘chasey’ with the pup that is. He knows the pup will chase him, he knows the pup lives in the garden during the day, and still he dares to fly onto the gate and then over into the pup’s hunting ground, well hopefully after yesterday he will remain in the field from now on.

The happy farmer has employed two new 'hedge weeders’, the pigs. He has decided to allow them into his established hedge for a few hours at a time, regularly supervised of course, so hopefully they will weed around the bushes. If left for too long they would of course uproot the whole hedge, but so far so good. I stood in a David Bailey pose this morning, joining the snap happy tourists on the farm, trying to capture the ‘perfect’ shot for the blog, well at least to try and get a photo of a whole pig and not just a back end!

I nearly went flying over the pet lambs as I went for a run with the dogs. Two of them decided to join us, bleating away, running to heal, and then running ‘in the way’ of the mad jogger!! In the end I managed to out run them. They are very people friendly now, I think they will be adopting a tourist at the pottery soon; we’ll need to check the boots of visiting cars, not just for the pottery cats, but for the children’s pet lambs at this rate. The novelty of having pet lambs is of course wearing a little thin with the children now; the enthusiasm of feeding times has dwindled as they argue over whose turn it is. Last night saw the happy farmer, a bottle in each hand and one stuck between his knees with the hungry lambs sucking eagerly away at the bottles.

Until next time…

Sunday, 6 May 2007

Customs on the Farm

The happy farmer got caught in his ‘undies’ this morning, out at the ‘well’ filling the kettle with water. Not that it put him up or down, he just smiled and shouted a cheery ‘good morning’ to our passing German visitors as they left the cottage for an early morning stroll about the farm. Farmer stood in his pants at a tap filling a kettle with water. He is never fazed, but hopefully he will remember that it is now summer and we have visitors in the cottages, and visits to his ‘well’ do require appropriate attire, i.e. clothes! Luckily he wasn’t in the middle of ‘marking his territory’, yes all of the men on the farm, and the visiting farmers seem to be very guilty of that one, as a ‘townie’ it was a bit of a learning curve, luckily it is not a custom practised by the women folk here so I haven’t been encouraged to participate in that particular custom, thank goodness.

The ‘well’ is situated at what was once our back door. It is actually just a tap, it brings water to us from our own spring which is situated out on the hill on the farm. Now before you panic and think we really do live completely in the dark ages, I must reassure you that we do actually have running water and taps in the farmhouse, but that water comes from the mains supply. The mains supply comes from a local Loch, but once it has gone through the treatment plant and been ‘cleaned’ you can taste a residue of chemicals off it, although not nearly as bad as some other supplies I have sampled on the mainland. Anyway the happy farmer can taste mains water a mile away, and refuses to drink anything but his own spring water. I can’t say I blame him; the spring water is crystal clear, always refreshingly cool and has a lovely ‘dewy’ flavour. It used to supply the farmhouse, but the collecting tank on the hill is not high enough to supply any real pressure, so year in year out during the summer months, when the spring water became a trickle, it only flowed through the kitchen tap, the upstairs supply completely dried up. The final straw came when I was heavily pregnant with baby number two and we had the longest and driest of summers I can remember. I had no washing machine, no dishwasher, no water for a bath, and it was hard going. Luckily my mother in law and parents were close by, I would off load a basket of washing at one, while I went for a shower at the other.

So if you happen to be having a holiday on the island and happen to see a long legged man in his undies, kettle in hand, now you know, it is just another of those strange island customs.

Until next time…

Saturday, 5 May 2007

Spaghetti Head

My head feels like spaghetti. I have been so busy and now am absolutely shattered from all of the effort, but have that deep glow of satisfaction that for now the ‘jobs’ are done.

I finally got all of the seeds planted in the vegetable patch; the peas went in just before the sunny skies finally gave way to a shower of rain, perfect for all of the seedlings and plants.

This morning the happy farmer handed me a paint brush and some wood stain to touch up a window sill in one of the cottages, and that was it, the spring cleaning bug from within sprang forth and there was no stopping me. I didn’t just touch up one window sill, but did the lot, and then did all of the sills in the farmhouse, dusting, clearing away the cobwebs, getting rid of the clutter, staining away with the wood varnish as I went. The bug was obviously catching, youngest daughter completely re arranged her bedroom furniture and had a huge tidying operation of her own on the go.

I didn’t get time to blog yesterday; instead I went off to a ceilidh for the Scottish dance society. Two of my children were performing with the wind band at it, so I had my very proud mummy moment, as I listened to them play beautifully. The piper that followed brought a tear to my eye, I find the pipes so moving, and he played so well.

Today Canadian cousins, related to the happy farmer’s grandfather, turned up at the farm, and as I answer another email on genealogy relating to my husband’s family, I wonder what it is that this island has that draws so many people back to their distant roots. Wherever we travel we always seem to meet people who are in some way connected to the island, if not they always have a real interest in hearing more about the place.

I spent my childhood in the suburban town of Walsall, it boasts a much larger population than here, and yet the funny thing is I have yet to meet anyone who claims to have a connection with my home town. In fact it completely kills conversation if I mention I am from Walsall, people are immediately disinterested. The nearest anyone has come to having a connection with the town is driving past it on the M6, maybe people rarely leave Walsall because they love it so much and so that is why no one claims to have a connection, or maybe they just don’t want a connection with the place, and so deny knowing it from the outset, what an awful thought, but it never ceases to amaze me how this island, with its tiny population seems to be connected to so many, and yet Walsall, with its vast population, never crops up in these conversations.

I had a very happy childhood in Walsall though, whereas this island has an overt beauty, Walsall has a hidden beauty, one which you have to seek out, it is not obvious and outstanding like here, but nonetheless it is there. When I think back to my childhood I remember the streets being lined with cherry trees, dancing and playing weddings in the falling blossom with my friends. In the winter we would lie on our backs and make angel shapes in the thick snow lying in the rolling open fields of the arboretum, or sledge down the hill in the dark evenings under the white street lamps that made the snow sparkle like diamonds. There was the canal with its wild banks and hedgerows I spent many days armed with fishing net and jam jar seeking out minnows and sticklebacks, or frogspawn to take home to the pond in our garden. There were the woods and the lake at the back of our school where hordes of Canada Geese would gather and rear their young. I remember the smell of the rain falling on fresh tarmac on a warm day as I cycled for miles through the parks and estates, and in the autumn kicking my feet through the leaves that lay in thick piles lining the streets.

The happy farmer had never even heard of Walsall before he met me. I have let him off, having taken him on many visits to my childhood home, which in latter years have stopped as my relatives have gone and my friends have moved on, and so it and my childhood fades into a distant happy memory.

Until next time….

Thursday, 3 May 2007

Sprouting forth

It has been a busy old day. The happy farmer has spent the day, in the sunshine, working at the fank, gathering in the sheep and lambs, shedding and penning them, and marking each individual lamb. The lambs were castrated and their tails docked. They were vaccinated against various ailments, braxy, tetanus and so on. All of the sheep and the lambs were dosed with liquid to prevent liver fluke and gastric worm, before being allowed back to the fields and the hill to recover.

I sat watching the sun set, listening to the throaty chorus of the sheep, as they called to their lambs. One stood chewing the cud as if she had a piece of gum in her jaws, waiting for her turn to add her bleat to the tune, and all interspersed with the cuckoo calling from the woods, purple tinged, by the sun’s rays. The happy farmer and eldest daughter were racing in the distance through the fields on the quad bike, heading for home, after a final check of the sheep.

The potatoes, onions, leeks, carrots, courgettes, beetroot, swede and runner beans are now planted in the vegetable patch. I stood for nearly an hour walking back and forth across the ground with the hose, the dry weather is spectacular, but has left the ground dry and thirsty. Hopefully the heat and water will encourage the seeds to germinate, and begin to grow into edible delicacies.

My eldest daughter was thrilled; her cactus has sprouted a huge delicate pink and white flower. It had been a present from her grandparents, who had owned the cactus for years, it has never flowered before. In fact they said it was not a flowering cactus, but tonight, it is there, on her windowsill, blooming away.

Until next time…

Wednesday, 2 May 2007

Whisky and Fishky BBQ

Klaus, our friend from Germany, arrived at the pottery in his motor caravan today. Klaus owns the Cadenhead whisky market in Berlin. He is passionate about the amber nectar, and makes frequent pilgrimages to Scotland to buy directly from the distillers.

When Klaus arrives at the farm it is something of a tradition that we light the barbeque and make an evening of it. He always arrives in perfect weather, and last night even the midges didn’t turn up, the conditions were perfect.

I had just arrived home, with piles of shopping bags and tired, hot children. The happy farmer was in the kitchen with a man who was over from the agricultural department. He had been visiting the farm to do a random brucellosis blood test on the sheep. We do not have brucellosis in this country in sheep, but the agricultural department do regular tests on farms to monitor the situation. As the department man left, Klaus arrived, armed with a washing bowl filled with spicy German sausages and steaks, and a huge tin of German beer. He was followed by one of the thirsty happy potters. They took refuge in my kitchen, as I got packed lunches for tomorrow prepared and unpacked the shopping, making salads as I went, while trying to move them on, out in the direction of the garden and the barbeque.

I eventually went and found the happy farmer, herding the sheep, following them back to the fields after their tests. The happy farmer duly followed me and successfully herded the happy potter and the happy whisky man to the barbeque. He didn’t even need his sheep dog and Klaus, bless him, immediately got down to the cooking.

We had a lovely evening, youngest child was at last able to put on her ‘cool’ clothes and get dressed up for a BBQ with ‘real guests’, and not just mum and dad! The happy farmer even managed to con the children into eating the German sausages, which they enjoyed, and even had seconds of. I think he regretted it a bit later though when they conned him into a couple of rounds of bouncing on the trampoline!

As the evening wore on drams were duly poured. Our lovely visitors from the cottage joined us for a nightcap, and we sat, as the sun set, the silhouettes of the ponies on top of the hill, talking about whisky and friendships.

Klaus, produced two hand corked bottles of his own whisky.

He bought a barrel of whisky from Bruichladdich distillery back in 1992, just before it closed down. He visited his barrel in the warehouses over the years and when Bruichladdich reopened under new ownership he discussed his barrel with them, saying that the whisky was good, but the barrel was made of old wood, and so the flavour was not maturing and developing as it should. I actually learnt a great deal about whisky last night. The distillers agreed that the barrel was not good, and Klaus was given a sherry cask to transfer his whisky too. The cask that the whisky matures in greatly affects the flavour of the malt whisky, as the liquid absorbs flavours from the wood.

Klaus, being a whisky enthusiast and connoisseur decided to try the ultimate finish on his whisky. Last year he transferred half of the barrel to another barrel that had contained salt herring for six months. Last night he produced two bottles, one of Bruichladdich, and one of Fishky, as he calls his salt herring finished malt.
We tried a taste of both; well the happy farmer actually chose to have far more than a taste, of the Bruichladdich. The Fishky was quite salty and had an oily flavour, the happy farmer was not too keen on that one, but the Bruichladddich, well that was a definite hit.

Until next time….

Tuesday, 1 May 2007

Potty Potatoes

I fell out with the land today, big style. The happy farmer has been working away at the vegetable patch, working the soil, rotavating the manure, so that I can get down to some serious planting. He told me it was ready today, so, run accomplished, I felt obliged to at least go and make a start with the potatoes.

I decided to plant a long drill the whole length of the patch, and gently began to hoe a line across. Gently became more of a tug and a struggle as I battled against heavily rooted grass shoots, stones and manure (cow poo), undeterred I toiled on, at last reaching the end of the patch. Carefully I planted each potato, a foot apart, trying to get some depth between the eye of the potato and the top of the soil line, cursing their odd shapes as I went. They never seem to quite fit into the hole I have burrowed into the ground for them, always being too fat, or too wide at one end. I then tried to hoe a deep line of soil across the newly planted potatoes, in their beds. Again the grass roots fought with me, as I huffed and sweated, tearing aggressively at the ground, with my hoe. Now there’s a thought for an anger management course me thinks, thankfully today there is no law about being cruel to grass, ripping it from the soil, I will let it grow elsewhere, promise!

I met the happy farmer in the kitchen having lunch as I made my way home. I had trudged across the garden wondering why on earth I go through such battles each year, all of the weeding, digging, planting, just for some vegetables, of course as the weeks progress and my blogs wax lyrical about my wonderful journeys to the ‘kitchen garden’ you will be able to remind me why.

The happy farmer just smiled and commented that I had planted the potatoes too close to the fence, along the bit where all rotovators refuse to go, and no ‘rotovator has gone before’. He assured me that the next few drills will be easy peasy, I will let you know.

Until next time…..