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, 27 September 2007

Jimmy Hoot

The happy farmer is out demolishing the old stone walls adjoining our house, attaching chains to the old cement work and hauling them down with the tractor. It is an apt time, a time of change, pulling away the old steadings, and replacing them with new stronger walls, extending our family home. The building warrant has finally come through and things can get moving.

Though as we pull down those old crumbling walls we are struggling today, our dear friend Hoot has died. We have visited him often over the past few weeks, reminiscing about the good times, as he, as sturdy as ever, bravely began to lose his battle with cancer, a battle that has spanned some thirty years, one which for the most part he has had the upper hand. His passing is a blessing, but tinged with great sadness for all who knew him well. Hoot was another of life’s rich characters. He was part of the fittings and fixtures of the farm, and we will miss him dreadfully, but his stories, his wicked sense of humour, that twinkle in his beady eyes, his character, will remain with us always.

Hoot could usually be found in his tackety boots, cap and boiler suit, down at the fank with the happy farmer working at sheep. When the work was done, a beady eyed Hoot would sit, mug of tea in his hand, roll up between his fingers and put the day and the world to rights. He has passed many a happy day on the farm over the years, a great man with the sheep, usually with his faithful Dan dog at his heels, always offering timely advice and the wisdom of one that truly knew and understood the ways of nature and the countryside. He has fenced the length and breadth of Scotland in his time. Never a day passed when he didn’t indulge in a bit of ‘the old tail pulling’, as Hoot would call it, as he would wind someone up and watch them take the bait. A remarkable man when it came to stalking and shooting, Hoot knew the hills well, and was a great teacher in the ways of the ‘Highlands’, when the boys were younger he would take them out to the north end of the island, where they would set up camp in the caves and live off the land.

So at the weekend Hoot will go back to rest in the land he so loved, he is to be buried on his sister’s croft on Jura……

Wednesday, 19 September 2007

It's a Dog's Life...

Mist is finally no longer in season, the happy farmer can heave a huge sigh of relief, no pups this time. Roy, the sheepdog can get back to a peaceful life once more, having spent several days with his nose glued through the slats in the gate, tongue hanging out, as he whimpered and howled trying to get Mist’s attention as I took her on a daily walk through the back field.

Mist has delighted in her new found freedom. She jumped in with the pigs for a breakfast date, helping them to eat their rations, before clearing the gates, and taking herself off across the fields to indulge in a bit of sheep chasing, goading the happy farmer as she went. Skilfully disappearing out of sight, as he took chase on his quad bike. Only to reappear when she knew he was safely all the way up the top of the hill in his vain search, and the coast was clear for her to come skulking back into the garden. Mist had regained her composure, and was posing happily on the garden slabs, a wry grin on her face, by the time a harassed but happy farmer returned.

We had friends over from the mainland visiting with their beloved pet dog Fudge while Mist was in season. Poor Fudge got a rude awakening in our garden; enter at your peril when the bitch is on heat. Roy pestered him mercilessly, following him round the garden, nose glued firmly to his behind, before mounting a full scale assault. Fudge had to be rescued indoors, only to be growled at by Iona, my parents’ dog, who was over to stay. She is queen bee when she is here, taking over the happy farmer’s comfy kitchen chair, much to his annoyance. There she sits throughout the day, only peeling herself away from the chair if there is a walk on offer, or some yummy food scraps. Not at all impressed at Fudge’s arrival, a normally docile dog, Iona’s hackles were up, teeth were bared and Fudge was told in no uncertain terms that he was not welcome. Eventually we gave up, Fudge was put back in the car, Iona drifted lazily back to sleep, happy farmer looking on with gnarled face, and Roy was able to return once more to the slats in the gate and happily pant after his beloved.

Until next time….

Saturday, 15 September 2007

Homework....sounds and smells...

Homework….I was tagged…..12 smells and sounds that would reach me anywhere….

Well I spent lots of time under canvas as a child, every holiday and most weekends. We often used to camp at Tyddyn Ceithin in Cricceith, North Wales. My tent would pitched on the banks of the river and so I used to drift off to sleep to the sound of bleating lambs and flowing water, at times the river would be bubbling and boiling, so much so that it would feel as if the tent were being drawn into the water.

The smell of sheep’s wool, not freshly sheared, but wool freshly aired by the breeze, I used to gather it off the fences as a toddler and cuddle it up to my nose. It doesn’t have the strong lanolin, greasy scent of freshly sheared wool. My mum would replace it with clean cotton wool balls, another smell that I adored. The best however was to inhale cigar or cigarette smoke through cotton wool, whoops, a product of my parents’ smoking when I was small, but a smell I vividly can recall, and one which I used to find really comforting.

I love the peaty earthy scent you get when you walk through boggy ground on a wet day.

The sweet smell of summer that you get on a hot day in late spring, as children we would lie on our coats in the playground on such days, and just soak up the scent, together with the warm sun, and the sounds of other children playing, carried on the breeze.

The sounds of children exploding with uncontrollable giggles, my mum’s piano music, which used to waft up the stairs, after my brother and I had been tucked into bed at night, and bagpipes which have the power to send shivers up my spine and bring a tear to my eye.

The sweet scent of bog myrtle which is carried in the breeze as I make my way up the hill.

The salty smell of the ocean waves breaking on the shore….

Until next time…

Friday, 14 September 2007

Noddy and the Highlanders

Oh the autumn is here, everyone seems to have a cold, and the days have been windy and gloomy. I think it is time to start lighting the fires, stocking up the stores, with all those vegetables, chutneys, jams and pickles, and hibernating indoors. I don’t quite feel ready to let go of the summer, but the change in weather is bringing about the change in seasons. I feel sorry for the lingering blooms of flowers, battling against the chilly September winds.

The happy farmer goes out looking like ‘Noddy’ each day, complete with red fleece and big hat, only to return, after a morning's fencing, with a matching red face, and that’s without any whisky !!

The highland cows have been moved down towards my mother in laws, off the hill and into the fields, to get a good bite of grass before the winter weather and the geese strip the fields bare. They are in great form just now, and happily followed the happy farmer, bucket in hand, off the hill and along the single track road to the fields, a group of cars patiently waiting in the lay-by, until the cows were well clear of the road.

It will soon be ‘tupping’ time once more, when the ‘boys’ (and I am talking the woolly ones here, and not the welly boot clad gang!) go into the fields with the ewes to work. The happy farmer has been busy giving those boys a manicure; they have a tendency to get bad feet, so theirs have been neatly trimmed in preparation for those ladies in waiting. It never ceases to amaze me how soft the tups are. The ewes live in large numbers out on the hillside and in the fields, in all weather, spend several months of the year pregnant, then go through the birthing, feeding and rearing of their offspring, before the whole cycle begins again. The tups on the other hand, spend the year lazing around, eating to their hearts content. They get extra rations of feed to build up their strength in October, go out into the fields to ‘work’ in November, and are then gathered in, and fed throughout the winter to help them recover from their few weeks of mating. They come away from the sheep and are literally ‘knackered’. This is often the point where we lose old Mr Blue. We use a blue faced Leicester tup, among other breeds, each year, and invariably he struggles to survive the winter months, in spite of being given shelter, extra rations and anti biotic jags, as he is the one that always seems to get a flu bug. If he is feeling particularly naughty he may even die before tupping begins, choosing his time to coincide with after the tup sales have finished and just a day or so before he is due to begin his mating programme.

This year tupping time is going to be challenging, with the foot and mouth crisis, not knowing if the disease is going to spread, and the movement restrictions, which will prevent us buying new stock to breed in with our flocks. In September or October the happy farmer usually goes away to the mainland to buy several new tups for his ladies. Fingers crossed the outbreak will be contained and livestock movement can return to normal as quickly as possible. On a flippant note, how else am I going to get those new shoes if the happy farmer doesn’t manage to sell those lambs?!!

Until next time….

Thursday, 6 September 2007

Uncertain Change

The Paps are being awfully shy, ever since I decided to post daily pictures of them on the blog they have been in hiding. Today they continue to be a complete tease, lifting the heavy layers of mist and cloud covering them, ever so slightly to reveal their lower climbs, before covering up again completely.

We have friends home from New Zealand. They have family over with them who have never visited the islands before. They have yet to see the Paps in their full glory, the happy farmer of course, a wry grin on his face, explained how they recently decided to concrete the whole of Jura and the Paps are in fact no more. Maybe that is why they have decided to revel themselves ever so slightly today!

Our son arrived home from school really excited, our daughter completely fed up. The reason, well our high school is the first school in Europe where every child is being issued with a tablet PC, a mini laptop computer. Jotters, pens and worksheets are going to be a thing of the past.

Son came home with his shiny new tablet yesterday; daughter has got to wait another week until hers is issued, so she was really not a happy bunny. I have really mixed feelings about the whole process, but then that is also my approach to change. I can’t help feeling that my children are going to be the guinea pigs in this whole computer age. It seems to somewhat contradict our natural surroundings, I can’t help wondering why the computer giants, Dell and Microsoft have chosen a small school on a remote Scottish island to begin this computer revolution.

I have concerns about what skills will be lost when computers don’t simply enhance class work, but actually take over. Will it be easy to revise and learn notes by reading from a computer screen instead of going through hand written notes and work sheets? Will a part of each individual’s identity be lost to some extent when everything is computer processed and not hand written? It is interesting that we live in an age when we are trying to desperately preserve, languages such as Gaelic and Welsh, to value and appreciate accents and dialogues, which at one point were actively banished in the belief that if we all spoke the same language, with the same accent and dialect, it would help us to get on better in the world. I can’t help but draw some comparisons to our use of language in the written sense also; will it be good for children to rely on computer keyboards so dependently when it comes to expressing themselves in the written form? Will the whole process prove a technological nightmare? What happens if children’s work is not backed up properly, they can only link to the internet when at school and the tablets have no DVD drives, so what happens when a huge amount of research or an all important essay is lost with the touch of a button?

The children are really excited, they are already far more computer literate than me. We live in an ever changing world. I should be glad that my children are getting this fantastic opportunity, that they are receiving such fantastic equipment for nothing, I just can’t help wishing it had been tried and tested elsewhere first, that’s all, and I do hope they do not lose the all important skills of expressing themselves with pen and paper…back to the cave drawings then.

Until next time…

Tuesday, 4 September 2007

Muck n' Mud

The farmhouse kitchen is beginning to resemble a vegetable patch; the ‘vegetable patch’ is taking over, a country kitchen garden. It all sounds very lovely and organic but the reality is potatoes covered in mud. Carrots, a jungle of leaves on them, all muddy and waiting to be scrubbed. A huge wheel barrow at the door, filled with beetroot, waiting to be boiled and made into jars of pickles and chutney. Then there is the cauliflower, oodles of it, freshly blanched, and cooling in large ceramic pots. There are cabbages bursting out, and so it goes on.

Dare I admit at this point that I do sometimes miss ‘clacketing’ round city supermarkets, polished toe nails on show, selecting neatly packaged, pre washed, bright vegetables, all the same shape and size? The chemicals soaked into them and on them, if they are not of the organic variety, are after all invisible….Please please don’t spoil this fantasy I have of a city supermarket. I know the reality is ever so slightly different. I have been there, trying to manoeuvre that ever so large trolley, the one with the ‘wonky wheels’ up and down the ginormous aisles that offer so much choice it is a bit like locating a needle in a haystack, especially if you are in the ‘country comes to town’ bracket. However when I am soaking, covered in mud, from holding armfuls of vegetables, making my way to the kitchen, I do have that little fantasy of being clean and polished in a neat suit in a city supermarket.....

Of course I realise that once my vegetables have been washed and cooked, or eaten raw, (as is the case with the peas, they never quite make it to the pan, they are far too sweet and delicious to cook), that you really cannot beat the flavour of home grown vegetables from garden to plate in minutes. That is the moment you really do reap the rewards. I did feel a bit down hearted though as I plucked away at the various vegetables in the patch, leaving huge gaps, that were filled with billowing greens…until next year!!

It is another ‘mizzly’ day today, hence the huge wads of mud on the veggies. As I went for a run, I thought what a good idea it would be to post a daily photo of those majestic Paps, the beautiful hills that I am lucky to see most days. Last night they were covered in the pink and purple hues of the setting sun. Of course today in the misty rain, you wouldn’t even know they are there, they are totally invisible, shrouded in layers of grey mist, they must be feeling ever so slightly shy at my suggestion of appearing on the blog then….

Until next time………

Monday, 3 September 2007

The 'jingly jangly' friend

I have been all out of sorts. The children went back to school a week last Thursday. The whole laid back life of lazy days, outings to beaches, visits from friends, and the endless freedom that only the long summer break really brings, has been kick started into a bustling routine of school bags, packed lunches, buses, and then silence, as the last one heads out of the door. The house feels so empty, that is until they come bursting through the door again at 4.00pm, leaving a trail of school bags shoes and discarded instruments in their wake. I hate it when the schools go back, especially the first few weeks, when everyone is adjusting once again to the routines that school life brings.....

The happy farmer took me out to a distillery for lunch to cheer me up, last week . It was a ‘mizzly’ week, with drizzle and low lying cloud, days when it doesn’t quite know whether it is summer or autumn. It was quiet travelling over to the distillery, no squabbling children in the car, arguing over which band we should be listening too, or moaning that we were heading out at all, we did miss them…..

The old kiln café was bustling with tourists, still enjoying their holidays. The island still has that lovely ‘holiday’ feel about it, just unfortunately for some, the holidays are definitely over. The café has a fantastic atmosphere; it is situated in one of the distillery warehouses, and has an old flagstone floor and a high ceiling of huge, solid, oak beams.

We had to wait a while to get seated, the happy farmer leaning against one of the old steel posts, threatening to start chatting to people, hoping to make them ‘slurp’ that soup a little quicker, and hurry off out, so we could get a seat. I managed to persuade him to stay put while I browsed the array of drams, in bottles of various ages and cask strengths, woollen pullovers, scarves and paintings on sale.

Once seated, the menu looked appetising, and just as our order arrived so did our ‘jingly jangly’ friend, that is his ‘blog name’ anyway, called thus, as he can never ever sit still, not even for a minute. He is a fascinating character; completely loop the loop, and great entertainment value, as well as being a good friend of ours. He arrived with some friends of his, so we all sat together. The friends were up from the Lake District, and are in charge of the company who are demolishing the Islay Hotel, which is now owned by our ‘jingly jangly’ friend. It is his latest and very exciting venture. Over the course of the next week the old hotel will be ‘raised to the ground’, apparently, finally all being pulled down at 10.00am next Saturday. The company doing the work have demolished a lot of these tall cooling towers around the country. It should be quite a sight, and will be a very welcome sight, as the hotel has stood in a dreadful derelict condition for many years now, proving a huge eyesore for all of the visitors and residents, this will very soon be a sight of the past. Our good friend has plans to rebuild the Islay Hotel and turn it once more into a thriving hub of activity at the heart of the island’s community.

We headed home, refreshed, and ready for the first child home to come racing through that door.

Until next time….