Thursday, 19 July 2012

Of mice and cheese and rainy days...

While Tuesday of this week was awful, (see previous blog post,) Monday had been wonderful.

I opened the curtains first thing to a dreary, rain flooded sky and wondered what I was going to do with the sproglets who were beginning their second week of the school holidays. Usually we would have been off on a camping trip by now; tent loaded in the car, marshmallows close at hand, but this year is just too darn wet. Towards the end of this week I have plans for sproglet entertainment that stretches into August, but this Monday had me flummoxed.

I keep meaning to scribe a blog page with a list of things to do with sproglets on a rainy day... maybe I'll do that later this week, in the meantime we've hosted various playdates and the 9yo has taken to painting watercolours and other crafty activity while the 7yo is excellent at Lego creation and at bombing through the levels of a Wii game, selling it on eBay, buying another and so on....

While making breakfast I had a Eureka! moment. How about a cheap and cheerful outing with educational and gastronomic overtones? Clearly it was time for a visit to Mousetrap Cheese's Monkland Cheese Dairy at Pleck Farm, a few miles to the west of Leominster in Hereford. At an entrance fee of  £3 for adults and £1.75 per child, this cottage industry takes you into the heart of cheese making, up close and personal, (blue cheese smells and all.) Mousetrap Cheese are the producers of the Little Hereford and Monkland Cheese and they also own shops in Leominster, Ludlow and Hereford where they specialise in a range of British farmhouse and continental cheeses mostly made from unpasteurised milk.

By 10:30am we were running from the car to the little coffee and cheese shop, the persistent wet stuff just wouldn't let up! Inside the dairy was all toasty warm with coffee and cheese perfuming the air. We nibbled at taster sized pieces of cheese, loving all of the flavours especially the Little Hereford flavoured with sage.

Our guide and chief cheese maker soon came to collect us. She wore a fetching outfit of white boots, apron, shorts and a T-shirt, along with a retro looking 1970's hat, (probably a heath and safety requirement rather than a nod to The Liver Birds.) We're it not for the text on the back of her t-shirt that read; 'Blessed be the cheese makers,' she could have auditioned for a number of Abba copycat bands.

Our guide was so wonderfully personable that our tour comprising three adults and five children (aged from 7-14)  were soon happy to ask questions and squeal in horror at the origin of French rennet, a bi-product of the French veal industry. Who'd have though cheese making could be so gory - the kids loved it.

We were shown how the cheese was made, stage by stage and stood just a few feet from huge vats of warm, rennet infused milk, gawping at the fact that with 1000 litres of milk, only 100 litres of cheese would be created. This leaves 90% of soluble protein or whey as waste and this needs to be disposed of. This waste is ideally suited to feed pigs, so get in touch with them if you'd like some for your animals.

We were taken into the storage rooms where mold (the good type) encrusted rounds of cheese were sat on shelves maturing. The 7yo was salivating by now and I was surprised to note that he wasn't bothered by the aroma, he was genuinely interested in the process, as was the 9yo.

All in all it was a great adventure and by the time we left, the rain had stopped and the sun was belting hot........ OK, I've gone waaaay too far now... it was still pee-ing down!

For cheese and tasty tours (and to avoid the rain) contact:

Mousetrap Cheese, The Pleck, Monkland, Hereford. HR6 9DB Tel. 01568 720 307

Wednesday, 18 July 2012

What a difference a day makes....

I awoke last night and for a split second I was in that dream land where all is well with the world; there was sure to be a sunny, warm day ahead with no sign or rain and Queenie, the baby lamb was still alive.

Yesterday was not a good day.

It started well enough, as soon as hubby left for work I got up and let out the chickens, I moved the three hefty lambs, Snowy, Moon and Pink to the bottom field to graze and went to collect the baby, Queenie, from the stables.

Queenie was delighted to see me or maybe she was just delighted to see her bottle of milk! I fed her before she and I strolled down to the bottom paddock together, her padding along beside me like a dog. She was to join the big girls for the day.

I closed the gate to the field and gave Queenie and Pink a last scratch of the nose through the fence before heading back toward the house. Queenie and Pink see me as their mum and as Queenie is still quite tiny in comparison to her tubby adopted sisters, she managed to squeeze herself through the gap in the gate and, bleating with joy, followed me back up Home Field!

If I had been gardening for the day I would have happily let her follow me for an hour or so but lambs are notoriously bad at painting and decorating and this was my imposed chosen activity for the day, so instead I lifted her up and over the nearest fence, trapping her in the little paddock that is Queenie proof.

Unusually the weather was mild and back indoors, armed with coffee, I began to prep the walls and ceiling of daughter's empty bedroom.

Within an hour the 9yo, (temporarily housed in the attic room,) and the 7yo awoke and daughter and I mused over the colour she wanted for the chimney breast and opposite wall, (a vivid purple is high on her agenda which is why I've deemed that the rest of the room is white.) Boy, relishing the lack of my attention, was soon lost to Wii-World.

With the childen dispatched to breakfast and play, I began to paint the room. Periodically I gazed at the view across our fields, ocasionally I waved to a child as they ran by on the track below, on their way to the den, the swing or to pick some flowers. While they played, I used a compass and pencil to draw perfect, protective circles on the walls. These circles encompassing bees, bugs, birds and butterflies, exquisitely painted, are part of an inherited mural in the room. Although I will paint out the foliage, I couldn't bear to eradicate these creatures from the new scheme.

I heard the screams first then the 7yo came hurtling into the house yelling.

'Mum! Queenie can't stand up, Queenie can't stand up!'

I reached the 9yo in the tiny paddock in record time and there was my Queenie, this sweet six week old baby, thrashing about on the grass, her head twisted back at a hideous angle her legs cycling wildly. As her eyes flickered back in her head all I could think of was epilepsy or meningitis.

We tried our local farmer first to see if he knew what ailed her but he couldn't be sure, so we got back into the Discovery and raced to the vet, the children supporting the lamb on the floor of the truck. All told, from the start of her fit, which the 9yo witnessed, to our arrival at the vet, just 30 or 40 minutes had elapsed.

I made the children sit in the waiting room, concerned that they wouldn't cope with what might happen, as I went through to an examining room with the vet. I held her legs as he injected this and that into her tiny shaved neck but there came a point where her body was so hot, her panting so wild and her eyes so black, that I knew she wasn't Queenie any more.

The vet ran her out to a shed and I held her while he gently hosed her with cool water, desperately trying to cool her temperature, but I knew it was futile.

I cried when she left me.

The vet couldn't give a difinitive cause for her death but he thought it was cerebral, maybe bacterial meningitis or possibly grass tetany due to the levels of magnesium in the pasture, although he said he'd be suprised at this with such a young lamb.

The children were devastated.

We took her little body, towelled dry by the vet, and drove home. The children's chests heaved silently, boy was turned away from me in the passenger seat, his forehead resting on the cool glass window. The girl was sat the back, closest to the lamb's body.

They chose a peaceful spot in the garden under a magnificent Acer, a secret spot along a grassy trail hidden by six foot high shrubs. They dug with me and then we placed her, wrapped in a soft shroud, deep in her resting place and said our goodbyes.

While I planted Feverfew and Penstemon they found an unused wooden garden bench and placed it facing the grave.

Unprompted they said a prayer, the 'Our Father' and, for once, I joined in.

Sunday, 8 July 2012

Olympic Sport at The Larches

Like many mums and dads up and down the land, we too were gutted to learn that first the 9yo's sports day was to be cancelled due to hideous weather and then, a week or so later, the 7yo's was cancelled for the same reason. Naughty weather.

In the briefest of respite from the biblical chastisement (all brought about thanks to Shades of Grey ... if you know what I mean! *Looks prim and buttons up cardigan*) we have designed our own sports events; there's Mud Walking in Sledge Field, there's Digging Out The Stream, there's Tossing The Caber (aka filling up the log basket.. IN JULY!!) but by far the most popular event is the Lamb-Dash 100m sprint.

[Please note, if you can't see the video in the email, click the blue title of the post and watch the show in your browser. Thanks, enjoy!]

Tuesday, 3 July 2012

Save them for later....

It's great to have big, fat strawberries in summer, the taste of them fresh picked is pure summer (regardless of the weather) but it's even better to taste them mid winter, similarly baby broad beans and raspberries too.

Of course strawberries are not the same plump, robust fruits when they have been frozen, I'm not daft! But if you've tray-frozen them and they are loose in a bag (hulled and cleaned of course) there's nothing better than using them frozen in a milkshake or in a daiquiri. The same goes for raspberries who are best used frozen for a fabulous, tart Eton Mess.

Broad beans, picked very young are perfect candidates for tray freezing - no blanching required. Gorgeous.

I've been looking for an upside regarding the lack of sun and I feel I have found a tiny glimmer; (for me only probably,) it is that the crap moisture rich weather will allow me to grow broad beans for-ev-er! Fab news for the sproglets and me - possibly not for my hubby who's not a fan.


Queenie, positively the last lamb, is growing day by day. She spent the whole day with Pink (the lamb) today and I ignored her cries in the drizzling rain. She's still on a bottle four or five times a day ( am I) but she has just ten more days of that comfort before she's on pellets and grass only.

Much as I love her, I will not miss the feeds.

Monday, 2 July 2012


The weather has been dreadful, but then I'm sure you know that. The sproglets have had both their sports days monsooned off and this Thursday heralds the start of the summer holidays. I'm wondering whether we'll see any sun this July or August, I suspect not!

After a period of not reading to the sprogs at night, something I've done forever, I have resumed the tradition. I think we stopped because often, we're not home till 6:30pm and then there's lambs and dinner and ... blah, blah, blah, poor excuse really. I'm reading The Seeing Stone by Kevin Crossley-Holland, an Arthurian legend that spans the interest of the 9yo as well as mine though the 7yo is unconvinced so he and I read Horrid Henry. (I'm less thrilled by this, although I amuse myself trying to emulate Miranda Richardson's voice, as she reads the audiobooks brilliantly.)

I love stories, good ones stick in your head. One of the earliest books I can remember was a Ladybird book called The Discontented Pony.

I'm rather hoping my own book will be as well loved. Take a look at my tale of three little girls; Nancy, Peggy and Susan as they get their first taste of freedom at boarding school

Available as an ebook from, this book is a traditional story for modern times of school friends, growing up and difficult relationships. Aimed at 7-11 year old readers. I do hope you'll consider buying a copy.

Recently I've taken to reading several books at the same time. I've no idea why, maybe I'm trying to read all the books before I shuffle off.... Or maybe I like the challenge of making my brain remember which character is in which book.... who knows.

I've just finished The Report by Jessica Francis Kane. This is a novel fictionalising a true story of a disaster in 1943, when 173 people died descending steps into a tube station on their way to shelter from an air raid that never materialises. Easy to read and fascinating though the fine line between the fact that the book is fictional yet based on fact opens a whole can of worms and leaves you asking 'Was that true or did the writer make that up?'

As a story, ignoring the need for factual accuracy, I was rather taken by some of the offered reasons for the disaster, one racism in the country at that time. I'd never really considered racism during World War II, my attention has always been taken by the media coverage concerning Europe, but as late as 1968 Enoch Powell was confident enough to make the Rivers of Blood speech. Sad to think that, 70 years on, and the debate still rages.

I also just finished No Country for Old Men by Cormac McCarthy. Hea-veee. Depressingly macho, a book made for film, [and indeed that film was made.] A series of drug related murders and a old school sheriff, this book does not have a happy ending. I can forgive Mr McCarthy almost anything, thanks to his stunning writing talent but I preferred The Road, in fact The Road is probably one of my all time favourite books which surprises me.... it not being very jolly either.

I'd heard Mariella Frostrup talk about Jean Auel and her huge following of readers obsessed by the author's portrayal of Ayla, a Cro-Magnon female  At age five, she is orphaned by a cataclysmic earthquake, and is taken into the Clan of the Cave Bear, a clan of Neanderthal people.

I started this chunky book The Clan of the Cave Bear, the first book in a series of three or four, with a huge amount of snobbery and disdain. I'm not usually so judgemental but I knew this wasn't going to be my kind of fiction. The two reasons I had chosen the book was 1. I was intrigued by the cult following of the books and 2. I had acres of painting and decorating to do and this book is 20 hours and 7 minutes long as an audiobook. [High brow eh?]

I immediately hated it; the over egged description, the bloody liberty of it all.Suspend disbelief? I had to throttle it! And then, and hour or so into the book I was hooked. Nonsense, but great to paint to.

I also listened to Salmon Fishing in The Yemen by Paul Torday and could see why it was made into a film. It helped to have such esteemed characters as John Sessions, Andrew Sachs, Andrew Marr and Samantha Bond to narrate it. Thus the painting was painless.

Anyhoo, off to bed now... check out my children's book if you get the chance. Night, night.

The Archers at The Larches

Lou - Chicken whisperer....

Lou - Chicken whisperer....

Snowy and Moon

Snowy and Moon