Friday, 30 November 2012

Driving Miss Daisy mad...

This post was going to be about a dreadful incident we encountered on the way to school today; 2 white vans and a car damaged beyond repair plus four dead sheep, blood and fragments of their bodies strewn across the rural road. I've decided to write no more than that because it was too sad for words.

Slow down people, particularly on rural common land where gentle creatures graze!

As I began to write this post the 8yo appeared, PJ'ed and clean but with a wobbly lip. He felt sidelined today by pals at school and, though he is big now, tall as my shoulder, he sat astride me and wittered his woes. I remembered advice given to me by a very wise woman.

'When people tell you their troubles don't give them your advice, just say oh dear a lot.' I did just that and the outpourings kept coming.

After ten minutes of oh dearing and stroking his furry dressing-gowned back, he jumped up.

'Can you read to me now?' he asked brightly, his troubles stroked away.

'Sure, but only if your wild, discarded underpants are tamed and herded towards the washing basket.'

His grumps almost returned.

So now I must go to read the next thrilling instalment in Stormbreaker... can't wait.


Thursday, 22 November 2012


I woke at silly o'clock today. I could have just laid there, warm and toasty, but my brain was awake too, listing things I could do quietly with the couple of hours before the household awoke: Read, make cheese scones ('oh, not enough cheese,') rewrite the white board diary in the kitchen, bake with the surplus eggs..... Write.

Downstairs the cats were surprised by me, they blinked in the light, stretching and rubbing up against me hoping it was time for an early breakfast. I busied myself trying to light the log burner, the only source of heat in the kitchen.

After several attempts at the fire I had to admit defeat. I just didn't have enough kindling. I listened and noted that the storms of yesterday had passed by so, donning my new, [well, hand-me-down, Jules Wellibobs donated by a lovely friend,] I firmly tied my dressing gown hitched up my thermals and went out gently into that good, dark night.

There was a stillness to the land, a pre-dawn calm. Even rooster, locked in his box, was quiet, most likely asleep. The stars littered the sky and the distant glow of the city, maybe 50 miles away, burnished the horizon.

It's not far to the log shed, out the front door and up the drive towards the stables. Pink was the first to hear me as she lay in the field over the hedge. I noted her soft needy tone. Alerted to my presence Snowy and Moon, bleated hellos too. I could picture them bedded down in the grass;. big sheep now, not the tiny lambs I raised by bottle.

'Morning girls' I whispered and they bleated again but I could tell they were still in their same positions, they knew it wasn't yet time to get up.

In the wood shed I shone my torch and selected a good box of kindling, prepared by hubby in early Autumn.


And now I'm by the crackling fire, talking to you. Tabby, the bigger cat has a cold and has crawled up to my lap for extra warmth. He sneezes occasionally and nips me on the hand as I type, just to remind me that he's here.

It's 5.10.

Last night the 10yo finished reading my children's book Nancy, Peggy and Susan. First Freedom. [Available at Amazon for Kindle Lulu for ebook download and Barnes and Nobel for Nook.] She'd asked me to read her the last chapter which was a privilege. There's a little twist in the ending and I'd wondered if it was obvious. It wasn't. As I began to build up to the secret she stopped me and excitedly described what she thought was going to happen. As I revealed the plot she squealed and demanded I hand over my Kindle, determined to read for herself. She was convinced I was making up words rather than reading them. She had been wrong and the twist had caught her out. It was exactly the reaction I was hoping for when I wrote the story some four years ago. Priceless. A moment I'll treasure.

Well I'm off to make tea and begin the process of re-reading my long abandoned novel.... a fictional version of The Archers at The Larches with the temporary title of The Perrys at The Berries. I think I put it aside in order to learn more about the land, animals and me as a writer, but now I suddenly feel compelled to finish.

Have a good day, I think I shall.

Wednesday, 14 November 2012

Draughts and Lizards....

Picture taken Spring 2012

The title for this blog post is not to herald the newest Christmas board game, but rather to act as a literal comment on the need for constant repair to an old house. Where the miners had canaries as an early warning system, we Archers have lizards..... well, newts.

I barely had a leg in a pant this morning before the 10yo burst into my bedroom.


I nearly fainted; she being up and about without my having to scrape her from the bed, being dressed and with kempt hair! Turns out she and her school posse, were planning a pop band rehearsal and she needed to pack bits and pieces which included her guitar. In the corridor leading to the front door she had met another being....


'Yes?' [It's tricky looking stern and attentive in your non-matching smalls.]

'There's a lizard in the hall.'

She's not daft, especially in the animal department, so I generally believe her press, however the lizard reference had me stumped.

Once, long ago, when there were no babies and my arms didn't continue to wave long after guests' departure, my hubby and I played golf. Our foreign (long since forgotten) holidays around the world always included a round or two. On one such trip we took in the Florida Swing. After a particularly gorgeous yet tricky round at Doral, I climbed yet another steep bank of Kikuyu grass, the type of grass that claims your ball For.Ever. Over the ridge I just knew my ball was deep in the bunker and that this bunker was probably nicknamed Miami Beach or somesuch. Cresting the dune, I came face to face with the biggest iguana I've ever seen. He and I shot off in opposite directions, both screaming. Urgh!

Lashing downstairs I had a momentary flash of that scene.

In the hall, near the skirting board was a smooth newt. Phew! As I bent to pick him up, a gust of icy wind bit at my finger tips. Clearly there was a newt sized gap from inside to outside. Our house, built in the 1840s has no deep foundations as we know today, it was built on the ground it stood on and after 150 years, this seems an adequate solution, if a little newty.

Mr or Mrs Newt was taken to new quarters; a winter creature hotel of pallates and straw and warm hidey-holes tht hubby and the sproglets built this summer for drowning wildlife. [Not that we Archers were doing the drowning you understand, rather the creatures were drowning so we built the hotel..... Tricky, this language stuff...] We look forward to his or her re-emergence in spring.

The wind tunnel has been sealed.


Sunday, 11 November 2012

Irish Halloween and Cake.....

When I was growing up Halloween was a huge affair. Being Irish, my parents seemed to have great enthusiasm for fun and trick or treating was compulsory. In Ireland the word fun isn’t considered a good enough word to describe the time you're having under that heading, so they call it ‘the Craic.’ Halloween was the perfect time to employ the craic; the chance to scare children rigid being an occasion not to be missed.

Still in Ireland to this day, in the weeks leading up to Halloween, homes are littered with the delicious treat known as Barnbrack which is an Irish fruit loaf. The title comes from the Irish Gaelic bairín breac which literally means speckled loaf. In traditional Ireland each member of the family would get a slice of the delicious cake but you had to be careful when chewing the delicious treat as there were several charms hidden in it, wrapped in baking paper. Each charm signified an omen for the finder’s future.

If you found a ring  you were sure to find romance. If you got the coin then you were in for a prosperous year, but if you found the rag than your financial future was in doubt. [I must have found the rag ten times over!!] If you find the thimble then it was thought you would never marry! - Tricky if you were already married.... Nowadays many commercial Barnbrack cakes sold in Irish shops around Halloween contain a ring.

Mind you, regardless of austerity, the ring maybe about to get a lot more grandiose if the rumour about the Irish finding oil are to be believed. Check out this fantastic, hilarious journalistic take on the state of the Irish economy by writer and broadcaster Fiona Looney. Click here.

I've made Barnbrack this year and wrapped coins in tin foil as my charms. The children love the moist loaf (though I think they eat the slices to get to the gifts!!) and it’s dairy free. Have a go, it’s so simple. 



380g dried fruit
A pot of good tea, enough to cover the fruit
225g self-raising flour
1 or 2 eggs, beaten
1 or 2 teaspoon mixed spice
125g caster sugar
honey or Golden Syrup (optional – for decoration)

Soak the fruit in tea overnight, then drain. Mix together with the rest of the ingredients (apart from the honey/golden syrup) and stir in the charms wrapped in tin foil. Don’t over-knead the dough, or your delicately re-hydrated fruit will break up.

Line the base of a 20cm round cake tin or 900g loaf tin with greaseproof paper. Grease the tin and pile in the mixture.

Bake in a pre-heated oven at 170C for between an hour and one hour fifteen minutes, until risen and firm to the touch. Check it is cooked with a skewer.

You can brush with melted honey or golden syrup or glaze with a syrup  made from two teaspoons of sugar dissolved in three teaspoons of boiling water.

Source for the post The Evening Herault and Irish Central.

Tuesday, 6 November 2012

Less than fantastic Mr Fox.......

The 10yo's new chickens are growing well and are now roaming the grounds, having been evicted from their temporary prison in the walled garden. These rare breed Salmon Faverolles have joined my other birds in the main coop with access to the gardens and fields all day. I'm sad to say that the other 13 hens and 1 rooster, haven't been particularly welcoming.

I've never had such difficulty merging birds to another flock and I'm starting to believe this is because the new birds, though just 12 weeks old, have a rooster among them, though he's barely a chap yet.

I've tried all the tricks, locking them all up together for days on end, feeding them together and even giving them access to 'the bungalo', the granny annex on the side of the main coop so that they don't have to bed down with the grumpy elders. Sadly, each evening as I return home in the dark with the sproglets, there on the front door step are the newbies, huddled together for warmth. It's driving me potty. I really don't want to make a seperate compound for them but it's looking like I might have to, especially after this morning's event.

There are pros and cons to having free range chickens:

  1. Guilt free rearing
  2. Eggs, of course!
  3. Less food supplied by you, more grub-gardening done by them
  4. Healthier for the chickens who are exercised all day
  5. No one area of the garden is destroyed
  1. Poo everywhere
  2. Loss of eggs as the girls lay secretly in the hedges
  3. No chance of an early night in the summer months while you wait for the last straggler to pop home so you can lock for the night!
  4. Exposure to predators!

Along with the posh chooks' antics, Archie has gone off the rails too.........
(I'm not sure if the well repeated origin for the word posh is true or not but I rather like the explanation: 'Port out, starboard home'. The much-repeated tale is that 'Posh' derives from the 'port out, starboard home' legend supposedly printed on tickets of passengers on P&O Ships (Peninsula and Orient) passenger vessels that travelled between UK and India in the days of the Raj. Another version has it that PO and SH were scrawled on the steamer trunks used on the voyages, by seamen when allocating cabins.  Anyhoo, as I was saying, along with the new birds misbehaving at bedtime, our black hen, Archie, has decided coop sleeping isn't for her either. Although it is chilly-willy out there now, (we dipped to 0° last week,) she's decided to night- roost high in the rhodendendron bush! Normally her elevated nocturnal resting place is reserved for hot summer nights, so this is unprecedented.

Animal bonkers-behaviour is considered normal here at The Larches; so each evening we duly carry the new chooks to the coop and, brandishing a torch, shout into the 20ft rhodendendron,
'Archie, get into bed!' This results in Archie flouncing down from her branch, black as the night, chirping her hen swear words before storming into the coop.

I must admit, when you've had a full day, the dark and the damp penetrating your bones and the children are tired, you do begin to wonder; should we just leave them out, teach them a lesson, hope they get cold enough to seek the warmth of the other hens tomorrow night?

I'm glad we didn't do that last night. This morning I got up at the usual time, 6:30am, and pottered to the sproglet bedrooms to commence defcon 5 of waking them, (a process that can escallate as high as defcon 2!)  After round 1 of encouragement and bright lightbulb treatment I made my way downstairs for caffine reinforcement. On the stairs I stopped, hardly daring to breathe. There, passing below me on the gravel outside the front door, was a fine specimum of Reynard, a striking red fox.

I feared for my friends as he ran about, here and there, bold as brass, hungry. Fortunately the chickens were locked in, the electric fence switched on.

'Look out your windows, NOW!' I called to the household.

My voice must have conveyed a certain something as I heard two thuds as small people rolled out of bed to reach their windows.

There was a silence, a horrified awe as we watched him scurry here and there, exploring. He was both beautiful and terrible to us.

If foxes stole just one chicken to eat I could cope with the loss now and again, but the truth is they don't. They kill all the chickens and take just one. I can't comprehend that.

I let all eighteen chickens out later in the morning and worried as I drove to an appointment in beautiful Hay-on-Wye, the used-book capital of the Universe.

All was well today, there was no loss of life and everyone is tucked up again although my neighbour has since told me that he has lost seven chickens in the past ten days. Fingers crossed for our chums.

Over and out.

The Archers at The Larches

Lou - Chicken whisperer....

Lou - Chicken whisperer....

Snowy and Moon

Snowy and Moon