Tuesday, 27 January 2009

Foggy Day and a Funeral

Overslept today, so took dog for a bit of retrieval work in the field. A bleak and foggy day, but beautiful, and accompanied by the clangs from the graveyard next to us, as the gravediggers dug June Wilby's grave. She was buried this morning. Her grand daugher wrote the most beautiful poem for her. She was a lovely lady: one of those who was genuinely interested in everyone she talked to. I always felt better after I'd talked to her, even if we'd just said the most commonplace things.

I managed to shoot back up to the field after dog had finished retrieving (she loves it but we still don't have the giving it back bit sussed yet, to put it mildly) and photograph before the frost went.

The old guard hens do not mind the frost. The only weather that makes them reluctant to get out of bed is rainy wind.

The new bods don't quite feel the same. They're not quite used to the change in temperature or the increase in wind. The house is down the hill a bit, but the fields are quite exposed, and the temperature here is usually a couple of degrees lower than in the middle of the village, where they used to live. Pandora was the only one who was anywhere near out. The rest had retired back to the stable. You can see Pandora is missing most of a toe - fortunately it doesn't seem to affect her at all.

Thursday, 22 January 2009

Wednesday, 21 January 2009

Marmite maketh the Hen

Clarrie was looking a bit seedy over the past couple of days. The other three newbies have taken to their new surroundings with vim, but she has been a bit off; staying with the others, but not diving in with the gusto the others have.

I was wondering whether I'd have to whisk her indoors and install her next to the Aga (do wonder what dog and cat would make of that) but after I took the hens up the ends of a white loaf yesterday, and she fell upon it with glee, I haven't been so worried. I did hover over the internet though, looking up ways of cheering up hens, just in case. The eglu site suggested feeding marmite toast to your new hens, presumably to cheer them up.

I think Clarrie is maybe a sensitive hen, who is missing her original home, so I hope the marmite toast will convince her that despite the windy prairies; so unlike their nice enclosed garden, and the bolshy bantams, that it is ok here really.
So, £2.77 later (Marmite has gone up a bit since I bought it last) here we are, tempting toast at the ready.

She likes it....

They all do, in fact.

Happy Clarrie.

I think I'll persevere with the Marmite. Dog, who likes to come and help with the hens, likes it too.

Wednesday Walk

Frosty walk today, thank goodness, so the mud was blissfully crunchy.
I keep thinking I must find out what crop this actually is: a member of the cabbage family I think, but it's certainly a new one for this field.

Mallow leaves aren't that palatable to hens - why I don't know, and I've never tried one myself. The newbie hens hadn't come across mallow, so it was interesting watching them all trying it and deciding one after the other that it wasn't worth the bother. I wondered if they'd be led by Scrabbles but no. They all had to make the discovery for themselves. Mallow leaves are quite spectacularly beautiful with the frost.

Back across the valley - clear for once.

After this point I ran out of battery. Well, to be accurate, I didn't - am feeling just about human after getting over my annual chest infection, but the camera did.

Monday, 19 January 2009

Then there were seven

The new hens have arrived. After much mulling we decided to put them straight in with the others overnight, when they were roosting, and so, when they appeared in their cardboard boxes on Saturday night they were installed on the new perch and off we went, hoping all would be quiet, and forgoing any idea of a Sunday lie-in so we could be there at first light to hold chickeny claws if need be.

Sunday morning came, and we went up and opened the door. Our original three shot out as normal, and then realised there were more of them than there had been the previous night. The new bods slowly made their way outside, but ignored the old guard the moment they sighted grass. Having destroyed their original garden, grass is something they haven't seen in months.

Mary, boss Bantam, decided enough was enough, and weighed into Pandora, the Light Sussex. She found out in very short order that unlike Matilda, Pandora was not bothered by someone small and nasty, and not only that, but Scrabbles, the Wendlesham Blue and Boss Hen, came in pretty sharpish to break up the scrap. Mary retired, huffed, and then decided to Show Off. She flew up into the rafters, bellowing, and then stalked across the rafters to the far stable, still bellowing. The new hens were completely unmoved by this achievement, which frankly was a lot less exciting than all that grass. Mary then retired to the field, to be Alone.

Matilda and Rose decided that the new arrivals were best given a wide berth, and they went off to the field to follow their usual routine, and were eventually joined by Mary.

The new four made one brief foray into the field, but so far prefer to stay around the stables. Scrabbles (I keep wanting to call her Scabbers) does a fine job breaking up scraps. We kept popping up to check all was well, and there were a few flurries, but they get no further than a few squawks and flaps before Scrabbles comes along saying "Break it up, ladies, break it up," and they do. What an excellent hen. The other two, by the way, are hybrids: Eponine and Clarrie. Clarrie I'm pretty certain is a Rhode Island Red cross, but Eponine I haven't a clue about.

Here they all are: from the top, Eponine, Pandora, Clarrie and Scrabbles.

Mary's beak is still rather out of joint, but the original three enjoyed watching the new four being bamboozled by the bedtime routine. The originals had hopped up on their perch, but the new four were not quite sure what to do and retired into a corner. The bants and Matilda soon realised there was something worth watching, and turned round and settled down to watch.

Despite being put on the perch, the newbies got themselves off again, and it took a while before we arrived at a suitable lighting arrangement (light on in far stable but nowhere else) giving them enough light to get on the perch, but not so much that they thought it was still day. The other three certainly enjoyed the spectacle, anyway, and if hens can be such a thing as smug, I think they were. "You may be big," they were thinking, "but you ain't smart."

Friday, 16 January 2009

Dog Walk

We have two main walk routes; this is the second. It starts off uneventfully through the churchyard;

and then heads off down mud alley to the woods. I hadn't walked this way since the thaw, because I knew it would be like this:

Just as bad as I had thought, but I keep telling myself lugging that much mud around on the boots is good for my thigh muscles.
There is a terrible pigeon problem locally. I have disturbed flocks that must number in three figures, and they've wrought havoc on the crops. An awful lot of feedsacks on posts have materialised, but there is also this splendid scarecrow. So clever.

Just round this corner I saw a muntjac. Dog completely missed it, despite being much closer to it than me. She did pick up the scent when she crossed it but decided not to hurtle off into the quarry (left) to go after it, thankfully. The muntjac have been much more obvious than normal. Yesterday I saw one about to cross the road as I was driving out of the village; presumably they're hungry.

I love silver birch trunks, and there's a row of them at the edge of the churchyard.
Tonight our four new hens arrive. We've decided, after much mulling, to put them straight in with the girls while they're all roosting, and hope for the best. Up early tomorrow to police them. I hope I'll be able to photograph them but had better not promise anything in case they Do Not Get On and OH and I have to spend our weekend quarantining them into the vegetable garden, which frankly could do with their attentions.

Tuesday, 13 January 2009


My life doesn't tend towards domestic goddessery, though I do love baking on the rare occasions that I actually get the time. Marmalade making, which seems one of those things that is the entire essence of goddessery, is something about which I have very mixed feelings. Firstly, I can't bear the stuff, but my husband loves it, and I do like doing something for him I know he'll like (makes a change to my banging on about any of my particular hobby horses). I also like the ego stroking that goes with people liking the end result. Despite hating marmalade myself, I'm told I do a pretty decent job. The same is true for cooking sausages, which I also don't like. Not entirely certain why this is.

I do hate though, the endless faff which making marmalade seems to involve, though this is partially my fault for choosing the more intensive jelly method. My friend Patricia, who makes an incredible 100 jars a year (yes really) chops everything up in one go and then cooks. I pre-cook the oranges, and then chop the soft peel, cook the scooped out pulp, strain and then cook. I think one reason I don't like doing it is fitting it in - it is after all, interfering with time I could be spending reading. So, I moan and groan about the process to myself as I'm doing it, though have to attempt to keep this from my OH, as I don't want to induce guilt. On the other hand, I do like having my bit of a moan. I just have to be careful where I aim it.

And think too about the money saved: not as much now alas, as I have to rely on supermarkets now our last local greengrocer closed, but still a decent amount. Anyway, here are a couple of jars. Only 20 more to go.

Saturday, 10 January 2009

K M Peyton: No Turning Back

No Turning Back

No Turning Back is the sequel to Minna's Quest, the first book in K M Peyton's trilogy set in Roman Britain. When we last saw Minna, she had just saved her settlement, Othona, after a brave ride over the sea to Camulodonum to summon help. No Turning Back picks up the action when Minna's love, Theo the centurion, is about to receive his next posting and move away from Othona. Minna is distraught: she does not want to stay in Othona and marry, but to follow Theo.

This is not a bad book: as ever, K M Peyton tells a good story, but it is a deeply frustrating one. One of the reasons I like K M Peyton is the spiky independence of her characters. So what does Minna do when Theo is sent to Camulodonum? Runs off after him. I suppose that you could interpret this as her independence - her other option is to stay at home and marry, but I find it incredibly frustrating that everything Minna does is seen in terms of Theo. He's sent to Camulodonum, so that's where she goes. He goes north, so she does too.

This is as unlike Ruth in Fly-by-Night, and Tessa in Blind Beauty as you can imagine. Well is it, I thought, because this is an historical novel, and Minna is governed by what was acceptable? Are her options so limited that the only thing she can do is run round after a man? Well if that were true, surely K M Peyton wouldn't have her heroine in Greater Gains, Clara, which is set in the early 19th century, marrying someone else despite her love for Prosper Mayes.

I wonder if it is because K M Peyton has set herself the task of writing a straightforward romantic tale. However much she might want Minna to racket off with Stuf beachcombing when Theo goes to Camulodonum, it won't set teenage hearts a-fluttering so Minna must Follow Her Man.

This does lead to the book's two main awkwardnesses: the way Minna's entire story is seen in terms of what someone else: Theo, does, and the frustrating appearance and disappearance of more interesting characters. It's as if K M Peyton cannot stop herself creating genuinely attractive and interesting characters like Cerdic, Minna's brother, and Stuf, the beachcomber, but in order to stop them intefering with the romantic tenor of the story, these more interesting characters are ruthlessly shoved out of the way.

Cerdic is relegated to just a few mentions. He has joined the army and is all but invisible. However, the maverick Stuf has now appeared. He is a beachcomber, living on his wits and outside the normal bounds of society. When he appeared early on in the book I was seized with the hope that he would be the ingredient to give the book the spark it so badly needs, but no. After Minna runs off to be near Theo, we don't see him again until the end.
I can only hope he and Cerdic, who are also on their way north, are allowed out to do their worst in the third book.

I suppose it's the sight of someone so utterly in thrall to a man that I don't like. Couldn't she, I thought, actually stay and fight within the conventions, as Clara does in Greater Gains? She doesn't boot off to India after Prosper goes there; she stays and works on the farm, and makes what appears to be a conventional marriage, and the book is all the more powerful for showing this capable and independent woman choosing to live within her society's conventions but never actually losing the things that make her so fiery and attractive.

I don't actually like the thought of my daughter reading No Turning Back because I don't want her to think that what Minna does is actually OK - to spend your entire waking life governed with an obsession with someone else, and to bend your every waking thought and behaviour to it. Yes, Minna might have thrown off the slavery of doing what's expected of her, but she's embrace another wholeheartedly.

Friday, 9 January 2009