Midlife Crisis Manifestations

This has nothing to do with smallholding and everything to do with the onset of my nforties and the realisation that if I am to keep Hapless Pup Poppy separated from her chicken enemies I need to be in tip top shape.

I have recently taken up running-or what Mr Longsuffering used to refer to as shuffling and I have since downgraded to a scrape. Don’t worry, this isn’t going to be one of those evangelical motivational missives, far from it. Now my scrape is usually a 5km loop from our humble abode, down to Welcombe Mouth and back via the path by the stream. Today however as the kids hit half term bickering point I took the opportunity to scuttle gratefully out of the house for a bit longer. Bounding off down the hill (this didn’t last long as ladies of a certain bosom size really should resist the urge to bound) I was feeling great so decided to extend my normal route. Off down to the beach I went, I even had an encouraging shout of, “Keep it up! Nearly there!” From a parked car. In retrospect they may not have been shouting to me as I couldn’t see the occupants which was a bit odd.

Charging down the track to the beach, with more than a passing resemblance to a lame elephant encased in a balloon full of sweat in my waterproof, I did have a moment of misgiving when I clocked the planned route; The South Coast Path up out of Welcombe Mouth towards Hartland, but it looked fairly short and I had walked down it a few times with the dogs a couple of years ago. Of course reaching the bottom of the hill I found my misgivings multiplying in direct correlation with the amount of incredulous looks I was getting from assorted walkers.

Any vague notion I may have had of running up it was quickly discarded and I adopted a brisk walk. Then I equally quickly remembered why I had left it a couple of years since my last attempt at the path. Firstly I’m really not great with heights, at all. Secondly I am far too unfit and old to be doing this. Hanging on to the gorse for dear life, to the point of having to stop to pull the thorns out, I dragged myself up the hill refusing to look at the drops and whimpering gently if abusively to myself. By the time I got to the top of the worst bit my legs were so wobbly I looked like those runners who stagger all over the place as they reach the end. I really thought I would have to walk home. What I would have given for the better Brownlee brother to come and hoik me over the finish line, though I probably would have pulled him over.

For some reason the top of the climb was a lot further on than I remembered and by the time I’d lurched as far as Embury Beacon I was imagining I was on the inside of the earth like a hamster in an exercise ball, destined to always be running uphill. I think this was when I stopped noticing the pretty blue butterflies and the calls of Stonechats and Chaffinches and started seeing the eager buzzards circling overhead and the stairway to heaven. Ignoring the concerned looks of some sedate walkers I finally reached the beacon and the path was blissfully flattened out. I stopped feeling the oxygen deprivation and settled back to my gentle scrape, although even the grass was against me and it was catching my barely in the air feet and tripping me up. I did spot my shadow at one point and realised it looked like someone standing still and doing an impression of a cyclist making their way home from the pub after a lock-in. Finally I got to the field with the mast in and back down the road for home. Safe to say I shall be sticking to a flatter route from now on and not getting ideas above my station.

Hapless Smallholder

PS Thank you for all your kind comments after the loss of Harry Dog in February. We are pleased to say that Hattie Dog joined us in April and has been taken under Hapless Poppy’s hairy wing so I’ll no doubt be sharing their combined exploits soon.

The Village Show

Ah the Village Show, a moment to shine, to show what you can do, to celebrate your success. Or a moment to look back on in years to come with a twingeing sensation in your arse at the shame and humiliation. As it looms at the weekend I can think back with some happy distance to my first show two years ago. I had great plans (I’m very good at this part of the process) and egged on by Mr Longsuffering’s silence, which I took to be evidence of his excited support, I filled out the entry form with a list a mile long. So long in face that I may have had to swipe another form from one of the other programmes-apologies if you got that one. Thankfully it’s a grand cost of 30p per entry so at least that prevented Mr Longsuffering’s eyebrows from completing their upward trajectory into his hairline.  Of course, the best laid plans and all that. I hadn’t quite factored in my usual haphazard gardening skills which are best described as idleness interspersed with flurries of enthusiastic over-ambition. My carefully (alright not that carefully) nurtured red lettuce obligingly bolted the week of the show leaving the understudy lettuce which was underwhelming to say the least being about the size of a starving sparrow. My courgettes were delicious, so much so that some helpful slug had nibbled the end of each and every one of them just as Youngest is apt to do when presented with a plate of Bourbon biscuits. But I soldiered on and dug up a handful of carrots and grabbing my trusty scissors rushed around the garden with an hour to go gathering anything flowering which I thought Mr Longsuffering may not have noticed. These were hastily thrust into assorted vases and a teapot, yes a teapot which was a class and not my idea.

  Meanwhile my scones were ready to come out of the oven and upon opening the door there they were in all their misshapen glory. I had been worried they wouldn’t be tall enough so I added a half teaspoon of baking powder and made them quite thick. Naturally this resulted in a wonderful rise, and an equally impressive fall as the tops lost their brave fight against gravity and slumped exhaustedly off to one side. I briefly considered purchasing some from the shop and sprinkling a bit of flour on top but decided this wasn’t quite in the spirit of things, and there wasn’t enough time.

  Sweating buckets and trailing The Wailers behind me I bundled us in the car and hurtled off to the village hall to arrange all the entries before the doors closed. The hall was resplendent with assorted flower arrangements, giant vegetables and beautiful quilts. Having paid for all my entries and only brought approximately half with me I decided I couldn’t very well back out now so dutifully started setting out my meagre offerings. I hid the flower arrangement in a teapot at the back and hoped it wouldn’t be noticed. It’s garish filling was blushing almost as much as me by this point, not helped by the somewhat bumpy journey over the potholes. I laid my small and beautifully formed trio of Chantenay carrots down next to the orange sex toys that made up the rest of the class, Ann Summers would have been most impressed. Then had to hastily grab them and yank the leaves off as everyone else had neatly trimmed theirs.

  My fuchsias floating in a bowl of water were stubbornly refusing to swim, opting instead to scuba dive whilst shedding a small flock of beetles which I spent a few minutes fishing out and surreptitiously sprinkling on a rival hydrangea on the next table. I dumped the least worst four scones among the pristine WI offerings with an air of defiance and finally helped Eldest display her offerings in the children’s section before returning home still trailing The Wailers for a bucket of tea with a gin chaser.

  I then had to wait anxiously until mid afternoon before I could go and bask in glory. I used the time usefully recollecting that in our previous village a neighbour had been the sole entrant in the onion class and had been awarded second prize. Yes that’s second in a class of one.

  Suffice to say I didn’t exactly cover myself in glory and I’ll never forget the sorry sight of my wilting mini lettuce on a table of giant perfectly formed hearts, or my size-doesn’t-matter carrots, but Eldest won a class and my hydrangeas beat off the beetle infested competition to win. Most importantly perhaps I had a better idea of what to expect and the following year we did considerably better, and entered considerably fewer classes! Competition week still results in the annual disappearance of Mr Longsuffering’s eyebrows and Saturday morning is always a sweat fuelled panic but on the plus side we’ll have enough preserves and biscuits left to keep us flirting with diabetes all summer.

The Dog’s Bloggers

                                                                    Today Mistress Hapless thought I could have a go at writing her blog because she is apparently tired of trying to put my marvellousness into words. I completely understand so I agreed. I have a feeling I’m testing Mistress’s patience at the moment. I can’t imagine why as I am keeping very busy.

  My latest interest is in birds. It all started when I nearly caught one of those pesky chicken things for Mistress which apparently wasn’t what she was actually wanting me to do. Now every time she opens the door to the chicken run I try and grab the nearest one by the throat before I get belted and scolded. She still doesn’t seem keen on the idea but I’m hoping she’ll come round if I persist.

  I’ve also mounted a Neighbourhood Sparrow Watch. I’m really dedicated to this project which begins when Mistress opens the door to let me out in the morning. I find the traction provided by using her bare feet as a launch pad very useful, and the extra propulsion from said foot up my bristling bum almost gets me to the feeder before they all take off. After the early morning assassination attempt I like to bark at them, randomly, when Mistress is just looking nice and relaxed with a drink in her hand. Apparently it is my fault that the Gin is disappearing at an alarming rate as she keeps spilling it. I’ve seen that she spills it with impressive accuracy down her neck so I’m not sure what the story is there.

  After a few such escapades this afternoon-with tea not Gin- and a few dummy runs at the Guinea pigs which are just particularly juicy looking rats, Mistress finally gave in and took me and the two sibling Spaniels for a walk.

  I was particularly thrilled to find a lovely fresh pile of Parfum Charlie No 2 “To release your inner vixen”. I felt amazing as I covered one side of my face in it and then ate the rest. Mistress’s “inner vixen” was definitely not released or if it was it ran for the hills. Mistress’s “inner gagging grizzly bear” was definitely out and about though. There was an awful lot of shouting. I tried to wash it off with a good wallow in a puddle of mud but as I only coated the other side of myself in stinky mud she wasn’t impressed with that either to be honest. I think when stupid brother spaniel followed me in and pretended he couldn’t hear her that didn’t help much. Saintly sister spaniel stayed with Mistress and sucked up.

 Honestly I think I’m doing Mistress a favour-if she can’t handle one Hapless Border terrierist and two stupid spaniels how does she think she’ll manage a flock of suicidal sheep or a herd of Houdini goats? I’m merely managing her expectations.

  Mistress got her own back as by the end of the walk the mud was dry and I was walking a bit funny. So was stupid brother so there was some consolation. Much to my chagrin she also got the hose out when we got home and power blasted me and Stupid. And she didn’t use some posh middle class doggy shampoo called ‘Vajazzle Dazzle’ or something similar, no just washing up liquid! At least it was a Waitrose one which Mr Longsuffering must have purchased in a fit of misplaced poshness before his debit card got declined after he spent too long in the wine aisle.

 The reason for Saintly Sister’s abstinence became clear though as she snuck off while the attention was all on us, and polished off the remains of Youngest’s picnic lunch. Clever bitch. I could learn a few things from her.

Poppy the Hapless Pup.

Mission Broody

Today was Mission Broody. Mr Longsuffering had lovingly created a Broody Barn of glorious quality and style-OK we got it off Bude Bargains for a fiver and he slapped some left over paint on it-but it looks great! I drew the line at cleaning it out properly as there was a huge spider hiding in the nest box which I thought would be a lovely snack for a peckish mum to be. The fact that I am terrified of spiders and thought it would be far easier to bury it in half a tonne of clean shavings and a box of mite killing DE powder was only a minor consideration.

Lovingly placed next to the Hen Hilton it was all ready to go. Now Bette has been a determinedly broody hen for a couple of weeks and as she is the offspring of the sadly departed Felicitas the Vorwerk and Barry the Buff Orpington I gave up getting pecked and left her for a couple of days. The opportunity to buy a cheap henhouse was too much to resist and so the maternity madness commences.

  The first lesson I will take from all this is to choose your broody well. Bette has been protective of her clutch but not aggressively and although it was disconcerting having her fix me with one steely eye while I rummaged around under her bum a la James Herriot I felt the egg relocation went remarkably well. Now for the Bette relocation. This didn’t quite go to plan although it wasn’t entirely my fault. She was perfectly calm as I picked her up and crooning nervously ( I was, she was silent but deadly) I was half way out of the pen when she made her move. She wasn’t the only one. While Bette went chicken shit crazy and flapped like one of her headless counterparts complete with ear splitting shrieking (me again), Youngest who had been watching helpfully took against the display of henly mayhem and burst into wails of horror. Attaching himself to my leg firmly and leaving me somewhat unbalanced Poppy the Border terrierist seized the opportunity she had been waiting for and launched a lone wolf attack on the chicken run. Squeezing past me, her wiry little bum bristling with joyous intent she charged at the now slightly upset chickens. At this point Bette was unceremoniously dropped leaving me with a fistful of feathers from her nether regions and I made a desperate grab for Poppy, her jaws clicked shut audibly about a centimetre off the target of the nearest hen as I got her in a headlock and soundly bollocked her as she was ejected from the pen.

  Having returned a less than repentant Pops and a snot faced Youngest to the care of Mr Longsuffering I returned wearily to the run and spotted Bette stuffing her beak and showing no concern whatsoever for her missing eggs. As soon as I set foot back in I could feel the tension mount. Bette (now renamed Vladette the Impaler) quite clearly knew something was up and our cockerel who is normally very laid back was paying me more attention than normal. If ever there was a time he was likely to be roused from his usual ennui and turn into Cluck Norris surely this was it.

  There ensued an undignified game of hide and seek with added swearing until I managed to grab Bette/Vladette. Abandoning my calming crooning in favour of hissed threats I clamped her in a vicelike grip as I executed the one armed shimmy through the pen door and plonked her with a formal warning on top of her rapidly cooling eggs. She promptly shot out of the door and tested out the poultry panelled little run I had made her by hurling herself at it furiously while shouting at her husband something along the lines of “Why didn’t you stop her kidnapping me you useless cock?!” He strutted around shouting back “Have no fear, I’ll never forget you! I’ll rescue you in just a minute when I’ve finished servicing my other 10 much quieter and less nuts wives!”

  After ten minutes of this raging domestic I got a headache and shoved her in the broody barn and shut the door. All I can do is wait and see if she goes back to the eggs. Meanwhile I’m pouring myself the biggest feathering g&t and perusing eBay for second hand bargain incubators. Poppy is in her basket. Let’s see how it goes.

Seed Swap

Today’s venture was a trip to our local Seed Swap. This year to be honest it was a bit of an anti climax, so in the interests of entertainment I’ll tell you about last year’s memorable event instead! Now, we live on the edge of a funny little community of farmers mixed with incomers; the original ones arrived to form an arty alternative community back in the sixties and some have never left, and the newer ones like us. In fact I should imagine that a Seed Swap back in the heady days of a sixties artistic community may have been a whole different kettle of fish to the current incarnation which is genuinely just a gathering to swap seeds for the veg patch, rather than anything involving the presence of Pampas Grass and togas.

Word reached me of this Seed Swap (which I have to confess was a new one on me), and never one to pass up on freebies and anything to do with food I dragged the reluctant Mr Longsuffering and two kids along. Held in a local tiny independent school (another hangover from the artistic bunch which has now sadly closed) I had a feeling that it may be a tad unusual for his tastes but know well enough to keep these thoughts to myself. Sure enough setting just one foot inside was enough for Mr Longsuffering to clock this and he went into automatic reverse but happily a small group arrived and blocked off the escape.

Eldest happily threw herself into making Seed Bombs with one of the school volunteers which basically involves making a mud pie and squishing a few much abused token seeds into it before covering oneself in the rest. Imagine tar and feathers with growth potential. I perused the seeds and handed in a few of ours (from which I had cleverly removed the ‘sow by’ dates as they had no doubt been at the bottom of the cupboard since the noughties). Mr Longsuffering made for the brownie stand at the back with youngest before grizzling commenced-whose, I cannot comment.

It was getting crowded by now so we took up position half way up the stairs, overlooking the hall and watched the fascinating assortment of people below. While gathering my thoughts for this blog post I realised that they could largely be slot into one of three groups. The Old School, The New Age and The Hard Core.

The Old School are perhaps the least obvious until you spot them at an event such as this. They are of the generation and type that grew their own and raised their kids through the seventies and eighties on food dispensed from orange and avocado Tupperware. They are veg and fruit growers rather than livestock owners and are now the stalwarts of all the institutions such as the WI and local gardening groups. All the men wear shirts, most likely of checked flannel or brushed cotton, in nature tones with slightly frayed cuffs and collars. Jeans are still a bit too modern for them but cords are very comfy after all. The ladies now feed their grandkids from the same Tupperware that saw their kids grow and are usually to be found in calf length skirts or polyester trousers quietly lusting after Monty Don on Gardeners’ World. They are all very kind and eager to see ‘young folk’ growing their own, even if they are a little nonplussed by some of them. These are also the ones that quietly clean up at the Horticultural Show so are not to be underestimated.

Secondly we have the Hippies. These are either the original ones who still have the long hair of their heyday although it’s now grey and a bit thin on top, or their offspring. They are almost certainly vegetarian, frequently have a small child attached to them with an arrangement of knots and bows which is mind boggling in its complexity. I also haven’t seen this much tie dye since 1992. They grow all their own organic fruit and veg and may have a couple of chickens for the eggs, but they will be ex battery hens for sure. With a nod to the freezing conditions the tie dye is supplemented by hand knitted woolly socks in a startling array of colours and possibly a novelty hat with dragon spines on it.

Finally we have the Hard Core and I shall be careful what I say as frankly they can be a bit scary until you get to know them. They will have arrived in a battered 4X4, probably not a Defender as that’s a bit too Old Etonian. They are wearing lumberjack shirts (black and red plaid), and black jeans or cargo trousers and a beard is obligatory. These fellas don’t mess around: Poly tunnels, livestock and the whole nine yards. When they aren’t scything their hay meadows, producing enough charcuterie to feed France for a week, foraging or building a barn, they are constructing cob ovens and fertilising their allotments with the contents of their long drop loos. They are all men as the women are too busy at home making goats’ cheese and rolling it in the ashes of last night’s fire pit.

A pretty incongruous mix I think you’ll agree so imagine, if you will, the look on Mr Longsuffering’s gentle countenance when someone shouts up over the general din and introduces some musical entertainment. Oh yes. A middle aged Dutch couple who are travelling around the UK in their camper van armed only with a guitar and an unusual lack of embarrassment. As they start singing and playing Mr Longsuffering notices that his escape route has once again been blocked and we are firmly stuck on the stairs, brownieless and helpless (with the giggles in my case). We sit through “I wanna know what love is” and a bit of Lionel Richie as Mr Longsuffering’s left eye begins to twitch, but the song from Titanic is just one step too far. Trailing a wailing youngest behind him he bolts for the door nearly toppling a lovely selection of beans over as he barges past a small group of Hard Cores. Deciding that this is a bit like messing with the Hells Angels but with added farm implements and a no doubt excellent knowledge of body disposal I grab the by now soil encrusted Eldest and leg it.

Suffice it to say that it was just me and the kids this year, and the change of venue from school to parish hall had put the Old Schoolers in charge. It was very civilised, we sat at a table with a cup of tea and a brownie but there was no music so we didn’t stay long.

Dirty Rat


Now every chicken owner will know what it means to discover a tunnel in your chicken run. As usual I buried my head in the sand and adopted an attitude of “Seeing is believing”. Yes, a tunnel is just a tunnel, just a visitor to the chickens, nothing to worry about. Every other chicken owner would probably not have adopted this approach but I do like to be different.
Anyway, cleaning out the chickens I noticed that the old duck house, which is also in their run and they tend to use for daytime shelter if the weather is bad, had slipped off one of the bricks it is propped on so I collected a spade I had handily left to rust in the adjacent veg patch and used it to lever the house up. Now can I just say that this is no mean feat, and to lever it, hold it suspended and then reshuffle the brick back into place with a boot is quite a task. I almost felt like I was winning the game of smallholdery usefulness. So imagine my thrill as I encountered quite possibly the only wildlife with four legs that I really, really don’t much like. What my Black Country friends would call a ‘God rot’ (probably prefixed by a few choice Anglo Saxon terms).
Out it popped, scattering sprout and egg contraband in its wake as it charged the door. The door was shut. Not sure if this was a good or bad thing I reflected that perhaps my vigorous kicking in of the tunnel holes earlier now meant that Godrot couldn’t get out. I had a bit of a think, to free Godrot, or not. In the end I decided I had to be the responsible chicken owner and accept that if I released the damn thing it would keep returning, hoarding food for the oncoming apocalypse under the duck house, and generally be its usual verminous self. Time to woman up and take care of business.
The only weapon at hand was the spade, and there is a certain Cluedo twang to murdering Colonel Godrot in the duck house with a spade. It’s interesting what you discover about yourself in these moments. I found that James Bond I am not. Frankly I’m more Miss Moneypenny. I am not a silent assassin but rather an apologetic squeaking excuse for a ‘00’.
I found myself chasing the damn thing around the chicken run trying and failing to twat the rat with a garden implement whilst squeaking, apologising and producing some weird Kung Fu style shouts. In hindsight I am very relieved that there were no guests in the garden as it would have made for an interesting TripAdvisor review. Nil point!
Eventually after a torrent of “sorry, hiYA”, and a variety of choice expletives I scored a lucky hit, and followed it up with sweaty palmed death blow. Flushed with success and not a hint of relief I removed the enemy agent Godrot from the run and shoved it in a bin bag in the wheelie bin.
Imagine my delight when I returned to finish my joyous cleaning out to find that Godrot wasn’t a lone operative but had a partner in crime who has clearly watched the entire escapade from its storage depot under the duck house. Now imagine if you will the air turning blue. Wearily I turned for my trusty weapon to see from the corner of my twitching eye, the second rat leap at the door frame and with an impressive shimmy escape into the bushes. All of which goes to prove that there is indeed no honour among thieves as rat two must have watched Godrot take one for the team, knowing full well that there was a serviceable escape route all along!
Needless to say on my next trip to the feed store I picked up a bait box and a box of tricks from Q and I’m ready and prepared to do my duty for the chickens.

Chickens and sexually transmitted diseases!

What is in a name dear reader? In fact, should there even be a name? The original residents of our small holding, the ducks, were christened by us on arrival, nothing very original. The Aylesburys were the Puddle Ducks; Drake, Jemima and Rebekah and the brown Khaki Campbell was Caramel on account of her colour. When they all met their doom at the hands of Monsieur Charlie we continued the confectionary theme and the names Dolly (mixture), Skittle, Toffee, Treacle and so on were applied by Oldest. I can only apologise to any dieting neighbours who had to contend with our various family members bawling out their favourite snack items morning and night as we tried and failed to get them tucked up safely.

  Similarly the designer flock of chickens were named by us as Louise (Light Sussex and the nearest I could get to Lewes) Valrhona (she’s a chocolate Orpington and I have expensive taste in chocolate!), The Piri Piris (two inseparable Cuckoo Marans), Felicitas (I kid you not!), and Big Bad Barry the cockerel. Now the obvious problem with naming dual purpose breeds is that they instantly become single purpose. With the best will in the world you are never going to eat what you’ve named. So in order to put an end to endless chicken purchasing trips to the butcher I got hold of an incubator and brooder and in an uncharacteristically successful manner hatched eleven chicks from eighteen uncandled eggs.

    Now they have grown from cute and fluffy to huge via an unpleasantly stinky phase, and they are coping very well with me eyeing them oddly as I try to determine their gender and therefore life expectancy. I have ruthlessly left them unnamed to facilitate ease of eating when it comes to the boys, but the question remains of what to do with the girls. We may decide to eat them too as they are all huge (Barry is a Buff Orpington), and have similarly sized appetites to the point of rendering our local feed merchants profitable for the first time in decades.  Now they have all started laying as well I am getting a little stressed trying to invent ways to use eight eggs a day! The freezer may well end up being full rather quickly, of eggs or chicken!

 There is the option of naming them in a food related way-Vindaloo, Chasseur, Chow Mein and so on. Or after people I don’t like-ex boyfriends, ex-bosses, planning officers, the grumpy bloke behind the fish counter in Morrisons. 

 However I have a cunning plan. I’m going to name them all after sexually transmitted diseases. I’m not sure it will make them any easier to eat, in fact the opposite may be the case, but this downside is outweighed by the possibility of Mr Longsuffering searching reluctantly for escapees while I shout gleefully across the valley, “Darling, have you caught Gonorrhea?”, “Sweetie I think Chlamydia is hiding in the bush.”, “Possum, I’ve got Herpes, can you catch Syphillus?”. 

The Criminal Element


In preparation for the arrival of Pygmy goats in early summer I have begun reading up on the topic. I admit to being a compulsive reader-upper and I figure anything with four legs requires more knowledge that things with two. With the possible exception of children though I don’t recall preparing this extensively for them actually. Attempting to prepare for every disaster known to woman and goat seems like preparing for the inevitable and is no doubt very sensible, if a little terrifying. 
  My chosen tome; Pygmy Goats-Complete Owners Manual by George Hoppendate, informs me that the chief cause of death in wild mountain goats is murder! How exciting! So whilst preparing to give over our home to a bunch of psychos and femme fatales I got to thinking about the myriad of ways farm animals come to a sticky end-apart from the obvious of course. 

 Goats have to lead the way in the drama stakes with murder being top of the bill but sheep have to be the most thrillingly chilling in their mediaeval and draconian ways. And of course as they die so easily there’s a lot to be going on with. Bluetongue, fly strike, scrapies and the ever popular suicide by drowning or head stuck in fence syndrome (surely worthy of London Dungeons). 

 Cows seem to be the classicists. They prefer to meet their doom in Latin. Bovine tuberculosis, mastitis, bovine babesiosis, anaplasmosis. All very noble and Roman. 

 Pigs have a worrying habit of killing each other in a manner best reserved for horror films such as crushing or eating each other. Beyond that they like to emulate us and succumb to bronchitis, pneumonia, and influenza. Surely the most sincere form of flattery. 

 Which brings us to chickens. Chickens are never ill-they are fine one minute and dead the next. They are the pears of the farmyard-from unripe to mouldering while you’re looking the other way. Chickens seem to be the only creature to die from ‘feeling a bit peaky’, or death by ‘I’m just going for a little lie down dear’. Unless they are at death’s door they are their usual irrepressible selves and by the time you notice anything wrong it’s too late. 

  Our history with ducks is somewhat chequered. We inherited a few with the house and they did OK for a while and then one by one disappeared without trace. It’s fair to say that the chief ailment in this case was craftius bastardis foxius rather than a duck specific disease. Around here free range means free food. 

 Now I’m off to check the chickens aren’t feeling a bit rough, and order myself some body protection gear for the homicidal goats. 

Jurassic Chickens

 Chickens may be small, frankly they may be a bit dim, but there is something about a chicken. We started out with five, then added another three, then a cockerel, then a dead hen, then a dead cockerel, then a new cockerel, then oh my goodness, an incubator and 11 chicks which are now 11 chickens of as yet undetermined gender. Now this happy event was planned as I intended to do a King Herod and kill the boys. The fatal flaw in this plan is my lack of ability to determine whether the chicken is a chickette or whether it is a roast dinner in waiting.

  I keep waiting for an epiphany, a crow would do, but no, nada. As I am watching them and assessing their potential to go on the menu they have clearly realised my game and are coyly disguising their sexuality in a cunning attempt to dodge the sage and onion. It cannot reflect well on my intellect that I am being outwitted by the chickens. 

  Having spoken to the lady who very capably bred our flock and sold them to us she informs me that this is in fact the reason why she doesn’t breed mongrel chickens (actually she used some more technical term which I can’t recall now). She also suggested I wait for them to crow. Quite how I shall know which ones are crowing I don’t know as I’m sure when I go sprinting up the garden at dawn to identify the culprit they shall all be casually and innocently scratching away pretending they didn’t hear a thing.

  In fact sometimes I wonder who is watching whom. Sometimes they look at me in a similarly assessing manner and I can’t help but think it’s not just to judge whether or not I have any mixed corn in my pockets. I recall that in the Spielberg film Jurassic Park, the experts put forward the view that dinosaurs turned into birds. If this is indeed the case I am fairly certain that my hens are direct descendants of velociraptors. This explains why they have no fear, why they don’t run away even when I stand on them-although that would be logistically difficult.
 They also have perfected the art of the stampede for the door as I’m trying to get in. This attempt at a Great Escape results in me breaking into a rather fascinating windmill dance with arms, feet and feed bags flying about in all directions as I try to stop them. This failure is usually succeeded by a sweary breakdance in the sweet smelling mud as they charge down the garden into the as yet untackled bramble patch. I swear a chicken squawk in such circumstances has an uncanny resemblance to an avian guffaw of glee.



Should I one day not return from feeding them I suspect Mr Longsuffering will go and check (when he wants a cup of tea making for him), and find my arm, still in its tattered fleecy covering, and no further remains to be found. I wonder if they’ll get him too, before he eats all the buffet laid out on the table. I doubt it though, they’d have to be bloody quick!

The Landrover Defender ‘experience’!

When a would be smallholder daydreams about their future career as Hugh Fearlessly Eatsitall or Kate Humble they will invariably picture themselves charging about purposefully in a Landrover Defender. No other 4X4 will do. It is the only car in which one can imagine oneself hurtling down country lanes, terrifying the tourists, stopping only to gather up roadkill, fearlessly flicking maggots off left, right and centre without gagging, filled with motley assortment of steaming beasts, well behaved dogs and scentless wellies, hauling tractors out of ditches to the undying gratitude of the local crusty farmer who will look with renewed respect and no raised eyebrows upon your smallholding ideas and interesting attire. I digress. A little.
My point is that for some reason the Defender is the holy grail for many of us and as is usual with my smallholding fantasies (including those involving the farrier or the vet) there was a lot of living up to expectations to be done.
I finally braved it and wrestled the keys from Mr Longsuffering’s still twitching fingers and took it off to drive to my riding lesson (oh yes indeed, this is the full immersion method of small holding dear reader!). 

 Now the first thing I noticed is that the ignition involves the use of an actual key, and it turns the opposite way to what one would expect. Fifteen minutes later I set off.   

The next thing to note, whilst lurching down the single track lanes to get to the main road, is that the Defender doesn’t just pootle along. It requires constant adjustment to keep it going in a straight line-an experience to be repeated on the horse in my riding lesson in fact. Potholes, puddles, thorny hedges, startled rambler-no problem, but my shoulders were protesting within minutes. 

 I overtook a van on the main road on the way there, I didn’t venture to overtake anything, not even a vintage tractor, on the way back. Defenders are not built for speed and I’d left my Tena Ladies at home. 

When I at last arrived I couldn’t be sure that my pre lesson nervous shakes were indeed the usual, or wether it was just the lactic acid build up in my shoulders and arms.  I discovered that the Defender has fewer gears than claimed; I found first, second or fourth (take pot luck), third is the easily found one. Fifth is somewhere in the general direction of Norway and I haven’t been there. Apparently it’s nice, I wouldn’t know. 

 Oldest calls it the Bumper Machine, a moniker I would heartily endorse. That being said, I loved it. I’m not entirely sure why but I think it may have something to do with hanging onto the dream and the steering wheel with white knuckles. At least, for once, I look the part. 

Now most people who own a Landy (pet name terms now!), or used to own but now wouldn’t touch with a barge pole will tell you that they are money pits. They go wrong-a lot. As if to prove that ours is indeed a real beast it decided to throw a wheel in much the same way as a horse may casually throw a shoe. This was at 40 mph however and on what passes as a fairly main road in these parts. It would appear that it had either been secretly shedding wheel nuts for a week or so, or threw the lot off in a hissy fit. Either way the wheel fell off and continued down the road leaving the Landy to limp to a wonky halt a hundred yards further on. Several hundred pounds worth of repairs later and it returns from the garage today. I am feeling slightly wary about it and am thinking it is rather more of a horse than a machine, with a mind of its own and slightly unpredictable! Maybe I’ll rename it after one of the cows in Cold Comfort a Farm whose leg fell off! Feckless wasn’t it? I hope it wasn’t called Hapless anyway!