Wednesday, 30 May 2012

As promised, here are a couple of photos of our latest addition to the flock (and the last for this year!), Sooty :-)

And one with his loving mama...

Tuesday, 29 May 2012

Dilly-Dali-ing in the City

Living out in the sticks undoubtedly has many advantages: such as the joy of being engulfed in a medley of birdsong and bleating from the moment one opens one’s eyes each morning; or the pleasure of watching a rather fat pheasant strut across the lawn and nod his head politely at the two equally portly pigeons waddling in the opposite direction.
However, there are times when even a country girl has to venture into the Big Smoke, and last Sunday was one of those days.  So it was that by 9 a.m., fellow hockey mum, S, and I had dutifully dropped our respective sons off at Bellahouston Park in Glasgow for a 6-hour hockey training session in the blazing, relentless sunshine. Both were wielding sticks and – more importantly – water. A lot of water.
Maternal mission duly accomplished, we set out on foot to the nearest underground station, which happened to be beside Ibrox football stadium.  As we passed, I noticed a couple of bouquets of flowers lying in front of the big, blue main gate and wondered, idly, if they had been left there ironically by Celtic supporters to hint at the potential demise of the Rangers club.  Although I’m more of a rugby girl myself, it’s difficult not to be aware of the current ongoings at Ibrox, owing to the frenzy of press coverage in recent months. 
Having no allegiance to either club, I find it rather sad that a once great club has been so badly mismanaged and every bit as sad how much vitriolic pleasure the other great club is taking in their rival’s suffering.  It’s not that I don’t understand the concept of being highly competitive – as you’d know if you saw me take to the hockey pitch of a November morning!  However, the feeling that comes out of many exchanges between rival fans is one that verges on hatred rather than healthy competitiveness.  Which makes it rather difficult for those outside the sport to buy into the concept of the “beautiful” game.
Anyway, enough footie philosophy.  In a matter of minutes we had alighted from the eerily-quiet underground and were back in the sunshine, beetling up the pavement to our intended destination: Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum. This magnificent building is constructed in red Dumfriesshire sandstone and opened in 1901 as the Palace of Fine Arts. Being a tad early, we first fortified ourselves with a cooling glass of lemonade at a conveniently located Beanscene. Then it was time to enter the museum time warp and immerse ourselves in things cultural and cerebral for a few hours. Though it has to be said that even several hours was far from sufficient to take in the gamut of 22 galleries full of fascinating exhibits, which ranged from an ultra-cute (stuffed!) baby fox to a slightly disconcerting display of hanging, disembodied plaster heads.
For S and myself, the most unexpected and memorable exhibit of the day was a large painting that (being a cultural philistine!) I’d not heard of before: the “Christ of Saint John of the Cross” by Salvador Dali. We found ourselves intrigued by this most unusual depiction of the much-painted “Christ on the cross” scene. The lighting in the picture is strangely haunting – as indeed is the fact that the cross seems to be hanging suspended in space above the earth and, unusually, depicts a Jesus with no blood, no nails and no thorns.  Yet the overall effect is perhaps more powerful than if those missing elements had been included.  It was somehow a very moving image, even for someone who could in no way be considered “devout”.  And it felt a million miles away from everyday life at the smallholding.
All too soon, it was time to trot back down to the underground, zip back to Ibrox and walk the mile or so back to the hockey pitch, where two sun-mauled (you try getting a 17-year-old boy to wear sun lotion and a sunhat...) lads were just cooling down after training – although whether “cooling down” was remotely possible in temperatures verging on 30 degrees Celcius was doubtful...
My personal victory for the day was that I bravely sat and watched slimline friend S downing a seriously tempting desert (precise details too painful to commit to paper/screen...) in Kelvingrove Gallery’s airy basement cafe, while I practised the art of abstemiousness. Which means that Day 7 of the dreaded diet has passed without “sin”, and four more weeks of fasting (or, to be more precise, eating horribly healthily!) are left before DaughterNo1's 21st Ceilidh.  A wealth of willpower will certainly be required throughout the month of June... Otherwise the only garment Yours Truly will be able to slip into on party night is the generously proportioned hessian bag that is used to store our potatoes each autumn!

Saturday, 26 May 2012

Vegetable and other beds

Son&Heir is home.
This is, of course, good news on the one hand, as his departure last September to HockeySchool in the deep south means that we only see him during the holidays.  For Son&Heir, the escape from the eternal maternal nagging has been a relief of gargantuan proportions: for his beleaguered housemaster in the south, the story may be very different. 
The bad news pertaining to his return north for two weeks (mid-term plus remainder of ‘study leave’ as dreaded exams finished yesterday...) falls into two categories. Firstly, we’ve had to remove all traces of the cornucopia of clutter that HunterGatherer and I have been storing in his bedroom. Suffice to say, DaughterNo1’s bedroom is now inaccessible without crampons and ropes (hope she’s not reading this...).  The problem looks set to reach crisis point when she arrives home from St Something’s at the end of June, complete with all her stuff! 
But there is a current, more immediate, dilemma to deal with i.e. Son&Heir does not have a bed.  His childhood one eventually gave up the ghost on the last day of the Christmas holidays, and as he’s so rarely here, we’ve been postponing the outlay in favour of vital purchases – such as sheep wormer and polytunnel plastic  (which should arrive this week, if do their stuff).
As our beloved boy had been reduced to sleeping on a mattress on the floor over the Easter hols, I’d rather assumed, on entering the hallowed area of his room for “essential maintenance,” this morning that for once there would be no need to worry about anything lurking under the bed.  Wrong!  When I slid the mattress away from the wall this morning, I discovered a medley of neatly “ironed” sweet papers and a flat (steamroller flat) plastic Irn Bru bottle.  Surely that must have been pretty uncomfortable to lie on until it flattened down fully!?  If the tale of the princess and the pea has a masculine equivalent, my son is evidently no prince...
Frustratingly, I am required as a full-time offspring taxi driver this weekend, as DaughterNo2’s kit and caboodle needed brought back from Pollock Halls in Edinburgh Saturday and Son&Heir has Scotland hockey practice in Glasgow all day Sunday. Meanwhile HunterGatherer is fencing both days – though judging by the number of pairs of tackety boots still strewn across the kitchen floor this morning, he must have been fencing barefoot!).
Despite these other commitments, somehow the half of the partially clad polytunnel that was not attacked last weekend will need to be subdued and conquered this weekend. In the “after-weeding”  half, the strawbs and asparagus are looking distinctly smug in their immaculately weeded raised beds, as are the herbs (rosemary, mint, oregano and parsley). Sadly, however, the courgette and tomato plants are not en bonne forme – they’ve been suffering more than a tad in the unaccustomed heat and are currently probably as enthusiastic about their life as the interviewees in the Leveson enquiry.
As for the “before-weeding” half of the polytunnel, it looks as if we’re growing a fine crop of organic Timothy hay there – which is usually my FarmerBruv’s department.  Said man of the land has been busy sowing lucerne (or “alfalfa” – Arabic for ‘food of the gods’) all week.  This will eventually be cut and dried and made into rather yummy horsefeed to sustain hundreds of Scottish (and English!) equines over the winter months.  Though admittedly, with the sun blazing outside and the sheep and lambs basking in its welcome warmth, winter seems a very, very long way away (thank heavens!).

Wednesday, 23 May 2012

Singing and pronking

I mentioned in a previous blog how much I enjoy being part of our local community and, wouldn’t you know it, another opportunity to get involved came up last night in the guise of a choir rehearsal. To be more precise, it was the first rehearsal of the group of local volunteers who will sing Dougie Maclean’s ‘The Things We Love’ in our nearby wee town when the Olympic Torch passes through on its ‘Around the Country in 70 Days’ trip. 
As the chances of Yours Truly ever being involved in an Olympic sporting endeavour were never high in the first place and are rapidly decreasing with every passing year, I decided that I should at least exercise my vocal muscles in the Olympic spirit. So it was that DaughterNo2 (freshly back from Uni) and I pitched up at the local High School last night, full of musical vim and vigour. There we were greeted by our enthusiastic singing teacher, E, who didn’t look much older than DaughterNo2 and was almost certainly young enough to be the grandchild of the oldest lady in our group who had the distinguished aura of a church choir veteran. 
There were just 10 of us in total – rather a poor turnout considering this is almost certainly a once-in-a-lifetime chance for GB citizens to take part in such an event. Nothing daunted, we warmed up by singing “The Lion Sleeps Tonight”, and whilst our elder statesman choir member confessed to never having even heard of the song before, she was soon Wimoweying away wildly with the rest of us. Next we moved on to the actual Dougie Maclean song that we will be singing on the day, and as the great man himself apparently doesn’t read or write music (which came as a huge surprise to this lifelong fan!), we had to learn the melody by the good old-fashioned method whereby we listened to our teacher singing each line and then we sang it back to her (generally without too many warbling deviations!).
Song duly sorted, the next stop for DNo2 and Yours Truly was the hockey AstroTurf and, as if eager to sustain the Scottish music theme of our evening, the local pipe band were practising their marching on the adjacent rugby pitch. Have to say that it felt pretty darned cool to be playing hockey in the glorious evening sunshine, all the while being serenaded by a succession of traditional Scottish marches and reels.   
And, unbelievably, the sunshine returned this morning (I scarcely dared open my curtains, convinced the weather worm was bound to have turned). Better than that: it beamed brightly all day. So, since we have no hosepipe bans in this normally soggy part of the universe, I actually watered the polytunnel tonight. The irony is that if you had told me during the storms and flooding last week that just seven days later I would have to water our poor thirsty plants, I’d have probably retorted something unprintable from under my souwester. 
Equally if you had told me that while watering the polytunnel I would spot a tiny black (and obviously very new) lamb in our sheep paddock, I would have been fairly incredulous.  Sooty is incredibly tiny (he’s a first lamb for one of our young ewes and, given the delay, we’d assumed she hadn’t taken the tup last autumn), but he is certainly twice as feisty as his delicate framework would suggest.  Indeed his disobedient little legs were still all over the place, yet he was determinedly trying to “pronk” (animal speak for ‘leap into the air with all four feet off the ground at once’).  If the sun shines again tomorrow, I may even do a bit of “pronking” myself!

Sunday, 20 May 2012

The Day of the Triffids

Quick visit to the EarlyBird service at the kirk this morning (to persuade powers that be to ensure sun stayed out for rest of day) and then felt brave enough to tackle the triffids in the polytunnel. Three hours later I emerged slug-slimy and scratched, having berated the cat for peeing on a tomato plant, lovingly rescued some leeks that had all but disappeared in the undergrowth, pruned Vinnie the Vine (viciously), and harvested some lovely fresh asparagus :-). Next stop is local Dobbies emporium to buy some Piss-off-Pussy pellets (sorry FatCat, but there are limits!) and Sod-off-Slug pellets (no apologies to the slugs in view of their crimes against strawberries last year). This member of the polytunnel police means business...

The talk in the local village hall this a.m., during the mandatory post-preaching coffee/juice stop, was of scones... It appears that all conscience-possessing (female) members of the community are going to be baking scones for the teas at the forthcoming Jubilee Street party the weekend after next.

Now I like to think that I do have a social conscience, and that I'm fairly community spirited so, in principle, I’d be more than game to dutifully present a plate of scones on the day.  However, there are two ever-so-teensy problems to consider. Firstly, the other local ladies are - almost without exception - sixth-generation, card-carrying members of the WRI, born with bicarbonate soda in their blood. Secondly, Yours Truly's baking 'outcomes' (I hesitate to call them cakes) are generally about as well received as austerity measures in 21st century Greece.

Some years ago my domestic goddessTeacherFriend gave me a (she said) 100% foolproof recipe for chocolate roulade, which I proceeded to try out. Of course, the whole project was doomed from the start after she told me airily "Even you can't go wrong with this...." By the time I had finished with the wretched roulade it resembled the aftermath of a chocolate, cream and raspberry explosion.

For a start, despite my zealous attempts at lining the baking tray, the greaseproof paper did not just “peel off the sponge” as the recipe assured me it would.  Instead the limpet-like sponge had to be removed, painstakingly, in jigsaw-like pieces - and there was not a snowflake’s chance in hell of me rolling them up. So eventually I just threw the bits of sponge in together with the cream and raspberries, took a photo of my zillionth culinary catastrophe and texted it to G, accompanied by an embittered “100% foolproof, eh?” message. 

With this experience front of mind, I kept a tactful distance from the 'scone' conversation, silently resolving to try out a batch in private before I made any rash promises.  I have already been mentally planning what sort of “roughing up” one might have to inflict on scones purloined from the baking counter at the SafeburyCo supermarket in town to make them look like authentic home baking.  Reckon it’s always safest to have a contingency plan in place...

The prospect of baking is particularly painful at the moment, the night before I launch my (now desperate) lose-weight-before-the-ceilidh campaign.  As mentioned in a previous post, in the third week of June, we’re having a supper and ceilidh in the local hall to celebrate DaughterNo1’s 21st  – and by that time, I have to be able to dance a riotous Strip the Willow (or three) without looking like some sort of giant kilt-clad jelly.  As of tomorrow, it’s OUT with the chocolate and cheese and IN with the lettuce leaves and... er, more lettuce leaves.  I suspect that the next month is going to feel very, very long indeed.

Saturday, 19 May 2012

Ignore the cardboard boxes at your peril

Whilst Yours Truly still has another 446 or so days before hitting 50 (not that I’m counting or anything...), HunterGatherer reached this impressive milestone a whole two months ago. Of course, any UK residents who make it to the ripe old age of 100 can look forward to the arrival of a keepsake card (not that you’re probably going to keep it for long!) from HM the Queen. Reaching a mere half-century, on the other hand, brings with it memorable mail of a rather less salubrious nature.  Indeed HG’s postal “birthday surprise” from the medical powers that be can only be described as a “pooper-scooper”: a sophisticated little set of cardboard components which will – if you follow the instructions correctly – transform into a set of “spatulas” and a cardboard (yes, cardboard... perhaps just a tad too biodegradable?) box in which to encase ‘the specimen’. 
The ridiculous thing is that whilst any fool knows it is far better to discover asap if you have any unpleasant free radicals roaming around your slowly degenerating middle-aged body, for weeks HG has been prevaricating, procrastinating and postponing his compliance with the instructions enclosed in his bowel cancer screening birthday envelope.  So far, I have hinted/nagged/cajoled and pleaded - but all to no avail. The little cardboard set sits defiantly on the kitchen table, where I have strategically positioned it in full view, and is mutinously ignored by HunterGatherer every time he goes by. Perhaps if I move it through to the bathroom, accompanied by the recently arrived “ever-so-friendly” reminder from the NHS, he’ll finally get the message...
Meanwhile, down south at HockeySchool, Son&Heir has begun the dreaded AS exams.  His “leave-it-all-to-the-night-before” approach to the art of exam preparation just about worked for the GCSEs last year – though it was a wing and a prayer process, it has to be said.  However, he’s discovered that – contrary to reports in the paper – A levels do actually require quite a lot of activity by what HG’s favourite fictional detective calls “ze leetle grey cells”. And, of course, this level of application is required continuously - over the entire academic year... 
So it was that after devouring the entire works of Yeats on Monday and Tuesday for Wednesday’s English Lit., he then proceeded to mug up on as many Greek statues for Classics as he could physically force details of into his brain: Marathon Boy, the Disc Thrower and the Tyrannicides were jostling for cerebral space.  Safe to say that by Thursday night an excess of limestone and marble was beginning to clog his frantically cogitating little cells. There was no way he could physically cover all the statues required in the time that remained, so Friday morning was a tense time... 
However, Mr seems to have had the full force of every Roman and Greek god onside, because (unbelievably/unfairly/ luckily – delete as appropriate) the statues he had studied in at least some depth miraculously deigned to grace the exam paper with their presence.  Of course, it’ll be late August before we discover whether the ancient deities really did come to his rescue. But in the meantime, Ibsen’s Doll’s House is currently being madly crammed (I hope!) in a lonely garret in deepest Englandshire, so that nothing is left to chance for the Theatre Studies essay-writing marathon next week! 

Tuesday, 15 May 2012

Pick a number - any number will do...

As an early precursor to August 2013 (the momentous month when Yours Truly is scheduled to turn 50), I have today been practising feeling old. And I have discovered that it simply doesn’t come naturally to me.  For example, try as I might, I cannot believe that the most senior of our trio of “speugs” (Scots parlance for sparrows - and a word that can be enunciated with immense satisfaction) has just turned 21.  How can this be?  It seems a mere nanosecond since she arrived in the world, 11 days late (which, it transpires, was a portent for her subsequent modus operandi) – an alarming shade of blue and a tad floppy. 
We needn’t have worried about this early lethargy, though, as it was more than compensated for by the following four years during which she was anything but sleepy – not even when normal “baby protocol” dictated that she should be.  I quickly grew to develop a silent loathing for the smug “oh, yes, wee Jimmy/Jemima has an hour’s nap in the morning and another hour in the afternoon” brigade. In fact, it would be no exaggeration to say that – in my sleep deprivation-induced haze – I even actively wished them harm, on occasion.
Our own bouncing bundle of ‘joy’ (for which read 'despair' at most points in those early years) was the infant equivalent of Margaret Thatcher. Four, long, exhausting years elapsed before Daughter No.1  actually slept through the night for the first time - and when I awoke that first morning, I made Usain Bolt look distinctly sluggish as I sprinted through to her bedroom, convinced that she’d either been abducted by aliens or worse.  Ah, happy memories (!?)...  
It’s safe to say (but biologically probably not really that surprising!) that the past 21 years have been a lot kinder to her than they have to Yours Truly. Indeed, I have to confess that a lump came to my throat when I viewed one of the photos she sent up of the ball preparations last weekend. It was a rear view (see photo) of her long chestnut locks swept with a degree of sophistication which reminded me that she really is a young woman now (which means I must no longer be!).
And if I needed any further confirmation of this regrettable truth, our summer all-ages mixed hockey sessions at the local Astroturf on a Tuesday evening fulfil that purpose admirably.  There is nothing that reminds you more acutely of the imminence of your half-century than chasing up and down the wing (I swear they have lengthened hockey pitches since I played at school) in pursuit of an überfit teenager. And nothing that consolidates your awareness of the state of decrepitude you’ve already attained than trying to walk without whimpering the next day.  (I know I put the Deep Heat ointment somewhere...)
My ever-young old mum, Supergran, epitomises the ethos that you are only as old as you allow yourself to be.  She was still, metaphorically, ‘skelping the bahoochies’ (another couple of great Scots words) of her grandchildren on the tennis court when in her 60s, has played the odd game of badminton in her 70s, and is equally at ease texting and emailing her teenage grandchildren as she is conversing by 'phone with her OAP peers.  To liberally interpret Descartes’ philosophical “je pense donc je suis,” Supergran “thinks young, therefore she is young”.  And I reckon that if I follow her excellent example, I shouldn’t go too far wrong.  After all, she probably can’t believe that she has a daughter who’s going to be 50 next year!

Sunday, 13 May 2012

Photos for "You, too, shall go to the ball..."

The local village fete - spot the sunshine!

One of the "Ancient World" ball decorations...

You, too, shall go to the ball...

One of the (myriad) joys of being part of a small rural community is attending unmissable annual events such as the local village church fête. Saturday was the appointed day for our annual shindig (see photo) and, by some sort of miracle,  the village was blessed with a gloriously sunny May day - which just happened to be sandwiched between two bitterly cold, wet November days.  I previously referred to this rare appearance by the sun as some sort of miracle, but in fact our (sadly soon to be leaving) lady minister assured me - tongue firmly in her holy cheek - that she had been on her knees all night putting up prayers. As I commented to her, it must be rather handy to be so well connected!
What’s particularly fascinating about such village events is the way that you see, rubbing shoulders with each other, the full gamut of the indigenous local species - ranging from feisty, dyed-in-the-wool, slightly eccentric older folk through to young, too-cool-for-school teenagers and even younger primary school kids, whose sole purpose throughout the afternoon is to pay as many visits to the ice cream tent as their parents will sanction. Evidently local parents were fairly liberal in their ice cream funding habits on Saturday, so sadly all the ice cream had vanished by the time Yours Truly pitched up at the tent - having previously fought her way to the front of the home-made fudge queue, narrowly avoided being mown down by a gundog in full retrieval mode, and having secured a bargain set of Kavanagh QC videos for HunterGatherer. 
Actually, I have to confess that HunterGatherer very nearly didn’t get the videos I’d so generously bought him (for the princely sum of £1), as he spent part of the weekend in deepest disgrace after committing a cardinal sin. To elucidate, he saw fit to store his syringe, dosing gun and open bottle of Ovivac-P - fresh from active duty that morning dosing lambs in the paddock - on the top shelf of the household fridge WITHOUT putting it inside a plastic bag first. ARGH! I suppose the only upside of any possible cross-contamination with our cheese rations is that we should be fairly immune to pasteurella and/or any clostridial diseases that might be lurking in our fridge. 
HG then further blotted his copybook by getting a bit over-enthusiastic with the chain saw and chopping down a part of the hedge that screens the cottage to the south-east.  I had particularly wanted to retain the high hedge (instead of the now Legoland version) as the local Council, in their immeasurable wisdom, have just given permission for a land developer to squeeze two houses into a fairly small corner of the field next door to us. Having not been used for the past 15 years to having anyone able to peer in through my windows (our nearest neighbours on the other side being a respectable distance away), I do have a tendency to wander around the house occasionally in a state of undress that might not be deemed a welcome sight by any newcomer to the area. Hence the hedge was supposed to be left intact, to avoid any nasty surprises for the builders (and in turn the new neighbours) when they arrive.  The selfsame local Council is also currently contemplating giving permission for a 45m wind turbine within sight of our smallholding. Suddenly our wee rural idyll is feeling somewhat under siege.
Still, things are not all doom and gloom. Down south, amidst the Dreamy Spires, Daughter No. 1 was in frantic ‘organising’ mode on Saturday. Just in case their library-like reading lists and multifarious sporting endeavours didn’t fill their every waking moment quite full enough, she and a group of her 2nd year college buddies have spent the last 10 months organising the St Something’s Summer Ball.  To honour the year of the Olympics, they elected to have The Ancient World as their theme for the event, and from the series of photos (one of them attached, featuring a giant helmet) she texted me as Saturday progressed, it boded to be a fantasmagorical night out, with no detail overlooked. 
Reports on Sunday indicated that all went well, apart from the usual expected hiccups involved in organising an event attended by 1,700 students (yes, you read that right – I double-checked the figure!).  By ‘hiccups’, I mean minor problems such as folk trying to gatecrash, and thus avoid paying, by dint of climbing over the boundaries of the St Something’s walled garden. 
Little did these unsuspecting fare-dodgers know that the savvy and ultra-efficient Committee had fore-guessed this shady little ball-crashing scheme, so a “friendly” welcoming party awaited any intruders in the form of a rabid guard dog and his (potentially equally rabid) minder.  Apart from one quasi-mauling (perfectly in keeping with the significant role of savage animals in the Ancient World), apparently no damage was done.  By 9 a.m. on Sunday, the massive clear-up operation had begun, which (according to Daughter No.1) made even tackling Son&Heir’s bedroom seem like a picnic in the park – and that means it must have been a task of Herculean proportions (note astute Ancient World analogy).
Amusingly, it appears that various items of interest were unearthed during Sunday’s mass post-ball sanitation operation, including a random bra and a shoe. When I heard this, I couldn’t help but wonder if a modern-day version of the Cinderella story will now ensue, with the girls of St Something’s and other Colleges from far and wide queuing up impatiently to see which mysterious maiden will fit the appropriate parts of their anatomy perfectly into the lost items ...

Friday, 11 May 2012

Lambs and exams

It’s that time of year again - the one when suddenly school pupils of a certain age wish they’d applied themselves rather more assiduously during the previous two and a half terms of the academic session. Our sporty Son&Heir is seemingly no exception to this rule and has, very uncharacteristically, rung from HockeySchool in the south (where it’s fair to say he saves his energies for outside the classroom) to ask for some maternal coaching in French - not just on one, but on a couple of occasions within the last week. 
The supreme irony of this is that half a dozen of his former year group at the local school have been coming to see Yours Truly every week for the past five months and actually paying to listen to my pearls of wisdom.  Whereas for the past five years Son&Heir has regularly been offered (completely free of charge, might I add!) the fruits of my linguistic learning, and has each time told me precisely where to put my French verbs.  I fear his exact instructions might well lose something in translation and so they are best left to the imagination.
Meanwhile, just down the road at Edinburgh’s illustrious seat of academic endeavour, music student Daughter No.2 is also in mid-exam mode, though she - at least - has put in a modicum of work during the last two terms.  Her nose was evidently somewhat out of joint yesterday afternoon, as I had (shock, horror!) omitted to send a good luck text for yesterday morning’s exam.
This serious oversight, which was most likely the result of being distracted by my current frequent mad dashes outside to remove escapee lambs from the garden, was apparently not compensated for by the fact that I had sent her a good luck card at the outset of the exams last week. And there was me thinking I’d done rather well remembering to send that! Perhaps I’d better despatch the good luck text for her next exam right now – while my addled middle-aged brain still remembers – even if it arrives a few days early! That might redeem my maternal standing a tad.
Talking of mothers, the black sheep of our little flock (see the photo – and check out those piercing eyes...) certainly lived up to her name last night. For her lamb it was who, some time around midnight, became entangled in some netting (put up the day before by HunterGatherer in a fond attempt to keep Houdini-like lambs in the paddock and out of our garden).
The lamb in question may well have had aspirations, but he definitely wasn’t a patch on the master himself.  As a result, the wannabe escape artist had somehow managed to twist his little lamb legs into some kind of reef knot, while at the same time succeeding in sticking his head through another part of the net. Had I not heard his plaintive bleating outside while I sat typing a “gripping” article about running spikes (yes, my literary talents know no bounds...), it might well have been curtains for Master Lamb. 
And I have to confess that while I was wrestling around in the dark with the wet and woolly wee rascal, all the while getting covered in ‘eau de mouton’ and mud (did I mention that it had been raining - again - for most of the day?), the words “mint sauce” did, inexcusably, escape my lips.  But I only whispered them ... and just once... honest!

Monday, 7 May 2012

Orange rings and other things

Sunday is generally anything but a day of rest on the smallholding, and yesterday was no exception. The last of our Shetland ewes lambed on Friday, and we’ve ended up with a “baker’s dozen” (i.e. 13) lambs.  Apparently this expression dates back to the days when bakers would make thirteen instead of a dozen loaves in a batch, to avoid being punished for selling underweight bread. 
Sadly, over half of this year’s “crop” of lambs are males, meaning that - as none of them appears sufficiently macho-looking to be a “tup” (ram) in the future - they all have to be castrated. So the first job on yesterday’s lengthy “to do” list was the rather unpleasant task of applying an orange rubber ring to the poor wee chaps’ nether regions.  Even as a rough-tough farmer’s daughter, I still struggle with this concept, despite knowing that it needs done or we’d have a problem on our hands come weaning time in the autumn,  in the form a posse of rampant, hormone-charged male lambs running amok. So HunterGatherer did the deed while I averted my gaze...
Next task on the list was our burgeoning compost heap, which was bursting out over its netting enclosure in all directions. HG began to dig up and ferry fresh compost (possibly an oxymoron?) by wheelbarrow to the flowerbeds as a Sunday ‘treat’ for the rosebushes.  Meanwhile, Yours Truly grabbed the opportunity to nip into the village to wrestle with netting of a different sort i.e. play a quick game (OK, six quick games...) of tennis.  I should explain - in my defence - that this was a tennis club social event, which the secretary had taken the time and trouble to organise, so I felt it my moral duty to support this good lady (though the choice between ferrying compost to and fro and belting tennis balls to and fro did make the “moral duty” option considerably more appealing!). 
By the time I returned, HunterGatherer had also zipped over the whole lawn (a third of an acre approx.) on his ride-on mower, and the whole place was beginning to look far more shipshape...  Which is just as well, as Daughter No. 1 has left us with strict instructions about the things that need “a good tidy up” before she returns north from the Dreamy Spires at the end of June.  A gaggle (not sure what the collective noun for swats is...) of her study buddies from St Something’s will be accompanying her north to attend her belated 21st birthday Supper’n Reels night in our local village hall.  D1’s actual birthday is half-way through May (eek! must post her card soon...), but as that falls in the middle of term, the party has to take place over a month later. This is fortunate indeed, given that the list of interior and exterior ‘anomalies’ which HunterGatherer and I have to address before the Sassenach invasion occurs is long - very long!
The hall wallpaper was one of the eyesores identified by our beloved eldest as needing “sorted”, and in fairness she does have a point. Unfortunately, the folk who had the house before we moved in (15 years ago this July) appear to have had shares in a tobacco factory, with the result that much of the wallpaper is stained a characteristic browny shade - not the most attractive then and certainly no less unattractive a decade and a half later.  After returning from another day’s ditch-digging endeavours on the land, HunterGatherer has thus begun wielding the steam wallpaper stripper with gusto this evening.  Our original plan was simply to paint the bare wall – until, that was, we saw the uneven bumps and lumps of plaster all over the surface of said wall and realised that a protective layer of wallpaper was definitely required for cosmetic reasons.  
Of course, one of the great joys of middle age is that by this time in one’s life, one has learned to do oneself the things that one is good at and to commission other people to do everything else – in our case, wallpapering definitely falls into the “everything else” category, so I have rung a good friend who possesses the necessary papering pedigree and enlisted his services. I should explain that HG’s only previous attempt at papering is the reason that “re-paper bathroom” also appears on Daughter No.1’s list.  In his blissful ignorance of interior decor etiquette, HG left large bubbles in the paper, which he then eliminated by dint of slicing them with a Stanley knife.  End result: our bathroom walls looks as if they have been operated on by a plastic surgeon of very dubious repute.  We have had to endure looking at the resultant hideous scars every day for the past 15 years.  Sadly, even the Sudocrem plastered on the wall by toddler Son&Heir at various points in the early years didn’t magically heal them.  
With the third week in June suddenly seeming much closer now that we’re a full week into May, all these tasks suddenly feel a tad more urgent than when Daughter no. 1 first drew them to our attention at Easter.  Don’t suppose by some miracle there’s a TV film crew currently looking for a “Changing Rooms” (or better still “changing entire houses”) project to get stuck into?  No – thought not...

Friday, 4 May 2012

Words don’t (always) come easy

Working as a translator for two decades, I inevitably became a ‘Jill of all trades and master of none’. Over the years, I morphed overnight into an expert on zip manufacture (70,000 words – riveting...), raising geese for pâté de foie gras (revolting practice – wouldn’t eat the stuff if you paid me!), MBAs (reckon I’m probably in line for an honorary degree after proofreading all those course materials) and multifarious other topics.
This aspect of the work is fascinating and frustrating in equal measure, because often just as you begin to grasp the rudiments of one topic, the project’s suddenly over and you have to start from scratch again, mugging up on another area of expertise.
Interpreting (ie converting the spoken, not written, word into another language) is similar – only worse.  As you can imagine, if you’re in a board meeting or at a conference there’s no time to pore painstakingly over a dictionary to find that elusive and clever ‘jeu de mots’ the speaker has just used to conclude their speech triumphantly.
You need to have the right words ready immediately to hand (or, better still, to tongue), no matter how technical the terminology that’s being bandied about by delegates,  who – let’s not forget – probably eat, sleep and breath their specialism. They’ve had years to accumulate all the jargon in their mother tongue, while you’ve had a couple of days to ‘cram’ it all in your own beleaguered brain – in both your mother tongue plus a foreign language.
And, as I’ve discovered to my cost, one thing is for sure: no matter how long you immerse yourself in the subject matter for a forthcoming assignment, there’s always a phrase or two guaranteed to catch you out.
One of my more memorable jobs occurred early in my career, when I was sent to interpret at Wormwood Scrubs prison in London (not a place I’m planning on returning to any time soon – those pneumatic doors nearly frightened the life out of me).
I’d been warned that the prisoner for whom I’d be interpreting (a French-speaking African) had allegedly been involved in practising voodoo, so I’d compiled an extensive - if rather alarming - list of vocabulary,  so I was pretty confident that I knew my gris-gris from my Ouija... What I wasn’t prepared for was when the lawyer asked me to put the following question to the accused party: “And did you at any point push Mr X’s face into a bowl of chicken entrails?” It was then that I realised that sometimes in life, no amount of preparation is ever going to be enough...

Thursday, 3 May 2012

Spring has sprung – the perfect time for a fresh start!

Mortification personified!  Just realised how many weeks and months have passed since my last blog post. Of course, I could bore you with tales of husbands (or rather husband – I only have one!) being made redundant, a succession of teenage/twenty-something offspring requiring moral support  in their hours of need, various credit-crunch induced financial crises, and of course the ever-increasing demands of Yours Truly’s professional plate-spinning... but I won’t.  
Suffice to say, life has simply been indescribably busy as I begin to meander towards the big 5-0 landmark next summer.  It was perhaps the dawning of this realisation (just over a year of being 40-something left...) coupled with a recent fortuitous change in employment circumstances (no more 80-mile round trips to the big smoke – yeehaa!) that has inspired me to resume my virtual scribblings about life in and around the Square Sparrow smallholding. 
And whilst I’ve been busy for the past 18 months burning up the country’s precious carbon resources by zipping daily up and down the motorway,  Spot and Cocoa, our two ovine Casanovas would appear to have been equally busy,  judging by the number of lambs (last count 11) in the paddock. 
As ever, the lambkins are a motley but delightful crew, ranging from pure creamy white, via mottled grey (perfect for morphing into the drystane dyke and causing us to worry that they’ve been lifted by a peckish bird of prey) through to charcoal with white faces and/or legs and finally to midnight black.  Whilst they cause their mothers almost perpetual angst by belting off with their similarly high-spirited buddies and running “lamb races” up and down the field, they certainly provide an endless source of amusement for this easily distracted writer as she sits tapping away on a computer, strategically positioned at a window that overlooks their field.
HunterGatherer has fewer opportunities to admire their antics, as his rural self-employment endeavours take him off at crack of dawn most mornings.  Last week he was unfortunate enough to be digging drains and ditches in the driving rain, and returned home every evening muttering darkly about the miseries of working outside on the land. 
Today, however, the rare yellow orb made an appearance in the heavens above, so it was Yours Truly who was muttering complaints about having to sit indoors seeking interesting things to say about oil and gas technology while he whizzed around on a quad bike in the open air, enjoying the warmth of the sun on his back. The rural worthy who long ago coined the expression about the grass on the other side of the fence always being greener wasn’t far wrong!