Friday, 25 January 2013

Sibling rivalry leads to giant Jenga

My latest blogpost showed a photo of a Jenga tower built of the 1 kg alfalfa feed blox that Little Bruv makes down on the farm. Being a competitive chap, he wasn't going to be outdone - so here's a photo of his giant Jenga tower of 250kg Blox!

Fun and games down on the farm!

Wednesday, 23 January 2013

You know those days when only chocolate will do...?

When only chocolate will do...

If yesterday had been Friday 13th, I could have forgiven it for throwing quite so many spanners in the Sparrowholding works, even though I don’t tend to believe in such superstitions – note the caveat “tend to” to cover myself...  

By yesterday evening, there was only one solution to ease the frustration of the day’s proceedings. And as I don’t drink (although at times like this, I almost wish I did!), instead of grasping for a gin bottle, I delved into my precious, swiftly diminishing,  tin of Angelina’s potent hot chocolate powder that DD1 brought me from Paris.

Once the chocolatey concoction was ready for the finishing touches, I added a dollop of cream to compound my imminent cholesterol crisis and ferreted out two Cadbury’s flakes from their hiding place in the dark recesses of the kitchen cupboard.  And, before you ask, let me indulge in a little prolepsis: “no, the ‘get fit and slim for 50th birthday’ campaign has not been going well recently.”

Warning: Do not leave your bag unattended at any time.
The morning had started out reasonably successfully, with the usual feeding of the ravaging ovine (x20) and equine (x1) hordes.  Being keen to minimise the effort required in all such practical tasks (did someone say “lazy”?), I am indebted to my little brother for creating his cunning feed Blox (also ideal for the occasional game of outside Jenga! – see below).  I’m perfecting my technique of throwing the said blocks over the fence some distance into the field to land suitably spaced apart, thereby avoiding any ructions between the eager recipients.

Jenga: farmer style
Next it was back to the copywriting coalface, there to pen two articles about summer holidays.  Despite the six inches plus of soggy snow that I’d just waded through in the garden, surprisingly I was able to conjure up convincingly idyllic images of scuba-diving in the Caribbean and to rave eloquently about the marvels of Mexico, all without the slightest trace of bitterness.
As soon as the first article was finished, I emailed if off in triumph before proofreading the second.  And just as well I did, because literally two seconds later, my Broadband disappeared. Now as any freelance writer will tell you, Broadband is like the blacksmith’s anvil or the vicar’s bible – it’s difficult to do one’s job without it. Especially when one is slowly ticking towards the deadline for submission with no means of sending one’s masterpiece to the expectant client.

Never mind, I thought to myself smugly: I have a dongle! It took me about quarter of an hour of searching the house in vain to remember that I had, in fact, left my briefcase out in the car. So I hauled on my wellies (down, spellcheck, down!), dashed to the car, retrieved the bag and shut the passenger’s door.  At which point the rear window of my trusty wee Fiesta gave a loud crack, shattered into an opaque mosaic and descended into the boot.  Brilliant. The day was getting even better.
I hotfooted it back into the house to ring Farmpa and see if he could help me out of my predicament (not least because I had several tutees to teach in a village about four miles away that evening).  Then I remembered the unsent article,  whipped out the dongle (retrieved at the price of the rear windscreen) and connected up to my Netbook in fervent hope.
This is not a solution that I have had to resort to often – which is why, as I rapidly discovered, I had absolutely no recollection of the user name and password required to access it... Foiled again, and the deadline had now come and gone. Fortunately my lovely client was being incredibly kind and understanding, which helped to lessen the stress slightly.  Cue a ring at the doorbell: a duo of primary school aged sisters had arrived for their weekly French lesson.

As they left 45 minutes later, my giggling mini-French students could hardly wait to tell their “professeur” that large flakes of snow had begun to fall – straight through the gaping hole in the rear of her car.  Things were improving by the minute, n’est-ce pas?

It is at times like this that I know for certain that I have the best parents in the whole universe. For Farmpa and Supergran stoically drove 30 miles up the M90 in their aged (but fully glazed) farm Discovery, which they duly exchanged for my far from fully fenestrated Fiesta.  Consequently, I could now venture out into the white outside world to instruct more avid tutees, this time in the delights of English prose.

By the time I’d finished teaching, and had emerged into the darkness to drive home, the 9-inch layer of snow that had been precariously perched on top of the ‘Disco’ had slumped forward, mini-avalanche style, onto the front windscreen.

Having no gloves or even a jacket with me (I had left home in haste, after cobbling together a tarpaulin cover for the rear window of my car), I had to use my bare hands to remove about half a tonne of snow, icy handful by icy handful [note to pupils: repetition for effect], until the windscreen wipers were eventually unearthed and functional.
By this time, my digits had long since lost any feeling whatsoever – until, that is, I was driving home and the blood began to flow through them again.  I had forgotten just how painful an experience that can be – it brought tears to my eyes, I have to confess – yet it seemed, in semi- masochistic fashion, to be a perfectly fitting conclusion to a pretty foul day.

I returned to find HunterGatherer in bed (at 9.30pm – these farming chiels like their beauty sleep!). Unfortunately for him, he was soon 'unearthed' and put to work installing the new BT Hub, which had fortunately arrived in my absence.  And joy of joys: within half an hour I was back online, and so far so good.

Better still, my fingers rapidly recovered as I clutched my gloriously decadent mug of hot chocolate until, fuelled by purest cocoa-power, I felt ready to face another day!

Thursday, 10 January 2013

Back to normality (what is that again?)

With HunterGatherer back on strawberry patrol in the polytunnels of Perthshire, the Daughterly Duo en route back to their respective seats of learning in Paris and Edinburgh, and Son+Heir away at school from 8.30a.m. – 4 p.m. every weekday, the house has suddenly become so much quieter. 

It was strange to be a family of five again over Christmas and New Year for the first time since early September. That was when DD1 headed off on to the home of vin rouge, fromage and frogs’ legs, there to “se perfectionner” in the lingo of the land. 

Despite having been raised in the countryside, first on various farms and latterly here at the Sparrowholding, she is a self-confessed “city girl”. Even when forced to wear wellies (when faced by the sea of mud that our garden became during the recent – frequent – periods of rain), she still maintains a certain fashionable “je ne sais quoi”. 

Best foot forward
In fact, she literally stepped out of the Parisian leopard-effect platform boots which she arrived in at Edinburgh airport straight into her strategically positioned cerise pink, fur lined Hunters. The said footwear still somehow managed to come through her 10-day festive visit with barely a dot of mud on them, unlike Yours Truly’s sheep-sharn*-encrusted Hunters... (*sharn = Scots word for dung)

I imagine that DD1 heaved a huge sigh of relief last week when she was able to slip back into her beloved leopard-lookalike foot attire (no daughter of mine!) and head down to deepest England-shire to attend a close Uni friend’s 21st – then spend a few days in St Something’s library in Oxford to ease her withdrawal symptoms before she ‘Eurostarred’ back to the bijou little flat she and two other students are renting in the 17th arrondissement.

To pay her rent, she has an evening job, after lectures, with a company that specialises in teaching foreign languages – in this case English – to young children at home after school. As a keen linguist, I think this is a fantastic idea - you can't start learning a foreign language young enough. Better still, the two kids DD1 is teaching must think it's pretty cool, too, as they’ve asked their parents if she can stay on rather than go back to Uni in October :-). She can’t, of course, but she did appreciate being appreciated!

We have booked a cheap flight to Beauvais airport for HunterGatherer to visit her the first weekend of March before the strawberry cultivations get into full swing. It would be unwise to leave the house in the hands of 17-year-old Son+Heir for a weekend ('nuff said), so as HG has never been to Paris before, and I have, it seems only right for him to get to go. Especially given that he and DD1 share a prolific knowledge of and passion for military history (er, and once again... no daughter of mine).

DD2, the Edinburgh busking (aka Music) student, also made a slight detour on her way back to Uni... via the French Alps – Les Arcs, to be precise.  She’s been squirrelling away her earnings from her part-time hockey coaching job for months, saving up for the big Uni Ski Trip. And, judging by a recent Facebook comment “I’m never coming home” – accompanied by a stunning photo of sun, ski and snow – she’s having a pretty good time. [If the typeface seems to have turned a little green here, that’s purely a trick of the light.]

How did the sky get that blue?
 Only Chuck the Cat remains to keep Yours Truly company during the day, and since he snoozes for hours at a time on one bed or another (preferably having inserted himself almost invisibly between the folds of the duvet, with only his whiskers protruding...), he isn't exactly what you’d call a riveting companion.  

Such an effort to sit upright
Still, the one advantage of there being (virtually) no one to cook, clean and bottle wash for now is that it frees up lots and lots of time for work.  Oh goodie. Reckon I need a cup of hot chocolate (made with the real McCoy – Angelina’s precious cocoa powder, all the way from Paris) before I report to the copywriting coalface...

We could provide a welcome distraction :-) 

Monday, 7 January 2013

Sunday, 6 January 2013

New Year – a time for looking in both directions at once

Gateway to 2013: Happy New Year!

One of the very few information gems that I retain from my laborious years of Latin learning at school is that the first month of the Gregorian year stole its name from a rather obscure ancient Roman God called Janus.  He sticks in my mind because of the fact that, being the deity in charge of doorways and gateways, he’s depicted with two faces – one pointing backwards and one forwards. Strikes me this would be a very handy attribute indeed if you’re a mother or a teacher! 

Anyway, I digress... As it’s still the first week of the New Year, there’s a bit of looking both backwards and forwards in this post, à la Janus. The ‘looking backwards’ activities have involved Yours Truly curling for the first time in 30 years and meeting up with three friends I worked with a decade ago. The ‘looking forwards’ has been HunterGatherer’s domain i.e. sorting out his polytunnel.

Yesterday afternoon I attended a free “try curling” session organised by the Royal Caledonian Curling club and re-familiarised myself with the terminology of the “roaring game” (so-called because of the noise of the heavy granite stones trundling up the sheet of ice).

The roaring game
After two hours, I had readily become re-acquainted with terms such as “hurry” (to sweep a stone quickly), “ice!” (get out of the way pdq or a supersonic 50lb stone will take the knees from under you...) and “house” (the rather quaint name for the multi-coloured target at either end of the rink). 

What I found rather less easy to get to grips with was how much effort it took to do all the necessary crouching at ground level.  My feet, ankles, knees and hips were thoroughly unimpressed (and are still making this fact known today).  Still, the 90 minutes passed in a flash, and I have to say that the whole experience was very positive (sore joints notwithstanding). Perhaps when the time finally comes to hang up my jolly hockey stick, I’ll maybe even give curling another whirl.

Then today, I had the pleasure of meeting up with three former colleagues from my previous life in the translation industry.  As one of our gleesome foursome now lives in the USA, such meetings are rare treats, and all the more special for that very reason.

We convened at Baxter’s restaurant just off the M90 near Kelty in Fife and, over a very yummy scone and hot drink (plus mandatory glass of Irn Bru for our male US-based friend who suffers severe withdrawal symptoms in Wisconsin!), we caught up on several years’ worth of news. We also commiserated with each other (being the sad, pedantic linguists that we are) about the sorry state of spelling in the universe.

The linguistic world duly put to rights, it was back up the M90 to supervise operations in the polytunnel – in preparation for the start of the new growing year here at the Sparrowholding.  To stop grass and weeds from creeping in from the outside, HunterGatherer has – as an experiment – lined the sides of our polytunnel at ground level with a few of the fleeces we’ve had sitting aimlessly in our garden shed since shearing time in June. 

Fleece lining

New season kicks off in the polytunnel
The fleeces in question couldn’t be sold for spinning to my lovely customer Vikki at Eden Cottage Yarns, because we use sawdust and wood shavings in our sheep shed to keep the poor souls dry in the muddy winter months.

Unfortunately, as we have discovered to our cost, the said wood “bedding” has a nefarious effect on fleeces – namely it permeates the fleece, rendering it virtually unspinnable. 

So if we want our lovely chocolatey wool to be fit for jumper-making in the future, we need to find a viable an alternative, non-wool-invading bedding material for next winter. All suggestions gratefully received!