Wednesday, 17 December 2014

Festive greetings from The Sparrowholding...

Merry Christmas to one and all!
Dear All,                     
Tonight, just as I was pondering how to encapsulate the Sparrowholding exploits of 2014, I happened to encounter a former teacher of all three offspring, who asked after their well-being with the immortal words: “So how are the grafter, the mercurial one and the talented-but-alternative one?” Yours Truly is still trying to work out which descriptor was intended for which child, but in the meantime…

A historic moment in a historic building -
the Sheldonian Theatre opened its doors in 1669
In June, after three years of burying her head in the Bodleian library and one year of intensive pâtisserie research in Paris, DD1 graduated from the city of the dreamy spires with a B.A. in French – or, as her mother irreverently refers to it, “fusty French” because of all the medieval literature involved. Far more importantly (in her father’s eyes!), and despite being consigned to crutches 10 weeks prior to the hotly contested women’s rugby Varsity match, she also emerged from her final season with  a ‘full blue’– a term presumably inspired by the ubiquitous bruises sustained by participants during the 80 punishing minutes of play... By something akin to a miracle, all five of us managed to converge in one Ordnance Survey square of the UK map for 24 hours on graduation day to celebrate the culmination of DD1’s studies. Or, to be more precise, the temporary culmination… for no sooner had the avid academic rid herself of the purgatory of relentless exam stress than she signed herself up for yet another 18 months of cerebral torture (this time of the legal rather than the linguistic persuasion). Consequently, late 2014 finds her slogging her way through a law conversion course in London while holding down three part-time jobs – her father and I often wonder what she does in her copious spare time.

Dark blue through and through - and that's just the bruises!
DD2 turned 21 in February, and to mark this milestone (or possibly in a desperate attempt to avoid another 21 years of her company!) a group of her friends from Edinburgh Uni gifted her a bungee jump. Unluckily for them, “Tigger” – ironically one of her childhood nicknames – bounced back, and at time of writing is busy composing a soundtrack to accompany a short, black-and-white, silent film of Alice in Wonderland as part of her final coursework.  With a bit of luck and providing the Queen of Hearts comes up trumps, DD2 should complete her music degree next May. When not rearranging quavers and crotchets, she is to be found hauling her Spotify speakers (almost certainly heavier than she is!) to parties throughout the ‘Burgh – this being one of her onerous duties as a rep for the eponymous music company – or brandishing her trusty weapon of war on the city’s hockey pitches and exchanging occasional “pleasantries” with the umpires… In her spare time, she managed to enrage one of the militant New Town Clean Streets’ campaigners by unwittingly (being new to the area) placing a bag of rubbish in the wrong place on collection day. Her rubbish bag was evidently meticulously rifled to find documentation bearing her address, and she duly received a letter by post (from a lady living two doors away) advising her of the error of her ways, pointing out that her rubbish bag had (shock, horror!) contained an item that could have been recycled and offering to give her training in what she should recycle in future… If you live in the New Town, beware: Big Brother is evidently watching you.

Spot the new astro boots!
Big Brother (or sister...) is watching you in the New Town
All of which brings us neatly to the girls’ little brother (note perfect “link sentence”, cunningly inserted as practice for Yours Truly’s English tutees in the run-up to the prelims…). Son and heir has by now almost certainly skateboarded every street and alleyway in Edinburgh, with only one trip to Edinburgh A&E to show for his efforts. Always a bit of a culture vulture, he now hosts a mini art gallery on his upper arm, including a partly completed diagram of an origami frog. Apparently, the idea is that further lines will be added as he completes further phases of his life (we wait with bated breath to see if the frog will actually fold itself when his skin eventually starts to sag with age…). Half-way through 2014, our bohemian boy traded in the owl-like hours of the cocktail king for the lark-like hours of the latte artist. In addition to testing out his barista expertise on the unsuspecting residents of Bruntsfield, the family’s culinary dark horse has also been utilising his cooking skills (none of them learnt from his mother!) in the café kitchen to whip up gastronomic delights with which to enthral the taste buds of his lucky customers.

Supergran, never one to let her advancing years get in the way of her active lifestyle, set out powerwalking in her wellies one day and ended up with a magnificent embroidery on her knee, courtesy of the duty Accident & Emergency doctor at PRI (who may well also have been a closet member of the WRI, given the neatness of the stitching). Later in the year, no doubt in an attempt to keep up with her similarly maladroit younger granddaughter, Supergran dropped her mobile phone down the toilet, thereby neatly disproving the theory that with age comes experience and wisdom. Thank goodness Farmpa is there to keep her on the straight and narrow – in between his skyward forays in the bucket of the farm forklift, that is…

Underneath this bandage is some quality stitching..
Farmpa donned a wasp-proof suit while cementing
his roof from the forklift bucket...

When HunterGatherer is not otherwise engaged whispering sweet nothings into the ears of recalcitrant fertiliser spreaders to persuade them to dispense the correct proportions of NPK (Nitrogen, Phosphorus and Potassium for any non-chemist/non-farmer readers), he is to be found either tending the chocolate sheep or propping up the goalposts at the local hockey pitch, waiting (im)patiently for an opportunity to poach the odd goal or two. Having scored a hat trick during a recent game, he has (much as we are loath to admit it) rather trumped the rest of the family.

HunterGatherer was worried the sheep might not see him...
Somewhat frustratingly, my own hockey exploits this year have been curtailed by a variety of muscle tears and a “fizzy heel” (or, as medical professionals are wont to call it “tarsal tunnel syndrome”), a condition which has the interesting effect of making my left heel feel as if it’s permanently wired up to a TENS machine. On a lighter note, after being plagued with hearing problems since mid-August, I was eventually advised by the local nurse to inhale some crystal meth – or at least that’s what I thought I heard her say (my hearing is going, remember!) When I shared this news with my rather startled older daughter, she very quickly twigged that what the nurse had actually prescribed was a tub of menthol crystals, which are – according to street-savvy DD2 – quite a different substance from crystal meth. Personally, I suspect that my version of the prescription might have been far more effective – if for no other reason than that lack of hearing would have been the least of my problems…

Nothing like a wee tournament to finish off the season
And so, with a gist of everyone’s 2014 news having been duly dispensed in the time-honoured manner, all that remains is for me to wish my family, friends and fellow bloggers the very best of health and much happiness in the year ahead. Here’s to a great year for all in 2015!

Wednesday, 10 December 2014

Romance is in the air at the Sparrowholding...

Mungo the Magnificent - ready for action
November may be a dull, grey, tedious month for most of us, but if you’re a tup (the Scottish word for a daddy sheep), it’s the best month of the year, as it’s the time you are unleashed on those lovely woolly ladies you’ve been ogling through the fence for the past 10 months!

So it was that on the 15th November, our amorous ram was shown an open gate and let loose in the hill paddock. At first he didn’t notice his wannabe wives perched on the horizon. But it didn’t take him long, and soon he was galloping uphill – no doubt all the while trying to remember the chat-up lines that had worked best for him last year...

Romeo running towards his Juliets
Meanwhile, this year’s lambs were being gathered together and issued with ear tags (the form of ID which the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food insists on to ensure full traceability of all livestock – Fathorse even has her own passport, believe it or not!). A kind neighbour, who was attending the Michaelmas Lamb Sale at Caledonian Market in Stirling, stopped en passant to pick our lambs up and they were off. 

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And suddenly the lamb paddock was almost empty...
 However, three of this year's lambs stayed put – the ones we'd chosen to be our replacement ewe lambs. They’re a gorgeous wee trio, and we’ve named them Pipsqueak (daughter of Socks), Lily (daughter of Tiger Lily) and Snowdrop (daughter of Snowy).
Snowdrop (left); Lily (centre);Pipsqueak (right)
The pop-up paddock in the garden
We like our sheep to be easily handled and used to human contact, so HunterGatherer has fenced off a corner of the garden at the moment and they’re happily grazing round the apple and plum trees as we come and go during the day. They’re also getting some pellets or the occasional block of dried grass to get them used to coming to the trough (a handy habit to establish when you want to catch them easily when they’re older!).

"Er, where's my snack? Socks is not
 impressed that the lambs are being
given special treatment!
And neither are the other ewes!
Now that our Christmas outside lights are installed on the tree adjacent to their temporary paddock, the three lambs look rather festive in the evenings, silhouetted in turn against blue, white, red and yellow lights. Yes, they’re really entering into the Christmas spirit – no baaaa humbug here…. [sorry!]

The Sparrowholding "Illuminations"