Humour, Lyrical

Easter Elephant

Today I walked up the muddy track to feed the sheep, it was overcast and grey until suddenly the low sun broke through from the East, switching on the fluorescent grass and transforming the underside of the otherwise thick cloud to the colour of bilberries — I half expected a David Shepherd elephant to charge over the hill from Staylittle, bellowing against the forbidding sky. It did not.  The sun went in and there was a bluster as the phantom passed and a little flurry of hail, thrown up by the thundering beast.



Thanks to Brittany H. for elephant ears (CC BY-NC 2.0)



Taking the lid of a habitat


oldbilluk (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

Thanks to oldbilluk for this fantastic Barn Owl (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

Our recent wild-fire damaged the Barn Owl habitat — here is how it should look — tussocks of grass growing through a thatch of the previous years’ hay.



After a dry week this loose weave of hay had dried out surprisingly and fire spread rapidly.


Aftermath of the grass-fire

From the other side of our valley you can see (in the bottom/left) where the flying ember ignited the hay on the opposite side of the track — then it spread in minutes across the fifty yards or so of rough grassland, up the hill (to the top/right of the picture).

Where the weave is trodden in the animal runs, trampled by badgers, foxes, rabbits, squirrels, hares, domestic cats and dogs and the occasional stray sheep, the drying and, in consequence the burning is less. Now you can clearly see evidence of the frenetic activity (mainly nocturnal) that shapes this landscape.

But look more carefully.

The fire has taken the lid off the vole habitat

The fire has exposed the labyrinth of  passageways, burrows, tunnels and store rooms beneath and within the sward — vole sized ones and tiny shrew sizes scamper-ways, occasionally enlarged by pursuing weasels or torn open by buzzards.

I have found caches of lightly roasted hazel nuts, larger ones presumably hidden by squirrels but fortunately no bodies — it seems the fire moved quickly and superficially and, I guess (well, I hope), the residents fled to their basements!


This little chap (vole deceased!) was not so lucky — photographed by Tom Brandt (CC BY 2.0)

Hill Farming, Humour

Un-Call the Fire Brigade!

Have you ever tried sliding up a slippery pole – it’s not easy, and that’s why you can’t un-call the fire brigade. Once they set off – bells ringing and sirens wailing they are totally committed and it would be churlish to stop them.

Yesterday we had a grass fire – unbelievable after six months of incessant rain, but I’ve always said that Mid-Wales is well drained and we’ve had a chirpy breeze in the last few, sunny days — we’ve even generated a little electricity. We’ve been out and about, trimming back the hedges so they don’t poke you in the eye during lambing, and sweeping up the moss that the ducks have been conscientiously collecting since October – a good time for a bonfire!

P1050450 (2)

One little splutter from the heart of the fire – that’s all it took, perhaps a superheated egg that slipped in with the straw from the chicken coop or an ink cartridge that tumbled from the not too tidy desk into the waste-paper basket with all the bank details that have to be burned. Anyway there was a bang and something small and very hot flew from the fire onto the bank.

The next thing we knew there was a pool of low level flame engulfing my stamping husband.

‘We need water!’ shouted Alison, who has come to stay, for a rest.

We fill up a bucket then realise that the fire is near the stream so run towards it with buckets – we make a human chain – but it only has two links and angina rapidly ensues as we run up and down the steep bank, up which the suddenly stiff wind is wafting the flames with amazing enthusiasm.

Alison’s partner who is stamping and beating the flames with a branch is now disappearing in a pall of choking smoke and the other link in my human chain is chasing her dog who has come to join in.

‘It’s out of control!’ shouts Ali.

Now there’s a moot point here – she could have meant that the dog was out of control. But the situation looked pretty dire to me and the temptation to have a little run on the flat was too much for my bursting chest so I ran to the house to call the Fire Brigade.

‘Emergency – which service do you require?’

‘We’ve got a grass fire, out of control!’ I pant.

Do you require the police, ambulance or fire service?

‘Why would I want the police or… Oh yes. Fire service!’ (You can tell I’ve been trained to deal with crises.)

Now I had not consulted before taking this action. I am usually a team player and I admit that this was not a simple oversight – I knew that my husband would have argued against involving a third party – even as he was being transported from me on a cloud of smoke he would be saying, ‘Nonsense! It’ll be fine.’

I had taken a unilateral decision for which I would be chastised for the rest of time… Especially as when I returned to the scene, the men had equipped themselves with spades and the large yard broom and at last appeared to have the advancing edge of flame under control – although my broom was smoking.

I ran back to the house and that is when I discovered that you can’t un-call the Fire Service.

All I could do was put the kettle on.

(Seriously though, our Fire Service is voluntary — they came very quickly  and we are very grateful and sorry if I wasted their time (and please note the personal pronoun).


Bomb Scare!

Bomb Scare!

The Trannon Valley in Mid Wales is just about the most peaceful place you could find – the most violent living things, the trees (with all their pent up energy), have been known to lash out under provocation from a chainsaw, and knock a man off a step ladder or into the river and a gang of ram-lambs has been known to go on the rampage – generally though, ask any young resident, it is excruciatingly peaceful.


Last week the sun came out and a lady in the village decides to have a clear out – her late husband had been a hoarder, by all accounts, as had his father. She is sorting through the memories – the wrong-size golf clubs and walking sticks, a pith helmet, belts and brasses and carved knick-knacks, a box of strange looking bulbs that don’t fit any known socket and keys with no locks, of cars long sold and of cases left in foreign parts. Here’s a brand new cricket ball and what’s this? It looks like a hand grenade. It is a hand grenade!

Now the lady is very sensible – un-flappable. She doesn’t throw open the bedroom window and lob the grenade into the field behind the house (where a grazing cow of a curious and determined disposition can pull the pin out a few moments later). Neither does she do what I would do which is put it in the bread bin or into the oven (where we put all precious things that cats and dogs are not to chew) and flee. No, she stays calm and looks around in case it has a mate (she’s lived abroad) and, sure enough, there it is in the bottom of the box.   It’s a mystery how she knows there might be two as she had never seen them before. Then, with all the sang-froid of a lady who sleeps with a pair of grenades under her bed, she calmly telephones the police.

That’s when things get exciting (because the emergency services run in packs these days) and that is how the cordons and the road blocks and the exclusion zone around our sleepy village arrive (although they miss Wenona, next door, who is having a nap). You can’t blame them for getting carried away — it is enormous fun for the entire constabulary – a team building day out – and one thing we do well in Wales is cups of tea and cake.   There aren’t many officers in Mid-Wales and they don’t get out much.

A local land owner is consulted and a sight is chosen for the controlled detonation — this enterprising farmer dismisses the opportunity of sorting out the badgers once and for all (perhaps too near his nephew’s house) but how about a pond, how big will the crater be? What’s that in gallons? Perhaps we could do one a little higher and the other down there and then we could have a waterfall, maybe even a turbine… We can claim subsidies for habitat creation and green energy.

Meanwhile the Bomb Disposal team are rumbling up the bye-ways from Cheltenham or was it Colchester – it is a long way away.

To everyone’s great disappointment (except perhaps the lady), the experts having made their examination, proclaim the grenades are dud – drilled and drained and filled with cooking oil by a spoil-sport or a practical joker sometime between 1915 and now and… Somewhere above our sleepy village someone is chuckling.

Hill Farming, Humour

Bailer Twineology


This gate is modern but not up to the specification required to withstand a rampaging pensioner in a six-ton digger.  It should be taken off and straightened (by a pacified person in a mended digger) and rehung by newly welded hinges on a brand new post without a rotten bottom but….

It’s winter, it’s cold, the ground is very wet and it’s getting dark etc.

So, in the short term we are thrown upon the traditional method…

Bailer twineology…

Actually its a’fusion’ technology — using nylon twine in the traditional way — although don’t forget that nylon has memory (which is more than you can say for the farmer) — It remembers how to undo itself so you should lock the knots — ironically that means reef knots and not Granny knots!

The farms around us are particularly tidy and I fear that they are losing the ancient skills!

Here is a detail from a grade two listed traditional sheep fold — note the use of growing, self reinforcing, timber and many different technologies — all with their own integrity!


Corner of Grade two listed sheep pen!

We try to keep these skills alive in a modern context  such as the algae-prevention modification of our rain water harvester!


Wrapping the white plastic tank in black plastic prevents algae growth.


I am most proud of my four-minute-cratch (patent pending).


It was erected in four minutes in a hail storm when snow was forecast.  I am particularly pleased with the use of grass collection bags from the lawn mowers to stop the sheep getting their feet stuck and injured when trying to climb in the ends.  The back is formed by the fence, the front is a hurdle and the top is half the oak door of the old pig sty, all held together by, guess what?  Bailer twine!