Uncategorized

Bats!

When you have lived in a place for a long time you can become accustomed to its variety, even as its flora and wildlife change week by week. Showing it to someone new is an opportunity to throw off that familiarity that blunts your perception and see through refreshed eyes.

We have been playing with a new bat detector — a little gizmo that lowers the frequency of the otherwise inaudible echo location calls of bats into the audible range producing a sound we can hear and a pattern we can recognize and use to identify the species of bat as it flashes past.

Around our house in Wales we have recently identified pipistrelle, common and soprano, and noctules. The sopranos have higher pitched calls peaking at 55kHz, common ones at 45kHz. The detector makes one much more aware of their presence especially in the trees where there is much more activity than we had thought. It helps to demonstrate just how many and how busy these airborne insectivores are.

To aid identification one individual stopped by in my bedroom. He seemed very torpid and I was able to transport his sleeping body to the woodshed where he rested for a suspiciously long time.

Further investigation confirmed his extremely poor state of health and we buried him.

The following week the local bat group came to look at the colony of bats that have recently occupied our neighbour’s log cabin. They came armed with state of the art bat detectors, deck chairs, counters, tea, coffee, biscuits and insect repellent.

445 Soprano pipistrelles exited the roost that evening which led our neighbours to seriously ponder the possible toilet arrangements of their new tenants.

Thus, despite our own personal experience, soprano pipistrelle bats would seem to be thriving, at least in Wales.

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Humour, Uncategorized

Sunday Craik – the pity of it all

God spends quite a lot of time in the pub — sometimes he’s there when he’s supposed to be at chapel — that’s what I say to friends who ask where we are bound on a Sunday afternoon when the good folk are heading down the valley to the chapel.

Yesterday there was an added incentive (for the pub, not chapel) — Liverpool were playing Man. City in the League Cup.  It’s not that Alan supports Man. City (he would warm to anyone in competition with Manchester United  — it’s an underdog thing.  The landlord is an avid Liverpool supporter which adds to the fun enormously.

‘Can we have the Rugby on?’ asks Alan as we arrive.

‘There isn’t any!’ snaps the landlord.

‘Wasps are playing against ‘Quins on BT Sport,’

‘Can’t afford BT Sport with the pitiful amount you drink!’

‘Do Wasps have a ‘B’ team? asks Ikey, ‘Bee team’, he repeats, at which point a man in an overcoat, a knitted Balaclava and thick scarf runs into the bar and sexually assaults several ladies, it is the muffled titter running around the room — a tribute to My Dad — it was the only joke he knew!  No one takes any notice — they never did.

The landlord asserts himself by switching on the commentary.  That way he can follow the action despite all the distractions we can throw at him like the full glass of Stella I knock across the domino table due to the excitement of a penalty — it misses Alan almost completely.

As the match progresses the joy of winding up the landlord is irresistible — people who normally have no interest in football whooping with every Man City  tackle and berating the ref for every decision that favours Liverpool —  carried on a wave of affectionate teasing — warmed by our own mass action.  But Liverpool were never meant to lose.

If we want any more beer we had better shut up — during the penalty shoot-out there is a respectful silence — we have probably already gone too far.  The instant the winning Man City goal hits the back of the net the sound is switched off and program turned to Countryfile and someone says how Adam is a ‘really good farmer’ so everyone, relieved to change the subject, can discuss why he never has mud on his boots and where the puddles might have gone and why doesn’t he get a move on and swing that lamb.

 

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Uncategorized

From Omaha to Hiroshima.

He wasn’t a hero.

Young GMB in uniform

He was a bookish boy with an academic interest in anything and everything to do with flight – that’s flying not running away. His father and uncle had been World War One aviators – the uncle was a hero (MC and DFC) and died. The father, whose wits were very quick and eyesight very good, was not a hero but survived and after the war produced the boy whose eyesight was poor and who took after his mother who was of a nervous disposition.

When the next war broke out the boy volunteered for the Royal Air Force, not to fly but to serve in the RAF Regiment as an officer on the ground, building runways and keeping up, just behind the lines, with all the logistics of flight – that’s flying not running away.

Unusually for the time, he had spent his childhood holidays, between the wars, in France and while a bookish boy at Highgate School , had been paired with a German Jewish refugee boy (Gerard Hoffnung) – the one to learn English the other German – it worked.

On D-day +1, about a week after he had married my mother, a bookish young man who spoke French and German was running up Omaha Beach in Normandy under fire, soaking wet and more terrified than he could ever have imagined. His kit was lost and returned, rotting in sea water, to his young wife in London; the family thought he had been lost but she would not believe it (she washed his spare uniform repeatedly until it smelled fresh and she had had news that he was safe — well not exactly safe… He went on (with others) to fight through France, Belgium and Holland, where he lived with a young Dutch family facing horrible hardship.  Later he went on to use his languages (he’d added Dutch and a smattering of Russian), and his unit’s bulldozer to bury bodies, in Belsen.

Just when he thought that the nightmare was over (or was he really alive for the only time in his life) he was ordered to embark for the War in Japan — a war without the niceties of the Geneva Convention or Red Cross parcels, where capture could mean starvation or summary beheading.

He sailed through the Suez Canal and was half way across the Indian Ocean when the Allies detonated the atom bomb over Hiroshima (6th August 1945), and three days later, over Nagasaki; Japan surrendered; the war ended; my dad – Geoffrey Mitchell Buck (1922-1991), who was not a hero, survived and was re-routed to the North where, armed with a copy of the Koran and assisted by a Muslim bearer, he was seconded to the Indian Air Force to witness the partition of India and the death throes of British colonialism.

When I was a child my father used to scream in the night. Once he was showing me how to sail a dingy in Norfolk and I pointed out a duck — Duck! He threw himself into the bottom of the boat and went pale, with perspiration on his top lip. Then he got cross with me which didn’t seem fair at the time.

Last week I found and read a book of his (signed and dated 1947). It was Hiroshima by John Hersey, It contains first-hand accounts from survivors of the bomb – everyone should read it – it feels like a latter-day gospel about the sacrifice of people for the sins (and future) of others.

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Hill Farming, Sheep, Uncategorized

The Worrying Case of the Good Friday Lamb

Considering it was born just after dawn with cloud resting on the hilltop and rain dripping from the trees, our first lamb seemed reasonably robust — it was standing but, ‘It looks a bit torpid,’ Alan said as he handed me the binoculas.

We watched — it had done the two most important things — it had breathed and it was on its feet but it would not suckle.  Our most skittish ewe had delivered it onto the moist leaf litter behind the hedge and it teetered around under its mother’s belly looking for something (it did not know what) but it tired and slumped down onto the wet grass when its mother pawed at it ominously  with her foot.  It stood again and she nudged it backwards along her side. Half heartedly it butted the ewe’s back leg, missing her udder, failing to let down any milk and not sensing the teat at all.  Again it flopped down in the mud.  This happened over and over and the ewe looked pitiful — uncharacteristically she let me come very close.

Something would have to be done — the lamb was getting weaker, the ewe was pawing at it more roughly, more desperately.

Worried ewe -- over 2 hours and the lamb has not fed

Worried ewe — over 2 hours and the lamb has not fed

A makeshift pen was constructed nearby and I carried the lamb into it, it was female, her mother followed without any fuss — even human mothers comply with their attendant’ suggestions when at their wit’s end.

Makeshift pen

Makeshift pen

The lamb didn’t like being picked up and a little surge of adrenaline probably did it good.  As I placed it on its feet, it ran to its mother (now restrained by a hurdle) it butted her udder, which is what they do when they run home for safety, and I squeezed the teat which squirted the lambs face with milk — she latched on immediately and fed.

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Full stomach, ears up, baa working, bowels working, bladder working, numbered like Mum (number 12, on the other side) and tummy sprayed with iodine, she is ready for a healthy sleep and not the engulfing drowsiness of hypoglycaemia that can carry off even a healthy lamb if she cannot achieve all three gaols of her birthday — breathing, standing and feeding.

Now she can do them all!

 

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Uncategorized

Ten Mile Dive

By derivative work: Harpagon (talk) Image:Australia_satellite_plane.jpg: created by Image:Australia_location_map.png: Diceman [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

By derivative work: Harpagon (talk) Image:Australia_satellite_plane.jpg: created by Image:Australia_location_map.png: Diceman [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

When my cousin was lost (to me) somewhere in the Australian Out-Back or in Papua New Guinea, I looked at her last known address on Google Earth, which was relatively new, and wrote this poem.

Eye bagged,

not jet-lagged

but weary of travelling —

colonial first!

With cultural thirst —

I’ve been to Bathurst.

Didn’t fly —

eyes in the sky,

‘visit Bathurst and die.’

Down,

down,

to the gold-rush town.

Ten mile dive —

saw your Ute

on the drive.

It’s fifty years in our diaspora,

I’ve come to play,

what do you say,

Deborah?

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Hill Farming, Relationships, Sheep, Uncategorized

Love Potion — Or why you shouldn’t wash new born babies!

The secret behind creating the most powerful emotional bond ever known is revealed — remembered from our primaeval past.  It occurred to me as it probably did to our ancient ancestors — when it went wrong.

Yesterday we had to leave our lambing flock for a few hours, it was an imperative.  A friend had agreed to come as a locum (in between lambing a 180-ewe batch of his own sheep) but he wouldn’t get here until after we had left.

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I rose at 5.15 am to check and feed the flock — chaos reigned.

Two ewes were fighting ferociously over a new born lamb that was trying to suckle from the younger one, Number Nineteen (you know they are not supposed to have names).  Every time the lamb got near the teat the older ewe, Square Sheep (who you have met before) interposed herself with frantic baaing and butting of the younger ewe.  I chased her off but she would not leave the lamb and with her four-wheel drive and superior power-to-weight ratio I was not going to prevail.  I looked around for inspiration.

All I saw was a square wooly bottom.  A long silken thread of liquor glistened from it in the morning sun.  Square Sheep had given birth, she was right — it was her lamb.  She looked at me accusingly and who could blame her?  Still the battle raged.

The fence was nearby — I ran down the steep hill to the barn, 200 meters away, and returned with a hurdle (a galvanized fence panel — 2 meters long and quite heavy) then I got the other one and a pocket full of baler twine.  I tied them in a V to make the apex of a triangular pen with the fence as its base.

At this point there was a brief intermission in hostilities — Square sheep lay down suddenly and heaved out a second lamb which Number Nineteen licked and looked at me making the purring call that sheep make after birth, ‘look, I’ve got another lamb — I told you it was mine!’   Square sheep struggled to her feet, this was  her 10th lamb — she didn’t need this hassle.

Hostilities resumed — lambs were knocked in all directions but now I knew what to do — I grabbed both lambs and bundled them into the pen.  Both ewes stopped and looked at me as if to say,’That’s a good idea, now let me in.’  I opened the apex of the triangular pen to let in Square Sheep, Nineteen hurled herself into the pen.  I secured it with us all inside  and stirred it until Square Sheep and the two lambs were on the far side , then I opened it and gave Nineteen a monumental shove and ejected her.

Nineteen now danced around the pen, distraught, wailing and I had a sudden nagging little doubt — it could just be that the first lamb was hers — I had to examine her to see if she had just given birth.

We have a permanent pen by the house, but how on earth was I to get her there?

I climbed out of the pen and leaned over and picked up the first lamb, let Nineteen sniff it, and started down to the house carrying the lamb and encouraging Nineteen to follow.  A third sheep now started to wail further up the hill and my husband came out of the house to remind me it was time to go.

With lots of running back and forth and sniffing  and bleating and baaing we got down to the other pen and got her in.  I ran up the hill and returned the lamb to Square Sheep, pending further tests, then ran down — the other, third, sheep now wailing more urgently, husband tapping watch.  I pressed Nineteen in the pen, inspected her pristine, dry and tightly closed vagina and booted her into the next field.

As I ran up the field with a bucket of water for Square Sheep and some feed, by way of apology, I noticed the wails of the third ewe were now closer together and more imperative.

Now I applied myself to the wailing ewe — she had been lying on her side in strong labour but had now rolled almost onto her back with her legs kicking in the air, which was a bit of luck because I could catch her more easily.  I fell upon her and turned her on her side, she tried to get away but there would be no second chances — I was not letting go, we rolled over as she pulled me down the hill but she remained in my tight embrace.  We lay panting when the cavalry arrived to hold her head end.

The lamb was well positioned, just huge, I freed its head with the next contraction, which shook liquor all over my face and the half-born lamb baa-ed, it needed a big pull to deliver the body which was presented hastily to its mother who licked it.

We rushed off to our appointment, face and hair still splattered with the magic liquid.

Around the time of delivery it is the smell and the taste of the liquor that switches on the maternal behavior in sheep, and probably in humans.  That is how a curious young ewe (like Nineteen), nearly due herself and programmed to sniff out her own lambs which might be born in the black of night can accidentally get bonded to the wrong lamb.

This love potion is powerful stuff.

What happened to poor Nineteen?  She’s fine, within 24 hours she had twins of her own.

 

Number Nineteen earlier today with her lambs born a few hours earlier.

Number Nineteen, earlier today and none the worse, with her lambs born a few hours earlier.

 

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Hill Farming, Humour, Sheep, Uncategorized

Long Multiplication

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Our sheep are blooming — all except one.  The 19 ewes are due to lamb from about the 5th April, we expect one or two each day for a fortnight (we were watching the ram carefully) and now  we are watching the ewes very carefully and feeding them well.

Number Twenty-four is giving concern.  She is under-weight — skinny in fact (perhaps she’s barren this year) — and the others are bullying her and pushing her away from the trough.

Looking poorly

Looking poorly

She was one of ten that we bought from a friend at six months old, they were very good, hardy ewes but. after last years lambing which followed a terribly wet winter and blizzards in the spring, we decided to reduce the size of our flock — the catch-phrase at the time was sustainability. We don’t like parting from our stock so when the original breeder, who had had heavy losses, offered to buy them back we were very pleased but we did keep one — Number Twenty-four.  We have figured out that the loss of her cohort (the little battalion of half-sisters that she grew up with) has knocked her down the pecking order of the flock.

Not only was she thin but now she was scouring (no — not cleaning the yard — it’s farm-speak for having diarrhoea).  So we forgot our amateur psychology and got her in and treated her for worms and fluke and kept her in the garden for extra rations (and daffodils and to prune the roses — the scouring has stopped and she has perked up.

Perked up

Perked up

Sheep are amazingly gregarious — a flock animal — but also amazingly adaptable. If they can’t get to the flock and, believe me, they will usually find a way to escape separation, they will find a replacement.  That’s the trouble with sick sheep — no sooner have you put them in the yard than they are sneeking in the back door or standing on the veranda watching TV through the window. This week Twenty-four has been sitting by the bonfire watching us burn brushwood.

Now in the morning when I go to the post with the dog and (if I haven’t fed them) the two cats, Twenty-four  tags along too.

When is a sheep not a sheep?

When is a sheep not a sheep?

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Relationships, Uncategorized

A Love Story

A Love Story

‘You make me so angry!’ I bellowed, I was stamping my feet.  We’ve been together nearly twenty years, when we met our joint age was 100.  Now he was standing, unsteadily, on top of a curved and slippery plastic fuel tank which, in turn, stood on a concrete plinth as tall as a man.  ”I can’t turn my back for a moment!’  In his hands was a large but silent chain-saw.  All around a hail storm raged; he moved his feet a little, they crunched, he wobbled; he laughed.

‘It’s okay,’ he said, ‘It’s quite stable.’

‘It’s slippery. It’s round.  It’s wet plastic.’

There was a tree suspended, uncertainly, above his head; it spanned the space between its base, where it normally stood on the bank behind our house, and the house, on whose corner it now rested; it had been blown over in yesterday’s storm.

‘Come down!  If you fall you’ll break your femur or you neck and by the time I get you to hospital you will have bled to death.’ I’m always mindful of his anticoagulant status.

‘Don’t fuss.’

‘Please come down.’

He pulled the starter and raised the roaring saw above his head with both hands, showering me with saw dust as I looked up, both arms raised in supplication or ready to catch him and have my head chopped off.  The tree wavered above – whether ‘twas better to knock off a few more tiles or knock the old man off his perch.

‘Pull the rope.’ The old man shouted.  I pulled the rope.  It was attached to the tree (now that’s a first: he generally attaches the rope after he cuts).  One of us groaned, it might have been the tree clutching at the guttering.  The end of the gutter came away and the pipe sagged, shooting out ice-cold water and wet leaves.

‘Come down – please.’   He climbed down with surprising ease, having brought the wobbly step ladder out of the airing cupboard and placed it against the back of the tank.  I was thinking on my feet.  I picked up the long ladder that was lying nearby and flung it against the bank.

‘Look!  Climb up that – you won’t slip and you won’t fall so far – worst case scenario – you’ll roll.  Cut it at the top and I’ll pull.’  He did.  And I did and the tree let go of the house and fell to the ground.  He chopped it up on the ground and I pulled the logs and branches out of the way.  I looked up and he was back up the bank, silhouetted against the sky, gleefully rocking a large rotten tree trunk back and forth.

‘Look at this one,’

‘Oh, Alan.’

‘There, you see, it was alright, wasn’t it?’

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Lyrical, Uncategorized

Lightening strike

I don’t know if it is because we were struck by lightening today (we were not on our way to Damascus) but after the cataclysmic rain storm that followed, as the sun came out and stippled the hillside opposite, it struck me how extraordinary Life is — the whole shebang — all living things — our biosphere, from the bacteria in the soil, the worms in the grass that the crows, hopping about, are pulling out, the naked oak trees on the hill and me, worrying about the food warming up in the burnt out freezer while the man up the pole, mending the supply, is buffeted by the wind — it is all absolutely extraordinary.

Lightening

Thanks To Kevin W Burkett for this photograph of Lightening over Philadelphia.

Source=[http://www.flickr.com/photos/kevinwburkett/3978781404/ Lightning] reproduced under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic license (CC BY-SA 2.0)
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Relationships, Uncategorized

Generation X

We chose to live on the edge; wrestling with physical adversity seems to be something we need to do.  It makes us pivotal in our own existence.  We built our home here and there is little that needs to be done that we haven’t learned to do ourselves; we cut down trees that threaten our electricity wires, we mend our bridge and tend the well, we poke sticks through the crust on our cesspit and nod our heads wisely. Our barn and woodsheds are full and we have enough lamp oil to last a whole winter without power.

I get perverse pleasure from asserting myself over an animal that weighs more than I do but doesn’t understand the need for immunisation.  We can gather and marshal our herd with ease now, albeit more with cunning than physical fitness — still very satisfying.

It’s only when our grown-up children arrive, bringing their own worlds with them that we start to feel marginalised on our edge.  It’s not that they sit in silence texting, they don’t anymore, or have a hybrid stealth car (we used to enjoy bump-starting their old wrecks) or that they don’t want the benefit from our experience about routes home — it’s okay we’ll probably just follow the sat-nav.

They bring their films and music, grab the remote and find channels on our TV that we didn’t even know existed, channels which have their own familiars, strange creatures that leer from the box making jokes that aren’t funny (to us) but they laugh;  their cultural allusions are lost on us and ours on them.

6795936483_af9f9fc7b4_nThanks to Laura Mountford for the Flickr.com photograph of Noel Fielding (CC BY-ND 2.o) Laura Mountford

They ask for mysterious bathroom products that are not soap or toothpaste, they want to know if the cheese is pasteurised.  They are outraged that the baked beans went out of date in 2006 and the cloves in 1994 and fill the fridge with essential dietary items that are unknown to us.  They ask their father not to smoke in the kitchen and are shocked by the lack of a toaster and hair conditioner and the suggestion to use washing-up liquid when they finish every drop of shampoo in the house.  They definitely look slightly put-out when one of us absent-mindedly breaks wind.

They can’t understand a plumbing system that refuses to act as a garbage disposal unit and which exercises its own water-rationing.  They put all the lights on all the time and use unbelievable amounts of toilet tissue.  They download all sorts of strange programs onto our computer, change the browser (so we don’t know where we are) and complain about the broadband speed and the poor wi-fi signal.  They put everything in a different place and worry about our poor memory and declining powers when we run round in circles looking for things.

They go for a 10k run or climb one of our little mountains, we provide back-up or bring up the rear, panting, feeling our age, feeling bad because we’ve held everyone up, made everything more complicated; we are no longer central to the exercise.

Then something occurs that bridges the gap, that slots us all back into a familiar place: they produce another generation.

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Suddenly we’re all on familiar ground, all singing from the same song-sheet — the Oxford Nursery Songbook to be precise.  We ‘re all saying the same daft things that we did 30 years ago — blowing raspberries, funny voices — Tweetie-Pie is going south for the winter again.

Now generation Y is learning why.  Another little girl is learning to be gentle with the pussycat, not to pull the doggies tail.  Another boy is learning not to put the fish-hook through his finger

cornwall 015Expeditionary forces again march behind their trusty leader without benefit of sat-nav:

Expeditionary forceAnd trudge home tired for tea:

031Kids in CornwallThis Christmas there was someone new to show to the sheep and to introduce to the joy of muddy puddles and carried away by it all the Mummies and Daddies were soon entering into the spirit with a planned Boxing Day dip in the pond — it’s not chlorinated you know!

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