Friday, 29 November 2013

The Vanity Of The Bonfires

I don't think I've ever taken so many pictures of bonfires as I have done since starting my course and going out volunteering this Autumn. They are a staple part of conservation work at this time of the year which is a Real Treat because I love them.

Magdalen Big Bonfire

On Wednesday, college was out in the woods coppicing and we had a bonfire. Towards the end of the session virtually everyone was standing in a silent circle staring into it. 

College Bonfire (it got bigger)

There is something about a real fire; it draws people, mesmerises them. Perhaps it calls to something ancient and primeval buried deep within us. I love all the vibrant energy in and around the burning logs and the pictures you can see in the flames if you look long enough.

The word bonfire originates from the bone fires the ancient Celts held to burn the bones of animals slaughtered to see the tribes through the winter. In England bonfires are also a compulsory part of Guy Fawkes Night, which is held on 5th November to commemorate the failure of the Catholic Gunpowder Plot which aimed to blow up the Protestant King James I. They were compulsory by an Act of Law until 1859.

Tempting thought it is (because I am fascinated by him), I won't go off on a tangent about Guido Fawkes. Except to draw your attention to his signature, post torture, in case you haven't seen it before. The man withstood two days of torture only to be hung, drawn and quartered at the end of it. You can tell from his signature how badly hurt he was by the time he wrote it and I have always found it a very affecting and poignant thing to look at. It's an eloquent testimony to what he had endured. Fawkes wasn't the ringleader of the plot, that was Robert Catesby, but Catesby eluded capture and was killed in the process without trial and Fawkes was publicly held accountable. James I is said to have admired his fortitude during torture. Sadly not enough to spare his life.

Back to bonfires in general...

Coppicing was Great Fun (if initially chilly). Everyone worked hard and we cleared a reasonable area of the SSSI site we were working in.

Ayla demonstrating the correct use of loppers

Harvey stacking hazel poles ready for use in hedge laying

Matthew frightening me with the billhook

I've also been out with Butterfly Conservation this week working at Magdalen. It has to be one of the most beautiful places to spend a day. I know many of the people involved with this ancient Chalk Downland feel the same - it calls to something in the soul. It's a favourite haunt of the Chalkhill Blue butterfly, so if you're interested, pop along in the summer and you'll see tens of them flitting about on the hillside (alternatively, have a look at this post from back in the summer). The Chalkhills are doing really well at Magdalen (better, in fact, than they are doing nationally, which is Great News).

Can you think of anywhere more beautiful to spend a few hours working?

We had two bonfires going, burning all the scrub that was starting to dominate in certain areas.

Small Bonfire (the use of metal hurdles and a sheet of corrugated iron keeps the fire off the ground, protecting it from damage. It also means you can have a fire almost anywhere on the reserve, unlike other sites where there is usually only one particular site earmarked for the fire- which is a pain if you are working some distance from it!).

Everyone Hard At Work

Jayne, who is Reserves Officer and a Mine Of Useful Information, Hard At Work

John, the Resident Stag

Poles trimmed and stacked, ready to be used for Other Purposes

Me! (just to prove I do actually do something...)

The other place I've been volunteering this week is Danebury, which is another Hard To Beat In The Beauty Stakes place to work. Danebury is an ancient Hill Fort and important Chalk Downland, and being the two together presents unique challenges in terms of management. We were scrub clearing, which is essentially chopping down scrub and burning it...

Bonfire No. 4 of my week
There was a HUGE flock of fieldfares on the side of the hill and out into the fields. A passing helicopter disturbed them and I reckon there were about a hundred as they flew overhead. The first I've seen this year. Fantastic! (sadly no pics- I only had the small point-and-press camera with me: it doesn't cope very well with being asked to do more than record simple-close-to-subjects. If you tentatively suggest something more complex it has a fit and passes out).

Pops and Ted continue well. Poppy managed to get her paw stuck under the door at the exact moment M was closing it earlier this week. As a result the pad was cut, poured with blood, and some Extremely Upsetting Wounded Puppy Noises were produced which brought Protective Big Brother Ted running. He was a picture of Absolute Concern, sniffing her anxiously. It was Very Sweet to witness.

That night (doubtless as a result), Poppy was allowed to sleep in his bed by the fire, which is Unheard Of In The History Of Ted (prepare yourselves for the inevitable "ahhhhhh"moment when you see the pics.....)

Not bad considering two weeks ago he was grumbling and snapping at her like she was the worst thing that had ever happened to him. Now the two of them are Inseparable and I think he would really miss her if she wasn't there (as would we).

There has also been Improvement In Blanket Sharing In General. I discovered this when I came downstairs this morning. The three of them were happily sharing the heat of Ted's fire before school....

 I'll leave you with another "ahhhhh" moment. This is how I left the dogs this morning.....(and luckily, it is much how I found them when I returned....)

Bit gorgeous, no?

Wishing you all a Merry Weekend, and Hello to Emily, Sasha and Fiona. CT xx

Tuesday, 26 November 2013

Duck Demolition

This is the scene that met my eyes yesterday in the sitting room.
Poppy's duck (whom you can see being chewed on the videos a couple of days ago), had been comprehensively eviscerated at the Grand Old Age of 9 days.

 Who (I asked them) is responsible for this?

Surely not...?


Monday, 25 November 2013

Christmas Shopping Hell, A Religious Encounter, The LTT's return and Poppy Is Allowed On Ted's Blanket At Last

After a glorious early-morning walk with Mrs M, Oscar and Ted (and a long cuddle with her very soft cocker cross lab Very Brand Spanking New puppy- there must be something in the air because that's the 5th puppy I've heard of in as many days) round the water meadows (during which I managed to trip on a bramble and go arse over tit in a not very elegant fashion), I ventured into Winchester for my one and only batch of Christmas Shopping Among Other People this year.

This is generally something I Avoid At All Costs. I do most of my shopping on line so I don't have to take part in the horror that is Town At Christmas, but today was my only free day to sort out stocking-type-stuff and it needed to be shop-based (alas) so there was nothing for it. 

J (who is 18 next week) recently announced that she expects stockings to continue even when she has grown up and is living in her own house. I didn't like to say that she should prepare herself for a nasty shock when reality bites on that one. For now, I am still diligently making up a stocking for her (and in fact, she is easier to buy for than the boys who have now outgrown toys but aren't yet into personal grooming etc. What do you get for 12 and 14 year old lads??).

As expected, Winchester was packed. The German Market was on in the Cathedral Close, and if I'd been dreading it less I would have thought to take the camera with me and get some pics to show you, but increasingly I find my Ventures Into Town resemble a desperate scramble to get in and out while drawing as little breath as possible, so the camera was left at home- sorry- you'll just have to imagine it (think lots of small orange sheds with fed-up, cold-looking, verging-on-grumpy stall-holders and a huge press of people milling about but not really buying anything to a back-ground of mulled wine and spiced oranges in a setting of ancient stone buildings with the vast Normal Cathedral as the back-drop and you're about there).

Parking was a nightmare. I got stuck behind the rubbish lorry who stopped at every single business on the extremely narrow medieval streets and then spent ages messing about reversing into a space he clearly was never going to fit in to. When I finally found a space in the multi-story I had to scramble over the gear stick and out through the passenger door because Winchester City Council are a bunch of tight wads and were very determined to squeeze every penny out of the space they used to build the car park on and as result only a stick insect could park their car there and get out of it comfortably and elegantly (and I say that despite having a friend who works there). At least I didn't flash my knickers at anyone because I was wearing jeans. I got half-way up the stairs before I realised I'd left a bag behind and had to repeat the whole squeezing-into-an-improbably-small-space routine again in order to retrieve it, only this time backwards. It did nothing to improve my humour.
It was only after I'd done this (accompanied by much huffing and puffing and blue-air type swearing) that I glanced round and registered the fact that the car next door had a smiling occupant in it who was patiently waiting for me to finish before he could get out. I expect the whole performance gave him a good laugh.

The shops were packed with evidence of consumerism gone mad everywhere you looked. I felt dizzy because there were too many people pressing in all around me and no-one was smiling despite it being the season of festive good will. The final straw was when the very full bag I was carrying split before I got back to the car spilling socks, hair bands, hot water bottles and chocolates all over the floor. I was not a happy bunny. Needless to say I came home and finished the rest of it off on line.

I am resolved to not setting foot in any town until after all Festive Shenanigans are finished (apart from Salisbury where I am meeting old friends for lunch next week, but that's different as no shops will be entered, only a nice festive restaurant).

I had a visit from some Jehovah's Witnesses this morning before the shopping debarcle. Ted was going ape-poo at the door, Poppy was doing her best to copy him, I'd not long been back from the walk and was therefore looking my usual haven't-washed-my-hair-or-face-or-teeth-yet-and-am-wearing-jeans-that-are-several-days-old-and-covered-in-mud type wreck. I got Ted in his room, picked up Poppy and opened the door to be confronted by a pretty lass and her neat granny smiling cheerfully in an attempt (that wasn't wholly convincing) to give the impression they weren't terrified about the giant-sounding dog roaring his head off behind the door. 

Too late, I realised that in all the excitement Poppy had done a poo on the floor and there was no way of hiding it, that I'd somehow collected several twigs and leaves on my jumper as well as a blob of dried mud on my cheek (doubtless when I fell over) which Poppy was trying to lick while at the same time growl at the visitors. To make matters worse, Ted chose that precise moment to stop barking behind the door and started gnawing his pig instead, and, as we've already established, his pig sounds nothing like a pig at all and everything like a sequence of very loud very bad farts.

Now, I consider myself a liberal-minded girl and that extends to religions. My healing work follows Eastern Traditions of Philosophical Thought with a dollop of various other things thrown in and I generally espouse a live and let live attitude to faith and all things really. My main concern is people hurting one another: as long as they're not doing that I find it hard to get overly worked up.

I therefore do not object to the JW's turning up at the door for a chat, even when I do look a sight and they must have been wondering what kind of mad house they'd arrived at. I consoled myself with the thought that at least I wasn't wearing a long green wig, a pair of silver wings and a tutu, like the time the vicar's wife came collecting for the raffle one afternoon last summer.

So I'm generally quite happy to stop for a chat. My father, on the other hand, used to spot them coming a mile away when we lived on the farm, and would gather everyone up with a war cry of "Jehova's Witnesses Ahoy!" and we would all be bundled indoors and the door firmly locked behind us with the curtains drawn until the danger had passed (and I'm only slightly joking).

We get them here every year or so, I usually have time for a word or two and often end up telling them I'm a Taoist, which intrigues them because usually they haven't heard of one before. My favourite response to this has to be today's: "Oh," (said the girl), "are there many of them about?"

The birds are starting to return to the garden. Today's have included a wren, great tits, blue tits, robins, dunnocks, blackbirds, collar doves, pigeons, a GSW and the Long Tailed Tits, who were in evidence in great numbers...

I love their expressions in this pic- I think the bottom LTT is telling the other 3 some Hot Gossip.

Take Off!

And Poppy has just achieved a landmark this week by being allowed to fall asleep on Teddy's bed. Amazing, no?

It's only taken a week- not bad going really
She's also perfected the art of washing the patio doors with her paws whenever she wants to go out or be let in. I must get a video of it, it's Quite Comical. I'll leave you with a pic of her menacing Ted by the fire this evening and promise to find something other than puppies to discuss next time (perhaps something featuring my Poster Boys, as surely a post of that nature is long overdue? We're coppicing in the woods this week so short of a tree falling on someone that ought to provide some good posting-type-material).

Wishing you all a good evening, and apologies for the long ramble of words- it's been one of the those days....Thank you if you've stuck with it to the end.

CT x


Saturday, 23 November 2013

Bravery and Champagne

I did an incredibly brave thing today.

I left three 12 and 13 year old boys alone unsupervised in our house.

M had taken F and J to the British Museum to look at coins, and then to Harrods to look at things that are too expensive to buy, and I decided (after being trapped in the car listening to teenage boy talk for ten minutes) that further exposure to this type of chat was not going to significantly add to my day and could quite possibly detract from it. There are some things you are better off not clogging your brain with and a knowledge of how 12 and 13 year old boys see the world is one of them.

So I escaped with the dogs to ma's.

I took Pops with me because I feared that, had I left her behind, she was in danger of being treated as a novel toy by one of the children in particular and this would a) have been bad for her and b) made me extremely grumpy. Why do some children see animals as extensions of the action man or soft toy they had when they were eight or nine? Some people have the gift of intuitively understanding and communicating with animals but many do not. Poppy's too little to say 'get off' in any meaningful way at the moment, but Ted was eyeing this boy suspiciously the moment he came through the door, which was enough for me. Animals know these things, don't they?
Funnily enough, he is also a child who, while friendly enough, when you tell him anything automatically replies "I know" regardless of the subject, which I find maddening!

Half an hour more and they all go home and then peace returneth.

I think I must now be a Grumpy Old Woman. Officially.

Anyway, despite my concerns all was well when the dogs and I returned home. The house had not been burnt down or trashed in any way and there was still alcohol in all the bottles at the levels I'd measured and marked them at before I left. Luckily, we live too far away from civilisation for there to have been any casual-popping-in of say, ooh, quite randomly, people of the female persuasion, and anyway, these three are far too engrossed in shoot 'em ups on the xbox to dally with ladies just yet (I know this from the lack of attention to clothes and hair that is in very obvious attendance on their persons).

Pops was not at all sure about meeting Diarrhoea Dylan and Dougal at ma's and climbed up these shelves in the kitchen, where she remained the entire time, surveying the other dogs with a very worried look on her little face.

It was my turn to check the sheep on the down this morning and M and I were up early and got there before 8. The sheep were not expecting visitors at that hour and as a consequence we surprised them all still abed and as yet unresolved on where they would hide in order to bamboozle us. We counted all 29 in two batches and were done in half an hour.
We took Pops along. She shivered within a few seconds of leaving the car so ended up tucked inside my coat which she seemed to like. I have revised my opinion of Betty after she rammed Ted with her horns. All my Protective Mother Instincts Emerged and I got very cross with her. The poor dog was coming back to see us and she was being Mrs Greedy-Bag for the nuts in M's bucket. Fortunately T wasn't hurt, just shocked I think. But Poppy was amazing- she erupted from my coat, leapt up on my shoulder and growled and barked at the sheep so fiercely you would have been forgiven for thinking she was an adult dog several times her size. It was a very sweet display of loyalty for Teddy, and he licked her nose to say thank you.

I think this is what is called a 'knowing eye'

As a total aside, I've just glanced out of the window towards the lake and seen the kingfisher perched  on one of the branches of the trees. Hopefully I'll get a picture before long. We also had a Robin visitor in our bedroom last week. I got back to find perfume and oil  bottles lying on their sides and was a bit baffled about what had gone on until I found a robin poo on my jewellery box. This is not the first time he's been in- our robin knows his way in and out through the window pretty well and has been known to fly in through the upstairs window, fly down the stairs to the kitchen, eat some scraps and go back upstairs and back out the window.

I've also been to Asda this afternoon. The store has a reputation locally for being the place mothers go to smack their kids but today there was no smacking in evidence, only my favourite champagne, Moet (in case you were wondering what to get me for Christmas), on special offer. It would have been rude not to buy any so I got a bottle along with two ENORMOUS wine glasses, which look big enough to fit an entire bottle in (perhaps I should have got two moets?). This will at least save one or the other of us having to walk back into the kitchen for a re-fill.

The small glass is for scale
 Hope you're all enjoying your weekend? 

I'm looking forward to Strictly, a packet of crisps and a GIANT glass of something white and chilled in front of the fire...

Till next time,  CT :-)

Friday, 22 November 2013

Two Go Mad In Hampshire

On the whole, I'd say Poppy's first week has been a success.

Ted has come round to accepting the fact that she's here to stay and appears resigned to making the best of having to share his house with a small fur-ball who squeaks a lot and wants to bounce, leap and play nearly all the time, and Pops has learnt that when she overdoes the bouncing, leaping, squeaking and playing, Ted will pin her to the ground and put her head in his mouth.

So, an equilibrium of sorts has been reached.

F and J are home this weekend and L has two mates coming round tomorrow for an x-box-athon, which will mean plenty of attention and distraction for Poppy with lots of oohing and ahhing (until, that is, she chews their socks or bites their ankles or grabs their hair, all of which, we have discovered this week, are Favourite Puppy Things To Do).

She managed to fall down the gap between the edge of the patio and the fence whilst exploring in the dark last night. It was something I had been expecting. Ted stood there wagging his tail and peering into the abyss apparently intrigued. Poppy wasn't the least bit concerned, just scrabbled with her paws and then when she realised she couldn't climb out, waited for me to hoick her out. She's a tough little thing, which is good. 

That has been the Story Of My Week this week really (not falling down holes, I meant puppy stuff). I cleared my diary so I could work at home and be there to do wee and poo runs every hour (worse than having a newborn baby I'm telling you, although I suppose you'd be done for Child Cruelty if you put a newborn in a cage when you went to bed for the night, tempting those this might sometimes be, so that is something a puppy has in their favour). I was also available to play when T had had enough.

She is VERY endearing, particularly when she growls and woofs at things, and also when she is suddenly overcome with tiredness and climbs up onto my lap, curls into a ball and falls fast asleep in a matter of seconds. Or when she flops on her side next to Teddy in front of the fire and looks like a Proper Dog.

Intellectual Dogs watching University Challenge  by the fire

It's a bit less endearing when she bites onto the end of an expensive scarf from White Company and tugs it backwards, strangling me and leaving a neat incision in the material.

I did manage to tear myself away long enough to go to college where I inflicted Severe Pain On My Poor Aging Brain cells in the form of Rather Baffling Redox Reactions And Half Equations. I wasn't the only one. I was about 15 the last time I did any real chemistry (and that is too long ago now to make the recollection flattering) and it was never my favourite subject so I have ground to make up. There is no substitute for Hard Work- when you don't know something you just have to work at it until it goes in. Good job I like a challenge really.

I usually take a small water bottle into lectures and have decided next week to substitute it for gin; no one will know, and I'm sure the hard stuff will simply Float In that way.

Going back to dogs (which, apart from Redox Reactions are my Main Topic Of Conversation this week- and frankly dogs are the more appealing of the two) Dylan (ma's pup) had an accidental overdose of wormer last week and has had the runs ever since. M has therefore christened him Diarrhoea Dylan and now I can't get the name out of my head. I hope to get some pics or a video of him (not the diarrhoea bit) playing with Poppy this weekend, assuming she doesn't tear his head off first. If so (the video, not the head tearing) I will endeavour to post it here. Two pups playing together should make for some nice 'ahhhhh' moments.

In the mean time, here are a couple of videos of Ted and Poppy in action this week...

I'm off to bring Small in from the garden. It is getting dark and an owl has just hooted from a tree that is Rather Close To The Garden. When you've a puppy the size of a small rabbit prowling about with her bigger brother that is a Disconcerting Thought. The wol might decide she fits his idea of Supper. Being a Tough Little J.R and only 9 weeks old tomorrow and therefore unused to owls, this thought will not have occurred to her....

Wishing you all a Good, Restful Fun-Filled Weekend. Not long till Christmas now (I bought some new decorations for the tree today so it must be near).

CT :-)

Tuesday, 19 November 2013

Ted's Diary

Ted's Diary

Saturday Nov 16th 2013.
I woke up at 7.30 and lay comfortably in my bed dozing for half an hour as I like to do (rushing about too early in the morning gets the day off on the wrong paw) until mum and dad came down to let me out. I had a pee in the garden, woofed at and chased a pigeon (infuriatingly, it got away), and returned for a bite of breakfast before hopping in the car and being chauffeured to the Down where I helped locate the sheep.

After a run around for an hour I returned home for second breakfast and settled down for a nice nap while the family went out.

I COULD NOT BELIEVE IT when an hour later they were back with something that looked very much like a shrunken black version of me. What on earth was it? I sniffed it and it squeaked at me which made me jump. Then it wagged it's tail.


There is a NEW DOG in the house!

What does this mean?

It must just be visiting.

Sunday Nov 17th 2013
It isn't visiting.

Last night it was put in a large cage that appeared on Friday near my bed (and looking back I see now I should have realised Something Was Up when mum unpacked it and sprayed it with disinfectant). Once inside it the Small Thing made a right old racket which prevented me from going to sleep.I growled at it to tell it to be quiet. It was then that I realised it was sitting on one of MY blankets!

When it woke up this morning my peace was immediately shattered before I'd even got up. It started shrieking. That set the tone for the rest of the day.

Yesterday it didn't want to play. Today as soon as it was let out of its prison it jumped on me before I knew what was happening. I am not used to this kind of treatment. It's usually me that jumps on other people, not the other way round.

I growled at it.

It didn't take any notice.

It just squashed itself flat against me. 

How infuriating!

Mum took it off.

It then tried to eat my food (which is no longer on the floor where I am used to it being all the time and therefore readily available whenever I want it, because apparently the biscuits I eat are too big for it and may cause it to choke. I won't tell you what I think about that. Its bowl of food is always on the floor, which I think is Deeply Unfair. I tried to eat some of it to prove a point but it is DISGUSTING, so I was forced to spit it out. Yuk. Mum must have realised what I was thinking because she gave me a fish for dogs square. This mollified me a little.

Wherever I've been today it has appeared, which annoyed me. 

Even more annoying, when I chased it away this afternoon it dived under the sofa and hid there. I am too big to get under the sofa. I find this Deeply Unfair.

In the end, I tried lying listlessly on the floor staring at the wall and barely wagged my tail at all when L came to sit with me. It worked, because he rushed off to tell mum something was wrong with me. She examined me, ruffled my head and told me to get a grip, which I didn't think was at all understanding of her. 

It was a relief when it got dark and I could take myself off to my bed in the sitting room near the fire. I was about to climb in and settle down for the night like I always do, when guess what? The bloody Small Furry Thing was ALREADY IN THERE!

I'm sorry, but I've been putting up with it all day long. I growled, and then when it didn't move I bit it.

Mum removed it from my sight.

Monday Nov 18th 2013
I hoped, when I woke up this morning, that the last two days might have just been a Very Bad Dream. I kept my eyes shut and crossed my paws and wished it with ALL MY HEART, but when I opened them the small thing was still there.

It was let out of its prison cage and jumped straight on me again. I didn't bother moving this time- I just lay there and growled until dad removed it.

It has started following me everywhere. I suppose it is quite flattering in a way, but I AM NOT telling it or anyone else that.

Cleo hissed and swore at it when the silly thing ran straight into her room without asking, which was Quite Funny. Ha! It won't make that mistake again. I suppose I did feel a little bit sorry for it, especially when it came running over to me afterwards and I realised that it was shaking. I gave it a sniff and gruffly told it Cleo treats me like that too. Then I growled, just in case it thought I was being friendly and got encouraged.

But I really can't tolerate this being followed business when I'm hunting in the garden. It makes too much noise and the rats hear it coming a mile away so I have no hope at all of catching them. It's like having an extremely annoying small black and white shadow.

Mum took me out for a walk this morning. Just me and her. I sighed with relief at leaving it behind. She explained what was going on. Apparently I haven't been replaced and there is enough love to go around two dogs in the family. Poppy (that's its name) has apparently had to leave her mum and all her brothers and sisters because she has got too big to stay with them.

I vaguely remember something similar happening to me when I was small, and how glad I was when mum and granny came to the rescue centre and took me home with them. I suppose I could be a bit more friendly towards it, now I know that it needed a new home and had to leave all its family behind to come here.

I told mum if it was staying with us I had four rules that were non-negotiable: 1) It doesn't eat my food. 2) It doesn't go in my bed. 3) It doesn't sit in front of my fire. 4) It doesn't get cuddled before me. She said that was fine.

I suppose I could try calling it Poppy and maybe it wouldn't be so bad if I taught her how to be in the garden for hunting purposes (as long as she listens and does exactly what I say of course). It might even be Quite Useful to have an extra pair of paws and set of teeth when out ratting. 

Mum says Poppy is a Jack Russell, which is a type of terrier a little bit like myself (although not as good as me of course). She said she knew a funny story once about a boy who went into a bar when he was 18 and ordered his first ever drink with his mates, but instead of asking for a Jack Daniels he asked for a Jack Russell. I laughed politely but I have no idea why that should be funny.

Tuesday Nov 19th 2013
Poor Poppy had to go to the vets today for her jab. When she got back she told me there were lots of ENORMOUS dogs there as well as one that was pretending to be me, but she knew it wasn't me because it had a PINK heart-shaped dog collar on and it was VERY tidy and neat- can you imagine me ever wearing something like that, or come to think of it, being clean? (unless it's just after I've had a bath of course). Anyway, she said she growled at it and at all the others (although not at the cats, because she is scared of them after Cleo spat at her). I was Quite Impressed because she is VERY tiny wee. She also said Dougal's puppy Dylan came in after about half an hour and sniffed her so she growled at him too! This made me smile because I think I am the only person (apart from mum, dad, L and Cleo) that she doesn't growl at, and surprisingly, that thought is Quite A Nice One.

Auntie Katie came over to meet Poppy this morning. I didn't mind because she gave me the first GIANT cuddle and also she always brings Oscar with her and that means WALKIES! Oscar and I had a good run round the woods and I told him all about Poppy and guess what? He's getting his own Small Furry Thing called Lucie on Friday. I told him my cousin Dougal also got one last week. We decided it must just be something that happens to dogs automatically when they reach 4 or 5 years old.

When we got back from the walk Poppy was asleep in her crate (on a new cushion mum has bought her so I have my own one back, thank goodness). She wagged her tail when she saw me and we sniffed noses. Mum then put my fire on because I'd got wet legs from the wood and needed to dry off.

She also found my pig for me. Poppy has a cow that she let me play with so last night I suggested she chewed on the pig. It's Quite Nice sharing (but only for a small bit of time).

I sat there for a while enjoying the heat, and then, d'you know what? The strangest thing happened. I found myself wondering where Poppy was, and whether she might like a bit of warmth too, because it is cold outside today and she is Very Small and Close To The Ground, and she has been to the vets for an injection and had to go there in the car, which she doesn't like very much because it made her sick on Saturday. So.....

I let her sit at the very back bit of the sheet (until I got fed up with her wriggling and Bouncing About so I growled at her to Go Away).

Don't tell anyone, but she's not that bad really. I think I could even get used to her......

Monday, 18 November 2013

Ooh Arr, It's Cider Making Time and Ted and Poppy Start To Settle Down

I've been up to my armpits in college assignments today. This involved a trip out to a friend's farm for me and Ted this morning. The friend was, until recently, an organic beef farmer, but, tiring of the hoops one has to jump through continually in this country to remain organic and be a viable business, he is now using direct drilling methods instead of ploughing to sow arable crops. In this way he hopes to improve the structure of his soil and its fertility and eventually reach the same stage of soil health he would have had had he remained working the land organically. Really interesting (to me, anyway). 

It was a very useful hour spent tramping across the fields looking at winter barley which had been direct drilled over last year's crop of winter wheat- the theory here is that the remnants of the previous crop lends protection and warmth to the soil (ie reducing erosion) as well as providing the worms with nutrients in the form of organic matter to gradually fold back into the soil.

He has also sown what's called a Green Manure Winter Cover Crop (a mix of tillage radish, black oats, mustard, sunflower, buckwheat and phacelia). They are increasingly being used to improve soil condition as they act as a layer of natural protection against the ravages of winter weather and then in the spring provide a nutrient-rich mulch when they're drilled through, so you shouldn't need to load the land with a heavy chemical fertiliser in order to make the soil productive. As the topsoil isn't being disturbed by ploughing, all the decomposers (fungi and bacteria) that are so vital for releasing carbon back into the soil, as well as the bacteria that fix nitrogen in it are still present and able to get on with doing their jobs as intended. Marvellous! How nice to see and hear a story of someone listening to his land and working with it to make things better.

The idea of sowing a crop to feed the land instead of harvesting it to feed people seems a novel one but it's something I am very interested in because it has huge potential benefits not only in terms of soil structure and productivity but also for our wildlife. It provides both cover and food- the mix flowers and seeds at different times, which is great news for pollinators.

The straw from last winter's wheat crop is visible in the strips with the new crop of winter barley green all around it

Last winter's straw lies flat on the earth protecting it from erosion, keeping it warm and providing nutrients for the worms to work back into the soil slowly.

Green Manure Winter Cover Crop

Tillage radish- part of the green manure crop

Organic Matter ready for the worms to take back into the soil

Direct drilling machine

These discs make slices into the earth that the seeds then drop in to. That way great big furrows that really disturb the structure of the soil are avoided.

The back of the drill has strips of metal that then nudge the earth back over the seeds

Hope you've enjoyed your Lesson In Agriculture for today. If you are one of the lovely folks who reads this outside the UK you may well be pretty familiar with these methods already- they have wide use in South America and Australia. The UK really needs to catch up. It's all good stuff in the fight against Climate Change too.

After that the day was spent mostly writing and taking Poppy out for wees every hour. She has asked each time by going to the back door and staring at it. Not bad for someone who has only been on the planet for 8 weeks. We've had no accidents at all today, and EVEN BETTER, Ted has been decidedly less grumbly with her. 

Today she has learnt that leaves in the garden make great stalking and pouncing things, that she is frightened of crows cawing as they fly overhead, and that, if next door's machinery suddenly kicks noisily and unexpectedly in to life, Ted is the person she makes a bee-line for because, despite the growls, he makes her feel safe. She's also learnt that it is Great Fun to pounce on and bite feet, all the more so if they have socks on which she can grab and run backwards with while growling. 

She's done her First Official Woof today, at Cleo of all people. Cleo just has to stare at her and Pop's skids to a halt and does a mad scramble backwards to get out of her way. Evidently she felt she should express her feelings about Cleo's unfriendliness, because once she'd got out of reach and had found the safety of dad's (M's) feet, she peeped out from behind his legs and did a small but distinct woof.

I dropped in to see my pals Mr and Mrs M en route to collect L from school this afternoon. They were busy making cider in their front drive (as you do). They couldn't have looked more like a pair of Old Country Yocals if they'd had dungarees on and a straw sticking out of their mouths.

They bought their cider press a few weeks back and have already had delicious apple juice from it (I was offered a sample but sadly declined as apples are not friends with my stomach) and some cider. M's last attempt at cider making was a complete disaster, darling (as Craig would put it- my wasn't Strictly good coming from The Home Of Ballroom on Sat?), so he'll be interested to sample some of theirs.

Here they are, happily squashing apples together. I couldn't help but feel that Mrs M had come off worst in the job-apportioning stakes as she was getting covered in spits of wet apple every time Mr M squished one by wielding the highly technical apple-splatting-log. 
She's coming round to admire her new niece tomorrow and bringing Ted's pal Oscar, so he can have some Grown Up Dog Company and go out for a Nice Mature Walk off the lead with lots of Interesting Smells, which is what dogs like Best Of All....

The apple press

Ahh, happy cider making pair
Apols for the appalling quality of the photos, I only had my mobile on me and I felt it was an occasion that required Capturing For Posterity...

I'll leave you with some better pics of Mrs Small (aka Poppy), who is currently busy savaging a giraffe at my feet...She has encountered Rain for the first time today, and was fascinated by it.