Thursday, 29 November 2007

Stay of Eggs-ecution

Listening to: The Blower's Daughter (Damien Rice)
Eating: a sneaky Hobnob before tea/dinner/supper

News from death row. . . the girls have earned a reprieve. It may be only one egg, but it's a move in the right direction and enough for the Governor (that'll be me) to hand out a stay of execution.

I've just staggered indoors after shutting the hens in for the night (not really necessary as there are no foxes and the feral cats steer clear of Spike and Owen), but I was delighted and even thrilled to find an egg lying in the straw.

I had pretty much made up my mind that the four surviving hens would have to move from hen house to stock pot before Christmas as the absence of eggs was getting a bit ridiculous.

I wanted to save the final decision for after the return on Sunday of Mrs Trainee Pig Farmer. Sal is an out-and-out townie and can be a little sentimental (can't we all?), so I reckoned it would be wrong to go ahead and wring their necks without going through the full consultation process.

As it is, their case has been put under review, pending the arrival of enough eggs to make a pig-farmer-sized omelette. Got to go, Amnesty are on the phone.

Hello, hello, hello

Listening to: an old Christy Moore tape I found at the bottom of a box in the barn.
Drinking: first coffee of the day
Weather: grey, light breeze.

Westray's morning rush hour has been past the farm. Maybe a dozen cars, a lorry, a tractor and trailer. . . and a police car.

The morning ferry from Kirkwall gets in to Rapness on the southern tip of the island at 8.45 or thereabouts and, being on the main road through the island about four miles from the pier, we're well placed to see who is coming and going.

In my days in the Midlands, the sight of a police car in Wolverhampton or even Shrewsbury was nothing unusual, but here it's a once-a-month, if that, affair.

Crime on the island is not really an issue. I haven't locked Lennox since I got here and regularly leave keys, wallet and iPod on the dashboard. Nobody's going to nick a car. . . where would you go on an island that's only 11 miles long?

Minor vandalism just doesn't seem to happen in the casual way it does in the south*. There was scandal 18 months ago when the sink in the public toilets was pulled away from the wall. The whole thing was thought to be the work of 'off-islanders' over from the mainland for a wedding. Nothing much has happened since.

So, sitting here in this crime-free paradise (?), I can't help but shift a little uneasily at the sight of Old Bill hurrying down to the Pierowall Hotel for coffee and biscuits. If nobody else is committing crime, maybe they're here for me.

Why do I always feel guilty?

* 'The South' starts at Kirkwall, which, by my reckoning, makes Manchester a suburb of north London.

I've just noticed this is the 100th post on 'The Edge'. . . kind of wish I could have marked the milestone with something more exciting that watching the traffic.

Tuesday, 27 November 2007

It's a 135 without the four cylinders

Listening to: The Private Psychedelic Reel (Chemical Brothers)
Eating: Late-night cheese and tomato sandwich
Drinking: Earl Grey in the vague hope it will soak up all those lagers
Surf today: 3ft, would have been in the green room if a certain fat bastard could have got his suit on
The flame still burns: Padfoot

It is the most terrifying thing a blogger can hear.

"Oh yes, I've been reading your blog."

It's somehow a nasty shock to find that real people (the kind you live next door to) are reading the nonsense you churn out during tea breaks, lunch intervals and odd post-pub hours.

This started out as a sort of diary to myself with a couple of jokes thrown in, maybe friends and relatives back in the Midlands would read it.

Reg started me off, Arabella said she liked pigs, then I'LTV shimmered in from another dimension and said something sweet, the Birdwatcher added a comment that made him feel like an old mate, then the Americans invaded, Fathorse made me feel so old and so on and so forth. . .

Somehow, I never expected anyone on the island itself to have time/energy/interest to look at it. What on Earth would interest them in the views of an idiot newcomer?

So there I was, alone in the bar with 'D' (not his real name, by the way) and he uttered those fatal words. If you want to try the accent, think Auf Wiedersehen, Pet meets Rab C Nesbitt, with a bit of No Surrender thrown in. American readers should maybe at this point go out and pour themselves a large glass of something interesting.

Anyhoo. . . I'm in the bar. . . an hour ago maybe. And I'm burbling.

"Errrrrr. . . yep, blog. . . how did you know?", while mentally backflipping through previous posts to make sure I hadn't slagged off his entire family at some stage.

"Och, I had a look after the postman told me about it."

Oh holy f**knuts! That means maybe more than one or two of the island population of 600 are tuned into The Edge of Nowhere - CRAP! the title itself is a bit insulting. The Hub of the Universe - how's that for a new title? Edge of Nowhere? It's not even bloody original. Aw Jeez!

As it happened 'D' (one of the island's bigger farmers) seemed to reckon it was quite amusing and we settled down for a lengthy chat about townies moving to small islands, pigs, sheep and cattle.

The appearance of 'B' - my nearest neighbour - brought another round of drinks (whisky and water for myself), but some serious confusion for the trainee pig farmer. Conversation moved on to tractors and, frankly, they might as well have been speaking Bulgarian. I tried hard to look as if I understood, but nobody seemed to mind when I drifted back to the Independent sports pages.

I will pass this item on to you, however: always avoid the four cylinder Massey 135, the chrome plates are too thin. Go for the three-cylinder version instead. So now you know.

Monday, 26 November 2007

Silver lining

Listening to: New Rose (The Damned)
Recharging: my batteries

Sometimes a cock-up turns into an inspired move. I was a bit deflated when I had to call off the trip to Kirkwall, but instead I got some of this. . .

. . . the view from the front of the house about an hour before sunset.

It has turned into a great day. The weather has been breathtaking (that's no exaggeration). Early morning colours developed into a bright morning, moving on to a couple of hours of cold sunshine.

Mr D came to help me get Lennox's battery charged (our battery charger is under a pile of other stuff somewhere in the barn). We dawdled around outside for a good while, nattering about nothing very much.

Then I took the dogs on a tour of the estate, they chased a couple of rabbits while I drank in the view across to Papa Westray to the north east and then Rousay to the south.

During my afternoon spell in the pig shed the phone went. It was the pig breeder from Thurso. He's trimming the size of his herd and did I want two sows, both of which would come 'in-pig' (i.e. pregnant). One is a Saddleback, the other a Gloucester Old Spot. Resisting the temptation to say: "Yes yes, oh yes please", I said I was definitely interested, but thought it best to speak to Mrs Trainee Pig Farmer first.

That's the other thing, Sal's back on Sunday, ending my two months in solitary. It was nice to have the place to myself for a while, but the novelty has well-and-truly worn off.

* GOOD DAY UPDATE: Got Lennox fired up again and took battery charger and cable back to Mr D's place, only to be hauled inside for vegetable lasagne (oooooh aubergines) and lots of red wine. Result!

D'oh! It's a no-go

Listening to: Film Star (Suede)
Weather: cloudy, but lovely (explain later)
Feeling: a little foolish

I was up bright and early this morning, whistling a happy tune, getting myself cleaned and polished for the trip into town.

The lousy weather of the weekend had given way to much-improved conditions. The wind had dropped off to a quiet breeze and, as I walked the dogs, the sun came up and I admired the greys, blues and even lavender in the sky.

The sea had stopped raging, a couple of fishing boats were making their way out into Westray Sound, and I could hear the birds properly for the first time in days.

I fed the pigs and the hens, nipped back into the house to put some more civilised clothes on and get everything ready. Wallet - yep. Cheque book - yep. Binoculars (birdwatching on the way) - yep. Ferry ticket - yep. Hat and gloves - yep, yep. OK, let's go.

I clambered into Lennox, turned the ignition and was rewarded with a sort of clicky-rattly-notstartingtheengine sort of a noise. A quick check revealed I had somehow knocked the inside light on yesterday. With only 20 minutes before the ferry was due there was no chance of charging the battery and no other vehicle to jump-start it off.

Oh bugger.

Still, I've rallied impressively, thanks in no small way to a plate of scrambled eggs on toast and a fresh pot of coffee. It really is a lovely day - time to get outside.

. . . and I'll get to Kirkwall tomorrow. Or maybe Wednesday.

Sunday, 25 November 2007

No way out

Listening to: All My Life (Foo Fighters)
Instant legend: Wayne Hennessey (Wolverhampton Wanderers custodian) for penalty save against West Brom. Thankyouthankyouthankyou.
Weather: Freezing rain, gusty north wind
Surf: are you kidding?

I had planned to go to Kirkwall yesterday to get a taste of civilisation, decent beer, Orkney v Stirling rugby, the surprisingly good Grooves music shop (I know, bless!), the excellent library and maybe a trip to the museum for a bit of culture.

I didn't go. I woke up at 6.30 and, by the time I was dressed, hosed down and coffeed up, it had got light. Pretty spectacular it was too. The wind was whipping in from the north east (Norway direction) and the sea was working itself up into a right old state.

All very nice to look at over the rim of a coffee mug with the smell of toast coming from the kitchen, but not so hot for making a hour-and-a-quarter trip to a small and, let's be honest here, not especially exciting town, Grooves notwithstanding.

It turned out to be a well-judged move. The morning boat sailed as normal, but the afternoon sailing back was cancelled which would have left me stuck in Kirkwall for the night with pigs unfed, dog unwalked and cat stuck outside in the freezing cold.

So I felt pretty relieved as I discussed the matter with Mr Hotel Proprietor in the bar of the Cleaton House, but it did bring home to me just how isolated this place can be. The ferries have been cancelled three times this last week and the plane (which is usually booked up anyway) didn't fly the other day. There's been no way out of Westray.

I haven't just woken up and said "Chuffin' 'eck, I'm on an island, how did I get here?", but I am suddenly very conscious of how far away I am from things that I used to take for granted. . . like hospitals.

If you fall ill here, the theory is that one of the island's two doctors will call up the air ambulance and, depending on how serious your condition, you go to Kirkwall or, as is more often the case, Aberdeen (a real treat for relatives wanting to visit).

In practice, the system seems to be creaking. The local airline Loganair lost the contract last year and the firm who took over base their helicopter in Aberdeen, as opposed to Kirkwall. So it was that, two weeks ago, a 90-year-old Westray woman found herself sitting on the airfield on the northern tip of the island for four hours while worried relatives were reassured time and again that the helicopter was on its way. Who's running the service? Wednesfield Taxis?*

Still, it's all right as long as market forces have been allowed to decide the outcome. That's what's important after all.

Anyway, I'm going to Kirkwall tomorrow, the forecast is good, but there's no rugby, so that'a an extra 80 minutes in Grooves.

*Wednesfield Taxis of Wolverhampton are the easily the worst cab firm in Britain, if not Europe (although there's a company in Rome, but that's another story).

Friday, 23 November 2007

Eric and Ernie

Listening to: Christine (Siouxsie and the Banshees)
Drinking: very cold Heineken
What's for tea?: Lamb and chickpea curry
Weather: quiet and bright today, wind getting up tonight

I've just stumbled back indoors after spending the best part of an hour with the pigs. It's become a small ritual to end the "working" day and it has become one of my favourite times.

The lads get their tea around 4pm and I check they have clean water and enough straw. I tidy up any droppings and dirty straw adding it to the pile in the corner which I clear out every week (leaving it all in one place encourages them to keep everywhere else clean).

Then I lean back against the wall and watch them. I don't do a lot apart from give them a scratch behind the ear or a back rub. Eric likes that kind of attention better than Ernie and leans against my legs snuffling happily. Ernie has always been the more skittish of the two and is especially so since being mugged by Spike last week. Nevertheless he was happy enough to let me have a look at and clean his injured leg today.

They're nice animals and Eric, especially, is turning into a terrific pig. He has deep red hair and is a good six inches to a foot longer than his brother. His hams and shoulders are developing well and he is growing impressively.

There's nothing much wrong with Ernie who is much the leaner of the two, but he is still a good size for his 13 weeks.

Of course, this all brings us to the prickly subject of attachment. It has been suggested that I'm getting a little too close to the lads (see?) and that, being generally "softer than a soft thing" (R. Pither Feb 2007) I'm going to struggle when "the time" comes.

It's something I've been aware of from the moment I decided this pig farming thing might be a good idea. I know a dairy farmer in Devon who has a herd of 200-plus cattle and is generally as tough as old boots, but he was devastated when he sent the two pigs they kept in the back garden to slaughter and has vowed never to keep them again. Pigs can get youn like that.

I was told umpteen times not to name them, but I did. The truth is that I would have named them in my head anyway. So, I reasoned, I may as well go public. It's more fun and, I hope, if I'm having fun the pigs may be that little bit better cared for.

But I have always tried hard not to lose sight of what they are for. They are farm animals who exist only to be converted into meat. When I'm giving them a fuss and a back rub, I'm also checking out the state of their shoulders, backs and hams. Sure, it's going to be hard when they go to be killed, but I'm determined to see it through.

I love looking after the pigs and I was on the phone this afternoon planning to bring in another half-dozen early next year with a view to starting a breeding programme by the end of 2008. They will all get the same treatment and care. A porker's life may be brutally short (Eric and Ernie will go to slaughter some time in March), but their existence doesn't need to be brutal. That's the whole point.

Thursday, 22 November 2007

Mauve Stinger

Listening to: Walk Don't Run (The Ventures)
Watching: Harvey (James Stewart)
Trying: to stay warm
Because: the wind is hammering down from the north, we've had snow and hail.
Surf: 12ft and full of jellyfish

Heck! It seems the bloom/smack/fluther or jellyfish I saw on Taft End beach were the same variety that attacked a salmon farm off the Antrim coast in Northern Ireland, killing the entire stock.

They are called Mauve Stingers (a pretty funky name in my view) and, while they will give an adult human only a nasty sting, they are deadly to fish like salmon and cod.

Apart from Taft End, I've seen them at the next beach along on the south west of the island at Rapness Cemetery, while I spotted some at Swartmill on the other side of Westray today. That's more worrying because it's only a mile or so from the salmon and cod farms near Pierowall harbour.

For the full Antrim story check this link (sorry, it will have to be cut and paste, you know what I'm like with technology):

Jellyfish update: An expert has been on Radio 5 to say the bloom or whatever you want to call it is at least 200km long!

Wednesday, 21 November 2007

Grim Reaper

Listening to: Constellations (Jack Johnson)
Reading: Shadow of the Wind (Carlos Ruiz Zafon)
Weather: Rain, wind turning to the north
Watching: Spain v Northern Ireland

Bad news from the hen house; Godber is dead. I'm baffled by this one, there seems to be no reason.

Regular readers may remember that Godber was the regular escaper from the fenced-off run and she escaped once too often, being mugged by Spike and being lucky to get away alive.

Her wing was damaged and she was pretty sorry for herself for a time, but that was a few weeks ago and she seemed to have recovered. Sure, she needed a little encouragement and sometimes help to get outside, but she was eating and drinking normally and there was no obvious reason why she shouldn't carry on for a while.

She was fine this morning when I put the layer pellets and a few cabbage leaves in the shed, but when I went to check them half-an-hour ago, she was deader than the Kennedys.

I'm disappointed because I feel that, once again, I've let down an animal in my care. I can't stand hens, they give me the creeps, but that doesn't mean I don't take their welfare very seriously. (said he, sounding desperately pious).

I take some comfort from the words of a friend who runs a six-acre smallholding in Devon. She has sheep and hens and says of both: "They die, it's what they're good at."

Tuesday, 20 November 2007


Listening to: Crying Shame (Jack Johnson)
Reading: Scottish Farmer small ads (Marcus says I need a tractor and who am I to argue?)
The house smells of: coffee and fresh bread (no, I'm not selling)
Going: out tonight

This may be just me, but do you remember Sunday dinner/lunch when you were a child? Remember how, when you were very young, you ate all the stuff you really liked first before getting onto the cabbage, cauliflower and suchlike.

Then, when you were a little older and smarter, you realised the pleasure could be prolonged if you kicked off in broccoli country, moved up carrot avenue before getting to meat and spud heaven. I still do it to a tiny degree, making sure the last mouthful is meat, roast potato or (if applicable) Yorkshire.

I'm not sure if it applies to pigs, but I've just spent a happy 20 minutes watching Eric and a much-improved Ernie plough their way through their tea. For a change, I added to their pan of potatoes a scoop of barley, a scoop of pig 'pencils' and a couple of apples that had been hanging around the fruit bowl for a couple of weeks (I don't know why I bought them, I only like cox or russets, these tasted like cotton wool).

Eric and Ernie took little notice of the extra effort I had gone to on their behalf and got stuck in at once. However, I noticed they snuffled up the pencils first, then the potatoes before moving on to the barley. The apples were left on one side, perhaps they are still pushing them around now. Next time maybe they'll eat them first.

On reflection, it wasn't that sensitive to give apples to pigs.

Next week: Malc feeds cranberries to turkeys.

Sunday, 18 November 2007


Listening to: Bristol v Stade Francais
What's for tea: Shepherd's pie
Weather: steady rain
Drinking: Argentinian Chardonnay

A wet blanket of a day on Westray, but we finally ventured outside at around 3pm as the light started to dim rapidly.

As a rabbit-control measure, I try to take the dogs for a tour around the edge of the two fields to sniff down burrows, snap and snarl a bit and leave their 'scent' all over the place.

We were in the top field, near the house, when. . . well, I was going to say Owen - our lovely, but intellectually challenged collie/spaniel cross - caught a rabbit, but accidentally bumped into one would be more accurate. The rabbit was toast, he had no chance as Owen was right on top of him. Bugs squeaked pathetically and waited for the worst.

Only the worst never happened. Owen wasn't sure exactly what he should be doing and once our long-eared friend cottoned on, he was off, through the fence and heading for the front door of the house.

Owen set off in pursuit, leaping the fence and following the rabbit which had darted into one of the two derelict stone buildings in front of the barn. I and a frantic Spike (on a lead because of his colourful 'previous') took the long way round, going to the gate and making our way to the outbuildings where a chase worthy of a cartoon was in full swing.

Rabbit and dog flew through the bottom half of the pig shed, both dived out of a window, an impressive splash indicating that Owen had fallen straight into the soakaway/pool at the back of the barn.

He emerged soaked through, shook himself and looked around before the rabbit popped up again and the chase was on again. Owen caught him a second time. Spike was yapping desperately (the canine equivalent of "bite and shake, you moron" I assume), but again the rabbit got away. Owen, with a fair share of sheepdog in his bloodline, had no intention of killing and was trying to round him up.

By now we had done a full circuit of the house and buildings and I was the only one who knew where the rabbit was (cowering near the septic tank). As I'm not quite ready to join my friend Nick as a bare-hands rabbit killer, I called it a day and literally called the dogs off.

Owen, bless him, hasn't stopped wagging his tail since, while Spike looks at him the way a team-mate looks at the footballer who has missed a vital penalty.

Saturday, 17 November 2007


Listening to: Baseball Bill (Echo and the Bunnymen)
Drinking: cocoa on a Saturday night
Weather: steady rain starting to ease off

I was forced to take it easy today, partly because of the steady rain that started to fall at around 8.30 and has continued most of the day and well into the evening.

A stronger influence on my relative lack of activity was the fact that I woke to find my right arm pretty much seized up (pause for predictable jokes). It was at right angles and wouldn't straighten any more.

I first strained the ligament that runs past the inner side of the elbow a few weeks ago smashing an old concrete water tank with a sledgehammer - great fun, but there's always a price. I had some stretching exercises to do and thought all was well, but a day pulling nettle roots out of the ground has obviously aggravated it.

A soak in a hot bath and a handful of painkillers eased things and I set about light, indoor duties - washing, floor mopping, hoovering and so on. By 3pm I was pretty fed up and Radio Scotland was flirting with spontaneous combustion so hysterical was its big match preview (if only they'd known).

Rain or no rain, crocked arm or no crocked arm, I had to get out. I bundled the dogs into Lennox and we set off back to Taft End beach to have another look at the jellyfish.

I was a bit surprised to find them still there as the tides have been high over the last 48 hours, but they were lying around in their thousands. The light was better today so I had a chance to have a close look.

This was a larger one, maybe three inches across. I was stung by a jellyfish swimming off the mid Wales coast once, but that's where my knowledge begins and ends. I don't even know if these jellyfish are alive or not. Are they the stinging kind? What's a lot of jellyfish called? How come there are so many here (I'd always thought of them as a warm water creature)?

Still, it was an impressive sight. . .

. . . multiply that by a couple of thousand and you have some idea. In places it was impossible not to tread on them.

And, on the way back to the car, Owen tried to eat one. Idiot.

Incidentally, please excuse the quality of the pics. The light in the afternoons starts to go around two o'clock and Mrs Trainee Pig Farmer has the camera in Wolverhampton.

Good morning

Sunrise over the croft this morning.

Just this once pt3

Listening to: Skye (Runrig)
Eating: Porridge
Reading: The Scotsman
Weather: windy, a bit wet
Going: native

They're working themselves into a frenzy on the radio, BBC Scotland's news was awash with tartan, the papers are full of it - it's the biggest game ever ever ever. Apparently.

There's even a little ripple of excitement here on Orkney, where folk are nominally Scottish, racially Norwegian, but Orcadian by preference. So, never one to miss out on a good party, I'm shamelessly jumping on the Tartan Army bandwagon for the evening.

For those who have little or no interest in the 'beautiful' game, Scotland need to win this evening to qualify for next year's European Championships. All they have to do is beat the reigning world champions Italy. . . how hard can it be?

Big snag for me is that the game is on Sky, everyone's favourite London-based Broadcasting Corporation having decided to bid only for England's games. My local is closed until Monday when Mr and Mrs Hotel Proprietor return from holiday and the hotel in the village doesn't have satellite.

I think I may have to resort to getting out my old Subbuteo set and plotting the course of the game, while listening to Radio Scotland.

Wild times in the UK's outer reaches.

Friday, 16 November 2007

Balance restored

Listening to: Four Winds (Levellers)
Weather: Broken cloud, fresh breeze
Drinking: Holsten Pils

For every bad day, there are several good ones. I got myself into quite a tizz about Spike's attack on Ernie, but we're all moving on and there are real signs of progress.

Most important, Ernie appears to be recovering well. The swelling is going down and, while he still can't walk on it, he's clearly feeling better. There's not a lot wrong with anyone who can eat as many spuds as he does. Reminds me of my grandad.

Then there's the veg garden. Phase one is nearing completion. I've dug out three decent-sized beds and have made a start on tackling the nettles that are threatening to swamp the ancient fruit bushes. That involves carefully digging around each bush and pulling out the thick yellow nettle roots. I imagine I will have to do it more than once. As with most weeds it's a case of hanging in there and hoping they give up before you do.

The bottom half of the pig shed is just about clear of the 20-year-old chicken manure which is partly bagged up and partly on the afore-mentioned veg beds.

Two pallets of concrete blocks were delivered this afternoon along with a dozen bags of cement, a load of concrete chips (gravel), and the sand will arrive tomorrow. That means I can get on with converting one of the cattle byres into a stable for Mrs Trainee Pig Farmer's horse Xena and then building two more pig pens in the shed.

It feels like things are happening again, which is great for morale.

So was the walk I and the dogs took on Taft End beach. Owen dived in and out of the water, chasing stones I threw in for him. He never catches one, but that doesn't dim his enthusiasm in the slightest. Spike - on two long leads for obvious reasons - strained to chase rabbits and birds, while I marvelled at the amount of seaweed washed onto the shore by last week's gales and at the thousands of tiny orange jellyfish scattered all over the sand.

I've never seen so many and, being neither marine expert nor photographer (it was getting dark anyway) I can't give an exact idea of what they were like, although they ranged in size from a 50p piece to a cricket ball, quite unlike the larger, clear, pink creatures you see in Wales and the South West.

So we're back on course, sort of. . . until the next time.

Thursday, 15 November 2007

Man's best friend? or Idiot pt 2

Listening to: Lonely As You (Foo Fighters)
Weather: cloudy, but wonderfully clear
Birdwatch: Sanderling, knot, curlew, snipe, common gull, black-backed gull, hooded crow.

I had half a mind to keep this quiet as it proves beyond doubt that I am a know-nothing idiot who should be barred from caring for animals immediately. But this is an attempt at an honest(ish) account, so here goes. Please don't judge me too harshly.

I was attending to all the usual morning tasks, having first taken the precaution of shutting the freshly-walked dogs in the kitchen.

I fed the pigs and the hens, cleaned both sheds out and continued the task of shifting the ancient chicken manure onto the newly-dug vegetable beds.

Knocking off around 11.30, I went round to the front of the house and into the kitchen, letting the dogs out. I had originally gone out through the back door of the barn.

I had forgotten I had left that door open and suddenly realised ten minutes later, but not soon enough to stop Spike diving out and into the pig shed where he got hold of Ernie by the knee/knuckle of his back leg, having first given him a few cuts around one ear.

I leapt into the pen and managed to get Spike off by kicking him hard with my steel-toe-capped boot. I slapped him hard in the hope he would get the message, dragged him into the barn and left him in the back byre to cool off.

Ernie was clearly in pain and there was blood on his face. I got the warm water and Dettol, caught hold of the still-vociferous pig and cleaned him up. The cuts on his ear were not serious, but he had a couple of nasty gashes on his leg, a flap of skin having come off his kneecap (for want of a better word).

He went into a sulk, buried himself under the straw and didn't come out until tea-time when I was glad to see he tucked away his usual ration. However, the leg was obviously swollen and very painful. Not so serious that he didn't put some weight on it when standing still, but he couldn't walk on it.

Marcus promised to come up in the morning to have a look. By the time he arrived, Ernie had had a good breakfast and was very much perkier. Marcus said to leave him alone, but if the swelling doesn't go down in a couple of days he's give him an anti-biotic jab.

He was kind enough not to criticise my animal husbandry or lack of it, leaving me to beat myself up over it. I mean, to get from the kitchen to the barn back door, Spike had to go through four doors - all of which I'd left wide open.

I can't blame Spike. He's a Jack Russell, bred to terrorise and destroy other animals. You can hardly encourage him to chase and kill rabbits and then expect him to differentiate between wild and farm animals.

I'm gutted. . . so, so annoyed with myself because part of the point of all this was to raise and care for animals, giving them a decent life before sending them to slaughter and I'm falling down on the job.

The other question it raises is over Spike's future. Being a Jack Russell, he has bounced back quickly and is the same cocky little bastard he ever was. There's no question that he will do it again and again, as often as he is given the chance. It's bad enough that he should attack our stock, but what if he got out and went for a neighbour's animals. Chances are he'd be shot.

I've seriously thought about finding him a new home, but can't bring myself to do it. For all his faults, he's one of my best mates. We're a package. After all, what would I do for paw marks on the dashboard of my Land Rover if it wasn't for Spike.

I'm going to have to be very much more careful about closing doors and, when anyone else is around, he will have to be tied up. I'm also ordering timber and wire for a post and rail fence with fine mesh, which I'll use to make a properly fenced off, dog-proof garden at the front of the house.

Then I'll keep my fingers crossed.

On the bonus side, brother-in-law Martin sent me a disk to get the laptop fired up again. It brought up a browser window, but offered no connection. I pressed the "Connect" thingy on the desktop and was presented with a number of possibilities. I clicked a couple - a little like laptop Russian roulette - and blow me down if it didn't do the trick.

Piece of cake this technology stuff.

Wednesday, 14 November 2007


Listening to: Sunshine Star (Chemical Brothers)
Shifting: a couple of tons of 20-year-old chicken manure
Just had: a very deep, very hot and very necessary bath
What's for tea?: Aloo Gobi
Weather: winter sunshine
Surf: 3ft, onshore breeze, a little messed up

We stared at each other, waiting for one of us to blink. His beady little eyes flickered slightly as he searched for an escape route.

Then he made his move, throwing himself off the worksurface and onto the leg of the two-ring camping stove that I'm using until Boots get around to delivering the new cooker. He scampered down the leg in the manner of Tom Cruise in the Mission Impossible films and disappeared behind the skirting board. . . all in the time it took me to say "bloody hell" or something.

We've got mice. Well of course we've got mice. We live in the country in a near-derelict house, so mice go with the deal.

When we arrived in July the "kitchen" (an old-fashioned cupboard-sized scullery} was littered with mouse droppings. We cleaned up, plugged any gaps we could find, kitted the place out as best we could and we hadn't seen one since.

Since Mrs Trainee Pig Farmer left to spend a couple of months in the fleshpots of Wolverhampton (and one week in southern Spain) I've been careful not to fall into bachelor habits, tidying food away, brushing up crumbs and so on.

But I suppose it is hardly surprising they're back, especially now it's bloody freezing outside.

The latest sighting prompted me into extreme action. I grabbed Trevor (the cat, put him in the middle of the kitchen and shut the door. I opened the door expecting to see a fine selection of slaughtered mice, only to be bitterly disappointed. Trev was sat exactly where I'd left him with a 'what the hell do you expect me to do about it and, by the way, isn't it time you got that can opener working?' expression on his face.

I put a parental arm around Trev's shoulder, had a long chat about the role of cats and mice in society, we watched a few Tom and Jerry episodes (maybe not a good idea), but he seemed unimpressed.

I phoned Mrs TPF and explained the situation, telling her I would have to buy some traps. I could hear the ice cubes chink in her G&T on the sun terrace in the mountains above Granada. "You're going to get humane ones," she said, "aren't you?"

That sparked a conversation about sentimental townies and suchlike and in the end I caved in. So I'm off out tomorrow to get half-a-dozen Snap-U-Like Neckbreakers and a big lump of Cheddar. You won't tell, will you?

Monday, 12 November 2007

On tour

Listening to: There Is A Light (The Smiths)
Looking forward to: Pint of Dragonhead stout on draught
But I've got to: get a haircut first
And: get some pig wormer thingy from the vets
Birdwatch: Shags, eider ducks, goldeneye (?), little auk, greylag geese, whooper swans, black-backed gulls.

Sometimes I forget to look at the view.

Days when the sheer weight of tasks that need doing close in and the solitude gets a little bit too much. I walk out of the front door - which overlooks the sea and the island of Rousay and Orkney mainland beyond - and some days completely fail to notice it.

That has a lot to do with being here on my own. It's hard to say "oooh, look at the way the sun is shining off the sea" or words to that effect if there is nobody to listen. Pigs, I have found, have no interest in scenery.

So, after seven days that have not been the best in my life, I dragged myself out of bed at 6.30, walked the dogs, fed hens and pigs, evicted the cat and got down to the ferry terminal for the 9am boat to Kirkwall. The weather forecast was for cold sunshine and I figured a sea voyage and day in town would perk me up no end.

Got to the pier to be greeted by the harbourmaster who said that, because of a long-running work-to-rule by the ferry crews, the boat would be calling at Sanday on its way to Kirkwall, so would take two hours or more instead of the usual hour-and-a-quarter.

I looked on the bright side. I've never been to Sanday and even if I wasn't going to get off, it would be good to have a look.

And it proved to be a smashing trip. The sunshine was bright and I spent the whole time out on deck with my binoculars. The ferry rounded the north coast of Eday, then squeezed between that island and it's 'mini-me' The Calf of Eday, going to within 100 metres of the shore where the crofts run down to the sea.

At one stage I could, if I turned 360 degrees, see seven islands. The eider ducks are gathering in large numbers, the males in their distinctive black and white plumage, while huge numbers of ducks, geese and swans were flocking on the north shores of Shapinsay.

I had a terrific time. It was a reminder just when I needed it that this is a quite astonishing place and I'd be a fool to take it for granted.

Friday, 9 November 2007

Chillin' out

Listening to: Candy Skin (Fire Engines)
Reading: A Clockwork Orange
Weather: Breezy, dry, very cold
Surf: About a quarter of what it was yesterday

Well, we got through the first of Mother Nature's big tests pretty much unscathed and today has been almost pleasant by comparison, although three hours in the veg garden and pig shed left me cold all the way through.

A few bits of rusty guttering were finally dislodged by the gusts which during the middle of the day were hitting 90mph, but that just saves me the bother of getting them down myself. Pigs, hens, dogs, cat, trainee pig farmer, house and outbuildings are all intact, although the sign at the end of the drive is now at a jaunty angle. I'll get down there with my big hammer tomorrow.

The only real casualty was the ageing laptop. The power went off at 5.30 yesterday while I was in the middle of trying to order some bits for the electric fence (irony). By the time the power had returned three hours later, then gone off and come on a couple of times more, it seemed too much for the poor old thing to bear and it came up with ERROR 24 on the screen and refused to budge, even when I used my full technical knowledge and unplugged everything and plugged it back in again.

A call to Martin this morning confirmed my fears, so I'm going to get my finger out, spend some money on a nice new PC. As a result I'm writing this at Mr and Mrs D's house, eating Mrs D's fabulous, very gooey flapjacks (a recipe will be forthcoming as soon as our top team of interrogators have finished with her).

Thursday, 8 November 2007

Don't try this at home

Listening to: Party Fears Two (Associates - it hasn't dated well)
Drinking: A reviving Bovril

If you caught the weather forecast this morning you will already know that we are in the middle of the first serious storm of the autumn/winter (hard to tell the difference here).

Last night's round-up by the lovely Gail (really) on the North of Scotland weather bulletin consisted of a map with some very, very big arrows on it, the largest sitting right on top of Orkney.

Westray being on the north west fringe of the islands, the weather tends to arrive off the Atlantic here first. So I woke this morning to the sound of 80-90mph gusts hammering the front of the house.

Work outside is obviously impossible, but pigs and hens still have to be tended to so I filled the buckets and forced my way out of the barn.

Eric and Ernie seemed completely unperturbed by the fact there was a howling gale coming through every crack in the ageing and long-neglected shed they call home. While they dived onto the potatoes, barley and weaner pencils, I had a quick look around and noticed that several of the bolts holding the roof panels in place weren't there. The wind hadn't removed them, they just weren't there any more and I hadn't noticed.

So it was that about 20 minutes ago I was up a ladder in a gale with baler twine and heavy duty wire, lashing the panels to the joists underneath. For good measure I lifted a couple of large flagstones onto the loosest panels to hold them in place.

It was, as Clement Atlee said of Gallipoli, an interesting experience, but definitely one to be performed only by complete buffoons with pig farming ambitions.

Got to go, just seen a section of guttering fly past the window.


Listening to: LA Woman (The Doors)
Drinking: PG Tips
Reading: Last Post (Max Arthur and First World War veterans)

All right then, it's time to confess. I thought I'd broken the ageing laptop I use to send you these bulletins from a rock in the North Atlantic/North Sea. With my recent track record, it would have been no surprise.

I called by brother-in-law Martin (a computer expert who brews a top-notch stout) this morning just to check that it was terminal and the conversation went like this:

"Hi Mart, how's yourself?"

"Fine Malc, what's up?"

"The laptop seems to have expired, shuffled off this mortal coil, gone to meet it's maker, bereft of life and so on."

*Sigh* "What is it with you and technology Malc?"

"What are you implying? Anyway, is there any chance for it or shall I put it on the pile with the kettle, washing machine, two TVs, microwave oven."

"Does it say anything on the screen?"

"Disk error."

"Look at the front of the machine. Is something sticking out?"

"Err. . . yup."

"Push it in and try again."


"Have you done that? Is it working?"

*embarrassed pause* *mumbling* "Yes Mart."

"That's the disk, you clown. It won't work if it's not pushed in all the way."

"Yes Mart. Thanks Mart."

Some of you may identify with this exchange. Everyone else feel free to point and laugh.

Wednesday, 7 November 2007

Pigs might fly

Listening to: Be-bop-a-lu-la (Gene Vincent)
Eating: Mrs D's rice pudding
Tying: Everything down

Brief break from the blog as I managed to bust the venerable laptop my brother-in-law had rescued from a computer graveyard. I was sitting there trying to find out whether the cooker I ordered three weeks ago was ever going to be delivered when something went ping, phut, phmmmmmmm.

Nothing happenened after that, so I have been deprived of access to pig websites, Reg's rantings and have had to do some work instead.

I'm writing this on Mr D's PC after a lovely dinner (tea? supper?} at their house on the waterfront opposite Pierowall village. We're waiting for the first real storm of the autumn/winter.

It's quiet outside, more still than it has been for three or four days, but it is no time to be lulled into a similar state of calm. All schools on Orkney have already been closed tomorrow and by the time I wake in the morning we should have winds of up to 80mph.

Nobody here seems particularly bothered - harsh weather being part of everyday life - but this is the only place I've lived where the weather is a genuinely interesting topic of conversation.

Anyway, the pigs have been tied down (Eric's foot is healing nicely, by the way), the hens shut in, the dogs glared at, cakes baked, milk ordered and collected, so we should be all right. . . as long as the ageing corrugated cement/asbestos roof doesn't blow off.

Friday, 2 November 2007


Listening to: Just Fascination (Cabaret Voltaire)
Drinking: a well deserved coffee
Planning to drink: my own bodyweight in Dark Island

Oh, for crying out loud!

Mr D popped round for a cup of tea and a chat just before lunch and I was explaining the full Eric drama when Spike and Owen stirred from in front of the fire and started making a hell of a row.

Next thing I knew, a dozen scared-looking cows were peering in at the kitchen window.

"My goodness," I exclaimed (or words to that effect), hauling on my boots and hurrying outside where a red-faced neighbour was wheezing up the lane.

I went around the back, but got there too late to stop the cows wrecking hen run (the girls were inside fortunately). I shooed them back down the lane before going back to examine the damage.

The fence is going to take some fixing - the posts need to be hammered back in for a start and the netting is mangled. The weather is so foul today (it's not raining but you get soaked as soon as go outside the door) that the hens don't want to go out so I've shut them in, put the light on and given them an extra ration of pellets. I'll put the fence back up tomorrow.

Soon after the departure of the cows, I went to the shop to pick up the milk, The Orcadian and a couple of sausage rolls (it being Friday). I got back into Lennox and somehow managed to sit on the carton of milk. I got most of the milk out, but I have a feeling Lennox will be smelling of cheese for some time to come.

I wish I was making all this up.

On the up side, Eric continues to recover. I caught him sitting in his straw bed, looking a little sorry for himself. I dug up a couple of good sized bits of turf with nice, long grass and lobbed them into the shed and he was up and at them like a greyhound out of a trap, jostling Ernie out of the way in the process.
As you can see, he's doing OK. . .

News from the treatment room

Listening to: Hope Street (The Levellers)
Weather: Dreech
Birdwatch: Five Whooper Swans heading south
Surf: 3ft messy

Good news this morning. It appears Eric's injury is not career-threatening, just a bit bloody painful.

Marcus arrived to help me take a first proper look at the trotter and one part of the hoof was hanging off. Think of losing a big toenail and you get the picture. I held a struggling pig, while Marcus clipped off the hoof and checked for infection. There was none.

A gentle wipe and a few squirts of antiseptic spray and the lad was allowed to scurry back into his corner where he eyed us both warily. He is now to be left alone and quiet for a few days to get back to match fitness. To say I'm relieved would be an understatement.

Thursday, 1 November 2007

Bubble bursts

That'll teach me. Having sounded off about how great everything is. . . we had a drama.

Spike got out again and made a B-line (bee-line?) for the pig shed where he got in and spent a couple of minutes chasing Eric and Ernie around.

Dave the cycle repair man, who was doing some plumbing work for me, got him out and nobody seemed any the worse.

But when I gave the boys their tea a little later Eric was unable to put his back foot down. I tried not to panic and had a look. He was eating fine and the only damage appears to be to his trotter. Marcus is coming to have a look in the morning and I hope between us we can get the wound cleaned and treated.

Happiness. . .

Listening to: Just Like Honey (Jesus and Mary Chain)
Weather: dry, cloudy, still. . . brief respite.
Reading: Aberdeen Press and Journal

I read an NME interview with Ian Dury many years ago and he said a cheese sandwich was as important to him as sex. As a 19/20-year-old, healthy, heterosexual male, I was horrified. What on Earth could be more important than sex?

Before you plump up the cushions and pour yourselves an extra large glass of something interesting, let me warn you that this is not going to be a stroll down the murkier byways of a pig farmer's private life.

No, the point Ian was making was that a cheese sandwich is as important as anything. . . it depends how hungry you are.

So it is that I'm sitting here with a freshly brewed pot of coffee and a slice of Orkney gingerbread (from the terrific Baking for Britain blog). The pigs are fed and cleaned, the hot water is back and I know how to fix it if it goes again, the hens have been cleaned out, many many bags of 10-year-old chicken manure have been set aside for the veg garden. Just for this particular moment, it could hardly be any better.