Monday, 30 June 2008

Better late than. . .

Here, at last, is my 'go' at the meme passed on by the lovely I Like The View, Still.

Five things I've always wanted:

To see Wolves win the FA Cup.
To be a farmer.
To write good fiction.
To live on a small, remote island.
To drive a steam railway engine.

Five things I'm currently into:

Seldom Seen Kid by Elbow.
Pigs (obviously).
Watching the funny dent in my thumbnail progress towards the tip of my thumb.
Football tournaments that don't feature England.
Sending threatening letters to Tesco boss Terry Leahy.

Five favourite things in my room:

V-shaped pillow.
Very snug dressing gown.
Shanghai RFC rugby shirt.

Five things in my pockets (not bag, you note, don't expect me to go all metro-sexual at my time of life):

Baler twine.
Wire clippers.
Two Scottish pound notes.
A receipt for diesel (£1.51 a litre!).
A couple of fence staples.

Well, you did ask!

Update: ILTVS has reminded me I should 'tag' five other people. I don't usually, but seeing as how it's her I'll tag Fiwa, Ginni Dee, Snailbeachshepherdess, Brad and (to annoy him) Reg Pither.

Saturday, 28 June 2008

Lambs, water, Tesco

Listening to: Mediocre Bad Guys (Jack Johnson)
Weather: Clouding over after a sunny start
Successfully ignoring: the tennis
Getting ready to ignore: the Olympics

I turned the tap in the pigshed. Nothing.


I stomped back to the house, muttering darkly, reminding myself what a good idea it would be to get connected to the main supply.

The switch for the pump was on. I checked the cold water tank in the barn - nothing happening. I changed the fuse on the switch - still nothing, so it was down to the bottom field (swearing lustily) to check the pump itself.

We have lodgers in the bottom field. About 40 ewes and lambs are giving the place a clean-up. The lambs can just about be seen above the buttercups, dock leaves and patches of long grass.

One of the ewes was sunbathing by the door to the little pumphouse. She got up and wandered off as I approached and I noticed the door had been left ajar - I hadn't bolted it properly.

It was no surprise, therefore, when a startled lamb popped out of the door - a little more of a surprise that he was followed by three more.

Light began to dawn and, sure enough, the problem was obvious. It wasn't quite a Wallace/Gromit/Shaun the Sheep situation, but the lambs had managed to unplug the pump from the covered, outdoor socket. I plugged it back in and bolted the door firmly.

So, Malc's handy household hint for the day: If an electrical appliance fails to work, check there are no sheep in the area.

Which brings me to the subject of Tesco shareholders.

I'm generally wary of celeb bandwagons, but Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall's campaign to force Tesco to adopt basic animal welfare standards struck a chord.

He went to the trouble to buy Tesco shares, raise (with the help of Compassion in World Farming) the £80,000-plus needed to bring a resolution to the annual meeting, but it was, we now know, a non-starter and was voted out by 80 per cent. Depressing.

Tesco are opening a new store in Kirkwall in a couple of weeks (Harrogate will be the only place in the UK without one, I believe).

I will not be shopping there and I urge you not to use Tesco either.

Thursday, 26 June 2008

The longest day

Listening to: BBC "news"
Weather: Orkney summer

Mr Hotel Proprietor's feet were getting somewhat chilly, I could tell. He glanced wistfully at the widescreen TV in the bar where Russia and Holland were heading for extra time and gave me that "do we have to?" look.

The Sort-of Pig Farmers were sipping a livener, wrapped up warm, wearing sensible shoes and ready for the great outdoors - even at 10pm.

The plan had been to get to the top of Fitty Hill (Westray's highest point) and mark the solstice by watching the sun go down and come up again. A glass or two of wine and something to nibble on may have come into the equation.

Mr HP pushed his doubts aside and took the lead, insisting he knew a way to get the vehicles close enough to the hill to leave us only a short walk to the top (it's not a very big hill).

I wasn't too worried as we turned off the road and bumped along a track at the side of a field. Not too worried as we stopped to open a couple of gates and as the grass grew a little longer. A little more worried as we dismantled and reassembled a couple of barbed wire barriers and continued through two-foot grass (the track was still there, kind of). And actually pretty concerned as we came to a gate where the mud on the other side made the going dodgy even in a Land Rover. . . and there was nowhere to turn.

Abandoning worries and vehicles, we set off for the top. Half-an-hour later (give or take a few minutes) we wheezed onto the summit into a brisk north-easterly.

Wind-break erected and camping stove lit, we raised a glass, enjoyed the views of Orkney's North Isles (I took pictures, but the words 'green', 'black' and 'murky' applied) and waited.

I'd love to say it was spectacular, but it wasn't. The sun had already dipped below the northern horizon and it toyed with the idea of getting dark, but then decided not to bother and by 1am we were all getting cold and a nightcap was beckoning.

Back at the Land Rover, I found I had to reverse down the aforementioned grassy track. Given that there were ditches either side, stepson Pat was persuaded to walk down the middle, acting as something to aim at. Rarely have I been so pleased to see tarmac.

I slumped into bed at 3ish with a sigh of relief. Been there, done that - next time I'll stick with the footy.

Thursday, 19 June 2008

Demolition men

Listening to: Everyone Thinks He Looks Daft (The Wedding Present)
Recipe for the day: Suffolk cure bacon
Weather: wet



"See that slab you're trying to chisel away from the bedroom wall?"


"Something's just occurred to me."

"What's that?"

"The wall's built on the slabs."

"Oh. . . right."

"Better leave them where they are."

"Good point."

Monday, 16 June 2008


Listening to: Seldom Seen Kid (Elbow - yes, still, but it's that good)
Weather: lovely day, giving way to light rain
Aching: all over (floor excavation has started)
Drinking: port (left over from making the pork liver pate)

Molly's had enough. You can see it in her eyes. The poor love is shattered, hungry and desperate for a little 'me' time. She looked at me tonight as if to say 'get me out of here'. I'm a bit worried.

Compared to Kim, Molly is small, mild-mannered, gentle - a real sweetie. As it happens, Margaret Thatcher was a real sweetie compared to Kim.

The trouble is, Molly's 12 piglets bully her something rotten. They're well into solid food now and there is nothing short of a stampede when I appear with the bucket. Even if I manage to spread the food out so everyone can get at it, the piglets still pile in as close to Molly as possible and - unlike Kim - she's too nice to knock them out of the way.

Kim, admittedly a foot taller and 100lb heavier, takes no guff from her eight piglets. Feed time in her half of the pig shed is an altogether more well-mannered occasion.

I used to live next door to a mum like Molly. She never seemed to get angry, just very whiny. "Please don't do that Theo* my darling," she would be heard to beg as the apple of her eye spit-roasted the cat. Theo, of course, paid not the blindest bit of attention.

At least Molly only has another three or four weeks to go. It's a challenge for the sort-of pig farmer. Slapping her about the face and shouting "have a little backbone woman" is obviously out of the question. I have to make sure she gets enough food. I've taken to sneaking her the occasional apple and a big pan of potatoes was an excellent way to get food down her - she'd eaten the lot before the piglets could work out what the bloody hell these warm lumps were.

Today I've even held the feed scoop in front of her while she scoffed away - not very dignified, but we're not out to impress anyone.

An exhausted Molly lies dreaming of the single life

* Yes, he really was/is called Theo. I couldn't help but think of Kojak. He'd be school age now, but he's a stocky wee lad and I don't foresee any problems in the playground.

While I'm on, a couple of free ads. . .

It was my birthday the other day and, despite the fact I was 47 and would have been happy with beer, chips and an early night, Mrs Sort-of Pig Farmer decided we would visit The Creel at St Margaret's Hope - far and away Orkney's highest-rated restaurant.

It was bloody terrific. Fabulous fish cakes with an avocado tartare sauce, followed by sea bass, langoustines and scallops with mash and the most fantastic pesto sauce I ever tasted. I was able to kick off with a pint and then enjoy a wonderful, rich southern Italian white, the name of which escapes me at the moment.

It's wasn't cheap, but it was excellent. Save up and go.

The other recommendation is for Bidgiemire Pig Company. They once supplied a pig arc to Gordon Ramsey for Channel 4's The F Word and now they've stepped up a notch by supplying Westray's foremost breeder of British Saddlebacks.

Getting the two flat-packed pig huts to Orkney was, of course, far from simple with plans changing by the minute on Friday. To cut a long story mercifully short, they were superb, not turning a hair while I chopped and changed the plans. There's a link somewhere on the side of the page if you're interested - and I hope you are.

Wednesday, 11 June 2008

From beyond the freezer

Listening to: Seldom Seen Kid (Elbow)
Today's recipe: pig's liver pate
Weather: Dull, overcast
Next project: dig out kitchen floor, lay a damp-proof membrane and slabs on top
How: hard can that be?

I finally plucked up courage to go over to what was Eric and Ernie's paddock yesterday. It was eerily quiet.

I assessed the damage to their hut and dug out all the old bedding straw, the aim being to get the place ready for when the sows move out there in a few weeks.

You'll be pleased to know that the lads had one last jape prepared for the unsuspecting sort-of pig farmer. Under one layer of straw outside the hut was the spot where their water tub had been.

I'd forgotten that regular spillages had left the going a little more than heavy and inevitably put one size nine foot down only for - in finest cartoon style - the world to turn upside down with me ending up on my hands and knees, realising that it wasn't just water that had been spilled there. Still, it'll be a great spot to plant potatoes in a year or so.

Very funny, boys.

Saturday, 7 June 2008

Thanks fellas

Listening to: Hallowed Ground (Violent Femmes)
Twenty-five past 11 and: it's not really dark yet

Time finally ran out for Eric and Ernie this week as I took my first animals to be slaughtered.

I was there with them to the end, but I'm not going to dwell on the details. I'm sure if you can find out exactly how it all works elsewhere on the Internet. All I will say is that it was quick and efficient. If they knew anything about it, I'd be surprised.

How do I feel about it? A bit sad, but you don't become a pig owner without knowing what the end will be. On the day itself I was so busy getting them sorted that I didn't have a chance to think about it and this is the first time I've had a moment to reflect.

Many people have told me that I would feel differently about the pigs when the pork came home and they are absolutely right. I had the minimum of butchering done and when the carcasses arrived back here yesterday, they weren't Eric and Ernie any more, but a vast quantity of meat (the lads ended their days on a fighting weight of over 250lb each) which needed my urgent attention.

I've spent much of the last 24 hours cutting, boning, jointing, preparing a brine cure and nicking bits out of my fingers. Sal has spent most of the day putting meat into bags and organising storage. Next time we'll get the butcher to do the cutting - it's way too tiring - but I kind of felt I should see to as much as possible this time.

Two freezers are crammed full of meat. Two hams are curing. Several bags are waiting to be delivered to friends and neighbours tomorrow and I'm not only quietly satisfied, but very grateful.

The lads have been the perfect introduction to crofting/farming/smallholding. They taught me a great deal, were remarkably good-natured and, at times, a bloody good laugh. I like to think they had a good nine months with us.

So, trying hard not to be sentimental, I'll just say 'thanks' to the pair of them and I hope that, if there's a pig heaven, it involves second helpings with every meal.

Tuesday, 3 June 2008

Pat has a bad day

Listening to: Do You Want To (Franz Ferdinand)
Weather: the rain's here, early spuds are showing through

My stepson Pat spent a month here before going back to the Midlands to see his friends and plot a summer 'travelling' around Europe (a beerathon to Prague, Munich and Belgium).

He's been saving cash doing odd jobs on the island and the plan is that he continues to do that until mid-July as well as helping me make a start of the renovation of the tumbledown shack we like to call home.

Having linked up with his stepbrother (my lad) in Shrewsbury yesterday evening, Pat hauled his extreme hangover to the station and, changing at Crewe of course, reached Glasgow at lunchtime.

On the five minute walk between stations, he paused to get his last £40 out of the cashpoint. While reorganising his pockets he put the money in his mouth, whereupon one of the friendly local characters pounced, grabbing the cash and shoving him over.

Nobody batted an eyelid and Pat soon gave up the chase, getting the train to Inverness with moments to spare. He arrived at the hostel we normally use in Inverness only to find they've introduced a photo-ID policy and they wouldn't let him in.

Sal phoned me in a right tizz, so I rang the hostel, but no amount of sweet-talking would get them to change their minds. "He's going to have to sleep rough!" wailed Sal, keeping things in perspective.

Pat, although shaken, did the sensible thing, found a B&B and by now should be tucked up with the prospect of the mother of all breakfasts in the morning.

It's that bloody egg.

Sunday, 1 June 2008

Lennox by a knockout

Listening to: Should I Stay Or Should I Go (The Clash)
Drinking: black coffee (run out of milk)
Weather: hazy sunshine

I was running late, driving to the airfield to pick Sally up after a week at work. I wasn't driving that fast though, maybe 55mph.

A jeep and livestock trailer was trundling along in front as I got to the long straight that leads up to the Kirk. I pulled out to pass, closed in and suddenly he turned right into a side lane. If there was an indicator, I didn't see it.

I had no room to brake in a straight line, so I heaved on the wheel, narrowly avoiding the back of his trailer. The rear tyre collapsed (it was soft and awaiting replacement) which ruled out all possibility of regaining control. I was off the road for a moment and came to an abrupt halt as the Land Rover smacked into a concrete straining post.


The other driver can't have seen me even after the impact as he didn't stop.

A little shaken, I searched for casualties. The post was snapped off at the base - fortunately there were no animals in the field. Lennox the Land Rover had lived up to his name (big, black, way past his best, but still good in a fight). A bent bumper and very flat tyre were about the limit of the damage.

I was amazed to find I could reverse back onto the road and park up properly. I tried to pull myself together and change the wheel. Sod it! I'd left the wheel and jack back at the croft. Nothing for it but to walk the mile-and-a-half.

Billy, a friend, pulled up and asked what I needed doing. 'Collect Sal and tell her I'm OK.' Moments later our neighbour Alena drew up and gave me a lift back home to pick up the wheel and jack. I grabbed all the tools my scrambled brain allowed me to remember and set off back, getting the car's upholstery filthy in the process.

She set me down again and said she'd get her husband Tommy to come out and check I was getting on all right. Knowing that changing a Land Rover wheel isn't that easy at the best of times, I'd already called Eric (Mr D) and he was soon on the scene, along with Billy - back from dropping Sal off.

Shortly afterwards, Tommy rumbled up in a 4x4 big enough to give an eco-hippy palpitations. Tom - at about 6ft 6in and 20 stone - unfolded himself from the driving seat and with eight hands now available, the least useful two (mine) were left to cheerleading and tool-holding (no sniggering at the back there). The wheel was changed, the spare having first been taken away to be pumped up (I really need to get organised) at the nearby house.

Billy set about unbending the bumper enough so it didn't catch on the wheel. The plastic cornerpiece was proving a problem, the bolts having rusted solid. No problem, Tommy fired up his stonecutter and it was off in a moment.

Stopping to explain and apologise to Marcus for wrecking his fence, I drove very carefully down to Eric's where he checked the tyre pressures and I was revived by a cup of tea and one of Mrs D's flapjacks.

Two days later I'm still wondering at just how tough Lennox is and at how brilliant friends and neighbours can be in a crisis.

Thanks everyone. It won't be forgotten.