Monday, 29 September 2008

Getting back to my roots

Listening to: Bullets (Tunng)
Weather: wet, bright, wet, breezy, wet
Pig weigh-in: Johnny Ramone 113lbs

There's a lot of talk about superfoods these days with scientists or magazine editors discovering every five minutes some magic fruit or tree bark that will make us all live to a ripe and miserable old age.

It will come as little surprise that the pig "farmer" has little truck with goji berries and spirulana, even if he knew what they were. We've got our own superfood here on the croft a few inches under the soil and in increasing numbers in sacks in the barn.

Ladies and gentlemen, please be upstanding for that hero among foods. . . .

(long unnecessary and irritating pause just like when they announce results for TV gameshows)


It's not only because I have an Irish mammy* that I love the spud or tattie, as I'm learning to call it. There's something for everyone from the finest chefs to the pisshead stumbling home balancing a bag of chips in one hand and a can of Special Brew in the other.

Fair enough, some of the veg patch competitors may have the edge in looks. . .

or. . .

. . . but when it comes to veg, I'll be dating the plain bird every time.

And if you're talking about superfoods, what could be more super than a food that has been a staple in Europe for the best part of 500 years? Yeah, wheat, I grant you, but you get what I'm driving at.

I don't recall any time in history where thousands, or millions even, died as a result of a failure of the blueberry crop - or because of a shortage of pork, for that matter, although I understand the Great Scratchings Shortage of 1867 caused a few worried moments in Dudley.

My veg growing has been largely experimental this year, getting used to the difference of weather, light, soil between Shropshire and Orkney, but I put in almost 300m of potatoes, planting five different varieties so we have spuds for salad, boiling, mashing and so on.

Next year I'll plough up an acre and a half and the temptation is to put it all to spuds, but we all know where reliance on one crop gets us.

"Patrick, the potato crop has failed and the bastard English have sold all Ireland's grain supplies so we have nothing to feed the children."

"Ah feck**, Liam, didn't I tell you to plant some butternut squash and pak-choi and introduce a rotation system. Now there's no choice but to go to America."

(I can't believe I just made light of the Famine - that's me off Gerry Adams' Christmas card list.)

Anyway, potatoes are great, but you know that already.

* Actually it's hard to imagine anyone less like an Irish mammy than my mum, but she's a mammy and she's from Dublin, so there.

** Nobody in the 1840s would have used 'feck' like that. It used to be a slang word for steal or even throw - Dermot Morgan has a lot to answer for.

Friday, 26 September 2008

Peedie pigs

Listening to: Symbol In My Driveway (Jack Johnson)
Weather: dry, cooler
Surf: 3ft, clean

Mrs Pig "Farmer" has got Olympic fever and is already training to get in on the inevitable gold rush that will follow in 2012.

I haven't the heart to tell her pig chasing isn't one of the events.

You've no doubt noticed that some of the pigs are out and about, enjoying the fresh air and green grass in the bottom field.

Five of the boys had outgrown their section of the pigshed, the toilet facilities leaving something to be desired, so it was time to move.

As always, a combination of my dithering and the difficulty of actually getting the hardware over to the island meant this all took a lot longer than it should have, but I finally got a hut put up (thanks to Eric), a fence erected (thanks to Marcus) and the electric wire hooked up (all by my little self).

I backed the trailer up to the pigshed door, Mr Hotel Proprietor came up to help and I shook the feed bucket to tempt the lads out. Three of the Ramones (Johnny, Joey and Deedee) and Padraig had no problem with the idea of breakfast in the trailer, but Briggsy needed some considerable coaxing.

A bit of patience got the lad loaded up and we trundled down the lane to the pigs' new quarters. Once out of the trailer, Sal spread more feed out and the boys tucked in while I tightened the electric fence and switched on.

Once they realised they were outside, the lads began a nervous exploration of the paddock, all huddled together in the manner of an under-9s football match.

Eventually they found the electric wire.





. . . and repeat.

A sort of pig pinball.

Eventually four of the pigs realised staying inside the (quite spacious) paddock would be wise, but Johnny Ramone was slower on the uptake.

He zapped his way out and then back in and finally out of the paddock again, jogging off down the field with Mrs P"F" in pursuit.

I gallantly sat down to watch, Sal seeming to have everything under control as she headed Johnny off and encouraged him back to the paddock.

The pig "farmer" repaired the electric wire, switched back on and went to write a letter to the BOC.

Saturday, 20 September 2008

Can we have peas with that?

Listening to: Seldom Seen Kid (Elbow)

The birthday girl chews thoughtfully and says: "Hang on, it's a faggot*."

We're in Martin Wishart's restaurant on Leith waterfront and on very best behaviour. The pig "farmer" has a new shirt on.

Dinner Chez Pig "Farmer" is generally something like this. . .

. . . so it's a bit of a culture shock to find ourselves in one of Edinburgh's finest restaurants.

We've booked in for lunch and expect the most basic of treatment - the menu is dead simple, two choices for each course, so we expect a light lunch with a glass or two of wine.

Having ordered they decide we need to be kept out of trouble and are presented with a dish of 'nibbles' including a curried cabbage tartlet (about the size of a 50p), a pumpkin mousse (very nice indeed), what appeared to be a Subbuteo** football stuffed with something mushroomy and what the waiter described as "a haggis bon-bon" (!).

I really like haggis, but Mrs P"F" has always shied away, so this is a first and, true to form, she says the first thing that comes into her head, quite loudly.

Resisting the urge to order curry sauce, we press on through another little extra (a foie gras creme brulee), game ravioli, a squid ink risotto, beef shin, celeriac mash, cod loin, chocolate beignets and ice cream. We have a cracking time that becomes more cracking the further down the pricey, but excellent bottle of Argentinian Viogner we progress.

I pay the bill without a tremor and we head off for pints of real ale, taking in a couple of 'sights' from the Rebus novels on the way.

Neither of us feel too good on the Aberdeen-Kirkwall ferry next day.

And the pig "farmer" got gravy (sorry - truffle jus) down his shirt.

* faggot = a sort of pig offal meatball, a speciality of the Black Country in the English Midlands. Usually served with peas.

** Subbuteo = a table football game, the name coming from the Latin name for a hobby - a bird of prey. Geddit?

Sunday, 14 September 2008


Listening to: What Is And What Should Never Be (Led Zeppelin)
It's gone: all grey and murky

I'm in the bottom field and Marcus is showing me exactly where I've gone wrong preparing to put up a fence. The middle strainer is a bit out of line, giving the fence ever such a hint of a kink. And as for the gatepost. . .

That apart, it's a terrific way to spend the afternoon (as long as you watch your fingers). It's sunny and breezy - Westray at its very best - and Marcus takes great delight confusing me with snatches of Orkney dialect.

In an attempt to seem all enthusiastic and to try to head off another embarrassing moment when asked to hand over a flange gusseter or somesuch, I ask the name of the excellent gizmo Marcus has, a chain with two grips and a handle which he is using to tighten the fence.

"Ah yes, those would be fence tighteners."


Thursday, 11 September 2008

Cool as a. . .

Listening to: Glasvegas (Glasvegas)
Weather: sunny and windy

It's 8.23am, the ferry is due in at 8.45 and Mrs Pig "Farmer" has a meeting in Kirkwall almost as soon as it arrives in town.

She's still in her jammies.

"Err. . . have you seen the time, sweetheart?" says the pig "farmer", trying to sound all nonchalant.

"Yep," says Sal, unfolding the ironing board and sounding not bothered in the slightest.

She's already mucked out Teddy, made toast and coffee, ignored my offer to make her sandwiches and made them herself and spent a good 20 minutes admiring the kitchen tap she bought in Kirkwall earlier in the week.

She irons her work clothes in 46 seconds, has what must be her third wash of the morning and changes.

She climbs into the passenger seat, looks at me as if to say "What?" and we turn out of the drive at 8.39.

Five minutes later we roll up at Rapness pier, the ferry is running a couple of minutes late and, with the choppy conditions, takes a while to dock.

"See! We made it - no problem."

"Yeah - right."

Sunday, 7 September 2008

UN v the pig "farmer"

Listening to: We'll Live And Die In These Towns (The Enemy)
Uh-oh: he's ranting again

The ice caps are melting, Morpeth in County Durham is under water, millions are on the brink of starvation, thousands of species face extinction. . . dear God, that crappy film with Kevin Costner might be right.

Now it appears it's all my fault. At least that's according to a scruffy man with a beard and a dodgy comb-over by the name of Rajendra Pachauri.

By all accounts he's the chair of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change - one of the United Nations' gravy trains - and therefore can claim to be the UN's top climate scientist.

Obviously it's a post of some importance and influence and he's about to start a second six-year term - can't for the life of me remember voting for him.

Raj has taken a look at the global warming problem and, rather than tackle major industrial powers or pick a fight with India and China, he reckons the reason polar bears are up shit creek is down to the farmers.

"Meat production represents 18 per cent of global human-induced greenhouse gas emissions, including 37 per cent of global methane emissions, which has 23 times the global warming potential of carbon dioxide and 65 per cent of nitrous oxide, which has 296 times the warming potential of carbon dioxide."

So says Raj and that 18 per cent figure is pretty shocking. What I doubt are his answer to the problem (eat less meat) and his motivation.

What has red lights, sirens and alarm bells ringing chez pig "farmer" is the fact that Raj is a strict vegetarian. Of course he wants us all to eat less meat. He doesn't want us to eat any at all.

Raj would, of course, rather see the world turned into a desert by the overuse of agri-chemicals which would be necessary in the face of the march of vegetarianism, the collapse of a balanced form of agriculture that stood the test of thousands of years and have farmers put out of business (some almost before they've got started) in their thousands.

Yes, the dramatic clearance of rainforests for meat production in South America and Asia is wrong, but rather than talk to governments about their agricultural policies and what they can do to bring about a more sensible, sustainable way of farming the land, Raj has decided it's time to push his own misguided beliefs. Using your (no doubt very well paid) post to do that is unacceptable.

I'm all for reducing the amount of crap meat that is produced and eaten. I'd heartily endorse any global boycott of McDonald's, KFC, Burger King or the Flamin' Tasty kebab shop in Walsall.

But to give the impression that eating any kind of meat is harmful to the environment is ludicrous. British farms are reducing methane emissions year-on-year, local produce is becoming more fashionable, organic produce is edging its way gradually towards the mainstream, more and more people are becoming aware of food miles.

Instead of cutting back on meat consumption, maybe it's a good idea to be more selective. Buy your meat from a good local butcher, preferably one who can tell you which farm the beast came from - a good butcher will be only too happy to talk to you about his produce. . . go to a farm shop or a farmer's market. . . order direct from the farmer (my e-mail is on the sidebar). . . avoid intensively-reared meat. . . sack Rajendra Pachauri.

Monday morning note: Please don't misunderstand me, the threat of global warming must be taken seriously and that 18 per cent figure is a real shocker. But to come up with such a trite "solution" just because (a) animals fart a lot and (b) the boss man is a strict vegetarian strikes me as, at the very least, ridiculous.

I'll carry on recycling, using public transport whenever I can and so on, but I expect people with real power to come up with some real solutions.

Saturday, 6 September 2008

Car, egg, face

Listening to: The Ghost That Carried Us Away (Seabear)
Weather: sunny, if a little breezy
Surf: barely a ripple

The little £400 Ford Fiesta we bought as an island runabout had developed a knocking sound that got worse the faster it was forced to go.

"Bugger, it's the driveshaft," thought the sort-of pig farmer - a man whose knowledge of motor mechanics is right up there with Orville the Duck.

We ran the rattling, hammering little thing up to the island's mechanic - a top bloke who knows his stuff and is pretty cheap. My hopes were not high.

The next day my phone rang.

"Is that Malcolm?"

"Yep. What's the verdict? Tell me the worst."

"A couple of wheel nuts were loose."


Memo to self: to avoid extreme embarrassment, check all the obvious stuff first.

Tuesday, 2 September 2008

Come dine with me

Listening to: Takk... (Sigur Ros)

Kim has been out on her own in the paddock at the back of the croft for several weeks now. Pigs are social animals and I worried that she would be lonely, but I needn't have. . .

Meanwhile, there's bad and good news for Molly. The boar on the island (a rather handsome Tamworth) is unavailable so she's going to have to keep taking the cold showers for a while.

However, Orkney's other Saddleback breeder is due to take delivery of a boar in a few weeks. I've offered to buy a share or to rent him (a rent boar?) to show both sows a good time. Watch this space.

Monday, 1 September 2008

Happy Wanderer

Listening to: Takk... (Sigur Ros)
Birdwatch: Wheatears fluttering up and down the lane
Sorry: I'm banging on about sport again

Football - or, more accurately, Wolverhampton Wanderers - has been a part of my life for just about as long as I can remember.

Like anyone who supports a club whose best days are behind them (Wolves' seemed to end the moment I was born), I've had my fair share of heartache. I haven't been to a game for the best part of three years, so results come and go with little more than a philosophical shrug. Regular readers will have gathered I much prefer rugby these days.

But once in a while the chaps put a great big smile on the pig "farmer's" face. 5-1? 5bloody1? Not only that, but top of the league. I know we're only four games into the season, but isn't this the best time to top the Championship? Glory while the weather's still good and plenty of time (42 games) to escape promotion to the bathtub of pirhana fish that is the English Premiership*.

One small snag. The 5-1 happened to be at the expense of Nottingham Forest - favourite team of my dear pal Reg Pither. Took the shine off it a bit. I feel for him (yeah, I know that's a bit patronising, but I do, so there) not just because his lot got thwacked, but also because he lives in. . . Wolverhampton. Saturday night in the pub must have been fun.

I sent Reg what I hoped was a light-hearted text, but I've had no reply so can only assume he's wisely gone to ground. However, pictures have been released of his reaction at full-time. . .

Sorry mate, could happen to anyone - time to get those European Cup DVDs out and blot it all out, I think.

* I've come to the conclusion that the winners of the Championship should be allowed to be promoted into the league of their choice. Portugal anyone?