Tuesday, 30 December 2008

Sick as a pig

Listening to: winding up to Hogmanay

Christmas morning in the bottom field and Briggsy the porker isn't a happy boy. He strolls out of the hut (he's normally out like a greyhound from a trap), he looks at the food I've so kindly put out, he yawns, he sips out of the bucket, he sniffs around the place and wanders back into the shed before snuggling down for a kip.

Hoping it's an off-day, the pig "farmer" puts some extra straw in the hut, tops up the water buckets and goes off to stuff his face.

Boxing Day brings no change and the next day Marcus visits to give the lad an anti-biotic jab. Sure enough, 24 hours later, Briggsy (second left on the header pic) is back to his old self.

The irony is that, in a matter of two or three weeks, Briggsy is off to Kirkwall for his. . .err. . . "conversion" into chops, joints etc.

I was concerned about Briggsy being unhappy, but maybe I was concerned about £300-worth of pork - this pig-farming lark brings up all sorts of dilemmas and stuff I'm clearly going to have to get used to dealing with.

I'm daft about the pigs. I want them to be happy and healthy, but I'm just as ready to send them off to slaughter. Bit weird, isn't it?

Thursday, 25 December 2008

Wednesday, 24 December 2008

Dukes of Westray

Listening to: Chas 'n' Dave's support act

It was an exciting weekend. We had high winds on Friday and Sunday and, as I drove around the island on Monday, there was the sound of hammering and drilling as repairs were made.

We got off relatively lightly. The door of the static caravan lost a hinge, but I managed to put it back together with a little help.

Biggest casualty was our venerable Land Rover Lennox. On Friday night, just as the storm was brewing, I returned from the village and opened the door, only to have it wrenched from my grasp by a fierce gust. The ageing, rusting hinge gave the Land Rover equivalent of *sigh* "ohferfuckssake" and crumbled, leaving the door hanging at a jaunty angle.

With the wind whistling around my ears, I forced the door shut and further inspection the following morning revealed slightly more rust than door.

I've no idea if it can be fixed, but I strongly suspect I'll have the door welded shut and get in and out Dukes-of-Hazzard style through the window - a bit tricky with my knees the way they are.

Sunday, 21 December 2008

Guess who's coming to dinner?

I was feeling quite pleased with myself. We'd managed to deal with a couple of wind-related crises, Tommy Ramone (having met a quick and quiet end) was butchered and I had already trousered some of The Bank of Scotland's crispest as a result.

Work on the kitchen had made great advances during the week, Mrs Pig "Farmer" was set to make a weather-delayed return to the island to start her Christmas holliers - yep, I was in a good mood.

I'd been to the village and returned to find the front door and kitchen door wide open - not a good idea in a howling gale, I'm sure you'll agree.

Spike was hovering about, looking very worried and not a little confused. There was a disturbance at the other end of the kitchen and I was a bit surprised to see Molly the sow tucking into the veg peelings bucket.

My stepdaughter Amy responded to my pitiful plea for help and between us we ushered Moll back to the pigshed where she'd previously shifted the barrier (a telegraph pole, pallet and two sheep hurdles strapped together) and wandered through the door the pig "farmer" had carelessly left open.

Straw and feed was distributed liberally, the pig "farmer" screwed in a few more pieces of wood to secure the barrier before collapsing into a chair.

I bloody hate windy days.

Monday, 15 December 2008

Tommy Ramone's last journey

Listening to: ZZ Top

Tough day for the pig "farmer" tomorrow, even tougher for one of his pigs. It's slaughter time.

The biggest of the porkers will be loaded up tomorrow morning, ready for the trip that will end in him joining us (and several other Westray families) for Christmas dinner.

I've been through this once before, last June when Eric and Ernie fulfilled their destiny, and it doesn't look like getting any easier.

If anything it's harder as I've known this batch of pigs since birth. I've spent so many hours with them, I know each one of them and I've got maybe a bit too close. I have this mad urge to rush into the pigshed and give him a hug.

My hilarious friends have long been of the opinion that I'm too soft-hearted for livestock farming, but I suppose it's inevitable to feel this way when I have only a few animals on our little eight-acre croft. A proper farmer with 100-plus cattle or sheep and a lifetime's experience must find it easier to be less sentimental about his beasts.

I'm not about to go all veggie (if you have an hour or five, I'll bore you with the argument), but I'm having to convince myself that I'd rather have my Christmas dinner from a pig that I know has been well-cared for, has had warm, dry straw to sleep on every night, has been well fed and watered, has had regular back scratches and tickles behind the ears, has had plenty of room to snuffle around in and goes to slaughter in tip-top condition.

Power cut

Listening to: KT Tunstall

. . . and then the electric blanket stopped working.


Wednesday, 10 December 2008

Roasty toasty

Listening to: Glasvegas

Mrs Pig "Farmer" lay back and exclaimed: "Oh my god, oh my god, oh my god, that's so good."

"Everything all right dear?" asked the pig "farmer", peering around the door of the little touring caravan in the barn that serves as our master bedroom.

"Mmmmmmm, oh yes," said Sal, a look of extreme pleasure on her face.

"Is it the new electrical appliance?" I ventured.

"Yes, yes, yes."

"C'mon then, let me have a go. . . oh yes indeed!"

Aren't electric blankets great?

Monday, 8 December 2008


Watching: Taggart
It seems there's: been a murrduur
Hang on: there's been another
They've only: got an hour to solve it

Forgot to mention this a week or so ago, but was reminded by a warning put out on Radio Scotland this morning.

'Don't touch baby seals' was the message, 'even if they appear to be abandoned'.

While out for a healthy walk, The Boy and myself found this little fella. . .

. . . all alone on a nearby beach. Owen went close for a sniff, but was called away, while Spike strained at the lead, eager for a change from hens and rabbits.

He'd obviously been left at high tide and was a good 20 yards from the water with no adult seals to be seen.

He didn't seem to be hurt and kind of growled and hissed as we went past him, so we left well alone - nice to be right once in a while.

Saturday, 6 December 2008

A walk on the Westside

Listening to: This
Just: an excuse to show some pictures

A mad-busy week in the kitchen. Electric Eric has ripped out wiring that was threatening to burn the place down and installed a new ring main. He did explain, but I find it near impossible to get that sort of thing to stick in my brain.

Better still, we stuffed the loft with insulation and set about lining the walls with a sort of tinfoil bubble wrap and making a start on putting up the tongue and groove.

The result is a kitchen that is warm for the first time this winter and a feeling of immense smugness for the pig "farmer" who has learned half-a-dozen new things about DIY.

So he treated himself to a day off today - routine animal husbandry excepted - and went for a walk, faithful hounds in tow.

I'm particularly fond of the west side of the island, imaginatively called Westside. It's a little rougher round the edges than where we live towards the south-east, more of what outsiders would expect of a Scottish island*.

This. . .

. . . is a smashing little beach, one of my favourites anywhere.

This. . .

. . . is an Iron Age broch attached to Westray only by some slippery rocks. It featured on the Discovery Channel earlier this year.

Spike took the chance to indulge in his favourite hobby. . .

. . . and. . .

. . . while Owen, the dog with no 'off' button, stopped briefly. . .

. . . and the pig "farmer" enjoyed the views and the solitude. . .

* Whether Orkney is genuinely Scottish is debateable. Norwegian until the mid-15th century, you always feel a long way from shortbread and Pringle jumper country here. My great grandfather apparently took great exception to being called Scottish.

Tuesday, 2 December 2008

Holidays in the Sun

Listening to: Dark Moon High Tide (Afro Celt Sound System)
Weather today: bright, sunny, cold
Let's go: on a rambling rant

I'm a great shouter at the telly. Mrs Pig "Farmer" has banned me from watching BBC Breakfast or any of the once-great corporation's news output - especially the weather forecast with that stupid, slanty map that makes Scotland look smaller than Basingstoke.

However, she's away on a two-week pre-Christmas visit to Porkscratchingsville, so I relished the chance to let The Beeb have both barrels. And did I find an appropriate victim? Not 'arf mate.

The woman was in her sixties, maybe a healthy seventysomething. She had glasses and a 'couldhavecomefromanywheresouthofWarwickalthoughnottheWestCountryobviously' accent. Daily Mail reader - I can sniff 'em out from miles away.

This dreadful harridan was looking down her nose at the world in general while complaining that her holiday to Thailand had been ruined by the blockade of Bangkok airport by anti-Government protesters - she got home a couple of days late.

What infuriated me was that she dismissed the protesters as "stupid children". Bloody hell, I thought people like that died out with the Raj.

I told her exactly what I thought and stomped off into the kitchen where an American bloke was whineing that he was going to miss Thanksgiving because of "some cock-a-mamey protest". I didn't know anyone other than saloon girls in 1930s Westerns said "cock-a-mamey". Several other interviews since have followed a similar vein.

I don't know about you, but I'm incredibly depressed by the arrogance and ignorance of "Westerners" whose pleasure and happiness has to come before all else.

We swan around the world like we own the bloody place, treating other people's homes like a theme park, making no effort to understand the countries and people we come into contact with, should we ever get our fat arses off the sunbed.

I don't know the details of the Thailand crisis, but it seems the government is more than a little dodgy, not especially keen on elections and many folk want to have the chance to choose between them and another bunch of crooks. We'll get to make a similar decision in a year or two.

Whether you agree with the argument or not, it's every human being's right to protest peacefully. The alternative is the nightmare of Mumbai.

In Britain - and, I suppose, much of Europe and America - we've been bought off. The majority have their gadgets and gizmos, their cars, their fridge-freezers, widescreen tellys, satellite dishes, reality TV shows, readymeals and, of course, our foreign holidays.

Since the Unions were emasculated by Thatcher and Labour abandoned the working people in favour of sucking up to the big corporations there has been little focus for protest by those other than zealots. The only recent example of British people protesting en-masse was when nearly a million people walked (very slowly) through London in an attempt to stop two religious fundamentalists declaring war on Iraq.

I was there with the not-yet Mrs Pig "Farmer". We knew it was pointless. Blair had his chain mail on and was ready to do battle with the heathen. In America, the neo-cons were salivating.

But we were there, we stood up, shuffled two or three miles and had our say, exactly as the folk in the yellow shirts are in Thailand. More power to their collective elbow, I say.

I'm sure if I'd got to Bangkok airport only to find I couldn't get anywhere near Starbucks, I'd had have been a bit peeved, but I hope I would have been broad-minded enough to tolerate a peaceful political statement by people from the country in which I had been a guest. Maybe I'd even have had the imagination to sit back and watch a little bit of history. Maybe.

What the hell does "cock-a-mamey" mean, anyway?