Friday, 31 July 2009

Bobby Robson

Sometime early in 1981 a cub reporter from the Shrewsbury Chronicle, eager to help out, was pointed in the direction of sports editor Stan Hall who was preparing for the local team's big fourth round FA Cup tie with Ipswich.

Then Shrewsbury were a middle-to-decent Second Division side and Ipswich were in their pomp, already FA Cup winners in 1978, firmly established in England's football elite and on their way to a UEFA Cup triumph. So it was a big game.

"Ring Bobby Robson and ask him what he thinks of the Town team," said Stan.

I rang Portman Road and was startled to be put straight through and greeted with a warm, Geordie "Hello Malcolm, how can I help?"

Twenty minutes later I had a notebook stuffed with his views on Shrewsbury ("lovely place, must take the family there"), Town ("well-organised, hard to break down"), football ("I love the game, there's nothing like it"), life, the universe and everything.

I had enough for three good pieces, including one for the front page, and earned a rare "well done" from the Editor. The truth was that I had done very little except regurgitate the views of one of the finest men in football.

Bobby Robson died today. He played for West Brom, but I won't hold that against him. He was a rare man in the game, more interested in the simple joy of playing football than in the accumulation of silverware or money - the last of a simpler, more honest age.

I wish he had managed Wolves, but he did - as England boss - give Molineux folk hero Steve Bull the chance to represent his country as a Third Division footballer. I can't imagine any Sven or Fabio having similar imagination or courage. And I'll fight anyone who reckons Robson was wrong about Bully.

The last time I saw Robson was on Newcastle station a couple of years ago. The train south had been delayed for half-an-hour and only got going again when a big, elderly man was helped on board. I like to think we were all waiting for Bobby.

Anyhow, the world of football is short of one honest man tonight. Rest easy Bobby.


Kim is expecting. . . and, heavens, isn't she making a song and dance out of the whole thing?

We moved the senior sow from her spot in the bottom field into the maternity suite last week. She's due to farrow on Wednesday.

She lumbered up the lane easily enough, but, by the time she had snuffled through the bedding that was lovingly prepared by the pig "farmer", she was obviously knackered and in need of a large G&T and a lie-down. Being a pig, she got only one of these.

So, she rummaged through the staw I'd put out for her, tried not to look disappointed at the lack of a bed with clean sheets and then snuggled down. Right down. Lots of deep breathing. Is that panting? Can't tell? You don't think. . . ?

As a result, The Big Eeejit (that'd be me) sat up most of the night, making checks every 20 minutes and was completely banjaxed by the time he came to deliver breakfast to pigs, ducks and hens the next morning.

Kim, on the other hand, was refreshed from a good night's sleep and bright as a button - well, as bright as a 450lb pig ever gets.

I swear I heard chuckling as I left the pigshed.

Thursday, 30 July 2009

Wearing badges is not enough

We were having a clear-out - or rather Mrs Pig "Farmer" was. It was best to keep moving or find yourself stashed away with the mops and broomhandles.

An old shoebox revealed, among other nick-nackery, a couple of badges.

"I had that when I was 12," I said.

"I had mine when I was 12 too," she said.

"What's yours?"

"Anti-apartheid, what about you?"

"Bronze life-saving."

Our childhoods were very different.

Tuesday, 28 July 2009

Merlin goes on a date

It's been a long time since I first went out on an assignation with a real member of the opposite sex, but I seem to recall that running around a field with my sexual desire only too plain to see was not an option.

Maybe things have changed since the 70s.

Or perhaps I shouldn't judge Shetland ponies by the standards of my inept early attempts at courtship.

Yesterday Merlin (3ft high, but with an ego the size of Champion the Wonderhorse) went off for the first time to "meet" a couple of Shetland mares just down the way from us.

Mrs Pig "Farmer" pulled out all the stops, got the brushes and gave the lad a groom-and-a-half - even adding baby oil fercrissakes. With that and the surfer, highlighted look in his mane, what mare could resist?

There was a snag. Remember when you had to turn up at a school disco with your big, dopey mate? Remember when you were the big, dopey mate? Merlin had a "plus-one". . . Teddy.

Now, don't get me wrong. Ted is a fine looking lad, especially now that he's completely over last year's bout of laminitis (look it up) that would have had him staring down the wrong end of a gun had he lived pretty much anywhere but Pig Towers.

Ted is in the finest of fettle - a mini-version of the winner of the 3.30 at Haydock last week. Only thing is, he's not good on his own, so he had to go too. Oh yeah, and he's a gelding.

Still, the ladies seemed pretty pleased to see Merlin and Merlin was very, very pleased to see them. So pleased the bloody thing was bouncing along the ground.

Ted, bless him, was left cantering along behind, happy to be easily the biggest horse in the field, but looking like he'd rather be somewhere else.

Wednesday, 15 July 2009

Can we fix it?

The well filled all by itself (over the course of a couple of days instead of the usual couple of hours), the toilet was unblocked (Pete the plumber/landscape artist tied a old towel to an old mop and used it as a mega-plunger).

So everything was hunky-dory? It was, until a certain nameless person put a pickaxe through the pipe that supplies water from the well to the house.

Wasn't me.

I went off to a far corner of the pigshed and swore a bit - for about five minutes. Then I had a look at the (very old and imperial) plastic pipe, rummaged around some of the spare joints and fittings (recently bought and metric) we have and decided to go to bed and worry about it in the morning.

The plumbing pixies were clearly otherwise engaged overnight, so I had to deal with it, waking with that feeling of not having done my homework. I thought about ringing Electric Eric (good man in a crisis) or the aforementioned Pete, but that seemed a bit pathetic.

The pipe is one-inch, while I had a 25mm connector. Are you thinking what I was thinking? Not much diff. Worth a try anyway.

I cut the pipe, filed the bits off and cleaned it, then tried to push the push-fit connector on. It wouldn't go. I looked at the pipe and compared it with a length of the metric. . . anyway. . . long story short. . . I managed to get the two ends of the pipe connected and we had water again. Hoo-effing-rah! I was pretty damn pleased with myself.

"So what?" I hear you cry. "So this," I reply. Two years ago when I moved to Orkney I had nothing in the way of DIY or handyman skills - I must have been out of my tiny mind - and a small problem like that would have me pogoing in the panic button. I've come a long way since.

And 'Pickaxe' Pat owes me a pint.

While I'm telling everyone how great I am, I'm chuffed to bits with the little kitchen garden I've got going at the front of the house.

It was very much an afterthought, laid out in April on previously derelict ground and hastily sown/planted with onions, carrots, cabbage, broad beans, butternut squash, beetroot and spinach beet - all of which seem to be doing just fine.

Few things in life give me as much satisfaction as a healthy-looking display of veg and this lot cheers me up every time I go out the front door.

The only problem seems to be these fellas. . .

They hang around in gangs and give the cabbages a Gruyere look. Removal by hand seems to be the only solution - I took more than a hundred off today - any other ideas would be gratefully received.

Sunday, 5 July 2009

We're in the. . .

Rearrange the following words into an hilarious blog post about idyllic life on a small Scottish island.

Toilet, blocked, arm, elbow, Dettol, thorough, wash, flexible, rods, bucket, outside, dig, tank, septic, nearly, full, still, find, blockage, can't, borrow, proper, drain, rods, a, bit, mystified.

I just hope Mrs Pig "Farmer" doesn't remember the words: Pig, "Farmer", wetsuit.

Still, on the upside, the well has mysteriously refilled, despite an almost total absence of rain.

Saturday, 4 July 2009

How much for the beard?

"What about twenty quid?" said Mrs Pig "Farmer".

"That's far too much. How about ten?" said her friend Toni.

"Oh no, that'd be robbery. Tell you what, let's split the difference and make it £15."

"Hold on, haven't we got this the wrong way round. I'm selling the ducks TO YOU."

"Oh, right."


Thursday, 2 July 2009

Water, water everywhere

We have a heatwave in Orkney. It's bloody lovely. Clear blue skies, hours and hours of warm, even hot, sunshine.

The real farmers are rushing around at all hours getting the hay/haylage/silage in. The pig "farmer" is keeping an eye on his "herd" of five, worrying about his cabbages, beans and carrots, weeding in between the tatties and wondering if it's too dry to be planting out leeks.

There has still been time for a little R and R, yesterday it was a trip over to the north beach with the lads and a swim - the first of the year. Sadly the water was flat so there was no chance of a surf.

This evening myself, the dogs and The Boy - who leaves tomorrow to take up a new job in Cornwall (I suspect he's trying to tell me something) - had a leisurely walk along the shore by Rapness cemetery, shoes off, toes in the warm sand, paddling in the water. . . all that stuff.

It has been idyllic, absolute confirmation that we did the right thing moving here. I really love this place.

Of course there's a down side, as I found this morning when I ran the bath. Our water comes from a well in the bottom field, brought up to the house by a pump which is controlled by a switch in the kitchen.

I lurched into the kitchen this morning, slurped a little coffee and flipped the switch. That should have been followed by about five minutes of gurgling and hoowooshing as the tank filled. I listened and there was nothing bar the sound of a gently snoring Spike. Not a gurgle nor a hoowoosh anywhere. The tank had run dry.


I dressed quickly and went to the bottom field where the pump was whirring happily. I called Pete the plumber who diagnosed a missing valve that meant the self-priming pump was no longer priming itself.

So it's fixable, but what isn't fixable is the alarming level in the well. We're down to the last couple of feet - at least a yard and a half lower than normal. I'm told the well has never run dry before, but also that this is the driest spring/summer Westray has known for many years.

As a result there's a bath ban in force, I'm growing a beard, the once-a-week smalls wash is now fortnightly and we're buying barrels industrial strength Lynx.

Glass of Evian anyone?