Sunday, 29 November 2009


I've always disliked cars. I've driven any number of them and, in my previous life, spent many years charging around the country, eating up thousands of miles in pursuit of men (and occasionally women) playing silly games.

But I've never ceased to hold them in contempt - ride a motorcycle for five minutes and you'll know why - and now they're getting their own back.

Mrs Pig "Farmer" has bought herself a Vauxhall Corsa for her work in Kirkwall which means the family workhorse - an eight-year-old Astra estate - has been put into semi-retirement with me in Westray. That's just as well considering Lennox the Land Rover* (big, black, way past his best, but you still wouldn't pick a fight) has become electrically challenged. Alternators don't half smell when they burn out.

So the Astra, which can comfortably fit half-a-dozen bales or 20 bags of pig feed in the back, was useful. At least it was useful until it refused to start the other morning. I should have read the signs. It had been a little reluctant to get going for a couple of weeks and had twice needed the jump leads, but I reckoned it'd been wet and cold.

I retrieved the £300 Ford Fiesta which is our last resort - an "isles car" too decrepit to venture off Westray. It started first time, but wouldn't jump start the Astra which, along with Lennox was blocking it in at the side of the barn. And the Fiesta had next-to-no fuel in it.


Have you any idea how heavy a diesel Astra is, especially if you're pushing it by yourself and trying to steer at the same time. . . and you hit a slight gradient?

I'm not as young as I once was.

I got the thing out of the way just enough for the Fiesta to squeeze past, cadged a lift into the village for a can of petrol, returned home, got a duck out of the freezer, started the Fiesta, made sure nothing (else) had fallen off it and nipped round to our neighbours.

Long story slightly shorter: Tommy reckons the battery on the Astra is banjaxed, while the Land Rover is. . . well, where to start? Both are now being attended to by someone who knows what they're doing.

I hate cars.

* Lennox is one of the few cars I have any regard for, especially since 'the incident' with the burst tyre and the concrete post.

Thursday, 26 November 2009

The bonnie bonnie banks of. . .

Can pigs swim? I dunno, but we nearly found out today.

We've finally paid the price of feeling a bit smug about the relatively kind weather this November here in the far North.

Pig "farmer" and wife were on Mainland last night and it hammered it down with real ferocity. With a couple of pints of Scapa Special and a homemade pizza on board, a cosy bed and a good book, I didn't really give it much thought.

Then, as I blearily made my way onto the 7.20am ferry back to Westray I had a call. "Malc, we're flooded out," said my stepson Pat, never one to understate a case. I feared the worst when he met me at the boat (he and Sal are heading south for a couple of weeks) and handed me a pair of wellies.

Sure enough, we weren't flooded out, but it was bloody wet. Loch Steenyha' had formed in the top field (one of the highest points on the farm), pouring water into a delta near the pigshed, which in turn sent a steady flow down past the barn onto the lane towards the main road and - in the long run - the Atlantic.

After a quick coffee and a think, I checked the horses and the pigs in the shed before having a quick look out to the back where Molly and Little Kim are lodged. Molly was up to her shoulders in mud as she sent frantic "breakfast" signals in my direction while Little Kim was peering out of a hut which appeared to have developed a moat overnight.

I gathered feed bucket, dry bedding and a trenching shovel and having checked the insides of the huts were dry I set about digging a few small drainage channels to move the water away. Not having thought it through, I quickly found myself up to my ankles and being reminded that the stitching on the side of my left boot has given way.

I squelched back through the Rio Steeny, gave extra helpings of hay to the horses who were not at all happy to find themselves confined to quarters, and went in to steam gently in front of the fire.

I could be worse. We could be in Workington.

Sunday, 22 November 2009

The pig "farmer's" cock

Our senior sow Kim is back up to fighting weight and ready for a transfer outdoors - and I'm guessing she'll be glad to get away from the cockerel chorus that has played havoc with her plans for a nice snooze in the morning.

The pigshed is currently overrun with young chickens and Adam the cockerel has some serious competition. It's like backstage at the X-Factor in there.

Adam, the father of the clan, remains king of the crow, but he has serious competition from his chief rival - a hefty, grey and black fella born early this year. Jarvis is as enthusiastic a waker-up of the neighbourhood as his dad and is proving to be something of a ladies' man too.

Those two are regularly joined by Glenn (late 70s Third Division football reference) and the other younger cockerels for something as close to a male voice choir as we get in Westray.

The plan had been to put Jarvis in the freezer, but these things never seem to work out here and he's somehow been given a reprieve. He can't stay on the "farm" as he's related to almost all the other birds and is already showing far too much interest in his mother, aunts and sisters (is that banjos I can hear?).

So he's off to disturb the sleep of our neighbours up the road, while the younger birds will all go to the freezer. There are only so many reprieves you can hand out.

Which leaves us with Adam, our dandy highwayman. He has to go too as he is both father and grandfather to several of the young hens and we can't let the in-breeding go any further. There's no way in hell that Mrs Pig "Farmer" will let me wring his neck so we need a home for him.

If any of the eight regular readers of The Edge of Nowhere can give a very decorative cock a little corner for a not-so quiet retirement, let me know.

Thursday, 19 November 2009

Hands off

After all these years I can't believe how angry I could be over one game of football. Too angry, in fact, to write anything coherent about it.

This is the bit where I tried to put a video up, only to find it had been pulled off Youtube - something to do with copyright, they say. Read this instead.

Anyway, if you saw it you'll know. If you didn't, let's just say he might as well have picked the ball up and thrown it in the goal.

Cheating, cheating bastard.

Sorry, I know it's another one about football. We'll get back to 'animals do the most mildly amusing things' in due course.

Tuesday, 17 November 2009


If you're easily upset, squeamish or vegetarian, I'd press on to the next blog if I were you.

I cupped my hand around the duck's head, holding its feet tight with my other hand. I lifted the head back and pulled down hard, but not too hard. I felt the neck break.

The flapping that followed - the body's nerves reacting after death - was disconcerting, but I did as I was told, put the wings between my legs and started the laborious task of plucking.

Marcus, our neighbour, had agreed to come and help me 'process' some of our flock of ducks (flock?). We got all the ducks into the stable and, not for the first time in the last couple of years, I found myself having to stop being a big fat Jessie and get on with things.

I'm scared of birds. All that flapping sends me to jelly, but there was nothing for it but to grab a bird, hand it to Marcus who immediately pulled its neck.

Quickly and quietly, we repeated the process four times before Marcus suggested it was time I had a go. Well aware that there could be no practice run, I fetched the sixth duck, Marcus told me exactly how to hold him, I took a deep breath and killed him.

Plucking was a pain. I had plucked one and a half in the time it took Marcus to pluck four, but the six ducks are now hanging up in the little caravan in the barn, waiting to be gutted and put in the freezer, ready for Christmas.

And I'm not about to get all philosophical about the killing - the first time I've dispatched one of my own animals myself. I'm not overly happy about it, nor am I particularly upset. It's part of the job, that's all and, if anything, I'm glad I now know how to do the job very quickly with the minimum of suffering for the bird.

Pass the plum sauce someone.

Thursday, 12 November 2009

My heroes

Yesterday was a pretty normal day on the "farm". Animals were fed, a bit of work clearing a space for all the roof slates was done, tea was cooked. Usual stuff.

As a result I completely forgot Armistice Day. The world didn't stop, gentle winds blew occasional showers across Westray, the tide rose and fell.

And I forgot my grandads.

Hubert Cinnamond and Harry Winters, being Irishmen, didn't have to join up, but they did. They fought for Britain in the First World War almost from the start, right to the finish in 1918.

The pair of them could hardly have been more different. Hubert was 6ft 4in, 17 stone of bone and muscle and straight out of a storybook. Born and bred in County Antrim from hardline Loyalist stock, he lied about his age to escape the boredom of a clerk's job in his father's bank.

With a lieutenant's pips on his shoulders he revelled in the mayhem of the trenches, twice earning the Military Cross for ludicrous heroism and finishing the war with a captaincy and a backful of shrapnel.

He then took on the IRA in the War of Independence as a member of the Auxiliary Cadets, later joined the colonial service in East Africa, organised "native" troops at the outbreak of World War II to fight the Italians before accepting a commission in the Indian Army, hoping for a chance to have a "crack at the Japs".

He died in 1970 at his retirement home in Madeira, having met his only grandson once. There's a picture of a huge man with a military moustache holding a small baby - and that's it. Me and Grandad Cinnamond.

Harry was a country boy from Mullingar in County Westmeath. War broke out not long after he had moved to Birmingham, eager to make a fresh new life for himself. He'd deliberately avoided living in Brum's Irish ghettos, doing his best to fit in. And fitting in included signing his name on the recruitment sheet.

His ability with and love of horses helped find him a place in the Royal Engineers where Private Winters did his best to survive, mending telephone lines and ferrying equipment while he watched his friends smashed to pieces or simply disappear out of the saddle without trace.

He emerged from the war a quiet, serious man, but he had met May Bews and they made a home in Dublin, had one daughter who became one of only a handful of women to earn a place at Trinity College. She graduated and left for England with her Ulsterman husband, coming back a couple of years later with Harry's little grandson.

Harry spoiled me rotten. He took me anywhere a Dublin Corporation bus went. Howth Head, Killiney beach, Phoenix Park Zoo. We fed peanuts to the elephants, walked up the Big Sugar Loaf, stood on the pavement in O'Connell Street to see George Best go by.

He visited us at our home in Ely, Cambridgeshire, one November and I recall nearly bursting with pride when my grandad marched in the front rank of the Remembrance Day parade. He died when I was nine and he never knew how much I loved him.

I never wear a poppy, although I always buy one, and I fervently support any anti-war campaign, but that doesn't mean I don't fully appreciate what soldiers are forced to do in the name of politicians' ambitions. The parade of hearses through Wootton Bassett this week was one of the saddest things I've seen in a long time.

And it made me grateful that my grandads - the swashbuckling hero of a hundred family stories and the steady, quiet, loving man with the bushy eyebrows - lived through it all.

POSTSCRIPT: Before anyone points it out, I'm aware of the role of the Auxiliary Cadets during the War of Independence. They were murdering bastards who made the Black and Tans look like an under-11 netball team. My views are completely different to my grandfather's so I feel no need to excuse or apologise.

Sunday, 8 November 2009

The wheels on the bin don't go round and round

When is a wheelie bin not a wheelie bin?

Orkney Islands Council's development and environment services department obviously had a lot of our cash to spare so they've given everyone on the island a big green wheelie bin.

With the bin came a set of instructions, telling us in seven fairly detailed steps how to secure it. Obviously, given that it's November and it gets a little breezy here at this time of year, it would be madness to leave a plastic bin just hanging around.

So everyone, old folks included I assume, has been given a wooden fence post and a length of blue rope and told to hammer the post into the ground to a depth of 2ft. No small task for a pig "farmer" who happens to be the owner of a large sledge hammer - can't imagine what a peedie Westray wifey will do.

The bin is then lashed to the post using a clove hitch (don't ask me) - no doubt while whistling a sea shanty. A bungee cord to prevent the lid heading off towards Norway is the finishing touch.

Which brings me to the big question. What the bloody hell are the wheels for?

Correct me if I'm wrong, but the whole point of a wheelie bin is that it's mobile. You can wheel it around the place - the clue's in the name.

When we lived in England we had a wheelie bin. We kept it by the back door and wheeled out to the front of the house on bin day. The bin men hooked it onto the back of the cart, the rubbish was tipped in, the bin parked outside the house to be returned round the back.

Up to now in Westray, we have been given a year's supply of black bags, leaving the filled bags at the end of the lane to be collected and thrown onto the back of Geordie's wheezing wreck of a lorry.

The new system involves leaving the bags at the end of the lane where they'll be collected and thrown onto the back of Geordie's wheezing wreck of a lorry, although we now have the choice of leaving the bags in the bin if that's where we've left it.

I much prefer living in Orkney to England and I firmly believe Scotland is a far superior country (only one Tory MP for a start), but I have to admit that England is way ahead when it comes to the 'understanding what a wheelie bin does' department.

What the council seems to have done is (out of the goodness of our own council tax payments) handed out a few hundred bins - the type we used to go to the hardware shop and buy ourselves - with no discernable improvement in the service.

On the upside, the Westray wheelie bin racing season gets underway next week. Entries to the usual address.

Friday, 6 November 2009

It's a gas

Rain was dripping off the roof and down the back of Pat's neck as he manhandled the big orange gas bottle into position.

The pig "farmer" was on torch duty as his knee had inflated like a Montgolfier brothers invention after too much driving the previous week followed by a piglet-related incident. He wasn't about to risk the "I told you so" of Mrs P"F".

Next job was to take the attachment off the empty bottle and put it on the new one. "Have you got a spanner?"

Search through tool box followed, revealing any number of spanners. Guess what. Not one of them would fit. Resisting the temptation to have a rant along the lines of "why the hell does nobody, including me, put anything away?" I searched the workshop and found a monkey wrench. Couldn't get that to work either. Presumably it's great for monkeys, but not so good for gas bottles.

With the rain trickling down our backs, we skipped straight through to plan Z - ring Electric Eric and borrow spanner. The "farmer" took a few minutes to get his unbendable knee into the car and drove very carefully (it was taking several seconds to switch foot from throttle to brake, making any kind of emergency stop impossible) down to pick up the spanner.

On return, the job was done in seconds, tea was back on the stove, leaving only the question: "Why the bloody hell does the gas never run out in daylight?"

Sunday, 1 November 2009


The referee raised the red card and the sheep behind the goal went mental. Four of them left their seats and rushed to the front where they grappled with the stewards in an attempt to invade the pitch.

The rest roared their indignation and at least one missile landed on the pitch. The appearance of Lothian and Borders Constabulary's finest calmed things and Hibernian were able to get on with proving they were a little less hopeless than an Aberdeen side reduced to nine men by disciplinary issues.

A hundred yards or so away, in the back of the West Stand, a pig "farmer" from Orkney was commenting to his son along the lines of "there's something you don't see every day", "I think pitch invasions by farm animals can only improve the game" and "why do you suppose a dozen grown men would dress as sheep and travel from Aberdeen for football?"

This was the first time I'd been to a football game for about three years. The last ground I visited has now been demolished. I've always had a sneaking regard for Scottish football (quality issues notwithstanding) in general and Hibs in particular.

We had pints, went to the game, had pints again and mixed with the locals before calling it a night with a Chinese at around nine - a happy evening.

The same can't be said for the sheep. A man was taken to hospital in Kirkcaldy with burns after someone set his sheep costume on fire on the Edinburgh-Aberdeen train.