Saturday, 27 February 2010

Pony trotting

I rarely run. I don't really see the point and never have - even in the days when I turned out for various incompetent rugby and hockey sides. A brisk stroll from scrum to line-out is all the exercise a man needs.

So it came as some surprise to find myself hubba-hubbaing up Westray's main road in wellies and padded boiler suit, puffing, wheezing, hoping the heart attack would decide not to arrive at this particular moment.

Our Shetland ponies, Teddy and Merlin, have been a little fidgety since Dotty the mare left. They were jumpy as I led them out of the bottom field, across the road and into our lane.

I noticed Merlin's headcollar was loose, made the mistake of trying to sort it out one-handed and he wriggled out of the thing altogether and took off up the road. It wasn't the best time to find out that the clip on Ted's lead rope had broken. He headed north as well, a breathless pig farmer in pursuit.

The lads headed half-a-mile up the road where they met our neighbour Chris. He parked across the road and herded the boys onto a track. The track led over the spine of the island. The pig farmer collapsed into the passenger seat of Chris's car and (with scant regard for the vehicle's undercarriage) we set off in pursuit.

Relieved not to be stuck in mud at some point, we found the boys socialising with Hannah's (another neighbour) horse. Chris blocked the exit while the lads and I had a frank discussion about lead ropes, running away, the pig farmer's knees and suchlike.

Securely tethered, the boys followed me the mile or so home and I was quietly satisfied to see both looking pretty knackered by the time I led them into the stable.

I managed to keep it together until I collapsed in the kitchen, hand reaching out for a reviving mug of tea.

Sunday, 21 February 2010

Sunshine on Westray

It was a beautiful day in Westray today, even allowing for that Orkney rarity, a hard frost. The sun shone and what snow showers there were passed to the south-west and east.

Molly the sow, now painfully thin after feeding 13 piglets for eight weeks, was more than relieved to be moved to her own pen. I kept an eye on the little ones for much of the afternoon, but they seemed unfazed by the sudden departure of their mum/milk ration.

Molly will now have a few weeks of rest and food, then, once she's back to fighting weight we'll see if The Boss has a window in his diary and the whole thing starts again. It seems like a hard life for the old girl, but she thrives when she is in-pig and a sow at the top of her game should be able to produce two litters a year.

Away from the pigshed Sally and I enjoyed tea and cake on the patio, watching the sunshine shimmer on the sea between Westray and Rousay, chatting about the extension we will get built this year, working out who the occasional passers-by were before admitting it was a bit chilly and seeking the warmth of the kitchen.

Later I went through one of my favourite annual rituals. Unlike previous years where I've spent hours poring over catalogues, we put a list together and did the whole thing on line, Sal persuading me to try some new ones (bok choi) and some that haven't worked for the last couple of years (parsnips).

She'd obviously been doing some research as my Wolverhampton-born-and-bred wife had left in the Google search box 'how to grow yam'. She wonders why I laugh.

Saturday, 13 February 2010

The Barnet

The scissors gave a tug and my head jerked to one side. I suppressed urge to cry out, felt my heart sink, closed my eyes and prepared for the worst.

I hadn't had my hair cut for more than four months and it was a little wild - somewhere between Marge Simpson and Mel 'Braveheart' Gibson. Not really a problem when you live on a small island where nobody seems that impressed by the cut of your clothes or your hair, but when you feel it pushing the hat off your head, steps must be taken.

I was visiting Kirkwall and booked myself in at the hairdressers where Sal gets her locks seen to. It was 10am, I hadn't had any tea or toast and I wasn't feeling exactly communicative. I don't like going to have my hair cut - any length of time staring at my face is very disturbing, just ask Mrs Pig Farmer - and I'm not keen on small talk that early in the day. Maybe that counted against me.

The hairdresser (for want of a better description) approached my head like it was a bomb about to go off. I'm not sure she'd ever cut a man's hair before. I'm not sure she knew that sharp scissors are available in many good shops. I think she might have wandered in off the street and fancied a go. Barbering. . . how hard can it be?

I gave clear instructions (half-an-inch on the sides, a little longer on top, tapered at the back) and she dived in. The trouble is with a bad haircut is you can't exactly stand up halfway through and storm out, especially if you're in a town that has no such thing as a walk-in barber's shop you can run to to repair the damage.

So I'm left with hair short at the back, several different lengths on top and wierd wispy bits that I'm having to tuck behind my ears to stop me looking completely insane.

I shall be on the phone later to Lauren, who runs a hairdressing business in Westray, to arrange a repair job, at the same time apologising for not going to her in the first place.

UPDATE: My brother-in-law Mart has asked for pictures. I'm a little reluctant to reveal the full horror, but in the interests of openness. . .

. . . looking good, I think you'll agree.

Wednesday, 10 February 2010

Essex girl

Dotty the mare (pictured, left) let out one last - very loud - whinny, disappeared over the brow of the hill and was gone.

At the fourth attempt, Dotty has set off for her new home in Essex where she will be cared for by my stepdaughter Amy. Bad weather prevented her travelling on the ferry to Aberdeen for two weeks, then the lack of a trailer left her kicking her hooves at our place for another week.

Everything finally came together today and, surprisingly considering our somewhat fiery relationship, she was good as gold. She was happy to let me give her a rubdown and put a light travelling rug on. Then she hesitated only briefly before trotting calmly into the horsebox.

Regular readers (Mr and Mrs Wainwright) will remember Dotty and I have a love-hate relationship. I hate dealing with her and she loves to make my life difficult.

I put it down to the Irish temperament - you can take the girl out of South Armagh, but you can't take South Armagh out of the girl. This morning, for instance, I was walking her out to the field when Little Kim came harumphing out her pighut, ready for breakfast.

This happens every day and has done for the last four or five months and Dotty never pays the least attention. Today, she decided she was scared of pigs and came to a standstill, nostrils flared, eyes ablaze, before turning round and making for the stable again with pig farmer in tow.

It took a couple of carrots and an armful of haylage to calm the nerves (Dotty's, not mine) and the second attempt proved more successful - Little Kim being busy inspecting the mud in the far corner of her paddock.

The whole episode summed up our relationship - a concerted power struggle involving stubbornness, bloody-mindedness and moments of genuine terror.

Nevertheless, I'm going to miss her and - considering she's due to give birth to "a future Badminton winner" in May - glad she'll be in far more competant hands than mine.

Thursday, 4 February 2010


I lay on my back in the mud and reflected that I hadn't had an afternoon like this for some considerable time.

I hadn't missed it a bit.

Mid-afternoon I'd discovered that Haka the pig (he's all-black) had decided the nice stone building to which I'd moved him and his brothers wasn't quite like home so - no doubt whistling the Great Escape theme - he had bust through the electric fence and returned to the main pigshed where he was busy saying hello through the barriers to his sisters and to Molly's piglets.

I got the feed bucket out and tried tempting him out. It was only a partial success and, after half-an-hour, we'd made it about three feet down the alley between the buildings.

At this point Haka had second (or third) thoughts, turned round and skidaddled back inside and to square one. I tried again and spent another 15 minutes or so trying to shift the stubborn little sod.

Pat came out to help and, at about the 14th attempt, we got Haka to within a couple of yards of where he should have been, only for him to turn round and attempt to make a break for it. At which point I did the wrong thing, let frustration take over and grabbed him by the front feet. He wriggled a lot and managed to knock me over backwards.

So there I lay, hoping the dampness seeping through the layers to my bum cheeks was just water. I took time to tell myself off for skiving out of bucket training, took a deep breath and we decided to leave the lad in the pigshed, hastily throwing up a quick barrier to keep him in.

Bucket training starts in the morning.

Briefly. . .

It was a lovely day yesterday.

But some on the farm chose to sleep in.

Monday, 1 February 2010

Jarvis Cockerel

The old stager and the young pretender stood head-to-head, then circled cautiously, beady eyes locked on their opponent.

The older fella started deliberate dancing moves in and out while his rival - his son - made fluid steps to one side, then the other.

Both fluffed their neck feathers out, crowed silently. . . and started knocking seven bells out of each other. There was blood and, if cockerels have snot and saliva, there was that too.

We have been building up to the big fight between Adam and his lad Jarvis for some time; both have been strutting around like David Cameron on one of his more obnoxious days for some time. It was just unfortunate that the showdown should be in the middle of the pen occupied by Molly and the piglets.

Not that they were bothered. Moll had her head firmly in the feed bucket, while the piglets, having taken to solids with some gusto over the last couple of weeks, were equally oblivious.

The pig farmer wandered over to break it up before things got out of hand, deciding at the same time that a transfer for both birds was long overdue.

Neighbours had agreed to have Jarvis so I fished out an old cat box and started stalking the boy. I have partly overcome my chicken phobia after sending three younger cockerels to meet their maker last week, but I still need to wear gloves to pick them up (feel free to point and laugh).

A little barley was put on the floor and as the chickens gathered around, I positioned myself behind Jarvis who promptly proved to be not as daft as he looks by edging around to the other side of the group as I reached out to catch him.

Half-an-hour later patience was wearing thin and something of a chase ensued, Jarvis moving effortlessly and gracefully around the pigshed, the pig farmer tumbling over gates and walls, tripping over buckets and getting covered in fertiliser futures.

As Jarvis popped out into the veg garden I remembered an important rule of mine: if rounding up and animal starts to resemble a Benny Hill sketch, give up and have a cup of tea.

That was yesterday. I finally got my man today, Jarvis dropping his guard while I pretended to be sorting out bedding for the pigs. He was stuffed into catbox and driven round to the neighbours where he immediately got into a fight with two other cockerels.

I hope he's all right.