Crofting Life, Food

Ian Sparkles and the flambé.

Although we have plenty of home sourced meat, we do get venison from time to time. As neither of us have the ticket needed to sell it, we get to enjoy all the benefits or pass some on to family and friends as gifts. It also ties us over if we are between stock available in the freezer. And over time, we have developed a few recipes we enjoy with venison.

So one recent evening was no exception. With many thanks to Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s Meat cookbook, there is a particular flambé recipe we enjoy. That’s all fine until the flambé’s flames are more then expected and end up melting the cooker hood and setting fire to the smoke extractor.

Yes, the house was evacuated while the Crofter used the fire extinguisher. All sorted. Apart from the hood now having exposed wire and still connected to the mains. But how to turn it off? The fuse was switched off for the kitchen while the local electrician, Ian, was called. Ian, the Sparkie (not Ian the Steer who recently went off to his forever home, nor Ian McQueen the Farmer who has also helped in emergencies in the past, but he does more, how do I deal with a boliatic, hormonal cow, then how to deal with a potential electrical issue). One phone call and Ian the Sparkie directed us to the exact spot, any further risk eliminated and we could now sit down and enjoy venison steaks (with no flambé sauce).

The Mini Crofter was intrigued. Not in flambé or how many minutes the steak was cooked for to make it rare, but the electrical points, and not just that, wanted to know more about Ian Sparkles. And with that, Ian the Sparkie may still exist to the wider community; but not in this house. We pass Ian Sparkles’ house on the way to nursery. Ian Sparkles has a van which can be identified from quite a distance. Ian Sparkles even came out to sort the byre so it now has proper lighting and electrics (rather then just a couple of fairy lights hooked to an extension cable). And just in time. Not in terms of an emergency but that darkness is no longer procrastinating in the afternoons, it lingers in the mornings too. But, although the cows may be disappointed in the lack of fairy lights this year, it’s replaced with the concept of Ian Sparkles.

So if anyone else in the community needs an electrician, our son can easily direct you to the one and only Ian Sparkles.

Crofting Life, Livestock

Old Blind Dogs

Gus, our Patterdale terrier is not old. But he is a dog and he is going blind. He is in fact not yet two. The diagnosis by the Ophthalmology Vet was not unexpected but still not something I expected to be hearing about our wee dug (that is not a typo before anyone asks).

In canine terms he is smarter then most dogs I have come across. He is not a drool-boy or a moocher, nor is he one to roll around in dead things too much. So he can be pleasent to have around (as long as he doesn’t chew his harness and take off to visit the neighbours or any one else willing to let him sniff about their garden). His latest escapade was ages ago. As in, hmm, two weeks…

Anyway, despite that, last Sunday was the confirmation I had been watching out for. He went out the back door and walked straight off the decking ramp into the house. A classic Laurel and Hardy black and white sketch (black dog, white house). But this time it wasn’t for comedy. I had been observing him for several days after I had become suspicious something wasn’t right. It had started off when I had Gus out with one of his favourite tasks. Chasing. To do this we have a squeaky soft toy (looks like a flattened idea of a fox, it is ginger, but no stuffing and this one squeaks from it’s tail. Don’t ask, I didn’t make it and Gus isn’t bothered, in fact, he likes it). So Foxy is tied onto a long lunge horse whip (they probably have a proper title for this implement in horsey terms, but I have no idea what, anyway, you can picture what I’m talking about). He then will run literal circles around you just to get it. More like a hamster in a wheel really. He eventually catches it, makes sure it’s dead, hands it back and off we go again. But this time, if it was more then two foot away from him, his nose would go down on the ground sniffing all over for it. Which made me start closer observations. He accidentally walked into the car door, the following day it was into the back of the trailer. Was he too distracted or something up? After the decking incident I knew I would need to take him to a vet.

First point of contact, our usual vets. Which isn’t your normal hamster vet, but cattle vet, so they are based down in Grantown, a 50 minute drive away. The protocol in the current Covid situation for the vets looks more like a stall at a wee games fair. An all weather parasol, a circular table, a notice board, and a bottle of alcohol gel all sat in the courtyard. The vet then comes out to see you, you have a chat while you have to keep an eye on: a) the dog to make sure he doesn’t pee against the parasol, b) the mini crofter working out the hinges of the notice board, and c) the micro crofter wanting to extract the alcohol gel.

Any other issues other than the eyes? Well, I had noticed he had been drinking more then usual. Is he ok with people? Hmm, yes, he will be delighted to go into your practice as there will be lots of new smells and someone giving him attention. And with that, off he goes, happy as Larry, while we go vehicle identification spotting (what else do you do with a three year old; ‘oh, look, there is an onion ring car’, ‘that’s another wind farm car, how many frisbee cars can we see, and so on (no points for guessing the makes).

Eventually the vet came back out. Yes, something is wrong with his eyes, but they only have limited resources, would I like to be refered to the Ophthalmology vets? Ophthalmology Vet? I really hadn’t realised they existed! Anyway, the only indication of eye sight issues and drinking is diabetes, could I get a urine sample and drop it off on the day I collect it? Hmm, yes, but can I just do it then and there and hand it back in? And if so, can I have something to collect it. With that the Vet disappears again and returned shortly with, which I am handed, a pair of disposable gloves, a metal kidney dish and the wee pot for the pee sample.

The next stage gave entertainment. Even as I was handed the kidney dish, Gus peed. The Vet and I looked at each other, I’m sure her eyes said ‘Good luck’. Once I had the gloves on and kidney dish, fat chance. By this stage I had decided to strap both boys into the car and give them their picnic lunch while I walked up and down (and up and down) the road waiting to catch the liquid gold. I tried taking him to lampposts, dustbins, even the spots he had gone for when we first arrived. A few times he would show potential, I would dive under and he would promptly decide naw, let’s keep sniffing. What felt like forever (and it was, the boys had finished their lunch) I finally got a tiny amount. Back to the parasol and bell to then hand it in. I was asked to wait while they checked it. The boys were getting restless but the idea of getting them back out of the car seemed silly. Vet then confirmed that there was no indication of sugar, but he did have a UTI so would need antibiotics. So, yet again, I nipped back to the car to try and prove to the random people walking past that I had not abandoned two boys and a dog in a car before sprinting back to collect the medicine and finally head home to await the referral.

It did not take long. Two days later we are then on the trip to the Special Vets. Same deal, hand over the dog at the door, give the history, supposedly go back to your car, enjoy a peaceful coffee and await the news. But alas, the two mini crofters and I ended up walking down a cycle path, eyeing up a Tesco’s freight train, watching a helicopter land at the local hospital and picking up oak leaves. Sounds great, but it was baltic. Try to convince two boys to stay in the car. Hmm, no. Eventually, the phone rang and I got the diagnosis. Gus has lost some of his sight and with the speed of it, will not have sight for much longer. The cause? No idea. Unusual for a dog of his age and breed. It will apparently cause him no pain and have no other implications on his health; he should go on and lead a somewhat normal life.

However, that is the issue for us. We don’t really have a ‘normal life’ and for us, he is a working dog who has a serious issue in his working practice. He can still sniff things out, but we have already seen limitations. And so, this is where we think he may be better off with a family or someone that can shower him with affection while still letting him live a doggy life. He can manage the usual walk, can even go mole trapping off the lead with me, but the risks are high in other areas. He is a cracker of a dog so one that I would prefer to find a safe home for. And that way, he would have a chance to eventually become an old, blind dog.