That time of year when snow glistens in the sun. The muted sounds buffed into tranquillity. All perfect winter scenes as social media are serenaded by a whole orchestra of glittery, snowy pictures that burst onto the scene.
And then it all melts. And you’ve got a foot of mud to wade through. The soggy ground squelching, holding wellies down stronger than an industrial hoover. The fear of becoming wellieless grips as each step is taken. The thought of a soggy sock in the middle of an open field, far from any relief of a dry foot grips your chest as tight as watching a movie where the music has gone into ‘suspense’ mode. The potential of looking like a flamingo, but without the glamour safari backdrop, as your welly remains in that last step is a very real, impending doom thought. Separation anxiety very quickly sets in. Noo, this is not the time to try the hippy bare-foot, guitar playing country life walk. This walk was to sort a fence. And a urgent matter. I don’t want a soggy sock. I want my wellies!
And so, to redeem that tiny piece of grace, two hands desperately go into starfish mode, the yoga pose (yes neighbours, of course I’m practicing yoga in the middle of a cow field) is maintained as the slow and very cautious bend is undertaken to perform the tug of war against the mud. Who’s going to win? Surely not the mud. The tugging ensures. Until suddenly, you win. The mud releases it’s grip as you fly backwards. Your wellieless foot is still dry. Hooray! Ok, you’re bums now soaking from the landing, but hey, at least you’ve been reunited with the wellie. The mutterings of ‘aye, this is the good life, huh?’ reverberate in the mind. Well, no one can’t say I’m not close to nature. I’m about a foot deep in it!
And I’m not sure if I look better in the flamingo pose or the yoga pose. I’ll go ask the cows.
December ended up being a bit of a blur. Not in the “have you been to Specsavers?” type, but the day to day tasks turned to a ‘lets try and keep everyone and everything alive’ mode.
The microscopic bugs seemed to have held the house hostage. The siege seemed never ending; one attack would finish with that moment of silence before the next one would spring out from nowhere. In the middle of those situations, the snow fell. Suddenly at first. And a lot. And then the temperature dropped. Not to any drastic plunge by any means, but just enough to freeze water. And water’s fairly crucial. So the battle of the ice was declared; a twice daily repetitive strategy was enforced. Grab the wellies, the waterproofs, energy from the depth of your toes (before they freeze), start ‘The Battle’ song by Hans Zimmer in Gladiator, clench the fist, lift that snow shovel high and call out that battle cry.
The byre’s water went first. So the cows were let loose to the top field (which can have a water trough filled from the house). Rocky and Hilda are out wintering, so they needed another gate opened to access the far field which has a burn, which has so far, never frozen. But it has been close, so a 20 minute trudge through the snow to check water was flowing commenced. And in the mean time, let’s not forget the hens. Nor the dog. Or the mini crofters. The clean washing pile was deemed a non essential service and still seems to be suffering the aftermath.
So it was back on one of those days, between two children becoming ill, that I took ill. And was in bed. So the SOS lifelines were called. The dog went down to one set of neighbours, another checked the cows and chickens. And another popped up at tea time to feed the boys their tea (who had managed on cheerios and youtube). And to add a wee cherry on the top, a water filter at the polytunnel decided the situation was just too much, and burst.
The water pressure at the house raised the red flag. The burst pipe hunt began and once the flooded polytunnel was spotted, the repair work began. And it highlighted how much of a maze of pipe work we have, and how hard it is to find anything when it’s three feet under snow.
So the music tempo changed. And along came Elvis and his ghetto. But adapted, to fit the scene. The song, with their rewritten lyrics had been forgotten about until today.
As I cleared a path to the pickup, checked the cows, and attempted to get the boys ready for school, the song came back.
As the snow lies
On a cold and dreich December mornin’
Another water pipe begun to freeze
In the byre (In the byre)
And the crofter cries,
‘Cause if there’s one thing that she don’t need
It’s another job that needs some heed
In the byre (In the byre)
People, don’t you understand
The woman needs a glass of wine,
Or a two week trip to where that sun shines
Have a look for Timbukto
And in her dreams you find her there.
But now we find the schools been shut
And have more work to do
Well, the weather turns
And a soaking crofter with a runny nose
Works in the snow as the cold winds blow
At the byre (At the byre)
And her hungry burns
So she starts to roam the fridge at night
While she dreams of spring
And she dreams of light
In the byre (in the byre)
So now, the snow swirls around outside. The pick-up already covered again in snow. The school run never attempted after the messages arrived of adverse weather and school closure. And the gentle strumming from Elvis softly plays as I dream of spring.
Things have been fairly quiet on the blogging aspect. The writer’s block has seemed to have outlasted the pandemic and is still going strong. A few times I would get those ‘whay-hey’ moments, but rarely would the mental concept last, the next breeze would chase it off and by the time I got to sitting down to write, it would be a distant memory, not of the concept itself, but that I had at some point had a paragraph I could have written. Maybe I should dig the laptop out anyway, I would wonder. But I then found excuses, I was trying to work on my knitting, I have a cross-stitch project from about 10 years ago that I would desperately like to finish. What about the spinning wheel that I rarely touch, let alone the piano. Then there is the pressure of Duolingo (for those unaware, it has leagues, and points, and demotion potential if you don’t practice). For one whole year I was doing French via Duolingo. That has now changed to doing Gaelic (because having two boys in the local Bun-sgoil and sgoil-àraich means now getting asked questions which I have no idea), so I shelved the French and swapped to gaelic. And while I don’t spend a lot of my time language learning, it can quickly fill an evening, even with the longer spells of darkness. And I did try combining knitting with gaelic but counting K2P3, as basic as it is, was not aiding with duolingo (suggestion to any involved with the Scottish gaelic is can I have a knitter’s version).
Now, I realise a lot of people are not keen on the nights drawing in, but I’m enjoying it as it gives an excuse to finally get to the spinning wheel and my knitting (yes, my spinning wheel has been outside but often, I just sit there and eye up all the outside jobs that need done). And with the attention back to the wheel, and the knitting needles back out, I recently did take a day off and went shopping. To the rare breeds sale at Dingwall Mart. What more, then window shopping (well, gazing through the pen gates) at all the different breeds of sheep, a cafe area which serves bacon rolls and chips, and to then splash out and buy some more sheep could you want in a day?
Yes, having done a little bit of prior research into wool, I went along eyeing up three different types: ryelands, wensleydales, and Icelandic’s. I was given a sack of ryeland wool early autumn which is about to get washed. I decided to practice washing one of the fleeces I had sheared this summer (texal cross) before approaching the ryeland wool. Which will now need to get done sooner rather than later because I bought two Icelandic ewe lambs. And I would like to have gotten through the ryeland wool (washed, dried, and carded) before I then get icelandic wool next year. Which also means I need refreshers on carding. But the problem with looking carding up on you tube, is you come across articles on weaving, and then someone has made bags from weaving their own wool, and then you start looking up looms, which takes you back to the auction mart and oh, look! There’s another spinning wheel for sale at the mart; the same mart I was at last week buying two sheep. Ahh, it certainly is a slippery slope into the woolly world. Besides, I really need to go check the cows, the bull, the chickens, and the dog before I get back to my knitting this evening.
‘Where are you going?’ I was asked as I packed my bags.
‘Timbuktu’, I replied.
‘You’re not going to Africa’, the oldest retorted.
Ahh, you are correct, but I’m going to the Highland’s local equivalent. And possibly better than Timbuktu (although I can’t say for sure as I’ve never been to the real Timbuktu).
See, anytime they ask where I am or where I’m going, I say Timbuktu. Times such as, when I’m taking a load of laundry to the washing machine, when I’m heading outside to hang laundry, or when I carrying clean laundry upstairs to be folded. It is at those times I hear the call:
‘Muummmm, where are you?’
No tannoy is needed for my boys to put out a missing person’s call, to ask all to join in a search party, for voices to be raised to see if the person’s whereabouts can be pinpointed. They are by no means part of a mountain search and rescue team, although the laundry always seems like a mountain and maybe one day I will succumb to the shear heights and become crag fast with it and need help, but not sure the Scottish Mountain Rescue team would be fully trained for that kind of rescue (the type of rescue where you hear: ‘Joe, you start folding towels on the west side, Sarah and I will take on the deep crevasses of the sheets from the south. Sam, you take on the landslip of socks over on the north face while everyone else spread out across the general laundry slope and pick your way carefully over the tops; be suspect for anything that doesn’t smell of Ylang-ylang and Lily). My boys are just getting a bit of work experience really at the basic search and rescue aspect; the type they could put on their CVs – ‘From the age of three, we led countless endeavours to rescue Mum when she disappeared for more than five minutes’. On a positive note, they are good at finding me. However, they are also good at following. Not in the way a dog does scent training and is always scent following long after the person has past that way, but in the ‘never take your eye off the ball mentality’. Their philosophy is it is always better to stick together.
Now, their scent following/search and rescue missions are not all the time, they are less so when the Crofter is home. But while he is gone, I do find the book ‘Five minutes peace’ is a very realistic book, save the fact that it pertains to talking elephants. But the fact that Mrs Large tries to get five minutes peace but is unsuccessful; that my friend, is the realistic part. And with that, I thought I would change the book from a simple children’s book, to a self help book and take up the challenge. So within hours of the Crofter arriving back from work, I had booked two nights away at a local hotel. I was finally going to Timbuktu!
I took enough ‘holidaying’ things to last a week; optimism at its peak as I was only going to be away for two nights. The books (three), the magazines (two), the writing equipment (two notebooks and a laptop), the cross-stitch (that hasn’t been touched for years), the mountain bike, and the walking boots all went. The ability to get outside and enjoy the fresh air is not something new. But the ability to go for a walk without having to carry 13kg for part of it, the cycling without having a trailer attached, the ability to sit for long enough to a actually thread a needle. That can make the world of difference. The space for the mind to feel free…that is, until you round a corner and find 20 cows munching on silage and you wonder where the next cattle grid is in case you need to run as one of them gives you ‘the look’ that you are well familiar with. But the time to have space and have place of refuge were I don’t need to cook, clean, wash up, or be the responsible one.
Was my trip successful? Well, if that means having a good night sleep and doing things I enjoy, then yes. Was I ready to go back and face the cows? No. I could have stayed for longer. But hey, a couple of nights escape has been well worth it. Probably much over due (the good night sleep meant I only needed a small coffee rather than my usual pint size mug). The food was lovely, more so when the only meal prep you had to do was to start eyeing up the menu at about 3pm in regard to what you might want to order.
So, I can highly recommend to anyone: take a break, stay local, support independent businesses, and go have an explore down that wee track that you have always wondered about (just watch out for the cows that may be round the corner…). Go local, go rural and find your Timbuktu.
NB, For those wondering where my Timbuktu was, it is the quirky and fabulous Whitebridge Hotel (who are on Facebook, Instagram and the Internet so go check out some of the décor for a wee taster). I can recommend several walks (and one to avoid if your not fond of cows), the lounge seat next to the fire, and a favourite spot at the bar.
A wee while ago (OK, maybe a few years ago), I went on a freebie session about maximising social media for small businesses. So I dutifully signed up as a business to Facebook, got an account on Twitter and joined up on Instagram. Facebook, oddly enough, I could handle. I like stories; while a photo or two can capture the reader, there is info in the post (well, not on every post and not on everyones but let’s ignore that). A lot of blog posts all started off as a facebook post, became too long so got transfered over.
Next, was Twitter. And nothing really prepared me for a newsfeed of pure sharp shooters; snipers sitting at their keyboards (most likely in a darkened room, eyeing up any movement or activity on the plaform that they could shoot down in a single shot). I may be slightly exagerating. Not everyone is like that. But it is certainly a one liner culture: a hit and run culture. I sit in the arena and watch the horror of gladiators and lions attack each other. I think I average about 10 mins a week on it before it is abandoned and I go back to the fairy tale stories of facebook.
But then, there was Instagram. The click and collect social media version of the happy shopper. All I saw was lots of pictures. But tell me more! Why are those two women jumping about in a living room in front of a sofa? Why is another picture showing me a coffee being made, of a dog looking shocked and another of some mist? Why is the wee blurb sometimes hidden? The conversations between people doesn’t flow. So, with the difference in the set up, Instagram came even further down my list of what to look at in the night when suffering from insomnia. Figured, hey, I’ll do a bit of reaserch another time to figure out who looks at this stuff and the thinking behind it.
And so the days rolled into weeks, into months and hum-hmp, years. Until recently, a discussion with a friend gave a bit of insight into who uses it and why. It is her do-to app. I started looking at it again. Promptly to be closed. Until that is, a nudge from a good fiend. Someone who is the real life version of the Mr Men’s Wizard (not that he has special powers but he has a beard, a wealth of knowledge and can talk to anyone). Yes, Mr Wizard knew how to tap into the chic and shabby world of instagrammers. You know, the type that have avacado on toast, want to live in the country side where the air is pure, they can experience walking through meadows barefoot and eat local organic food (can I clarify this is not the entire set up, it’s just the type I seem to find). So how do I discretely join in when we just had a 400 degree hot pizza oven blasting from the back of a bashed pickup parked in the byre due to it lashing with rain? Or when I had good solid dirt under every fingernail from digging veg? And when I’ve just had to pressure wash a pair of boots that got coated in gardener’s gold (aka manure) straight from a cow? They may not smell the manure on Instagram but I don’t think pictures of cow pats cuts it.
But never fear, I’m sure I do have photos that match the wannabe country folk. But if it’s out walking the meadows barefoot, I’ll be checking for ticks. If the sun is shining through the long grass, I’ll be assessing the grass length or blocking the contract tractor dude from mowing the grass. Dancing to the Hippy, Hippy Shake? Sorting a bee swarm by the sound of it. And if I’m lying back, on the grass, looking like I’m dreaming? Mostly likely a cow has knocked me flying and I could do with a hand up or an ambulance. So this will be interesting; bridging a gap between what people think I do and reality. And more likely needing witty, one liners for a photo. At least actually ‘living the dream’ does put food on our table and gives me a warped sense of humour.
Ok, this is probably the first in a long time that I have not used song titles, lyrics or even my own adaptions to songs in the title (it’s also the first time in a long time that I have written anything). A few months ago I did not deal with a Charging Bull (like the statue outside Wall Street), but a very real, charging steer. People at Wall Street apparently have to deal with high stress levels, think they might have fancied a bit of fresh air and lending us a hand?
Some of you may remember we use to have a cow called Breena. Breena, who on her first day with us went charging through an electric wire. She then settled down until her last two pregnancies with us when she turned absolutely mental. Two strikes, she was sent to her forever home (not without her last stand at the abottoir, for those that read that story) and I thought my troubles with mental cows was a thing of the past.
However, (and a big however!), over the summer we have been moving cattle around while our reseeded grass got established. Out of one field, into a trailer and just 5 mins round the corner. All went swimmingly (well, swimmingly like Eric the Eel when you are taking down electric fence, putting it back up and trying to work with livestock). Swimmingly, that is, apart from one. Jack Daniels. Jack was one of four boys born here two years ago. He has often been hestitant but that’s workable. I could still get him to a bucket, and we had moved him several times before. But his anxiety suddenly escalated. Into a new league. On this one occasion, all the others walked into the pen, loaded and moved. Apart from him. He refused point blank to go anywhere near the loading pen.
So, with that, I went back down the day after the initial attempt to try the good, old bucket of nuts and taking it soft and slow. The gentle buzz of bees, the gleams of sun being filtered through the trees. He would follow the bucket to within a foot of where I needed him before going back to his comfy corner (in the furthest away corner at that). The morning quickly past and it was soon lunchtime. Back up was called. The Crofter arrived with two mini crofters to see if we could rig up some electric wire to halve the field to help nudge him in the right direction. Nope, just like Breena (bless her), he went straight through and away he went.
Troops were regathered, lunch fed to very hungry people and strategies sought. Which was, ‘oh pants, we need to check the bee hives for potential swarming’. Yes, to get a land flowing with milk and honey, it all takes time. Once the hive checks were completed, and we got back to steer strategies, we decided to ring in help. Surely another couple of people to run about a field would help?
It started so perfectly. Along a fence line, towards the pen he aimed. Backup spaced out in a way a rugby commentator would be proud of, when, on the space of a fifty pence piece he double backed on himself and set off like Mo Farah. In fact, not only like Mo, he decided to try the hurdles and jumped the fence into the neighbour’s field. He was nearly ready to go over the next fence like a criminal in an urban housing estate trying to avoid an arrest when we managed to divert him though a gate into a square penned section of a field. Barbed wire, new stock fence. Excellent. Set up some hurdles, the livestock trailer awaiting; he could walk in and voila. Attempt one. After he started eyeing up jumping the stone wall, e sent someone to the road side to persuade him not to. Attempt two. I then jumped the barbed wire to put him off jumping that. Alas, he didn’t care and jumped the barbed wire, a jump that a cross country Olympic horse would have been proud of.
Great. Just great. Plan C (or D): let’s try and get him to jump back into his original field and leave him to chill overnight. And this is where things took a turn. A bit of old fencing, a few loose posts: great, let’s aim to get him over that. Perfect opportunity as he has shown he’s got showjumping potential. He followed the line perfectly, headed for the dipped fence before coming to a complete stop. Maybe I should have complemented him on his jumping? But he then turned, at first running off at an angle to the side of me before suddenly turning and came straight at me, head on. Life does not flash before your eyes. More, ‘this will be very painful, will I be thrown up in the air or trampled (I kid you not, that was my thoughts)’, and with the only thing I had, I walloped him on the nose with all my might.
I will not lie, I am so glad my Guidance Teacher never suggested being a Matador (turkey farmer did come up in one book but never Matador). I never wanted to be a Matador but if I had, my career potential had instantly crumpled (don’t get me wrong, I like cows, but without the drama, another subject not recommended for me). With a steer only taking one swipe at me, I wanted out of the field.
While the steer headed back to eyeing up jumping over the stone dyke; some old fence posts were uprooted to enable the fence to be pushed down to give space for him to step over. I exited the field while the Crofter and two other brave men tried one last chance. Thankfully, Jack D saw the opportunity and took it. And while he looked thankful to be back in his own field, he was now searching for pals. He didn’t want to be on his own. But while he wanted a support group, we left him to chill, praying that he wouldn’t try jumping again. Now, this all happened when we had a slot booked for the following day for a steer to go to the abottoir. And his name was now on it…if we could get him loaded.
But how to get him into a pen? We decided to take down our house cow who is very chilled, very slow, and is the herd matriarch. She quickly got him following her like a star struck teenager with a celebrity. She did several short laps of the field, each time bringing him back. But he would not enter the pen. She now wanted to know what on earth this was all in aid of and when could she go back home! We needed to get to the abottoir and were fast approaching our cut off time. As the clock ticked, we had to abandon him and quickly nip back to load another steer to take to the abottoir. But we were still stuck.
Now, my trip to the abottoir went fine. That is for someone who has recently been charged at. Discussions were had with an experienced livestock handler. So knowing I had a backup plan, I then headed off to chat with a local farmer, who told me where to find another farmer. So, in the middle of a farmer’s field, as he was trying to wrap silage, over the noise of the machinery, it’s a former I had never spoken to before, I was provided with a plan. The use of this farmer’s handling area and knowledge of how to get the steer up to it.
We were not foolish though. And we still sought help from the local Farming Community. And it went like clockwork. The Matriarch, her calf and Jack Daniels quietly walked out of a field gate and up a road, into a handling area and with only a wee blip at the livestock trailer, you would never had known that I had been google searching if any Vets in the Highlands had experience on Safari’s firing long distance tranquilizers.
So why write the story now? Well, Jack came back to our fields and remained with our bull until last week when he took his final trip. I have been counting down to it. I will admit I have been pretty twitchy near any of the cows recently. The two of us in particular have kept our distance. He did try one last chance to break me and nearly succeeded. Thankfully, the likes of Hugh, Ian, Andrew and Graham have been the unsung heroes of the livestock world. All four men offered their knowledge, time and support.
As for me? To help get over my confidence dip, we’ve just bought a bull. A massive bull. One that looks like a bison. This ought to be interesting…
Dryope came to us from Yorkshire having been on a farm where the herdess was a cheese maker. She was our very first cow and she has always been the matriarch of the herd. She may not be a fine, prize cow, but she comes to a whistle, we use her to help guide other cattle who may be nervous, and she is our milking cow.
To do this we just take her surplus (this is a lot easier than not milking and then having a cow with mastitis that needs medical intervention and hand milked to remove clots to enable both the calf and cow a trouble free feed). Her calf is not taken off, she comes in, gets a treat, a mini milker is used and then off she goes back to the field.
From this brief daily share session, we get plenty of milk (and a good layer of cream). Enough in fact to try all kinds of things: everything from hot chocolates, custard, ice-cream, cheese, and butter. For the calves that we share her with, she has had six and has fostered one (the Saler that is now also milked). Two of her calves have stayed with us, two have gone to new owners, and several (after a couple of years frolicking our fields), have provided us, and others, with beef.
We winter cattle inside to avoid heavy poaching. This gives us dung which goes back to the fields for making grass (and hay). It also goes to the veg garden and orchard to give the plants the needed nutrients for growing fruit and veg.
As she was from a milking herd she had to patiently wait while we clumsily learned what to do. Over the past couple of years, our dairy knowledge has increased significantly. But this is Dryope’s last year though. The past couple of winters her age has been showing. She struggles more to get up and down. Her movement is slow. In cow terms, she is doing remarkable, as she is a fair age. She will be missed but the idea of forcing her through another cold, harsh winter is not pleasant.
At the moment though, she is grazing the grass close to the house while she watches her heifer calf, a bonnie wee thing, bound about the field. The ice cream maker is on nearly every day and the cheese making equipment are back out again while we enjoy having her.
Lockdown restrictions have been easing at variable rates. And I discovered the bees have been keeping up with the the changes too. How? Well, Hive One decided to have the biggest street/air party you could have imagined. Had they really won the Honey Bee World Cup? Were they aware it was still only so many households with a maximum number of people? Mind you, these bees were all from one hive bubble so if anyone was that bothered, I’d have left the police to hand out the fines (honestly officer, that’s not a hive two bee, can you not tell??). But this wasn’t just a wee cheeky lockdown catch-up, they had decided they needed to cut the ties and find a new abode. Yes, they swarmed. And what a way to do it.
Now the garden has been severely hit with our cold whether. Lots of potted plants grown from seed are (or were) still in the polytunnel. And now they very suddenly needed the outside. The Antarctic-come-forty-days-of-rain seemed to have finally past. The ground seemed to have been fully detoxed by taking in more fluid than you would have imagined. But the weather didn’t ease gradually. No, it suddenly changed. The polytunnel started hitting the high 30s and the potted plants wanted out ASAP. Suddenly transporting plants out of the tunnel was getting urgent.
And it was while in the process of copious trips back and forth to the veg garden, a noise suddenly arose; a noise akin to a whole group of Hell’s Angels deciding to drive past (which would have meant they were coming off the hill and down a common grazing track; highly unlikely but if true, would have been phenomenal). So I very tentatively had a look at where it was coming from (because, who knows, Hell’s Angels might one day come down from the common grazing). There was not a motorbike in sight, but above the hives, the bees looked like they were negotiating Birmingham’s spaghetti junction in rush hour just before a bank holiday. They were everywhere. All lockdown restrictions had suddenly been lifted and there are no limitations on their social gathering (please note, this is not the case, please adhere to government advice and don’t plan a street party after reading this; just because the bees did it, doesn’t mean it’s right and no, you can’t have 5,000 meeting up in your garden). Nor had they won the World Cup. In fact, a hive was in the process of swarming. Thankfully into the hedge next to the hive. Great! Now what am I supposed to do? What did they say on how to deal with a swarm on that beekeeping course? How was I supposed to remember? I did what you always do in an emergency; I called in the experts.
Swiftly, the experts responded and very soon I had a beekeeping pro. With the calmness of a yoga teacher (not doing some funny pose, but the ability to look like there was just relaxing music going on rather than the buzz of the M25 in rush hour), the swarm was plopped into a new hive. The old hive was then checked. And then the other hive. And what an eye-opener. Not in the sense of needing to keep your wits about you due to half a hive absconding, but to watch the Pro handle the bees.
With both hives now fully checked and the new hive observed again to make sure all was well, the relief was good. Well, apart from losing the oldest Mini Crofter who was nowhere to be seen before finding out he had decided to nip down to the neighbour’s to see their new ‘toy’ (aka a fairly reasonable piece of machinery). Having coaxed this info out of the Micro Crofter (so I didn’t run any risk of misplacing a child), I thought, great, I’ll nip down and milk a cow (because it’s always easier with one child than two and I am always up for utilising these times). Everything set up, cow in, machine busy working when suddenly rush hour hit again! I glance up thinking, this can’t be right, the noise again was in the air. And that was with ear defenders on but I could still hear it. And my ears did not deceive me, there was the Birmingham spaghetti junction of bees coming down the track (thankfully taking the otherside of the byre) and I watched them head down the road before quickly running back to dismantle the milker from Tilly, cleaning up and sprinting up to the hives. But each seemed ok, they all had bees. I phoned the Experts again (start thinking of the term ‘muppet’ across forehead). Advice was to go check the new hive. Sure enough, now there was hardly any bees going in and out of the swarm’s hive. As much as I thought they would like their new house being delivered to them, no, they must have watched The Snail and the Whale and wanted to go see the world. And off they had gone.
A major bee search then started. Involving multiple neighbours, neighbour’s visitors, really anyone I could rope in. Now, this wasn’t just a nice and easy search and rescue. This was a search and rescue while lugging a two year old about with you. Which required good stamina and an ability to pass a mental hurdle that you really can carry the weight of half a bag of chicken feed about with you while searching high and low (my right arm has still not fully recovered). The determination to keep going was aided by the frequent concept that I could hear bees. The burn was very deceptive; giving off a slight humming noise that constantly drew you back to it. The hillside was examined. I may have been persistent but I can admit the trees were not tooth combed. But alas, no swarm was found.
By the end of that day, I would have been more than happy to be Baloo from the Jungle Book. Not to be some big fluffy, overweight bear. But to be singing about bees buzzing in the trees making honey just for me, and not chasing them over the Scottish hillside.
Now, all is not lost. Our two beehives are still functioning. We had been hoping to split the hive. The bees beat me to it this time. I am hoping to be more prepared for the other hive. But, in the mean time, I’m just away to go check back on that pregnant cow…
Things have been relatively quiet on the blogging front for me. I have been acutely aware of it. For the past year, I have built up a substantial number of posts currently filed under ‘drafts’. Getting them out of the starting blocks has been an issue, let alone getting them checked and over the last hurdle into the published section. Things would happen, but by the time I got a chance to write it, I seemed to get writers block. My brain just wanted the power button to go to sleep mode. One of these reasons, was for being so busy.
‘Busy?’ I have been asked that very question (but say it with your eyebrows slightly raised and a look of ‘aye right, you’re having a laugh’). And this is one sticky point (like chewing gum stuck to the bottom of your shoe, rather than a sticky toffee pudding sticky-but-oh-so-good type of sticky; just in case you got the wrong idea). I will not go into detail on the background but I concluded from the lady’s question and further (patronising) statement, that during the entire lockdown she has a) had no dependents and b) no requirement to work. I was about to turn up at her door the following day, hand over a 2 and 4 year old, the keys for a tractor which doesn’t like the cold (honestly, it’s a battery problem, not a tractor that wishes it was in Spain. Well, maybe it does after the cold spell we had back in January, I never asked it, but even if it did, it’s not going on any holiday!). Anyway, she could have my two Mini Crofters for a day (luxury really), the tractor which won’t always start, 13 cows to feed, oh, and why don’t I turn her water off so she has to sort that too and then ask her why she’s not done anything. I wouldn’t, may I clarify. But the thought did cross my mind. Instead, I just looked at her. It was a shell shocked type of response. I’m not really known for my witty comebacks, my responses are more like fine wine and need to sit in a dark space for a while before suddenly appearing. But it did highlight a serious flaw. There are people who have literally sat about and become completely disconnected from how lockdown has affected different people, different groups, differently. Now, I’m not about to stand on a preacher’s block and ask why some have just done nothing (or even why the lady thought that was everyone). I should clarify, sitting does not necessarily mean you have done nothing. Nor does it mean you are disconnected. Neither does the act of being busy mean you have accomplished things.
Did the lady receive no post or deliveries throughout lockdown? Did she never once need to access the NHS? Did she ever wonder why food shops were open and how they managed to have food to sell? From our level, even the Crofter has had to keep working throughout it. And that has been one of our major issues. His work is based in Norway, which as a country has been fairly strict with travel and quarantining. Two weeks of quarantine before going out to the rig would have made it 4 weeks away, 2 weeks home. So they upped the work time to cut back on the number of times he needed to quarantine. So, his away times were long, his home times brief.
Not only that, schools have been off, then on, then off again. The teachers have had to manage working through it. In the spell after Christmas, our oldest, being in nursery, had it five mornings a week on google classrooms. There was then another session with his key worker. I did not make every one (about the time the byre water froze and I was running kettles up and down was when I decided keeping animals alive was a higher priority than logging on). And that’s just it, keeping everything alive was pretty busy.
And so in answer to the lady who thought I should have ‘managed’ a lot more; well, why not come by for a cuppa? Don’t worry, I won’t abandon my children or force you to jump start the tractor. But just, if you have so much spare time, bring wellies, washing up gloves and wine, as I’ll take it you are happy to help (and I won’t preach; but I’m not bad at getting three points all starting with ‘W’!). And the benefit? Come walk in my shoes and you’ll gain the smell of fresh manure, probably get insomnia, and understand why I never wrote a trilogy in lockdown.
As we approach another day in the supermarket calendar, I thought it was a perfect opportunity to help move away from the flowers, chocolates and promises-you-don’t-intend-to-keep scenario. There is another way. Some will be aware that there is often reference to the five love languages of people; on what we feel is important and how we show it to other people. So if you’re stuck on what to do, here’s a practical way to do it with steak (and wine):
Gifts: I have bought you some quality, locally sourced steaks for tea. And a lovely bottle of red.
Words of affirmation: I love you so much I bought some of your favourite steaks. And what a great idea to want to match them to wine with your tea.
Acts of Service: How rare would you like me to cook your steak for you? And here is your wine while you wait.
Quality Time: Let us sit down, chat, and enjoy our steaks. And here is your wine.
Physical touch: Let’s sit together while we look up what other cuts of beef we could buy for the next special occasion and what wine to pair with it. (N.B. steak cooking does have a simple ‘touch test’. Although it sounds like a perfect example under the physical touch, I would probably avoid prodding the person of endearment like you do the steak ‘touch test’ and refrain from giving them the verdict on how ‘well done’ they are; I am not a relationship councillor but believe me, don’t go there).
And voila. Now, I should clarify a couple of things. The five love languages is a proper book, the above list is keeping with that. There is no reference in that book to steaks (or, not that I remember). How you cook your steaks is your own personal choice, but please remember different steaks are from different sections, and have different values and properties. The most expensive steaks are not always the most flavoursome (if you want to know more, call me, I can explain).
It is worth noting that if you’re not sure on a person’s love language is, try all five. Who is going to refuse it? Unless they ask for it blue and it’s served well done. And, thinking about it, try a different option if they are vegan and/or teetotal. The thought, of thinking does count. It doesn’t have to be steaks and wine. But, if you source from a local or small business item, you have a three for the price of one deal; you’re happy, the seller is thrilled, and your dearest is delighted. Now, not all crofter have steaks. We certainly don’t have Malbec grapes growing on our doorstep. But what do the people around you produce? Adapt it to a veg box scheme? Try it with a small scale coffee roaster company? Surely it’s time to bin the currant ‘buy-junk-for-a-certain-day’ concept; find a local, small business supplier, plan ahead (we can’t compete with the wilted flowers from the petrol station at 10pm) and show your love to those around you.