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I haven’t dropped off the edge. I’m not shirking or dodging or avoiding. I’m not even suffering from virtual overload or writer’s block (in fact I’ve been itching to write). What I have been doing these last few weeks is getting ready; preparing.

This Wednesday I’m having my knee operated on – anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) reconstruction – and I’ll be out of action…for some time…so they say. In my life there’s never, ever going to be a good time to be ‘legless’.

Over the last few weeks I’ve revelled, enjoyed, embraced, slogged, worn-out and appreciated the extraordinary aptitude and freedom (normally taken entirely for granted) my two legginess gives me. From the domesticity of making marmalade…

for the marmalade addict in our household...70 jars! (and I must be co-dependant)

…to the exhaustion of hedge laying;

Finished! the massive double hedge between Square Field and Out Across

in the summer we'll clean out the ditch and cast up the bank

from mucking out the cow palace…

cows in temporary accommodation during mucking out of the Cow Palace in preparation for calving

Cow Palace...clean, ready and waiting for the cows return

…and crutching the ewes prior to lambing to walking the dogs;

alert and ready

'Can you see a movement over there...?'

…driving the car (NO driving for SIX weeks!), handling the bobcat and the tractor…bringing in wood…gardening…doing housework…the cooking…going to work…! Even finding the first dump of frog spawn…

First frog spawn found 4th february

First frog spawn found 4th february

…and seeing pussy willow bursting its buds at the top of our lane..

Pussy willow peeping out...

I expect you’ll be hearing a lot from me in the coming weeks of my enforced incarceration!

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I’m back! A quick explanation on my absence. I felt consumed by my self-imposed virtual obligations and frustrated by a lack of energy and time for my real life work and commitments. So I decided to take time out…over Christmas and the New Year. Break’s finished and I’m here once more to be inspired and fascinated by you, my varied and talented virtual friends!

The best of wishes for 2010 and a huge thank you to each and every one of you for your support, thoughts and messages.

Happy New Year!

...and how!

Hatherleigh Carnival

On Saturday it was Hatherleigh Carnival; later than usual this year as the previous weekend had been taken up with various fire shows, fireworks and bonfire night celebrations.

As predicted the weather came in with vengeance on Friday afternoon…we experienced the full force of its arrival being in the middle of a training day we’d arranged for a large group of Natural England staff –in the field…naturally!

The morning had not been too bad, occasional drizzle and little wind. As we gathered in the barn for a lunch of homemade soup, local cheeses and warm apple cake spooned with thick clotted cream, spirits remained high and discussion animated. Even after the somewhat tempestuous wet-wild afternoon session folk appeared quite happy to drip, steam and chatter in the sheep shed whilst they drunk piping hot tea and ate more cake. As the last car left in the darkening daylight the weather worsened. The wind developed ferociously…ripping trees and gates, hurling buckets, screeching through the cow palace tearing viciously at haylage and straw whilst the rain whipped and lashed. Struggling to the house with the detritus of the training day I shout to no-one in particular “This doesn’t bode well for the carnival tomorrow. Reminiscent of last year. What a bugger!”

All that night the weather raged “Can’t believe it’ll be alright out there.” I whisper into Robert’s back snuggled warmly cosy in bed “Must go and see the sea” I mutter drowsily “Tomorrow. The waves, the coast…” I trail off “…it’ll be breathtaking” and I drift to sleep with visions of gigantic waves exploding against menacing cathedral-vaulted cliffs.

And we did…go to the coast. It was magnificent, thrilling. Waves towered and crashed like crumbling detonated buildings hurtling landwards, pounding the shore in a thick sea of whipped foam. Lundy butterflies flew in their thousands scuttering over cliffs slicked dark by the rain. The wind blew and tossed me like a worthless plaything, whipping my legs from under me and sending me skittering uncontrollably across the ground. I was blown hither and thither; my breath whipped away whilst bursts of staccato laughter escaped into the wind. The pocket lurcher, perplexed by this new game, pranced and twirled around me like a mongoose in front of a snake…and Robert behind me shouted, eventually managing to catch hold of my hand as we battled the next onslaught.

Hatherleigh Silver Band

That evening, miraculously, the wind dropped and the skies cleared. Down in town, we made our way around numerous spectacular floats gathered in the market place waiting for the Carnival parade. Eerie lighting bounced from the floats across the crowd illuminating the sea of milling faces into weird grotesques. Stars pricked the sky as the Hatherleigh Silver band struck up; tractors revved and powered forward, generators thrumming; the procession, a cacophony of colour, smell and sound slowly ground its way along Market Street, pausing by the blackened burnt-out carcass of the George (the gales of the previous night had blown down the protective shuttering and boarding, leaving the ruins bare). The rubble of ancient brick, wood and cob demanded to be seen, not hidden and out of sight, and in its diminished state it was a stark reminder to us of the George’s former place as the heart, the hub, of the town.

faster faster faster..."OGIE OGIE OGIE" "OY OY OY"

After a respite for a warming whisky and ginger wine, we were at the top of the town, waiting for the tar barrels to be set alight.  Paraffin fumes filled the air, penetrating deep into the lungs. Amid klaxons and earthy shouts the team of young men arrived. The mood was one of tangible excitement. The torch was lowered; the barrels flared and great wafts of smoke and flame billowed outward. With a strident “OGGIE, OGGIE, OGGIE” and the responding “OY, OY, OY!” they were off – barrels blazing. Speed, speed speed. Unintentionally I was swept along with the crowd running behind the barrels. For the second time that day I was totally out of control.  Careering, shouting, calling…faster and faster they ran “Oggie, oggie, oggie” “Oy, oy, oy” louder and louder they shouted “OGGIE OGGIE OGGIE” “OY OY OY”. A hand walloped my back, I was falling; I had to keep my balance, whatever. My heart pumped, the ground swirled towards me, my legs buckled. Almost flying flat I was rushed forward ever faster but somehow, miraculously, like a character in an animated film, I spun off sideways managing to regain both my legs and my composure! With heart crashing at my narrow escape I took a short cut though the back lanes and waited to rejoin the barrels for the last leg of the journey to the bonfire.

burning barrels on the bonfire

burning barrels on the bonfire

We stood wrapped around each other watching the flames writhe and spit high into the darkness. The intense heat melted our faces and burnt our lungs. A shiver passed involuntarily down my spine. I turned, looked up at Robert; he tightened his arms around me, nuzzled the top of my head. We watched

It was a day of raw nature, of powerful forces beyond our control, of our Mesolithic ancestry.  It was a day that stripped away the thin veneer of civilisation, the petty worries of everyday life, a day to remember the fleeting substance of man, our precarious existence.

burning torch

burning torches

I’ve been away. It was a spur of the moment decision made on Friday morning halfway through making a batch of quince and squash chutney. Well, I exaggerate, not wholly impulsive, I’d been toying with the idea ever since Will (3rd son) had suggested it a month or so ago. The time seemed right. Olly was around for the weekend… “100% mum. Though I’m going out Saturday evening.” And Robert had no pre-arranged ‘dos’ either.

After a couple of quick phone calls and very hastily potted chutney, I threw some essentials into a bag and was on the road by 2pm. It was the foulest drive imaginable. Busy roads, incessant rain, fierce wind and relentless spray, poor visibility…and dark! Six hours later I emerged, zombie-like, from the car.

Relieved to have arrived I push open the wicket gate and, clutching my basket, carefully walked down the slippy, uneven brick path. Lining the pathway are tall, darkly-dense box hedges crowned with mystical topiary beasts that moan and groan in the gusting wind and pelting rain. Drenched I reached the door, give a tap, turn the knob and step into another world. I blink in the soft light “Sorry I’m late…the roads…the rain, the traffic.” I thrust my basket towards Don “Supper.” Pulling it back to me I rummage around and take out a wrapped greaseproof package “Steak…fillet. Ours. Red Ruby.” I look up and smile “Quick to cook. Tender and mouth-watering…hopefully.” Grinning I dig into the basket again “And wood blewits. To go with the steak. From the woods above Marymead.” Carefully I lift out one of the starling violet-blue fungi “Aren’t they just extraordinary?” I hold it to the light “So beautiful…what an amazing colour. You’d think they were totally poisonous!”  And lastly I take out a bottle of wine “And wine. To celebrate!” I pause, take a deep, slow breath and let my eyes wonder around the kitchen absorbing every little detail “How wonderful to be here.  I feel recovered already!”

The friends I was staying with live in an old gardener’s cottage once attached to ‘The Big House’… to me it’s a place of enchantment. I’m Alice… stepping through the looking glass into another world; wood smoke, worn red-brick floors, milky glass, ancient timber framing and soft chalky walls.  Colour; colour is everywhere – softly muted and earthy rich. And then there are the things!  A jumble.  A plethora.  A marvellous abundance of treasure. I love it. I gather to me the extraordinary tapestry of senses and feast my soul.

Next day, the enchantment continues outside. An old oak barn tumbled with myrtle, rosemary and clematis, a hidden sculpture, a table, a summerhouse. Brick paths which turn into mazes of tall box hedges and fantastical topiary beings that lead one into small secret places…or with an unexpected twist guide you down a grand avenue (the Queen of Hearts?) to a pond and the rolling countryside beyond.

The reason for my visit? Time to reflect. On my memories. Of my mother and my closest family buried in the churchyard not a hundred yards away from the cottage. My father, my aunt, my uncle…and in a nearby village, my grandparents.

To me the month of November lends itself to recollection and introspection. November is a month of transition, a time for rest, a time of renewal and a time for resurrection.  The darkening days, the wild weather, the slowing down of  nature and the comfort of the home hearth make it so.

With the church bells ringing overhead I walk in the garden gathering sprays of crimson crab-apples, branches of myrtle and sprigs of rosemary which I take and  lay on the still uneven turf of my mother’s grave and remember…..with love.

remembering

remembering

to block my beta, or to let it rip...

to block my beta, or to let it rip...

So my preparation to the run up of the great day commenced…

I had a huge amount of support and encouragement from family, friends and colleagues. An almost embarrassing quantity.

‘Why don’t you record it’ said Pavla ‘Then you can listen to it and memorise it whilst you’re doing farmy things. Or when you’re in the car or tractor, walking the dogs…seeing to the cows and whatnot. I’m sure Olly has the right machine.’

‘That’s a brilliant idea!’ suddenly I felt a little less daunted ‘I mean I can even listen to it whilst painting the windows! That’ll help.  I was fretting a bit. Torn, you know, between preparing and painting!’

You’ll remember that we’re in the throws of redoing all our windows and doors, plus 101 other farm jobs that have been on hold during the summer’s rain. Unfortunate in one way that dry weather and a host of previously arranged commitments coincided, but now being able to listen and learn whilst getting on with other things was an enormous relief. And yes, we had the appropriate equipment.

Other long suffering folk were held captive audience as I sat them down and practiced presenting. Robert and Ben helped with selecting photos and the layout for my powerpoint presentation. All manner of tips and advice came pouring in from every direction; I even found out one of my customers was a ‘presentation-pro’! Berengere, Ben’s wife with numerous scientific presentations under her belt, suggested I might dose myself up with beta blockers…‘Me? Are you serious? I’m a drug free zone!’ but she insisted that the very nervous do find oblivion in them. Well, who was I to resist…

So off I went to the GP. Having explained myself he proceeded to blind me with an impressive army of drugs on offer! I decided to leave off exotics and plump for common-or-garden beta blockers, as recommended. Most probably I wouldn’t take them…but, forearmed is forewarned!

The ‘natural’ method? My herbalist (I’m far happier with tinctures and potions) mixed me up a calming concoction she’d found very helpful for soothing nervous nerves, exploding with valerian and skullcap!

Finally my Alexander teacher gave me a spit and polish just to make absolutely sure I was balanced, grounded, centred, poised…and breathing.

Could anyone be more prepared? I don’t think so…

…and tomorrow – the finale!

an old sash window - not one of ours. Beautiful, but oh so difficult to repair

an old sash window - not one of ours. Beautiful in its dilapidation, but oh so difficult to repair

For the last couple of years we’ve been studiously ignoring our rotting windows and doors. Though I’ve murmured endearing little asides like ‘I think this window is a wee bit falling apart’ or ‘Oops, silly me. Look! Another chunk of door came off as I closed it.’ It fell on deaf ears.

The deterioration galloped on a pace along with our diabolically wet weather.  I became more direct. ‘I think it’s time we all made a concerted effort to SAVE the windows and doors. They are rotting’ No response. Nothing, nada, not a pipsqueak. Those who were meant to hear either buried themselves obliviously behind periodicals which two seconds before they were mindlessly flipping through or walked away swiftly before I could finish.

In a last ditch attempt I phoned the joiner…making quite sure everyone was gathered about ‘Hi, Greg. Remember I phoned you about our windows and doors the other day? Yes? Did you get the measurements…? No, no, I understand. Just an estimate. Of course. Really! No! That much? And that’s just for a repair? Okay. Oh heavens, so it would be really pricey for a replacement? Wow, that is a fair whack; I’ll have to think about it. It’s a lot of money.’

RESULT!

Frenetic activity. Sanding, scraping, gouging and scouring. Old paint, dead wood dried putty flying off. Buckets of water, litres of white spirit, bundles of wire wool and rolls of sandpaper. Olly set to with grim determination. Twenty-three windows in our veeery looong house, and five doors, all, bar one, glazed.

Filling, re-puttying, glazing-bar renewal, wood hardening and preserving, joinery and carpentry – without a doubt Robert’s your man. 23-windows-5-doors-all-bar-1-glazed…

The final titivating preparation, washing down and paint job – that’s me. 23 windows, 5 doors – all glazed, bar one…

So, over the last week, as the sun shone, the wood dried, we beavered and are continuing to beaver. Twenty-three-windows-five-doors-all-bar-one-glazed. It’s like the Forth Bridge – immense, never-ending and infinite. All to get done before it rains…

the thing is - I love gentle deterioration too...

the thing is - I love gentle deterioration too...

Willow - taken by a friend on an escape-the-work visit to the coast.

Willow - taken by a friend on an escape-the-work visit to the coast.

Ahh – Willow. Willow-willow-willow!

Recently several of you have asked about Willow and how she is. Is she still as gorgeous? Is she still as wonderful?

Well, yes actually, she is and we are still quite smitten!

As you’ve probably gathered, even if you’re fairly new to my blog, I have a large rambling family and have looked after animals – humans (of all ages), livestock and other sundry organic life forms – for many, many years. There’s not an inkling of a doubt that I’m extraordinarily passionate about their mental and physical welfare but I’m not given to sentimentality or anthropomorphism.

My dogs, whether working or not, have always been brought up with clear, defined boundaries. They are treated fairly but firmly and they’ve thrived. Then came Willow.

I believed the ‘ahhh’ factor would diminish as she got older; the cuddle factor would wane as she became more robust; and the indulgence shown to her would decrease in proportion to the number of socks and loo-rolls she ruined. But no, her charm still has us in its thrall.

Maybe it was my age? The lack of small needy creatures? Age possibly, needy creature…nah. But then I realised that Olly was just as bad. So I ruled out age too. And my stiff-upper-lip-don’t-smile-we’re-english husband is similarly affected; I’ve become used to hearing him muttering sweet nothings to her as they lounge on the sofa together.

My other dogs? Jealous? No. Tolerant to the point of stupidity ‘Tick her off’ I admonish ‘if you’ve had enough tell her. Let her know!’ But they give me woefully long-suffering looks and let her continue to harass them.

Strangers pass her by without a glance until something compels them to look and then they’re captivated ‘But she’s sooo sweeet’ they coo ‘What is she?’

‘Oh, a lucher, just a lurcher.’ I say as I watch them melt.

‘Is she? Really? But she’s…oh, just…’ and they trail off with more cochie-couchie-cooing.

‘Yes, a lappet (lap-whippet), a pocket lurcher…’ I reply, tongue in cheek (you see she’s forgotten to grow).

‘Of course’ they murmur without looking up ‘Of course’.

It’s quite hopeless really. Robert’s naturally researched the condition and has reached the conclusion that she oozes oxytocins– the cuddle factor (it just can’t be us – going soft in the head).

Willow is very okay!

Willow

Willow

Locks Park Farm

Thanks for visiting my blog. All entries are presented in chronological order.

I have a small organic farm on the Culm grasslands near Hatherleigh in Devon, with sheep and beef cattle. I've been farming in the county for more than 30 years. I've set up this blog to share views on farming and the countryside - please do give your thoughts.

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The Campaign to Protect Rural England has helped set up this blog. We want farming to thrive in England, and believe that it is essential that people understand farming and farmers better in order for that to happen. Paula's views expressed here are her own and we won't necessarily share all of them, but we're happy to have helped give her a voice.

Find our more about CPRE and our views on food and farming at our website, www.cpre.org.uk

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