Sunday, 27 June 2010

A post of two halves

At this time of year it appears to be traditional for widows' blogs to have a post whining about mowing the lawn.

Consider this my entry in this vein.
I am now officially fed up of cutting grass. It feels like painting the Forth Road Bridge with a watercolour brush.

There seem to be two alternatives. One is to spend the whole day mowing grass, trimming edges and cutting the veg garden paths. This is visually satisfying as, once done, the place looks great for a few days at least. It is also very, very boring and I spend the entire time drawing up mental lists of all the things I would rather be doing instead.
The other is to do a portion each day over the course of three or four days. This is a lot less tedious, but it does make the job feel never-ending, and it doesn't give quite the same satisfaction of a job well done.

I suppose another alternative would be to let it all go. Indeed I have neglected one out-of-sight area that is in danger of reverting to jungle, but if the rest goes the same way, it will just be too depressing for words.
Or I could get off my behind and fix the tyre on the big mower. That would speed up proceedings no end, but I am having a big fit of the "don't wannas" right now - it's not my job, and I don't see why I should do it. Particularly on my own. Even though I am only spiting myself and I will have to do it in the end.
I know how childish and petulant this sounds, but I am having problems leaving this attitude behind at the moment. At least the current dry spell means that the grass isn't growing quite as fast.


So now I have that out of my system, let's have some piglet photos!

The two chaps have discovered the big outside world.
As they had previously spent all their short lives indoors, it isn't too surprising that it took them few days to get used to the idea.
They also discovered that they rather like sweet potato!

Moose is totally obsessed with them.
The sheep can pass by within a few feet of him, and he won't even take his eyes off the pigs. I think I could leave him here staring at them all day.

The porkers seem to enjoy the company though.

Tuesday, 22 June 2010


... the latest additions to the madhouse!

They are 10-week old Large White x Oxford Sandy and Black crosses. This morning they were still a little shell-shocked and jumpy after their rather stressful day yesterday, and so weren't terribly cooperative with the camera.

The regulations in the UK require any journey that involves transporting animals for more than 65 km to be carried out by a registered 'haulier', i.e. someone who has been on a course and knows that you shouldn't pick up a pig by its tail or poke it with sharp sticks and has a 'Pigs in transit' sign on the back of their trailer. As I haven't been on the course and therefore do not know these things, I had to take my friend Natasha with me to collect them, as she has the necessary certificate.

We collected the weaners from a farm on the Llŷn Peninsula, which involved driving over the stunning Bwlch y Groes pass in Snowdonia. It was a bright, warm sunny day - absolutely perfect for a road trip. We weren't in a hurry, so we could take our time and drink in the incredible scenery. Even when the directions we were given proved to be missing a vital turning, and when we found that the road we were supposed to take had been closed for roadworks. Or when we realised that I had only brought the directions, and not the name of the farm or even the nearest village. Even when I got into a complete pickle trying to reverse with the trailer, and it eventually became easier simply to unhitch the whole thing, reverse the Land Rover and then reattach the trailer, we both remained blissfully unstressed. We knew we would get there in the end.

At the farm we had a very welcome cup of tea, looked around the other young stock and inspected the neatest vegetable garden I have seen in a long time, and then loaded 6 little porkers (two for me and four for some friends in the village).

This is not a quiet operation.
The noise that one small pig can make when it is picked up has to be heard to be believed. The weird thing about it is that it stops - instantly - as soon as it is put down again.

When we got back home, the whole squealing piglet process had to be repeated six times to deliver each one to its new accommodation.
Naturally one escaped.
He was finally cornered by the compost bins and hollered every inch of the way from there to the pig ark, where he promptly buried himself in the straw and went to sleep.

This morning they were still refusing to come out and eat. It wasn't until this afternoon when I went out there with my secret weapon - some chopped-up apple - that they would even contemplate stepping out of the safety of their new house.

I don't expect this reticence to last very long. I strongly suspect that they will start excavating the ground in their run within the next 24 hours!

Sunday, 20 June 2010

The supervisor

I am a very prosaic person. I don't do woo-woo stuff, and I firmly believe in what my younger sister calls the "compost theory of death".

And yet there are days in which I really feel R's presence. It is as though he is standing just behind me, watching everything I do. When I get stuck and don't know what to do next, if I ask him and listen hard enough for the answer, it will come.

Today was one of those days.

I needed to replace a section of the pig ark floor, as the previous occupants had gone right through it. I knew there was a sheet of OSB in the barn, and remembered that this is what he would have used.

I knew the best tool for the job was the jigsaw, and for once didn't have to turn the house upside down to find it. I have never used a jigsaw in my life before, but I could just picture R working with it, so it didn't seem at all daunting. I even managed not to remove any of my fingers as well!

Cutting the board was fine, then I needed to attach it to the base. Again, all the tools I needed were in the first place I looked. I'd like to think that he was proud of me doing this on my own, but if he was watching, then I suspect he was simply cringing at the sight of me breaking off two pilot drill bits and then thumping them into the wood with a large hammer. It wasn't an elegant solution, but at least it worked!

I'm hoping that one day I will be able to think about all the things I need to do this sort of job and get them together before starting, rather than running back and forth to the house every time to get the next tool. But let's not get ahead of ourselves. Just getting it done was enough for me today!

And tomorrow I can collect the new additions. I am ridiculously excited. R adored having pigs too, to the extent that they were the wallpaper on his laptop. It would be nice to think that he wanted to look at a picture of yours truly while he was away on his travels, but no, he preferred a pair of Gloucester Old Spots! I guess I can live with that though - they were rather adorable.

I hope he is watching tomorrow and smiling too.

Friday, 18 June 2010

This weekend's project

I am still mulling over this self-sabotage business as I know I won't be able to stop picking away at it until it is straight in my head.

This morning was totally chaotic. I took the Land Rover in for its MOT test yesterday. It was late, of course, as I hadn't managed to get it to the garage before I went away. Then I had a call this morning - there was a crack in the windscreen and it wouldn't pass until it was fixed.

No problem, I rang the number on my insurance policy to get someone to come out to the garage and replace the windscreen. Which they were happy to do, only no one could come out until next Thursday at the earliest.

And I need the Land Rover to pick up the new pigs on Monday.

Cue a lot of frantic phone calls to the garage, insurance broker, insurance company and various windscreen repair companies. Eventually I found one that could replace it tomorrow morning if I get it there by 8.30. Phew!
And in between all this I had to proofread two jobs for delivery and take Moose to the vet for a check-up on his dicky shoulder and to pick up some meds. The morning was a little fraught to say the least!

Where does the self-sabotage come in to all this?

Well, I had known about the crack in the windscreen for a couple of months, and was fairly sure that it would be an issue in the MOT test. The car is fully insured, and it would only have taken a single phone call to sort the problem at any time. So why didn't I do it?

The only explanation I can find is that this used to be one of the things that R would do in our unspoken division of labour in the household. Despite knowing full well that I have to do these things now, I am still pretending to myself that they aren't my responsibility, that they will somehow mysteriously get done as they used to in the past. Even though I know that they won't.
Perhaps it really is a case of JFDI.

But in the meantime, I have something much more fun to busy myself with this weekend: I need to set up the run and repair the pig ark for the new weaners.

The ground has been standing unused for nearly two and a half years. I will need to set up the electric fence, and cut down the grass and weeds so that the wires don't short out. Some of those posts need straightening as well.

The pig ark needs a bit of fettling too. The first step will be to evict the sheep that have taken up residence! Then I need to give it a good scrub out and finally replace the section of floor that the last pair of pigs managed to wreck. The new chaps will also need some food and straw for bedding, so I will have to pick that up at some point in the weekend as well.

Now this sort of work I have no problem motivating myself to do as it always has fallen within my remit. It is also a lot more fun than sorting out paperwork or car repairs!

I wonder what this little chap will make of the new arrivals on Monday?

Tuesday, 15 June 2010

The cheque is in the post

I had a cheque in the mail this morning.

That should be a cause for celebration, right?
Well normally it would, but this cheque was the first instalment of R's estate. Yes, 1 year, 10 months and 11 days after the day he died the loose ends are finally being tidied up.

So why has it taken so long?
Well, there were some complications due to the intestacy situation, and the solicitor I appointed does have a very underdeveloped sense of urgency, but the main stumbling block in the whole process has been me. Every time I was asked to provide information, sign a form or ring to arrange a meeting, it would take me weeks, if not months to do it. I have been subconsciously trying to sabotage or at least hold up the entire procedure at every stage.

It's not as though I am in a sufficiently healthy financial position to not need the money. Although I have been just about keeping my head above water lately, not working for the best part of 6 months pretty much cleaned out my savings. The money will certainly make my life a lot easier. It will probably allow me to go back to working 4 days a week, which was what I was doing before he died. That, in turn, will make it easier to keep up with things on the smallholding, which will result in a much less stressed J.

But right from the very first meeting with the solicitor I have just hated the whole business. It felt as though I was trying to turn him into cash - that this was blood money. My sensible side tried hard to persuade me that this was crazy woman thinking, and just to get on and sign the bloody form, but I seemed to have an infinite capacity to stick fingers in my ears and ignore the good sense I was talking.

And yet, despite my best efforts to scupper her, the good ship "Probate" - Gawd bless her and all who sail in her - has finally limped into port.
It is probably just as well that it has taken all this time. Had the process only lasted a few months, I would probably have torn up the cheque or given the money to the local dogs' home or something equally impetuous and stupid. Sensible J won the argument this time, though, and it has been safely deposited in my bank account while I worry and procrastinate further about what to do with it.

What I am not experiencing is any sense of closure about this. I should be writing a nice, cheery post about my holiday tonight, not fretting about this. But there is no nice warm feeling that he is looking after me even now, or relief that this part is nearly over. It still just feels like blood money.

Sunday, 6 June 2010


It has been a good weekend.

These days, being outside in the sunshine, working hard and tiring myself out, is probably my greatest source of pleasure. Digging over the veg beds, pulling weeds, sowing and planting. Heck, even mowing that darned grass. It is all good. Getting hot and sweaty, scratched by brambles, stung by nettles - none of that matters. I can lose myself in the sheer physicality of it all.

This weekend I had a lot to do.
On Tuesday I am flying to Berlin for a few days with R's Dad, brother and sister-in-law. I have been so looking forward to the trip. (There's that 'forward' word again!). I haven't seen R's Dad since before Christmas and he is not very good on the telephone, so it will be a real pleasure to spend some time with him. It will also give me a boost to set down my scruffy gardening gear and put on my respectable clothes for a few days, and get a quick city fix.

I love travelling, and always have. It has been a little strange planning this trip with R's family, though, as their idea of what constitutes holiday preparations is very different to my own. They normally go on package-type holidays, where they know exactly where they are going and where they will be staying, whereas R and I would simply buy a plane or ferry ticket and worry about accommodation when we arrived in the country. I think this makes a trip more interesting, but you do have to be prepared to spend the odd night sleeping in the car when things don't work out. Given that R's Dad is in his early 80s, I relented on this occasion and booked us a nice hotel!

Even though the trip is only for a few days, I still felt that I needed to get all the seedlings out of the greenhouse and into the ground before I went. And cut the grass, clean out the hen houses and generally tidy up. It did strike me as a little daft that the garden would be looking great while I wasn't there to see it, but I know that coming back home to a mess will be too depressing for words.

What I hadn't bargained for was just how much there was to do. So now I am totally pooped and haven't managed to do any ironing or packing. The spirit is willing, but these tired muscles just aren't cooperating. Doubtless I shall be running around at midnight tomorrow trying to pack and remember everything I want to take - but that is sort of traditional around here.

And at least the garden looks good!

Friday, 4 June 2010

Arrested development

A recent post on TK's blog set me off on one of my thought adventures.

"What do you want to be when you grow up?"
It's a good question.

Had you asked me that when I was a kid, the answer was simple. I wanted to be Gerald Durrell! No, not like him. I wanted to be him. Not sure exactly how that was going to be arranged, but I was working on it. As evinced by the constant stream of sticklebacks, lizards, injured birds, mice, butterflies, caterpillars, both smooth and hairy, stick insects, frogspawn and hedgehogs that I brought home to the delight of my long-suffering mother.

Somewhere along the line, though, reality kicked in. I met Sartre, de Beauvoir, Brecht and Böll and discovered that I loved language as much as furry creatures. And then I found I could make a living out of it, and the animals were put on hold for a while.

I guess that is all part of the process of growing up.

A few months ago, I had a lovely email from someone who had read my blog. The words that really hit home in it were, "You were just kids when you met".
She was right; I was only 18 when R and I got together, although the first few years were somewhat tempestuous. I always say that we did the 7-year itch thing in reverse - it was touch and go for several years as to whether we would stick it out. But once we both admitted to ourselves - and each other - that we weren't going anywhere it was as though someone had thrown a switch and the rest, as they say, is history.

But when you become yoked to another at an early age, do you ever grow up fully as an individual? You certainly grow as part of a whole. But is the person you grow into as one of a couple, the person you could have become if you had remained single for longer? Did I miss out on my own development when I morphed into the R&J persona?

There are so many things that I used to rely on R to do. Not because I wasn't capable of doing them, but because it was easier to let him do them. I don't just mean getting things down from the top shelf or opening jam jars, but sorting out mortgages and insurance, inviting people to parties, keeping in touch with acquaintances. To a large extent I stopped doing painting and decorating, basic woodworking, looking after the cars - despite the fact that I probably had a better grounding in those jobs from my Dad than R did from his (who I suspect has never picked up a paintbrush in his life!).

Now he isn't here any more, it is almost as if I am having to grow up again. There are long-forgotten skills that have to be resurrected. I am forced, kicking and screaming, to do many of the things that I happily left to R. Necessity has made me look outwards again, rather than just concentrating on the little cocoon of our relationship.

I am becoming a whole person in my own right.
Even though I really don't want to be doing this, it is still happening.
Perhaps I am finally growing up.

Wednesday, 2 June 2010

Looking forward

I am resisting the temptation to simply post pictures of lambs for the next few weeks!
The last one was born this morning - so that is two singles and my first ever set of twins. All are healthy and thriving, and the mothers seem to be fine too. I had a wonderful moment at the weekend when my 3 year-old no. 3 niece held the little ram twin in her arms. The look of joy on her face was worth every minute of worry and all the late nights and early mornings checking the sheep - and of course I didn't have my camera there to capture it.

These new lives seem to have triggered something in me.
The day that the twins were born, I was also offered the choice of a litter of piglets. I had almost got to the stage of deciding that I wasn't going to have any more pigs when these came along. The timing was just right, I was feeling optimistic and have booked a pair of weaners. If nothing else it will ensure that I have some visitors over the Summer - I swear people come just to feed and scratch the pigs, rather than for my scintillating conversation!
I am going away for a few days next week, but when I come back I shall go and collect them, and my little farmstead will be full to bursting once more.

What it triggered, though, was a realisation that I am really starting to look forward again. I have been at the very best doing nothing more than treading water since the day R died, desperately trying to keep my head above the waves. It feels very positive to be thinking several months into the future again. I'd like to say that I once again have goals for my life, but that would be a little optimistic. Nevertheless, I do seem to be sniffing the air of the future and sensing that there are good things there.

To make the most of this new positivity I have decided to organise some sort of memorial 'do' for the 2nd anniversary of R's death. Last year was just a date to get past without falling apart. This year I would like to have lots of people around me, to laugh and smile about him, to eat, drink, talk and walk - all the things he loved to do, with the people he loved most.

Now organising really isn't one of my strong points. It was generally R who issued invitations and brought in the crowds. But this year I feel I can do it myself. Perhaps the people will be different - just the ones with whom I feel safe - but the act of drawing up lists and starting to make phone calls feels good and right. One of the lessons that the past 21 months has taught me is that, while I do enjoy peace, quiet and my own company, I also love it when my home is buzzing with people.

So I have decided to have it the weekend after R's anniversary, and am hoping that anticipation of the event will make the weeks beforehand easier.
My notebook is open on the kitchen table, and I have started to write lists. Not just the "Buy loo paper. Pay water bill before I get cut off" sort of list, but lists of people, where I am going to put them and what to feed them.
Yes, looking forward again is a good feeling.