Monthly Archives: September 2015

Black Cats, Sheep Wars and Apples

The Farmer is on holiday and, as usual, things are going wrong. I’m not sure if he plans it like this or not, but I do know we got a phone call yesterday because he had said we would sort out the kitten problem. I also know he has made provision for someone to help move sheep in a couple of days, and has left details of where to buy fencing materials if we need them, so I’m suspicious that he knew we were going to – not that the sheep are any of our business – we just help with them for something to do.

We had a number of complaints about the sheep wandering so we went down for a look. They had pretty much eaten all the grass and then, as they do, forced holes in the woeful fence looking for more grass.

We blocked the holes, gave them a bale of hay and are currently keeping our fingers crossed that this will do the job for another couple of days. It probably won’t  work now that they have the taste for escaping, but the farm apprentice who has been left in charge doesn’t want to move them until the appointed day. Imagine me letting out a big sigh here…

Whilst checking the fence we found it had actually been cut. Added to the incident a couple of weeks ago when somebody turned an electric fence off and several other things it’s looking like we have a vandal problem. It’s not the Pleasant Valley War (though the Farmer is currently visiting Arizona) but it’s still a nuisance.

So, I hear you ask, what is the “kitten problem”? Well, we were given two black cats – brother and sister – last year when one of the volunteers decided we needed a farm cat. He first fixed us up with a Bengal, which spent six months attacking people and drifting off for days at a time. It was the “attacking people” bit that had resulted in her being given away after two attempts to rehome her with people who appreciated the breed went wrong.. We just wanted a cat so, though she was an interesting cat, we weren’t that bothered when she spent less and less time with us (obviously finding a better offer elsewhere, as they do!)

The second attempt were the brother and sister black cats. They were from a charity – chipped, health checked and supposedly neutered/spayed.

The male ran under a car shortly after he got here but the female kept putting in regular appearances, even coming into the office sometimes.

Yesterday she was spotted in the company of half a dozen kittens.

That leads me to one of several conclusions:

  • She wasn’t spayed
  • She’s not the original black cat we had
  • She’s running a creche

Despite asking people all day I can’t find anyone who wants a kitten so it looks like a trip to the RSPCA. I suspect they won’t be grateful…

Apart from that we picked apples. It’s that time of year.




It’s a bit of a blur, but I finally got my shot of the hummingbird hawk moth.

It was quite a cool morning and we only had weak sun so I was a bit surprised when Julia shouted from the front garden to tell me it was in the garden.

Luckily, as we were packing the car at the time, I had my camera to hand. It would have been better if we’d had the Canon to hand but you can’t have everything.

Does anyone know if they fly in cooler weather? I’ve seen four this year – two of the other three sightings were in the evening as things were cooling down. The fourth was in the polytunnel, where it kept flying at my head – I’m thinking this probably isn’t typical behaviour.

The length of the tongue is amazing, and makes you marvel at the accuracy as they flit around feeding from small flowers.


Community Apple Pressing and an Apple Gadget

Since the intervention of the AA the car hasn’t missed a beat and, in the way of intermittent faults, if the fault won’t show itself the garage can’t correct it. At the moment I’m driving round trusting to luck and hoping this faultless performance continues until I can get back to the garage on Tuesday. It may be more sensible to leave it in the garage until then but the reality is that at £10 each on the bus, or £30 in a taxi, it makes economic sense to drive to work.

It was Community Apple Pressing Day today again, and we had a variety of people discussing apples, neighbours, juicing, pigs, compost, rugby and recycling containers. That’s Community for you – always plenty to talk about.


By the end we had 55 big bottles and 45 small ones. I make that 52 litres. It isn’t much compared tothe 90 gallon capability claimed for the large press but allowing time for talking and pasteurising it too plenty of time. Producing juice, it must be said, is the easiest bit of the process with an industrial size scratter. Cleaning, sorting, washing equipment, sterilising bottles and pasteurising all seem to be endless tasks compared to the simple act of tipping apples into a machine and pressing the juice from the pulp.


Juklia bought me an Apple Master – it peels, cores and makes the apple into a spiral all at the same time. I’m not sure what its practical use is but it’s great for engaging people. She is a wonderful woman and I’m lucky to have her. (That’s a voluntary statement – she didn’t tell me to say it!)


Flintham Ploughing Match – as good as it gets

IMG_5897 IMG_5899 IMG_5888 IMG_5833I’ve just had an unexpected day off, due to the return of an intermittent fault in the car. Thanks to the AA I had a quick check, a diagnosis and an escort to my local garage. They are currently up to their eyes in it so it’s a case of keeping my fingers crossed that they can get me back on the road tomorrow.

This has just highlighted a deficiency in the English language. There don’t seem to be any degrees of intermittency. Mittent does appear in the dictionary but it’s listed as an obsolete term to do with emitting. Ideally I’d be here telling you that I had an intermittent fault of increasing mittency that eventually became almost mittent.

Instead I’ll just have to say that I had an intermittent fault that reappeared this morning, becoming so frequent that at one time we could only limp along 25 yards at a time.

There was a time that I’d have made the most of it, but I now find myself content to avoid the housework and nod off in front of daytime TV. Seems like I’m going to have to face facts – this is “the most of it” these days.

As I was being escorted back to the garage by the AA we left Julia by the side of the road with a pile of bags. She, it seems, is irreplaceable, so they sent a car down from the show to pick her up. They were content to let me have the day off, but I’m trying not to read too much into that.

She had a good day, supported by most of the Quercus group, who always turn out to support us at Flintham and Open Farm Sunday. She was visited all day by schoolkids who remembered their visits to the farm, so we must be doing something right. She also had a number of enquiries from schools wanting to visit next year. All in all it seems to have been a good day.

Bees, butterflies, toast and jam

The Speckled Wood was still in the polytunnel this morning so we were able to show it to the group. Although I’ve seen a few about earlier in the year they were down at the other end of the farm and the count, strictly speaking, is only butterflies we’ve seen in the butterfly garden area.

There were no butterflies outside, though there were some pollinators working the ice plants.

It’s not a bad butterfly list this year – seventeen species of butterfly and eight of moths though it could also include “Greyish-brownish moth” as a ninth entry (my ID skills are totally inadequate when it comes to moths).


Speckled Wood

Last year was fourteen butterfly and three moth.

I think the rise in species is down to spending more time looking and improved ID skills rather than an actual increase, but it’s nice to see it go up.

We’re hoping to start moth trapping before Christmas so we will certainly see a few more species added to the list.

The jam is looking good, and doesn’t taste too bad either. I’m being less ambitious this year – no big batches of chutney and no jellies.


Toast with Damson Jam

We’re all set for the show, or near enough, though I’m a little nervous about the apple supply; I don’t think we have enough if a lot of schools want a go. However, after the Centigrade./Fahrenheit debacle of a couple of years ago where I turned up to find the mobile oven was raked out and “ready” for me well before reaching temperature, I can pretty much blag anything.

Apple pressing may turn into apple juice tasting and, if I can persuade them to use the spittoons like a proper tasting, I can recycle the contents for the next group…

…OK, perhaps not, but it’s an idea with a certain economic charm about it.

The problem was that the thermometer on the “new” mobile oven we had bought was in Fahrenheit, where we all work to Centigrade these days. Nobody thought to double check, they just raked it out at 350ish.

At 350 degrees C a wood-fired oven will take the hair off your arm when you stick it through the door and will cook pizzas in minutes. At 350 degrees Fahrenheit it gently caresses the hairs on your arm like a tropical breeze and pizzas take twenty minutes or more.

That day we ended up baking bread rolls and, as the heat died completely in the afternoon we merely practised our dough plaiting techniques. It wasn’t my finest hour, but I kept the schools busy, which is what we’re there for.

Writing is easy, it’s the titles I struggle with…

Dropped Number One son off in town for the second day of his Master’s degree then proceeded to have breakfast at Sainsburys, followed by shopping for crickets at the Garden Centre. It was a varied morning.

Arrived at the farm for 11.00, checked the polytunnels and managed to get photographs of a Speckled Wood. It really didn’t want to settle but I eventually managed a few decent shots. Meeting with a woman about an arts project that we’re trying to get going, meeting to teach me how to work the website and lunch. For once the meetings were quite useful.


Damson jam with camoflaged tops

Julia went of to view the tent we’re working in at the Ploughing Match whilst I did various things of little consequence before making a dozen jars of damson jam. I did it with the stones in after last year’s debacle and am hoping I fished them all out. It’s saved a lot of time though I’m just dreading the first complaint about a broken tooth. Sensitive subject at the moment as I pulled a crown off whilst chewing gum last week.

Rained later, which isn’t good for the show.


I’ve always found rain difficult to photograph

That’s it, short post today.

Me, impersonating a hamster

Well, we’ve bitten the bullet and announced the shed will be open every Friday from 10.30 until 12.30. Let’s see if the initial enthusiasm translates into a a viable membership.

I used to use a lathe with my grandfather when I was in my early teens and I wish I’d carried on with it, but I didn’t and I’m going to have to relearn the skills again. It’s just one of a range of handicraft skills I let lapse over the years. I’m also going to have a crack at making wooden toys. It’s another thing that runs in the blood – the same grandfather made so many black market toys from scrap wood during the war he was able to buy a bath. A proper bath, that is, rolled top and all, not a hip bath.

He was a very industrious man, my grandfather. He joined up twice and his employers made the RAF cough him up twice because they couldn’t do without him. He spent all day as a quarry foreman at a cement company (they need a lot of cement in wartime, what with runways and pill boxes and such) and all night as a fireman, serving in Manchester and Liverpool during the blitz. I’m not quite sure where his spare time came from but he didn’t let it go to waste.

As I sit here, frittering my time with inconsequential chat on a blog I’m not sure he’d be pleased to see the way I turned out.

In group terms the day started badly when the taxi turned up with only three people. They said they’d told the driver he’d missed a pick-up but we’re not sure, as they aren’t keen on the new arrangement where there are four of them in the taxi.

It was all sorted by a quick call to the taxi company, but it wasn’t a great start.

It’s also an example of what happens when cost-cutting leads to the use of cheaper and less efficient taxi companies, though some would call me cynical.

It was a rainy day and though we rewove some willow hedge, potted herbs for the Ploughing Match and polished off a number of odd jobs, it didn’t seem like we did much as it was all in bits and bats.

Apple pressing again tomorrow – they sold so much at the weekend we need another pressing just to restock the cafe. That’s good, but it also puts me in mind of a hamster constantly circling in his wheel.



Sheds, moths, beans…

The big news of the day is either one of two things, and I’m not sure which is better.

We have our first new recruit for the Screveton Shed after I emailed round the bread group. That feels good and makes it seem like a proper group.

The second is that when we got home there was a hummingbird moth feeding on the Red Valerian in the front garden. It flew away as I tried to get to my camera so yet again I have no photograph. I’ve always been slightly ashamed of the Valerian as it’s a bit of a weed growing in the cracks between the paving in the front garden. It drifted in from somewhere about five years ago and started taking over. I had a major session of hacking it back earlier in the year. Later I dead headed extensively, which produced a second flush of growth. It’s a good thing I did or there would have been nothing to attract the moth.

As it is, a minute either way and we would have missed it.

(A confession here – all the plants in the front garden are growing between the cracks- though the allysum and marigolds are descended from plants I actually planted. You can grow a lot of stuff without much soil, though it wouldn’t work for carrots.

I don’t have a picture of the moth and I don’t seem to have one of Red Valerian, but I do have one of a curly bean I picked today. Here it is.


Men in Sheds – our first meeting!

We had the first meeting of the Screveton Shed this morning and have agreed to go ahead with the project. We also had a go with the kid’s stuff from Project Molish and had sausage and mash for lunch. Obviously we did other things too, but those are the main points.

We covered finance, mental health, the ethos of sheds, Health and Safety, possible projects, First Aid, apple pressing, cider making and many other topics. We also agreed to admit all men regardless of age, on account of the fact that passing down knowledge would be tricky without young people to pass it down to.


Chilling out


Making towers from spaghetti and marshmallows

Someone with experience in another shed told us that they’d had two people taken off in ambulances in the last three years so we could also do with some youngsters to carry stretchers.

For the moment we are ignoring the subject of women. I know it’s not politically correct but I don’t feel guilty about this because the Women’s Institute refused me membership on the grounds of me being a man. What goes around comes around.

The other point is that it’s supposed to be a forum for men to talk about their health. Now, speaking as a man, it isn’t going to happen. I believe I talk for most men when I say this. Men in Sheds is supposed to make us open up about health and save our lives but speaking personally, it isn’t my habit to discuss ongoing medical problems with anyone. I don’t even discuss most of them with my doctor.


Candidate for Health and Safety rep


A discussion with apple juice in hand

Last time I discussed anything serious with my doctor I ended up with a prostate exam and camera in my bladder, and that camera was not inserted along a route that a sane man would consider, I promise you. Is it any wonder we don’t talk about health?

Anyway, when you deduct speakers and miscellaneous visitors it looks like there could be about nine people to start the shed, probably a few more after we’ve employed subtle pressure. That’s a good number, and something to work with. We now consider nine the lower end for the bread group but it’s taken a few years to build up to that. I can still remember when we thought nine was a good turnout.


And finally, lunch…

If you want to come along drop me a line at and I’ll let you know when the next meeting is.

There’s no free meal next time, but as the poet said: “The days of sausage and potatoes, they are not long”.

(Apologies to Ernest Dowson)

Great day in the bread class

It was a self-taught bread session today as Gail is of on her yearly pilgrimage on the Camino de Santiago. (I’m not sure what she does in the other eleven and a half months of the year that necessitates a regular pilgrimage to cleanse her soul, and I’m not prepared to speculate because I’ve seen the way she handles a knife). I would say something about trying to curry favour, but that would be an appallingly obvious bad pun, even by my low standards.


Very interesting but what about me getting a look?

The subject was flat-bread, and Nina took the class. Now, she could have done types of world flat bread, with notes and theory and an overview and a summing up. It would have been good and we’d have all learned something. But she knows her audience better than that. We did flat-breads of several varieties but we also ended up with a chickpea and potato curry, a bean and courgette curry (hows that for a summer glut-buster when only beans and courgettes seem to be producing?) plus an apple chutney and a bean side dish. And we still learned something.


Circular chapatis are not as easy as they look. Mine usually look like a map of Africa


Note the special pan

It was also something of a training exercise because a small group of the bread students are off to India in January with Nina as guide. It’s sounds like it’s going to be fun but after my last trip abroad (which featured a riot, close shaves on the road, police attention, Kalashnikovs and a really bad bowel problem) I let my passport lapse and decided to leave travel to people with stronger nerves.

I’ve seen the Marigold Hotel films and I’m not sure I have the energy for a tour of India, what with the traffic and bustle and all that dancing. Even the promise of meditation and yoga doesn’t tempt me. And I certainly don’t have the fortitude to drink well water containing living things, even though Nina assures me she has never been ill from such water and that it contains healthy minerals. I like my water to stay still while I’m trying to drink it.

All I can say is that I’d be happy to be a vegetarian if I could always eat like this. Sadly it won’t happen as I just can’t season food like Nina, and what tastes absolutely brilliant after she has made it always tastes either insipid or searingly spicy after I’ve done it. I know practice makes perfect but I just don’t have the digestion for experimentation any more.


Yes, it was every bit as good as it looks

The bread group, in case you are near, meets alternate Thursday mornings but it doesn’t always include curry. I’m probably safe in claiming that it covers the whole bread making experience for A to Z as we did once make zopf, which is the difficult end covered. Come along – you’ll enjoy it. And Gail always makes biscuits for the tea break.

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