Sunday, 21 December 2008

twice inspired

A few years ago, Delia Smith did a new book that had a recipe in it called "twice baked goats cheese souffles". It was one of her "master strokes" and for a while everyone was serving them at dinner parties up and down the UK.

I just thought of them when I was typing the title to this and in fact the thought is completely random in as much as this has nothing to do either with Delia or with goats cheese souffles.

The day before yesterday, David and I had to finally face up to going and doing the Christmas shopping. That meant an early start, a trip to Plymouth for "big shops" and a trip to the RHS garden at Rosemoor for "ethical buying".

While we were sitting in a traffic jam on the way into the car park, I spotted a big ad for a Beryl Cook exhibition in the University's art gallery. "Ooohhhh - I LOVE Beryl Cook" I said "It's a shame it finishes tomorrow because I'd have loved to have seen that". DM replied "Why don't we go today?" Woo hoo.

So, instead of getting out of the car and doing battle with the screaming hoardes in the shopping centre, we were able to put off this chore with a lovely trip around an art gallery. I was inspired. DM was inspired. We were both moved to giggling wildly at some of her more outrageous images. We studied them closely and from afar, both in terms of the visual image and the concepts. In short, or even in long, we loved them deeply. What a completely amazing woman. What a fabulous collection of images so packed with crazy, sordid, joyous life. We were once inspired.

Then we got to do the dull bit - some shopping in the town centre for things that we couldn't source more ethically. Urgh - especially Woolies, where we weren't looking for Woolies bargains (just as well as the only bargains they seemed to have were plastic buckets with a "massive" 30% off the price), we were looking for Hobbycraft, which had opened in Woolies only weeks before the announcement of closure! (Talk about crap timing.) Anyway, they are closing too on account of the fact that no customers could get to their bit of the store without the doors being open!

The second inspiration came in the form of the vegetable garden in Rosemoor - a "must-see" destination at the gardens, no matter what the weather or the time of year. You see, it's only by comparing how I'm doing in my veggie plot compared to them that I have any benchmark about my own gardening and my own abilities.

I was thrilled to see that their garden looked much as mine did in many areas - they too have all the chinese leaf veggies, leeks and brassicas as more-or-less the only crops. There were some garlic plants peeping up through the top of the soil, just like mine are too. Not only that but theirs looked much like mine did for a change. I do get depressed when my veggies look pathetic in comparison to theirs. Even though I felt that my stuff is looking good compared to theirs, I was inspired anyway by their new landscaping and the preparations going on for 2009s growing season. Twice inspired!

So, it just goes to show that from a decidedly gloomy pair of people going out to do a nasty chore, we both found inspiration, not just once, but twice. How cool is that?

Saturday, 13 December 2008

welcome to the petrol heads

When we lost Terri and Sherri last week, we were both bereft. In fact, so much so that when David said to me "I want more chooks", I didn't need to hear it a second time. I dashed down to the shop, bought a copy of the Cornish Times and went straight to the poultry section, where I got the number for a supplier of pullets.

I phoned the number, spoke with a lovely lady who told me that she certainly did still have some point-of-lay birds still available (it's getting very late in the year for youngsters) so we made a date to pop down and see her to rebuild our little flock.

We went in the dark to make her life easier (it's easier to catch a roosting chook) and our lives easier (it's easier to pop new birds into a coop full of sleeping hens than to try to introduce them in daylight). She went into a pitch dark shed and emerged with a lovely black hen with a rich dark brown head and a lovely petrol sheen to her feathers. She had a lovely red comb and was pronounced already in-lay. Then the lady popped in again, came out with another similar girl, except this time she'd got a little pink comb so isn't quite ready yet to start laying.

They came home with us and have fitted in with minimal fuss, possibly because it's so soon after Terri and Sherri's demise that the new pecking order isn't yet formed. Of course it's also possible that it's a time of year thing - they do get very uppity in the spring.

The next nice "chore" to find names for the two petrol, they became Jack and Hill - named after two of our favourite petrol heads, Jackie Stewart and Graham Hill. I don't suppose they'll mind being give boys names!

It only took a few hours for us to be picking out the first egg from the new girls - a huge purple and pink egg, spotted with brown and white spots. It won't be hard then to see who's laying and who's not, given the rest of our girls all lay eggs that are very different from these. We got them on Tuesday and have had eggs every day, but the best bit is that today we've had two - and the second one is smaller and browner and bluer if that makes sense, so I think we can safely assume that both Jack and Hill have settled in nicely!

Sunday, 7 December 2008

two deaths in the family

We got up on Thursday morning and I did my usual pre-breakfast round of taking out the dogs, letting out the hens and feeding the wild birds.......except that I only got as far as the second item on this list of three.

When I arrived at the hen run, the first thing I noticed was how all the hens were lined up eagerly trying to get out. That's unusual in itself in the winter, normally Mo is out there and the rest of the gang are still in the coop in the (relative) warm. Then I realised as I rounded the corner that Sherri was lying in the run, stone dead.

If I'm honest, I'd really been expecting it. She was old (6-7), had been suffering from a tumour on her leg for some time and we'd been told that she was effectively on borrowed time. So, to find her dead wasn't a great surprise or shock, other than its timing giving us a bit of a jolt.

Instead of finishing my pre-breakfast tasks, I ended up burying her and planting a rambling rose on her little grave. (Rambling Rector for anyone interested.)

That night, the rest of the gang were reluctant to go to bed, to say the least. We just assumed that was because of losing one of their number. We chivvied them along, locked them in and the whole routine started again the following morning.

Well, that is until step two of the three step pre-breakfast routine, when like some horrible groundhog day experience, there were the chooks desperate to get out........and Terri, our other oldie Light Sussex, dead in a more-or-less exact same pose as her sibling Sherri the previous day.

Of course at this point we smelt a rat and of course deeply regretted not smelling it the day before. Two in tow days was one too many to be natural.

So, we took notice of the small holes around the run and decided that we must have been attacked by either rats or a stoat. The next step was a major upgrade of the fortifications, already with concrete supports for a heavy-duty aviery netting run - completely fox-proof. We added mesh to the floor, repaired an old rat hole in the door and made a vow to shut them inside the coop rather than rely on the run for defence.

Saturday morning dawned with four live, though distinctly scared, hens. They couldn't wait to be out of there. Sunday morning too, all OK. Sunday afternoon, I popped to the shop for milk and happened to mention to the lady who runs the shop that we'd lost two hens on two consecutive days and she told me that our neighbour (from five doors up the road) had also lost two of her hens on consecutive nights and had decided it must have been a stoat.

We reckon that when the stoat found that she'd fortified her defences, that it'd try its luck on our brood. He got lucky twice, but hopefully no more.

Thursday, 4 December 2008

weirdly invigorating

I spent my day on Tuesday "on my hind legs" presenting for the first time in over a year. To be honest, this was challenging not only because it's the first time I've been on my feet for so long, but also because I was presenting to an audience that is completely new to me.

In three sessions between 9.30am and 2pm, I presented to three classes of children, ranging in age between 7 and 11. Boy, oh boy.

From the moment I stepped up to the front of the classroom in my bee suit, I found myself with a rapt audience who hung onto my every word. I spoke about the trials and tribulations of beekeeping. They questioned me intently, mostly about getting stung and how bees make babies, but also a few questions came in from the left field, such as "if you could find a football small enough for a beehive, would bees play football?" Blimey - how do you answer that one then?

Fear and nervousness gripped me from the moment I got back from my trip to London last week, while I prepared and worked out what I was going to say. I decided to wear my beesuit (any excuse for dressing up in a ridiculous outfit) and, along with a range of props, a powerpoint presentation and some photos, I took to the stage.

Before I'd even started what I'd agreed to do, I'd been commandeered by another teacher in the same school to repeat my presentation in front of his class, then at the morning break, I got collared by a third teacher. News of my presentation and the reaction of the kids spread around the school like wildfire and I think I can safely say that the day was one big hit.

What surprised me was that the questions from all three age groups were broadly the same, possibly expressed slightly differently, but it was clear that the same parts of the subject either appalled or enthralled them, whatever their age.

The oddest thing is that I was most worried about being able to be relevant to a bunch of children. Let's face it, I'm not exactly well-endowed in the experience with kids department! I need not have worried as they all seemed thrilled to bits with me, as evidenced by the number of little people dashing up to me and hugging me as well as the chorus of "Linda, Linda, hello Linda" as I walked past them in the queue to the dining room when they were on their way to lunch. Really and truly, hugs from small children when you're not used to it, are very joyful. I was very moved.

I finished my "job" at 2pm and thankfully had engineered a lift home, which is just as well because I was completely exhausted. What I realised later was that I'd done a good day's work and not only that but I felt both invigorated and excited by it. I think I can safely say that I've been in some new water today but learned that swimming is the same whatever type of pond!