Tuesday, 25 February 2014

Love in a Wet Climate

Snowboard Cross at Sochi. Pic taken from the Internet

When I was at school, athletics was like outdoor maths to me.
A recurring blight on my weekly calendar - something to be avoided at all costs, or else endured with gritted teeth. Oh, how I loathed them both.
I think that's probably why the Summer Olympics just don't do it for me.
I know it's not all athletics, but there seems to be an awful lot of running involved in summer sports.

Despite what people may tell you, running is not fun.
Believe me - I know from all those ghastly afternoons on the track.
The only thing worse than athletics at school (apart from maths, of course) was Cross-Country running.
Ye gods and little fishes! Running, combined with cold, wet mud.
What is point?
I took the bus once. I was last (surprise, surprise) - I didn't think anyone would notice. Detention, detention, detention, not least because I obviously hadn't been properly attired:  girls out of school in public places had to be wearing that hideous accessory, the passion-reducing School Hat.

To this day, I never run.
Apart from anything else, 'it makes the ice in my glass chink.' (A wonderful line from a birthday card)   My sister runs - even, as far as I can make out, in the dark, after work.
Mad fule, as Molesworth would say.
If you need to get somewhere in that much of a hurry, hop in the car.
(I daresay she will live to be 94 and I'll keel over in about a fortnight, but there you go.)

Lovely Yulia skating - pic taken from the Internet.

Anyway, I digress.
I may spurn the Summer Olympics, but the Winter Games are wonderful, and I'm currently in the throes of withdrawal symptoms from Sochi.
All that figure skating, and snowboarding and ski cross. It was all brilliant, it was wonderful, it was completely enthralling. I even got into curling, which in previous years I have eschewed as Pointless, Aimless, Feckless and Graceless (rather like Adam Lambsbreath's cows).

Team GB. Pic taken from Internet

It was all terrific, and a great way to forget about our own dreary winter.
I did a bit more forgetting on Saturday night. My clever friend, the TalentuiGoddess had dreamt up a plan, and together with another mutual friend, DodoWoman, they put on a Roaring Twenties Speakeasy for our Market regulars and friends.

The TalentuiGoddess

DodoWoman pouting 20s style

Our lovely old Beltra Hall was transformed for the night, the place was packed, Gin Rickys and Woo Woo cocktails flowed and everyone was dressed to kill. I don't suppose the old place has ever seen so many beads and feathers, or molls and gangsters for that matter, and all to the strains of 20s music and live jazz.

Old silent movies played on a screen on one wall

The bartenders had guns in their belts and handcuffs on the bar - obviously expecting trouble

The place wasn't busted by the cops - it was busted by the nuns instead! Two of them came marching through the door exhorting the assembled company to repent, do away with the hooch and moonshine and go home. No one paid much attention - they'd all got used to nuns at school - and in the end the two stayed and had a cracking good time. One of them even set up a card table and took on all comers at Black Jack - and no one managed to break the bank, even if was only Monopoly money.

A mean hand at Black Jack, our party-loving Sister

The evening was a fundraiser for Headstrong, the Irish National Centre for Youth Mental Health, a much needed organisation in Ireland where teenage suicide is frighteningly common these days. They raised €1000 - a fantastic sum, and everyone had a fabulous evening.

Now, thank goodness, February is almost over, and hopefully so is the constant wind, wet and sog.
I lay in bed last night and listened to the rain on the roof and the windows - a constant lullaby these days - and when I woke this morning, it was still coming down. At least we aren't flooded, even though half the garden is a marsh.

I went out at lunch time, when the sun finally appeared. As I came to the vegetable garden, I could hear splishing and splashing in the pond, and see the water surging about in little waves. It's like that every day at the moment. The first time I saw it, I thought one of the cats had fallen in, and was frantically thrashing about, trying to get out.
It turned out to be frogs - or are they toads? - having what can only be described as an orgy.

Love in a wet climate

Usually they dive out of sight as I approach, but today the sunshine was too beguiling, or perhaps they were just enjoying themselves too much.

Very smart striped legs - or are they his bathers?

The frog spawn has been spreading exponentially over the pond weed the last few weeks. Now I know why. I counted 27 huge frogs, their heads all sticking out like some weird sort of Stargazey pie, some of them chortling to each other in their ecstasy.
In the clear water below, the fish were circling lazily, no doubt fat with feasting, and with the delicious promise of endless more banquets to come.
How ever many they eat, there will still be a bumper harvest of tadpoles.

I left the frogs to their romancing.
Icy water and bitter winds obviously have an appeal that has inexplicably passed me by.

Monday, 17 February 2014

The Blue Screen of Death

About ten days ago, when I opened up my computer, I was confronted by the Blue Screen of Death.
I quickly turned it off again, to give it a chance to pull itself together.
Computers are like that - what won't open one minute opens the next; it's as if they're still asleep, or have forgotten what page they're on. You sometimes just catch them on the back foot.
When I opened it again, alas it still hadn't woken up.
I turned it off and left it in the corner to ruminate on its misdeeds.
'The In-Charge will fix it,' I thought.

He tried, but nothing doing.
Death of a hard drive. 'It happens,' he said.
'But what about all my photos?' I wailed.
He wasn't totally sympathetic. 'I bought you an external hard drive for Christmas,' he said. 'And you should use Dropbox.'

I haven't had time to deal with the hard drive yet. I know it's now mid-February, but I was away, and there's been a lot to catch up with since then. And I don't know if I totally trust Dropbox.
There's something unsettling about the concept of my personal filing cabinet floating around in cloud-storage-space with lots of other filing cabinets. Who's to say it won't strike up unsuitable relationships right, left and centre, and share the innermost secrets of its soul? And with totally random, nosey people of dubious intent. Like that girl I loathed and detested at school, or that loud twit I'd cross the road to avoid, or the NSA.
I mean - you just don't know
After all, there's nothing else to do up there.

The In-Charge loves his Dropbox. He uses it all the time.
But then, the In-Charge would join the queue to go to the moon.
I asked him once. 'If all the chips were down,' I said, 'you know, blood pressure boiling over in the far-off Pentagon, someone's shaking finger approaching The Red Button, would you de-camp to the moon if it were possible?'
'Of course,' he replied.
He's a man of few words, by and large.

Decisive, but not wordy.

He likes screen Sci-Fi too.

I don't like Sci-Fi. Fantasy, yes - but move it into all space and you've lost me.
And I definitely wouldn't be in the queue for the moon.
I like my moon large, silver and romantically far away, preferably with the Evening Star in the same frame, a balmy breeze wafting by and a glass of something delicious in one hand.
Following that conversation, our extremely ancient wedding vows had to be retrospectively altered to accommodate this new position: 'Until death or the Red Button do us part'.

However, as usual, I digress.
Once the death of my laptop had been diagnosed, our friend, the GeekWizard very kindly came and looked at the lifeless corpse. He poked and prodded it and then opened it up and surgically removed the hard drive. You will not be surprised to learn that the helpful commentary accompanying these manoeuvres went largely over my head, but finally he took it all away to his own personal ICU.

Yesterday was discharge day. The In-Charge went to bring the patient home and de-brief the GeekWizard. I would have gone myself, but What is Point? I don't have an Enigma Machine to decode the feedback.
Instead, I stayed at home and made the most of the first Spring-like day we've had for as long as I can remember. The sun was shining, the wind had gone, the rain had abated and all was well in my garden. In a weird sort of way, this is one of my favourite times of year in the gardening calendar, but that's because I love snowdrops.
Well, OK, it's not just the snowdrops. I'll be honest. It's because I still feel in control. When I weed a bed, it still looks weeded the next time I go out, nothing has rampaged all night to fill the convenient space.
I can breathe in my winter garden, it's not permanent catch-up time.

The Winter Potager

I was out there for hours, happily weeding the potager.


Henri, who is staying with us for a few months, doesn't weed - it makes his elegant paws dirty - but he graciously supervised. The TeenQueen was too poorly to help - she lay on a mat and looked quietly sad. She had had a Bad Day. One of the headland horses kicked her in the face when she raced over to say good morning.
We have tried to warn her, but on this occasion she refused to listen, and wouldn't come back when called. Poor baby, she has learned a hard lesson. I bathed her closed and massively swollen eye, cleaned the blood away, gave her arnica and Rescue Remedy, administered some of the painkiller that had been prescribed for Under Dog's back injury and cuddled her lots. Once in the garden, Model Dog volunteered to look after her - the best nurse anyone could hope for.

The best nurse anyone could hope for

So we were all out, enjoying the sun and the crocuses when the In-Charge returned.
'He's managed to retrieve all your files and photographs,' he said. 'They're on the new hard drive he's installed.'
Oh GeekWizard, you are a marvel. A fantabulous, wonderful, geekily-clever marvel!
I cannot tell you how grateful I am.
And he even helped me find a way of getting back into my blog last night when I discovered that the nice, welcomingportal to its innards had closed when the old hard drive died.
Joy of joys!
Thank you, GeekWizard!
Poor TeenQueen

Wednesday, 5 February 2014

Dark and Delicious

Would you even recognise my rescued girls - clad in their chesnut plumage, they are quite beautiful

As soon as the In-Charge left for college this morning, I heaved a box load of oranges into the sink and left them soaking in a solution of cider vinegar while I went out to deal with the hens.
Poor hens.
My happy hens are not quite so happy as they used to be.
Their little paddock has turned into a marsh.

Lots of people's fields have turned into lakes - not just Somerset, where the In-Charge hails from, but many places in Ireland too - so I know we are luckier than some, but even so, there is something unbelievably depressing about walking through a paddock and sinking into swimming mud up to your ankles.
I would have knitted all the hens wellington boots - but with 20-something birds out there, all with different sized feet, it's not really an option.
Also, it's largely their own fault. They have trashed their little paddock - every inch of grass has been scratched up, and - even without the rain - mud prevails.


In fact, it's so bad that I've had to give in - perhaps not gracefully, but at least with resignation.
I've opened the gate and let them into the beautiful green expanse of the orchard.
They are now busily trashing that.
The Great Escapees are the worst of all. So overjoyed are they at being able to use their feet as nature intended, they never stop.If this weather carries on for another month (God forbid), we will need mud-sledges, or flat-bottomed boats, or adapted snow-shoes.

The TeenQueen and I look on

The dogs and I stood in the orchard for a few minutes this morning and watched the hens gleeful surge through the gate. You'd think it was the stairway to heaven.
They were so busy rootling around in the soil beneath my lovely intact grass, that they didn't even notice the dogs set off on their daily death-or-glory-chase. One or two did scatter as the dogs hurtled past, but the Escapees were oblivious. I watched in awe as my two winged hounds skirted past them, narrowly missing one who shot sideways at the last minute.

The TeenQueen solemnly regards Florence, Constance and the YahBird 3 of the Escapees

Who would have believed it? SuperModelTeenQueen, Scourge of the Poultry Yard, named and shamed as co-respondent in the tragic slaying of the Golden Princess; the Biter of Goldilock's Bottom, the Tormentor of Ms Sussex - caught in flagrante delicto no less - that very same hound paying no heed to loose chooks, flittering and fluttering on her own private race track! What a student! What a girl! What a star!

Warmed to my cockles, I immediately promised them both an outing.
But oranges first. As soon as I'd squashed them all into the huge preserving pan and turned the gas on, I donned as many clothes as I could lay my hands on, including scarf, gloves and my woolly hat, and we set off to the headland for a brief encounter with the elements.
Goodness, was I glad of the hat.

The woolly hat - a picture taken at Christmas

Whenever he sees me wearing it (regularly these days) the In-Charge enquires when the Arctic Expedition is setting off, but cold ears are Too Much to Bear, and although today isn't particularly cold, down at the headland it was - well, invigorating. The howling gales of last night have temporarily  abated, but the tide was high and rough, the rain was starting to spit, and the wind coming in off the Atlantic acted perfectly as high pressure sinus douche.

The In-Charge had warned me that the sea has wrought havoc and he was right. Part of the road has gone and tons of stones have been flung up from the shore. The fairway has been cleared, but it looks a bit like a battlefield, and a few chunks of the headland have disappeared forever. The poor Connemara ponies looked a bit like my hens - not very happy. I can't help feeling sorry for them, even though the In-Charge assures me he's seen the owner feeding them and he and other horse-wise friends tell me that these beautiful, tough creatures are bred for just such exposed, inhospitable conditions. There is no grass for them, and certainly no shelter, but at least they don't look thin, and several beady eyes other than mine are on the lookout for them.

Headland horses

It was good to be blown around for a short while. The TeenQueen went mad as soon as she felt the wind under her and tore around, desperate for someone to chase her. She even swung past the ponies in the hope that they'd take the lure, but they know her well and were having none of it - they know how fast she is. Model Dog wasn't taking the bait either, and she and I pottered along the sea-edge, looking at all the stuff the waves have washed up. Stones, seaweed, hundreds of shells, unedifying bits of rubbish.

On the way home, thinking of my oranges simmering on the stove, I wished that my lovely Frenchman, Hugo was here. We made the marmalade together last year, the endless chopping and mess relieved by company and chat. Sadly he's not, but it's good to have memories. As soon as I entered the kitchen, my reminiscent mood and the sharp, lovely tang of the boiling fruit brought back other, older memories - of  the oranges of my childhood. They used to dip them in the sea, in the West Indies, and eat them while swimming, the salt mixing with the rich sweetness of the juice. I don't think I'll add any salt to my marmalade, it will perform its dark and delicious magic without saline assistance - but it made me smile nostalgically nevertheless.
My gorgeous son is in the Caribbean at the moment - he's been working there all winter.
I wonder if he dips oranges in the sea before eating them?

The marmalade making is underway