|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.
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.
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|