October 2011


The time of year has come for the winter to officially begin in the Irish calendar.  It is Samhain, and I find it a very scary time of year.  I’m not afraid of the ghosts or witches even though I am currently watching Supernatural.  I also found an old copy of ‘The Witches of Islandmagee’ to curl up with in front of the fire these last couple of days.  I believe myself to be a rational person, and therefore these are not the things that frighten the wits out of me.  No, the thing that has me on edge with terror is the act of watching the lovely Sharon carve a pumpkin. After a minute or so I have to leave the room and ask her to scream if she needs me.

There is an argument around Halloween that goes along the lines that it is wrong to carve pumpkins…….they should be turnips.  It is said that the art of turnip carving originated here and travelled over to America where it became pumpkin carving before it came back to us.  I agree with the use of turnips in principle.  Although I would argue that pumpkins are easier to cut and therefore far less dangerous in some people’s hands.  The thought of the lovely Sharon let loose with a sharp knife and a turnip is a thought that could turn me into an insomniac.  There is one other rather interesting argument for pumpkins though. The goo that coats the seeds of a pumpkin is apparently very good at dislodging internal parasites in chickens.  We had three pumpkins this year.  One of the batches of seeds is in the oven being roasted as the other two batches are now inside the chicken’s stomachs.  It will be good for them in the end, but I imagine they might have wee upset tummies tonight.

source via in the dark

At last!  The Chickens are in their permanent residence under the beech tree.

The door to the run looks a little wonky, but it is actually the ground that is running up hill.  The shed was old and abandoned and needed a little care and attention.  We painted it, put a new roof on, cut a hole in it, put a tiny door over the hole, installed nest boxes and even a perch made out of a beech branch.  They are not using the perch.  They are using the space.  They are stretching themselves and scratching about so much that they seem to have forgotten the bullying and fighting.

There must be a certain age when this happens. Or maybe a tipping point in the cumulation of life’s  experiences. I can understand the slow appreciation of jazz, olives and radio 4. I can even understand, although my pupils cannot, the excitement at the arrival of a book I ordered on the subject of the natural history of hedges. My pupils still bring that up even though the event was over a year ago. But, what I am a little shocked at is the moment when the lovely Sharon and I decided it was a good idea to hang some wet clothes in front of the wood stove to dry. When we were a little less wise and when the earth was younger, we would have never dreamed of spoiling the view of the fire and the ambience of the room. We have become our parents now, and it sits a little too comfortably with us.

It is a game we play. Since I fitted out the old shed with a new floor (while the shed was being moved the old floor disintegrated only a few feet away from the shed’s new position) and new nest boxes and a new perch, I have had to play nightly games with the chickens. When it is dark enough I close the hatch and then physically lift the hens onto their perch. I worry that that the perch is too high but I console myself that it is only one foot off the floor and far from the two foot maximum. They simply need to learn something new.

It will take some time, but I need to place them all on their perch every night until they realise what they need to do. Some of the younger hens are a little more clueless and they hop down to the floor when I leave. Last night the lovely Sharon spotted one of these clueless birds and attempted to put her back on the perch. She came in from her nightly walk around the cottage and had an exasperated expression while she began to ask me, “see when one of them is not on its perch…” I interrupted her with a question dripping with inferred knowledge, “How many were down before you started try to fix the problem”. Having grown up with pet birds I would have thought she would be wiser to avian habits. Her head torch on full beam prompted them to all happily wake up and begin feeding instead of sleeping. I informed her of this as if I had years of knowledge. The reality was that I had learnt the hard way over several nights of what seemed like a comical sort of herding of cats. I will not reveal the truth to her of course. I am a teacher, and my art is that of bluff and overconfidence.

This afternoon we let the weather dictate to us how long it took to get home. We reached impassable back roads and turned around. We never even reached some of the more used roads as the queues told us that the journey ahead was impassable as well. After a couple more U-turns we used what was left of the possible paths home and our sketchy knowledge of the local topology to get us home. Eventually we found a way home taking us through two swollen burns that seemed not to care how much of the road they had adopted.

Driving through the torrents and puddles we noticed how our little car seemed to have a less power than normal. The moist air was the obvious culprit and then we contemplated how the modern car can cope with so much. We reminisced about how we used to have cars that would refuse to even start in such weather. They had to be coaxed with the throttle and choke until they reluctantly started. And then they had to be nurtured along the road in such damp weather. We remembered one car we used to own in our pre marriage years. The carburetor was in such a sorry state that a foot had to be kept ready on the accelerator pedal to keep it going. We even went through an MOT test with this car in its condition and explained that if we had to stop the engine we might not be able to get it started again. It passed.

While reminiscing about our cars the lovely Sharon brought up a recollection about having to start her mum and dad’s car with a starter handle. I have a vague memory of hearing the story before but this time it got me thinking; just how old is the lovely Sharon. I can say with certainty that she is older than me, as I have no recollection of starting cars with wind up handles. I know she caries more wisdom than her years but of course it is rude to ask about specifics, but I have my theories.

Today I got a message on my voicemail. It was one of those long messages accidentally left when a phone dials itself in a pocket. Only this recorded a conversation between two people talking, talking about me. I only listened to a few seconds but it was enough. The two people in the conversation were people very close to me. Imagine my surprise when I heard one of them telling the other how ‘chubby’ and ‘heavy’ I was. To be fair it was my mum telling my niece that I was a heavy little boy when I was one year old. And they had just discovered that the sturdy little man had just been measured to be in the 98th percentile in weight. This does not all make it forgivable. I was not chubby, I was just big boned.

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