January 2013

A few days ago a neighbour called bearing gifts, pink gifts for the little lady and gifts of stories about chickens and  foxes.  As she keeps chickens of her own she is very concerned about the foxes and was pleased to inform us that three foxes were caught and shot in the area just last week.  I pondered that it would probably not be long until they are replaced, as this seems to be the flow of nature.  We discussed the breeds of chickens and compared our winter egg count, not out of competitiveness but more out of wonder.  In years gone by the normal winter egg count would have been zero.  Spring had its symbolism of eggs deeply rooted in the sudden abundance of wholesome eggs when the chickens began to lay again.  After the fasting of winter the glut of eggs had us being so bold as to paint them and even roll them down hills.

The crowing of the our cockerel was brought up. We all laughed.  I made my rehearsed statement that it may find itself on the table when the days are longer and the sun rises at ridiculous hours.  This statement is thirty percent truth and seventy percent crafted to assess the response to its noisiness   She told me not to be too hasty with the knife as she likes the sound; a part of life in the country.


Last night the lovely Sharon shouted at me as I was deep asleep, “ a fox, a fox!”  We heard its bark, then the crunching of hungry mammal against strained chicken wire.  We waited.  Then we relaxed as we heard the frustrated whimpers of the  fox, and the silence of uneaten chickens.


While looking after the chickens today, a messy job as a result of the snowy weather, I noticed some signs that spring is slowly growing in the earth.  I let them out for a wander about the garden while I mucked out the coop. They have spent quite a bit of time in it instead of in the snow.  As they scratched about I noticed the snowdrops starting to burst out of the ground. This got me pondering; we really should start to think about the spring and the planting of things.

The thoughts came back in the evening as I dug out our last clamp of potatoes in the moonlight (and head-torch light).  The clamps have been an experiment for us this year.  We are finding that we are slowly growing in our gardening.  Books have been read, mistakes have been made, but we are still growing.  The clamps have turned out far better that we expected.  In the summer we spotted the blight starting in our untreated potato plants (probably one of those mistakes).  We dug them all up and formed them into clamps.  Small hollows were made and the potatoes were piled into them before they were covered with a layer of straw. Then soil was formed over them until the surface was smooth. All my book reading told me to ensure the surface was smooth but none told me why. My father-in-law revealed to me in a ‘sure it’s obvious’ tone that it was to spot if the mice had been at your clamps


The small potatoes, marleys, will be picked out tomorrow and boiled up for the chickens.  The rest of the potatoes will be the main ingredient of our meals for the next few weeks.  It’s probably fitting that we will be thinking of this year’s gardening plans while feeding on the remnants of last year’s harvest.


It fell slowly at first, as a fine drizzle of tiny brittle crystals of ice.  Then, overnight, it got whipped up in a wind-storm of gusts and more snow.  This winter wonderland turned my paternity leave into something more magical than simply painting the little lady’s room and being a willing slave to the lovely Sharon.


first snow of the year

Snow days were declared, by myself, and the little man was kept away from nursery.  We played for hours in the snow, we sledged, we built a small army of snowmen, and we threw ourselves repeatedly in deep drifts of powder.


tethered to the little man


hibernating bees tethered to their stores

For several days a rhythm was set up; a rhythm of warming inside the house , eating and playing cars vs dinosaurs by the wood-stove, then outside for sledging and snowmen.  At one point the little man caught me at my chores.  I was spotted sledging the bins down the lane.  This observation sent the little man into a frenzy of jealousy, demanding “welly boots! WELLY BOOTS!”  An extra hour or so of winter play was needed that day to make sure that the little man knew I loved him more than the recycling.


My paternity leave also gave me a chance to be mildly man-ly, a chance to cut firewood and a chance to fix things around the cottage.


Unfortunately one of the things I had to fix was something I broke.  After clearing the lane of drifted snow, I decided to find out if I had cleared enough out of the way.  I took the lovely Sharon’s car up and down the lane and broke it.


clearing snow drifts on the lane

It turns out that reversing in snow is not good for the plastic bits under cars.  The big bit under the engine peeled off and ripped.  The clips that held the plastic in place popped off and are lost somewhere in the snow, still waiting to be revealed by the thaw.



This big bit of plastic is not actually necessary for the car.  It helps protect the engine from splashes, it reduces engine noise, and it makes the car mildly more fuel efficient.  That said, it was not my car and throwing it away was not an option I wanted to consider.

After some enquiries I found out that my options of getting a replacement were limited, and my best price for the plastic thing under the car was over two hundred pounds.  In addition to this the replacement catches were one pound and fifty pence each!


I humbly asked the lovely Sharon if a repair would be sufficient.  I’m glad to say she agreed.  Some steel strips, epoxy resin, and new catches (twenty pence each off ebay) was all that was needed. Frozen hands, a tiny amount of knuckle blood, and a couple of swear words were also thrown in for good measure.

On one of these winter nights an aspect of parenting crept up on me. The little lady and the little man were fast asleep, the moon was nearly full and glowing on the frozen snow.  I was relaxing in a lava hot bath and reading a book by candlelight (I’m not ashamed to admit it). I slowly let the heat soak into my bones and was pondering what I was reading when I suddenly realised that I was sharing my bath with dinosaurs.  I smiled. This was one of life’s strange but precious moments.



They asked me to cut the cord and it took me by surprise.  High on the joy of seeing my daughter safely into this world, I chuckled to myself and thought it such a cliché   I took the scissors in hand and tried my best not to fumble or appear squeamish.  Blood and guts don’t really disturb me, I had even dissected a human placenta many years ago.

I cut the cord and thought about the theatre of it all.  Why did they ask me?  Was it to include me in the process; me the man.  Surrounded by the midwives I felt a sensation that maybe they still felt that this was a woman’s world, and I was an alien.  The lovely Sharon reassured me that this was not the case by pulling me in towards her and grasping me with strength I thought she was incapable of.  Our son’s birth did not have any of this theatre.  His birth seems a long time ago and it is a long way removed from the little lady’s birth. He, and his well sized head, got stuck.  This caused stress to both himself and his mother.  I was never asked to cut the cord.  It was cut by a surgeon with reflexed speed while he was briefly laid on his mother’s chest.  It was a split second.  Then he was whipped away and placed under a team of experts who kept him pumped with oxygen before he took his first breath many minutes later.

Our daughter arrived more calmly.  In first aid they now talk about the signs of life instead of breathing and pulse, and I now think I know what they mean.  She never screamed or raised her voice, simply looked mildly confused as she was tucked in under her mother’s night dress. As soon as I as I saw her face I knew she was kicking and screaming on the inside.  On the outside she was simply trying to maintain her composure.

When I see an animal being born it always surprises me how quickly they try to stand up.  The desire to be independent is fiercely burning inside them.  Then there is us; we humans.  We who are fragile and vulnerable and don’t even attempt to make a walking effort for about a year.  We who are wholly dependent on other’s care.

I cut her tether and thought  to myself at the bizarreness of it.  She is still tethered to us, and I am still tethered to my mother and father.  The tether waxes and wanes as the tide of life pulls and pushes us away and toward them, but we are still tethered.

Yesterday we spent our first day at home with the little lady.  We planned to venture out for a short walk and some fresh air. When the midwife arrived for her first visit she advised us against taking our tiny bundle of joy out on such a cold day.  We did what any sane couple would do after being driven insane by house arrest; we ignored her.  After five minutes of walking we got caught in a winter shower of freezing rain and hail.  We both saw it coming from way off but both refused to vocalise it for fear that the other one would have some sense and turn back.  We carried on, with our heads tilted away from the driving cold, and we loved it.  And the little lady?  She slept like a baby, literally.  Under a weatherproof canopy, and wrapped up in layers and a fleece cosy-toes that I am very jealous of.  I’m sorry little lady, this is who we are.

We are all growing in some way, growing up or growing old.  Ideally we strive to grow some of our own sustenance in the form of summer harvests and autumn bounty.  All of this kind of growing takes care and attention at all times of the year.  In one of the infrequent clear air winter days I thought it would be sensible to pollute the garden with the smell of woodsmoke.  The prunings needed disposed of and they shed their potassium into the ash, ready to be folded back into the ground when I get a chance to dig it over.


The little man pokes the ground with sticks in a helpful manner as part of his gardening apprenticeship.

There is the possibility that our only remaining beehive may begin to grow in it’s workforce numbers.  They have been hibernating through the winter darkness and might feel the urge to start laying eggs again.  I worry about them after all the failed queen matings of the ‘summer’ and I made up some bakers fondant to help them if they are running low on stores.  On a few nights this month I have found myself listening in on them with a stethoscope to see if they are still tenacious amidst the frost.



cooking for bees

There is also  the growing pile of logs and pallets that needs to cut up and added to the wood pile.  I don’t have the right tools for the job, so today I popped out to the garage to build something in snatched stages of productivity.


Can you guess what it is?


It needs some teeth.


It’s a horse.


Then there is the real growing; the growing of us.  The little lady safely joined us here at the cottage.  She is a beautiful tiny soul.  As I write she is sound asleep beside me, quietly resting and storing up her energy, ready to cry all night and ensure the exhausted lovely Sharon and I get very little sleep.


Under the growing winter moon tonight we are all growing, not sleeping much, but we are all growing.




We are waiting.  The days are lengthening at a rate that cannot be noticed, imperceptibly.  The rain and wind drift past consistently.  The chickens keep laying oblivious-ly  And we wait patiently, sort of.

We have reached the point of gestation, officially.  We know that it is just a number that tells us the probability and not the reality.  The reality is that the arrival is controlled by the little soul itself and not us.  Curled up and sleeping, it will decide when the time is right.

The little man has been infected with the pox, complicating the arrival of the new soul to our little family.  If the arrival is within the next few days then this will mean that the little man and his mother will be quarantined from each other for a few days.  Before the pox arrived the lovely Sharon was already filled with sad emotions about the prospect of some of the bond between mother and son being strained. She simply can’t imagine her love being divided up and shared between her children, as if under the misguided impression that her love is somehow finite. The prospect of them being kept away from each other has added to this sadness many fold.

It might not be necessary at all, it’s a matter of timing.  Not our timing, we simply have to wait.


Sometimes as I drive around the area near to where we live, I drive under the shadow of an ancient grave.  On the summit of a dominant hill is the faded outline of a burial mound.  Unexcavated and uninspected, it exists only as a mound with a collapsed centre, hinting at a folded in chamber from long ago.

I wonder who, or what, was placed in this place.  Bones?  Ashes?  It is thought that these places were used for special burials of people of social standing.  The mound on this hill is big enough to require a lot of work to build.  Maybe dedicated workers, or a clan for their leader, or slaves.

Every time I look at this particular mound looming large on the skyline, I can’t help but think of an old story I once read.  It was set in the strange world of Iceland and involved a horrific witch.  A witch that plagued the villagers so much that when she eventually gave up her body the locals took precautions.  They placed her corpse under a cairn on the highest mountain.  They put her there, not to be close to the heavens, but to be as far away from the people as was possible, fearing that some dreadful part of her wicked spirit might not have fully left her body.  And if any wayward traveller found themselves walking over this high point, they had to carry out a task. It became a tradition to place an extra rock on the cairn, a little extra weight to help hold down the witch.

Whatever is resting up there on the hill it has changed in the last few weeks.  I don’t know the exact moment it happened, but it was a shock when I noticed it.  The silhouette that I was used to had changed.  For the last few thousand years it has slowly been worn around the edges, yet still maintained it’s profile.  Now it has a small transmitter tower stabbed into its summit.  It is an ugliness that no longer draws my eye to it, no longer stirs my imagination.  It looks like it is a cluster of microwave transceivers, the sentinel for our mobile phones.  So what is it?  Is it a highly regarded chief watching over us?  Is it our master, and we the poor slaves?  Or is it evil like the witch?  Are we brave enough to all add a small rock to it and all work together to bury it?