January 2014


“Don’t let them touch water!” exclaimed the gentleman behind the counter, insisting a little too enthusiastically. I was waiting for him to tell me not to expose them to bright light or feed them after midnight, before I realised that for a Ballymena man; potatoes are not a thing to be mocked. He carried on passionately about how, these ‘sunbeam’ potatoes, are grown locally and are best steamed. Then he took another opportunity to remind me, “STEAMED! They must NEVER be boiled.”

The first job when I arrive through the door is to light the wood stove. I leave it with fistfuls of wood chips and some junk the postman has left for us in the mailbox; it’s so nice for big businesses to send us a daily delivery of fat glossy kindling. I’m glad that I can arrive home in some daylight now the days are growing by minutes. Under the steel grey sky I check the chickens and lift the eggs. With the smell of woodsmoke dissolving in the drizzle, I grab the axe and start chopping this evening’s fuel.

Just as the lovely Sharon arrives home with the little people I am guiltily chopping the potatoes. Slicing them into careful half moon pieces I am preparing them for frying. The Ballymena man looms in my mind; he didn’t say anything about frying them.

As I fry, I chop finely. Peppers, mushrooms, chorizo, onions. I cry a little for the onions. Poor onions, they didn’t know what hit them. The lovely Sharon blurs herself around me, making tomorrow night’s pie. When the onions are frying, I make bread dough for tomorrow’s lunches. The little man and the little lady play. Occasionally there is a scream for help; “She’s eating my trains!” “She’s eating my train tracks!” “She’s eating my tractor!” The lovely Sharon tries to prepare the ground for dinner and distract the little man from the his sister’s transport themed eating disorder. “Daddy is making Tortilla.” There is a pause of contemplation. “I not want tort-ee-a. I not like it.” I slave on regardless.

I call dinner time and tell the little man he has a choice; for dinner he can have tortilla or furby. A smile briefly flickers in him before he declares that he wants furby on his plate. He becomes more animated and the smile breaks through his face when he runs in to find a furby already on his dinner plate. He changes his mind and declares he does not want furby. It is quickly replaced by a slice of tortilla, but he knows he has been tricked. The lovely Sharon is also a bit of a critic when it comes to my tortilla. She declares that it needs more vegetables. I know exactly what she means by this cloaked statement; she is not a fan of potatoes. Sometimes I have my suspicions about her. She claims that her maiden name is Irish, and she has jet black hair, and dark brown eyes I could fall into. But, she doesn’t like potatoes? If the Ballymena man and the locals knew, we would be chased out of this place with pitch forks and flaming torches. I keep my suspicions to myself and instead call her bluff, “More vegetables? Alright, next time i’ll add more potatoes.” She glares at me. I crumble before those beautiful Irish eyes, “…or mushrooms, or peppers? Yes, more peppers.”

After dinner I enjoy a rare moment in my life, a moment when I am glad to be short sighted. I hate wearing glasses and I hate the need to wear them. I am so short sighted that I have to wear them during all my waking hours. Sometimes, when I slip out of habit, I get up out of bed and take only a few steps before I realise that I can’t go much further before turning back and finding my glasses. This curse is a blessing when, after dinner, I take the little lady in my arms. I take off my glasses and hide them out of reach; she’ll only try to eat them. I tickle her and we share strange faces at each other. Without my glasses my myopia can see her in beautiful detail. She wears her curious face as she investigates my teeth. No matter how hard her tiny hands pull she cannot get them out. I am glad.

After dinner we sit around an ordnance survey map and try to plan a mini-break away. The little man points out mountains to me, and beaches by the sea to the lovely Sharon. The little lady tries to eat the map.

Thomas the tank engine is called for as we tidy and work around the little people. Dishes need to be done and bread needs to be baked. I despair at my work shirts. I always wash them all together and they always come out of the machine in one heavy lump of knotted sleeves. I marvel at how the machine does it as I sit down in front of Thomas with my bleached rat king.

Just before bedtime the little man decides to help the lovely Sharon dress the pie with pastry. He covers his fleecy Thomas pajamas in flour. We brush the little ghost clean and assure him that he will be fine as tomorrow is bath night, which means new pajamas.

After topping up the chicken’s feed and changing their water, I take a look at the vegetable patches. They look miserable in the cold rainy light of my head torch, but I have to think of summer. I think about growing more potatoes, maybe growing some sunbeams.

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Actually I have written posts in the last couple of months, but the internet doesn’t like them. They are still black lead on bleached wood pulp, folded away in a notebook and far from the digital.

So, the solstice passed and the sun came back. Even the chickens are feeling the barely perceptive march of daylight over darkness.  During the darkest of days we were reduced to a single egg every other day, until the unexpected happened. One dark evening we found a tiny little orb. Boiled the next morning we confirmed it was an egg. As small as a banty hen’s egg, packed to the edges with orange yolk and a creamy flavour. This has to have been from the one vorwerk hen, apparently a rare breed; producing a rare treat.

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Now they are slowly building up the daily egg count.

We seem to have let the days of Christmas pass us by. I think we all forgot about keeping our eye on the sun and just assumed the days will get longer and the new world prophets, the scientists, would let us know if anything is wrong.  But they did.  We could easily ignore it, or find it interesting but important; the sun is going to sleep.

It seems that that it is getting more and more likely that the sun’s activity is diminishing. The pulse that is the regular eleven year cyclic pulse of the sun has not behaved as expected for a couple of decades now. The scientific prophets have been running their computer models and analysing their data from the Solar and Heliospheric Observatory (SOHO), the lonely spacecraft brave enough to hover too close to the sun for our comfort.  Confidence is growing that we are heading towards another Maunder Minimum; a period of solar slumber three hundred and fifty year ago that was called the little ice age. Ironically it is only likely to slow down global warming for us, but only for a while. This little news was quietly rolled up in the rest of the news.  I guess there is this earthly source of life, and then there is just getting on with life.

In the hope that the sun will be bright enough as we received our first packet of seeds for the coming spring. We even added a packet of fungal spores. It’s always fun to keep an experiment running.  In the freezer I have a few kilos of used coffee grinds from our friendly local cafe.  The intent is to sterilise them and attempt to cultivate oyster mushrooms.  I’m not confident it will work, but i am confident that it will be interesting attempting it.

The honey has nearly all gone.  One single precious jar remains for medicinal use. We have resorted to buying honey for the morning bowls of porridge and using the home honey for sore throats. The little man tries to convince us he needs more honey for his imaginary sore throat every few evenings.  This reminds me, I should feed the bees their spring candy soon.  I wonder if they have survived this far? A few weeks ago I dreamed that the hive with the older queen was just a pile of dead bees, while the hive with the younger queen had made it through and were busy being…. bees. If I believed wholeheartedly in logos, then I would shrug off the drew as utter nonsense.  If I think instead of the world of mythos and our spiritual connection with the earthly world, then I shrug it off as nonsense anyway; I’m sure I’m not that good a beekeeper to be in tune with the bees.

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the noisy one; the ‘cock-a-doodle-doo’

A death that I am certain has taken place is that of our rooster; the ‘cock-a-doodle-doo’, as the little man calls him.  I think we missed his sickness for a few days as we never seemed to arrive home in anything but darkness.  All we saw of the chickens was them perching in their house. Then he wasn’t perching anymore. Lifting him up revealed a weakness in his legs.  The days went by and he got progressively weaker.  Soon he could not even leave the hen house to get water.  We tried leaving him water of his own but He did not seem interested.  I could see no other sign of illness apart from lameness. I can only guess that some sort of injury had been sustained. Being quite a large and heavy bird it was proving too much for him to make a recovery.  He’s gone now.  We told the little man that he has gone away, as euthanasia is too big a word for a three year old.  It’s too big a word for any of us. The little vorwerk cockerel who usually stayed quiet and hid himself away is now finding his voice.  He rules the roost now, and boldly stands proud in his new domain.  In the mornings he sort of crows, ish.  He’s not there yet, but he’s getting there. He is the little man’s new Crakkkk-a-crakkkkk-a-aghhhhh.

149480_10150968886164488_958088999_nThere is a one in three chance that this chick is the little man’s ‘cock-a-doodle-doo’ a few years ago.