We’ve got a rare and beautiful thing in the village, and that is a plumber who is also a celtic harpist. By day he wears a boiler suit and is revered for his ability to wield a plunger, and stop a leak at 30 paces. Then after work he trundles off in his white van, changed into plus fours and a soulful expression and emerges as a fully-fledged harpist, available for weddings and parties. And he is very, very good, with over a hundred celtic tunes at his fingertips. His harp is made from wood he retrieved from various skips, and sounds quite heavenly. I think he’d have been well at home in medieval times, as I told him last time he was here to change a tap. He was delighted, and grew a beard to celebrate. In his soul he is a wandering minstrel and it’s just our good fortune, as a community, that he’s also an excellent plumber and a very nice man.
This is the time of year when the sheep get mud stuck between their toes. 75% of my flock, which currently numbers 4, ignore this. They know (and don’t believe what they say – sheep are clever in their own way) that it will either drop out, giving instant relief, or I’ll spot the prob at feeding time and dig it out for them. Either way, it’ll be OK. The other 25% of the flock, who is called Mamba, sees it differently. She is a drama queen. Normally at the very bottom of the pecking order, mud in her toes gives her a chance to shine, to emote for her public. So this morning she waited until the village rambling club, numbering about 30, trundled past her field and then gave an Oscar winning performance of Sheep With Dreadful Problem. The ramblers lined the fence of her field and watched aghast as she trailed slowly past them, waving the muddy foot in the air. They came to the door in a deputation and said they were sorry to tell me that one of my sheep had broken her leg. When I went out to the field, some of them had already dug out their rambling first aid kits, and Mamba, by now well and truly spooked by the gaze of 30 well-wishers, was circling the field at warp speed on three legs. The ramblers were obviously expecting me to ring Air Ambulance, but I said she’d need to settle before I could do anything, and they finally trailed off looking over their shoulders at the poor, poor sheep. Once they had gone and Mamba had regained Planet Earth, I lured her over with some feed and dug the mud out, it took a second. The ramblers came thundering back over the horizon in double-quick time, obviously expecting a scene of stretchers and IV drips. What they got was Mamba, completely sound, feeding peacefully with her mates. I gave them a consoling jammy dodger, said we all valued their concern and there was nowt so queer as sheep. But I really wish Mamba wouldn’t do it.
For Christmas I was given a really beautiful hanging bird table. It’s just lovely – slate roof, oak walls, hangs from a stand by a length of tasteful rope. It makes my other bird feeders, which are of the chrome and glass variety, look boring and utilitarian. The birds thought it was great too, and flocked around it looking picturesque. All was set fair, but the birds and I weren’t the only ones to admire it. Rats (and I keep reading that we’re only ever 10′ away from a rat, which I think is particularly true in rural parts) noticed it too and organised themselves into a raiding party. I imagine it went something like this (anthropomorphism rules OK, imagine Boss Rat shouting through a megaphone): “right, action! Rodney and Richard dig a hole. Now Ralph and Roger, climb up and gnaw through the rope! Nice one, boys! OK we’ve got it on the ground so I want Reginald and Rodney to roll it over and drag it over on top of the new hole and now perhaps Ruby and Renate could make a nice nest inside it. Well done, guys – job well done!” It all happened in one night, and please note that all names have been changed to protect the innocent. So my gorgeous new bird feeder was upside down on top of a rat hole with a rats’ nest inside it. Far from ideal, unless you’re one of the rats involved in whole sordid business, in which case the whole thing went swimmingly. So for the moment it’s back to chrome and glass (rat proof). But it was a very, very nice Christmas present. And I’ll think of some way to use it again that will also baffle rats.
I’m getting into this blogging idea – interesting/funny things happen most days and it is nice to share. Today’s interesting/funny thing is a story (true) I heard from a friend. She went to a formal dinner party for about 14 in a grand house near here. Her hostess was a lady they knew reasonably well, mid-40s, very smart, elegant dress, swept up hairdo. She had recently been on holiday to Morocco and had said she wanted to share a treat with them. They were braced and ready for holiday snaps but what they got was the sitting room with dimmed down lights, sultry music on the CD player and their hostess reappearing in gauze veils with flowing hair and doing some belly dancing for them. True! When she had finished, and tinkled off, she changed back into her cocktail frock, reappeared and served coffee. You couldn’t make it up. You wouldn’t want to – fab things happen constantly in real life!
This is a short one, but heartfelt. Today I was writing for a deadline, and well in the zone, when I heard a voice in my ear: “well, where do you want the waste pipe, then?” It was Beefy the plumber, and it really really matters where the waste pipe goes. So I went and thought about waste pipes. Then I returned to the computer, and got back into the zone and then there was Beefy again: “there should be a sort of tube thing that came with the bath – any idea where it is?” No idea, so I went and hunted through cardboard boxes and eventually found it. Back to the computer and just tuning in when: “usually people paint behind the radiator before I fit it!” which was an excellent point. So I gave up and painted behind the radiator. And when I had finished it was time for Beefy, who is an excellent plumber but high maintenance, to have another cup of tea. So here I am, just about to start writing again, and it’s only possible because Beefy has gone home.
We watched ‘War Horse’ last night, and I loved it for many reasons. Although I wept with the rest of the audience to see noble horse Joey struggling in the barbed wire, the steely-eyed horse person inside me actually knew that he was in the most glorious condition throughout, that all his mud was ‘designer spray-on’ and that his white star was the equine equivalent of a toupé. So I could enjoy the story without feeling cut-up inside, the way I do if by mistake I see one of those dreadful old films when there is (for instance) a cavalry charge and the horses are brought down by tripwires. The English scenery was sublime, and it was great to see Dartmoor enhanced by the North Wiltshire village (3 miles away from us) of Castle Combe. I can well remember the local excitement when the Spielberg Winnebagos came to a field near us, and some of my friends were nearly chosen as extras. But apart from the heavenly horses and the square jawed actors, a highlight for me was the large white gander which chased flat-footedly after various stars and (if he was lucky) bit them in the trousers. It was a comic turn that I was delighted to see included in the film, and could have been played with brio by our resident gander, Porous. Porous has been rehearsing for that particular part all his life, and would have made a beautiful job of it. He’s had a particularly fruitful time of it recently, with several innocent builders around the place. He will quietly get himself into position, while his target unknowingly mixes cement. Then he’s off, rubber legs going like a blur, sounding his war-honk, then BANG! If the builder hasn’t spotted him and legged it, Porous will have claimed another victim (cheered on by his geese) and will be happily carving another notch on the goose shack door. I’ve warned the builders, but they forget, and Porous is nothing if not quick on the draw. So if Hollywood ever needs another gander who is guaranteed to be awful, they have only to lift a phone and Porous will be on the next flight to California.
Opinions about the current weather conditions differ in these parts. Some of my friends breathe in huge lungfulls of healthful frosty air and say that AT LAST we’ve got proper winter weather – picturesque/kills the bugs/feels just right/did I see the hoar frost this morning, looked like a Christmas card. Others (like me) take a different view. This morning the geese’s water was frozen, so I broke it with a stick and it sloshed back and got me right in the eye. The hens’ water was frozen too, and I had to return to the house to fetch a hot kettle to deal with that. The sheep blame me personally for the permafrost currently prevailing in their field, and become very needy, jumping up and putting their razor sharp little hooves on my coat while telling me that it wasn’t like this last week and could I kindly give them their grass back. Like, now. And both they and the horses are eating their weight in hay, which gets down my neck and down my boots and in my hair, and itches everywhere it touches. And the benevolent little hill which we live at the bottom of has suddenly become covered in black ice and changed into the Sliding Slope of Despair, not safe to tackle unless you are fortunate enough to be driving a 4×4. So what with one thing and the other I long for a return to unseasonable warm weather and a world covered in mud. I can do business with mud. Mind you I know I’ll regret saying this when the snails come sliming back into the flowerbeds in Spring, triumphantly unaffected by this (so far) easy winter.
There was a bit of a blip on Christmas Eve, when Eddie went to fetch the turkey from a local farmer and (instead of the 16lb bird that I had ordered) came back with one weighing 22lb. The farmer had been in a bit of a fluster, lost his list, and started wildly handing out turkeys to the nearest taker and Eddie hit the jackpot, in a manner of speaking. He staggered back with an enormous bin liner full of pulsating turkey and when I wrestled it out and lay it on its back on the kitchen table I could see that the thing was monstrous, like an oven-ready pterodactyl. What I should have done was to take it straight back and try again, but no. I had a rush of blood to the brain and thought ‘bring it on – we can have turkey lunch and turkey supper and cold turkey with baked potatoes and turkey sandwiches and turkey with ham and turkey pie and turkey curry’ (the list continues). So I wedged the mighty bird into the bottom of the Aga, where it fitted like a cork in a bung hole, and left it there for several hours beyond the specified 17. On Christmas Day, full of cheer and wearing a silly reindeer hat, I dug it out of the Aga (not easy, it needed a full team of strongmen to manoeuvre it back up to the table) and discovered to my horror that it was still pink under the armpits and the stuffing (when I dug some out) had the appearance of raw sausage meat. Which I suppose was what it was, though I’d spent some time improving it with herbs, apricots etc. In the excitement of the moment I forgot a tray of 24 chippolatas in the top of the oven, and they got carbonised. In the end we had to trim off the outer layer of turkey and eat that, leaving the deeper (and pinker) bits severely alone. My reputation as a Christmas cook teetered on the brink until the Christmas pudding hit the spot and retrieved it. Next year I think I’ll order a goose.