A Tale of Two Dogs (Episode 4) Don’t read while eating your supper…

A Tale of Two Dogs (Episode 4) Don’t read while eating your supper…

Oh, the gore!

The terriers followed the farmer into the grain barn. It was always one of their favourite places. There’s a tunnel which runs through the middle of the barn, and at the end of that tunnel, a massive, industrial fan. The job of the fan is to blow air up through slats in the wooden floor, to dry the tonnes of grain which (we hope) are heaped upon it after harvest.

So, quite a meaty fan then. This fan means business. It also comes into use when we’re cleaning the barns pre-harvest – blowing mice out of the channels which run beneath the floorboards. It blasts those poor little mites up and into the air! Great sport, I’m sure you can imagine, for two little pest-control terriers. The sound of that fan firing up was a siren call to work for them. Heads up, and they were off.

Now, I quite like mice. I can’t say the same about rats, but mice are pretty with their cute little faces and twitchy whiskers. I console myself with the thought that the mice who live beneath our barn have a pretty jammy life; making their nests and rearing their pups in the warm and dry, with more prime feed-wheat than they could ever eat dropping through the ceiling.

The ones the terriers catch get a swift and efficient end to their lives too. Not for them the slow decline of poisoning or the panic of being trapped. You’ll know this if you’ve ever watched a terrier working. One shake is all it takes. A toss of dead mouse over the shoulder, and on to the next (although Nutty Meg was inclined to hover behind Russ and eat the dead ones that he threw back).

The dogs would return home knackered and proud. But, on one occasion, Russ didn’t come back at all. The Farmer went to find him, and I knew something was wrong from the tone of the Farmer’s voice when he carried Russ into the farmhouse. The poor little man was in a terrible state (the dog, not the Farmer, although he wasn’t doing so well either). The blood and froth spraying from Russ’s face propelled us all into the truck for an emergency trip to the vets.

He’d followed the Farmer into that tunnel, and when the door was shut behind him he’d tried to find another way out. When an industrial fan spins at several thousand rpm it gives the illusion of disappearing into thin air, and Russ tried to jump through it. The thought still makes me wince.

We thought he was a goner, but no. He lost about 4 mm off the end of his nose, and I spent three weeks delicately inserting a cotton bud into each of his nostrils (several times a day) and rotating it to stop them closing up.

The things we do for love, eh. He was right as rain in a few short weeks, but forever stumpy faced.

Rustic Guest in the Farmhouse Kitchen

Rustic Guest in the Farmhouse Kitchen

In the upcoming months, I’ll be hosting visitors in the rustic farmhouse kitchen and publishing posts which give a glimpse into my guests’ rural lives.

If you live, work, play or blog rural and you’d like to get involved, comment below or drop me a line and we’ll talk.

The guidelines are very simple:

  • Write a post of between 200 and 1000 words on a topic related to the countryside, your rural life or business
  • Include pictures if you want to (a picture of you is always nice)
  • Tell me something about yourself
  • Provide links to your blog, website or ‘buy’ site (if you have them) so readers can find out more

And that’s about it. Don’t be shy, I welcome approaches from all walks of rural life.

A Tale of Two Dogs, espisode 1 (Game is Right)

A Tale of Two Dogs, espisode 1 (Game is Right)

The Kennel Club standard describes Border Terriers as ‘active and game’ and ‘essentially a working terrier, capable of following a horse.’

Game is right.

My little big man (Russ) arrived in our life in 1998, and he was game from day one: Tripping over my heels as I trudged to the stables, ready and willing to grapple with a 17 hand horse that didn’t want to share its breakfast. Plucky little chap, it was love at first sight. I was smitten, and I basked in the satisfaction of being his leader, protector and mistress.

For a few precious weeks, until puberty struck and he underwent a werewolf-like transformation, morphing almost overnight from mild-mannered pup to canine rebel commando.

Never nasty, nary a growl or a grumble at any human, but Lord have mercy on the rest of the animal kingdom. If it moved he wanted to kill it, and if he couldn’t do that his job was to tell us it was there, outside the window. He could tell us all night if need be. The word ‘dogged’ could have been coined for my little big man.

But I must be game too, because in 1999 I went back and bought his half-sister.

Nutty Meg spent her first night with us suspended over the wooden rail between the legs of a kitchen chair. I would like to stress that this was very much her choice, not mine. I wondered what the hell I’d bought into the house, and employed every method of persuasion that I had in my arsenal. None of them worked. The puppy bed and hot water bottle were rejected in favour of a wooden hammock.

Nutty Meg trembled a lot, a combination of attitude and several neuroses. Little big man found her existence beyond annoying, but he took it well. The mildest of profanities when she hung off his ears and attacked him in his bed. He told her off once, when she got over-frenzied playing tug-of-war with Youngest Daughter’s sock. That was the first and last time she listened to him. Or to anyone, come to that.

Nutty Meg wasn’t scared of any living thing, but she was phobic of crossing the kitchen floor, hated water but laid down in muddy puddles. She took on the farm truck (and lived to tell the tale), slept with the cat and washed little big man’s ears. Wouldn’t eat her food, but was ferocious if anyone tried to remove it. Would rather be carried than go for a walk, but could outrun a gazelle (if need be).

And I can confirm that Border Terriers are capable of following a horse… If they want to, and if the horse is going the way they’re intending to go.

A neurotic lap-dog/feral bitch and a canine rebel commando.

Two Border Terriers, about to gang up, and the adventure only just starting. Tune in next time for A Tale of Two Dogs, episode 2 (Partners in Crime)

The tail-end of summer?

The tail-end of summer?

What a shocker! Hot sunshine right through August and it’s still going now! It must be an Indian summer, because an English one doesn’t behave like this.

The quickest harvest I can remember, although the elders tell me that in ’76 it was so hot that they combined right through the night. I do remember something of ’76; the grass died in the pony’s field, and we made hay when the council mowed the meadow. Not just in the proverbial sense,  we actually made hay. But our DIY efforts over-heated in the hay-barn. We had to drag the grass-cuttings back out and spread them across the yard for fear of spontaneous combustion. There was camel racing at the village fete that year too. Those camels must have felt right at home on the desert which our village green had become.

This summer has its share of memorable moments too. Rebellious voters and gob-smacking Olympians spring to mind, although I also swum in the North Sea without freezing my extremities, and that was a memorable first too. Nick Skelton became a poster boy for the hip-replacement brigade (me); Theresa May became prime minister, and Jilly Cooper published her new book.  Ok, I get that you might not think that’s up there with Olympic gold medals or running the country, but come on guys! Six-hundred-and-forty pages of steamy English saga! And, right now, I can empathise with the effort that Jilly must have put into that, because I’m still slogging away editing my three-hundred pages of steamy.

I’m not wishing the summer away. Oh, no. I mean, no one in their right mind would be dreaming of cool weather, when the sun is blazing every day. It’s hot, hot, hot. Even in the middle of the bloody night.

I’m not missing that snuggle under the duvet, or winter stews for dinner. Salad is good, so are burnt barbecued sausages, and I love wearing shorts. Who could be nostalgic for comfy jeans, or baggy jumpers, and who would even think about slobbing on the sofa with the log burner going when it’s 30+ degrees outside?

The Farmer might want rain, instead of drought and the pestilence of beetles which this summer has visited on us, but not me. The drumbeat of rain on the lean-too, the gushing of water through ditches, our view from the farmhouse soft-focused  by the the mist of autumn drizzle. Nothing to enjoy there.

But what do we do for small-talk, if we can’t bemoan the disappointment of the English summer? I can answer that question myself, actually, because I’ve already been given pessimistic warnings of the savage winter that must surely follow. It’s nature’s payback, you see. The warnings are delivered with gloomy foreboding, and yet… some weird, English part of me is hoping that they just might come true.

Training (or taming?) my Dragon

Training (or taming?) my Dragon

I’ve had a very productive month. Not on here – you’ll know that, if you follow my blog regularly (or should that be irregularly?) The blog has suffered from my rush of productivity, but the FINAL DRAFT of A Bed of Brambles has at last been dispatched to my editor! At least, I’m calling it the final draft… she may think otherwise.

It’s a relief and a delight, to get rid of the words I’ve been hunched over for the last six months. Rather like handing your homework in, and knowing you’ve done a good job, because the book is so much better for the editing. All the same, I’ve become rather jaded with re-reading, and re-writing.  We needed this space; me, Hettie and Alexander, so that we can learn to love each other again. And my apologies to all those readers who’ve been clamouring for the second book and would rush at the chance to read more about Hettie and Alexander. I’ve been keeping you on tenterhooks for far too long, but we are getting there now – really!

With the chasm of time that losing the book freed up, I motored through the farm’s end of year accounts. Numbers are so much more obedient than words, aren’t they? The numbers are either right, or they’re wrong; no shades of grey here (pun intended).  And at last I got around to submitting new plans for the barn we’re hoping to convert on the farm. It’s all go on the land. The combine is rolling, harvest is on us again: long days, weary men and an endless supply of refreshment to be produced from the farmhouse kitchen.

As I write, the sun is shining, a siren call away from my desk and the four walls of my office, but book three is calling too… It’s a habit, this bloody writing, that is hard to resist. So, I got to thinking, why can’t I have both? Outside, moving and writing a book. Uh oh.

I’m a devil for coming up with ideas which swallow hours of time when I find myself with ten minutes spare. And I’ve already learnt that Dragon dictation is going be one of those. Hours already spent learning how to work it, and I haven’t written a word yet (can you still call it writing if you’re actually speaking?) Oh well, I don’t have to worry about that yet, because so far my Dragon hasn’t listened to a single word I’ve said. No, I tell a lie! As I’m typing here Dragon has just opened the dictation box I asked it to open forty minutes ago. And this is meant to increase your word count?

I’ll let you know how I get on, but don’t hold your breath… I’m busy, taming my Dragon. I think we’ll both be spitting fire by next week.

Road Trip!

Road Trip!

A quick one this week, because we’re off on a mini UK tour, and I really ought to be packing, or editing, or cleaning the house. Because you have to leave the house extra-clean when you’re not going to be in it, don’t you?

I’ve just spoken to the mates who are coming with us, and we’ve sorted our packing lists: Wellies, waterproofs, sun-cream and sandals. So, pack for all weather, basically. I’m glad the car doesn’t have a baggage allowance.

A pre-harvest jolly to Yorkshire, Scotland and the Royal Highland Show (which I’m weirdly excited about). Home via the lake district, by boat if necessary, seeing as nature is filling those lakes up as I write. I’d quite like to bring a Highland cow back with me, but only one that can swim.

I’m taking the editing with me (who am I kidding?) because I’m about to bust my latest self-imposed deadline, (final re-writes back to the editor before I go away, oh dear).  And I’m stressing about the ancient terriers, or stressing about the poor souls who I’m leaving in charge of them, actually. They’re standing outside in the rain at the moment (the terriers, not the carers), looking ancient and mighty bedraggled (I won’t humiliate them by sharing a picture here). But, for some reason which I really can’t fathom, they do come back in to pee. I might lay a shavings bed in the boot room , then the carers can just muck them out.

Here’s wishing for some sunshine, (and an England win tonight). COME ON ENGLAND/SUMMER (delete as required) – let’s be having you!

Sorting the chaff from the wheat

Sorting the chaff from the wheat

 

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The chaff house door, and I wonder how many farmers  have grabbed that rusty handle and pushed the rickety door. Although it wasn’t always rusty and rickety of course, it was a new barn once, built to house the hand-worked chaff machine, to strip the chaff from the grains grown on the farm.

 

 

 

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The barn is charming, romantic and rustic, but that must have been back breaking work. Back in the days when the farm employed most of the men in the village, and a land army of women when the men were sent to war. Heavy horses working the land alongside them, and then the steam engines came along, moving from farm to farm to power the threshing and baling machines. Still loaded by hand of course.

 

threshing machine

Quaint in the photographs, great to watch at a country show, but my nostalgia isn’t such that I would want to live the farming life of the days before mechanisation and combine harvesters.

 

We watched a steam engine working a baling machine at our local steam-up. That particular engine had broken records for hay baling, back in the day. The hay it was baling then went to France, to feed the horses who who were fighting alongside the men. That makes you think.

In my time on the farm, our chaff house has stored hay and straw, the clay pigeon pull and an odd collection of random wood and bits of farm machinery. I think there’s some furniture in there too. Right now, it’s a store for the plastics; the spray cans and fertiliser bags which are waiting to be recycled. Which may be it’s least romantic job yet, but that’s progress for you.

 

 

 

May blossom, cow parsley and a flowering horse-chestnut. Rustic romance in rural Essex

May blossom, cow parsley and a flowering horse-chestnut. Rustic romance in rural Essex

Lovely day for a walk. And the Farmer promised that the route he had planned would only take 40 minutes. I’m still running in the hip,  you see, and I was meant to be editing, but the sun was shining through the office window. No contest really…

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May is my absolute favourite month of the year (or it is this month, next month it might be June). Lush is the only word:

May blossom living up to its name, and cow parsley crowding the verges.

An hour and forty minutes (and several good climbs) later, when the hip had “had a good workout” (the Farmer’s words, not mine) we stumbled across (I was only stumbling a little bit) this little beauty…

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…right in the middle of nowhere. How’s that for rustic romance. I can always edit tomorrow, it will give me something to do until I’m able to walk again.

Merry Christmas

Merry Christmas

Plain, simple and homely is what I hope for this year. Good food, good friends and an eggnog or two.

Here’s a picture of a pretty pony to lighten your day in the frantic countdown to Christmas. (Cute isn’t he!)

pony in snow

 

2015, the year I published my début novel, is rounding off nicely. A big thank you to all of you who have followed my efforts and stumbles on these pages. I’m super excited to be doing it all again with the sequel in 2016.

Now I’m off to supervise tree decoration. Ed has returned with a red velvet cake, Yd will be back from work any minute and Dil is currently winging her way from Durham. The gathering commences, bring it on! Time to whip up the snowballs and festive music.

snowball

Cheers all, have a good one!