I have long wanted a water feature for the garden but dreams often stay as dreams. Plug it in, pipe it up, concrete base - all reasons why somehow it isn't possible - so over the years the idea has stayed on the shelf, gathering dust but not quite going away.
And then recently my mother had a special birthday and - the very thing! - the idea resurrected itself. If I couldn't have one myself then someone else could, and when it's for someone else I can be very determined. Plug it in, pipe it up, concrete base - no problem! - because I had decided upon a solar-powered, battery back-up, all-singing, all-dancing, completely self-contained job that even I could install.
So Mum's patio had its water feature and I coveted it enormously. How nice it would be on the B&B patio for our guests to enjoy! - I could so easily imagine it. A hot summer's day, bees buzzing in the lavender, the rustle of a soft breeze through the leaves and in the background the gentle murmer of splashing water as it trickled from bowl to bowl...
And then reality set in, in the form of ducks.
As anyone who has ever kept these gentle, endearing creatures will know, ducks can turn the slightest drop of water into an instant mudbath. And to a duck, water that moves is the very best sort of water of all. My pride and joy would become a sloppy, slappy duck heaven with their enthusiasm spread all across the patio. So, sadly, it looked like the idea would have to be mothballed once again. Technical issues surmountable - ducks not possible.
And then - Eureka! - my eye settled upon the large pot containing the lavender. Definitely out of reach!
So there we have it. The bees buzzing in the lavender, the rustle of the breeze, the gentle trickle of running water. And not a duck in sight.
The little pigs were beginning to smell - as one of Barbara's visiting Aussie grandchildren informed me. Only being butch Australians they put it much more bluntly.
I had noticed it too - the intense heat and high humidity we're experiencing at the moment didn't make the barn an ideal environment for the pigs - but it was something I was trying to ignore because pigs of the size and speed of these are not pigs you want to be cleaning out on your own. And after all they would be moving out to the field within days ...
But, as it transpired, not soon enough, and I had to do something about it.
Of course, the inevitable happened. Best laid plans and all that. You feed the pigs, you scrape out the pen and then when you're sure the pigs aren't looking you open the gate to push the manure through. In that instant the pigs push through as well, en-masse. And in the same instant you mentally review all the jobs you aren't going to do that morning.
There's nothing to grab hold of on a passing pig so off they went, squealing and skipping and scampering up the garden, round the corner of the house and out of sight. And then i realised, from the different squeals and shrieks that ensued, that they had found our visitors.
And therein is the reason I have time to be writing this, because half of the visitors were children (and children are wonderful at rounding up pigs) and the other half were very game parents.
Job Done !!
I think even the pigs had fun.
Many thanks to all !
It has been a busy weekend. On Sunday we collected five more Tamworth weaners, now ensconsed in the barn for a couple of weeks until they can go up in to the wood. It's a question of logistics and the wood is already occupied by some much larger porkers and the said 2 weeks is the time before they are due to move in to the freezer. But for now they are happily oblivious to the fact, spending their days in the woods and fields, grazing with the cows, rootling for worms or wallowing in a mudbath at will.
We have also aquired another half-dozen ex-battery hens from those admirable people at the British Hen Welfare Trust (www.bhwt.org.uk) who had a re-homing day on Saturday. By the time we collected our hens they had already had a long day. Of the many emptied out of the cages at the poultry farm early that morning ours were some of the few lucky ones that were destined for a life of freedom. For the remainder there awaited quite a different journey, and a very different end to their life of confinement.
Supposedly now all caged birds in this country are from 'enriched' cages, and all improvements to the miserable existance of these birds can only be welcomed. But these birds have never before seen daylight or felt the sun on their backs. Although they still have feathers they are sparse and broken with raw patches on their skin where clumps have been plucked out completely by other hens in squabbles over food or water, or out of boredom. Their claws are incredibly long as, living on a mesh floor they have had little opportunity to wear them down.
And these hens are not in as bad a condition as others we have re-homed before.
It is always wonderful watching them learning to do 'henny' things - first scratch around for food, first dustbath, first sunbathing. At the moment they have their own shed, somewhere to retreat to after the inevitable sparring with the original residents, but since after the first day they have been able to wander where they want. We know that within a few weeks or months their feathers will regrow and their large, pale, floppy combs will shrink and become the bright red of a healthy hen. And, of course, there are the eggs to look forward to ...
But most importantly of all, however long or short their lives, they will have had a taste of freedom.
From the flurry of 'For Sale' signs that have gone up recently, it would appear that everyone is trying to escape from Wycomb.
This is certainly true of Henry, a tortoise with attitude who, when he is not bent on escape, resides with neighbours in the village.
Tales of his escapades are many and word frequently goes round the village that he has broken out again. Sometimes he gets no further than Barbara's compost heap next door, where the damp, grassy warmth lures him into sleep.
But there are other times when the wanderlust is upon him (the second half of the word probably being the operative bit) and the compost heap is no distraction, for Henry is in search of love. It is amazing the amount of ground he can cover in a short space of time - and without being noticed. Last year he went on holiday to the White House about three-quarters of a mile up the lane and spent the summer abroad before being returned. But after the excitements of his most recent excursion, which involved a ride home in a tractor, more serious steps are being taken to curtail his adventures.
One obvious option is to provide him with a lady companion, but Henry's previous history of romantic liaison has unfortunately precluded this. For apparently Henry is very manly, and in the past has shown how manly he is by bashing the lady's shell in his attempts to woo her. Unsurprisingly this has resulted only in the lady retreating in to her own shell in a huff, and into a state of non-cooperation.
So, having had the lady crossed off the list, Henry is faced with the ignominy of having to look for love dressed in a Hi-Vis vest, with a GPS tracker detailing his every move.
Or staying at home.
At Last the much awaited 'spring flush' has arrived and the verges alonside the local lanes have been suddenly transformed into a sea of emerald green, topped with a white froth of cow parsley and studded with the sapphire and ruby of bluebells and campion. All of this against the brilliant lime-green backdrop of the hawthorn hedges and, when it isn't raining, under the canopy of a brilliant blue sky.
It is breathtakingly beautiful.
The heady scent of rape fields in full flower is carried on the warm, moist air; the honey-like smell so thick and sweet and so readily evocative of this brief period of verdant abundance. But the season is very late and the scent of the rape is a full month behind its usual time.
It is so easy to forget just how bitterly cold the weather has been, and how recently the change.
It has been a long, hard winter.
For the first time that locals can remember, foxes have been out hunting during the day around here and have caused devastating losses to keepers of free-range poultry flocks in the area, including us. Strangely enough they seem to have killed only to eat or to carry away, presumably to feed hungry cubs. Certainly there has been both a dog fox and a vixen around and they have become increasingly bold, regularly trotting through the village in daylight hours - and looking in extremely good condition. Not surprising as they have been feeding off the fat of the land - but who can blame them when, during the frequent and prolonged spells of ice and snow, the alternative would be starvation. and why bother trying to get into the larder at night when the door is locked if you can just walk straight in during the day.
So, after the sad losses of some old friends the remaining 'girls' have been largely confined to barracks for the last few weeks. They have been let out for limited periods when we have been around but egg production has still dropped and the glorious vibrant yellow of the egg yolks has paled to a shadow of its former self - it's surprising how much hens will graze when they have the chance, and how much this affects the quality of the eggs.
But today for them has been a good day and they have been out in the garden, dust bathing among the plants and sunning themselves on the lawn ...
Turnout for the cows was unexpectedly early - unexpected because, even by the middle of April, there was no grass to turn them out on to. Any early growth had been killed by the late snow and frosts and was brown and shrivelled. Then suddenly there was a mild, damp spell and the grass started to grow at a tremendous rate and within the week there was suddenly enough grass to keep them. Oh surprise! - and, for the cows,oh joy!!
The pigs too have at last been liberated. Normally weaners bought in April would have gone straight out into the wood but conditions this year made that impossible. So the pigs took up residence in the barn with the cows (technically in an adjoining pen, but pigs are sociable animals and they can squeeze ... and they are persistent in attaining their ends).
There was also the imperative requirement for a new pig ark, the purchase of which further delayed their release.
But finally they are out and ensconced in their new home.
It's wonderful to see them enjoying their new-found freedom, golden-ginger in the sunshine against the green of the trees. That first day they disappeared into the undergrowth and didn't re-emerge until feeding time when they came back quite exhausted from the day's exertions.
In the middle of dinner piggy's jaws stopped moving. He sank to the floor, rolled on his side, shut his eyes tight and fell asleep.
Unheard of for a pig !!