Saturday, 2 September 2023

Celebrate Good Times

What I've been thinking about:
  1. Birth Days
  2. Gnocchi
This morning's Facebook memories tell me that six years ago I was visiting friends near Stockholm. Highlights included staying on a hostel that was a boat (or was it a boat that was a hostel?), spotting a gigantic elk from the bus (and no one else batting an eyelid) and time with some of my favourite people. 

Den Röda Båten
This time last year, Ivie and I were in Glasgow which meant that, in a break from the norm, we spent his birthday day together. I've long since accepted that red letter days at home are only marginally different from other days. We generally manage food related fun in the evening but bales still need stacked, machinery still needs tinkered with and stock still needs checked.  

Which brings me to yesterday. Ivie turned 45 (+VAT) and we had arranged dinner at The Pheasant Sorbie with Doug and Marie. We'd last seen Doug in Japan in 2019 and I'd never met Marie so we were really looking forward to it. 

Ivie was washed, shaved and about to put on clean clothes (exciting for me in itself) when it emerged that there was a cow calving. When Kerr and Drew weren't home. And the calf was coming backwards.

There was at least a tenner for the swear jar as Ivie put his working clothes back on. I got changed out of my glad rags to show moral support, secretly hoping that my offers of help would be turned down. It's not that I'm unwilling exactly but have you seen the size and temperament of cows? Especially pregnant ones with little hooves sticking out of them. 

I stood well back while Ivie persuaded her into the crush and breathed a sigh of relief when I saw Drew arrive. The swearing subsided as Ivie and Drew worked together calmly to try and get more than the hooves out. No further progress had been made when Kerr appeared and we were able to make a sharp exit to Sorbie. 

We had surprise main courses that Doug and Marie had ordered and Andrea had held off on cooking, and delicious desserts thanks to Morag. (Seriously, if you haven't been to The Pheasant, get yourselves down there.)

This morning, the wee calf (born via caesarean eventually) has its head up but hasn't got to its feet yet. I'm hoping that it rallies and ends up as mighty as this little CaesarLooks like an Italian restaurant was just the place to celebrate its birth...
EDIT: I can report that the calf is on its feet! 

Remember this little guy? 

Thursday, 10 August 2023

Farm of Destiny

What I've been thinking about:
  1. Sonic the Hedgehog
  2. Rudi the Spaniel

The short version of my adult life pre-dog ownership goes like this: 

I want a dog but I live in a flat - I want a dog but I work in an office 9-5 - I want a dog but I like going away last minute - I want a dog but my boyfriend is a farmer so I have to drive to his place if I want to see him - I want a dog but... nothing! - I've got a dog!!!! Look at my dog!!! 

Said dog turned 3 last week. She has no idea, though, mainly because we forgot until Ivie's niece (who owns Rudi's brother) posted a picture of Dougal having a birthday cupcake. That's just under three years of daily chaos and puppy dog eyes (and that's just Ivie). 

I was thinking about the bedlam on this morning's walk and it made me think of a Nintendo game from the 90s. No sooner have I stopped her rolling in dung that I'm watching her like a hawk to make sure she doesn't go in search of rabbits. As soon as those disasters are averted, she jumps in a ditch that is reminiscent of a First World War trench. And all before 8am. 

Unfortunately, I was never really into gaming so I am ill-equipped to deal with this level of brain activity at any time of day. Besides, there doesn't seem to be a trophy for getting your dog home clean (unless you count not having to bathe her in special shampoo before breakfast). 

You'll be unsurprised to hear that I was more of the geeky choose-your-own-adventure type, although I'm not sure anyone under 45 will have any idea what I'm talking about. For the uninitiated, these were books where each page ended with a choice along the lines of, 'If you open the gate, turn to page 17'. If you walk past the gate towards the oak tree, turn to page 23'. Adrenalin-fuelled stuff.

It clearly didn't prepare me for actual gate opening 

Maybe it's time for me to launch a reboot where the choices are things like, 'if your dog disappears and comes back smelling worse than you knew was possible, go home and cry' or, 'if your dog obeys your every command, pinch yourself because it was all a dream'. Not exactly escapist fantasy but they do say write what you know. 

Saturday, 1 July 2023

Surprise, Surprise

What I've been thinking about: 

1. Cows.
2. Yes, really. 

There aren't many surprises at my age. Not that I'm tired of life or anything but I usually know how my days and weeks are going to pan out. And then Ivie asks me at Friday teatime if I want to go to a stock judging. 

Those in the know will understand exactly what that is. Here's what I thought it was before I went. 

You go to a farm where the local Young Farmers group has organised a lighthearted competition involving some animals, a judge and a few folk trying to guess what order he or she has ranked them in. 

Now I realise that, while that's the general gist, the stakes are a bit higher. For a start, I'd forgotten how competitive those in farming can be (remember this blog?). I also didn't know that there would be prizes (more on this later). 

The judging was at a dairy farm just a long the road from The Spittal. For once, this was true, rather than the vague notion of 'next door' which can mean a farm eight miles away. There were cars and pick-ups in every available space - I'm not usually a fan of personalised number plates but I am amused by COO and RAM on farm vehicles. As we walked to a big shed, Ivie pointed out other big sheds and I struggled to say anything relevant. 

I was initially reluctant when Ivie suggested a look around but this is a very high tech dairy farm with robots that do the milking. (Not in a Metal Mickey kind of way, that would be weird.) Basically, each cow decides when she wants to be milked and wanders into a stand where spinning brushes wash her teats (yes, it did remind me of a car wash for nipples). A laser pinpoints where the 'suckers' go and the cow has a nice snack while the robot does the work. 

After my tour, we talked to the judge (a distant cousin of Ivie's obviously) and somehow managed to skip the lengthy queue to pay our fivers and get a judging card. A fellow Fisher gave me her top tip (thank you, Lynn): "I always go for the eye lashes," then added that statistically a monkey would get 50% right. 

Cue a stupid question from Giblin: "Are there 134 cows?!"

When things were ready to kick off, I got myself ready in front of Ivie and his brother with pen in hand. What I wasn't prepared for was the cows being released untethered into the shed we were standing in. These beasts were HUGE and clearly used to human interaction. They trotted up and down, sometimes at speed and occasionally licked a sleeve. For classes 2-6, I stood behind Ivie and his brother, much happier to put some distance between the cows and my sleeves.  

The only thing I know about stock judging is that animals with straight backs are good. I made a snap judgement based on that alone (forgetting all about their eyelashes) and jotted down my answers. I looked up, expecting everyone else to have done the same but there were people walking up and down with serious faces, others patting the cows to get them to turn around and some were even on their hunkers to get a better look at their teats (the cows', not their own). 

At one point, a woman next to us said, "Turn round girls so we can see your arses," to which Ivie replied, "I'd get a slap for saying that!". 

There were six classes of four cows, so 24 chances to get the same answer as the judge. For the first five classes, I got half of them right (beating both Ivie and his brother). I decided to really concentrate for the last class as there were hints I might be up for a prize. And you've guessed it. I got zero. Still, a 40% success rate when you know nothing ain't bad (although still worse than a monkey). 

There was beer, burgers and chat to be had afterwards. And here is where I learned that I wasn't too bothered that I wouldn't be getting a prize. A friend's sister had been at a stock judging where she was presented with bull semen as a prize. Even I wouldn't be able to hide my surprise at that. 

Saturday, 3 June 2023

All things bright and beautiful?

What I've been thinking about:

  1. Chironomida
  2. (It's not an STD)

One of the things I notice when I'm walking the dog at this time of year is the abundance of flora and fauna. Pink and blue flowers are dotted along the edge of the cycle track in between the nettles and sticky willy and swallows dip over my head on their way to feed their chirruping young in nests under the eaves. 

I'm unable to name most of the wildlife around here (although I'd probably be evicted if I couldn't recognise a sheep or cow by now). But there's one that any Scot knows in their first list of animals, along with being able to point at kittens, doggies and horses. And that's the aforementioned chironomida. 

Look, doggies! 

That's right, it's the wee biting b*****d that is the midge. 

In true Presbyterian fashion, we can't have blazing, uninterrupted sunshine for over a week and just enjoy it. Oh no, we have to suffer lest we enjoy life in all its glory. (As if burning within five minutes of leaving the house wasn't enough).

Factor Duffle Coat

This year's midge is more keen than usual, buzzing about for far longer than is acceptable. For those lucky enough to be unfamiliar with the little blighter, it usually appears early in the morning and later in the evening but leaves us to enjoy the bulk of the day uninterrupted. Not this year. The 2023 edition has decided that it is mounting a hostile takeover for daytime as well. 

I imagine them in their small but mighty midge army strategising about which watch each platoon will take to ensure maximum coverage (Ultravox playing in the background, naturally). When they're not sleeping (do midges sleep?) or biting, they're sharpening their weapons until they glisten in the light, ready for the next crusade. 

A youngster flies into the officers' mess with news of casualties, squashed on a boilersuit by a hand bigger than any of them can imagine. The more experienced among them don't miss a beat (it means nothing to them). The new recruits will one day be that hardened, barely registering the daily reports of losses. They remain focused on one goal and one goal only: domination. 

Anyone would think that the wee biting b******s are starting to affect my sanity. But I know the truth. 

Our Saviour

Tuesday, 23 May 2023

On Balance

What I've been thinking about:

You've got to take the rough with the smooth. 

There are many things that happen in the country that wouldn't even be on your radar in the city, some good, some not so good. 

  • We all know that we regularly have to travel a fair distance to join in with something - but when we get there, we'll likely get a warm welcome and bump into one or two people we know (or 17, if you're Ivie). 
  • We sometimes don't get to see the high profile exhibitions that go to big city galleries - but we are surrounded by first class artists and makers (don't forget Spring Fling this weekend).
  • We don't always get the big blockbuster films the first weekend they come out - but we do sometimes get special premieres before anyone else. 
There's no shortage of good stuff. At the weekend, we pootled along the road in the van and 45 minutes later were set up in Portpatrick ready for wine, sunburn and lie-ins (thanks to Eilidh for minding the dog). A short cliff walk later past the Grand Designs house (that looks like a nuclear bunker) and we were at a beach that would have been hoaching if it wasn't in our secret corner of the world. And it's all pretty much on our doorstep.

Perfect peace

We've been taking the dog swimming on our doorstep recently too (not in the local pool, you understand, that would just be silly). After getting a fright when she was wee, Rudi hasn't been the keenest of swimmers but has been getting a bit more confident lately and throwing herself into the Bruntis. More often than not we have the place to ourselves, which is just as well given how enthusiastically we cheer when Rudi retrieves a stick. 

The Bruntis at Kirroughtree

The whole reason I started thinking about this rough and smooth thing today was that I had to rewash my washing when it was nearly dry because there was a distinctly unfresh aroma in the air (or fresh, depending on what definition of the word you favour). I muttered away to myself that I'd never had to do that in Leith and then I remembered the basement flat I lived in, in Bristol where my clothes were fousty and ready to go in the wash again by the time they'd actually dried. 

It all balanced out though as we finished the day with home-made venison burgers, given to Ivie last week when he was working nearby. I didn't get that in Leith either. Maybe, it's not so rough around here after all. 

Wednesday, 3 May 2023

Burning Ambition

What I've been thinking about this week:
  1. Films
  2. Fame
Ivie had a tractor on loan this week, which made me think that there's probably room for a farmery take on The Terminator franchise. 

He invited me along for a tractor date (how lucky am I...), which was pretty good because the extra seat in the cab was actually comfortable and I didn't ask too many stupid questions (except why tractors aren't allowed at raves - see below 😜).

The other film I've been thinking about is The Wicker Man since this week sees the 50th anniversary of its original release. The first time I saw it was in my friend Naomi's living room in Leith and it was a lot less gory and much more weird than I was expecting.

Fast forward to 2019 and Ivie and I went to a showing in the Isle of Whithorn (a few miles from where poor PC Howie met his end at Burrowhead). It was a whole other experience watching it with someone who knew all the nearby locations and even recognised a few extras in The Green Man/Ellangowan. 

That was topped by a special showing on Sunday night at Newton Stewart Cinema (and more my idea of a date). The audience fell into two main camps:
  1. The superfans (including someone who had flown in from France especially) who were interested in rumoured lost footage and identifying the filming location of every single frame. 
  2. The locals like us who whispered, 'that's the Tolbooth' and nudged each other when the graveyard in Anwoth appeared.
(My personal highlight was the guide dog in the row behind who leaned in for a cuddle halfway through the film.)

All this got me thinking about whether I had any claims to fame. I've never appeared in a major motion picture (or a minor one for that matter) but I have met a few famous folk along the way. None of them were particularly memorable (for me or them) but I do remember Robert Peston trying to hand me his coat to hang up at a University of Edinburgh event. You'll guess how that went.... 

Obviously, I met a few authors when I worked at Wigtown Book Festival where I allowed myself one moment of being starstruck per festival. In 2015, this was Bill Drummond of KLF fame. He asked me where the toilets were and borrowed my sellotape!! Swoon. 

I suppose that, these days, it's the local heroes I meet through work who are most impressive, the ones making the least noise and just getting on with making a difference (and also not burning a million pounds. Or a policeman in a wicker effigy). 

Tuesday, 11 April 2023

Camper Van Dreams

What I've been thinking about this every week:

  1. Tea.
  2. Books.
Over lunch today, I suggested to Ivie that it's just as well that we got together when we did. It's not just that we started seeing each other in a November - any other month and Ivie would have been far too busy working - but that I was far too boring in my 20s or 30s for Ivie to have paid me any attention. Now that I'm nearing 50, I can put it down to middle age, rather than my actual personality. 

Unlike Ivie, I've never been the life and soul of the party. Even as a student, I was quite happy to be tucked up in bed long before my flatmates crashed home in the wee small hours, singing and burning toast.

There are times I look back and think I wasted the student experience but the reality is, I've always been a fairly solitary creature who can manage a little bit of socialising before needing a nice cup of tea, a sit down and a good book. 

I saw this online the other day. 

We might not be - or have any plans ever to be - married (been there, done that, binned the t-shirt) but the principle still stands. It's funny because it's true. 
Anyway, all this is by way of introduction to the realisation that we came to at the weekend. The signs have been there for a while and we've ignored them as best we can. But it's time to face the truth. The fact is, we're officially MIDDLE-AGED.

As I say, there have been clues along the way:
  • we co-own a dog.
  • we co-own a camper van. 
  • we do the crossword online every lunchtime. 
The clincher involved something neither of us knew existed. You know how motorcyclists nod at each other when they see each other on the road? Well, this is the less cool version for middle-aged camper van drivers - they wave at each other, even from the other side of the motorway! Imagine how many times Ivie had to wave along the A75, M74, M80 and A9 before we got to my auntie's at Dunkeld. And then all the way home again. On the Easter Weekend. It was A LOT. 

Dog in a camper van

Suffice to say, if there was a Ministry of Funny Waves, Ivie would have been a fully fledged Senior Minister by the time we got home on Sunday night. I'm now wondering if there's a French version for when we head there in September or whether we'll just have to perfect a nonchalant shrug.