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A pound of flesh

My parents are going to Oban for the day. Judging from the frenzied activity going on outside my office one might think they were going for a month.  In fact they are going to Oban for an hour.  The summer ferry service which allows day trippers to spend an afternoon on Colonsay doesn’t work quite so well in reverse.

My Dad has ascended and descended the stairs at least six times.  With each ascension the severity and decibel level of his expletives has grown louder and louder.  My mother and I remain silent.  We have extensive experience in dealing with his grumps and much like Helen’s tantrums they are best ignored.

I am cocooned in the spare room (my office).  I have taken to this room as our own house is simply too small for me to get any work done in.  Helen and Sally have no respect whatsoever for the rules of gainful employment and my need to earn an honest living.  On the odd occasion I have tried to work at the kitchen table Helen climbs onto my knee and tries to press the buttons on the laptop whilst Sally stands under the table repeatedly bumping her head, pulling at my trousers leg and irritating Helen.

I am now in the last week of working my notice for the NHS.  Our original plan had been that I would return to Edinburgh and hospital medicine for five weeks.  Allan and the girls would come with me and enjoy a few weeks of mainland fun whilst I fulfilled my obligations.  Instead my boss came up with a project I could do online.  At first I felt very grateful to him for coming up with a rescue package that would prevent the upheaval of my family.  Of course I was bowled over with gratitude, stressed how hard I would work and enthusiastically agreed to an ambitious project.

He’s a smart man my boss.  Had I returned to the mainland I would have been physically present at work between the hours of 9 and 5 each day.  As I am giving up my medical career I would not have felt under any particular obligation to work hard. Now I don’t’ want you to think that I am some sort of evil, work avoiding, embezzler of tax payer’s money.  I would have carried out my allocated tasks well and with good grace and enthusiasm.  However, I am capable of a lot more than this.  Pre-child (and before I decided that I really did not want to spend the rest of my life looking down a microscope at bits of flesh I had hacked to pieces the day before) I was hardcore.  My boss knew this.  How? Because on more than one occasion he had come into the office at 10pm on a Sunday evening to find me hard at work over my microscope – Rock and roll.  We’ve also had the occasional e-mail conversation at 2am (no no no we’re not talking 50 shades of Grey here).  He knows that if I feel obliged to do something then I will forsake all others and get on with it.  He offered me what seemed like a lifeline and has instead extracted a far greater amount of work from me than I would ever have imagined.  No wonder he’s emperor of pathology or whatever his actual title is – he knows how to extract his pound of flesh.

Meanwhile life on the rock still goes on.  We’ve acquired a duck and 8 ducklings.  We haven’t named them yet though as they are still gender unspecified – I fear at least a few of them will be named Christmas Dinner.  We have also acquired two more hens – Kathleen and Karine in honour of the great musicians.  Allan is engaged in a battle royale with whoever it is who does or doesn’t issue building warrants and we hope to have permission to build our house very soon.  Great all we need now is the money!  Sadly that is all spent.  Allan has been led astray by my father and is now the co-owner of an ancient tractor which my Dad is picking up in Oban today.

Helen is pretty much potty trained now although this doesn’t affect me much as I rarely see my children……apart from Sally who I see several times a night, each night…………she too knows how to extract her pound of flesh.

Oh well, my Dad has found his man-bag and he and my mother have roared round to the pier in their dysfunctional car which sorely needs servicing.  It’s being left in Oban to be mended.  I offered to pick my parents up from the pier this evening but they declined – they will drive back round in the tractor.  It’s only three miles I’m sure they will be home by midnight.  Now the house is quiet I’d better get back to work.

p.s. I’m now on the third of the 50 shades trilogy.  I still don’t want to criticise these books as I’m giving up valuable sleeping time to read them but I must say I do understand now why the average Mills and Boon stops after 180 pages.

Laters…………..

A plague is upon us!

Forgive me WordPress for I have sinned.  It has been ten days since my last blog post.  Actually I can’t believe it’s only been ten days.  It seems like a lifetime.

I am pleased to report that we are now officially visitor free (until my mother in law arrives on Wednesday – I can’t wait to inflate the airbed to its full bouncyness again).  I have thoroughly enjoyed sleeping in my own bed (often for periods of several hours at a time as Sally suddenly seems to have got the idea that night time is for sleeping) and having full access to my wardrobe.  Sadly most of my clothes don’t fit as I’ve eaten far too much over the last couple of months and will have to return to the temple of weight watchers once the winter months set it.

We’ve had a lovely week with my aunt and uncle and sister.  They were staying with my parents and thus did not infuriate me at all.  My mother, being a saint, seemed to breeze through the whole visit as though catering for at least five people every night (and often 9 as we were frequent dinner guests) didn’t faze her at all.  Admittedly my aunt had brought a lot of ready prepared food with her…….yes she’s amazing.  She also brough Helen what are quite possibly the cutest trousers ever.  Do I have a photo of them? No not yet she doesn’t really wear clothing on the lower part of her body at present so I haven’t had a chance to snap her in them.

After several weeks of cold weather poor Allan ended up shearing the sheep in what must have been 30 degree heat.  He and my Dad performed a lot of bizarre maneuvering with said sheep before finally getting them into the shed (I think this may have been due to lack of training of both my Dad’s dog Bess and Allan himself.  Although Allan did proudly report that my Dad only told him to F*** off once during the entire procedure which indicates strong approval on the part of my father.) I’d never seen a sheep pant before and it was not a pretty sight.  I’ve included a picture of Allan looking all manly shearing a sheep.  Try not to swoon ladies…………….

Do you come here often?

 

I know after such a long absence I should really be writing a vast post telling you all about the amazing things I have done.

  • Singing at the concert held to raise funds for the music festival.
  • Going paddle boarding with Jen – yes it really was fun – almost worth the numerous near death experiences we had just getting the board round the island.
  • Attending a meeting for the next book festival, we’ve got an author I really really love coming but I can’t say who it is………….for those who know me really well – it’s not Jilly Cooper.
  • Trying to potty train Helen who is proving extremely resistant although my mum reported that she did a poo at the side of the road yesterday (Helen not my mum!).  Here is a photo of our alfresco attempts though.
  • Walking to the most disgusting beach on Colonsay with Allan and Jen; three kinds of animal faeces and two types of jellyfish – eurgh. (not photographed although Jen does have a lovely snap of Sally brandishing a fistfull of goose poop)

Sadly I am too tired to write more as Allan was conveniently struck down with an evil lurgy yesterday.  This timely illness meant that I had to spend seven hours cleaning a six bedroomed, five bathroomed, two kitchened holiday home.  This morning I was actually aching as though I had been to the gym.  Now that all risk of him having to clean seems to have passed he has made a miraculous recovery although he is still too delicate to change nappies.

Life after dog

To anyone who struggles to adjust after losing their beloved canine I have the perfect solution.  Get a pet sheep.  Sally lamb is doing her very best to fill the void.  She follows us everywhere bleating incessantly, she even made it into the kitchen yesterday.  She eats large quantities of very expensive food, craps outside the garden gate and knocks over my children.  Last week she followed our car all the way to the bottom of the field almost as if she wanted to come to the beach with us.  All she needs to do is learn to chase other sheep and a stick and she is the perfect Max replacement.

Sally lamb – photo credit goes to my lovely sister in law.

Broody!

 

Not me – Fat Tracey.  Not only has our top layer produced a double yolked egg this week but she has now taken it upon herself to increase our flock of hens.  Sadly poor Tracey is flogging a dead horse.  Her eggs are distinctly unfertile.

 

In fact my perusal of the interweb indicates that broodiness is not to be encouraged.  If we don’t stop her she may start plucking out the feathers on her chest, starving herself and, worst of all, doing giant poops.  I have sought advice on the aforementioned interweb and have found a number of solutions.  My favourite include giving her flying lessons (not sure I’m qualified to do this since I can’t fly myself) and putting ice cubes in the nest – harsh. We have settled for shutting her out of the hen house.  However this has made the other hens very cross as it means they have to lay their eggs outside.  If she doesn’t stop brooding and snap out of it we may have to put her in a run by herself.

 

Poor old Sally lamb is off colour too – she has a runny bum.  We had to phone the vet for advice and sadly this advice involved me jabbing poor old Sally in the bum with some antibiotics.  She took it pretty well though and is still wolfing down milk and happily sleeping in her dog kennel.  We managed to get a drug runner to bring some more antibiotics over on the boat tonight so fingers crossed she’ll recover.

 

For those of you eagerly awaiting news of Sally lamb’s failed foster mother you will be pleased to hear she is still with us.  She was up on her feet and eating some hay today so fingers crossed she’s on the mend.  Interestingly her lamb continued to feed from her even when the poor sheep was lying at deaths door – every lamb for himself!

 

We are safely back in our own house this evening after three hours of solid cleaing.  I think the girls are pleased to be home although on being dragged away from my parents  Helen did say ‘No, no, no I want to stay at this house’. I don’t think she really meant it.  Sally didn’t really say anything – just shrieked and filled her nappy.  I think that means she’s enjoying the view out of the new double glazed windows.

I’m going to give it all up and become a doctor!

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My Grandpa shearing a sheep in the good old days.

It’s just been one of those weeks.  Suddenly the island idyll is seeming less than idyllic.  I’m about to catalogue a litany of disasters both great and small.

I think things started to go down hill around mid week when Allan found a dead lamb in the field….now I think about it it was probably an omen.  There was a sheep hanging around and he decided to foster our pet lamb, Sally lamb onto this willing mother. A series of events subsequently unfolded where the lamb didn’t really take to the mother, my dad kept saying how weird the whole thing was and something wasn’t right until a couple of days ago Allan went down to the shed to check on them and found the proud mother had given birth to a lovely new lamb!  Clearly she was not the mother of dead lamb in the field and no wonder she wasn’t that keen on the foster lamb we had tried to fob her off with.  Sally lamb gleefully went back to the bottle and the dog kennel and we put the sheep out in the field.  Then we noticed she was a bit off colour and appeared to have a bit of retained placenta.  Then she looked really sick so we gave her some antibiotics.  Then she looked really really sick so we did some investigating and found out that she not only had a retained placenta but also a retained lamb. Not nice.  She is now in the shed looking pretty gubbed (to use a medical term) and Allan and my Dad are taking turns to flagellate themselves for the numerous ways in which this poor sheep was mismanaged.

Following on from all this Allan and I set off for a romantic walk round the sheep last.  For reasons best known to ourselves we decided that a sheep had a stuck lamb and chased her around the croft twice. During the process of the chase I fell flat on my face (but I was up and running like a gazelle seconds later). I also managed to perform a bizarre Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon 360 degree spin whist catching her which I think dislocated my shoulder and broke several of my ribs.  O.K. maybe not quite but I’m very stiff and sore this morning.

So this morning I woke up sore, sleep deprived (but that’s a given) and generally grumpy to a howling gale. This led to the realisation that our tent (also known as the guest wing) was in real danger of blowing away.  It was heroically rescued by my dad and Allan.  Sadly I felt their actions were less heroic when I discovered the sopping wet tent shoved into the shed with Max’s stinking dog bed on top of it.

Allan has not been in my good books this weekend as he and my Dad have spent most of their time replacing the windows in our kitchen and living room.  Yes I know this is great.  It will be nice not to have to mop the windowsill dry when it rains and to remove the tea towels which we had stuffed around the window frame in a  vain attempt to stop the drafts but did they have to make so much mess?  I often complain that when Allan cooks he uses every pan in the house and leaves the kitchen like a bomb site.  Well if you extrapolate this to power tools  you may have some idea of the current state of our house.  At least they fixed the hole in the wall that Max made with his giant arse.

Whilst they were out doing manly things I decided to display some of my domestic goddess skills and proceeded to make homemade pizza.  Sadly I forgot to add a raising agent to the dough and created something which was more like hot cheese and tomato on an oatcake than a pizza.  At least Helen said it was lovely which is something as she’s not afraid to tell me when my food tastes ‘mingin’.

So here we are camping out in my parents (admittedly luxurious) house. Our house is an uninhabitable tip. We have our friends little girl to look after tomorrow morning.  We have to somehow clean our house and dry out the tent (which is almost as large as the house), minister to the sick sheep in the shed, feed the pet lamb, keep an eye on the sheep on the croft and go to playgroup.  Also I need to spend a lot of time this week learning how to get to grips with the shop ordering system as Mrs Shopmeister’s period of confinement draws near. Allan is going away to a stag weekend on Thursday leaving me to clean a 12 bedded holiday cottage by myself.  And to top it all off it is the first week of a new semester on my on-line learning course – this means that I will be inundated with e-mails from vacuous students asking me bizarre questions and complaining that their holiday plans don’t fit in with the course timetable.  Just writing this has increased my heart rate.

I guess I thought when we moved here that the horrible – rip your own skin off you’re feeling so stressed- stress would be left behind.  Rather disappointing to find that this is not the case.  However it makes me wonder if perhaps I am just the sort of person who would be stressed anywhere.  Even if I was a Buddhist monk I would probably be unable to meditate due to worrying about my bum looking big in my robe and what the other monks thought of me.  So I could give up the good life and rejoin the rat race or maybe I could just try and relax a little.  Easier said than done though.

3 Reasons why I think I’m pregnant

1. My back really hurts

2. I’m hungry all the time

3. I’m very tired

Hmm I do realise that there is a rational explanation for each of these signs.  Having finally reached my  Weight Watchers goal I’m now struggling with the strange urge to go on a rebound binge and eat everything in sight.  When I say I’m struggling I mean I’m fighting a rearguard action in a losing battle.  Last night I ate a whole bag of pretzels in the bath.  This is actually quite difficult.  I had to fill up the back of one of Helen’s rubber ducks with pretzels, then it capsised, then I had to eat damp pretzels………..I still ate them though.

Indeed I am very tired.  However I think this may be due to both Allan and I’s late night feeding responsibilities.  Sally lamb is now STTN (this is baby forum speak for sleeping through the night.).  She doesn’t actually sleep through the night but she can certainly survive all night without dying of hunger.  Sadly we now have our second pet – Helen lamb.  Helen lamb is not STTN.  Helen lamb also doesn’t want to suck a bottle.  She was cruelly taken away from her mummy (she’s also a triplet but we left her with mum for a few days) and she wants to go back.  Sadly she has to be chased around pen three times (with Sally lamb in hot pursuit) before she will allow herself to be caught and then grits her teeth and point-blank refuses to take the teat in her mouth.  While this is going on Sally lamb helpfully tries to insert her head between Helen lamb and the teat in order to intercept the milk.  Honestly I would not be surprised to go out one day and discover that Sally has eaten Helen.

Anyway…………Sally baby still requires one or two overnight feeds and Helen lamb requires at least one.  Allan has manfully taken responsibility for Helen lamb.  Theoretically I wouldn’t mind feeding her when I’m up with Sally baby anyway but the reality of this would be that I would get up, change Sally’s entire apparel (because she insists on sleeping with her legs in the air which, due to the law of gravity, causes her nappy to leak) and then feed her.  I would then go outside, chase Helen lamb round the pen three times, whilst tripping over Sally lamb and then spend half an hour trying to feed her before falling back into bed for and hour before Sally baby would be up again requiring further sartorial attentions and more milk.  I couldn’t cope.  Sadly Allan isn’t really coping either, sleep deprivation sucks.  Welcome to my world.

My back hurts.  This is the most worrying sign.  During both of my previous pregnancies I suffered from severe back pain due to ligament laxity.  O.K. O.K maybe running a marathon at 12 weeks pregnant didn’t help either. I have an intense pain in my right buttock which causes me to assume a bizarre limping gait and whinge continuously.  Conveniently the pain is also exacerbated by any form of housework.  Normally the pain disappears as soon as I give birth but it reappeared about 3 week ago.  It’s obvious I must be pregnant. Either that or I shouldn’t have run to the shop whilst pushing the double buggy……….

Sadly pregnancy tests are not widely available on Colonsay so we’ll just have to wait and see.  Admittedly I’m not exhibiting any of the more conventional signs of pregnancy, no morning sickness, no weight gain, bump etc.  I wouldn’t mind being pregnant again but I don’t think Allan is so keen.  With our current overnight schedule I think we’d have to get Helen up to take responsibility for some of the night feeds as Allan and I are pretty much flat-out as it is.  Or maybe we could just get one of the multi teated lamb feeders and just stick babies and lambs in together………why didn’t I think of this before?

 

 

Five signs your sheep is lambing

The flock at dusk

 

  1. She’s on her own
  2. She can’t settle
  3. She’s pawing the ground and maybe walking in circles
  4. Tilting head backwards
  5. Straining and grunting with bits of lamb sticking out of her rear (no shit Sherlock!)

Consider this – you never see a dead sheep right out in the middle of a field.  Oh no they always like to go off into corners to die give birth.  They do this on purpose just to irritate the kindly humans who, with their best interests at heart, are traipsing around the field checking up on them at all hours of the day and night.

I had Liz Lochead in the front of my car this evening.  Actually that’s not strictly true.  I had Liz Lochead in the front of the-mother-in-laws car.  Our own car smells too strongly of petrol and dog for me to invite Scotland’s premier poet into its putrid interior.  The authors arrived en-masse today and my Dad and I had the pleasure of meeting Liz (first name terms already), Sophie Cooke and Kenneth Steven.  All of whom seemed rather lovely.  They also seemed gratifyingly impressed by Colonsay’s scenary.  This island had pulled out all the stops.  The sun was shining and the sea was sparkling.  As poor Liz struggled out of the car where I had parked it jauntily on top of a small hillock she turned to look at the view out over the pier and even I, jaded as I am, had to admit it was rather spectacular.  After a few minutes of conversation in which I developed dreadful verbal diarrhoea and may have appeared like a cross between a star struck school girl and a tour guide on speed I ditched the celebs and headed back around the island.  (I’m missing out the part where I almost drove the-mother-in-law’s Micra into a Landrover!).

I pulled up about half a mile from our house.  I removed my Uggs and replaced them with wellies, zipped up my Barbour (real croftesses can’t afford Barbour but I had one left over from my previous life).  Stowed my iphone safely in my pocket (even Croftesses need a smartphone) and headed off around the sheep.

Going around the sheep is a tricky business.  It’s not like going for a walk.  You have to pay attention.  You can’t just wander around blogging in your head and thinking about how beautiful the scenery is.  You must look out for five signs above.  As I wandered the hillside (limping in a slightly pregnant fashion, I have a strange (hopefully not pregnancy related back injury)), inhaling the crisp sea air and admiring what will soon be our amazing view, and writing this blog in my head I  heard bleating coming from the other side of the hill.  I sneaked up to the top and looked down onto Sally lamb’s mother and brothers.  They were calling to her wanting her to stop and feed them.  She obliged and they tucked themselves underneath, one on each side and started feeding vigorously tails wagging furiously.  I raised my iphone to take a picture (camera still defunct!) and the battery ran out!

“Oh well” I thought to myself, “never mind the flat battery, there’s not much going on anyway.” As I crested the last rise and was about to begin my (limpy) journey home I spied a sheep with some rather unpleasant substance dripping from her rear.  My first thought was dread.  Here I was out in the middle of nowhere a potential lambing emergency afoot with no phone signal to call for help, I didn’t even have any 3G for looking up lambing guidelines on the internet.  I took a different route around the hillock and came upon her from another angle.  A tiny lamb, brand new and dripping wet was just staggering to its feet and searching  (rather haplessly I might add) for its mothers udder.  I have seen hundreds of lambs being born.  I’ve watched my parents up to their elbows in farmyard animals and have seen the highs and lows of lambing.  None of this stopped me from misting up a little over this baby though.  I didn’t go any closer.  I didn’t want to interrupt  its first feed.  So the pleasant job of catching it, spraypainting it, putting a ring on its tail and dealing with its testicles (if it has any) can all be left for Allan tomorrow.  He’s the real crofter afterall.

I met Allan at the gate – he’d been doing some sort of weird GPS stuff.  It was only after I had given him a long and detailed description of our new lamb that he pointed out that this was the first thing I had thought to mention – not the fact that I had been chatting with a famous author only an hour before.  Maybe I am a real crofter too.

Sally lamb and Helen. She is already bigger than this though. I will beg, steal or borrow a camera for more pictures tomorrow.

Lambs are like buses

Of necessity this post must be short.  This will be tricky as I am, by nature, verbose and I have imbibed two glasses of cava which will only make me more so…..

Our lambing started two days ago.  When I say that I mean that Monday was the first day that our sheep could have given birth.  Allan, bless his little cotton socks, has been trudging round the croft four times a day since then looking longingly at his sheep and dreaming of lambs.  My father prefers to take a more relaxed attitude to his lambing – his sheep have beenImage lambing for over a month and are showing no signs of stopping.  This morning Allan arrived in for breakfast and announced with joy that our first lamb had been born.  Much rejoicing ensued (well I rejoiced with as much joy as I could considering I had only had 3.5 hours sleep).  Just before lunch he headed off to check the sheep again and to mark the lamb (and possibly do something to its testicles that should not be mentioned on a mainstream blog).  I was in the midst of defrosting some rather questionable soup when he arrived home and announced that the lamb was now one of triplets!  For those of you who are not crofting experts this is not cool.  A single lamb is good, twins is better but triplets are too much for a sheep and are an abomination which should not be allowed.  Allan did the only thing possible and telephoned my dad.

My Dad arrived home from a hard morniings LDO’ing and admitted that in his 30 odd years of farming/crofting he had never actually had triplets.  After much deliberation and hopeful examining of our own and my dads sheep for a possible foster mother it was decided that we would have to take one of the lambs ourselves.  So there you have it.  Our first sheep has lambed and already we have a pet – pretty much the worst possibly outcome.

Sally lamb (named by Helen, she doesn’t know any other baby names) is now residing in Allan’s vegetable garden.  Hopefully she will not do the plants any damage.  The hens have already eaten all of the leaves off of his plum trees. I fear for her.  Allan and I both spent a large amount of time trying to feed her before we realised that you have to cut the end off of the teat to actually make a hole for the milk to flow out of.  I suppose in our favour is the fact that we have managed to keep Helen and Sally alive – they seem a bit more resiliant though.

Today was my first day in the shop.  It was rather overshadowed by events on the croft. I felt extremley guilty on leaving.  Both girls were sitting in their high chairs, covered in food.  I had just realised that Helen’s nappy was leaking.  Sally hadn’t been fed for several hours and Allan was holding a newborn lamb in his arms. Also I had been forced to admit that the soup was in fact beyond question and indeed inedible. When I phoned later to announce that the boat would not be bringing his mother to help Allan uttered these words “I’m going to have to go and put the lamb outside.  It’s keeping Helen awake.” He has a lot to learn as a father.

I would love to continue this and regale you with tales of the shop and further examples of our general unsuitability for the crofting lifestyle but time is wearing on and it’s nearly time to give Sally lamb a bottle.

Above is Sally lamb – less than an hour old.  Allan was holding her for my Dad to spray her cord with iodine.  Sadly my camera can no longer focus properly.  I put it into the pocket of Allan’s jacket and it came into contact with a very questionable substance.  Hopefully I will have more cute photos tomorrow.

Fat Tracey did us proud

Today has been an eventful day.  Actually Thursday was an eventful day but with my sister coming home for the 2nd weekend in a row (nothing to do with a rather handsome young man on the island at the moment I’m sure!) and Sally staging a no-sleep campaign I haven’t had the time to blog.  This is particularly frustrating as so much has happened that I’ve wanted to write about.  Life here is currently so exciting I could probably take up blogging full-time.  Also my sister helpfully told me she had lots of ideas for my blog too – I suggested maybe she should write her own.

Anyway fat Tracey’s tale begins a few days before Christmas.  Allan suddenly started spending even more time than usual in my Dads shed.  It’s not unusual for Allan to spend several hours per day in the aforementioned shed.  The shed to Allan is like Harvey Nichols for me – it is filled with a heady combination of wood, tools, animal fodder, my dads quad and various items from my childhood.  My dad is often there too imparting manly wisdom whether Allan wants to hear it or not!

I wasn’t particularly amused by Allan’s disappearance shedward.  He informed me lovingly that he was creating an amazing Christmas present for me – I was unmoved.  Neither child was sleeping, we were well into the winter of discontent (by this I mean it had been raining for several months) and I had broken out in a strange urticarial rash all over my entire body (possibly brought on by excess food colouring in the Christmas cake).  I’m fairly insightful and from the various clues I was given I knew immediately that my present was going to be a pig.  Don’t get me wrong.  I like pigs.  Allan and I had discussed getting a pig and I did want one…….but I was tired and it was wet and the pigs would have had to live outside and at that precise moment I just wasn’t sure I was up to pig husbandry.

Christmas day dawned wet and cold with Max and Tiggy almost eating a sheep and my Dad having to throw himself into the sea in order to save it.  We worked our way through mountains of presents and a lot of food and drink.  I did my best to avoid Allan’s hints that I should join him in the shed.  Eventually I couldn’t put it off any longer.  As I squelched towards the shed I practised my fake smile behinds Allan’s back.  Imagine my joy when we entered the shed and there was not a pig in sight.  In fact the only livestock were Max and Spud.  I was actually able to show genuine enthusiasm when Allan presented me with my gift – the biggest henhouse you’ve ever seen.   Not only were its dimensions impressive but it featured a removable floor and a full size window (harvested from the shed of course).  The three-week old chicks were arriving by plane a few days later.

Sadly my euphoria was not to last. Hen enthusiasts amongst you will have realised that I have alluded to the inclement weather on more than one occasion.  Three week old chicks don’t have feathers and no matter how salubrious their henhouse it won’t be warm enough.  Somehow Allan managed to break the news to me that for the next 8 weeks we would be sharing our home with the furry bundles.  This was particularly hard for me as I am actually scared of poultry.  Yes really.  Chickens are scary scary creatures with their pecky beaks and their scratchy claws, they are not to be trusted and you certainly don’t want to be sharing living space with them.  Phobia of hens is not as rare as you might think.  In fact I believe it may be inherited in an autosomal dominant fashion as my father is scared of them too – it must be genetic. To make matters worse when the hens finally arrived and were safely ensconced next to the Rayburn it became clear that they were not the little yellow fluffy bundles I was hoping for.  Instead they looked a bit like the velociraptors in Jurassic park except with feathers and (thankfully) less intelligence.

I won’t lie to you dear reader.  The next few weeks were hard.  The hens were not pleasant living companions.  They were smelly and noisy and after a couple of days learned to fire their faeces out of the side of their cage – torpedo like- onto the kitchen floor. Their only positive was that they required such high temperatures that kitchen was permanently warm for the first time since we moved in.  We were even allowed to put coal on the Rayburn!

There’s a Julia Donaldson book called A Squash and a Squeeze.

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I won’t spoil the story for you but it basically describes an old woman who is displeased with her living space and choses to share it with various animals in order to rediscover its joys.  Well I can completely empathise with said woman.  When the time came to kick the hens out (and I may have aimed a few kicks when Allan wasn’t looking) I was delighted to have my kitchen back.  It was amazing to walk in the front door and only smell dog rather than the mixed scent of dog and chicken poop.

Since the hens have been outside I have become a lot fonder of them.  Even my Dad rather likes them as long as he’s not expected to enter the pen.  I quite like their homely clucking sounds and I enjoy saving all of our leftovers for them.  Sally is currently being weaned so there really are a lot of leftovers at the moment although the hens don’t care for broccoli or kiwi fruit!  My mum in particular has a real soft spot for them.  whilst we were on holiday she took to making them porridge every morning despite the fact that neither she, nor my father eat it.  I understand that for the first few days she was actually buying milk especially for the hens!

After three months I decided we ought to get around to naming them and so they were christened Stacey, Lacey, Casey and Fat Tracey!  I think perhaps they were waiting for this, perhaps they didn’t feel whole without a name.  Shortly after I named the hens Helen and I were rewarded by the gift of our first egg!  We were so excited.  Helen lifted it out of the hay with a reverent air and carried it into the house.  The children next door were invited round to view it and it has been photographed from various angles.  Sadly I can’t include the photo in this blog as my camera is in the bedroom with Sally but I’ll add them in tomorrow so check back then egg fans!  Fat Tracey (we’re pretty sure it’s her) has gone on to produce a further two eggs and hopefully the others won’t be far behind.  We enjoyed them for lunch with some home-grown cress – the smugness was overwhelming although admittedly between seven of us there wasn’t much to go round – they do lay very small eggs at first!

I may almost be ready for a pig now!

Fat Tracey's egg with one from Auntie Kate's grown up hen.

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