Tuesday 30 August 2022

Sunshine Hotel

 Well, that was an exceptional spell. With nearly 12 weeks without rain, the whole place was a tinderbox where we were feared to even light the bbq. Thankfully myself and my numerous house guests Googled how to do a rain-dance, which involved much hilarity and alcohol, but guess what, it seems to have worked, as the skies opened for the first time yesterday! Having put our own personal spin on it, the ‘toe-heel-stomp boogie’ will shortly be for sale, should anyone wish to purchase such a technically successful product! As some will have seen, fires have been raging across France with our valley filled with smoke, despite the fact the flames are 50 miles away. Hopefully these recent showers will quell their anger for a while anyway but a lot of the Lande forest has been destroyed.

Our long and arduous road trip finally came to an end, when got back home safely some weeks ago now, to find the grass 3 feet high and the whole place overgrown. Unfortunately we just missed winning the Triple Crown with our Ryeland sheep, narrowly missing out at the Royal Welsh Show, ending with just Reserve Female Champion which, on any other year, I would have been quite pleased with. On reflection, we didn’t do too badly, coming home with 2 cups and 17 rosettes in total. By time this goes to print, our prized ram should have been sold at Worcester, hopefully for a reasonable price to a good home. Fingers crossed. We also managed to purchase a new ram as well as another female, taking our flock numbers up to a manageable four ewes.

I mentioned our house-guests, whom we have today dispatched back to Bewdley/Kidderminster, probably for a quiet rest. Meanwhile the next ones arrive tomorrow and so it continues as we restock the fridges once more. It has been a hard two weeks trying to stay hydrated in 40 degree heat but potentially my two sons and partners may have a cooler time here. I know one thing, by time we empty the house in mid September, I think we will be due a holiday ourselves. On that note, I had arranged to take a bunch of farmers on tour to Montana in mid Sept but a few technical difficulties have forced us to cancel that one. I’m not too sad, to be honest, as it may give me time to catch up with some work/sleep.

A character often mentioned in this column is our sheep Daisy Death-wish, now in her 11th year. Sadly a few days ago she jumped the fence to get at the neighbours crops and got her leg caught in the wire, where she then spent the night. We are doing our best to save her and bring her back to health but unfortunately with age against her the prospect doesn’t look great. Again, fingers crossed.

Meanwhile, Haggis, the new terrier puppy in the house is settling in, being spoiled by all the guests and perhaps not getting the discipline she requires. I have to say, so far, she is far more placid than one would expect of a Border Terrier although she has taken command of most of the cats. She does have a stubborn streak in her though, choosing to ignore most of my instructions, but then, just about everyone in this house does that already. She is a bit of a foodie too, although attempting to steal Pooper’s food comes with it perils. The cats are none too keen sharing theirs either and the poor wee sole has had her ears boxed more than once.

In other news my weekly podcast Toplines and Tales is still going strong heading for our 100th episode. We were entered in the British Farming Awards but didn’t quite make it on to the shortlist this year. With at least four books in the ‘work in progress’ drawer, life doesn’t seem to have slowed down after 60 like they told me it would!  Anyway, onwards and upwards.

Flying Welshmen

 Having gone full circle we find ourselves back in Wales this morning, setting up camp at the Royal Welsh Show. It had been a number of years since I was last here but this place holds a lot of fond memories from past victories with livestock, for both myself and my father. I particularly remember 1992 when we won the interbreed competition in the sheep section and still have the rosettes to prove it. I can happily announce that our first venture into the Ryeland sheep breed, and my first time showing sheep for 18 years, has been highly successful thus far. We started out at the Royal Highland show in Edinburgh, picking off the female champion, reserve male champion and then overall breed champion with Beatrice, our gimmer, and a nice chunk of silverware for Mrs F to clean for a year. I am not sure the locals took it too well, but we eventually made our peace by proffering free alcohol to them all.

Unfortunately, from that event we both contracted Covid and were quarantined in isolation in the camper for a week. Our chosen destination a beach front in Arisaig on Scotland’s beautiful west coast, although sadly the weather was as miserable as we both felt. Eventually we rallied and even caught a view of the Flying Scotsman delivering hundreds of daily tourists into Malaig, who proceeded to empty the shelves in the local Co-op like a swarm of locusts. Shortbread, porridge oats, haggis and Jimmy-hats, in fact anything with a resemblance of tartan on the label all got piled into bulging carrier bags and got whisked off on the steamer at over-inflated prices to wherever all these badly dressed people shuffled home to. We also encountered hundreds of campervans driven by people who had about as much driving skills as my granny without her glasses. Bear in mind that the roads are rarely much wider than a garden path, swathes of the west coast became instant gridlock as numpies in their McMotorhome rentals had no idea where reverse gear was, let alone their mirrors. One does wonder whether the hire companies might at least instruct the drivers to do some basic manoeuvres before letting them lose on public roads.

Anyway, we made it back to the central belt in time to take a couple of sheep to Dunblane show, where we managed a reserve champion with Basinger (I didn’t name her) in the ‘any other breed’ class. This saw us pitched against a number of other types of sheep including Shetlands and Cheviots, along with Spotted Dutch Texels, so we were reasonably pleased that our Ryelands can at least hold their own in stranger company.

From there we headed to the Great Yorkshire Show in Harrogate, and what a Great event it was, brilliantly organised with everything from the toilets to the weather. Once again Beatrice came up trumps, picking up more silverware and, along with our ram, Big Wee Eck, seven more rosettes to decorate the camper with. The week was quite arduous and the nigh-time shenanigans intense before we were released from the county to make the trip to our current spot. An overnight drive now finds us at the Welsh with the dream of the Triple Crown still intact. However, on unloading the sheep this morning, my heart sank when I saw the strength of the competition as we take on the big guns on their home turf. It is highly doubtful we will pull this one off but, as my old man used to say, ‘win or lose, we’ll have some booze.’

So here I sit, in the blazing sunshine, marginally concerned that the poor animals will fry in the heat-wave forecast over the next few days, before it’s their turn to perform in the ring one last time and possibly get their comeuppance. At least we have the shorts back on again and wheelbarrow load of beer on ice, as the whole of Wales arrives, one caravan at a time, speaking in tongues.

A couple more weeks are still to pass before we arrive back in France, via Scotland again, complete with wee Haggis, our new Border Terrier puppy whom we have yet to meet. I believe it has been quite hot there, although the French don’t make quite such a drama out of constant 40 degree heat as the British press do about an afternoon’s hazy sunshine. Factor 50, anyone?