Tuesday 12 December 2023

Must get taller

 Its that time of year again, when the goose is getting fat. Oh no, that’s just me getting fat, according to my medical check-up this morning! “I’m not obese,” I proclaimed to the young nurse, “it’s just for my weight I should be 7 foot two tall!”

 I mentioned last month that we were heading to Scotland, where I now sit, looking out to the waves in the Firth of Forth. There is an added bonus that I can also see the beach today, as the weather clears for an hour or two. Moreover, we now actually have a beach, right outside our window, thanks to Storm Beret, or whatever the last one was called. For the last few years we have had a lot of heavy rocks between us and the water and the beach was 200 yards to the East. Well not any more. Somehow that vast force of nature has shifted said stones, possibly 5,000 tons of them and deposited them - yes, you guessed it – on the old beach. Instead, it has left us with a vast stretch of soft sand for Haggis and I to run on without twisting an ankle. They say its an ill wind that blows nobody any good, so better say thanks to the big man upstairs for this natural rearrangement.

One of our reasons for arriving here in mid-November is that I was judging a cattle show in Stirling last weekend, which went off without a hitch. I appointed a few very happy exhibitors with their championship shields, whilst avoiding the dagger-looks from those left without the prize. One of the winners was a rather fine specimen of a young Highland bull, complete with shaggy coat and jagged horns, which may have raised an eyebrow or two. It was great to see such a fabulous beast - that breed don’t often get their turn in the multi-breed spotlight. When furnished with such an honour of judging such prestige event – the National Calf show for Scotland – one is at least expected to dress the part. And so it was that I went through my entire collection of (3) best suits before we left home, only to find that they had shrunk in the wardrobe, as clothes tend to do? Thankfully my sons live in quite an affluent part of middle England, where folks tend to discard their old rags to the charity stores. To be fair, it wasn’t quite a charity shop, but a purveyor of ‘pre-loved’ garments where I spotted a rather smart Harris Tweed 3-piece, complete with crimson lining and moleskin collar. And, for once in my whole life, it had been made to fit someone of my proportions! It still cost me an arm and a leg, but at least said arm and leg fit me like a glove. According to the compere at the cattle event, I was the best dressed judge on the day, were it that there was an award for such. Not sure I have ever been that before. Somewhere online there is a TV playback of the whole event, should I wish to admire myself.

I have also been notified by one or two friends that I was seen on National TV this week, although not quite so well dressed, in my rain mac. I’m not sure how many of you have watched the excellent BBC series called ‘This Farming Life’ but in its last episode I can be seen and heard interviewing one of its protagonists at the Royal Highland Show in July. The royalty cheque hasn’t arrived yet, though.

Whilst in Stirling, I took the opportunity to check out our growing pedigree Ryeland sheep flock, which are based at Dunblane. This year we have a total of seven ewes running with the ram and they did look rather impressive, if not also a little overweight. We will have to wait until March to see what they produce this time around, but hopefully a few female lambs at last, so my cunning breeding plans can progress.

The other thing that the recent storm did was take down our internet connection here at Sharps Close, which is really rather crucial to my day-job as a writer with deadlines. Obviously ‘all our engineers are busy’ was the reply we got when reporting it to whatever quango supplies the service to us these days. We could, they added, apply for a fibre-optic line, should we so wish, installation in four-weeks time? So, that’s us pretty much out of action until Christmas unless I go out onto the ‘new’ beach and stand on one leg with my mobile phone in hand, trying to connect to a signal from 8 miles across the bay in East Lothian. I will admit doing this, trousers rolled up to my knees, has solicited a few giggles from behind the twitching net curtains of one or two of our more hostile neighbours. Ed, I will mail this article to you by pigeon post, and hopefully you get it in time before ‘speckled Jim’ gets shot down by the Rock Cross 12-bore brigade!  


Green-shield bugs

What’s that noise I hear outside? Oh, yes, the unfamiliar sound of rain, at last, slow warm steady rain. Indeed, once again we have seen a drought that lasted nearly into November, which seems to have been a recursive issue these last few years here in France.

We are now back home from our extensive rugby travels and my head is down into work to get my latest writing project done by the end of the year. It was a trip to savour and I am now officially Argentinian, adopting that nation as we are heading to visit there in January to see a few cows, and possibly some wine. This time of year we welcome the beasties into the house, normally in the form of rodents who come inside for the winter, seemingly to live alongside our two cats who have about as much hunting instinct as Chris Packam! However, this year they are not the only ones seeking refuge inside as we have been subjected to a plague of stinky insects called Green Shield Bugs, known as ‘punaise’ in French. These freakish little creatures, that look not unlike a beetle, make a hell of a noise when they fly, and seem to hide in every crevice, from curtains to wardrobes to the car boot. It appears there is nowhere they won’t infiltrate and woe-betide if you so much as touch one, let alone step on it, as they give off a foul spray of scent that would turn your stomach. Hopefully now the winter is approaching they will die off and give us some peace. Apparently, they are partial to crops and vegetation although there is very little of that around just now. I just thought: if you heavily step on one, is that called a ‘Green-shield stamp?’ Ha, you have to be a certain age to understand that one!

Next month we head north, with a stopover to see my new grandson - yes I am now grandfather to little Louis, such a cute baby boy; congratulations to my son Sam and his wife Izzy. I did pop over and see him a month ago, but flights seem to be so disorganized these days, it’s just easier to drive. For example, Wendy went to Scotland for a funeral yesterday and got stuck in Dublin as the plane was delayed by an hour, then on her way home, missed the flight as it left 15 minutes early. I guess she will get home sometime, somehow. In early November I am on duty judging the Scottish National Calf show in Stirling, appointed to select the overall champions from all breeds, which is quite an honour. After that it’s a few more months writing, with two books due out next year. Although we are not showing the sheep in 2024, I guess there will be some book-signing tours to follow and marketing to do which will keep me busy.

Of course, between now and then we have to endure another bonfire night and all the disruption that causes. Well, this year I note that a certain supermarket is selling no-noise fireworks. What a great idea, says I, my dog hates fireworks - until I do a little more investigation and find that there is no such thing. In order to set off a firecracker of any sort you need a little explosion and it is pretty difficult to do that without making a noise of some sort. So, what they are (illegally) advertising is low (not no)-noise fireworks. How do companies get away with hoodwinking the public with such myth? That’s like selling sunglasses with clear lenses or, heaven-forbid, silent rice-crispies!