Saturday, 12 August 2017

Song for Saturday - One Voice

Here is a song for Saturday.  I have always enjoyed harmony, and this particular tune, the single of which was owned by one of my sisters, haunted my musical mind a lot when I was young.  I don't think I have heard it in a long long time.

Sunday, 6 August 2017

Capricious Pasta Sauce

This is a different pasta souce.  You will not ladle this onto your pasta.  When you sample it while cooking, you will agree it is too herby, too salty, too spicy, too rich, too fishy.  It is capricious.

It is a sauce for mixing with pasta, to leave a comparatively dry mix.  Here is my rough recipe:

1.  Put your pasta on.  It needs to go into boiling water, with a little oil added to stop it sticking.  Do not add salt - this is an unnecessary addition favoured by chefs who oversalt everything.  Use any shape, but it works really well with twists or spirals.  Use a 500g bag.

2.  Chop an onion and soften it in oil.

3.  Add lots of garlic.

4.  Add a small tin of anchovies in oil, cut up, oil and all.

5.  Add a good dash of chilli flakes.

6.  Add a good shake of dried basil.

7.  Add a really big squirt of tomato puree.

8.  Add a tin of chopped tomatoes.

9.  Add a teaspoon of sugar, and a big grinding of black pepper.

10.  Add a handful of green pitted olives (I usually leave them whole).

11.  Add a couple of teaspoons of capers.

12.  Add a can of tuna fish (drained).

13.  Cook until the pasta is done.  Drain the pasta, but keep a good slosh of the the water.

14.  Mix the pasta in.  Add a bit of the water to slacken it slightly.

15.  Eat.  Sprinkle with grated parmesan cheese.

Friday, 4 August 2017

Queens and Prince Corsorts....

Prince Henrik of Denmark, husband of Queen Margrethe II, was in the news this week for saying he did not wish to be buried with his wife in Roskilde Cathedral, traditional burial place of the Danish royals.  He has, for some years, been unhappy at his role and title, even fleeing to southern France in 2002, protesting at being put behind his son, Crown Prince Frederik, in a ceremony.  Clearly, Prince Henrik is, perhaps, more sensitive than most about this issue, but it does highlight a curious anomaly.

When a male monarch, a king, has a wife, she is the queen, more specifically, a queen consort.  However, the husband of a queen in suo jure (in her own right) is not a king.  He is usually made a prince, and can be granted the title of Prince Consort, as Prince Albert had, and Prince Henrik himself enjoyed, resigning this position a couple of years ago.

Queen Mary II of England and Scotland did not want her husband to be a mere Prince, so made him joint monarch as William III - which, given their accession by revolution, and his close claim on the throne, worked well.  But Queen Anne's husband was just Prince George, and, in our own day, the Duke of Edinburgh is Prince Philip.

In the Iberian peninsula, male consorts are generally king consorts.  Isabella II of Spain married her cousin Francisco, and he was King Consort.  Similarly, Ferdinand, husband of Maria II of Portugal, was also King Consort (Isabella I and Maria I had both married men who were kings in their own right).  But this has never caught on elsewhere.

It seems to me that this inequality should be put right.  Furthermore, with more and more European nations adopting absolute primogeniture, where the oldest child, irrespective of sex, inherits, we will be having more queens than in previous history.  Indeed, the heirs to the thrones of Sweden, Belgium, the Netherlands, and Spain are all female.  Prince Henrik has spoken more boldly on this issue than many, but it seems clear that the rules, for once, favour women over men, when they are monarchical consorts.

Thursday, 13 July 2017

Charlie Gard

For the last couple of months, the tragic case of Charlie Gard has been in the news here in the UK.  The 11 month old has encephalomyopathic mitochondrial DNA depletion syndrome, a rare disease, that has left him unable to move or breathe, and with severe incurable brain damage.  He has been at Great Ormond Street Hospital, the foremost pædiatric hospital in the UK, and doctors concluded that there is nothing more that can be done, that he may well be in pain, and that life support should be turned off.  His parents contest this and have raised over a million pounds to take him to the USA for experimental treatment.

You can read more of the ins and outs of the case in the link I give above.  I just want to say at this point, that I simply cannot imagine the grief and despair of his poor parents in all this.  They have a child who is terribly sick, and they fear losing him.  I had a cousin who lost a young son to a different mitochondrial disease, and it was simply heart-breaking.  I also want to say I deplore the attempts of the various interest campaigns to use this family as part of their cultural wars.  The "Christian" Defence Coalition, and even the Pope and Donald Trump have all, unhelpfully, intervened, and muddied the waters with their grubby attempts to exploit this family.

I do, however, wish to weigh in and make two points here.  First, I do think there has been a failure in care by GOSH.  By that, I mean in their care of young Charlie's parents.  At some point, communication has broken down and been replaced by distrust.  How did that happen  Did a specialist not take care in explaining a stage of Charlie's illness?  Was a consultant a bit patronising or dismissive of questions?  Did a doctor appear in haste, and not take time to hear the concerns of Charlie's parents?  Something happened to allow mistrust to grow to the point that the two sides are so far removed they are acting against one another in court.

Secondly, and I want to say this with compassion, parents do not always know best.  The fact that they have been put into such a tragic situation does not allow Charlie's parents the trump card in knowing and deciding what to do.  If parents knew best, doctors would be altogether unnecessary.  GOSH is a world-class hospital.  The doctors on this case are formidable experts in their field.  Expert advice, despite what Michael Gove asserted in the Brexit arguments, ought not be ignored.  Sometimes, an expert consultant knows what is best for a child, rather than a parent without medical knowledge, and with all the distractions of their emotional involvement and pain.

In all of this, a young life of suffering continues, and is artificially prolonged until the arguments are settled.  At the heart of all the discussions must be what is in the best interests of that young life.

Saturday, 10 June 2017

Abdication now allowed for Japan's Emperor

A law has just been passed in Japan that will allow the Emperor to abdicate within the next three years.  Emperor Akihito, who is 83. has had significant health problems, Although modernised and having only a constitutional role since the Imperial Laws at the end of the Second World War, the Chrysanthemum Throne is still bound by many traditions.  Akihito is the 125th of his dynasty to rule Japan, and has been Emperor since death of his father Showa (known in his lifetime as Hirohito) in 1989.

The law says the Emperor must abdicate in the next three years, and it is believed he will step down in December 2018.  He will be the first Emperor to abdicate since Kokuku in 1817.  The Crown Prince Naruhito will succeed.

The Imperial Family of Japan was shrunk in 1947 to include only the male line descendants of Taisho, Akihito's grandfather.  Princesses may only marry members of the Imperial Family, and now there are no collateral branches, they must leave the Imperial Family, and lose their title when they marry.  Akihito's five sisters and his daughter all did this.  As women may not inherit the Throne, this means that there is only the Crown Prince, another son, and grandson of Akihito, and his brother left to succeed.  Prince Hisahito, who is 11, is the only one under fifty, and there has been a call to chain the Succession Laws to allow a woman to succeed, or even to allow succession to pass through the female line, although this is controversial as the 2000 year old dynasty has, hitherto, only passed through the male line, although allowing occasional Empresses.

If young Hisahito has no children, or only daughters, he could, in fifty years' time, be the only member of the Imperial Family.  Change is needed in this most traditional of monarchies.

Thursday, 8 June 2017

Election 2017 - a difficult decision

Today, the UK goes to the polls in a General Election it did not want, and which its Prime Minister, Theresa May, had repeated said she would not call.  I have struggled greatly knowing how to vote:

1.  I could not possibly vote Tory.  I never have, and cannot imagine how I ever will.  Theresa May is seeking a hard Brexit, and has stood aloof from our European friends (promising to be a "difficult women" at the negotiations) while sucking up to Donald Trump.  She has continued to pursue austerity, winding down the NHS and education, and now promises to restrict human rights laws as a response to terrorist activity.

2.  I could not possibly vote Labour.  Jeremy Corbyn is incapable, tolerates antisemitism in the party, and campaigned lukewarmly in the EU Referendum, before lying supine before Mrs May's hard Brexit agenda.  Furthermore, his followers and disciples on social media are either rabid dogs who will insult me as Tory Zionist vermin for criticising him, or middle-class metropolitan types who believe he wold win, if only not for the BBC being biased against him.

3.  Maybe I could vote for the Lib Dems - they are the one major national party who are standing up for the 48% who did not vote for Brexit, and who want the population to vote on the deal reached.

But then I read the manifestos.  I liked Labour and the Lib Dem.

But then I thought about my constituency - only Labour has any chance of evicting the Tory here.  Furthermore, the Labour candidate is a Jew who has called Corbyn out on his tolerance of antisemitism, and he is a strong remainer.

But then I thought about the USA, and my annoyance with those on the left who felt they could not stomach Hillary Clinton, so either didn't vote, or squandered their vote on minor parties, so that Donald Trump won.

So, holding my nose a little, I shall vote Labour.  Corbyn is useless indeed, but more palatable than May.  Even a Corbyn-led government would not be as strongly Brexit as May's government.

I voted this morning.  I think the best way to vote in this election is to vote for the party with the best chance of evicting the Tories, and I hope you agree and will vote likewise.  But, above all, please do vote, especially if you are under 40.  Enough people did not vote in the last election to have significantly altered the result.  Not voting is an acceptance of the status quo.

Tuesday, 16 May 2017

A Civilised Society

Ian Brady died yesterday.  One of the most notorious criminals in British history, he, together with his fiancee, Myra Hindley, tortured and murdered five children in the 1960's.  Much has been written and said about how someone could do such terrible things.  Much has been said in anger and hatred of Brady, and I understand that, but believe there is a better reaction.

A Farcebook friend who is a psychologist, said this of those who provided care for him in the mental hospital where he has been interred for the last years of his sentence:
I notice a lot of bile is being spilt over the death of one man today.  I ask we all pause for thought for all the professions who, day in day out, overcome their own feelings in order to provide care and compassion in the face of public hatred.
This, for me, strikes the right note.  Today is not the day for hatred and anger.  Today is the day to remember that, although a man did much wickedness, society did not descend to his level.

I commented thus:
A mark of a civilised society, and professional health care workers, is that care is provided to all.  He was, undoubtedly, a wicked man who did not recognise the rights of others, yet, as a human being, he deserved professional care.  I am grateful to those who do a job most of us would shrink from.

Monday, 15 May 2017

The Iranian Presidential Election

Iran has a general election on Friday 19th May.  There is a very complicated set-up in Iran as follows:

The Supreme Leader of Iran is the 87 year old Ali Khameini, who has been head of state since 1989 (following the more well-known Ayatollah Khomeini).  He also served as President from 1981-89.

The Supreme Leader is appointed by 88 members of the Assembly of Experts.

The Assembly of Experts is appointed by the Guardian Council.

The Guardian Council consists of 12 members - six Islamic experts appointed by the Supreme Leader, and six jurists elected by Parliament.

The Parliament is known as the Consultative Assembly, which is elected by the general population every four years.

Candidates for President must be approved by the Guardian Council.  For the 2017 election, 1,636 people applied to be candidate, including 137 women.  The Guardian Council rejected all but six, and one of the approved candidates later stood down to support another candidate.  The five candidates are:

  • Mostafa Hashemitaba for the right wing Executives of Construction
  • Eshaq Jahangri, also for the Executives of Construction
  • Mostafa Mir-Salim for the right wing Islamic Coalition Party
  • Ebrahim Raisi for the right wing Combatant Clergy Party (can you imagine such a party anywhere else?) and
  • Hassan Rouhani, President since 2013, for the Moderation and Development Party

Polls currently show President Rouhani on 55% with the others trailing a long way behind.  He is considered a moderate, and has even made some moves towards increased rights for women.  Four former Presidents of Iran are alive, including the first President, Abolhassan Banisadr who was in office from 1980 until his impeachment in 1981.  He is 84 years old.

The Bahamas General Election

On 10th May, The Bahamas had a general election.  This island nation is a Commonwealth realm which became independent in 1973, but which retains Elizabeth II as monarch.  There were 39 seats up for grabs (an increase of since the general election of 2012).  The centre-left governing Progressive Liberal Party under Perry Christie held 29 of the seats, and the centre-right Free National Movement under Hubert Minnis held 9 of the seats, as they went into the election.

These have been fractious times in The Bahamas.  The opposition FNM has been in disarray - dismissing its leader in December 2016 amidst party in-fighting, and re-appointing him in April, just before the election.  The governing PLP has been scandal-ridden, amidst charges over the late Anna Nicole Smith and her residency in The Bahamas, which was granted at a time when the Immigration Minister was one of her lovers.  Although she died in 2007, the scandal has had considerable effect on the standing of the PLP.

In the elections, a complete change of fortune occurred - the PLP went down from 29 seats to just 4, with the FNM increased from 9 to 35 of the seats, a considerable majority.

As a kingdom overseas of Elizabeth II, Governors-General are appointed to administer the realm on her behalf.  Of the eleven The Bahamas have had, 9 have lived to be over eighty, and five are still alive, the youngest of whom is 87.  The current Governor-General is Dame Marguerite Pindling, widow of Lynden Pindling, who was Prime Minister from 1969-1992, presiding over independence in 1973.  Apart from the out-going Perry Christie, the only other living former Prime Minister is Hubert Ingraham.

Monday, 8 May 2017

South Korean General Election

While much of Europe has been following the French general election, tomorrow's election in South Korea has received little attention.

Park Geung-hye was the first woman to be elected President in South Korea, coming to power in 2013.  Mrs Park's term was due to end in December of this year, but, in March, she was impeached for peddling influence, in a scandal reminiscent of the Cash for Questions troubles of the 1990's here in the UK.  Mrs Park led the centre-right Saenuri Party.

The election was therefore brought forward, and the acting President Hwang Kyo-ahn has declined to stand.  The polls indicate a decent lead for Moon Jae-in, leader of the centre-left Democratic Party.

Mr Moon's election could have some international repercussions.  Mrs Park was very anti-North Korea, whereas the Democratic Party of Mr Moon favour a more conciliatory approach.  With Mr Trump of the USA attempting to stir up conflict, this could have an emollient effect on the region.

Thursday, 27 April 2017

2017 Election Prediction

As usual, I am making my election predictions.  I did this in 2010 (nearly right) and 2015 (wrong).  This is not a picture of what I want, but of what, at this point, I think likely, given what is happening with polls and the news, and looking up some marginal seats etc.  I have previously generally under-estimated the Tory vote, which might be dangerous in this election.  I shall have more to say about the election in subsequent posts, but here is my prediction

SNP 45 seats
Down 11, losing 10 to the Tories, and 1 to the Lib Dems.

Lib Dems 25 seats
Mainly gained from Labour and Tories.  I feel very uncertain about this figure and think their fortunes could change a lot, one way or the other, according to how the campaign rolls out.

Plaid Cymru 4 seats
A gain from Labour.

Green 1 seat
Holding onto their Brighton seat.  I did wonder if they might pick up Bristol, where they challenged Labour before, but I think the Tories will sweep up that seat.

Irish Parties 18 seats
I think there will be a movement towards Sinn Fein.

They will lose their seat.

Labour 160 seats
They will lose 72 seats, and end up just worse off than the Tories in 1997.  This could go 20+ either way.  They will be somewhat protected by the fact they start (and end) with nothing in Scotland, and the fact that the safest seats in the country are Labour.

Conservatives 397 seats
Just short of Labour's victory in 1997.

Result - a Conservative majority of 144

As we mark 20 years since 1997, we see a complete reversal in fortunes.

Note added on 8th June
Given the movements of the polls during this campaign, I revise this to a Conservative majority of 56 - but feel quite uncertain about it.  If I am right, it shows the squandering of a significant lead by Mrs May.

Monday, 3 April 2017

Brexit Chronicles: March-December 2017

March 2017
On 29th March, Theresa May, UK Prime Minister, formally invokes Article 50, giving the EU two years' notice that the UK is leaving the EU.  In the letter, May threatens to withdraw from co-operating on security matters if a suitable trading deal is not reached.  The EU reject the threats, and also reject May's suggestion that trade agreements can be made before the withdrawal agreement is made.

April 2017
The Eu declares that Spain must have a veto on any matter affecting Gibraltar in the negotiations.  Former Tory leader Michael Howard goes on TV and says that Britain is prepared for war.  After border patrols are strengthened at Gibraltar, Spain introduces security and customs checks for all persons and goods crossing the border, resulting in huge delays.
The run-off election in Ecuador is won by Lasso, and he immediately expels Julian Assange from the Ecuadorian Embassy in London.  Assange is arrested and extradited to Sweden.
In the French election, Marine Le Pen nearly wins the election, sending shockwaves throughout Europe.  A run-off is between her and pro-EU Emmanuel Macron is scheduled for May.
Nigel Farage is appointed as Campaign Manager for Marine Le Pen and moves to Paris.  Bromley Council throws a Street Party on his departure.
Theresa May writes to Nicola Sturgeon, refusing to allow a referendum on Scottish independence before the UK has left the EU, and before the next UK wide general election in 2020.

May 2017
The UK local elections are held on 4th May.  Labour's vote collapses, and the Lib Dems make significant gains, taking two councils from the Tories, and becoming the largest party in fifteen other councils. The right wing vote is split between the Tories and UKIP.
Macron wins the French election by a tiny margin, to the relief of many in Europe.
Boris Johnson announces that EU citizens will not have the right to remain in the UK after 2019 if Spain keeps its veto on Gibraltar.  The EU calls his bluff, and agrees that there will be no right of residence for EU citizens in the UK or UK citizens in the EU.
Douglas Carswell agrees to resign and force a by-election in Clacton-on-Sea.  He will stand as a Conservative candidate.  Paul Nuttall of UKIP will stand as the UKIP candidate.

June 2017
Nigel Farage is arrested in Paris on charges of electoral fraud amid revelations that UKIP donors had sent millions of pounds to Marine Le Pen, supporting her candidature in the hope she would lead France out of the EU.
Russia annexes Armenia, and signs a trade deal with the USA.  President Trump threatens to withdraw from NATO if there are further protests.
Douglas Carswell wins the Clacton by-election for the Conservatives, with Paul Nuttall for UKIP losing his deposit.  Nuttall resigns as leader of UKIP.

July 2017
Tom Watson resigns as Deputy Leader of Labour.  Unable to find a candidate who receives the support of 20% of the MP's, Jeremy Corbyn announces that he will continue without a leader until the conference in September.
Theresa May shuffles the Cabinet.  Boris Johnson is sacked, and Jacob Rees-Mogg is appointed as Foreign Secretary.  Among minor ministerial ranks, Euro-sceptics are brought in, replacing those who had campaigned on the Remain Side.
In Sweden, Julian Assange is found guilty of rape and sentenced to 15 years in jail.  USA applies for an extradition warrant.

August 2017
All the members of the SNP and Green parties in the Scottish Parliament form a new "Scottish Independence Party" and resign en masse, forcing by-elections.  A week later, the SNP members of the Westminster Parliament also resign.  The by-elections will be held at the beginning of October.

September 2017
Nigel Farage is acquitted of charges relating the the French election, and is banned from France.  He becomes leader of UKIP at their annual conference.
Two days before the Labour Conference, Jeremy Corbyn announces he is going on a sabbatical retreat for a month, and appoints Diane Abbott as interim leader.
The Chancellor states that the UK will pay no money at all to the EU.

October 2017
The new SIP win all their Scottish Parliament and UK Parliament by-elections with increased majorities.  The Conservatives and Labour lose their deposits in every single election.  Nicola Sturgeon writes to Theresa May requesting a referendum on Scottish independence.

November 2017
Donald Trump pays a State Visit to the UK.  During the visit, the Queen is taken ill, and, with the Prince of Wales away on a visit to Canada, Mr Trump is received by the Duchess of Gloucester.  On a visit to Birmingham, nearly two million people take part in a demonstration against his visit.
Theresa May announces a new trade deal with India, but with freedom of movement between India and the UK starting in January
Donald Trump visits Moscow and announces a new trade agreement with Russia.

December 2017
Julian Assange is murdered in prison in Sweden by an American agent.  The EU (except Britain) recalls their ambassadors from the USA.
The cold weather forces the NHS into crisis, and the government strikes a deal with the USA to outsource treatment to private US companies.  All non-urgent operations are cancelled until May.
Anna Soubry defects to the Lib Dems, and forces a by-election which she wins easily.
Nigel Farage says in a party political broadcast, that the UK should close its border to India, and deport Indians back to India.

Wednesday, 29 March 2017

Saturday, 18 March 2017

Lambing 2017 - the last day of lambing on the farm

Wednesday was my last day on the farm.  I had to get the 15:59 train home to London, which would get me home by about 11pm.  I got up early and went and fed the sheep, strawing up the lambs in the main barn, who had got a bit messy, and providing hay for all.  Then there was work to be done after breakfast!

Sir and I lamb-napped the four sheep from the lambing pen into their allocated pens in the tractor shed, and then we had to tail and mark them, together with two other mothers and their offspring.  The lamb-napping was a curious affair, as the mother who was rejecting her lamb refused to follow it.  We put it on the ground and it chased her around, eventually chasing her into the tractor shed.  Then it was time for tailing - this took a while, as three of the lambs had mucky tails – with impacted fæces that needed to be trimmed off, and washed – a wet and smelly affair.  Furthermore, the sheep who had previously prolapsed had a particularly smelly behind, with a little bloodstained wool, so she was given a bit of a trim too.

Once this was done, we then moved the gimmers into a field, well away from the amorous concerns of Scrumpy, the remaining ram.  This needs some preparation – the closing of gates and erecting of barriers in case they made a run for it.  Happily, though, they followed Sir and his bucket of feed.  Once they had gone, we could straw up the top pen, and lamb-nap two sheep from the tractor shed there.

All this done, it was time for lunch, and I then had a last soak in the bath – I had got quite dirty that morning, before packing and getting ready to leave.  As usual, Mrs Farmer furnished me with goodies and it was a sad farewell at the station, as I boarded a high speed train for a six hour journey.

The farewell was sadder than usual, as this was the last lambing.  The remaining sheep will be sold off this year.  The lamb I proudly delivered on Sunday was named Zechariah, as the last lamb.  I will visit my friends again – they are very hospitable, and will be glad of help with the bees at a time of the year with rather nicer weather.

I pause and think of 208 days spent on the farm on 20 different years over 23 years.  I probably seen a couple of hundred lambs being born, yet am still excited by the new life, by the way they stand and suckle so quickly, by their beauty, and by the tenderness of their mothers.  I have bottle-fed lambs in the middle of the night.  I have witnessed the sadness of still-birth, the horror of a putrid still-birth, and the sorrow of a mother who has lost its lamb.  Yet most births ended happily, and the descendants of the first lambs I saw being born live on.

I am profoundly grateful to Mrs Farmer and Sir for their hospitality over the years – their laden table and generosity far outweighing the meagre assistance I provide.  The times on the farm are a time of tales and anecdotes, laughter, and board-games, and of wonder at the cycles of nature, and the ways of sheep.  I have had a rare chance to participate in this.  And I am grateful.

Lambing 2017 Days 10-11 Monday-Tuesday

I have decided to continue to story of Monday and lump it together with Tuesday, as the days were somewhat related in activity.  Now that the last lamb had been born, things could progress in a very different way.  Although there was some lamb-napping and tailing to do, and the continual feeding, haying and strawing that is necessary for new mothers who are feeding lambs that grow enormously fast, and therefore eating prodigious amounts of hay, and producing lots of milk, lots of urine, and lots of manure, the need for regular checks had gone, and, certainly, there was no work to be done in the evenings, and no night checks.  I had never been on the farm for this part of lambing, as I had generally been there for the earlier parts. 

On Monday, the Young Mrs had a day off work, because the school of her younger son was having an inset training day.  She came up to the farm, and we planned to go to the viewing of an auction sale of household goods[1].  We met the New Mrs there too and had a good nosey around, looking at various bric-a-brac and other such items, many of interest, but none of value.  On Tuesday, we returned and went to the auction – squeezing eventually into old chairs and watching the items being sold, mostly for about two pounds, with odd items going for more.  After an hour and a half, and three hundred lots, we decided enough was enough and came home.  I enjoyed the auction, and found it quite fascinating – I now want to go to an antique auction.

Later that evening, Mrs Farmer and I played Scrabble – somehow, we had never quite found the opportunity to do so before, and it was not to be borne that a lambing season should pass without a match.  I was rather pleased to win in a high-scoring game that kept us quite entertained for a couple of hours.

[1] This basically means junk

Lambing 2017 Day 10 - Monday

Sunday night, as usual, I went to bed, setting my alarm for 3.30 and determined to wake up this time.  In fact, I awoke at 3.15 on Monday morning, so set off to the barn.  All seemed fairly well – there was only Missy to check on now.  But, while the two gimmers[1] were busy contentedly chewing the hay, Missy was looking a little solemn, and not chewing at all.  I stood and watched her for a while, to make sure nothing was wrong, and my patience was rewarded, for when she moved a little, I could see a large membrane bag hanging from her. 

I hastily went to the lambing shed, and readied a pen for her, and, closing off the path there, returned to the barn.  Missy was still standing in the same place, quite close to the gate of her pen.  I opened the gate, and instructed her to step through and make her way to the labour ward.  My intention was that she could then labour under my attention, and I would not have to summon assistance, unless the labour did not progress, which would likely be a couple of hours later.  However, as Missy tentatively stepped towards the gap, the gimmers, seeing the gate was open, and being naturally young and foolish, and rather more agile than their pregnant aunts, decided to bellow and chase Missy around the pen.  Clearly, I was going to need assistance.

I went into the farmhouse, and gingerly knocked on the bedroom door of Sir and Mrs Farmer.  Mrs Farmer answered, and I informed her that Missy was in labour.  Mrs Farmer came down, and we got Missy into the labour ward.  I then obtained coffee (it was a chilly night) and we waited for her to get on with it, and generally sat and chatted.  We had done well this lambing season, for it the first mid-night labour we had had – and it was easier to bear knowing this was the last sheep to labour.

Missy pushed quite efficiently for a while, but it soon became clear that there was not much progressive.  Eventually, at about 4.30, we checked, and an ominously large foot could be felt, but her cervix was still quite tight.  She needed a bit longer to open up a bit before anything could be delivered.  We carried on chatting, and, at last, the foot began to show, and she began pushing in earnest.  However, given the size of the lamb, and the fact that it had seemed to have got stuck, at 5.30, it was decided to summon Sir, as this was going to be a substantial pull.  Pulling a large lamb is very tiring work – one has to pull very hard indeed on the ropes, which hurts your hands, and is hard work.  But one must not pull too hard, and damage the lamb or the mother, and one must pull steadily in the right direction.  At the end of such a pull, a lamb will often be born in distress, or even stillborn.  Sir would be able to provide the strong pull while I held the sheep, and Mrs Farmer watched on.

Mrs Farmer went in to summon Sir, and as she went, Missy lay down, with her back to me (sheep have an uncanny ability to labour so that you are unable to see their rear end).  This time, she pushed and bellowed, considerably. I took a look when she got up, and there was a huge lamb hanging half out of her!  I quickly leapt[2] over the hurdle, and pulled the lamb, which came out quite easily.  It was a very large boy.  I sprayed the navel, and cleared its mouth of mucus, then stepped back as Missy took on licking him.  All was fine!

I rushed back to the house, where Mrs Farmer was preparing a further bucket of water, and broke the news to her, so she could halt Sir (who, in fact, had only got as far as the bathroom).  Mrs Farmer and I then supervised Missy a bit longer, before checking to make sure there were no further lambs.  It was now six am. and getting light.  I retired and set my alarm for 9am, and got up and had a luxurious bath.  The last lamb had been born!

[1] A gimmer (pronouns with a hard g, like glimmer without the l) is a sheep between its first and second shearing.  The gimmers were two sheep born the previous year.  Although old enough to lamb, sheep lamb better at the their second birthday, when they are completely fully grown.
[2] When I first went lambing, I used to be able to leap over the hurdles there, but in the twenty odd years since my visit, although the hurdles look as if they are the same height, they are clearly much higher, as it takes a lot of effort to swing one’s legs over now.

Lambing 2017 Day 9 - Sunday

Sunday on the farm began with Morning Communion at the nearby Anglican Church up in Paul, at the church of St Pol-de-Leon.  This church has a wonderful castellar tower.  The communion is said from the Book of Common Prayer.  I am much more used to liturgy now, and see the benefits of its limited use in worship.  However, the non-conformist in me still bristles a little at the disastrous imposition of this book on churches – as unhelpful a development in church history as almost any.  Notwithstanding all this, the words are actually helpful, and, once one gets over the theatrical elements, all is not harmful.  The minister there is a very nice chap, and speaks with sincerity and warmth.

Going to church early means one has breakfast on one’s return.  Toast and marmite is a lot nicer when one has already been to church and it is not quite 9.30.  After breakfast, we lamb-napped a sheep out of the lambing pen, just leaving the two misbehaving mothers there for closer supervision.  With two pens free in the lambing pen, and only two sheep left to lamb, the end was in sight.

Later in the afternoon, Holly, one of the remaining ewes, went into labour.  I need to explain her name.  It is generally considered that one should not name animals on a farm, but on a small farm, one gets to know the animals and their ways quite well.  One sheep of note was Charlotte. Charlotte was born in the days or artificial insemination and there was an error, as she was clearly a Charolais cross, instead of the usual Texel.  She had lovely blue and grey patches on her face, and was quite a bit larger than the other sheep, standing proud and tall.  She was most definitely in charge, and stamped her foot if you behaved badly, or entered her pen without permission.  Charlotte stayed on for many years, because she delivered large twin boys every year with easy deliveries.  Charlotte had a daughter called Charlene, slightly less Charolais, who followed her mother’s tradition. 

All sheep love to eat ivy – it is often given to sheep who have been unwell, as it perks their spirits up.  One sheep in particular went crazy for ivy, and so, naturally, was named Ivy.  She was a pleasant sheep who lambed well each year, as did her daughter Holly.  Holly also produced lots of lovely lambs, and was dominant, but sweet-natured.  Among Holly’s daughters was Setti (Poinsettia) and Missy (Mistletoe).  Holly and Missy were the two sheep left to lamb.  Holly was quite old by now, and therefore rather thin, and a bit arthritic – taking a long time to get up from being on the floor etc.  Because she was rather thin, her pregnancy made her look simply enormous.

Holly continued to labour quite well, pushing, and getting on with it.  She is a good mother, and was very licky  - licking any place where she had pushed and waters might be.  However, eventually, she had laboured for some time and was not progressing along, and was getting rather tired.  A large foot was showing, but not a second foot.  We went in and Sir found that there was a normal presentation.  We decided to give her another half hour, but, on the failure of further progress, Sir attached ropes to the feet, and with a gentle pull, a fine lamb was delivered.  This was Lamb 15.  Holly was B15, and Missy is G15 and, furthermore, Holly had had other lambs at No. 15.

Pleased with this, we retired to the house, to sleep off the enormous roast mutton meal we had enjoyed.  In the evening, Mrs Farmer and I went to the Methodist church as normal – a lovely service with five hymns, and a short but helpful sermon.  They are an elderly bunch – four people out of ten there are over ninety, and I was the youngest there by at least ten years – but always friendly and warm.  I enjoyed my two services in Cornwall.

Lambing 2017 Day 8 - Saturday

I have a terrible confession to make about this day on the farm.  On Friday night, I went to bed, and I set my alarm for 3.30 as usual.  However, I awoke at 7.15am, went out to the toilet to commune with nature, and, when I returned to my bed, suddenly thought I could not remember doing my middle of the night check.  I checked my ‘phone, and, to my horror, I had a missed alarm.  Because I had turned my ‘phone onto silent after setting the alarm, it had gone off silently.  Ashamed and alarmed, lest anything had happened, I hastened downstairs and made my guilty to confession to Mrs Farmer over the kettle.

It was the wrong night to have missed the alarm.  The sheep in pen 2 was still rejecting her lamb, and butting it about it a bit, so it had nearly closed eyes, and was a bit bruised.  And, when doing the midnight check, Sir had discovered that the prolapse sheep had delivered a second lamb, which was well licked etc., but she was rejecting it and quite viciously butting it.  She had shown no signs at all of having a second lamb, and we felt it prudent not to inspect for one, given the amount of gynæcological interference she had already suffered.  Sir put her in the stocks – which would have been useful for both sheep, but we only had one.  The stock is normally only used every four years or so.

During the day, I took a trip into Newlyn with Mrs Farmer, to get some belly pork slices for supper.  The young butcher was on duty and only had seventeen slices available, rather than the required eighteen for nine people.  Had the old butcher with twinkly eyes been available, he would have gone off to the ‘fridge and found something for us.  We went home for morning coffee, before considering some more lamb napping.  The New Mrs rang up while the kettle was boiling, and was updated.  A few minutes later, the Young Mrs called, having heard from the New Mrs that there was not enough pork belly for the evening meal.  As the Young Mrs and her family have prodigious appetites, this was a matter of no small concern, but Mrs Farmer assured her that there would be enough for everyone, and that she and Sir both generally only had one slice of pork.

The Young Mrs reluctantly assured, we went out and lamb-napped a few sheep around, and kept a general eye on the rejecting mothers.

Lambing 2017 Day 7 - Friday

Friday was a very busy day indeed in the farm.  Quite a lot happened.  In the morning, we did some lamb-napping from the lambing pen to the tractor shed, and then we prepared to lamb nap some sheep from the tractor shed to the main barn.  As I have explained, sheep generally remain in the lambing pen for about a day, until their lambs are fully licked, the after-birth has passed, and we are quite certain that the lamb is suckling well.  In the days of Artificial Insemination, when there were more sheep, and the lambs used to all come on the due date, we sometimes used to have to move the sheep on a bit quicker.

From the lambing shed, the sheep are transferred to individual pens in the tractor shed.  These are bonding pens, to allow the sheep to develop a strong relationship with their lambs.  While in there, they will have their tails castrated (which is done between one and seven days old) and be sprayed with their numbers for identification purposes.

Once they have been in the tractor shed for about a week, and there is room in the main barn, sheep and their lambs can be transferred across.  The middle pen of the barn is prepared with fresh straw, and gates are closed and blocked so little lambs cannot escape.  Then two sheep and their lambs are lamb-napped over to the barn.  The freedom to run around, and the confusion of other lambs present is a new experience for the lambs.  It normally takes a few minutes for them to settle down, decide that their mother is not the ewe who pushes them away, but the nice once who lets them suckle.  Within a day or so, although they never like to be too far away from their mothers, the lambs enjoy running around with each other, and begin jumping about.

This means there are empty pens in the tractor shed, as well as the lambing shed.  These need clearing out.  When clearing out the lambing shed, the straw is normally put into feed bags and stored up for when there is next a bonfire.  However, the tractor shed, with a week’s worth of straw and manure, takes a bit more work.  The straw is about six inches deep, and quite impacted.  It needs to be dug out with a fork, put in the barrow, and put on a smouldering bonfire to burn.  This can be quite hard work, and sometimes there is a strong smell of ammonia which can make one rather breathless when bending over to clear out the pens.  I always stop at the bonfire to admire the pillars of smoke and enjoy a brief respite while I am cleaning the pens.

The sheep that had lambed the day before was quite insistent on rejecting her lamb.  She had clearly never licked it, and whenever it tried to suckle, she twirled around and refused it, or, worse still, butted it away, sometimes quite forcefully.  However, when Sir went and stood over her, she did allow the lamb to suckle, albeit reluctantly.  She clearly needed a careful eye, and we prepared the stocks, so they could be used if necessary.  Stocks are a special gate with vertical bars that can be used to hold a sheep’s head in place, so that her lamb can suckle without being moved away.  It is used reluctantly, for the mother protests vociferously, but it is very effective after about 24 hours of use.

Later on in the afternoon, the sheep who had previously prolapsed went into labour, and was brought into a pen, only to be followed in fairly quick succession by another sheep.  We now had two in labour.  The pessary was cut away from the prolapsing sheep, and she progressed slowly.  We needed to give her a little more attention than normal, just in case she pushed very hard, and prolapsed again – which is much more disastrous at childbirth.  Things progressed well in each pen, and the sheep in pen 2 delivered a fine lamb, and showed every sign of going on to have another lamb.  Five minutes later, the prolapsed sheep delivered a lamb too. 

Although I have been at the farm at some very busy lambing times, included a marathon night when Mrs Farmer and I assisted ten sheep to give birth to sixteen lambs between 6pm and 6am, I had never been present when two mothers had given birth almost simultaneously.  Lambs are assigned numbers as soon as they are born, but, for the prolapsed sheep, we held off.  This is because if the sheep in Pen 2 gave birth to another lamb (she had just delivered lamb 12), this second lamb would be assigned the following number 13, even though another lamb had been born to another mother before it. Eventually, we did check the sheep in Pen 2, and there was no further lamb coming, and No. 13 lamb could get its number in the regular fashion.

Duly exhausted, we all retired to the house for dinner.

Tuesday, 14 March 2017

Lambing 2017 - Day 6 - Thursday

Thursday was a damp fog-filled day on the farm.  In the morning, another sheep went into labour and delivered, with a little assistance, a decent sized boy.  She had made quite a drama of being in labour, and was grinding her teeth a lot.  This is a sign the sheep is in pain, and she certainly seemed a little overwhelmed when she delivered.
When a lamb is delivered, the instinct of the mother is to lick her lamb – this is important as it clears its nose and mouth of membranes and mucus from the womb, helps remove mucus from the body, and warms the lamb up, and the licking movements stimulate the lamb to breathe.  At the same time, it bonds the mother and lamb, and the chemicals in the lamb’s mucus stimulate the release of hormones in the ewe to close up the cervix, and shut down the uterus. 

This sheep did not want to lick her lamb at all, and just seemed a bit done in.  After making sure the lamb was breathing fine, we hastily withdrew – too much human interference can be unhelpful in these circumstances.  The sheep would still not lick her lamb, and, as he struggled to his feet, she would not allow him to suckle – which is fairly normal before the afterbirth has passed.  We hoped she would feel more like it once she had passed her afterbirth.

Alas, this was not to be, and she was markedly reluctant to allow her lamb to suckle, and to have anything to do with it at all.  Sir had words with her, and forced the lamb onto her, which worked.  Once a lamb has sucked, it begins to pass faeces which will smell of her milk – smelling a lamb’s bottom is the principal way a ewe recognises her lamb.

Other than this, it was a day of some lamb-napping, and general rest – being a very dull and foggy day.

Saturday, 11 March 2017

Lambing 2017 - Day 5 - Wednesday

Wednesday involved a trip into Newlyn, and I got to drive.  I don’t think I had driven since I was last down in Cornwall for lambing.  The hill to Newlyn has a 20% incline, and carries on down for quite a long way.  One has to stop in several strategic places to let cars through.  We were in Newlyn to pick up something from the butcher (the friendly one with twinkly eyes and a wig was on holiday) and to go to the delicatessen for some Cornish cheese for the evening festivities.

In the afternoon, mindful of the fact that evening entertainments were planned, a sheep was found in the barn with a lamb, and hastily removed to the labour ward.  After some time, she produced a second lamb, much covered in meconium, which is a sign of fœtal distress, although it had not been a long labour.  However, the sheep was a good mum, and her two lambs are simply adorable.

In the evening, two friends of the family came around for a regular gaming evening, and we played Settlers of Catan.  This is a fun game, and played every year on the farm.  Throughout the game, Mrs Farmer complains vociferously that she is unable to acquire the necessary goods and items, wails how badly she is doing, and wins.  This year, she did not win, for the first time since I have ever played.  Instead, Sir won, after viciously stealing several of my goods at the start of the game.  It was all great fun.

Thursday, 9 March 2017

Lambing 2017 - Day 4 - Tuesday

Tuesday began with an urgent summons from Mrs Farmer at 8am – a ewe was in labour in the labour ward, did I want to come and see what was happening?  Tired, I dressed hurriedly, and rushed out to the lambing pen with a cup of enlivening coffee.  A ewe had been spotted pushing and was now in pen 4, pushing away.  A sheep in labour is at first a little quiet and prim.  But well into it, pushing is taking place, eyes are wide, and the sheep will twirl around a lot, not quite sure what to do with herself.

The ewe was making all these promising signs, and getting on the floor and pushing a lot, but little progress seemed to be made.  At last, fearing a malpresentation, Mrs Farmer declared it was time to check things out.  And it was just as well she did, for the ewe was prolapsing her uterus.
I have been present twice when a ewe has prolapsed following a delivery of lambs, and this is fairly disastrous, requiring the intervention of a vet, and stitches etc.  In my nursing days, I saw a few prolapses outside of childbirth, and like these, the ewe’s prolapse was a problem, and rather alarming, but needed sorting.  Everything pushed back in, a pessary is fitted to keep everything in place, and then tied onto the sheep.  Should she go into labour, the lamb will be delivered past this, but it can be cut off quickly when necessary.  The device is this:

It was rather sad for the sheep – once the pessary was fitted, and she was able to pass water – which had made her rather uncomfortable, she did stop pushing and calmed down a lot, but was rather sad that there was no lamb to show for all her effort.  An hour or two later, we put her back in the barn, where the others questioned her and asked her if she had had a still-birth, to be returning to the labour ward so ignominiously.

Scrubbing out her pen, with its fresh dry straw, I saw an opportunity to burn the several sacks of waste.  It is hard to get a bonfire to catch, but the dry straw helped.  It was just beginning to rain, and the smoulderings were looking like they might catch on when Sir appeared with some pink diesel and drenched everything which burst into wondrous flames.  I stood by as everything died down, and piled the sacks of soggy dirty straw, which smoked heavily.  All my farming clothes now smell strongly of smoke.  But it is good to attend a bonfire.

Thankful Thursdays - Friends

I am thankful for my friends.  With the world of followers, friends, and fans online, it is those who know us offline who are our more meaningful friends.  They can be very close friends, whom we speak to about everything, or less close friends, whom we speak little with, but whose company we will enjoy.

In this fast world, full of online life, we need to be and have good friends.

Wednesday, 8 March 2017

Lambing 2017 - Day 3 Monday

Monday was another day with no lambs.  Having sneaked out a few lambs before I had arrived, the ewes in the tractor shed were suitably triumphant, and the ewes in the barn were enjoying the service of hay, thank you very much, and “we have no interest whatsoever in being bothered with a lamb when we can rest nicely here”.  After lamb-napping Piran and his mother to the tractor shed, Sir and I set about the task of castrating the lambs’ tails.

Sheep naturally have quite long tails, which reach almost down to their feet.  It is common to put a castration ring on these in the first week of the life of the lamb.  This is a tight rubber ring that freezes blood supply, and the tail drops off.  This is a painless procedure – the lamb is more concerned that it is being picked up by a human than anything else. 

This done, there was time for voracious reading, a nap, and a game of Super Farm.  This was a game bought for the boys to play, and Mrs Farmer and I thought we ought to learn so we can play it with them.  The game was devised by maths professor Karol Borsuk in Warsaw in the dark days of the Second World Way.  It is quite good fun!

Lambing 2017- Day 2 - Sunday

Sunday began with a yawn.  I had quite forgotten what it feels like to get up when one has been on the 3.30 shift.  Each night, the pregnant sheep in the barn are checked at midnight, then 3.30am, and 7am.  Sir generally does the midnight check, Mrs Farmer the 7am, and I generally do the 3.30 check – we all negotiate each night, but I find I can normally cope quite well with the 3.30 check, and it helps my kind hosts out too.

The sheep are checked to see if any of them are in labour – a grim disposition, reserving a large territory in the barn, twirling, wide eyes, and sitting down but getting straight up are all signs that a ewe might be in labour.  If she is, she is brought to the lambing shed for more individual attention in a cleaner atmosphere.  3-4 hours is a good gap.  If a sheep is fine at midnight, she is unlikely to progress and have problems in that time period.  She could go into labour and quickly deliver without problems, but then, that is not so much of a problem.

So, on Sunday, having been out at 3.30 (all was well, although a real gale was blowing), I got up at 7.30, showered, and wandered down for breakfast, which I was just finishing when I realised that no-one was around.  Just then, Mrs Farmer appeared, and announced the birth of a fine large ram lamb, which had claimed the attentions of Sir and Mrs that morning.  The ram was a thirteen pounder, and particularly fine.  As it was St Piran’s Day (the patron saint of Cornwall), he was named Piran.

The birth of the new lamb meant that three out of four of the lambing pens were in use, and lamb-napping had to take place for the two sheep who had lambed on the previous day.  Once the lambs are good and dry, they are transferred over to the tractor shed, where they are in individual bonding pens with their mothers.  A week or so here allows the bond to grow sufficiently to allow the sheep to be mixed up over in the barn, without too much confusion.

To lamb-nap, the pen in the tractor shed must be strawed and labelled, then the lamb (or both) are taken in front of the mother’s outraged eyes.  She bellows at the enormity of the crime being perpetrated and immediately races are the lambs, being wickedly carried off.  The lambs are held at a lower height, so they are in the eyeline of the sheep, lest she misses them.  The lambs normally bleat helplessly and mother follows, her nose pushing you along as you reach the pen, put the lamb down in the straw, and she rushes in, inspects her lamb, and puts herself in between it and you, still bellowing.  The other sheep in the tractor shed also bellow their outrage, but they also greet their sisters, and tell her it is not as bad there is it looks, and there is still some level of personal service from the wicked humans.

Once the pen in the lambing shed is free, it needs to be prepared for its next occupant.  The dirty straw is loaded into an old feed sack, to be burned on a nice day.  The pen is swept out, then a bucket of water is poured over it, and it is scrubbed hard with the broom, until the water, and any remains of straw, muck, or even a little blood is removed.  Another bucket of water with disinfectant is then poured over, and up the walls, and the scrubbing continues.  Even on a cool day, this can be quite an ærobic activity, and warms one up nicely.  Once the pen is scrubbed clear, the warming light is put on to dry it, and it will soon be ready.  Here is a scrubbed pen:

Apart from admiring Piran, little else of lambing note happened.  We missed church due to his arrival, and general chaos due to the birthday of the New Mr.  An enormous Sunday lunch was consumed, and birthday cake was eaten.  It was a good day.

Sheep are enormously difficult to photograph.  Here is Piran, aged 2 hours, with his mother.

Monday, 6 March 2017

Lambing 2017 - Day 1 Saturday

Upon arrival at Penzance, I was greeted by Mrs Farmer at the station.  She was most disappointed at my appearance, as I arrived without a jaunty straw hat, and flags and flowers, which half the passengers getting off the train seemed to be sporting.  We assumed it was something to do with St Piran’s Day, which was on the Sunday.  Piran is the patron saint of Cornwall.

We drove off to the Young Mrs’ house – where she had at last moved.  She had swapped children with the New Mrs (formerly the Old Miss) and we were to go to the West Cornwall Spring Flower Show at Marazion, before going home to the farm, where the exchange of offspring could take place.  Lots of catching up took place, with reports of the exploits of the children, the matters keeping the Young Miss up country during lambing, and the outrage of one of the rams knocking Sir over on the farm, and being sent immediately to the butcher for his crime.

The flower show was enjoyable – there were lots of exhibits and prizes, mainly won by a Lady Banham, or a Mrs Bolitho, member of the notorious Bolitho family, who number the Lord Lieutenant among their ranks, and who own and exploit much of Cornwall.  The daffodils were beautiful, and there were many displays of camelliæ.  My favourite displays were those of lovely shrubbery and foliage.  We resisted the cakes on sale and returned to the farm for the traditional Saturday evening Sausage and Mash extravaganza, when 347 sausages are consumed.

I inspected the sheep – the numbers are rather small this year, with only 12 to lamb, and four had gone already.  Some were in the tractor shed, where they go to bond with their lambs for a few days.  Two sheep and their offspring were in the labour ward still.  I went to the main barn, and spoke to the eight remaining mothers to be so that they knew I was in town, and they could get on with having their lambs. 

After the long journey and early start, I was excessively tired, and was off to bed for an early night, so I could get up for the 3.30am watch.

Sunday, 5 March 2017

Lambing 2017 - the Journey There

As usual, lambing begins with a bit of preparation and then a rather long journey.  It is Saturday morning, and I am now on the train to Cornwall.  During the week, I have been looking at all the laundry I have to do, looking for all the old clothes that I take for lambing, looking for the train tickets I bought a couple of months ago and cannot remember the safe place I left them in.  I have gone and had my usual haircut (complete with eyebrow trim) and spoken with Mrs Farmer to relay the time of my arrival, and discover that one lamb has already arrived.

On the morning itself, I have to get to Paddington to take the 07.27 train.  As I have a first class ticket (super cheap when booked in advance), I am entitled to go the First Class Lounge to partake of pastries, fruit, and coffee before boarding my train.  I elect to do so, so I don’t rush to have a measly breakfast of left over perishables before I set out.  I duly leave home at 5.20am, lugging my heavy suitcase down the stairs, wheeling it noisily along the quiet streets, and getting to the station just in time to get the train to Morden via Bank.  At this point, I realise I left my telephone at home.  I standing on the platform, flirting with the possibility of a freedom from the device, of not having to contact people, of not carrying it around.  Then I remember that I might need to contact the farm on the way down.  I need the alarm to wake me up for the 3am watch.  I use the ‘phone as a clock.  I use it to take photographs.  Reluctantly, I decide I must return home to fetch it. 

Unusually, since the staff levels have been drastically reduced by London Underground, there was an attendant there, who promised to let me back through the barrier.  I run along home again pick up the offending ‘phone, and return to the station, and have a five minute wait to get on the next train to Morden via Bank, and get on my way.  Once at Paddington, only fifteen minutes later than I planned, I have plenty of time to lounge in the lounge, together with bleary-eyed passengers (or customers, as we are all called now) who have alighted from the Cornwall sleeper train and sit rubbing their eyes as they sip the lovely strong coffee and indulge in pastries.  I manage to sneak an extra banana into my bag for the journey.

At last, at 7.20, I boarded the 07.27 Great Western Railway departure on platform 5[1] for “Penzance via Bristol, calling at Reading, Didcot Parkway, Swindon, Chippenham, Bath Spa, Bristol Temple Means, Taunton, Exeter St Davids, Newton Abbot, Totnes, Plymouth, Liskeard for Looe, Bodmin Parkway, Par for Newquay, St Austell, Truro for Falmouth, Redruth, Camborne, St Erth for St Ives, and Penzance.  Passengers with reservations for Coach D for Delta should note that there is no Coach D for Delta and their reservations have been moved to Coach F for Foxtrot.  Passengers with reservations for Coach B for Bravo should note that their reservations have been moved to Coach C for Charlie.  First Class accommodation is at the rear for the train, and standard class accommodation can be found in the front and middle of the train.  Coach A has been designated a Quiet Coach, and passengers in this carriage should refrain from using mobile telephones, personal stereo devices, and keep all noise to an absolute minimum.”

I take my reserved seat in Coach L, at the rear of the train, and remove my laptop and kindle from my bag – I plan to write a bit on the way, with a spot of reading too.  To my dismay, the plugs are not working, and my laptop is not charging.  This is a Bad Thing when one is on the train for six hours.  Colin, the Station Manager, comes along to check the tickets and I ask him about this.  He is most apologetic and says he will be able to check when we arrive at Reading – he has a diagnostic kit and can “re-boot” things if necessary.  He will not be able to fix any faults if there is a major fault on the system, but he thinks that things are working in the next carriage, and will come and help me move if he cannot get things going in our carriage.  At Reading, he did declare he was unable to restore the current.  I inspected the other first class carriage, and finding it to be full of the wrong sort of people (chatty groups, and one group drinking beer), I decided to stay put in my nice quiet carriage.   I was completely on my own until Glynis and Reginald got on at Chippenham.  They sat in a two seat group on the other side.  Glynis, like me, was facing backwards to the direction of travel.  Reginald asked her if she preferred to swap, but she declined:
“Oh, I shall be quite fine here.  I don’t mind really, so much.  Although I do always find it is so much more pleasant when one is facing the direction of travel, and can see where one is going.  It can be a little disagreeable having one’s back to the engine, but I wouldn’t like to put you out, and, besides, you might prefer to face the direction you are going”.  With an air of accustomed resignation, Reginald swapped.  They were very quiet, but caused me no small amount of alarm when Glynis produced a big bag of boiled eggs and a paper of salt.  I prepared myself for sulphurous fumes such as to put a volcano to shame, but was glad to find that there was no offending odour.

The journey, as ever, was beautiful – the coastal section along the Exe, then the Dawlish red cliff coast, and then the Teign is always thrilling, and, with the tide full in on a windy and sunny day, it was the best weather to enjoy the spectacular scenery.  The last part of the journey is also along the coast, at Mount’s Bay, with St Michael’s Mount, and a long pull along the beach into the terminus at Penzance, the most southerly and westerly station in Britain, where Mrs Farmer was waiting to greet me.  An excursion followed, and I shall relate more of that later.

[1] It was on Platform 5, on 19th May 1934, that my grandparents arrived in London fresh from their wedding, to spend a few days in Dulwich.  My grandfather slammed the door, catching my grandmother’s hand, and removing half her little finger.  She spent some nights in St Mary’s hospital next door.  Whenever we arrived in London as children, we always had to look on the tracks at Paddington to see if we could find the other half of Granny’s missing finger.

Thursday, 2 March 2017

Thankful Thursdays - sunlight

The sun was shining on my way home tonight.  Everything was bathed in the clean light of a winter sun, looking brighter, and more colourful, with a light blue sky in the background.

A bit of sunlight always lifts the mood.  I am glad I live in a country where I see plenty of sun, but don't have extreme weather.

Thursday, 23 February 2017

Chicken Chaos Pasta

Here is my recipe for Chicken Chaos Pasta.  It was very good.

1.  Remember that you have a chicken carcass from Monday in the refrigerator with an intact breast.

2.  Take the breast off the bones and chop it up small.

3.  Heat some butter in a pan.

4.  Put some hot water on in another pan.

5.  Add the chicken to the pan.

6.  Add a really good squeeze of garlic puree.

7.  Add a bit more garlic, as you fancy it.

8.  Add a sprinkle of crushed chilli.

9.  Realise you have added too much.

10.  Put pasta on the other pan to boil.  I used cavatappi.

11.  Put in a small jar of pasta sauce.  I know, I hate myself for having it too, but I usually have one in the cupboard for when energy and time are short.

12.  When it is thoroughly hot, taste, and marvel how spicy it is.

13.  Find a third of a pot of oat-based dairy-free creme fraiche in the refrigerator.  Stir this in.

14.  It is still too hot, but when you found the creme fraiche, you spotted a head of broccoli.  Chop this up and add it.

15.  The pasta is nearly done.

16.  The sauce is still too spicy.  Stir in a table spoon of low fat mayonnaise.

17.  Drain the pasta, but don't shake it out, as it needs to be wet.

18.  Mix the pasta into the sauce.

19.  Eat it.  It tastes better than you think it will.

20.  But it is still a bit hot.  Have a long glass of diet Canada dry afterwards.

Thankful Thursdays - a bed to sleep in

I am thankful for my bed.  When I am tired, and come to bed, it is a lovely thing to lie down, feel the smooth sheets on my legs, the cool pillow on my head, and the weight and strain taken off my body.

It is easy for me to complain about my flat - I do find it hard to pay the rent, and I am afraid to complain about problems with it lest my landlord decides not to renew my contract each year.  But I have a comfortable (which means for me, very firm) bed.  I sleep in a room without damp, without fear of invasion, without any pests or vermin.  Lot's of people don't get that.

It is a privilege to have a comfortable warm bed to sleep in.

Monday, 20 February 2017

Working in the Background

Events at my church invariably involve coffee and tea, or food, or both.  On Sunday, there is coffee downstairs before the services, coffee upstairs and downstairs after the service, and lunch downstairs. I am sometimes on duty for these activities.  When I am on coffee, I fill the coffee pots, I find the cupboards full of coffee and filters, I find a refrigerator full of milk, and a biscuit tin full of biscuits.  Another cupboard is full of cups.

I don't suppose there is a special Housekeeping Færy at church, nor is there an army of mice in the organ, that come out and tidy things up at the bidding of the Woodpecker. No - it is someone's job to do all this, and they do it, and it is done.  The likes of me would only notice if the cupboard was bare, and I had to go running to find coffee, or milk.  Someone has decided that this task should be done, and either done it themselves, or delegated the responsibility for it to someone who does it.

I doubt if I could name half the jobs that get done in a church.  I doubt if anyone in my church even knows who is responsible for each of them.  Yet, quietly, and helpfully, people are working away to make sure such things get done.  Coffee is in stock, enough welcome leaflets are out, the bins are emptied, biscuits are purchased, leftover service leaflets are cleared from pews, the tea-towels are washed, and communion wine is ordered in for next time.

I am grateful to people that make things happen.  I don't want to take them for granted.  I don't know who they are, and that is probably as it should be.  But, as surely as the minister standing in the pulpit, the organist, the welcomers, and the cooks, they are all part of the work of the church, little organs in a bigger body.

Thursday, 16 February 2017

Thankful Thursdays - the dentists

It is a very dangerous thing for me to make promises of new series on my blog, but I hope I might keep up with this.  The world is a rather negative place of late, with Trump, Brexit, terrorism, and other evils.  But there are good things, and things to be thankful for.  I find lots of things in my daily life that I am thankful for.

I am thankful for my dentist.  For a start, it is the Dr Fang Practice, which always makes me chuckle.  Dr Fang is very pleasant and efficient.  The hygienist instructs me strictly, but is very nice too.  And the reception staff are always particularly friendly, and kind; we chat as I pay and arrange the next appointment.  It is always a good visit to the dentist.

Life is so much better when we can be nice with people we see as we go about our business.  I would like to think the dentists think I am a pleasant customer.  I always like to say hello and thank you and goodbye at shops, and be pleasant to staff.  I always smile and thank the bus driver when I get on the bus and touch my Oyster Card in.  Such pleasantries make life taste a little better.

Friday, 3 February 2017

An embarrassment at a wedding

4pm.  Mindful that I am attending a wedding on Saturday, I remember that I wanted to dry clean my suit.  I put it in the dry cleaners, who say I can pick it up on Wednesday, and that they close on Friday for a short holiday.

It has been a busy week, and my laundry basket is VERY full.  I have hardly any clean clothes.

I decide to select a shirt.  The one I really wanted to wear is in the wash and it is too late to wash it for the wedding.  I pick one that only has one tie that goes with it.  I am tired and decide to iron the shirt freshly the next day.

9am.  I get up, rather late (did I mention it has been a busy week).
10am.  I am watching Frasier and eating eggs on toast.
11am.  I am still in my night attire, and listening to Radio Four.
12 noon  I decide I ought to shake a leg and have a shower, and trim my beard.
12.30  Disaster!  I forgot to pick the suit up at the cleaners, and now they are closed.
12.40  I decide that my dinner jacket suit (worn when I am performing in choral concerts) is too over the top to wear.
12.45  I decide that corduroys are not right for a wedding.
12.50  I reluctantly select the only clean pair of trousers, a red pair.  They are a bit creased.
12.55  I put the iron on to iron the shirt and press the trousers a bit.
13.10  I remember the iron.  It is cold.
13.15  The iron still doesn't work.
13.20  I remember I have a navy blue shirt in a packet that is smart.  I had purchased it but not unpacked and worn it yet.
13.30  After unpacking the shirt, and removing 237 pins, fourteen clips, five cardboard sheets, and a plastic collar reinforcer, I realise it is far too creased to wear, and decide to stick with the original purple floral shirt, in the vain hope the pattern will hide the creases.
13.40  I am now dressed.  I feel slightly dishevelled but hope my English eccentricity will allow me to get away with this.
13.55  I realise with a start that, with the wedding being at 3pm, I need to leave at 14.05 to get to church ten minutes before the start, so I can select a seat near someone I know and make small talk until the start of the wedding.
14.00  Putting my tie on over the bathroom sink I drop it into the sink.  It is now dripping.
14.05  After frantically looking through all my other ties, I realise none of them match the shirt.  I reluctantly decide to go without a tie.
14.10  My shoelaces break when I put my shoes on.
14.15  I finally lace up my shoes with laces purloined from an unsuitable pair of shoes.
14.20  I leave home.
14.25  There is no Charing Cross Branch train for ten minutes.  I take the Bank Branch train.
14.45  I change at Camden Town (Bank Branch).  There is no Charing Cross Branch train for ten minutes.
14.50  The Charing Cross Branch train comes sooner than expected.  It is packed out.
15.00  I arrive at Tottenham Court Road.
15.05  I arrive at church.  The vows are underway.  An usher looks at me uncertainly, and clearly disbelieves me when I re-assure him that I really am here for the wedding, and allows me to slip in quietly.
15.06  I slip in quietly.  The whole congregation notices.
15.07  I realise that it is a very smart wedding.  All the men are slim, smart, and bearded, with three-piece suits on, and many wear button holes.
15.08  I sit there, flushed as red as my trousers.
16.00  After the service, there is mulled wine (it is 3rd December, after all).  I find friends from church and feel obliged to explain my appearance, and wonder if they think I am one of those persons who never dresses up for weddings.
16.35  I bump into one of the grooms, and offer him my congratulations, and exchange pleasantries.  I apologise for my appearance, and he is very kind, but, I am certain, very shocked.
19.00  I get home and start doing laundry.

Tuesday, 31 January 2017

My Two Thousand Book Reviews

On my thirteenth birthday, I decided to write a brief review of every book I read.  I was a voracious reader, and I wanted to keep a note of everything to help me remember what I have read.  There were a few rules:

1.  I could only write a review for a book I had read completely, from cover to cover.  So, although I read an awful lot at university, I often read half a book, or just a few chapters.  So those books could not count.

2.  For each book, I had to write where I got it, how much I paid for it, and where I had come across the book, and why I wanted to read it.

3.  I could only write one review for each book.  I have read some books more than once - but I could not write a review again.  I may have broken this rule, as, for twenty years, and the first 1500 books, I wrote the reviews down in note books, before starting to write electronic.  I generally remember if I have read a book before, but I am sure a couple slipped through the net, and got a may have got reviews.

Nearly 33 years later, I have just completed the review for book 2000.  I read the first thousand books in thirteen years - I read a lot in my teenage years and my twenties: I was at university then, and, immediately after that, was working shifts, and often nights.  A bit more than half of the books are fiction - because they are often shorter and easier to read.  I think I spend longer reading non-fiction.  History and biography dominate the non-fiction, with a strong representation of theology and philosophy items.

I would dearly love to have the time to go through the reviews and get them all written electronically, and to produce a database or spreadsheet of the results.  I am pretty sure Agatha Christie will be the author most well represented, since she wrote so many books, and I devoured them all in my early twenties.  Jean Plaidy is a writer of historical novels - my aunt introduced me to her novels, and I ploughed through almost all of her works too.

Many of the books are classics - I deliberately set out to read well-known books from all ages and all nations - to find out why they are classics.  I nearly always found that I enjoyed them.  I read most of the Greek and Roman Classics.  The longest is probably the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, Gibbons' six volume set that I purchased with book tokens given to me when I left the nursing home.  The longest fiction is Proust  - a wonderful book, although I missed the wood for the trees, and Les Miserables.  Camus and Gide wrote shorter works that affected me deeply.  I guess the Song of Ice and Fire (Game of Thrones) series are among more modern longer ones.

I love to get my reviews out and pick a book when I am unsure what to read.  I have probably read a third of the books again.  My reading volume has gone up and down over the years, but, for the last ten years, has settled to about 50 books a year.  I am profoundly grateful for books, which have been the best of friends, taking me to other worlds, opening wisdom, and shaping my life ever since my grandmother taught me to read in the early seventies.  I have generally never published my reviews, but might from time to time, if I have a book that I feel might be of interest, or which has particularly moved or impressed me.  If I live long enough to get to 4000, I will certainly blog that!

Book Review 1: The Talking Parcel, Gerald Durrell

1974, English
Purchased: Salvation Army Shop, Banbury 1984, 15p
Read: 22nd - 29th May 1984

I read most of this book during English lessons at work, when Mr Matejschuk plonked a box of books on the desk for us all to read.  One week, it had gone missing, and I went down to the Army shop with Gran, and Mr Wilding let me into a damp and dank room at the back, where I found it together with some Blue Peter books I didn't have.

Penelope, Simon, and Peter are on the beach when a parcel washes up in the tide.  It contains Parrot and Dulcibelle (a singing spider), who enlist their help to rescue H.H., the ruler of Mythologia from the cockatrices who have locked up the Dictionary, the Herbal, and the Book of Spells.  Ethelred the Toad, Ms Desdemona Williamson-Smythe-Smythe-Brown the Mermaid, Oswald the Sea Serpent, and a whole array of creatures from mythology join forces to defeat the cockatrices.

Mr Durrell is very good at descriptions, particularly in nature.  I often laughed, and I was very much taken with some of the imaginative creatures and items - the Mooncalves that give milk and cream, and mooncarrots which can be "thought" into all sorts of things.  Parrot uses unusual words from the Dictionary, as they die if they do not get an outing every year.  I was very sorry when I got to the end of this book, and continue to think a lot about the different elements therein.

Monday, 30 January 2017

Book Review 2000: Crime and Punishment, Fyodor Dostoyevsky

1866, Russian
Purchased: Cottage Bookshop, Penn 1992, 40p
Read: 31st December 2016 to 29th January 2017

I have had this book for a LONG time, and it has sat accusingly on my Penguin Classics shelf, six hundred pages ready to jump out every time I selected a book, but sorely neglected.  I started reading it when I was working nights in 1993, but got bogged down and gave up, a rare occurrence.  I deliberately chose it for this read.

In the story, Raskolnikov, an impoverished student, decides to murder an old woman, a pawnbroker, a "louse" in society.  He believes he will do the world a favour.  The murder is committed, and he ends up murdering her sister too, who happens upon the crime.  Ill, he falls into a fearful fever, much to the alarm of his mother and sister who journey up from Moscow, and he suffers a moral delirium.  The characters weave around him, some blissfully ignorant, others suspicious, and eventually cognisant of his crime.  His crime was the murder, and his punishment his anguish of soul, as he exchanges views and philosophies with friends and foes, and Sofia Semyonovna, daughter of a late acquaintance.

This novel has the typical Russian inter-connectedness where everyone is related, or connected by household, and it is complicate to remember who is who.  The whole novel takes place over just a few weeks, and mainly consists of extended conversations and ramblings by and with the unfortunate Raskolnikov.  The conversations are written in such detail, and with such skill, that I heard and imagined the characters, especially the women.  Rather than being driven by plot, it is ideas that drive this novel, and I was anxious to see the working out of the ideas.  The epilogue is very satisfying, on a plot basis, but, equally satisfying is the resolution of the struggles to comprehend what has been done.  Dostoyevsky, with some daring ideas, yet still understands what it is to be human, and what it means when humanity and humaneness are tested.  I still did occasionally feel bogged down in one or two longer conversations, but my perseverance was greatly rewarded.  This is rightly a classic, and I am cross I have waited so long to read it.

Friday, 27 January 2017

Living Losers of USA Presidential Elections

Everyone knows that there are currently five living former Presidents of the USA - Jimmie Carter, George H W Bush, Bill Clinton, George W Bush, and Barack Obama.  But how many former Presidents would be alive if the elections had gone a different way?  Here are the elections, counting back, and information about the losers.....

Of course, this is very recent, and if the loser, Hillary Clinton (who won the popular vote substantially) had won, she would not be a former President, but the living one!

Mitt Romney was the losing Republican candidate, and, at only 69 (younger than President Trump) is still alive and well.

John McCain was the Republican candidate, and is now 80 years old, and still active in politics - being notably critical of the current President.

John Kerry, the outgoing Secretary of State, was the Democrat who lost this election.  He is 73 years old.

It is generally reckoned that George W Bush lost this election and he is still alive and 70 years old.  But the Supreme Court narrowly awarded Bush the victory, meaning that former Vice President Al Gore is the loser, and he is 68 years old, and a noted author and campaigner.

Bob Dole lost to Bill Clinton in this election, and had been Ford's running mate in the 1976 election.  Dole is still alive, although somewhat frail, but was greeted by Trump at the recent Inauguration.  Dole is 93 years old.

The loser in this contest was the President George H W Bush, and he is still alive (although ill) at the age of 92.  He recently celebrated his 72nd wedding anniversary with his wife, Barbara.

George H W Bush had won this election, and his defeated opponent was Michael Dukakis, still alive at 83.

In Ronald Reagan's second victory, Walter Mondale, Carter's Vice President, suffered the ignominy of only winning one state, and 13 electoral representatives, in a huge landslide for the Republicans. Mondale is 89 years old.

The loser here is the President, Jimmy Carter, still going strong at 92.

The last election where either candidate is still alive is the 1976 election, where Carter beat Ford.  So, taking all the losers, we see that Clinton, Romney, McCain, Kerry, Gore, Dole, Bush, Dukakis, Mondale, and Carter are all still alive - ten people, twice as many as those who won elections (although two of them are in both lists.  Perhaps not winning an election is better for one's longevity!