Despite the odd few days of frost and snow here and there, we've had a fairly mild winter here in Kinross-shire, and the plants which are still growing around the garden are looking well for this time of the year. Of course, the only slight concern is that a plethora of pesky horticultural pests that might have been killed off by prolonged periods of frost will instead have survived the winter and are currently lurking in wait under a pile of leaves, intent on munching their way through our produce very soon!
The bay leaf plant is HG's pride and joy!
HunterGatherer hauled the big red tubs he's been using as giant planters (in his war against chickweed) out of the polytunnel over for the winter. The bay leaf is looking particularly bright-eyed at the moment, and the rosemary is also in rude health. Our last red cabbage is waiting to be cut for supper very soon, and we've been enjoying curly purple kale right through the winter.
Meanwhile, on the animal front, Ivan the Shetland tup (or 'ram', depending on which part of the country you live in) spent a happy eight weeks amid his fleecy harem in the hill paddock over the winter, but last week - no doubt much to Romeo's grand chagrin - the seven ewes were put back into the front paddock.
We'll have far fewer ladies lambing this spring, as we sold half a dozen of our ewes (as well as almost all of our lambs) this year. We did, however, keep four of our own female lambs and have bought in two 'full pedigree' newbie ewes - the alliteratively named Juno and Jinja.
Fortunately for us, Farmerbruv's horse feed Blox are equally popular with our woolly jumpers. They have tried out all the different types and their favourites are definitely the Timothy Hay Blox and the JustGrass ones. When it's blowing a hoolie outside, it's great just to be able to nip outside quickly and throw a few Blox into the field from the fenceside, knowing that (unlike the loose hay) it's not going to disappear, airborne, into the Kingdom of Fife within a matter of minutes.
As the winter solstice drew (though perhaps “blew” might be more appropriate, given the gale currently howling outside) to a close tonight, Yours Truly realised with not a little concern that the annual epistle was still just a faint twinkle in her keyboard’s eye. Of course, the resultant panic could have induced a severe case of writer’s block, but happily this potentially serious state of affairs was averted by the fortuitous discovery of a box of Cadbury’s chocolates left here earlier this evening by a kind tutee. Suitably fortified, I now feel ready to dish the dirt report on the Sparrowholding entourage’s exploits of the past 12 months.
Perhaps one of the disadvantages of the daughterly duo living in the deep south is that news now tends to be scarce; however, when you’re a writer by profession, lack of facts fortunately presents no impediment when it comes to penning a good tale. DD1 (25) appears to be relishing the cut and thrust of the legal world and has decided – possibly more through necessity than by choice – that sleep is a seriously overrated hobby. Consequently, during the wee sma’ hours she is often to be found shunning the decadent delights of her duvet in favour of marginally less alluring missives and memoranda – apparently sleep deprivation is no problem when you’re powered by Matcha powder. [Note to self: must buy some.] On the rare occasions that she sees London in the daylight, DD1 is an enthusiastic defender at a London Hockey Club, having decided to hang up her rugby kit in case her legal clients were put off by black eyes on a Monday morning.
DD2 (23) moved to the capital last year as well, there to pursue the fascinating profession of film music supervision, and has been cutting her teeth on the music for the Channel 4 series Aliens plus a recent Netflix series called Lovesick (previously charmingly titled Scrotal Recall). This season, she also joined the same hockey club as her big sister and, during one match, took it upon herself to explain the rules of the game to an umpire who seemed not to be familiar with them … [Just as well she knows a good lawyer!] DD2’s current residence is an 11th-floor flat, where she spends her leisure time enjoying breathtaking views of the London skyline while lazing in a hot-tub located on the flat’s rooftop balcony. [Yes, it sucks to be living in London, doesn’t it ... ? We console ourselves by imagining how much pollution she must be inhaling!]
In the spring Son&Heir, who turned 21 in April, ventured to the Jungle camp in Calais as a volunteer putting up tents (only discovering en route home that he’d taken the wrong passport …), and in May he left his job at a trendy Edinburgh vegetarian café to go travelling. [NB: Yours Truly may soon be employed by the UN peace-keeping force after acquiring valuable experience while sharing a dinner table with a stubborn hubby who thinks he hasn’t actually eaten unless red meat was involved and a vehemently vegetarian son.] The wanderer duly set off for South America in May and began by volunteering for a month in an orphanage in Cusco, Peru. Prior to his departure, he perfected his juggling skills – primarily to teach the youngsters at the orphanage, but apparently also so he could create a photo opportunity by perching on a wall on one leg high above Machu Picchu while juggling [Warning: do not try this at home.] Our aspiring clown then headed for Honduras to volunteer at an iguana sanctuary on the tiny island of Utila. Rumours that iguanas have since been spotted juggling mangos in the mangroves have not yet been confirmed.
HunterGatherer still spends much of his working life collecting tonnes of soil from fields all across Scotland and depositing it on our garage floor. He claims that it all goes into sample bags, but as the garage seems permanently carpeted in a deep layer of damp Scottish loam, I remain to be convinced! Having been sadly sidelined from many hockey matches this year by a niggling hamstring injury (MRI pending), he has turned his attentions to less physical pursuits, namely agate spotting and gold panning. So far he’s found an assortment of attractive agates but (quelle surprise!) no glittering gold.
The green Astro-pastures of the hockey pitch are still proving irresistible for Yours Truly – even after her recent relegation to the back of the pitch (just possibly owing to the fact that some of the forwards are virtually young enough to be her grandchildren!). Keen to combat the effects of the highly sedentary writerly lifestyle, she has also added a new physical pursuit to her weekly sporting regime: Zumba. How amazing to discover at the ripe old age of 53 that there is, after all, something at which she is even worse than maths. Her street cred dipped even lower (is that possible?) this year during a visit to Laandon when, on being instructed by a daughter to flash her credit card at the underground barrier, she asked anxiously, “But how will the machine know where I want to get off?”
That brings to a conclusion this rapid overview of the year – which only leaves me, in time-honoured tradition, to send you warm festive greetings for Christmas together with every good wish for health and happiness in the New Year ahead.
Slàinte mhath from all of us to all of you, wherever you may be!
Unusually, HunterGatherer was working close to home last week, so between proofreading and tutoring missions I grabbed the opportunity to get some fresh air into my lungs and strolled along to the field where he was putting up a fence for our new neighbours-to-be. As you'll see, he had dressed for the part and was ready to face just about every climatic contingency that Scotland could throw at him!