Another action-packed year has been duly consigned to the family history, and I am pleased to report – in this, our twenty-somethingth annual Christmas epistle – that all five of us are still (just about) standing. Two thousand and seventeen was the year that saw all five of us – plus the daughterly duo’s brave boyfriends – head en masse for a ‘cinq-jour séjour’ (apologies to any native French readers) in the excellent and enticingly named “Villa Lavande” in southern France. This trip will no doubt one day be immortalised by the ghost of Enid Blyton as part of a hybrid adventure series entitled “Seven Drive on the Wrong Side of the Road”, but that is another story. It was also, sadly, the year that our unfortunate feline, Chuck the cat, proved that he shared his mistress’s lack of mathematical prowess by miscalculating how many of his nine lives he had left (none, it transpired). And finally, it was the year that Yours Truly formalised her tutoring activities and launched a new business, The Learning Cauldron, on April Fool’s Day...
When not pontificating about the finer points of poetry and prose or assuming the guise of grammar guru for my expanding band of avid academics, I now find my life being governed by my faithful companion and friend, the Fitbit. For any of you not familiar with these devilishly addictive little devices, they are essentially a smart watch that warns you that you have either been shockingly inactive (the perils of prolonged periods of proofreading) or impressively athletic (rarely, in my case). Mark you, having contemplated my retirement from the hallowed green Astroturf at the end of last season, I eventually decided that there was a little life left in this old hockey dog yet, and elected to stay on for another year. There are, according to my fellow team members, occasional moments when I become a little ‘excitable’ – such as the time when, having been belted in the foot by a particularly pernicious opponent, I yelled “You’re dead” in a moderately aggressive fashion at the offender – who promptly removed herself to the other side of the pitch for the rest of the game. In addition to my genteel hockey activities, regular bouts of badminton, weekly Zumba sessions (I still head in the opposite direction from everyone else during most routines…) and the occasional scoot around a squash court all conspire to ensure my Fitbit is still speaking to me at the end of each week.
HunterGatherer’s exercise quotient since last Christmas has been mainly achieved through his customary forays across the fields of Scotland à la recherche de multifarious soil samples. During his leisure time, he merely switches agricultural soil for the horticultural variety, as he has been going potty in the garden… I should explain here that this turn of phrase is no reflection on the gardener’s intellectual faculties, but rather an allusion to the burgeoning collection of giant red plastic tubs that he is amassing. The said pots have proved to be the ultimate weapon in his war against his arch nemesis – the chickweed that had previously laid siege to his beloved polytunnel and veggie plots.
His lapidary interests remain 'rock' solid (see what I did there?), and this year's finds have included a rather attractive chunk of Scottish amethyst. His wife and daughters are still fervently hoping he’ll stumble across a seam of gold, though Yours Truly suspects there’s more chance of him finding some at the end of a rainbow!
Son&Heir (22) currently enjoys one of the best workplace views in the country as he plies his barista skills at Kinross’s lochside venue, The Boathouse. When not there, he is to be found wielding weights at the local gym and is currently channelling his mental and physical energies into becoming a fully qualified personal trainer before moving south next year. Yours Truly hadn’t quite appreciated how much theory was involved in this until she’d to print off the 267-page course manual for him the other night! Here’s hoping that amongst all those words of physical wisdom there’s a unit on how to transform the body of a 54-year-old into that of a 30-year-old before the resumption of the hockey season in February…
Although we rarely see our daughterly duo in person, social media and Facetime occasionally allow us a vague insight into their London lives, and – as ever – any lacunae in information can be readily compensated for by liberal use of poetic licence by Yours Truly.
This autumn, DD1 (26) had to decide into which branch of commercial law she wished to qualify, and – as any self-respecting first-born child would do – she opted for ‘competition’. More than this about her work, I cannot tell you, as for reasons of confidentiality, she is unable to share anything of her professional life without having to kill us afterwards. Fortunately, having had sight of the density and dullness of the legal literature she was revising for her exams a couple of years back, her father and mother are – in all honesty – rather relieved not to be privy to the inner workings of English corporate law...
We are, however, wondering why our considerable investment in her education has resulted in a lawyer who doesn’t ‘do’ Scottish law and is thus of no use whatsoever to her poor parents! Actually, that is possibly slightly unfair, as she’s currently working in Berlin for six months, which allowed her fond parentals a welcome low-cost pre-Christmas winter break in mid-December – although Yours Truly’s sheep-covered Christmas jumper attracted the attention of airport security, evidently marking her out as a baaad(!) character, and she was promptly marched off to have her luggage and trousers drug-tested.
Ironically, DD1 had been far more concerned about the attire that her father might arrive in, judging by this Facebook message received prior to our visit: “Please tell dad to bring boots for dinner that aren’t from a hiking shop. And does he have any clothes that aren’t hiking-esque?” Her angst may have been prompted by HunterGatherer’s behaviour on the beach in France, where he stood bewildered in his full-length trousers, long sleeves and ear-flapped hat, beholding an entire beach bedecked with bikini'd and bikini-less bodies. By the end of the afternoon, however, he had taken the very daring step of rolling up his sleeves and even... his trouser legs.
Hot on the heels of insulting aging rock stars in 2016, DD2 (24) continues her precarious path to musical supervisorial (yes, it is a word) supremacy in London, and this year was caught pondering aloud in the office how interesting it was that quite so many of the songs in the Take That ‘Wonderland’ show she was working on had been written by some unknown guy called Robert Williams… She also managed to engage a certain well-known actor in conversation for 30 minutes in the office before casually asking him, “So what do you do?” Fortunately, the said thespian had a sense of humour and merely responded, “Do you watch TV?” When not listening to music and watching films all day (and getting paid to do so… call that work?!), DD2 hares around a hockey pitch in her usual inimitable fashion and apparently has moments of ‘excitability’ (can’t think where she gets that from…).
So the time approaches for New Year’s resolutions to be made (then promptly broken), all that remains is for me to wish all of you a very happy Christmas and a ‘merry’ New Year when it comes.
Hope 2018 brings you and yours good health and lots of wonderful memories!
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.
And suddenly it was spring! Since 2016 began, life here at The Sparrowholding seems to have been one long, relentless stint of soil sampling and spreader testing (HunterGatherer) or tutoring pupils plus proofreading hundreds of thousands of words (Yours Truly). Our only respite during these four months was a snatched escape at the end of January, which comprised lunch at the rightly renowned The Peat Inn Restaurant in Fife (subject of a future blog post so watch this space!) followed by a rare and relaxing overnight stay at the Dunkeld House Hotel, during which we enjoyed strolling together at leisure along an extremely full, more-grey-than-silvery Tay.
Since that bijou break, it’s been flat out for February, March and April, so it’s quite a relief to see this frenetic period of our respective freelance years coming to an end. The farmers have eagerly returned to working the land (meaning that HunterGatherer now assumes his spring/summer guise of welder/mender of agricultural machinery), and the Scottish exam diet has begun (meaning that my tutoring commitments have reduced dramatically – for a few months at least!).
While we’ve been busy, our Shetland ewes haven’t exactly been idle either… All winter long they’ve been cultivating their own “crop” of bonnie, bouncing lambs, and with lambing now over breakfast time in the feeding area is a guddle of bleating babies and anxious mums, each trying to find the other after all the Ewe-lac nuts and JustGrass Blox (courtesy of FarmerBruv) have been gobbled up. During the day, the 24 lambs split their time between sleeping and playing – just as you’d expect of any self-respecting bambino (or perhaps that should be 'lambino'!).
Here's a mini-video plus a few photos of what our mini woolly jumpers have been up to during the past weeks...