Saturday, 28 November 2009

Horses and Birthdays

John decided to ride Zak first thing yesterday morning, so he tacked up and set off. After last week's episode I thought I'd let him go by himself, and boy am I glad, as on the way back he kept leaning towards the grass verge and once he got a foot on it, he bolted. They always tell you, if your horse bolts, to haul on one rein and turn the horse in a circle. That's all very well if you're in an open field, but if you're on a narrow track, what are you supposed to do? The bad thing is that Zak didn't stop at the top, but shot across the crossroads. Thank goodness there were no cars up there, as it's a 60mph road. John just hauled on the reins and finally got him to stop. Add that to our episode last week, and I am not impressed. Fortunately John was unhurt, just badly shaken. We think Barnaby and Max are fast, but Zak moves at a phenomenal speed, and you've got to have your wits about you. But on the other hand, you can't ride a horse once a week and expect them to be immaculately behaved, can you?
We went and bought two new batteries for the lorry, after John managed to wrench the old ones free after a great deal of struggling. I can't even tell you what the new ones cost, but it's not what we need just before Christmas really.
But then, the highlight of my day, spending the evening with my eldest daughter and son-in-law, and their three wonderful children, Christian, Jake and Caelan, as it's Jake's third birthday. It's a fair journey back to Worksop, so we can't go very often, and I haven't seen the boys since Caelan was born in September. I realised how much I missed them as soon as we walked in the door. It was a house full of energy and excitement, and it was wonderful to be amongst it. Lisa made us a wonderful meal as well. It was such a lovely atmosphere.

Jake liked his birthday present, which was a Thomas the Tank Engine train track with a shed and a tunnel. Christian seemed quite keen on it, too.
But the most wonderful thing was, Lisa has made me a cross stitch picture of a chicken.
Here it is. She is very talented at this, and entirely self taught. I wouldn't know where to start. I can do tapestry, which I thoroughly enjoy, but tapestry is difficult to frame, whereas this is just laid inside the frame. I am delighted with it. A chicken is the perfect thing to give me, isn't it? Really she ought to go into business doing it. I'm sure even our shop in the village would take them off her hands. I am looking for more of a hobby this winter, and cross stitch may be just the thing, although I'll have to start with the most simple ones.
My son-in-law is a butcher, and he has prepared a whole lamb for us, to go in the freezer. It weighed a tonne. We have enough meat to last us well into the new year now. L has also given us a chunk of venison, so I will have to find a good way to cook it. We never look a gifthorse in the mouth here!
When we got back, I let Tessa out for a run round, and she came in with snow on her back. I stared at her in astonishment. I had to open the door to check I wasn't imagining it, and sure enough, there was snow on the floor. Good grief, it's only November!

We were supposed to have gone on a pleasure ride today round Shipley Country Park, but I just didn't have the strength, I don't know why. It was pouring with rain, which didn't fill me with enthusiasm. L and A went and said it was really good. Of the 40 who entered, only 20 did it, so lots of others were obviously put off by the weather. This is the last ride of the year, and they had sherry and mince pies afterwards, lucky things.
BUT we went off to Chatsworth in the fog and rain to do some Christmas shopping, and I'm so glad we went. Last week we looked at Christmas decorations in the Co-Op, but they were very expensive, which put us off a bit. I gave all my tree decorations to the children when we moved here, as although I could just about squeeze one in, we don't really have room for a Christmas tree, without it being in the way. I'm on a mission to find nice decorations that won't break the bank, and don't take up much storage space, as they will have to spend the rest of the year in my keepsakes box which is pretty full already.
So I've bought some beautiful little things, sticking to a colour scheme of green, red and white, and will put pictures on here to show you. I've also bought my sister's Christmas present, which was the real purpose of the visit, but I can't tell you what it is, as I know she reads this! (You'll have to wait and see!)
I think last year we were still bowled over by being here, and getting used to doing things, to join in much with festivities and goings-on, but I am much more with-it this year and intend to make the most of the celebrations, although it has to be said, after much dithering, we are going to spend Christmas Day by ourselves.
We went down through the fog into the village to go to the pub. Jack Russell was there with his two dogs, but more importantly his three hawks sitting on the backs of chairs dotted round the pub, scruitinizing you with their beady eyes. Two let you stroke them, but one definitely doesn't. It was a good job we didn't take Tessa, who likes to join us and have a packet of pork scratchings, as it was like Crufts in there, two Jack Russells, three spaniels, a very fat pug and a miniture Schnauzer. You could hardly move for wagging tails and dog leads. This is the world of the Old Poets Corner, a true english pub that sells real ale. We sat warming ourselves by the open fire, and had a curry which made us even warmer, and sat relaxing, soaking up the atmosphere. Fully replete, we dashed back to the car in the freezing cold and rain, and made our way back up the hill in the fog again. If there were no house lights on we wouldn't have known where the house was. As I got out in the dark to open the gate, I got a tremendous sense of wellbeing, and thankfulness for what we have. I gulped in the night air and went and got ready for bed. An excellent day.

Thursday, 26 November 2009

My legs! I can't feel my legs!

All of a sudden yesterday it decided to stop being wet and windy and start being cold and windy instead. I sat with a hot water bottle on my lap as I couldn't seem to get warm. I wasn't expecting to drag the thermals out yet, but I might have to if this carries on.
I went straight out this morning with no breakfast, as I usually come back in about 10 o'clock, and grab something to eat then, but it was so nice today I decided I had to ride. I tacked Max up and set off for the school.
I'd better explain about this. Back in January I had a teensy accident where Max bolted with me and jumped a five-bar gate and threw me off. It turned out he'd jumped into a field full of horses. Although I was in some pain, as two women helped me up to the yard, I noticed a manege. In my one lucid moment, I said, "Oh, you have a manege! Do you ever rent it out?" and they said I'd have to ask the farmer, which I did once I was well enough to go back down there. I think the farmer must have felt sorry for me, as I injured myself on his land, and said I could use the school, as long as I didn't broadcast it.
This is such a godsend, I can't begin to tell you. We don't have a manege on site, so this is the only way I get to school any of the horses. On the same day I had the accident, I'd phoned the local riding school to see if I could hire their arena, but they said no, so I am thrilled to have access to this one.
It's great because I've never had to share it. I can obviously go during the day when everyone's at work, so I always have it to myself. Obviously the liveries have priority, so if anyone did want it I'd go for a hack instead, but it's never happened. It's not very big, but it's perfect for me, and it's meant I've been able to keep Max fit and supple. He has a little whinny when he gets there as he likes to let the other horses know he's arrived. He's much admired there, too, and so is Barnaby, which is always a thrill, isn't it? I've really got to know some of the girls up there, which means I stand there coffee-housing a bit, but Max doesn't seem to mind.
So off we went this morning. Max was unusually well behaved and co-operative, and it was a really good session. I would love to jump him up there, and I've noticed some new jump wings, so I'll have to ask if I'm allowed to use them.
I came back and turned him out, then mucked out my three stables. I went in for lunch, sat down, and saw L's dad turning in at the gate on his chubby little Massey Ferguson with a trailer load of straw on the back, so went out to see if I could help.
We had to get our John Deere out of the barn (good name for hubby, don't you think?) and our trailer. Our eyes lit up at the sight of a man in daylight with a tractor, as every day Missis has been bringing some of our showjumps up near the gate so we can bring them all in. So we persuaded her dad to hitch up our trailer and drive it over the road. We loaded up all the jump wings, all the fillers and most of the poles, and he drove the laden trailer back, which is fantastic. It saves us having to carry each piece across individually.
Then we had to hitch his tractor back up to the straw wagon, and reverse it into the barn, so the straw stays dry. It was quite difficult as our lorry was in the way. We did try to start it up, but the battery is flat. Luckily Missis's dad managed to manoeuvre the trailer in, after about six attempts and nearly taking his wing mirror off on the corner of the lorry. We need to get the lorry sorted as we are going out in it on Sunday, and IT HAD BETTER WORK!
By now it was nearly three o'clock (and I'd had no breakfast and no lunch) so we decided to risk it and tack Polo and Lindy up. We went over the road, down our two fields and turned right into the farmer's field. It was very deep mud, and has been sown, but Lindy hated it and was plunging about all over the place. I was lucky to stay on. I didn't dare look behind me, but it's going to be a bit obvious. I am so very sorry! We had quite a nice ride round after that. Lindy always goes away from home very slowly and speeds up as soon as he realises we are headed for home. Today was no different, except that as we rounded the corner, there was a group of alpacas in the field looking at us. Alpacas were not on Lindy's agenda for today at all, and he stood stock still, transfixed. In the end Missis had to come back, grab the reins and drag him past. He was totally astonished at the sight of these animals. I must admit, I was quite taken aback myself, although Max has passed them at Welbeck and was fine.
We decided just to keep it steady and not canter as Pongo is coming on the pleasure ride on Sunday and we need to know that Lindy will stay calm and not want to go steaming off with him. He was quite good actually, but hard work compared to Max. He yanked his neck forward at one point, which has jarred my neck. I desperately need some Deep Heat on it before I go to bed.
Anyway, we were home in time for tea and medals, so we got the other horses in and fed them.
I came back in and struggled to keep warm again. My legs were completely numb, so I made myself a hot water bottle and sat cuddling it for a while until Mr O came home from work. Really I should have a shower and get changed, as it's when you sweat up and the sweat dries that you can't get warm. I can see how people could be outside walking and get lost, then when they find shelter somewhere they die of hypothermia anyway.
It's on days like this that I miss my bath. We only have a shower here and I'd love a good soak. The only cure is a cup of hot chocolate and an early night I think.

Wednesday, 25 November 2009


The weather is keeping to its theme of high winds and lots of rain. On Monday it rained so hard, and so continuously, that the barn was flooded. The water washed straight through, out onto the drive, and down onto the road. It was up to our backdoor step, and I had to keep sweeping it away, and put the sandbags across, which did make a barrier, thank goodness. It was so loud on the barn roof, I came in to clear my head. I rang John and shouted, "Listen to this!" and held the phone out. He said it sounded like I was on the edge of a rushing river. My only consolation is that it's worse in Cumbria, but this seems to be nationwide - everyone is complaining. The Ladies Who Lunch are definitely up in arms over it. They decided the barn was the only safe place to be. One of the Welsummers is obviously into real estate. She checked out every single stable before finally settling on Barnaby's as up-to-standard, and promptly laid her egg in there. Luckily I found it before I got Barnaby back in.

I kept Max in all day yesterday as the farrier was coming at 2pm. It seemed silly to turn him out to get covered in slop, only to bring him back in again a few hours later and expect the farrier to pick his feet up. Needless to say, Max was not amused, and kept throwing his haynet up in the air, (the equine equivalent of throwing the dummy out of the pram?) just to let me know. He kept letting out pathetic whinnys to let the others know where he was, but they were outside stuffing themselves on a new bale of haylage, so none of them took any notice, and nobody could be bothered to reply.
I turned Barnaby out first, as usual, followed by Zak, who went galloping up, legs akimbo, crying, "Barnaby! Barnaby!" in feminine tones. I swear if he carried a hankie he'd wave it! It's worth it just to see the look on Barnaby's face, 'Oh lor, it's the galloping gourmet.'
It was quite funny when I went to get them in, as Zak tried to block me off from Barnaby, "I won't let them take you, Sire, I won't!"
"Move over Zak, please."
"Okay, sorry mum."
You can see Barnaby quite clearly saying, "For goodness sake man, what kind of sycophant are you?" and Zak replying, "What kind of sycophant would you like me to be?" I need to get out more!
The builder came today to finish off the blockwork on top of each stable wall. I made him a cup of tea. He said that he'd been coming here for three years, and in all that time no one has ever offered to make him a cup. I thought back to our sermon the other week about offering hospitality. It's not rocket science, is it? And look what a difference it made.
Tessa has been round cleaning up after the farrier. She eats the cut off bits of hoof, and always has done. I was working on a livery yard when we first got her as a puppy and she used to come to work with me then. She's half collie, half springer spaniel. I thought, 'It's a farm, she's a farm dog, she'll know what to do.' How wrong can you be? She used to pick up people's brushes and sponges and run off into the field and sit there chewing them to pieces. I was like Will Smith in Men in Black, "I'm gonna pay for that!" One of the troughs was set under a fence, so horses from both fields could come up and drink out of it. Tessa used to lay in the field, watching me scrub the trough out, then when I picked the hose up to re-fill it, she knew it was time. She used to run at full speed across the grass, leap into the bath, slide along the bottom (muddy paws on my pristine whiteness), duck under the fence and jump out the other end of the bath, then run off and lay in the grass cackling to herself. I would wash the bath out again, muttering under my breath.
It was the dogs there that showed her that horse hoof is delicious. It made a change from horse poo, so she made sure she got her fair share. When I left there she didn't really go near horses again until we came here, seven years later. The first time the farrier came, she dived straight in for the trimmings. I'm amazed she remembered. She'd probably like the farrier to come more often. He seems quite keen on her, too.

I just thought I'd show you this. It's a little perpetual calendar and L brought it back for me from the San Francisco museum. It's very cute, it reminds me so much of Farm Town and Farmville. It stands on my desk, and I love it.

So all in all I think it's time to batten down the hatches, hunker down and ride out the rough weather. People who have an indoor manege should be counting their blessings!

Tuesday, 24 November 2009

And It Came to Pass

Last year, while I was still working, and the credit crunch was in full swing, I began to wonder what I would do for my next job. They closed our accounts office in Bootle, and then a factory, and we all sat there worrying every day, when our turn would come.
Due, I think, to having some beautiful grandchildren, I began to toy with the idea of being a nanny again. I used to be a nanny years ago, in London, and I loved it.
But then I thought about the fact that I don't drive. I thought, the least a prospective employer is going to need is someone who can take the children to nursery or swimming or toddler group or something, and I'd never find a job. But I could dream.
Then when this job came up, Missis mentioned that she had children. I said, "Well it may interest you to know that I used to be a nanny." She said that was very interesting because quite often when she is away they could do with someone to look after the children after school until Pongo gets in from work. Then she said, "They get dropped off from the school bus right outside the house!" How amazing is that? I think I knew then that this was what God was planning for us, the door that he was opening.
So, of course, here we are, and I have the boys two evenings a week after school, and have had them two days a week during the summer holidays. I am saying this because I may need to mention them from time to time. They haven't asked to be in here, so I shall refer to them simply as Six and Nine. That will do very well.

As a follow-on from yesterday, Mr O and I had a big prayer time last night, as I have realised that although I have certainly left the rat-race, he definitely hasn't. He said part of this rushing around thing he does at the weekend is because he wants to fit in as much as possible before he goes back to work on Monday morning. He just starts to slow down and enjoy life, and get the stress of work out of his system, when he is plunged straight back into it again. And the company he works for is a very stressful place to be. I should know, I stood it for three years, before deciding enough was enough. So I just prayed that all of that would come off him.
We are making changes here though. I lost interest in television a long time ago, way before we moved here. Mr O has developed the habit of flicking through the channels at night, trying to find something to watch, but it's all boring. This is why I'm on the internet, as I never get near the remote control anyway. We've never watched any of the soaps, we don't watch reality tv, so that only leaves sport and the odd quiz programme. I can't believe how many times the same programme is repeated during the week either. We watch old episodes of Friends, and Top Gear and that's about it. We read a lot.
So we are looking for other things to do in the evenings, apart from prayer times and Bible study, which we already do. I want positive things that will help Mr O to unwind, and be a complete contrast to all the negative garbage that tries to cling to him from work. Watch this space.

Monday, 23 November 2009

True Colours

I touched on this a bit in my last post, about Mr O, and how different he is to me. I need to explain this a bit more.
I've spent the past six years working in an office, first with Mr O, and then for three years at Forticrete. That means I have spent six years being totally oppressed. When you work in an office here, in England, in 2009, it is incredibly difficult to mention your faith. A nurse was suspended a few months ago for offering to pray for a patient. When you hear things like that, it puts you off telling people about Jesus. That's why I talk about horses all the time, because that's acceptable.
In fact, in the office, conversation about anything is acceptable, except Jesus. I had to sit and listen to people talking about pornographic films, or violent films, that were so bad in the end I went to the kitchen to make coffee just to get out of the way. You can talk about who's sleeping with who, which fortune teller you're going to and which medium. But you are not, absolutely not, allowed to talk about Jesus. Isn't it strange?
So you go to church on a Sunday, praise God and come home filled with love and peace and joy, so that you're bubbling over, but you must not share that at work on Monday morning. You must keep silent. So silence it is then, because if the conversation is dominated by all those nasty things, which obviously you're not going to contribute to, because you think it's vile, you end up saying nothing at all, until in the end you're silent most of the time.
I was going to title this post, 'living outside the box' (which is a phrase I hate) because finally I am allowed to come out of my little box that people try to put me in, and be myself. But when I thought about it more this morning, I realised that actually where I want to be is inside the box. God has hand-picked, hand-painted and lovingly decorated a box for me, where everything I am is put in, my personality, my character, the way he made me to be. ('In my father's house there are many rooms - a room is just a big box, isn't it?) This box is where the real me can kick off my shoes and feel right at home. I was pondering this when 'True Colours' by Cyndi Lauper came on the radio.

You with the sad eyes
Don't be discouraged
Oh I realise
It's hard to take courage
In a world full of people
You can lose sight of it all
And the darkness inside you
Can make you feel so small

But I see your true colours
Shining through
I see your true colours
And that's why I love you
So don't be afraid to let them show
Your true colours
True colours
Are beautiful like a rainbow

Show me a smile then
Don't be unhappy, can't remember
When I last saw you laughing
If this world makes you crazy
And you've taken all you can bear
You call me up
Because you know I'll be there

And I'll see your true colours
Shining through
I see your true colours
And that's why I love you
So don't be afraid to let them show
Your true colours
True colours
Are beautiful like a rainbow.

And that is what the Lord wants me to do right now, every day, He wants me to discover my 'true colours' because I've been made to conform to the world for so long, even though I've loved the Lord all that time.
I did a quiz back in the summer, in my early days with Facebook. The question said, 'Describe yourself in one word,' and I instantly put, 'innocent' which is exactly what I am. I am innocent of all the muck and grime in the world because I am redeemed. I am cleaned up. And I don't want to get dirty again. And living here has enabled me to do that. I am free to be myself here, I don't care what anybody thinks. I am me, and I love it. The freedom is incredible.
To give you an example: at work they would say, "You're really posh, aren't you?" meant as an insult, because I speak good english. I felt like saying, "Certainly well brought up enough not to say, "You're really common, aren't you?" because I know that would be a nasty thing to say. If I said that, they'd all say I'm a snob, but it's okay for them to insult me. Does that make sense? So I lived with that insult (and a lot worse) for three years at work. It's just bullying really, isn't it? It's sad that adults are allowed to do that. It's bad enough coping with it at school.
This got so bad that when we came for the interview here and when I first started, and was obviously out to impress, I found the stress from work meant I could hardly string a sentence together. Just when I wanted Pongo and Missis to know I wasn't thick, that I was nice and capable and competent, I couldn't get the words out. It has taken all this time to go back to expressing myself the way I want to, because no one here is going to criticize me for it.
Facebook, and now blogging, have been instrumental in this, because I have made some wonderful new Christian friends on there, and regained some old ones that I've lost touch with. They've shown me that I am part of something huge, something true and something amazing. I am still a daughter of the King, and always will be. They've shown me that's it's okay to be innocent and funny and creative and articulate because that's the way God made me. I am unique, and I'm allowed to be, and I am revelling in it.
My only hope is that, should our circumstances change in the future, and I have to go back to work in an office again, that I have the courage to show my 'true colours', in fact, to nail my colours to the mast, and not put myself in their box ever again.

Saturday, 21 November 2009

A Busy Day

I woke up this morning to the sound of silence. No wind, no rain. I leapt out of bed, threw on some jods and flung open the back door. Wam, bam, pea souper. No riding for me, then. Head hung low, I turned the horses out.
Pongo and Missis have gone away for the weekend, so we are holding the fort. This involves me letting their dogs out and feeding them, too. The high risk moment comes when I open the door to their day room, to be greeted by Lexus, the black lab, hurling herself at me. It's a bit like fending off a tackle from Jonah Lomu. The worst bit comes when I let her back in and have to hold her in an armlock while I dry her paws. The trouble is, of course, I have to bend down to reach, which means she can lick me. Marvellous. I am exhausted by the time I leave.
I let the chickens out this morning, and went to do some hay nets, then went back to clean the chicken coop. I always feel I should tap on the door and shout "Room service!" before I go in. Sure enough, there was a chicken still in there, already in mid-lay. Laying an egg appears to be a private and intimate moment, and I was loath to interrupt it. The chicken gave me a hard stare as if to say, "Do you mind?" I quietly closed the door and tiptoed away.
Once they have laid, a chicken will squawk very loudly to 'announce' this achievement. Many visitors have commented on this. If you had an oviduct the size of a chicken's and had to pass their size of egg through it, believe me, you'd squawk, too!
When we first got the 'ladies who lunch', I gave them names like Valma Kelly, Roxy, Mama Morton and so on, but now I have got to know them better, I have re-christened them. Only Roxy has remained. The speckled Sussex is Henny Penny, the two Welsummers are Peggy and Betty, (who lay beautiful pale blue eggs) and the two marans are Marjory and Dorothy. They always go round in pairs, and examine things and discuss them as if they are looking at a particulary good entry in the cake competition at the village show.

I have noticed on previous occasions, and again today, that Mr O lives life at a completely different speed to me. Everything has to be rushed through as quickly as possible. He isn't one to stop and enjoy the view, which seems a pity to me when we live in such a beautiful place. The last time we did a pleasure ride he did ten miles in an hour and ten minutes. I did it in two hours and twenty minutes, and I wasn't slow. To go any faster would, to me, take the 'pleasure' out of 'pleasure ride'.
Today this meant he had mucked out all three stables in the time it took me to do two. I decided not to be flummoxed by this. He had to wait for me anyway, and I took my time so I could do a good job.
Afterwards we drove to a nearby park, with Tessa, so we could check it out and see if it would be safe and suitable to ride the horses round it. It certainly looks do-able, and at the very end there were clear hoof prints in the grass, so other people have obviously done it. Hopefully we'll be able to take the horses there tomorrow.
We whizzed back home and I got Max in to give him a chance to dry off, while Mr O rode Barnaby. It was pouring with rain by the time he got back, but I was committed. Max was in his witney blanket and hi-viz sheet, and I had my hi-viz jacket on. We were probably clearly visible in the next county.
Next Mr O rode Zak and we set off together to post a letter. For some reason it thrills me to do this on a horse, although I have never yet got Max close enough to let me post the letter while I'm still on him, gymkhana style, and today was no exception, so I had to get off, post the letter and hop back on again. By then we were on the road that we normally trot along, so we set off, but Zak kept cantering. Mr O managed to pull him up and we went back to walk. I am not averse to the occasional stride of canter on a road myself, but only in a controlled way. We got to the junction and turned right, to come up the steep hill and past the riding school on the way home. I have always wanted to ride past, looking rather impressive, as all the children come out from their riding lesson. Today, as we went past, Zak was having an absolute dicky fit, legs all over the place, trying to gallop off, and it was obvious Mr O was struggling to hold him. Max was desperate to keep up, and I was worried he was going to bolt after him, but actually he really listened to me. We must have been quite a sight, the skinny ex-racehorse dashing up the road, followed by the filthy cob with the flying mane. They probably thought we were rejects from Appleby Fair.

Thursday, 19 November 2009

Hair today...

The wind has been absolutely howling round all week, and was worse than ever today. So Missis and I decided to go for a ride! It's been lovely to be able to wash the horse's legs off when they come in at night, and it means they are clean and dry in the mornings, so with just a quick brush off, they are ready to ride. Max wasn't happy about not going out with his mates. I move him into Barnaby's stable when I groom him and tack up, as I can tie him up away from his door. In his own stable, even though he is tied up, he can (and does!) barge past me, at the risk of being garrotted by his own lead rope.
We went around the nearby lanes, where there is less wind as it's much lower down than we are (everywhere's lower down than we are). Max was out in front again, and was extremely well behaved. I am so proud of him for being able to do this. He always used to tuck himself in behind Barnaby and plod along, but now he's much braver. He did lift all four feet off the floor at one point, for no apparent reason, but you can't have everything.
As we turned for home, and had a canter on the verge, Lindy suddenly decided it was time to speed things up a bit and started cantering up the road. Max just trotted on, saying, "Look at Lindy - he's being naughty!"
We had a decent canter on the verge on the way home. Max put in a big buck, as I was holding him in at the front end and he decided if he couldn't get his energy out the front end, he'd let it out the back. A woman in a black Porsche who'd driven up behind us, stopped at the junction and said, "That's not really a suitable place to be doing that, is it?" We were both so astonished we couldn't think of a suitable reply. Sorry Madam.
We got home and I finished all my mucking out. I went back to shut the metal gate and heard a terrible crash. I came round to find the wind had blown the door off the greenhouse and smashed all the glass in it plus one of the panes in the roof. I took one of the rubber skips and put gloves on to pick it all up as some of it went into the horse's field. I went round on my hands and knees picking up every tiny piece I could see. The last thing I need is a horse to graze there and cut its muzzle open.
After that I dashed in to do a frantic tidy up as the hairdresser was due. I was just getting changed (I could hardly sit there stinking of horse poo, could I?) when as I took my glasses off to put my jumper over my head, the tiny screw in the side came out and my lense popped out! Fantastic. I groped around in a drawer and found my spare pair, thank goodness. Another little job for Mr O to sort out.
I'd better explain the whole 'hair' saga. Do other women find hair complicated? For the last six years I've had long hair. Most people who work with horses end up with very short hair, or hair long enough to put in a pony tail, because it's dangerous to bend over to pick up a horse's foot, with hair covering your face so you can't see what you're doing. I was also working in an office, and had time to do my hair before work, so it wasn't a problem. But when we moved here last year, I found it was so windy, my hair kept blowing in my mouth, even though it was tied back, and believe me, when you're wearing rubber gloves, so you can pick up droppings, you don't want to be pulling hair out of your mouth with the same gloves! Plus, because it's pointless having a shower and washing your hair before you do the horses, I was washing my hair afterwards, and it seemed to take forever.
So in March this year I decided to get my hair cut, and I decided to go for a layered bob. Big mistake. I hated it the moment the hairdresser had finished it. It was like a mop on my head. I looked like a Beatle. And then, to top it all off, when I got home, Mr O said, "Oh you look like your mother." I think he was trying to be kind.
So I decided to go back to growing it, but then obviously heard about this mobile hairdresser. He came in, I said, "Let's talk about hair," and made the decision to have a proper bob. This is because we are going to a Christmas 'do' in December and my hair wouldn't be long enough to do anything special with by then, so I have to at least go with some sort of style. So he cut it, and it looks wonderful. I am so pleased. And to top it all, he charged me sixteen pounds. I normally pay twenty-five pounds at the hairdressers, so I am very impressed.
The other thing is that he is coming on the day of the party at 5pm to do a wash, cut and blowdry so I will go out looking the best I can. I am thrilled at this, as I was so stressed last year as I couldn't get anyone to do it. I am so blessed.
After he'd gone there was a knock on the door and when I opened it a man stood there with some parcels in his hand saying he was from a farm up the road and signed for these packages by mistake. His wife had read the labels and realised they weren't for them, and sent him up to me. I couldn't think what they were, so opened them quickly, to discover my seat cushions, curtains and tablecloth. How thrilling! They weren't due to be delivered until the end of the month. So the table cloth is in place, as are the seat cushions. All we need now is some curtain hooks. What an excellent day.

Wednesday, 18 November 2009

Follyfoot Farm

I wasn't going to commit this to the blogosphere, but I find I can't resist it.

A few weeks ago, the boys' pony came in hopping lame. He was so bad you'd have thought he'd broken his leg (a front one). Now Missis immediately diagnosed an abscess. This is one of few horsey things I know very little about. She said we had to get the shoe off immediately, so we sent for Nasty Farrier. In the hope that he never reads this, I can tell you he lives at Bleak House, and a thorough Dickensian character he was, too.
He did succeed in taking the pony's shoe off, after much rearing from the pony, and being held down by Mr O and Beefy Assistant. There was a distinct mark on the pony's foot and the shoe where the abscess had obviously made its presence felt. Then Nasty Farrier told Missis that the abscess had travelled round the front of the foot to the other side. We spent the evening soaking the pony's foot in salt water, despite the fact that he quickly invented a new game of 'let's see how many times I can kick the bucket over before they start shouting', and adding a poultice and a bandage. God bless vetwrap.
We change the bandage morning and evening, but by Sunday the pony is worse. Missis decides to call in Dog Vet. The call-out charge is double on a Sunday. He says we may need to keep poulticing for up to two weeks, that the farrier was correct that the abscess had travelled around the front of the foot, and then actually kicked the pony because he was being naughty. If I ever call that man out to see to one of my horses, shoot me first.
Now I have a brilliant book called 'First Aid For Horses' by Karen Coumbe, which is my horsey bible. It has never let me down. I have consulted it over colic (Max) being cast (Max again) and choke (Zak, bless him) and it has never been wrong. I love this book and trust it totally.
So I look up 'abscess in the foot' and it tells me to poultice the foot for no more than three days, then when the abscess has drained, to cover it and keep it dry until it is sufficiently healed that it won't get infected. So I am confused by her vet's advice to keep the foot wet. I have visions of the foot rotting away inside the bandage, or getting gangrene or something. But by the end of the next day I am a dab hand at putting on a poultice and bandaging it in place. I check the poultice morning and night, but there is no sign of any pus.
Dog Vet told Missis to go and buy a car inner tube, and fit it over the pony's hoof like a wellie boot, then to fill it with water and secure it to his leg. And so, three days later, we stood there, struggling, with the pony looking slightly bemused, as we heaved and stretched and pulled this rubber torsion over the pony's hoof, pulled it up his leg and poured water in the top. We taped it to his leg (he was thrilled) and he promptly put his foot down, split the rubber on the concrete, and the three of us stood watching in disbelief as the water poured out onto the floor. Missis walked away. The pony and I looked at each other. I'm not sure who was the more satisfied.
I don't know why she did it that day either, as Normal Farrier was due that afternoon. Normal Farrier is built like a brick privy, and whenever I look at him I am reminded of Gaston in Disney's 'Beauty and the Beast'. If he suddenly started singing, 'I'm exceptionally good at expectorating!' I wouldn't be at all surprised.
By the time he arrived, I noticed Missis had removed the rubber from the pony's foot. Normal Farrier said it was physically impossible for an abscess to travel round the foot, and that if you don't poultice it to draw it downwards, it will burst out of the coronet band at the top of the hoof, which is extremely painful for the horse. This is exactly what my book says, and I am liking Normal Farrier more and more. He then pokes and prods the hoof, and declares that there is no more pus in it, it probably came out the day we took the shoe off and the pony is absolutely fine. I resist the urge to hug Normal Farrier.
And sure enough, once he realised he wasn't fooling anyone, the pony got better and better. Missis was left with an enormous vet's bill, and I am left with an enormous feeling of satisfaction, and the ability to bandage a pony's foot, another string to my bow.

Tuesday, 17 November 2009

It's life Jim, but not as we know it

I have made the decision to turn the horses out, even though the hunt is meeting up the road. The horses can see the lorries and trailers from their field. Last time they came it took 45 minutes to catch Barnaby, who clearly thought he should be out with them and generally taking charge. Max was shaking, too. But this morning I knew Barnaby wouldn't stand for being kept in, and if I'd done so, I would have had to sedate him, which I don't really want to do, and besides which, I couldn't lay my hands on anything to sedate him with.
I was straining my eyes to see people arriving, and couldn't see anyone. I thought what an idiot I was about to look as I've told people at the livery yard and my neighbour that they are coming, so they could keep their horses in if they wanted to.
A couple of days before they came in the spring, we had seen a dead fox in a gateway up there, but didn't think anything of it. When the hunt arrived, the hounds came streaming out of the lorry, found the dead fox, said in unison, "Duty done, I think!" and ran back into the lorry!
I would have gone up to watch the hounds move off, but then I got a phone call from Pop's Attic saying they were on their way with the furniture, so I couldn't have gone anyway. Then when the delivery men arrived, they said, "There's 'ell of a fuss goin' on up there - dogs all over the place!" I just smiled. I also put Tessa into a stable, as she'd barked beautifully for me and I wanted to keep up the pretence of her fierceness. She isn't the only dog here. Pongo and Missis have two dogs, a black lab and a sheltie. The sheltie would, in fact, probably bite you, but the most the lab would do is pin you to the floor and lick you to death. I could think of a worse fate.

Purdy, my tiny cat, is sitting on my shoulder as I write this. I'm amazed at how well she is since we moved here. She is a stunted cat, so has always been very small, but before we moved here she had terrible skin, very bumpy and scabby. Now when you stroke her she is totally smooth, and you can tell she is well. Country life obvioiusly suits her. We have a 'cat room' next to the kitchen, which is where Pongo and Missis put the farm cats when they were kittens. We put Tigger and Purdy in there for two weeks when we first moved in, with the cat-flap closed. It is a feline heaven, with a climbing frame, a little igloo and a big cushion. When we were ready, we let them out to explore their new world.
Bear in mind that we moved from a semi-detached house with an extremely small garden, with a high wall round it, which Purdy couldn't climb over. Her world consisted of the house, this small garden and any butterflies that were silly enough to fly into range.
So imagine her reaction to the vast amount of space we have here. Tigger was a feral cat, so felt at home straight away, but Purdy was speechless. I saw her one day, sitting next to Tessa at the edge of the barn, both with their backs to me, not realising I was watching them. It was a Lion King moment. It seemed as if Tessa was saying, "And all this land is ours as well," and Purdy was gazing at grass as far as the eye could see, amazed at this new vista. No wonder she loves it here. I quite often catch her asleep in one of the stables, or curled up asleep in my tack locker. Actually, the first time she did it, I didn't know she was in there, and shut her in for the night! It's only because Tab, one of the farm cats, kept tapping on the door the next day, that I opened it and found Purdy inside, none the worse for the ordeal. Oops!

Saturday, 14 November 2009

My, How Far We've Come

It was a very stormy night last night. This time last year I would have lain awake fretting, but this year I slept through it, enjoying the sound of the rain lashing at the windows, knowing I was snug under the duvet. Actually I love listening to the rain outside, it's beautiful.
Our kitchen isn't very big, but has a large table in it, which takes up a great deal of space. This week I've asked Missis if we can take it out (it's on our inventory) and I will buy a smaller one. Last year I wouldn't have had the confidence to ask. What I'd really like is some farmhouse chairs with the poles and the wheel in the back, as we used to have them in our old house, and I always regretted getting rid of them. She said that was fine, so I'll be taking the table out tomorrow.
There is a shop in Clay Cross called 'Pop's Attic' which, as you can imagine, sells second hand furniture. We went in, and the first thing we saw right in the entrance, was an old square wooden table, with two farmhouse chairs, exactly like I wanted. I was amazed. The table is smaller than the one we've got now, but it extends out so we can seat more people if we need to. The top needs to be sanded and varnished, but it's lovely, just exactly what I was looking for. It's being delivered on Tuesday.
More than happy with this, we continued our expedition into town, in search of curtain fabric for the kitchen. I don't know what it is about the coming of Christmas, but I get an unbelievable urge to buy things for myself! I think it's because most of the shops save their best items for this time of year.
We went to Dunelm Mill first. I have always wanted to go there, as I thought it was a fabric shop, but it turns out it sells readymade curtains etc. But most of the fabric was for sitting room curtains, so I gave up. We did find a wicker basket with a lid, which is going in the kitchen for Mr O to store his riding boots in. If he doesn't have this he will keep on putting his boots under the kitchen table as if this constitutes putting them away. I never in a million years thought he'd agree to buy something like that, so I'm thrilled.
We were just driving to the market when we spotted another fabric shop. We had a good look round, but I still couldn't find what I was looking for. I have decided not to just buy any old thing, I want something I will absolutely love and not get bored with.
We were supposed to do this last year, but at the time I didn't feel I could spend money on somewhere we might only live for a few months, but now I'm accepting that we'll be here for a few years at least (God willing!) so I am prepared to invest in something now. Besides which, it's simply too cold to leave the windows bare for another winter.
Next stop was the market, where we got the fabric for our bedroom curtains in the spring. She had a particular checked fabric then that would have been perfect, but of course there isn't any left now. She too has some beautiful materials, and will make the curtains for us, but there was nothing that I felt I absolutely must have.
We wandered on up to the Co-Op. We strolled along the racks of fabrics, in the furnishing department, but again I wasn't inspired. Disappointed, we decided to call it a day.
As we were strolling through the china section, I remembered about the placemats. Ours are very old and tatty, and we'd agreed it was time for some new ones, even though I am very fond of these. So a couple of weeks ago I started looking on the internet for something to replace them with. Many, many years ago I was very fond of Portmeirion china, especially the Botanical Garden and Pomona ranges. They are decorated with bold pictures of fruits and flowers, and I absolutely love them. I had some dishes when the children were small, but one by one they got broken and it seemed foolish to replace them while the children were young. I'd checked for stockists on the website, and to my joy, the Co-Op was listed, so I made a mental note of it, as you can imagine. I was thrilled to find the Pomona placemats and coasters, and have ordered a tea cosy to match, which should arrive soon.

So I came home very pleased with the table and chairs and the placemats, but disappointed about the curtain fabric. We have so much to do here I don't really want to be going out every weekend to source fabric, especially as we will soon have to do some Christmas shopping instead. As we sat drinking tea I began idly to thumb through an old mail order catalogue that I haven't used since we moved here. I turned to the curtain section and there saw exactly what I was looking for! If only I'd looked here before we set out, we'd have saved so much time and effort. They are just a cream check, but they'll be perfect, and they have a matching tablecloth, napkins and seat cushions, so I've ordered the whole lot!
So my quest is over, and now I can sit back and wait for everything to be delivered. I can hardly wait.

Friday, 13 November 2009

Coping strategies

It amazes me how people coped in the countryside, years ago. My grandparents lived in a tiny cottage in a tiny village near Salisbury in Wiltshire, and never had a phone or a car, and managed to live perfectly well. My grandmother had a twin-tub, salted her beans, made her own wine and once rowed into the village in the tin bath when the river flooded and burst its banks. She was also terrified of cows.
To bring things up to date: I think there are some items it's essential to have if you're going to survive in the country these days.
The first one is a chest freezer. I make all my own bread, but I don't have a cow, and the thing we are always running out of is milk. Now that it's winter I've stocked up on milk and frozen vegetables, too, as fresh ones don't last very long. The idea is that we'd like to only go food shopping once a month, so I keep a stock of milk powder (which I also use in my bread) just in case.
That leads me to my second essential item: the internet. People fall in love with the idea of living in the countryside, but the real deal is a lot tougher than you think. We've been here a year and I still hardly know anyone. I've had coffee in one person's house, and she hasn't invited me back since. I wonder what I did wrong? Anyway, the joy of the internet, is that I can keep in touch with friends and family at the touch of a button, and this is a massive blessing. We also order a lot of items for the horses and the house on the web, too.
That leads me to my third essential - having things delivered. I have become a master at this. My grandmother had a butcher and a baker that used to call in once a week, and a milklady that delivered every day. I found a woman that came to collect my horse rugs, took them away to clean them, then brought them back again. I've also recently found a new tack shop locally that offers a feed delivery service, so now we don't have to spend half our weekend going to collect it, which is fantastic.
Another thing that my grandmother used to have is a mobile hairdresser. Our time at the weekend is precious, especially in the winter when we have to muck out and ride as well. So anything I can get done during the week is a bonus, and that includes getting my hair done, but as I don't drive I can't drive into town. Imagine my joy when I mentioned this to a neighbour at a party the other week, and pointed out that the nursing home in the village must have a visiting hairdresser. She said it was her colleague's husband, and she would get me his number, which she duly did. Last night I rang him and arranged for him to come next Thursday. I can hardly wait.
Now all I need to learn to do is order my shopping from Tesco online. I've tried it a couple of times and find it very complicated. For some reason my mind goes a complete blank and I can't think what to order, so I've kept the receipt from this week's shopping to remind me. The Worksop Tesco was at the end of our road, so it was like a giant corner shop, especially as it was open twenty-four hours a day. We could never justify the delivery charge when we lived there, but now we are miles away from any supermarket, so having our groceries delivered will be worth more than it would cost us in petrol to go and get it. Plus Tesco have just opened a brand new, vast store which we went to on Wednesday, and if there is ever an incentive to get your shopping delivered, that has to be it. The store is open 24/7 and is above a brightly lit car park. Obviously not too concerned about their carbon footprint, then.
And the thing I could easily live without, strangely, is my mobile phone. I have it with me if anyone wants to ring me, which Mr O sometimes does, but not often. And trying to answer a mobile phone when you're cantering uphill on a white charger is quite a challenge! Missis had just got off her horse last week when her phone rang and the caller turned out to be an extremely important client who offered her the opportunity of a lifetime. Her horse chose that moment to snort derisively down the phone. The man on the other end said, "Well, if you're not interested..."

Thursday, 12 November 2009

The Mitford Mystery

Throughout my life, the name Nancy Mitford has cropped up from time to time. I knew roughly who she was, but her books are extremely difficult to find. I knew she wrote 'Love in a Cold Climate' but I've never seen it in a book shop or even in the library.
As you may know, we live quite near Chatsworth House, a beautiful stately home in Derbyshire, that has always been open to the public, and we are both fond of Deborah Devonshire, who is now the Dowager Duchess.
We went to Chatsworth in May, as I love the gift shop, and we hadn't been there for quite a while. A lot of the shop had been rearranged, and in one section on the wall, was a picture of six women, with the title of 'The Mitford Girls' above it. I thought, 'Why are you telling me this?' On further inspection, it turns out that Deborah Devonshire was Deborah Mitford, the youngest of the Mitford girls. I was astounded - when did this get out? Nobody tells me anything!
So imagine my delight when a couple of months later I came across the book, 'The Mitford Girls' by Mary S. Lovell. What a revelation. The six sisters were Nancy, Pam, Diana, Unity Jessica, and Deborah. There was a brother called Tom, too. They led such incredible lives. Nancy was obviously an author, but Unity became an ardent fascist and was a good friend of Hitler's. It was even rumoured that they would marry. Diana was a fascist too, and married Oswald Mosley, which was a total scandal at the time. (And their son is Max Mosley, of F1 motor racing fame). Oswald Mosley was arrested during the war for his fascist activities, but Nancy said, "It's really Diana you want, she's involved in it too," so they arrested Diana and put her in Holloway. Imagine doing that to your own sister, especially as her children were so young at the time.
Jessica (Decca) was strongly into Communism. And poor old Deborah, stuck on the end, said that when she grew up she was going to marry a Duke, and she did.
They are also selling 'Love in a Cold Climate' at Chatsworth, so I have asked Mr O to buy it for me as a Christmas present, which will be wonderful.
I have Deborah Devonshire's book, 'Counting My Chickens' and have read it again very recently. In it she refers to 'my sister Nancy' but I never knew who she was talking about. I have read it with fresh eyes, as you can imagine.
So I am embarking on a project over the winter to find out as much as I can about the family, and all the things going on at the time. On a recent visit to the library I found my old 'A' Level History course book and bought it for 50p. It's called, 'The World Since 1900' so obviously it covers all this time period, and is quite fascinating. There should be lots of Kruschev and Kennedy, and hopefully even a bit of Peron, so I am sticking with it. I suppose if you like history, you like history, don't you?

Wednesday, 11 November 2009

A Mixed Bag

So I've mucked out six stables for the third day in a row. It was foggy again. I decided to turn the horses out and muck out in the morning, and sure enough the mist did clear as the day progressed, so I decided to get Barnaby in and ride him. He was fine when I washed his feet off and took him in and took his rug off. I groomed him, especially the mud caked on his face, and under his tummy, then went to get his bridle. I was just about to put it on him, when he suddenly went ballistic. For the life of me I don't know why. He was barging, and I was worried as I had the head collar round his neck, but I managed to undo it. He was throwing himself at the door, so I couldn't get out, then he crushed me up against the wall. In the end I had to run round the back of him and climb over the partition into Max's stable. Thank goodness we haven't got the American barn type stables or I'd have been trapped.
In the end I left him to it, as I couldn't turn him back out as he had no rug on and wouldn't stand to let me put one on, but he was still rearing and kicking the door, and leaning on it with all his weight, when I went to get the other horses in, so even having company didn't calm him down. I've given him his tea, and he is quiet now, but this is two hours later.
I do blame the hunting, and I am so frustrated as I've spent all summer calming him down, and making him a pleasure to ride, but one hunting session and we're back to square one. I'd ride him first thing in the morning, but he will just stress if the other horses are turned out and he is left in. I might be able to tack him up, turn the others out and then take him straight out, but I need to know he isn't going to be strong with me as we go straight out onto a 60mph road and I don't want him tanking off with me. He is on minimal hard feed, and there is no grazing, only the haylage we put out, so I don't see what else I can do.
I think I am tired today, and I am fed up with the mud, as the horses come in with it right up to their stomachs. I don't mind washing legs off, but when it's wet on their bellies, I don't want to put a girth on it in case it rubs and makes them sore. I had all these plans of taking Barnaby up to the school and lungeing him before I got on him, but that was all scuppered. Grrrr!
Another builder has been today to do some work on the barn. We need him to put a new beam in on the entrance side as Pongo has hit it a couple of times with the tractor, and dented it. Mr O pointed out that there are new tie up beams at the entrance to each stable, but there is still so much to do before it's ready. There are no stable doors on, and the walls need painting, and the curved bricks need to be put on. It all seems to take so long. And they do need to go in there as the roof in the stables is too low and it leaks. Sometimes I think we are right back where we started from. People at our previous yard like to have a good moan, but really they should know when they're well off.
I opened the back door this afternoon, armed with bread, which was just as well as five of the chickens were there to greet me. One of the Welsummers was sharpening her beak on the paving stones, which I found rather intimidating. Anyway, Henny Penny wasn't there, so I called her and she came sprinting up the path, skirts flying, only to slip on some chicken poo and, despite slamming the breaks on, couldn't stop herself and went crashing into the other chickens. There was a lot of apologising and 'Well really!' and 'Think nothing of it,' going on, but I think she was a little embarrassed, to say the least, bless 'er!

Tuesday, 10 November 2009

Schooling session

All my plans are out of the window once again as Pongo says Missis won't be back until Thursday morning instead of Tuesday night. That means I have an extra day of mucking out, but more importantly it means I've rearranged my exercise schedule for the horses, otherwise they are having too many days off. I don't mind if they have some time off in January or February, when the weather could be really bad, but the ride on Sunday proves that Max has loads of energy and needs a good run soon.
It was the usual foggy start, so I decided to ride in the field. I tacked Max up and put his witney blanket on and his hi-viz exercise sheet on top of that, but then really struggled to do his girth up. Then when I went to mount, his saddle slipped right over. I tried it again, and slipped again! In the end I took the whole lot off and started again.
It was beautiful in the field. As I went through the gap in the hedge, thinking it might not be so foggy in the bottom field, a cloud of fog came rolling up the grass to meet me. It was like watching a wave wash up the beach. Max didn't seem bothered, so I carried on. I prefer the bottom field as there are less dips and bumps than in the top field, plus it's a perfect rectangle, but big, so it's like a giant dressage arena. I went right down to the bottom and started to work Max in. He's very forward going in the field, not like in a normal manege, so I need hardly any leg, which is bliss. I always spend the first ten minutes working on me, keeping my legs still, concentrating on keeping my hands in a good position etc.
I had to do lots of transitions to make Max concentrate, which took quite a while. I almost think I could have lunged him first. Eventually I asked for canter, and it felt like he was going to tank me up the field, but he did listen, and slow down. I'd left the top gate open, and was worried he'd try to cart me all the way home, but those of you who know about my little accident in January will understand my reasoning. The only thing is, I don't want him to cart me across the road, but I won't be in here many more times over the winter, as the field is for haylage really, so I mustn't cut the ground up. Max also did a wonderful leg yield. What frustrates me about this, is that he will do it perfectly on a road, but when I ask him in a manege he puts on far too much neck bend and tries to get over to the fence in the shortest possible time. Out here in the field, I decided it didn't matter how far he went lengthways as long as he gave me one or two good lateral strides, but actually he did it beautifully. One rein was much better than the other, but I can't remember which one it was now!
He's got so much energy at the moment, I need to keep exercising him, otherwise he will do something stupid. He is like a different horse in the summer, so sleepy, but now he is very sharp and full of energy. Mr O has decided he wants to hunt again on Sunday, so I have said the deal is I get to go to Osberton on Saturday, so Max can do some galloping and generally ride off -road for a couple of hours. Mr O has considered this and decided to take Zak, and go off a different way to me so he can just walk him. We made a mistake on Sunday really, taking Max and Lindy out with Zak, as it got Zak worked up when he is only allowed to walk, and it wasn't enough for Lindy and Max who are so much fitter.
On Friday Missis and I decided to have a crack at the ride to Holymoorside and back. We wore our hi-viz coats and it's a good job, as it was pouring with rain for most of the ride. It was a lot of road work at first, and on some very busy roads, but both horses were very good. Then there was an excellent stretch of bridleway, before coming out onto the moors. The scenery is stunning, and the bad weather just added to the atmosphere really. A friend said my description made her think of Heathcliff, and that's exactly what it was like, just a tiny path, loads of scrub and several sheep- beautiful.
We went down a fairly steep track and up an almost vertical one, which was amazing. The rain just kept coming, and by now it was starting to get dark. When we came back out onto the main road the cars had their headlights on. Don't forget, I wear glasses, so I could hardly see a thing. My top half was quite dry, but my legs were soaked, and if I hadn't have worn gloves my hands would have been raw, as my reins are new and very rough.
We got back and once we'd seen to the horses, I came in and had a hot chocolate and sat by the fire in an attempt to get warm. I'd taken my jods off, but realised the neck of my polo neck was soaked, so had to take that off as well, and get changed completely. It was quite an adventure though, I haven't done anything quite like that since I was young. It reminded me very much of Pewsey Vale in Wiltshire. Can't wait to take Mr O, but I think we might leave it until the spring before we go again.

Monday, 9 November 2009


My heart goes out to the family of Mary Fox, aged 59 who died after boys put fireworks in her letterbox causing a fire on bonfire night. She made sure her son, aged 17, was out of the house, but apparently went back in to rescue the cat, and couldn't get out again. It just made my heart ache for David, my own 18 year old son, and imagining the grief he would feel if that had happened to me.

Now I need to make it clear that Gordon Brown is very far from being my favourite person, but I feel so sorry for him today. It transpires that when a soldier is killed during the Afghan conflict, the Prime Minister writes to the bereaved family personally. It has been on the news today that a woman called Jacqui Janes has complained that Brown's letter was badly written, had spelling mistakes and was generally an insult to her son's memory. My heart, on this occasion, goes out to Gordon Brown, as I gather that his bad eyesight is to blame, and I can only hope that this woman's words are an outpouring of the pain she is feeling at the loss of her son, and that one day she will recognise and apologise for her inappropriate rudeness to him. I am not impressed. No matter what else he may be, at the moment he is the Prime Minister of the country her son was fighting to defend, and the fact that he was prepared, despite this handicap, to take the time to sit down and express his gratitude for the service of Guardsman Jamie Janes by his own hand, rather than dictating to a secretary or sending out a standard typed letter, is commendable.

Sunday, 8 November 2009

Afternoon Tea

Things are slightly different here on Sundays. Well they are on a normal Sunday anyway, like today. There is no such thing as a lay-in now that the horses are in at night. They expect their breakfast at 7.30am, no matter what, but usually it's Mr O that does it at the weekend, so I get a few more minutes in bed, but Barnaby is soon ready to go out, and this morning was no exception, especially after hunting yesterday. He was still hunting this morning, marching constantly up and down, and staring into the distance, rather than going straight to the haylage.
Then it's 'all hands on deck' to get the mucking-out done, and the hay nets finished, then we get changed and leave for church.
It was beautiful today, especially as it's Remembrance Sunday. A guy called Patrick spoke very well. He is in the TA, with a lot of friends serving in Afghanistan at the moment, and you could see he struggled to keep his emotions in check. We had the two minute silence, a short moment to ponder our gratitude to God that we live in a country where we are still free to come together in church to worship Him, thanks to some phenomenally brave men and women who gave (and are still giving) their lives in service to their country. We will remember them.
I decided to ride Max with Mr O riding Zak, and Missis came too. Zak has had a tendon injury, but is now well enough to be walked out. I walk him in hand during the week, but Mr O is riding him at the weekend, and Zak is getting stronger and stronger. The urge to trot is incredibly strong, but we must resist and be patient. It will be worth it in the end. Missis looked down from on high (well, on Lindy, anyway) and noticed Max and suddenly said, "Well, you're looking rather pretty, aren't you?" and I realised that Max was on the bit, and looking rather stunning, doing his 'I was a Lipizzaner in a former life' impression! I was so thrilled I am surprised I didn't get a headache from my head swelling underneath my hat!
I baked some chocolate cakes this afternoon. They have golden syrup in and are absolutely gorgous, light as a feather, but slightly sticky on the inside. I used the muffin cases, and really filled them, so they were nice and big. I have had a big baking project over the summer, and, though I say it myself, my cakes have got better and better. Baking has never been my forte, but now I bake all my own bread, cakes and biscuits.
You can tell it's winter, as the ritual of afternoon tea has begun again. For some reason, when it's cold at the weekend, we love to sit in front of the fire, possibly with a good film on, or the racing if it's a Saturday, with a pot of tea each (Mr O likes Earl Grey) and either cakes or crumpets or even toast with jam. I have a beautiful three tiered cake stand, cream coloured from Laura Ashley, a present from Lorayne, or if I make a big sponge cake, I have a glass cake stand. Mr Tumnus would feel very at home.

Saturday, 7 November 2009

Good Will Hunting

I am madly jealous as we have been to somewhere called Riddings (couldn't find it on the map, good old SATNAV!) so Mr O could go hunting with the Burne Bloodhounds. We turned Barnaby out this morning while we mucked out, then got him in to give him a bit of a bath. I got Max in to keep him company, but it didn't make any difference, Barnaby still kicked the door continuously. He didn't want to go in the lorry, either, but suddenly reared up and landed halfway up the ramp, and decided to keep going. We put the ramp up, with the speed of light.
We got there really early, as the google map said it would take 40 minutes in the car, so we always add on a bit of extra time for the lorry. We had actually been travelling less than twenty minutes, and suddenly saw Mike at the roadside, and pulled into what turned out to be a very small carpark.
We got Barnaby tacked up, and eventually Mr O got into the saddle. They had to go up the road and into a field, where the hounds were waiting. It doesn't make any difference to Barnaby, he's shaking already. Nick made the speech and explained the day, which was to be shorter than normal, and all jumps were optional (and they actually know what 'optional' means!)
Then he set off. I was busy taking photos, especially as a steam train trundled past, which upset a few of the horses, as you can imagine. Barnaby was totally unphased. Jackie Worby was there as well. She only lives two minutes away, and knew her horse would go mad, when he saw the hunt go past, so thought she'd be better off joining in. Merlin looked beautiful.
The next thing we knew Nick was on the floor. At first I thought it was Mike, but I dashed straight over to grab the horse, who was very good and just stood there eating. The hounds were totally confused as their dad was just laying there, motionless. Someone sent for the medic. It was confusion all over, as the whipper-in swapped horses, Mike said they would move off and I helped grab the hounds and get them back in the lorry. The field set off then, and Boyd Cross had the horn and decided to take half a dozen hounds with him! It was all a bit mad, but they set off and were fine after that. It was quite good from a followers point of view, although there wasn't much to see, as we couldn't cross the scent line, but there were plenty of people to chat with. Soon they were back from the first run. I don't know who was sweating most, Barnaby or Mr O. There was time for a quick sip of port and then they set off again. I don't know what happened this time, but Mr O was absolutely filthy when they came back, and Barnaby was covered in mud. Mr O said the jumps had been small, and Barnaby had been brilliant. He seemed quite pleased with himself, anyway.

I suppose now is as good a time as any to explain why I didn't take Max...

Last time we went, Barnaby was shaking as soon as we got out of the lorry. Adrenaline is a funny thing. Max was perfectly calm. We'd parked in a field and rode down to the farm together. Max was still calm. Then they released the hounds and that was it, Max's adrenaline kicked in. He is fascinated by them, and knows what it means when they appear. The hounds scatter in all directions, but we go down a field, through a gate and then out onto the ploughed field. We trot merrily down the hill. Max has a fixation about Barnaby, and won't leave him. So imagine my surprise when Max overtakes him and goes streaming down the hill. I am behind Mike, but I've been here before so I'm not too bothered. Then I know what is going to happen next as plain as day. Max whizzes down to the corner of the field and uses the turn to sit back on his hocks and go straight into canter. We overtake Mike in about three strides. I can hear him calling me but I am powerless to stop Max. He is like a train, because he has locked onto the whipper-in's horse in front.
Now, it's true that Max likes to be near the front, and I have learned to cope with this. He doesn't want to be out in front on his own, he hasn't got the nerve, so we are usually just behind the Field Master and jump whatever comes, and this is fine. Towards the end of the last season we did with the Readyfield Bloodhounds, I could feel Max noticing the horses that work the hounds ahead of the field, and thinking, "But I should be up there with them, Mum!" and that's what he was trying to do now. In the end, in desperation, I shouted to the whipper-in and asked her to stop. She was lovely, and did so, as really her job is to work the hounds, not be concerned with the field. I had decided to pull up, get off and take Max back to the lorry. He wasn't listening to me in the slightest. But fortunately as soon as she stopped, he stopped and I got off. I knew he would have a bit of a paddy when the others went past, but I would just have to risk it.
So the horses went past, not all going mad, and I had Max to myself for about eight seconds, and was walking along, when suddenly, out of the corner of my eye, I could see his hooves above my head. He'd reared almost vertically, crashed to the ground and shot off after the other horses. I set off in pursuit.
A woman in a farm on the hill had seen a riderless horse speeding up the field, and as Max approached she stepped out of her gate, stuck her arm out and grabbed him as he went past. She must have spun him, from the speed he was doing, because she didn't let go. It's a wonder he didn't take her arm off, but she said there was a main road ahead, and she was determined to hang on. Needless to say, she has horses of her own. I just want to offer her my heartfelt thanks.
So, painful as it has been, I have made the decision not to take Max again. I have felt absolutely fine about this until today, when the jumps were small, but at the end of the day, it's not the size of the jumps that counts, is it? It's whether Max injures himself, me, or even worse, somebody else, and I just can't risk it, though it pains me to admit it.
So I am the unpaid groom, and actually I did have quite a good time. Anyone who knows me, knows I love bloodhounds, and they were beautiful today. It's just a shame that they were out for such a short time, as they so look forward to doing their job.
And the good news is that Nick was absolutely fine, and came back at the end, thank goodness.
When I got home, Tessa sniffed me non-stop for ten minutes. She knows the scent of a bloodhound when she sniffs it!

Friday, 6 November 2009

Bats in the Belfry

We've been here exactly one year. Yes, a year ago today, we spent our first night in this little cottage. The wind was howling round the roof so loudly it felt like it could just rip off and blow away. I consoled myself with the thought that this was a 17th Century building, the roof had probably seen it all before. We lay awake amused that we could hear the cats playing on the roof, and occasionally sliding off it! Two days later I mentioned this to Pongo. He said, "Actually it might not be cats, it might be rats." I was astounded. That night we lay awake, having realised that what we were actually listening to was the sound of hungry rats chewing at the plaster in the eaves above our heads - roughly two feet above our heads, to be precise. Missis said it would be a shame to poison them. Our house hadn't sold by then, and I had to resist a massive urge to up-sticks and go home. Let's just say, we took matters into our own hands. The field next to ours has great big tubes of silage, and apparently the rats live in that. Well they can live in it, as far as I'm concerned, and not in my attic. The joys of country life, eh?

Thursday, 5 November 2009

Darling Boy

I guess, every once in a while, everyone has a breakthrough somewhere in their life. This is mine:
Some of you will know I used to loan and then own a beautiful palomino gelding called Crispin. He was the love of my life. He was a rare 'one in a million' pony who never spooked at anything. I gave my heart to that horse, and he gave his to me, but in the end I had to sell him on (to a lovely girl who adores him) even though I wanted him to spend the rest of his life with me. I cried myself to sleep every night for eight months.
Then there was a gap, until:
Several years ago I was helping at Thornberry Animal Sanctuary and fell in love with a black and white spaniel there, who I took for walks in my lunch hour at work. I came home and told Mr O all about him and he very foolishly (in front of witnesses!) said that if he was still there on Monday I could have him. I'd told him how handsome the pooch was and he'd assumed such a dog would be snapped up instantly.
I ran back to the sanctuary on Monday and to my delight 'Prince' was still there. I put my deposit on him there and then. Mr O's only criteria was that Tessa had to like him, so we introduced them the following weekend, and they got on really well. I had walked this dog one day and he'd pulled on the lead, and I'd shouted, "Sam!" as I pulled him back to me. I thought, 'where on earth did that come from?' but he became Sam the day he became mine.
Sam knew that I'd rescued him, and used to sit gazing at me adoringly. I loved him, and he loved me. Life was simple. He became known as Darling Boy and won my heart.
Unfortunately we lost him last year, and the wrench has been agony. In fact, this is the first time I've even been able to mention him since. No more 'darling boy' for me.

I have had Max for nearly six years. Until we moved here he was kept at livery, and a very nice yard it was too, with an indoor school, a large outdoor school, show jumps and a cross country course. Unfortunately, the price you pay for this, is that you start to become very competitive, especially if your horse shows some ability, which Max definitely did.
But, as you can see from the photo, Max is a very hairy horse, a typical cob, (and only 14.2hh) and always filthy, too, and I suppose I felt he never quite matched up to all the big, glossy horses on the yard. Was I embarrassed? Maybe, I'm not sure. He is also very spooky, which made it difficult to ride him out on his own. We've done a lot together over the years, but he doesn't like schooling much, and doesn't jump over 2'9". He goes hollow when we do showing and hunting is a big topic that I will have to deal with another time. I have always felt that he couldn't care less about me, too, especially when you see how demonstrative Barnaby is with John. In fact, every time a horse on the yard came up for sale that I felt was better than Max, I have been tempted to sell him. But every time I came to draw up an advert I have burst into tears and left it.
However, since we've moved here, he has undergone quite a transformation. I have had the most incredible year, where the pressure to compete has come off me and I have started to appreciate Max for who he is, not just for what he can (or can't) do.
When I had Crispin, lots of people on that yard used to compete, and it never bothered me. I never felt deprived of anything, or that I was missing out. The greatest thrill in my life was hacking that horse out, and it felt like an adventure every time. Now I am this way with Max, and it's wonderful.
I am taking him out at least twice a week on his own, and yes he is spooky a bit, but nothing like what he used to be. Yes he is muddy and dirty, but it washes off, and the biggest thing of all, I guess, is that it's taken me this long to admit that it's me that's nervous of jumping, not him at all, and if I have ever lost a competition place, it's down to my nerves, and it's never, ever been because of a lack of capability on his part. He used to be seriously terrified of cows, but now we help the local farmer herd his cows back up to the farm, or down to the field, and he is literally six inches away from them, and not bothered. I was hacking him out the other day, just him and me, and I said to him, "This is all I ever wanted you know, to plod along like this, enjoying the scenery, having a good time," and he seemed to understand, and we went along together, at perfect peace with the world.
So finally, it has sunk into my brain enough for me to realise, and I guess, be brave enough, to be able to commit myself to an animal again. I turned Max out this morning, and he stood with me in the field, in that companionable silence you sometimes have with a horse, until I said, "Off you go, darling boy..."

Wednesday, 4 November 2009

Breakfast meeting

And so the winter morning routine begins. I crawl out of bed at 7am. Mr O has already brought me a cup of tea and gone to work. Tessa accompanies the tea upstairs and galumphs onto the bed for her morning snooze. I find some clothes and pile them on, then stagger downstairs. I call Tessa. Sometimes she leaps off the bed, today she opens one eye and looks at me as if to say, "You go, it's only horses, after all."
I don't need an alarm clock. I have a half tonne horse outside who is kicking his stable door, complaining that breakfast is very slow in arriving.
I open the kitchen door, stick my feet into patiently waiting wellies and carry my tea with me. I walk through the garage and turn right, and Max, my horse, is there, wearing his best smile because he knows breakfast is imminent. He is not the door banger. I have never failed to bring him breakfast, and he trusts me. I dish out the first meal of the day, and all horsey heads vanish into their feedbuckets. Peace at last.
Then the job I hate most. My key fob no longer works and so I have to use the handle to wind the shutter doors up. It takes ages, and my arms feel like they are going to drop off. I remind them that the day is just beginning. I love it as the door slowly rises and there is immediately a pet exchange. All the cats that were outside rush in, whereas Tessa, and a random cat, who has been inside, runs out. I have no idea why this is, but it seems an important ritual to them.
Then it's time to swap the horses' stable rugs for turn-out rugs. Barnaby (the door banger) has to be done first. He insists on it. I tie him up so that he can't barge out past me (I learned that from last year, and he seems to have remembered, too). Eventually all six horses are rugged up against the elements (5 degrees this morning) and Barnaby is first to go out (I see a pattern developing here). It gradually dawns on Max that he isn't going anywhere. He is miffed and throws his haylage up in the air to show his annoyance. He shoves me just to check that I really do want him to stay in and it's not just an oversight on my part. Yes boy, I am going to ride you.
I go and let out 'the ladies who lunch'. They are up and discussing last night's episode of Coronation Street as I approach. Their coop is raised up on concrete blocks, and I open the hatch. Roxy looks out, the chickens' equivalent of Barnaby. Where he is a leader of men, she is certainly a leader of women. She jumps out of the coop like one jumping out of an aeroplane, and lands in a very dignified manner on the floor. The other members of the WI soon follow. Their day has begun, and so has mine.

Monday, 2 November 2009

Good old BBC

I am putting the television on in the mornings as soon as I wake up in the hope that this will stimulate me into getting up (it doesn't). Last week it said on the BBC News that a report had been issued that stated that Britain hasn't recovered from the credit crunch and we are still in a recession. The next day I was listening to BBC Radio 2 when the newscaster said that, 'it is official that the country is now out of the recession.' Excellent. The very next morning again on the BBC TV news, 'We ask why America has recovered from the recession, but Britain hasn't'. So which is it to be? Have we, or haven't we?

I have decided to join a large part of the nation and go on strike. It seems to be the trendy thing to do. The horses will have to see to themselves. Presumably one of them will have worked out how to open the shutter doors and let themselves out. One can muck out and the other can do the feeds. They'll have to draw straws to see who wants to drive the tractor. After all, if postmen, dustmen and bus drivers can go on strike, I'm sure I can, too.

When we moved here it didn't take me long to realise we are 2 miles from the nearest village. That would be fine except that the road that leads to the village is more or less a vertical drop. This is fine for getting there, but an absolute nightmare for staggering back up. And even if I do go, there is only a post office and a general store. Remember, I don't drive, so I have to have a very good reason to go. Imagine my confusion when a delivery driver couldn't be bothered to leave a parcel last week. My initial feelings of joy that I didn't have to go all the way to Chesterfield were soon replaced by the realisation that the onus was now on me to walk down to the village post office and collect it. The parcel turned out to be a horse rug, huge and in a bag. This was fine, except that no matter how I carried the thing I couldn't see over the top of it. The second mistake was that I took the dog with me. The trouble was I couldn't see her over the top of the parcel either, and she kept meandering about in front of me, picking up her 'wee-mails.' Halfway up the hill I was overcome with a desire to go to the nearest house and knock on the door, and beg them to take the parcel in until my husband could come and collect it after work. Realising the insanity of this, I continued to slog up the hill, trying to avoid tripping up over the dog. My only consolation was that if I fell over it would be a soft landing.

The other problem with the nearest corner shop being 15 miles away is that I can't satisfy those random urges for chocolate. How wonderful it is to have a telepathic husband who seems to know when these urges will strike, and who has the wisdom to buy supplies on his way home from work.

Sunday, 1 November 2009

Man Cannot Live on Bread Alone (but chickens obviously can)

Mr O has developed the habit of feeding the chickens spare bread at the back door. The result of this is that every time I open the door to go out I am harangued by six fat ladies who demand bread with menaces. This is fine when I have some to give them, but when I am empty handed I have taken to peering out to see if the coast is clear, and if they start running towards the door (they seem to have remarkable hearing) I get the urge to switch the light off and hide behind the sofa like you do when the Jehovah's Witnesses come calling.
Of course I've thought of closing the gate, but chickens can fly, so this is no barrier. Unfortunately when we left for church this morning I realised I had forgotten my Bible and had to come back for it. I was in such a hurry I left the gate open and the chickens came running in with the determination of women who had been queueing all night outiside Harrods during the sales. I didn't feel I could run the gauntlet going back again, so I ducked out through the garage door to avoid them. It's basic cowardice, I admit it.
I retract my comment of yesterday that 'no-one's going to notice a Fiat Panda, are they?' because we went into the church coffee shop after the service where half way through my Americano frappe latte machiato a man came in and said in a loud voice, "Would the owners of the Fiat Panda please move it as soon as possible as you are blocking the exit!" So much for anonymity then.