Wednesday, 30 March 2011

Rattus norvegicus

So a bit of bright weather has meant, fair-weather gardener that I am, that I've been able to get onto my plots and finally tidy up a bit. Last year it's fair to say the veg plots got away from me a bit. I blame it on the excessive amount of grass paths that I originally thought was a good idea. They looked great when closely cut and trimmed. Trouble was it took 3 hours to do it, so no time to do much in the way of weeding, general maintenance etc.This year its top to bottom soil, apart from the greenhouse bit up the top end, so I can rotavate one big patch up and down with no paths in the way. I'll post some pics later on that.

I've decided to give one of my two plots up this year. I ended up with two (and a little strip for the orchard and chooks), not because I was a greedy grot, but because they were just patches of scrub and neck-high weeds when I took them on, nobody knew the land was even there really. So it was just as easy to clear two as just one. Now though I've decided that I'd rather have one neat and tidy plot than two less manicured gardens, and someone else can get themselves a patch of growing ground to boot.

Mr Rat is still about. I've discovered that my allotment neighbour's healthy vermin population are now extending their empire by burrowing under my anti-rabbit fence and encroaching on my garden. Another reason why I'm giving this garden up is to get further away from this shanty town of crappy chicken coops and shacks.
This week I'm out and about during dusk and into the night to see if I can halt the advance armed with rifle and light. Now if only I could find one...

Friday, 18 March 2011


Thankfully my deadline was met but with some amendments to do next week. This has meant I've been able to finally grab a bit of time to make a start this afternoon on my plot for this year, clearing last years crap off the beds (now covered in clover) and having a ball creating a huge fire at the bottom of the garden. Surprisingly this burnt so hot and fierce that this enormous pile was smoldering ash within minutes. A good tip for getting a reluctant fire going (if you keep chickens) is to use the empty pellet or chicken feed sacks tucked under the other stuff and set light to them. God knows what they're made of but I'm sure NASA used them to light the Saturn V rockets back in the 70's.

After putting the birds to bed tonight I slowly trundled down the track in my jeep and passed by the couple of plots which have the most junk edging the bumpy road. As my lights swept over the mounds of manure and debris I saw the biggest RAT I've ever seen in my life, sat on a rotting fence panel, just watching me drive by. The size of a Jack Russell, this thing was huge. It reminded me of the James Herbert horror books I used to secretly read when my Mum brought some 'light' reading back from the library when I was a kid. Someone told me later that it was probably one of those New Zealand species that have found thier way here (how?) but I'm not sure whether that's just bullshit.

I have a rifle. The very first thing I built when I got the land was a compost heap made from old pallets. This worked really well and all manner of grass cuttings and veg matter was chucked onto it for 6 months. That winter, whilst trying to keep warm, I decided I'd follow Monty Don's obsessive composting instructions and turn the heap over with my shiny new garden fork.
I didn't actually see the rat at first. After the fork plunged into the steaming heap a few times I felt a thump on my chest, then something ran down my leg, over my wellies and off through the fence. I caught a glimpse of the beast shooting through the neighbours overgrown raspberry bushes into the scrub.
The heap had rotted down quite a bit so was about three feet below the top of the pallet sides of the compost bin. So this bloody rat, probably terrified that I'd invaded its cosy little winter shack with a few steel blades plunging into its living room, had leapt three feet onto my chest.

Shaking, I literally ran up the road to a pet shop that also, strangely, sold air rifles, crossbows, knives, (probably tanks and anti-aircraft missiles too if asked for) etc., and bought myself said rifle, telescopic sight and searchlight thing that sits on top.

Every now and again I go up onto the site, tooled up like Arnold Schwarzenegger, looking for this rat which I perhaps rather naively hope is long gone. The locals on the site also all seem to have rifles, even though we all go to do some gardening, sometimes the site resembles a scene from Gunfight at the OK Corral.

Here's my next chook in my little hentourage...Lady. This hen is Jacques sister, a Copper Blue Maran, and probably the prettiest chicken I've ever seen. Lady is also known as Joan, named after my partner's late Mum.

The green paint on her front (mostly washed off at this point) is from the dividing gate which I thought was dry. She'd paint herself up and down against it whilst waiting for her evening corn treat.

I'll keep you posted about Mr Rat.

Thursday, 17 March 2011


I've been working this week on a job that has dwindled in size since it started and now seems to be a lot of work for the fee. To top that, now that this job is finishing (deadline today so I'll crack on in a minute) the weather has turned from relatively sunny to grey, cold and drizzley so I've missed a window for rotorvating the plot. Poo.

What I have been able to do in the evenings though is buy most of the power tools in the Screwfix catalogue (there goes the fee!). As usual I have followed my usual behavioural pattern and made a rod for my own back. I now have so many projects on the go that I am left bewildered by 'what to do next', paralysed by indecision and unable to synchronize my spare time with what I need to get done - in priority order.

I did tell myself that I'd be more decisive this year and get tougher on clients and overdue invoices etc, but that hasn't panned out either! Leopard and spots spring to mind.

Anyway, moan's the next of my chicks, Marge. One of two Copper Black Maran hens, Marge is a bit poorly at the moment so I'm keeping my eye on her. They've all just had a course of Flubenvet which they all get every 3 months or so (I stopped using Verm-X as I didn't think it was working thoroughly enough) so maybe that's had an adverse effect. Her poo's a bit runny and she's a bit out of sorts.

I went to their coop on Tuesday to collect any eggs Marge and her sister Margo had layed to discover three eggs! There's only Marge, Margo and Jacques the rooster in this coop. I can't tell which one of these hens had layed two ( they both lay identical dark, chocolate brown eggs). I suspect it wasn't Marge as she has only just learnt to lay indoors, and only after I'd been leaving a strategically placed rubber egg to give her the general idea.

Deadline calling. If I can get this job done today I'll get onto the plot or something constructive tomorrow. Hopefully.

Monday, 14 March 2011

More chooks...

So here's one of my favorites, Jacques. This guy is one of the chicks hatched under Claudia last May. He's a beautiful Copper Blue Maran and unlike his bro, Louis, is very friendly with me.

When they were scrawny teens and lived with thier siblings in the nursery pen I made at the bottom of the orchard, both Jacques and Louis used to jump on top of the maternity unit to see who could get to the highest spot and then croak out a puny squawk with all thier strength at the setting sun. Jacques here always got the better of Louis by flying onto my head! Why is there never a camera around when you need one. God I wish I had a pic of that. I've been trying to get him to do it ever since so I can get it on film.

Both Jaques and Louis still have 'cock-a-doodle-doo' match daily, probably hourly, much to the joy of the adjoining row of houses.
I've had to divide the orchard into two equal halves and get Jacques his own little house where he lives with Marge and Margo. Somehow though I still find the two roosters in each others territory every now and again ripping the crap out of eachother so they both have battle scars. He's also suffered a bit of frostbite around his comb during the hard winter we've just had, despite the duvet draped over his coop when it got really cold.

Still a beautiful bird.

Happy Days!

Here we are...

...photographic evidence, Mr Richard Dawkins, that Heaven exists!!!

You go where you want Dawkins, I'm goin' to Heaven (if I'm allowed in!)

Thursday, 10 March 2011

Something's fishy here...

Yesterday I spent the day at Billingsgate fish market and at the Billingsgate Seafood Training School under the loomimg towers of Canary Wharf in London. The market itself is pretty much over by 8am. I got there for 5.30 in the morning after a very early start (a 2am grueling trek down the M1 plus an equally exhausting trip back at 5pm).

I'd never been to this market before. Past trips to London never included such an early start to the day. But to someone who loves to fish and eat the things, this place is fab. I refrained from purchasing any fish, despite taking my massive coolbox down with me, preferring to wait for my next visit when I had gleaned some tips on what to look for when buying from these guys.

Not a huge place by any means, very cold and wet, ice and melted ice, dripping boxes etc. all over the place, and so noisy you couldn't hear yourself think, but the buzz in the place was great, as was the intoxicating smell of the ocean.

By 6.15 much of the choice fish had been sold to merchants, restaurant agents and chefs who had been in much earlier (opens around 5am) so many of the public punters, nicknamed the 'black bag brigade' by the trade, were picking over the fish and shellfish that was still for sale. Wednesday was not the best day to go to buy apparently, just in case you want to have a wander down next week.

Some of the stuff was very exotic, Barracuda, Parrot fish, huge Stripped Bass, caught from all over the world and shipped here for the locals who obviously love to eat these pretty fish you're more likely to expect to see whilst snorkelling off the coast of some hot country somewhere.

Billingsgate Seafood School offers loads of courses for chefs, people just interested in the fish and the market, and potential fishmongers wanting to learn knife skills and get an insight into the industry which, incidentally, is what I spent the day doing.

Much of the fish info was already under my belt but it was interesting to hear about the fishing industry from the fishmongers perspective. The rest of the chaps on the course with me were dabbling with the idea of opening some kind of fish shop in various spots around the country.

I don't think my interest in the MSC went down terribly well though. From what I heard yesterday, it seems that the fishing industry views those people who are interested in buying fish from a 'sustainable' source as being led cheifly by the current trends shown on the tv like Hugh FW's recent programmes, rather than their own conscience or moral choices.

I wonder if the fishing industry looks at bodies like the MSC (Marine Stewardship Council) with a bit of fear. The supermarkets have pretty much disposed of most high street fishmongers and the livelihood of thier owners so I suppose I'm not surprised that a lobbying organisation like the MSC are viewed with a twang of suspicion about where it's all going to lead.

One of the best things taught that day for me was regarding the signs of what to look for when looking for 'fresh' fish. When you're fishing and you're fortunate to hoy a fish big enough to eat out of the sea or lake, you know it's fresh - 'cause you've just caught it! But selecting fish from a market like this is actually much more of a skilled task. It's worth going to one of these courses just to find out about how to do that.

The other really good thing about some of the courses run by these guys is that you get to learn various different techniques for cutting, preparing and filleting a whole range of round fish or flatfish, some of which I'd not tried before. Plus you get to take the fish home. Yum yum!

I'll definitely be going back, maybe in the summer, but definitely not at 2 in the morning. I feel like a pig has shat in my head today!