A dog in the distance.

A dog in the distance.

The last lines of Thomas Gray’s poem, “Ode on a distant prospect of Eton College” have now the status of a proverb:-

“Where ignorance is bliss,
Tis folly to be wise”

Though I have often used this idiom I must, in truth, say that I have always doubted its accuracy. I am aware of the arguments of Eden and the fall and the occasional utility of the white lie, but there have been very few times in my life when I have thought ‘I wish I hadn’t known that‘. Extremely few times when, with hindsight, I have said I would have preferred to remain in the dark about those issues. However, recent events with Cadi our dog have changed all of that.

A few weeks ago we noticed that she had a breast lump on the right hand side. After a visit to the vets surgery was scheduled and she underwent a lumpectomy and was spayed. A week later the biopsy results confirmed that she has cancer and that it has started to invade local tissues. This was bad news but we were hopeful that, with the interventions already done, we might have a reasonable prognosis. This all took a knock last week when another lump appeared, this time in her left side, and we have now booked for the first of two mammary strip operations (If radiology before this does not reveal widespread metastases).

The emotional upheaval through all of this has been difficult to weather. The worries about two major surgical procedures rob us of sleep at night. Whenever I look at Cadi, especially as she wears her protective collar, I feel sad and down knowing that she is only a young dog but she may not have a lot of time ahead of her. In general, my wife and I feel as if we have been through the wringer.

However, Cadi, who has had to undergo all the unpleasantness so far, is quite unconcerned. She lives her life as fully as she did before the start of these events. It is possible that she may in fact be a little happier as she now gets more treats. We are now much less strict about the rules, which now seem petty, and quite happy if she wants to sleep on the bottom of the bed for as long as we have her.

We humans know our mortality. We might prefer to ignore this, and can do so easily, while we think our end is some considerable time away. When we receive notification, usually through a diagnosis with a bad prognosis, we feel robbed of our innocence and distressed and unhappy as a consequence; our end was ever nigh but we liked to pretend otherwise.

Cadi has never had a future, she has always lived for ‘now’ and she will continue to do so. She will not be troubled by thoughts of time she never thought she might have. She also has nothing to make up; dogs always give you their best, they don’t work on the basis that ‘in the long run I was a good companion’, they give their best all the time. So, she can have no possibility of regret, unlike us.

Looking at Cadi, living well despite the terrible news, I now truly understand Gray’s words.


 

To each his suff’rings: all are men,
         Condemn’d alike to groan,
The tender for another’s pain;
         Th’ unfeeling for his own.
Yet ah! why should they know their fate?
Since sorrow never comes too late,
         And happiness too swiftly flies.
Thought would destroy their paradise.
No more; where ignorance is bliss,
       ‘Tis folly to be wise.

Busy Days & Lazy Nights

The last few days have been quite pleasant. During the day I have been busy reclaiming the lower meadow so that we can keep the billy goats here (away from any female temptresses). It is now fenced, more or less, cleared and only awaits gates and a shelter. The goats had cleared much of the bramble that bedevilled this field before when, during last autumn, they were tethered here. When speaking to a neighbour, who has lived in the valley for over 80 years, she recalled this meadow, and the adjoining one, being quite productive in terms of hay and grazing. If I am to reclaim the other one we will need to remove a fair few trees but this could be the winter’s project while the sap is low. Waiting until the end of autumn will also be best for the bird life.

This work has been quite laborious and made all the more tiring by the sun and heat. It has been in the 80’s all week. As this meadow is bounded by a stream it is also heavy with gnats and horseflies so in the early evening you start to be eaten alive. This labour, in conjunction with the need for early starts for milking, mean my evenings have been very quiet and lazy. Little time to look at the blog and sometimes not even enough to consider cooking. This has meant that a few times we have just jumped in the car with one or other of the dogs and made the short trip to the seaside. Here a café will provide tea (with more than enough calories to replace the deficit) and the dogs get to run on the beach and play in the sea. All I need to do is sit, ache and watch.

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A day of blood and guts.

A day of blood and guts.

Today has gone to plan and has been, as hoped, a day of blood and guts. We dealt with the lungs, heart and livers yesterday and the big shock of the day was eating the billy goat’s liver. I had anticipated that this would be very strong tasting and was slightly worried that it might be malodourous, as I had heard that the smell of billy goats can carry through into the meat. I am glad to say there was no odour whatsoever and, more importantly the liver tasted lovely. We had it pan fried with some onions and only a minimum of seasoning with salt and pepper. It was mild in flavour, rather like lambs liver, and not at all as strong as beef or pig liver.

Today continued with the management of the offal. In the morning we coated the skins again with salt. We have about 10kg of salt over the skins and it is drawing all the fluid out of the skins as brine. They are lying on inclined hurdles so that the brine drips off onto the gulley in the middle of the barn’s floor. At the moment the skins only need a little work each day to top up the salt but after_20180118_200316.JPG the weekend they will start to demand a lot more of our attention and work. The major tasks for the day were the finish off the lungs, make the blood tofu an deal with the tripes.

The lungs had been in the dehydrator overnight and now were well complexly dry and ready to be packed. We vacuum seal these and they last well in the refrigerator. We have found that, doing this, they will keep for at least a year. Our dogs are still enjoying the treats that we prepared last year.

The next task was to clean the stomachs. DSC_2679 (2)To do this it is necessary to cut away the spleen and intestines from the sheeps’ stomachs. Sheep have four stomachs and these will be full of grass in various stages of digestion. This needs to be washed out. We have found that standing in the stream with a sharp knife or scissors if the easiest way to do this. Mind you, however you do this job it is not glamourous.

We have found that sheep tripe is not as good as that DSC07289from cows but we know two who think it is the greatest thing in the world – our dogs. They are very enthusiastic for tripe as can be seen in their rapt attention as I cut it into strips. We then add this to the scrap (old and bendy) carrots we have left over at the end of the year. We boil the carrots and mince them with the tripe to make dog food. (We mince them so the dogs can’t eat around the carrots like children – eating the tripe and leaving the vegetables).

The last job for the day was to make the blood_20180118_200549.JPG “tofu” or “curds”. The blood which we collected had clotted and we cut the clot into lumps with a sharp knife.  These lumps are then put in salted boiled water and they harden. We don’t add anything to make the equivalent of black pudding or blood sausage. This was partly due to lack of planning as we didn’t have oatmeal or seasoning to hand. Next year we hope to do this. The way we have prepared them this time, they are rather bland tasting.  I can see why they are  often used in broths which themselves have a lot of  flavour. In a broth like this the curds bring protein and vitamins to the meal rather than any particular taste.

We had visitors while we were busy this afternoon. The kitchen unfortunately looked a little like a charnel house with tripes on the table and blood being boiled on the stove. I had the feeling as they sat there that they felt that it might be easier just to go to the supermarket. However, as we talked and remembered the meals of our youth they remembered that meat is a precious thing. It is best seen as a special part of the meal a treat not something commonplace.  We remembered meals, like neck of lamb, pork belly or cheeks, which were eaten when we were young because they were the cheaper. They were the bits of meat that people didn’t want to buy and our mothers used these cheaper cuts, or offal,  in recipes to eke out their budget. Unfortunately the methods of cooking using these cuts has been gradually forgotten and this amnesia causes us to miss many excellent dishes. Try and buy mutton now, you will have difficulty. However, it is true to say that most farmers will tell you mutton is superior in taste to lamb but it has fallen out of fashion. If you get the opportunity to try it you should take it, you will be pleasantly surprised.

 

 

 

Mud

 

 

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The Goldoni in mud. If you look carefully you can see a goat bemused by the lack of progress.

Sometimes I question whether I made the correct decision when we jumped ship; leaving the city and life as an NHS consultant for a life of self-sufficiency in the back of beyond. Today was one such day.

Over the last fortnight I have been troubled by a persistent and debilitating cold. I have coughed and spluttered through the days,  coughed through the night instead of sleeping,  and generally limped my way though the days while my muscles ached and my brain messed to mucus and dribbled out of everything orifice. I have spend a small fortune on placebos – any overpriced piece of confectionery which proposed to alleviate the symptoms of the common cold – and the entire world I inhabit smells of menthol and eucalyptus.

The problem of having a cold in this new life is that it is not conducive to ‘phoning in sick‘ and then taking a few duvet days. Unfortunately now the goats still need milking, the sheep still need fed and the poultry still need chased in and out, watered and fed.

We are also working against the clock in getting the barn ready for lambing in the spring. The barn has an old asbestos cement roof and it is scheduled to be removed next week. In advance of this I need to remove an old waterlogged wood pile, there is a ton of logs which has been under water for two years because of fully guttering.

Due to the mild winter we are having the ground is

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The ‘helpers’ planning the next stage in the barn’s restoration

soft and difficult to cross with heavy loads.  The Goldoni two wheeled tractor has come into its own in this task and I doubt a quadbike would have managed the terrain any better (Though we still need one of these for the sheep). Although,  at times,  it was touch and go.

While I plodded through the day my gang of helpers tried to be of assistance. Though finding interesting sticks and attacking the wheels of the trailer was actually of limited help.

As I stood, up to my ankles in mud, covered in mud, coughing my lungs up, in sodden clothes, working against the failing light, I looked at my dogs and goats and thought “Did I make the right decision? Is this better than an afternoon in the clinic?”.  Then I remember what it was like working to little avail in a failing system and realise “Yes. I made the right decision”