Auld Claes an Parritch

Our visitors have left and life has returned to its usual boring pattern. It was great to see the family, and to hear all the news, but it does break all the usual rhythms. It is more than worth it but it is also welcome to turn back to the plainer life again. Although I enjoy eating out and discussing politics into the small hours I can only do it in short bursts so it was pleasant to get back to the normal chores and activities this week.

The winds last week had taken a couple of smaller treesimg_20181120_1132078543333336891314098.jpg down in our upper wood so it was a good time to consider cutting and collecting these. These were quite a distance from the house so I decided that I’d do this the slow manual way with the bow saw as we have a rule that if I’m using the chainsaw there must be somebody else about at the same time. This means if I come to grief there is somebody to call for help. So doing the work manually meant my wife could stay at base and get on with the tasks she’d organised.

      img_20181120_1152154132124722120551776.jpgHowever, I also have ulterior motives for avoiding the chainsaw. If I use the bow saw I feel that I can skip one of my exercise sessions for the day. It is much more fun to be deep in the woods working up a sweat than to be wearing trainers and plodding round the lanes. Further, while working I can listen to a podcast or two (The chainsaw makes it impossible to hear anything) I have gotten a little behind with my listening so it was an opportunity to catch up.

  There is little that can beat working in the woods for physical and mental relaxation. After a few hours of labour it felt as if life was back to normal again. After a period of fancy eating and dressing up it’s very nice to get back to wearing my usual working gear and having our regular simple fare – or to return to  auld claes an parritch as we used to say in Scotland.  
 

Anti-deception belt buckles

Anti-deception belt buckles

It is that time of the year when I get my HBA1c checked again. Now I know that is a measure of my glycosylated haemoglobin and it gives a weighted average of blood glucose levels over the life of red blood cells (117 days or so). But this is not really how I think of it. It is really a test of my abilities in self-deception. I test my blood daily and therefore should really know what my average blood glucose has been – but I cheat !

If I have had a bad day with my diet, a night out for a meal and a drink, I tend to forget to do my bloods just afterwards. If I have forgotten to do my exercises I tend also, quite conveniently, forget to check my sugar levels as well.  I don’t want to see the results of my failings. Until that LED screen on the glucose meter frowns a high value at me I can pretend to myself that little has happened. When I check a little later, having been good and exercised properly, my sugars are not that bad. In essence, I manage to check myself at all the best times and give myself the feeling I am doing better than I am. This feeling of confidence all disappears when the HBA1c comes around and destroys my flimsy deceptions with its harsh reading of the true average reading over the last three months. Because it is a three month average it is not even possible to do a quick few days of good dieting and heavy exercise to bring the average down – the HBA1c doesn’t see this recent contrition, it just counts the pastries and sloth of the previous months.

I think we need similar tests of self-deception that we can use before we end up in the mess of being fat and diabetic. I would have loved to have an anti-deception mirror. This mirror would surreptitiously collect images of us and then present them back to us as an average image of how we looked over the last three months. It would not matter if you stood up straight, threw your shoulders back and sucked in your stomach and held the pose you managed, for the first 30 seconds, that you met a new attractive person. It would show you slouched, hunched and belly flopping. This might be a fillip to think about diet or exercise.  These might meet the call Robert Burns put out in “To a Louse” :-

O wad some Pow’r the giftie gie us
To see oursels as ithers see us!
It wad frae mony a blunder free us,
An’ foolish notion:
What airs in dress an’ gait wad lea’e us,
An’ ev’n devotion!

I can imagine another two ways to free us from possible blunders. Anti-deception headphones could also be valuable. These would monitor our conversations for words and phrases like “chubby”, “chunky”, “thick around the middle”, “buxom”, “full figured”, “hefty” or “portly”, when used to describe ourselves, and play the words “fat”, “overweight” or “obese” in their stead. But perhaps the most valuable tool, for men in any event, might be the anti-deception belt buckle.

After a certain age men often become aware of a paunch developing around their midriff. It gradually grows until it is quite a size. To the man this becomes recognizable when he can no longer look down and see his feet or genitals without either sucking in or using his hands. To the rest of the world this became apparent when the paunch had grown to cover his belt buckle. I noticed that I, like many men, dealt with this problem by a cunning strategy. By simply pulling my short out from under my waist band, while my paunch may be hiding my belt buckle, the short now covers the paunch and the buckle. I honestly believed that the rest of the world were fooled by this strategy. I thought that they thought “Hey, look at the thin guy over there whose shirt flaps outside his trousers. I wish I was slim like that“. I didn’t imagine they thought, “Heavens that bloke is too fat to do up his trousers properly and tuck in his shirt“. I believe women have similar cunning plans involving ponchos and similar outfits. I would never had pulled my shirt out while I was wearing a suit (It would have looked too wierd) but I was happy enough to deceive myself that this strategy worked when I wore jeans or chinos. A simple belt buckle with a light sensitive alarm could sound a siren, or ring a bell, when it was covered by a shirt to alert the wearer that they were being silly and making a fashion faux pas.

Anyway, I should know in a few days how much I have been deceiving myself when the HBA1c comes in. I am sure when I get this , temporarily at least, I will pull my sock ups, eat better and workout more. Although perhaps not tonight;  as the next test will not be for over three months and tonight won’t figure in the next test !

 

The nights are drawing in.

It is now a week since the clocks went back an hour and I am gradually getting used to the new routines. The initial pleasure of that extra light in the morning has largely worn off to be replaced by the annoyance of the earlier darkness. Not only does night start an hour earlier it comes on much more quickly. No sooner have you noticed the gathering twilight than it is pitch black.

This alters the afternoon and evening routines as, regardless of what time it shows on the clock,  it is still vital to get the birds into their coups before darkness falls. If we miss this deadline then we can be pretty much assured we will lose some of the birds to foxes. We lose enough to the hawks, who are brazen and steal during the day, and we can’t afford to supply the fox population also. Having said this, if the birds had a choice they might prefer the fox to the hawk as their ultimate nemesis as the fox kills much more quickly and humanely.

Now, instead of a leisurely task in the early evening, strolling coup to coup and checking everybody is tucked in for the night, there is a hurried dash rushing everyone indoors before the darkness falls. We have our poultry scattered about the farm in half a dozen or so small coups. It would be less work to keep them all together in one larger shed and take a lot less time at night. However, this way seems a lot more natural for the birds and we are able to keep more cockerels. Each cockerel lives with his 8 to 10 wives on his patch. They rarely stray into enemy territory and there are relatively few fights. The hens like this more natural family set up and it is clear that the cockerel sees his role as the guard of his harem. He wards of intruders and guards the doors at night. The hens seem happier when he is about.

We prefer it not only because it is more natural but also because, this way, we can keep more cockerels on the farm. If we are honest, cockerels img_20181104_1646276595128874143955393.jpgare much prettier than chickens and exhibit a great deal more character. There is a surprising amount of pleasure that can be obtained from sitting, on a warm and dry afternoon, and watching the cockerels strut try and rule their roost. This system necessitates a bit more work for me in the daily opening and closing of the coups, but , it does repay itself in the pleasure I get from watching the small flocks of birds  having their adventures all over the farm yard rather than just in one field or barn. Anyway, with the birds seem to have adjusted to the changed clocks and, after a fashion, so have I.

A further adaptation, that I didn’t expect, was that I have had  to reschedule my daily exercise routine. Previously I would cycle in the afternoon. Before the nights started to draw in, it was a time when roads were quiet and there was a lull in the working day; it was an ideal time to go. With the shortened hours there is no afternoon lull and I don’t get my chance to cycle before the evening has started. Therefore, today  I decided to try cycling at night. After I had scoured the garage for an old bicycle lamp I powered up the lamp and my podcast player and headed out. This did not work out as successfully as I had anticipated. As you will see from the video below this lamp was not really up to the job. I pedaled in the gloom only avoiding accident because I knew the road. My fear for my safety was augmented by the scariness of the dark forest so I did at least  manage a good workout as my heart-rate certainly went up. My attempt to calm my fears by listening to the BBC’s “Moral Maze” debate on climate change did not entirely work. I think I’ll have to invest in a better lamp before I try  this again. But, at least I now know what I want Santa to bring me for Christmas.

The right dog for the right task.

The right dog for the right task.

I am very lucky that for most of my life I have lived with dogs and latterly I have tended to have two dogs at any given time. Just now I live with Cadi and Brân and I think it would be hard to imagine two more different dogs. Their differences are not most noticeable in the physical areas; one is small the other large, one female the other male, one a Border Collie and the other a German Shepherd. But rather they differ enormously in their characters. This means that they have very different aptitudes and I need to bear this in mind when we do things together.

Cadi is the Border Collie.  She is clearly the oznorbrains of the two. She is much quicker to learn things though not necessarily the more obedient. She is the dog we need if we are trying to do anything with the sheep. Her instincts are to gather and herd and despite our lack of skills she has developed into a good and useful working dog. We can send her into a field and following the judicious use some “come by” and “away” commands we can round up all of our flock. We have found that it is better to rely on her instincts of what is the best strategy for working with the sheep rather than our own – she reads them much better than we can.

On the other hand Brân would be of little value in this arena. His instinct is to hunt and oznoralthough he is very keen to get at the sheep this is rarely of any help. If you want to imagine his strategy then visualise a testosterone fuelled teenager showing off in front of a group of girls at a billiard table. Imagine him slamming that cue ball and sending all the other balls flying. This is Brân’s strategy, it may be helpful to explain Brownian motion to those who do not understand it,  but it has little to commend it in agricultural terms. Though he may have the word “Shepherd” in his breed name he seems to have little of this in his DNA.

This does not mean Brân doesn’t work.  Cadi is a useless guard-dog. If anyone arrives at the farm she is pleased to see them and offers to let them in and show them around despite how unsavoury or malevolent they may appear. Brân, however, is much more fussy. He only allows those he knows in. If you don’t have an invitation form us then Brân is not happy for you to enter. If he decides you are not invited  he  throws his 45kg at the gate and barks a loud  “keep out”. This is usually very clearly understood by people who call.

cof

When it comes to going for walks, often, I will go with both dogs. They like to play with each other, and it means they cover a great deal more ground than I do, thus they also get a great deal more exercise than they would have received if it had just been me an one dog. But it is not the case that I can take either dog for every walk. Some types of walking only really suit one dog.

If I am going jogging I need to go with Brân. Actually I prefer the welsh verb loncian to the  verb jogging. I feel loncian conveys more of a sense of clunky, dis-coordinated , uneven movement than jogging with its association with running and fluid movements. Cadi can not stand to watch me jog. She sees my wheezing, sweating and facial grimaces and thinks something is wrong. She starts to bark and jump up and down to warn me to stop and draws attention to the fool I am making of myself. So for jogging I take Brân. He paces effortlessly along side. His long legged, fluid strides, look easy and effortless and this seems his natural pace. The only problem is that when I look at his effortless grace it reminds me just how awful my own performance must look.

The other exercise I take is hiking. I enjoy this as it requires no equipment and I am lucky to live in an area which makesdav hiking glorious. There are trails and pathways which look as if they have not changed their appearance for hundreds of years. I also enjoy it as it requires no special clothing. I loath lycra and gym clothing. I have a body which needs to be hidden rather than seen. I do have bulges and curves but they are all in the wrong places, I curve out where I should curve in. My bulges are not rippling muscle but wobbly bits in the wrong place. If you wished to imagine my physique, and I’d advise against it, then think about making a model man with a potato for the body and four cocktail sticks for the limbs – there you have it. I enjoy hiking is it may, one day, shrink the potato but in the meantime I can wear camouflage clothing

When hiking I am best with Cadi. She won’t pester the sheep and she can be let to run free. She is also a better listener than Brân. I can have much deeper conversations with her as she understands a great deal more and there is no need to use “baby talk” in the conversations. She is the ideal companion as she will also help eat half of your sandwiches, even the ones I don’t like, and this improves the exercise as it cuts down the calories consumed. As they say, a calorie in the dog is a calorie less in me.

rhdr