Whatever you call it – Autumn, Hydref, Herbst, Foghar, or Fall – it’s here!

I tend to agree with the Irish Meteorologial Office and think that Autumn (fómhar) has started. They follow the old gaelic tradition that Autumn is comprised of August, September and October. In Welsh the month of July is named Gorffennaf which is literally the end (gorffen) of summer (haf) and I have lived in Britain long enough to know that November is winter. So, however we dress it up, after July, and before November, is Autumn in my book. This, without any shadow of doubt, is my favourite season, the one which surpasses all the others. Summer is too hot, Winter is too cold and Spring is too busy. Autumn has that perfect mix of an ideal climate and productive nature. This is the season when rural life blossoms. Each village and small town will have its local Show where produce and craft can be displayed. Then, following these, the area’s social life will start to resume after the lull of the summer.

These last weeks have started to feel truly autumnal. The temperatures have dropped, the colours have started to change in IMG_20180816_111531.jpgthe trees and the produce following summer is everywhere. Nowhere is this more obvious than in the hedgerows. Dues to the long hot spell in summer the berries have done much better than usual and we will need to start collecting blackberries (Mwyar Duon). The hedges are heavy with berries and they have started to ripen. If we leave it too late we will lose out to the birds who always know when the berries are ready and get up earlier in the morning than we do.

We will have the grandchildren around to help us making the collection and this year there will be a larger educational component. Because of the hot summer the berries have done well. This also means that the honeysuckle berries are also prolific. The children will need to be taught IMG_20180816_112839.jpghow to tell them apart . Although they are not greatly poisonous, and one would have to eat heroic quantities to come to harm, they are toxic and can cause gastrointestinal upset if eaten. It will be a good lesson to explain that although things may be superficially similar that doesn’t mean they are equally good, or bad.

The blackberries are a welcome free crop and I anticipate a much larger store of jam this year than before. Our other free crop this year came in the form of honey. Our bait-hive attracted awp-1534427766814..jpg swarm of bees and after a relatively short sojourn there we found they had produced a reasonable stock of honey. This honey, though slightly cloudy, is very pleasant in taste and was a very welcome present from our new visitors. It is the season when the shelves in the pantry start filling up, getting ready for the start of winter.

One task that starts again at this time of year is the chipping of the goat yard. During the spring and summer the goats find plenty of material to eat while out browsing in the meadow.  On wet days, that we see during autumn and winter they are not keen on venturing far from the yard and the comfort of their sheds. Unlike sheep, goats do not have lanolin in their wool, and thus are much less tolerant of rainy weather. During this time when I have edging work to do on the fields I cut down the overhanging branches IMG_20180816_125755.jpgand feed them to the goats.  They then strip off every leaf, especially quickly when it is their favourite trees (oak, ash, willow and beech). I then cut the branches into staves or firewood depending on shape and size. The remainder is put through the chipper to create useful animal bedding. The bedding, once it has been mixed with animal urine and faeces and rotted down for a period, is then gradually added to the compost pile. Nothing is wasted if it can be avoided.

One other useful product of this process is the protection of my mental health. You can take all your “stress balls” and relaxation strategies and through them out of the window. If you have something on your mind, something or someone bugging you, or a problem you can’t solve then get out the Earthquake Woodchipper and fire her up. You will now be engulfed in a wall of angry woodchipping noise; if you want to mutter, grumble or swear no-one will hear a word you say. The pleasure there is in throwing branches down the chipper, to hear them splinter into a myriad of chippings, is difficult to describe. You can’t imagine who, and what, I have put through that chipper in my imagination! We are lucky we are still free to think what we like and there are no thought crimes (yet) or I’d be writing this from the computer in the prison library.

Even without its benefits for mental health I’d have to recommend this chipper. Electric chippers and shredders are always too weak and you end up spending more like clearing them than using them. As they say, if it hasn’t got the ability to take your arm off its not strong enough ! You need a petrol engined model. This one uses the four-stroke Briggs and Stratton engine and meets the most vital criterion for petrol driven appliances – it starts on the first pull! It is noisy but you could wear ear-protectors if this was an issue for you. The European version comes with some safety attachments absent on the American model (It is dangerous to put your arm down the cutting chute – who would have guessed?). I guess that Americans are recognised as being able to think unlike we Europeans who need to be protected from such dangerous activities.(*)

As is so often the case in life, the problems of physical and mental health sometimes have their solutions in the world of work and activity. In our steady march towards a world of leisure we might well be marching in the wrong direction.


Sorry about the quality of this video, it hard to work with a camera balanced in the rim of your hat.


 

 

(*) I have worries about these safety modifications. I found that the raised bin in the shredder, and other attachments, made the machine harder to use. Also as you spent time trying to bypass the difficulties caused by these safety additions you started to place yourself in danger while operating the machine. I am not sure that these modifications increase operator safety and fear they may even impair it.

 

 

 

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Fleeing death on a B.S.O.

Fleeing death on a B.S.O.

I have mentioned before that years of indolence and gluttony led me to develop Type II Diabetes a few years ago. It should really have been no surprise as my usual diet read like a nutritionists warning sheet – “Don’t eat these things!” – pies, sandwiches, cakes, sweets. The only vegetable I enjoyed was the potato and preferable after this had been deep-fried. Added to this I had a serious aversion to exercise. I tended to see my body as just the apparatus for moving my head from place to place, and anything that made me sweat or short of breath was clearly something to be avoided.

For the best part of a decade I had coasted thinking that because I had given up smoking (three packs a day) I had done all that was necessary for my health routine. It was while basking in the glory of my smoke-free life that I received the news of my diabetes and the reminder that I was going to die, and possibly my demise would not be a long time from now. After serious revision of my diet and serious weight loss (over three stones) my sugars were brought under control and I managed to get a bit fitter. I noticed for me, as the scientific research had said, a lower carbohydrate diet and regular exercise through walking brought my sugars close to the normal range.

I started walking every day, the dogs were delighted and they too became fitter. I started jogging and running. I saw my daily turns round the block as my “running away from death” exercises. Then I thought; if walking is good, and running is better, then surely getting a pair wheels will be able to put even more distance between me and the grim reaper with his scythe.  I thus decided to buy a bike. Well, before this. I resurrected an old bike that I had kept in the garden for a decade under a tarpaulin with some holes in it. I freed the bike with two cans of WD40 and banged the chain into some form of flexibility with a mallet. The rear brakes worked, if you had plenty of notice to apply them, while the front brakes thankfully didn’t work ,as when they rarely did grip they did it with a grip sufficient to toss you over the handlebars. After a few weeks on old rusty I noted my sugars were better (probably the exercise of trying to combat the resistance of years of rust) and thus I decided to buy a new bike.

Now I am aware that I am prone to fads. I run at things with headlong enthusiasm  for a month or so then loose interest so I was a little wary in buying a bike. I had quite a shock when I read reviews of bikes which suggest that this was an excellent buy at only £1000. There were also many warning in the magazines about buying BSO’s (bike shaped objects) as they suggested that these mass produced cheap and cheerful bikes were more trouble than they were worth and would not save you money in the long run. Fortunately my Scottish heritage came to the fore, my reluctance to spend money got the better of me, and I decided to buy at the lower and of the market.

After research I found out about B’Twin a French company with a long and established history of bicycle manufacture who now operate in the UK under the Decathlon name. They manufacture the high end bikes but also much more basic, and affordably priced, models. I plumped for the Riverside 120 hybrid bike and the affordable price included free delivery.

B'Twin Riverside 120
During its inaugural run

The bike came within 48 hours and was very easy to set up. Screwing on the handlebars and attaching the pedals were all that was necessary to be up and on the road. It also came with a basic set of lamps. There was a booklet which usefully described how to set the bike dependant on your size which was clearly written and  helpful. The bike only has 8 gears rather than the 18 or 21 which are often offered. This had actually appealed to me as I found that the complicated gearing systems were too much for me, I would jump gear to gear trying to find a comfortable ratio to work in and there was far to much choice. I would either be standing on the pedals trying to use my weight to slowly turn them or my legs would be a blur, like an egg beater, as they whirled against little resistance and I made little, and wobbly,slow , headway. Eight gears are fine – gears 1 to 3 are for going up hills, 4 is pottering or into string winds, 5 to 8 are for going fast – it really is quite simple.

The simple gearing, correct position and absence of years of accumulated rust and resistance have made the bike a joy to ride. I have only had it week or so (so we are still in the possible ‘fad’ territory) but I have used it many times each day. By the end of the week I am faster and fitter that I was at the start and I have enjoyed my time on the bike. Hopefully, I am putting a little bit more distance between me and my funeral but in any event I am having fun. If you are in the market for a cheaper bike, something simple to use day-to-day then I’d recommend this. Even is this is a fad I haven’t bankrupted us and will still have a way to get to the village if the car breaks down.

 

The Testament Of Mary.

I can say, with some confidence, that had this book not been chosen by my Book Group I would have been very unlikely to have read it. However, I was glad it was chosen as I felt that there was a gap in my reading, in that I had not tried the work of Colm Toibin before.

imagesHe is clearly a writer of considerable skill. His output has been prodigious, in prose and in poetry, and generally highly regarded. Indeed, he was listed as on the the top 300 British intellectuals by The Observer newspaper.

While the novel did give me a glimpse of this ability it was overwhelmed by the negative feelings the book invokes. I read that Colm Toibin writes in quite austere conditions seated on a hard, uncomfortable chair. I can believe this as the discomfort and misery seems to have been channelled into this story. This is the story of Mary as an angry misanthrope. Discard any ideas you may have had of the saintly Mary, and ideas of Mary as the epitome of motherhood. This is Mary as a very earthly mother, a mother replete with faults and angry and exasperated by her son.

This mother doubts her son’s miracles, despises his followers (all ‘misfits, fools and stammerers’, men unable to look a woman in the eye) and hostile to those who she feels are glorifying his history. She has turned her back on him. In the past; by denying his divinity, in the present; by literally turning her back as she flees the hill and his crucifixion, and in the future; by attempting to confound the writers of the gospels. In the final pages she turns her back not only on the man but also becomes an apostate switching to  a new life and faith with Artemis.

This book clearly intended to be controversial and iconoclastic. However, it is brief and without substance; there is no revelation in its attack, nothing new is uncovered, no alternative vision is offered. The only thing made clear is that the writer has problems with his Catholic heritage.

This is iconoclastic in the same way that drawing spectacles or black teeth on a picture of the Madonna would damage the icon. Iconoclastic but also a waste of time, to borrow a phrase “It is not worth it”.