Oh dearie me, too much speed ?

Since yesterday, I am on full stable duties, thus giving Nicky more time to take Max up to the meadow. Yesterday was hard work as it was ‘wet day’, that is the day that Nicky takes all his wet shavings out of his stable. I helped by removing all the dry stuff and banking it up around the edge of the stable, leaving just a big patch of wet for Nicky to cart off to the muck heap.

Proves just how soft my hands have become over the last five weeks, as, after moving all those shavings, I had the start of blisters on my hands!

Was up bright and early to give Max his breakfast before Nicky  arrived, so she could just change his rugs and take him up to his field. I mix his feed with water in the kitchen in the morning and then hook the bucket onto my crutch, and with difficulty as I am lopsided, hobble out to the stable. Yesterday, chucking around all of those shavings I found that my shower cap, over my orthopaedic boot wasn’t protection enough, so I tied a carrier bag over my boot first, then slipped on the shower cap. Felt quite chuffed with this arrangement, safe in the knowledge that I would keep the boot clean! It wasn’t until I had negotiated the stepping stones on the gravel outside my backdoor, then hopped across the yard, through the gate to Max’s stable – until I took the bucket off my left crutch, in order to open the stable door – that I could see my left foot. Oh dearie me, I still had my slipper on! Oh, how silly. Then had to hop back indoors to change into my wellie.

Fancy going outside with my slipper on!

Fancy going outside with my slipper on!

Mucking out, scrubbing manger, feed bucket and water bucket, sweeping up outside the stable, filling the hens’ hopper, was quite enough in one go for my unfit body, so decided to just fill the birdseed feeders and come in for breakfast.

I used to fill the bird feeders up every day or so. Today was the first time I had filled them for over a week. Oh, where have all my birds gone? Only seem to see great tits, a robin and the odd greenfinch on the feeder nearest the window, these days. Have they all disappeared to another garden in the village, that has a more plentiful supply? Are more people feeding them, so they are spread more thinly among the gardens? Or are there fewer birds? I do so hope it’s not the latter.

It’s a beautiful day and the sun is streaming in through the French windows. Only trouble is, that it shows up all the dust (and the dirty windows). After breakfast, before I sat down and put my foot up, I decided I would do some dusting with my super duper anti static wand thingey. Was a bit gung ho pushing it around behind a china candlestick, but, at the same time, being careful not to hit a rather precious blue and white meat charger hanging on the wall. As soon as I touched it, I knew that, with my reduced mobility, I wouldn’t be able to nip around and catch it, and it was destined to hit the floor, with a disasterous result.


Oh dear, now that was really silly. Thinking that I ought to quit while I was ahead, I decided to sit down, put my foot up, and check my emails. Seems to me, a far safer occupation in my present frame of mind! Ho hum, these things happen, never mind, like Humpty Dumpty, I can stick it back together again!


Yet another day of firsts!

Well, we really are galloping on apace. Yesterday I had my first shower for nearly five weeks and today I went up the stairs, on my feet instead of my bottom. Hurrah, I would have never thought that such small things could bring so much pleasure!

Yesterday I made another Victoria sponge, which came out of the oven a little over cooked. My cooker must be 20 years old, and I think it might be trying to tell me something! Nevertheless, it is very yummy. Next time I think I’ll try my hand at a lemon drizzle cake, which I love, but have never made. That’ll be fun!

Little Alfie had a telling off this afternoon as he went barging off on his own accord, through the catflap. He had heard Nicky arriving to bring Max in and he has become rather fond of her!

I can’t have him doing that, not just because he could get out on the road, but because I’m afraid he might get stuck. He is becoming rather portly (all my cake that Nicky is feeding him when she thinks that I’m not looking) and I have visions of him getting stuck with this little legs left dangling in the porch. I would have to call out the fire brigade, and as I used to work for them in the days of yore, it would be rather embarrassing! Come to think of it, most of the firefighters I worked with have probably long since retired! Ha ha.

Must keep my ears tuned to the noises outside, as our local school is having a fireworks display tonight and I need to go out and check on Max. It’s about half a mile away so not too close, not like one of the firework parties in the village on Saturday. I thought that they had invited a tank regiment or an artillery regiment, sounded like mortars going off. Poor Max, he doesn’t like the bangs, though I think he quite appreciates the pretty aerial displays. He has a lovely big sky to watch from his stable and his eyes are out on stalks. He is so funny. Alfie, thank goodness doesn’t seem to worry about them. He really is very good, and is no trouble, well, until he decides to take himself off outside!

The first cuckoo and a very lucky mouse!

The day started badly. Was dragging on my clothes when I noticed Minnie scratching under the bedroom door. Thinking that her sister, Maisie, was on the other side I closed the door to have a look, but was surprised to see a little mouse scurrying away under the dressing table. Eeek, I thought, bleary eyed, I can’t catch that now! I sighed, fearing yet another corpse on the dining room floor later in the day.

As I went downstairs, I congratulated myself  that I had decided to put a wooden floor down in the dining room, rather than a new carpet. Much easier to clean up behind  the trophies that the cats seem to  be bringing in with sickening frequency.

I was late rising as I had stayed up to watch the new BBC2 detective series. It promises to be good, and was pleased that I had made the effort. But it meant that I was later to bed than usual with the obvious result in the morning. I need 8 hours sleep and my internal clock always wakes me up eight hours after I have gone to sleep.

Max, my horse, is very patient and accepts my irregular hours with equanimity. Always happy to greet me, with a nicker and a smiley face! I turned him out in home paddock as the weathermen said that it was to be really windy and rainy in the afternoon. He can be quite a handful bringing him back from the meadow with wind and rain driving into his face!

After taking delivery of a large number of bales of bedding for the stable, two men from the roofing company that installed my new roof last week, turned up to clear away the rubbish.  I have to say that I would highly recommend the company, Anglia Roofing Solutions. Have never had such polite, tidy workmen before! They were a pleasure to have around.

At last I got into the garden and carried on with flowerbed number two. For once I didn’t have my headset on, listening to Radio 4, so I was lucky to hear it. A cuckoo heralding summer, as it started to rain ! How wonderful, was so pleased as they have, sadly, become a rarity these days. Though I expect the local bird population are pleased at their decline, as, without them, they will only have the magpies, and my cats to contend with.

As I looked up from my toil, I saw Maisie sauntering past with a fledgling blackbird in her mouth! Oh my goodness, did I shout at her! But she didn’t drop it, just bolted off down the garden. Five minutes or so later, one of the roofers clearing the rubbish, who had heard me scream blue murder at her, called out to say that he saw her drop the bird on the drive at which point…. it flew away! Phew, I thought, one less little corpse on the dining room floor!

My poor garden, after night time temperatures of -14 degrees this winter,  so many shrubs seem to be dead or dieing. My bay tree looks decidedly dejected, as does my honeysuckle halliana and I think a well established variagated wigelia, in the bed I was weeding, has seen better days, too.

Distressed bay tree

Distressed bay tree


Fortunately my spirea arguta is flourishing.

Spirea arguta

Spirea arguta

So many plants can’t cope with such low temperatures. Last year I lost a ceanothus, so planted another in a different place, but the new one looks as though it’s struggling. Will have to research carefully the new plants needed to fill all the spaces in the borders.

Well, here I was sitting writing this post. Max had his tea and my supper was in the oven. There was a rustling under the desk. Thinking that it was one of the cats, I peered into the gloom. Nothing there, only a cast-off cellophane wrapping, that had missed the wastepaper basket. So I carried on typing. There’s that rustle again. Strange I thought, I hadn’t moved my feet.  So I looked under the desk again and eeek, guess what, little mousie was sitting there looking up at me, as bold as brass.

Eeek (again) what could I do? Looking around I picked up an old shoe box and scooped up mousie, before he had time to think and whacked the lid on. Phew, saved him. I rushed downstairs, got into the kitchen and realised that there were two mouse-sized holes in the ends of the lid (presumably to help the shopkeeper to pull the box out of a stack). Eeek, did he jump out on the way down the stairs? Scooping up the kitchen towel I draped it over the box, grabbed a torch, as it was getting dark outside and rushed down the drive to the long grass area on the corner.  Took the towel off and then the lid and shone the torch into the box. Little mousie, dazed by the bright light was looking up at me. “Go on scoot,” I said as I tipped him out. He didn’t waste any time to say thank you and charged off into the long grass. As I walked back up the drive I had a big smile on my face! Ahhh, a happy ending, I thought.

A magic moment with Max

One of the many tasks horseowners have to undertake is field poo-picking. I do it every day to keep the grass in the meadow and turnout paddock, sweet. If left, the poo areas will get bigger and bigger and the grass areas smaller and smaller. So, every day I scan the meadow for his dung to pick up with my super duper horse pooper scooper.

One day last week I was hunched over concentrating on the job in hand (no pun intended!) and I felt a weight across my shoulder. Max had walked silently up behind me and rested  his chin on my shoulder. He then nickered quietly in my ear. The vibrations went through my whole body. My legs went weak and my heart pounded. He has never made such a soft, tender, gentle gesture before and it made me feel so close to him. It really must have been the magic moment of a lifetime!

Max in the foreground with Pippa  rip

Max in the foreground with Pippa rip

365 #16

Every six weeks the farrier visits to remove Max’s shoes, trim his feet back and replace the old shoes with a set of new ones. But, as he has not been ridden this winter they are not worn very much, so this visit I got off lightly as his old shoes were replaced.

You couldn’t wish for an easier horse to shoe, Max is such a good boy, perfect for my farrier’s new apprentice, Sarah, to practice on!

Although, in case you should wonder, this shot is of Steve burning the shoe onto Max’s foot.

A visit from the farrier

TheBoyandMe's 365 Linky

365 is kindly hosted by The Boy and Me

The Gallery – Boys


The Gallery is kindly hosted by Tara over at Sticky Fingers blog.

Until about 18 months ago, I had three boys in my life.  Now, I have just the one, Max my horse. He is a thoroughbred cross Welsh, and is 19 this year. He is my best mate and my loveliboi!

Sadly, I haven’t ridden him for ages. What with the rain, wind, fog, ice and snow the weather hasn’t been good enough for me to get out for a hack. I’ve reached the age when I am a fairweather rider. It’s no fun going out and getting wet through or frozen to the bone! So roll on warmer weather!

The joys of country living

I awoke on Monday morning with a sinking feeling in my stomach. Looking out of the window I realised why. A blanket of snow covered the garden, shrubs trees, fences as far as the eye could see. It was 6.10 am and I had to be at work by 9 am.

I groaned as I pulled on my three layers of stable clothing. Brrrr I thought, as the central heating hadn’t yet kicked in. Managing to get downstairs without being tripped up by  Minnie or Maisie who chased down with me, hopeful for a handful of biscuits for breakfast, I filled the hens’ saucepan with water.

After yet two more layers of clothing, a silly-looking wool hat with ear flaps and thick gloves, I ventured out of the back door. Brrrr, I said out aloud.  Brrrrr, I said again, as I looked at the  thermometer.  -12 degrees it said. Brrrr flippin’ brrrr, I said again.

The catch on the gate into the field was frozen, as was the bolt on the stable door and the clip on the gate into the hen’s run. Unable to touch metal anywhere with my bare hands, as they stuck to it, I kept my gloves on.

After giving Max his breakfast I mucked him out. His droppings (poo to you) and the water in his bucket were frozen solid, as was the outside tap.

I groaned, (again) when I saw the accumulation of snow on the netting above the chicken run.

Snow on chicken run netting

Snow on chicken run netting

Instead of 5′ high, the weight of the snow had reduced the height of the netting to more like 3′. Before I could open up the hens’ pop hole, I would have to remove the snow weighing down the netting. This I did with a broom, from underneath. Thank god for my hat, I thought, as the snow showered down around me.

I found some parcel tags (which were, surprisingly, where they were supposed to be) to anchor the netting that I’d pulled tight down the sides of the run. This done, I could open the pop hole.

Don't want to come out, thanks very much

Don’t want to come out, thanks very much

Oh well, stay in there I said, and they did – all day. Don’t blame them, at -12 degrees I didn’t want to stay outside either.

Next job? Breaking the ice on the trough with a lump hammer and scooping it out with a sieve so it didn’t knit together. It was over an inch thick. Brrr, I thought.

Had to fill Max’s water buckets in the bathroom and every time I went into the house my glasses steamed up. What a struggle, I thought as I trudged down the drive to open the gate. All of this before I try to get to work to start my day job!

Finally, all the outside jobs done, I could go in to shower, breakfast, get dressed and off…. Oh, better get the snow off the car and turn on the ignition to warm it up, I thought.  Easy peasey, right?  But no, I couldn’t open the driver’s door! No matter how I tugged, it wouldn’t budge! So back into the house for some warm water and a sponge and yet again not being able to see because of my glasses steaming up. Blow this for a game of soldiers, I thought, as again I left the house with a another bucket of warm water. After a few minutes, I managed to thaw out the ice around the door and it opened. Allellujah, I said as I started the car. Crikey, it started first time!

As I drove down the drive, a mere 40 minutes late for work, I looked in the mirror to see Max standing by the gate, looking at me ….

Can I come in now please, mum?

Can I come in now please, mum?







The joys of jam making and an errant horse

Needing to free up space in my geriatric chest freezer, in order to defrost it, I thought that the time was right to make some bramble jelly.  A one litre sized icecream container and three large yoghurt pots housed 3lbs of blackberries and 1 ½ lbs of blackcurrants. The former picked from the hedgerows around Mr M’s field and the latter my first year’s harvest from my one and only blackcurrant bush in my garden.

Emptying the freezer has been a project of mine for the last 12 months or so. Every time I manage to run down the contents, I see some really good bargains in the supermarket that are going for knockdown prices. Not being one to miss a bargain, they come home with me to be slotted into the freezer space that had been liberated the week before.. and so it goes on.

But I digress.. back to the jam making.

The day dawned bright and cold – freezing in fact. Before I could get cracking on the jelly, I had to feed and muck out Mr M and take him up to his meadow, a short walk up the side of a field at the bottom of  the cottage paddock. As I walked him up there, admiring the first signs of winter on the frozen grass, I realised I hadn’t enough sugar… Blast, this would mean a dash to the supermarket. (I chose the supermarket over the village shop because that morning my electric toothbrush had given up the ghost, so I needed an urgent replacement).

On my return, having spent a small fortune on lots of supermarket bargains, I was eager to ‘get preserving’.  Easier said than done. The freezer lid was stuck fast, totally iced up! Finally after 15 mins chipping away I managed to lift the lid and delve into the icey depths to find the blackberries and blackcurrants.

The recipe calls for:

5lbs (2.15 kgs) of blackberries
1lb of cooking apples (450g) roughly chopped
2 pints of water (1.1lt)
3 lemons

As I intended to include the blackcurrants, which contain much more pectin (the agent that helps the jelly set) than the blackberries, I decided to include just two lemons.  Lemons are a good source of pectin  for such fruits as blackberries and strawberries, that are low in pectin.

Method: Put the fruit, lemon juice and chopped lemon shells into a large saucepan or preserving pan. Pour in the water and bring to the boil. Cover and simmer for approx  1½ hours, stirring occasionally until all the ingredients are reduced to a pulp. Add a little extra water, if necessary.

Strain overnight through a jelly bag. This used to be the fun bit. Until I bought a proper holder for the bag, I used to lasso the beam over the kitchen sink and hang the bag from that, catching the liquid in a big bowl in the sink beneath. Only problem was, that you couldn’t use the sink until you had taken  down the bag in the morning! Now I have the proper thing, life is much easier!

Strain the cooked fruits overnight.

Just let the pulp in the bag drip into the bowl. Don’t be tempted to squeeze the bag, as this will make the jelly cloudy.

So, reaching this point I braved the elements to go and bring Mr M back from his field. I don’t know what had got into him, but he was an absolute maniac, with me hanging onto the end of his rope for dear life as he was bucking on the end of it. (Or doing handstands as a friend calls it!)  With much difficulty, and with my heart in my mouth (as I am only 5.3″ and not big and strong, and not in my 20s any longer!) I managed to get him back into my home paddock. As soon as we turned away from the closed gate he leaped forward tugging the rope from my hands. Then followed a 10 minute exhibition of “Look how fast mum I can gallop around this little paddock. Can’t I buck high?!”  I couldn’t watch, convinced that as he motorbiked around the corners, on the soaking ground, he would go down. Luck however, was on his side, and he managed to stay upright. After 10 minutes, or more, he came to a halt, allowed me to pick up his sodden rope, which only minutes earlier had been wrapping itself around his galloping legs, and put him in his stable. Phew, I thought.

For some strange reason I felt shattered when I went to bed, but not before the obligatory teeth clearning! Without thinking, I picked up the old electric toothbrush, turned it on, and… it leaped into life. Oh dear, there really wasn’t any need to go to the supermarket afterall !

Back to the bramble jelly…. Next day, measure the liquid allowing 1lb of sugar for every pint. I had exactly 2 pints of liquid so only needed just under one bag of sugar. (Oh dear, I had enough in the store cupboard, afterall.)

Stir over a low heat until the sugar is dissolved. Then bring to the boil scooping off any scum that forms on the surface. Boil hard until it reaches setting point (104C to 105.5C). Well that’s all very well, but if you don’t have a jam thermometer how do you know when it reaches setting point? The trick is to put a blob of the liquid on a cold plate and when you pull a clean finger lightly across the top of it you will feel  a skin forming if the liquid has reached setting point. If you are like me, you will usually have a little plate with about 7 or 8 little blobs on before you are happy that it has reached setting point.

I now have a thermometer, which makes life so much easier, though the one I purchased was a little short for the depth of my preserving pan. So much so, that when it was hung on the side of the pan,the tip only was in the liquid, necessitating my holding it in the bubbling jelly which is rather hot on the hands!  Looking at the liquid as it hit the required temperature I noticed that there were trillions of bubbles as it boiled, so this is a good indication of what it looks like when  it is reaching setting point. Knowing this, you’ll probably get away with just a couple of blobs on your plate, not 7 or 8!

About 10 mins before you are ready to pot up the jelly,  put your clean jamjars in a warm oven to sterilize them. Once setting point has been reached turn off the heat and ladle the liquid into the heated jamjars.  Using a jam or chutney funnel will certainly help direct it into the jar, otherwise lots can be lost on the counter top!

Waxed discs are placed firmly on the top of the jelly (waxed side down), then a clear cellophane disc is held with an elastic band over the top of the jar.  Dampen the disc with water before securing (ensuring that this is done will the preserve is still hot).  The heat will dry the cellophane and tighten it across the top of the lid.  Label up, including the date. Cut some material with pinking sheers and secure with another elastic band to make them look a little more special when giving  to friends.

Bramble Jelly November 2012