Sunday, 28 December 2008

Grave matters

A while ago, I blogged about a gravestone or memorial for William Ison, a shepherd who died after being struck by lightning.

The stone, in the middle of a fen field, was looking a bit weather-worn and its carved wording was becoming hard to read.

One of our walks took us past the site this weekend and I'm pleasd to say the stone has been the subject of a bit of tlc and is now looking quite smart.

William Ison


Ison new


A touch of frost

Christmas Day was, as usual, grey and dank, but we've had some lovely crisp, frosty mornings since. I've been out for a couple of long walks with the dawg this weekend and I think she's enjoyed stretching her legs a bit.

We didn't see too much wildlife on these walks - a nice, skittish fox with a huge brush tail, loads of herons, a few deer, a kingfisher, lots of redwings and not much else, though the mute swans on the river are looking particularly clean, crisp and white and the moment.



The thing I most like about these cold mornings is the lovely white dusting of frost that forms on anything it touches, especially the teasels in the hedgerows and, as usual, I can't stop myself taking pictures of them (even though I have dozens already).



The hips from dog roses are also really beautiful . . .

Rose hips 2

Rose hips 1

Chickens at work


The hens have now settled in and we have quite a good routine. I feed them and change their water every morning, they get a handfull of corn and grit every afternoon, I move the run to a new patch of grass twice a week, I scrape out the droppings tray twice a week and they get a good clean every Saturday morning.

In return, I get a near-overflowing compost bin, a wrecked lawn and, more positively, roughly an egg a day.

Here's their production over the Chrismas period . . .

xmas production

However, I'm fairly sure it's not Sybil who's laying as she's decided to moult - not the best time to be doing this, with regular frosts etc, but I suppose it is a female's prerogative to change her outfit as and when she wants to!

I am giving her a bit of a 'tonic' which is added to the food but, of course, all three of them are getting it - there's no way for each one to have a separate food bowl. It's a means to an end - a bit like trying to 'get to know' a girl in a bar by buying her drink, but having to get them in for her two ugly friends as well.

Thursday, 13 November 2008

Eggs-tra, Eggs-tra, read all about it

The Dog Walker family has three new members, so take a bow Sybil, Pam and Fanny . . .

We've been talking about getting a few hens for some time and it has taken the best part of a year for them to arrive. To be honest, we didn't want to jump into something we might regret later, so we took our time to decide whether our garden was big enough, where they'd live, how many, what type etc.

We finally plumped for an 'eglu', a plastic coop with a run attached. I think a lot of chicken-keepers are a bit snooty about them, but for us it's ideal. It's relatively easy to keep clean, quite mobile (so we can move it around the garden) and it's secure.

Having saved up enough pennies, I ordered the eglu last week. I was a bit miffed that they wouldn't supply any hens with it - they have a rule that they won't deliver beyond a two-hour drive from their base near Oxford. I reckoned we lived within two hours, but they wouldn't have it.

I traced a couple of local dealers on the web, but decided I'd get everything set up before getting the hens. The eglu and run went together really easily, so I set off to a pet/animal supplies place just outside of Cambridge to get some food etc, planning to go out the next day for hens.

I was chatting to the chap about which food was best etc when he suggested I visit the adjacent farm, where the farmer bred chickens . . . and I left with the trio pictured above.

It was interesting to see how the farmer handled the birds, having read in all the books about carefully picking them up and supporting them with an arm under their bodies etc. This chap (a younger-looking version of the farmer in Chicken Run), stepped into a shed containing about 25 slightly nervous birds and swept up a couple, suspending them in one hand with their legs between his fingers. Then it was into a second shed for the third hen, gathered up with equally little fuss. I have to say, the chickens didn't really object - they just hung there, resigned to their fate.

I had a quick look at the hens - he showed me their nice clean bottoms - but as a beginner, I had to trust his judgement. A bargain at £12.50 each (well, slightly more 'cos he only had £2 change for £40).

So, to the names.

We'd discussed this quite a bit round the dinner table and decided that I'd get to name one, Mrs DW would name one and the girls would have to agree a name for the third. The DW boys will have to wait until one of the current incumbents needs to be replaced!

I quickly decided on Fanny (as in Craddock). One of our dinnertime suggestions was to name them Fanny, Delia and Nigella and the Fanny stuck (as it were).

Mrs DW chose Sybil, simply because it's a nice, bossy henny name.

The girls had real trouble choosing. They were desperate to call it Ian (an inspired name for a hen) but I had to veto the idea - naming a hen after your next-door-neighbour (a hen-pecked one at that) would be fraught . . . so Pam it was.

And here they are:


Fanny is a Blubelle, a hybrid (posh name for a mongrel). She's a bit shy and is the prettiest of the three.


Pam is a Bovans Goldline (another mongrel), which I think has some Rhode Island Red in the mix. Supposedly a very good layer, though time will tell.


Sybil is another Bovans Goldline - slightly darker and smaller than Pam. As with all happenings in the DW household, things are not that straightforward and I'm afraid I have to report that Sybil is slightly disabled, a fact that which has particularly endeared her to Mrs DW, who is drawn to lame ducks (pardon the mixed metaphor) like a magnet.

Sybil has a slightly crossed beak, which you can see in the picture below.

I think this makes her a bit of a pariah in the chicken world. Various websites say she should be culled immediately ( included), but I figure that it's not that bad and if she's eating and drinking okay, then what's the problem? Also, she was a very clever girl yesterday and laid our very first egg - though she did produce it after out little chat in which I pointed out that even disabled hens had to earn their keep . . . or else.

I think the three of them must have then had a conference, because Fanny gave us egg number two.

And Pam laid a third today. I can't show you a picture of all three because the two above were gobbled up at teatime yesterday. And very nice they were, too

So, far so good. The three of them seem to have settled in okay. They are all a bit shy at the moment, but I think they'll be happier when the dogs get fed up with them and ignore them.

In a week or two, we'll try to clip their wings, then they can wander round the garden when one of us is home.

All we have to do is get used to the enormous amount of very smelly poo they produce (and which I, as usual, get to shovel)!

Monday, 13 October 2008

Terrible news . . .

We have this effect on places . . .

I learned recently that our great new discovery, Mole Hall, near Saffron Walden, has closed down. Just one visit from the DW family and the place closes forever - perhaps twin 2 did hurt the butterfly when he picked it up (see previous entry).

Actually, it seems the owner was very ill and unable to continue running the place. A real shame, there was a lovely simplicity about it - the Health and Safety Nazis had been kept at bay (to a degree).

The animals are being rehomed, but there appears to be a problem finding a home for the two old chimps, Joey and Tubman. I hope they're successful - it would just be too sad if they had to be put down.
Mrs DW is very worried about the Chimps, but I've had to point out to her that we have enough wildlife in the house already - four kids, two dogs, cat and two fish - so it wouldn't be practical to add to the menagerie. But if any reader is able to offer a home . . .

Here are a few more pictures I took at Mole Hall but didn't use in the blog entry.

Monday, 18 August 2008

In the shower(s)

Penury, brought on by poverty wages and the eldest daughter's self-funded round-the-world gap year travels being not quite as self-funded as we would have liked, means the Dog Walker is spending his annual summer holiday at home.

We rarely venture too far - Northumberland, Cornwall, Isle of Wight and such like - but this year, East Anglia is our oyster. This would normally be okay - days out, trips to the seaside, paddling pool in the garden - but the weather has made planning anything a real nightmare.

Day after day, the forecasters have hedged their bets - sunshine and showers (and they could just have easily added possibles gales, frosts, snow, heatwave and drought). Why can't they be honest and say 'we just don't know'?

Anyway, our plan was to have days out with the kids (for this read boys - the girls at 19 and 17 aren't really interested anymore), but choosing where to go when you've no idea what the weather is going to be like is quite difficult. This, of course, just adds to the problem we start with of finding places that will interest both boys who, while being 11-year-old twins, have completely different needs and interests because of the 'youngest' one's learning disability.

So, where to?

Most successful was our trip to Mole Hall, near Saffron Walden.

There's nothing sophisticated about this little farm/animal park, almost hidden at the end of a series of single track roads, but we had a delightful time at a reasonable price - just over £20 for a family ticket.

Food for the deer and ducks was pretty cheap (we've been ripped off at other similar places) and we spent several hours among the deer, chickens, rabbits etc.

I suspect the place was once a small private zoo and we felt a little uncomfortable about there being a couple of elderly-looking chimps in a not over-large enclosure. But, having said that, they looked healthy and well. I'd like to say they also looked happy, but I don't think elderly chimps do happy (they're the grumpy old men/women of the primate world).

The playground was a bit too simple for twin 1, but twin 2 enjoyed it, along with the butterfly house where, I have to admit, he decided to catch a butterfly between finger and thumb. It flew off, so no damage done (I think).

The highlight for Mrs DW was a little family of bantams - the little ginger chick being her favourite.

My favourite day out so far has been to Blickling Hall, a National Trust property in Norfolk. A bit of a trek for us, but well worth it (though I'm not sure if the others thought so).

Because of the length of our journey, we decided to have a coffee before looking around. There was one poor woman serving single-handedly in the Courtyard Café. She was incredibly cheerful and helpful, which also meant service was very slow. This turned out to be a blessing in disguise because, having chosen the Courtyard Café (seating outside in the courtyard), the skies decided to dump a week's worth of rain on Blickling in a few minutes.

Happily, by the time we emerged after an extended spell in the serving area, the sun had returned and largely dried the seats!

Our tour of the (lovely) gardens was punctuated with further showers, which meant that it was rather whistlestop - a shame because I could have spent hours wandering around.

I don't suppose the gardeners were enjoying it much either . . . rain stops mowing, below.

Mrs DW and the boys head off after a shower

Across the rooftops at Blickling Hall

We were rather taken by that area of Norfolk - it was like going back in time - and prompted questions about job opportunities in the area (none, I don't suppose, for an old has-been like me).

These two days out were in sharp contrast to the day we had at High Lodge, in Thetford Forest, a couple of weeks ago. It was the first time we had been there since they raised the parking price to £7 and force visitors to go through the palaver of taking their ticket to a pay station (which, on the day we were there, was being very selective about the coins and notes it would accept).

I have to say that £7 seemed a bit excessive and, while we try not to abuse the Blue Badge we have because of our son, The Forestry Commission's argument about not offering free or discounted parking to disabled people because £7 is such 'good value' is a nonsense. Disabled visitors here can access only a limited area around High Lodge, especially those with a physical disability, so why should they pay the same as someone who can use all the facilities, walks, playgrounds etc.

Perhaps the cyclists, who make life very difficult for mere pedestrians at High Lodge, should pay a premium. The Forestry Commission could perhaps then afford to 'police' cycle use, especially around the visitor centre where cyclists just plough through anyone who stands in their way - whether or not they're carrying children, food or hot drinks.

I would also expect that, having paid my £7, the Forestry Commission might arrange for the bins to be emptied overnight so that rubbish isn't strewn everywhere (by foxes, presumably) by the morning.

We won't be rushing back!

Sunday, 3 August 2008

I'm bored . . .

Actually, I like being bored.
I don't know how to meditate, but I imagine it's a bit like my own state of boredness (yes, I know, there's no such word). I can empty my head and think of nothing, I can even do it while apparently doing something else - reading, watching TV etc.

I can go for a whole day (if uninterrupted) in this state. But for the benefit of my colleagues, I can assure them I've not yet been able to master the art of being bored and appearing to work at the same time.

Now tedium, that's another thing altogether, and work, I find, can often be tedious. This weekend has been seriously tedious. Apart from taking the dog out and a bit of gardening, I've not really done anything, but at the same time I can't say I had the joy of being bored. Circumstances simply conspired to make it difficult to do anything constructive . . . I won't bore you with the details.

The gloom did lift a little this evening when I took the dog out (in the rain) and we got a good look at a female sparrowhawk. We don't see many of those around here, so it was a nice treat. I didn't have my camera with me (but I think it would have been too quick for me anyway), but I did take a few pictures over the weekend - new pictures of the hound and the cat, today's crop from the garden (later served up for dinner) and a not quite sharp shot of a bee.

Tuesday, 22 July 2008

Just like buses . . .

I was just to the dog the other day (the only way to have a decent conversation) that we hadn't seen much in the way of wildlife recently - if you don't count the hundreds of rabbits that we see everyday and whihc scatter as soon as we come into sight. The farmers round our way must love rabbits - they don't seem to do anything about them or anything to mitigate the damage they do.

Anyway, earlier this week we left home a bit earlier in the morning than usual - I had a bit more than usual to do before leaving for work . . . iron a shirt, put out the bins, water the hanging baskets I'd not had a chance to do the previous evening (late getting back after delivering child to Latitude Festival) etc.

So we set off at 5.45am rather than the usual 6am, which is obviously the time to go round our local fields because we had a nice meeting with a barn owl which was having its breakfast in the long grass, then disturbed a kingfisher which was trying to catch its breakfast.

Sunday is the day for our long walk when we go a bit further afield and last Sunday we had another encounter with a barn owl. I was quite surprised because we were well into our walk and it was after 9am, but we sat and watched it hunting across a paddock for at least 20 minutes. That also surprised me because I read somewhere recently that owls are only active for about 8 minutes a day . . . that must only be lazy owls!

We've also had closer than usual deer experiences in the last week. The first was the usual one of the dog scaring an animal out of its cover - it was only a few yards away but, of course, it didn't hang around long enough for us to get acquainted.

The second was much more interesting. We were walking along a path when I became aware of a real commotion behind a bush. As we drew level we saw it was a deer, trying to get at something under the bush (a tasty morsel, perhaps). Whatever it was, for a couple of minutes the attraction was greater than its fear of me and the dog and it refused to give up. In the end, the dog decided she was bored and jerked on the lead, which sent the deer scurrying off.

As usual, I didn't have the camera when I needed it, but I did get a shot of the barn owl. It was quite a way off (for my camera) but the picture enlarged okay for here.

Barn owl

Also saw a nice heron perched on a boat - again a bit far away. Unfortunately I'd put my camera away when we spotted a tern of some sort (a common tern, I think) fishing in one of the bigger drainage ditches.

Heron on boat

So, some nice wildlife after all . . . but I was just saying to the dog, not seen many super models recently!

Wednesday, 16 July 2008

A racing cert

Touring cars 2

There were a number of firsts for the DW family last weekend.

The first first (what a way with words) was the maiden voyage in Mrs DW's new car. This was not as exciting as it could have been as she went for the same car as her old one, but with a diesel engine. Also slightly limiting was the strict instruction from the salesman not to go over 2,500 rpm (or 3,000 at the very most, in an emergency, if we were being chased by armed gunmen etc).

This was slightly disappointing because the destination of our outing was second first of the day (Sunday, July 12) - we went motor racing (no, Mrs DW's car did not make it on to the track).

Actually, we went to Snetterton to see the latest round of the British Touring Car Championship.

The reasoning behind the trip was that one of the few things our learning disabled son shows an occasional interest in is F1 and PlayStation racing games. Neither Mrs DW or myself is really interested in motor racing but we were prepared to suffer in silence.

I'm not saying we came away as converts, but the day was a bit of a revelation.

For a start it was good value - £22 each for me and Mrs DW and the twins went free. This was for a whole day's 'entertainment' with racing from around 9am through to nearly 6pm.

The event was incredibly friendly, from the helpful staff and marshalls to the other people in the crowd (who were obviously a lot more knowledgeable than we were). It was also very well organised with just a few minutes between each race.

I have to admit that some of the races were a little tedious to us non-experts - a bit of a parade after the first few laps. But even though we weren't at the most exciting part of the track, there were still some 'thrills and spills'.

For twin number one, the day was a bit if a disaster, he showed no interest at all and spent most of the day glued to his Nintendo. However, our disabled son had probably the best day of his life - we've never seen him so happy and he was smiling from ear to ear for the whole time, dancing and jumping with excitement as the cars came past. When a car left the track or there was a slight collision he was delirious with joy.

Needless to say, when we got back home we were looking up the Snetterton calendar to see what else is coming up.

The day also gave me the chance to try a new type of photography - things that move faster than a snail. I probably didn't have the right kit, gauging by the size of the lenses being lugged about by the professional types, but I was quite pleased with some of the results.

Wrong turning

Porsche 1

Seat Cupra 4

Seat Cupra 3

Renault Sport 1

In the way

Monday, 30 June 2008

A little warble

Nice walk with the dog on Sunday, though the poor thing was exhausted and a bit hot when we got home - set off at around 8am and did not get home until after 11am.

Heard and saw another cuckoo, which again seems very late in the season. Presumbably all the breeding has been done now.

We also managed to walk through a field of cattle without being chased. I don't know what it is about my dog, but she's a real cow magnet - as soon as they see her they want to follow/chase her. This is unnerving for her and scary for me.

I'm told the cows are just being inquisitive . . . well I wish they wouldn't be!

The nicest part of the walk was getting some pictures of a reed warbler. I couldn't get as close as I would have liked, but I was able to enlarge the image a bit - fine for the web, I think, but won't make prints.