Monday, 26 February 2007

naming of parts

We have spent some of today playing hookey and visiting a friend for a reiki treatment each. We only had to stop by the side of the road once for me to almost be sick, which was nice.

Our friend (*waves, happily*) thinks that I am having a little girl and says she thinks she'll be born on 16th September. Predictions are no good unless you record them, so remember, and we'll wait and see.

We've decided that if it IS a girl, we will call her Eglantine Anne Cressida, which we can then shorten handily to Egg An' Cress.

Then we went to Sainsburys for lunch, I had scampi and chips and wasn't sick, we did some supermarket-type stocking-up against-our-principles-but-time-is-short shopping; went to Homebase and bought a pickaxe handle and a pot of red paint for one wall of the office and came home.

THEN, I was sick.

Saturday, 24 February 2007

briefly ...

As you may have noticed, I am not a 'political blogger'. But I do read and enjoy a few of the UK political blogs.

If you have an interest in politics and/either/or blogging, you may want to go here and click on PLAY :).

milk and honey

This morning I would like to extend a warm welcome to the person who arrived here after searching for "milking my boobs". I am sorry that you didn't find what you were looking for; but I hope that these pictures of our beehives will make up for it.

beehives4Well, as you can see, we have four hives. They are two stories high at the moment and as the season goes on, one adds more 'supers' on the top, so that the bees can store more honey. The Queen Bee is confined to the bottom of the hive by a 'queen excluder', so that she can only lay eggs in the bottom bit and we can harvest the excess honey that they produce.

Of the four hives, three are 'ordinary' bees (I'm not sure what kind) and one is a colony of quite rare 'black bees', which are the native variety of the UK. The were originally a swarm that was gathered by The Chap Who The Chap Who We Got Them Off Got Them Off. (If anyone can think of a better way for me to phrase that, then please do feel free to chip in).

TCWTHWWGTOGTO had to retire from beekeeping because of ill health; but he has kept meticulous records of each hive that we have inherited and which we hope to keep up to date. The Chap Who We Got Them Off has only had them for six months, over the winter and has had to get rid of them because his neighbour is freaking out at the idea of beehives a hundred yards away from her house.

The bees are very, very gentle - colonies have different temperaments - and therefore ideal for beginners. B is a bit nervous and is hoping that he can find someone locally to come and spend a couple of hours with him the first time he opens the hives up, to give him moral support and a few hints and tips. It's possible that Ma might be able to come up, which would be great. Our other option is that TCWTHCWWGTOGTO might be able to come and give us some guidance as he doesn't live very far away from us at all. B is going to phone him and have a chat some time soon.

B went to the local beekeeping society's AGM earlier this week and was slightly intimidated by them - about twenty Official Bee Nerds, most of who were in the retired age bracket and who obviously all knew each other really well. They didn't go out of their way to make him feel welcome, which was shame; however, one or two people belonging to the association who we have spoken to on the phone have been very friendly indeed, so I guess it was just luck of the draw about who was at the meeting.

beehives1Beehives need to be laid out so that they are at slightly different angles - otherwise the bees get a bit confused about which hive they live in and you get something called 'drift' from hive to hive, which is a Bad Thing, as bees react very strongly to intruders who are not part of their colony.

You can see from the pictures the angling of the hives. The two farthest away are facing directly away from the camera and the two closest are facing to the left. Facing them in to a fence from four feet away is a good thing, as bees like to fly about fifteen feet about ground level - so if you can make the angle of ascent/descent out of and in to their hive quite steep, they immediately attain cruising height and don't bump in to you as you potter around the garden.

We have put them right at the top of the garden and they have been happily doing their thing for the last few days whenever we've been up there. We think they are far enough away from the rest of the village to not be a nuisance, because they'll have spread out by the time they get down there and be way up high. And there will be lots of tree pollen from the forest for them to feed on.

So there you are. That's where we are at the moment - up until it gets warmer, you just let them toddle along, because you don't open the hives during the winter when it's cold. So the next update will be when it spring arrives.



Friday, 23 February 2007

grump

I am grumpy.

I am grumpy because I am getting very fed up with a particular client of ours who really doesn't seem to appreciate that we, too, are trying to run a business; and that it's not on to pencil us for about a million days, and then give off a strong odour that we are offering them substandard technicians when they have left it so late to firm up that neither B or Young Keith are available and we allocate some of our part-time (but equally competent) crew to their jobs.

Or, who firm up a job (sometimes even issuing a purchase order, which is supposed to be legally binding) and then think nothing of cancelling it, sometimes after we have turned down other work because their job was a definite goer.

Or, on the few occasions when we have hired kit from them over the last twelve months, have ALWAYS invoiced us for quite a lot more than their original quote.

Or who take nearly three months to pay and then contra invoices without discussing it first when you are counting on that money going in to the bank to pay your payroll.

Or, who ring up on the bounce and ask B to go and tail in for them as a favour when they didn't think it necessary to employ him on the job.

Of course there is an element of 'your scratch our back, we'll scratch yours' with any client that you like and enjoy working with; but both of us feel at the moment that we have been doing a lot of back-scratching and have quite itchy backs ourselves. You do reach a point where you start to wonder whether the financial remuneration is worth the hassle.

And the trouble with people who play power-games (which is what I perceive has been happening over the last few weeks) is that when you get to the end of your rope and lay your thing down, as we did in an email that we composed to them last night, they will probably perceive that as YOU engaging in power games as well.

B is a very laid back kind of person; and that sometimes gives people the mistaken impression that he can be taken advantage of. That isn't the case - he just has a very high tolerance for being fucked around and has a zen-like gift for letting things that aren't that important flow over him.

However, even he eventually reaches the end of his rope.

And that is where we are this morning; in a polite, non-confrontational, (I hope) calm 'please don't fuck us around any more' kind of way.

We've reached the point that the possibility of them taking offence at us laying our thing down about booking/unbooking crew and never booking us again, is actually a viable alternative to having to unpick the chaos that any interaction with them causes - the fact that they are a nice crowd and fun to actually work with not withstanding.

I have broken my Lenten Resoultion already - I am off to be sick now, and then I am going to load up my beehive pictures for my next post.

Tuesday, 20 February 2007

bee happy

So, the midwife came this morning. It was, basically, a paper-work session and it took an hour and a half. She's taken some routine bloods to test for iron levels, HIV, hepatitis and all that good stuff and talked to us about the variety of different scans and tests available.

I am in the age range where the probability of having a Downs Syndrome child starts to increase; however, we've pretty much decided not to bother to test for anything like that as we wouldn't consider terminating the pregnancy. It therefore hardly seems worth it.

She comes back again at sixteen weeks I think, and things start to hot up from there.

Then, B left to travel all round the world for various meetings, hopefully ending up at the Bee Chap's house for a second collection-run about four o'clock. They didn't get all the hives and kit in the two estate cars yesterday, so a second mission is required tonight and since he hasn't arrived home yet, I am assuming that all is going to plan.

I went to bed and slept for three hours, with the help of my three feline helpers.

Yay! for sleep. It rocks.

I've just arisen and am starting to think about pancakes.

For Lent, I am going to give up vomiting.

More tomorrow. Possibly with Added Bee Photos.

Sunday, 18 February 2007

respite

Things achieved today:

  • Pints of beer bottled - 36
  • More seeds sown - Asparagus (three years 'til we get a crop, but we can wait)
  • Beds in the greenhouse topped up with compost and covered with cardboard (for the tomatoes to plant in to about 8 weeks) - 2
  • Extra lots of staging put up in greenhouse - 1
  • Bags of chippings tipped out in around Pekin House to help with drainage - 1
  • Slabs carried to top of garden by Spinach-Eating Husband - 4
  • Planter thingies cleared of cat-poo, topped up with compost and planted with honeysuckle and rambling rose by Spinach-Eating Husband - 1
  • Things on this list pretty much done entirely by Spinach-Eating Husband while I watched - er, all of them actually. But I did help a bit.
  • Satisfaction experienced by both of us on a scale of one to ten - 11
Also, if you haven't already, please go and read this post by Stegbeetle about the importance of respite care for the carers of disabled children. There is a bill about to go through Parliament regarding carers' legal right to respite; and it might make a difference if you could email your MP about it if you feel strongly enough after reading the piece. I am off to do so now.

Saturday, 17 February 2007

bees in the bonnet

BeesOur bees should be arriving on Monday.

Tomorrow B will be sorting out the place that we're going to put them at the top of the garden, with flat slabs for the hives to stand on. We'll also need to make room in the store room for all the extra bits and bobs that will be coming with them; the extra lifts for the hives that you put on over the summer as the colony hopefully produces more and more honey, the spare nucleus hive, the honey extractor and all the other bits and bobs like smokers that are part and parcel of bee-keeping.

We have been very, very lucky to find someone who is giving up bee-keeping because their neighbour is phobic about insects and he's afraid that it's going to cause a neighbour-war. We are paying £500 for four hives and all the extra equipment. I estimate that that's about half of what it's worth and it's a really, really good opportunity to get started.

WBC hiveHowever, the slight hitch is that at the moment, I feel totally unable to cope with any aspects of the project. We had a long talk about it last week and B is still very keen. He is happy to look after them by himself this first year if I don't feel up to it, which is a relief. But I am still having doubts about whether it's the wisest choice as it's a relatively big commitment - received wisdom is that you check your hives once a fortnight during the warm season; although they don't actually drop dead if you don't visit them that regularly. But if they run out of space in the hive then they become more likely to swarm, which obviously isn't good. And if you don't put more lifts on the hives as required, then naturally you don't get as much honey.

We are very lucky in that Ma is an experienced beekeeper who has been keeping bees since the 1950's. She's very sanguine about the whole thing and until quite recently used to handle her bees with just a net hat and bare hands. So she is an ideal 'phone a friend' for us and may also be able to come up and do some hands on stuff with the hives.

I spent yesterday in bed, hence no marmalade - the tiredness is not so much tiredness as complete exhaustion and is pretty shit, to be honest. Today I feel a bit better and may even achieve proper clothes. B is doing a get-out in Liverpool and should be back mid-afternoon, so my task is to have the washing up done before he gets back. Small steps.

Thursday, 15 February 2007

seedling stars

Kate and Vic came down on Tuesday night - Vic has been helping B build a chicken pen and Kate has painted the bedroom and sowed my seeds in the greenhouse.

The chicken pen is to try to contain George's amorous activities towards the pekins; to stop the hens' great big feet digging up the garden; and to prevent the Poo Problem on the back path getting any worse. And also so that if the bird flu situation takes off and we have to keep them inside separate from wild birds, that will be possible.

The bedroom is because all the rooms in the house are painted one or other shade of Revolting Yellow, shading through Yukky Brown to Scary Terracotta. We have veered completely away from this trend and gone for a cafe au lait / pale violet combo that is much more soothing.

And Kate has planted my seeds because pregnant ladies are apparently supposed to stay away from soil. She has put in tomatoes, cucumbers, sprouts, peppers, chilli peppers, french beans and lettuce for me and is coming back next week to do courgettes, sweetcorn and butternut squash.

I am quite excited.

The garden is drying out a bit - it's dropped from Defcon Swampy to Defcon Sticky and as you walk around, the mud now slurps hungrily around the bottom of your boots with a really disgusting sucking noise rather than you having to actively paddle around up to your oxers in it.

This means that next week or the week after when Kate and Vic visit again, we (they) will be able to get on making vegetable beds to plant the young plants out in to in a couple of months. We have eight weeks to get them sorted - apparently you plant your seeds in the greenhouse about eight weeks before you will be wanting to plant them outside; which should happen after the danger of frost has passed. So we are currently looking at mid-April, which might be a bit early. However, we have some garden fleece that we can put over things, so hopefully that will help.

I'm going to eat cake now. The baby's craving it. Last week it was oily fish. This week, even the idea of a sardine is making me go green and I am craving nectarines and cake.

Tomorrow: Marmalade.



Wednesday, 14 February 2007

talking of chicken poo ...

Okay, so, let's talk chicken poo.

Is everyone ready?

Issue the first: Chicken's excrete a LOT. You put a board under their perch because they do most of it at night - this keeps it off the floor of the hen house and you just scrape the board off every week or so and then clean the house out properly when the woodshavings or the straw that you are using as floor covering gets manky (you shouldn't use hay, as it harbours fleas).

Issue the second: Chickens excrete their urea as solids - ie, they don't pee, it's the white bits in the poo. This makes the excrement VERY high in nitrates, which means that it is hell to compost. It takes ages to break down, and if it hasn't properly, it will burn the roots of your plants, which is, clearly, a Bad Thing.

The easy way to solve this is just to pile your chicken poo up in a separate composting pile and leave it for longer than you ordinarily would. Or you can put some of it in a forty gallon drum, top it up with water and then leave it for six months and you end up with fabulous liquid feed.

Apparently.

I am prepared to try this, provided someone else (B) does the mixing bit for me, because at the moment even the thought of it makes me chuck.

However, I've been thinking about ways to accelerate the process - and I am wondering about worms.

I read an article somewhere (it might have been from a comment someone left on Jamie's site), that reckons that you can keep rabbits in your greenhouse in cages with wire bottoms, that then allow the droppings to fall through on to the ground, where you run your wormery. This keeps the greenhouse warm in the winter and means that you have instant compost underneath the cages.

Now clearly, it isn't practical to keep the chickens in cages in the greenhouse - and to be honest I'm not that sure how practical keeping rabbits in the greenhouse would be on a long-term basis - the summer hotness and the smallness of the space being two impractical things.

However, has anyone got any thoughts about (or even experience of) using worms to accelerate the breakdown of chicken poo? My main worry is that it will be too high in nitrates for the worms and therefore just kill them off. At the moment, it's backing up a bit, in piles. So any thoughts towards a solution would be really appreciated.



Monday, 12 February 2007

supernatural

Weekend's rock - especially weekends where you switch off completely from work, do some household pottering things like putting your clean pants away and then watch eight episodes of Supernatural back-to-back.

On the downside, I have just nearly passed out in Morrisons in Welshpool - not from the surprise of actually visiting a supermarket for the first time for about six months; but from gestational grottiness in the pursuit of fresh fruit, none of which was available in any of the places that we usually shop.

Yack. However, it's the longest I've been out of the house for about a month and I also visited my new GP, who seems to think that the anti-depressants I'm on won't make the baby come out with fins or an extra foot or anything; so that's nice. The received thinking seems to be that with this particular type it's more detrimental to come off them and possibly be stressed and panicky, than to stay on them. But I've got an appointment with obstretician to discuss it more fully; I think there's a slight possiblity of the baby having withdrawl symptoms when it's born. However, that's better than me stressing myself in to a miscarriage, so I guess we'll have to cross that bridge when we come to it.

In other news: we had four eggs yesterday and I think that only three of the hens are acutally laying. This means that one of them has laid two in a twelve hour period, which is quite impressive and a bit scary. I hope she's not going to do it for a couple of months and then drop dead of exhaustion.

Tomorrow, can we talk about the best way to compost chicken poo?

Friday, 9 February 2007

tap

It's still snowing - but it's not really settling, thankfully.

B didn't come home last night because of the icy roads and his late finish - and the fact that he had a lunchime meeting in Manchester today; it would be pretty depressing for him to be snowed out for the weekend and me to be snowed in.

In the meantime, the boiler's having another fit - I am busy investigating the various thermostats that it seems to be ignoring in favour of doing it's own thing. We've got through nearly a tank of oil since the week before Christmas, which is about £250 a pop, so not having it going full-tilt with no means of turning it off would be nice.

Roll on getting the woodburner and the rayburn fitted - at least I understand how they work . Shove more wood on - house gets hotter. Shove less wood on - house gets colder. The more moving parts something has, the more parts there are to a) understand and b) fix when they blow up.

Not ACTUALLY blow up, I hasten to add. Hopefully, anyway. But you know what I mean.

It does seem almost impossible to get someone to come out and have a look at the system though - we've been waiting a month now for a chap from Derwas in Welshpool. I suppose it's a heating-engineer's busy season; but it would nice to have a date for getting it sorted, even if the date is in the summer.

Right. Must go and bash heating pump with a hammer.

Thursday, 8 February 2007

snow!

Snow 1, Feb 07(I've made the photos sizeable - click to see a bigger version)

We have about three or four inches of snow I should think and it's still coming down. The lane is covered in a mixture of slush and ice - it's starting to freeze, as the temperature has dropped a bit - and I've just watched a chap in an estate car try to reverse up the hill, unsuccessfully.

The postman arrived on foot and said that the roads were all the same for about five miles around and that I was his last call on this lane as he couldn't get his van any further.

You can see Nellie-From-The-Farm just crossing the cattle grid in this photo - I didn't realise she was there. She comes up to the cattle grid and had a good bark every so often and then goes off to visit one or two people in the village before ambling home again. Apparently she's not a very good sheepdog, but she's got a really nice temperment. She's sharp as a brush, too - our bin-bag had only been out ten minutes yesterday morning before she was investigating it.

B's been working in Liverpool for a couple of days - he's due home at about 1am tonight. I guess that if it's too bad, he'll stay at his Mum's again, which is a shame really because this is kind of nice. I can't hear any traffic, and the oil depot across the road (you can just see one of the tanks in the first picture) doesn't seem to be working today, so that's quiet, too.

It's like being insulated from the world with an enormous feather duvet. It's almost like time has stopped for a bit; and that's how I'm treating it - a day out of time.

Snow 2, Feb 07The pekins won't come out of their house - you can just see it, the rabbit hutch tucked in to the corner of the garden - and I haven't bothered to let George and the laying hens out - they've got plenty of food and water in with them. Also, George has taken to visiting us mid-afternoon; about 3pm I hear him crowing and open the back door and there he is, standing on the back step. You have to herd him back up to the top garden. I don't want to do that today :).

The cats are a bit confused. Simpkin is quite enjoying himself; he's sitting on the windowsill providing me with a running commentary about what he can see and then every so often he goes out for a reconnoitre and kind of skips through the funny cold white stuff lifting his paws up and shaking them with every step.

Betty, however, is hiding under the table.

In other news: I feel a bit better. I read an article that said that morning sickness could be caused by low levels of vitamins and minerals because one hasn't eaten for a while when one gets up. So I got some generic 'pregnancy supplement' tablets a couple of days ago and have taken them with my evening meal for the last two nights; it seems to be working. Or if it's not, the sickness is passing on it's own - getting up very gently, as per the midwife's instructions seems to be the way forward. I don't feel exactly like I want to sit down arms akimbo to a five course dinner; but at least what I AM eating is staying down. Yay! for not vomiting regularly!

Tuesday, 6 February 2007

wren

Right, I think I am pretty nearly back to my normal sanguine, sarcastic self.

I'm still chucking up at frequent intervals, but I feel much less drained - B is cooking me morsels of food and offering them to me like a gentleman wren trying to discover which of the ten nests he's built his wife prefers.

I am fighting a desire to become immersed in the whole 'baby marketing' industry. Bloody hell! You can spend some money if you want to, can't you? I had a look on eBay for baby clothes before I came to my senses and ran screaming from the computer. If you search for baby clothes and modify your search to exclue the words 'disney' and 'winnie' (The Pooh, not Churchill), the number of items is halved.

Eeek!

Yesterday I finally ploughed through all the outstanding bills and invoices for the business and today I am going to finish transferring all my data from the old laptop to the new one, do some filing and try to encourage B to commence his quarterly attack on his expenses in time for the VAT return at the end of the month.

And then I am going out to buy some spinach.

Not a startlingly entertaining post; but I'm functioning as a human person again. Yay!

Saturday, 3 February 2007

short break

I am having a bit of time off - I feel a bit grim. I just need to lie with my head in a bag for a few days.

Back soon.


Thursday, 1 February 2007

two falls and a submission

Right. I feel better having got that off my chest :). Thank you for listening.

Much more positive today, partly because it is a *glorious* day - very spring like - and partly because I am managing the nausea better. All the birds are singing like mad and the air has got that soft smell to it.

It makes George the Cockerel horny.

And when George the Cockerel is horny, EVERYONE knows about it. He's become obsessed with the danger that shoes present to his harem. So when you visit the garden, he rushes up and susses out your footwear for danger. Welly-wearers are apparently safe, so long as they are in traditional green or black attire.

georgeBob The Builder Wellies are a no-no, as we discovered at the weekend.

As are my sunflower-covered slip-on thingies.

He ruffles his neck feathers up, puts his head down and starts to peck, viciously. This is actually quite funny when he does it on my sunflower-slip-ons, as they're quite tough leather and he kind of richochets off them, shaking his head and staggering slightly.

However, having a cockerel attached to your leg, or at the very least, shadowing your every move so that you don't get in between him and his ladies does cramp your style a bit if you want to do anything at all in the garden. So yesterday we tried a little pop psychology.

Apparently if you turn them on their back, hold them on the ground and give them a stern talking to, they then accept that they are the junior partner in that particular pecking order and back off.

This seems to have worked okay with George so far, but when I tried it with the pekin cockerel yesterday afternoon, he submitted gracefully, then picked himself up, shook himself off and gave me a peck on the thumb.

I may try again with him this evening.