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Tuesday
Nov142017

11 November 2017

The calm before the storm.

Last Friday evening we held a dinner to celebrate the 6th anniversary of the opening of the Tea Room. My involvement in these things is now purely strategic. By that I mean that when ideas are put to me I either approve them or disapprove them. (More accurately I express either approval or disapproval. What actually happens may be unaffected by my opinions.) In any case my actual involvement in day to day events is very limited – thank goodness.

Imagine therefore the scene at about 6.15 on Friday evening. I was pottering about in our own kitchen, contemplating the sun’s position relative to the yardarm, when Patricia swept in, moderately stressed and asked me to go over to the Tea Room and take a few photos of the Garden Room all decked out for the birthday bash. Which I did. Sarah and her team looked, if not relaxed, well then, in a state of competence relative to the task in hand. I went back to my own kitchen relaxed about the evening ahead. The guests were expected to arrive from about 7.15.

At 6.30, the main Power NI fuse (80amp) on our electricity supply blew, and  the Tea Room was briefly plunged into darkness before the emergency lighting came on. None of the kitchen equipment works without electricity.

I rang Power NI and nearly went into meltdown myself when confronted by the inevitable automated fault reporting system. Eventually by mis-keying my postcode, the automated system rather huffily gave up on me and put me through to a real person. I was told that an engineer would be sent asap. ‘We’ve a lot of customers due to arrive in half an hour, I don’t suppose you have any idea how long that might be.’  ‘I’m afraid he’s out on another job at the minute, but as soon as he finishes there…..’ I didn’t like to ask where the other job was, but assumed it would be Enniskillen or Rathlin. I went into the Tea Room and said I didn’t think there was a pup’s chance of the electricity coming back on any time soon, but not to abandon hope just yet. Patricia was meanwhile clearing the decks in our own kitchen so as we could finish off the cooking from there. The emergency lighting would probably last the evening. Dishwashing looked like being the biggest problem.

At 6.45 Power NI rang me to say the spark was finished in Ballyclare (!)  and was on his way. Within 15 minutes he had replaced the fuse and had us up and running again. To say I was impressed would be to understate my sentiments.

Many years ago I wrote a similar letter to the customers, describing how my day had lurched from crisis to crisis. ‘Never a dull moment,’ I concluded. But now, as then, I quite like dull moments.

See you soon.

Tom

Tuesday
Nov142017

06 NOVEMBER 2017

This is a very bad pig, who has found  a hole in the hedge, through which she climbs out of her field. Until we get the fence fixed, the pigs will not be in the front field. Normal service will be resumed as soon as possible.

Years ago the school which I attended as a boy, used to charge fees to some of the parents. One year when the fees had to be increased, the school sent out a letter to the parents informing them that henceforth the fees would be £50.00 per annum. Unfortunately the typist responsible for the letter left out the second ‘n’ in annum. Thus the demand became for £50.00 per anum.  Inevitably, one parent wrote in saying he could accept the increase in fees, but if it was all the same to the school he would prefer to continue to pay through the nose rather than by the new route proposed by the school.

This story came to mind listening to the radio the other morning: a professor of medicine was explaining that patients who had good gut flora not only seemed less likely to fall victim to various cancers, but were more likely to respond well to treatment if they did fall victim. She was asked how people with poor gut flora could improve it. Rather surprisingly to me she immediately mentioned the nuclear option – the infusion of faeces from a healthy donor through the obvious orifice. Per anum. Delightful.

There is a certain irony in us spending years in eliminating bugs from our food, only to find that our guts have become depleted of good bacteria to the extent that we now need to contemplate such remedies. (Less radical methods include drinking raw milk, and kefir, and eating fermented vegetables such as kimchi and sauerkraut. I believe a varied diet also helps. )

See you soon

Tom

Tuesday
Oct242017

23 OCTOBER 2017

The picture shows our hens – free ranging under the trees which were planted for them. When I first looked at the photograph I wondered where all the water in the background had come from – it is in fact the corrugated tin which surrounds the hens’ enclosure to keep the fox out.

On the subject of fencing, I was reading  a diatribe in the paper which was railing against the iniquities of barbed wire  fencing, which  is not a subject I had ever thought about. Most fencing put up these days consists of a single line of barbed wire at ground level, topped by sheep wire (a square mesh of unbarbed wire) which in turn is topped by a further usually two lines of barbed wire. Occasionally a line of wire will break, usually as the fence begins to rust, and that is when it’s most likely to cause problems with livestock – you can be absolutely sure if you have a horse in the field it will manage to wrap any broken barbed wire round its leg. We almost never have such incidents. Apparently its mainly larger wildlife that get into trouble – deer for example, and as we don’t have any deer in these parts, I was completely unaware of the threat barbed wire can cause to some species. The interesting thing is that they are already developing alternatives and apparently in parts of the world they are experimenting with cattle wearing GPS monitors that deliver a small electric shock if the beast gets too close to the farm boundary. Assuming you don’t mind a certain level of wildlife on your farm, there is no more need for barbed wire fencing, or indeed any fencing. I believe this is being trialled on very large scale farms in the States and in Africa. I imagine it will be a year or two before it can work in fields as small as we have here on Northern Ireland. But it is an alluring prospect – no fences.

See you soon.

Tom

Tuesday
Oct102017

10 OCTOBER 2017

The more observant of you may have noticed this rather magnificent wheelbarrow outside the shop. I came across a customer admiring it a couple of days ago:

‘When I served my time as an apprentice joiner, to make a wheelbarrow like this was a test piece. There’s a lot of skill required and if you could make a wheelbarrow you could make a cart. The same skills are in both.’ He pointed out the way our wheelbarrow was holding water, an indicator of particular quality. ‘Can you make a wheelbarrow?’ people would ask him when he was serving his time. ‘Yes, I can make a wheelbarrow,’ he would reply. But can you make a barrow that will hold water. ‘Of course I can make you a barrow that will hold water’  He smiled a little ruefully. ‘But I never could. I never could make a barrow that would hold water.’

This Autumn UK sheep farmers are facing some particularly knotty problems, for example, whether to send millions of ewe lambs to slaughter or retain them for breeding. If the latter, most of them will not be put to the ram until next year and wouldn’t actually lamb themselves until Spring 2019 – just as we leave the EU. 40% of British lamb currently is exported to the EU, but unless something is sorted by then, the 2019 lamb crop could expect to face a fairly massive sheep meat tariff and a consequent collapse of the price the farmer might achieve. Similar problems and decisions face cattle breeders. It’s difficult making decisions in a vacuum.

To celebrate our 6th Anniversary in the Tea Room we will be holding a supper night on Friday 3rd November. Limited availability. Further details to follow on Facebook.

See you soon.

Tom