Sling, Solar and Support!

Judging by the bags under my eyes, it’s fair to say the Food Festival season has well and truly started. At the moment I could get away with 10 items or less but by November, they will be able to carry a full trolley! It’s not all food, I Compere at the odd Gardening event, quite a few Countryside Shows and special one offs and have to say wherever I am, it’s always nice to meet stall holders and producers and a lot of them become pals, well that was until yesterday. Don’t you just love it when you ask a civilised question, only to have a tirade of verbal abuse as the reply and in front of their very young children too. I think the question was ‘excuse me, how long will you be please?’ (their van was in the way of our Landrover) The reply definitely was ‘it’ll take as heffin long as it heffin takes’ although the very enthusiastic woman didn’t use the word heffin. She then carried on exercising her vocabulary range which have to say, didn’t bear any resemblance to a rational human being and seeing as she looked like she had previously taken on a few other poor unsuspecting souls, there was no point trying to communicate so we let her get on with it.

Have you noticed the increase in applications for Solar Farms? There’s a lot around us in South Shropshire and have to say it does concern me. They’re so ugly and a real blot on the landscape and can’t understand why we’re taking precious land out of the food equation, surely there is enough roof space on industrial sites to be utilised but then I’m guessing it’s not environmental sustainability landowners are looking for. Farming is hard labour and graft and certainly the Dairy industry has been let down with it costing more to produce a litre of milk than what they receive. The rules and regulations that all Farmers have to jump through for Europe are ridiculous, especially when you know it’s not a level playing field but Farmers and Landowners – please remember, you are the Caretakers of our countryside.

At Hedgebottom Home at the moment, there’s a lot of grass so every time you see the sheep – they’re eating. The hens we still have to keep penned when we’re not at home due to the resident fox and the stress of the earlier attacks have opened them up to lice sadly, we’ve never had it so bad. I think we’ve got on top of it now thanks to copious amounts of Petroleum Jelly.

Another Food Festival this weekend so adding to the ‘bag’ volume and waistline no doubt. We did manage to get away for a week before the season started which was wonderful, all be it the airport incident where I can honestly say, don’t wear a Marks and Sparks Minimiser bra through security and the Russian lady who through some bizarre translation issues, thought I was a Prostitute! Long story ……

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Please don’t tell me they really do that

Having a pair of foxes treat your garden as their territory is not an easy thing to live with, and it got to the stage where the attacks on our hens became almost a daily occurence and in broad daylight every time. They weren’t always successful, but then one particular killing made me realise, we were dealing with an unnatural invader – a released town fox, had to be.

Now I have lived in the countryside all my adult life. I love nature, I love my wildlife and when keeping livestock you do your upmost to keep them safe but when you’re up against something that doesn’t belong there, the natural balance of the area is thrown.

Never in my life did I think I would witness a fox kill a cockerel right in front of me, but that’s exactly what happened. I’d let the ‘girls’ and Stan out for a run as I was there with them. Half past one in the afternoon it was, in our garden with me just a couple of feet away from him. You’d think a screaming woman with arms flailing would do the trick, but no and then came an image which will stay with me for a very long time.

I had been in touch with the local farmer but it’s difficult to come out in the day when you’ve got work to do, but the next day the vixen was back this time, again in the garden. No hens out and me by a phone which saw the farmer come round in 10 minutes, and within another 10, vixen was shot and killed.

Where the dog fox is I don’t know, possibly gone to look for another mate, we’ll wait and see but following a few enquiries, it appears that farmer friends have had similar happenings, including one in the summer who had a fox go for him in his yard. Going back to his house to get his gun, on return it went for him again and once dead, my pal could see how skinny it was and then the shocker – poor creature only had three legs, the other one had been professionally amputated! The animal wouldn’t have stood a chance of survival, who in their right mind had done that? Also another friend was telling me about a hired gun who had shot a dog fox, only to find he’d been castrated!

If town foxes are being caught and then released in the countryside then it is immoral, cruel, wrong, going against nature, irresponsible – the list goes on. My thoughts for the short term are with the lambs which are due, they won’t stand a chance against a fox with no fear and that’s the problem – they should be scared, that’s how the balance of nature works.

The people and organisations who think they’re doing good – they haven’t a ruddy clue.

Out with the old and all that

Hope you’re having a good Christmas – we were doing okay until our track rod fell off on Saturday night whilst on the way to dinner with pals (well it was cold)! Nothing quite as sorry as seeing your car being put on the back of a trailer. Great way to meet people though when you’re in their way, but happy to report the festival spirit was still evident to see. Never got to eat the fantastic fayre which was on offer sadly, but a lesson was learnt that night – always carry a box of ‘thank you’ chocolates so you can eat them whilst waiting the hour and a half to be rescued.

Staying with calories, we’re nearly there. Just a box of posh biscuits to finish off, a Thorntons Reindeer and what’s left of the ridiculously small ‘plastic’ tin of Quality Street which yet again contains far too many fudge, orange and strawberry creams.

Not sure where this year has gone and news wise, I can’t remember such a run of horrendous stories, sadly it seems a few of our fellow human beings have lost the human part of their wiring, and not that I wish anyone harm but why is it when something so awful as the Glasgow lorry crash happens, it’s always the ‘good’ ones that are lost. There’s never a right time to lose anyone close to you, but at Christmas you do tend to feel it a little more keenly. Sixteen years ago on Boxing Day we lost Dad, and I can remember it vividly.

Livestock wise at Hedgebottom, still have the Collie, Retriever, 2 farm cats, 14 hens, couple of cockerels, flock of 5 Boreray Sheep and 1 tame Ouessant Wether.

Work wise, no longer doing any radio work as our business ‘Wots Cooking’ has been full on this year but guess still behind a microphone with me Compering.

Haven’t done any writing since Worcestershire, Shropshire, Herefordshire and Warwickshire Life ceased printing and I do miss that, so must say thanks to Duncan Barkes for tweeting recently about my lack of blogs – just what I needed to get going again.

2015 is creeping up and no doubt will have a few surprises to throw at us. Whatever they are, here’s to being well prepared, so don’t forget your box of ‘thank you’ chocolates just in case!

My blogs are like buses!

After having watched closed doors for over 40 minutes last night I must admit to feeling a little disappointed when I went to put the hens away that there wasn’t a crowd waiting for me and a huge cheer when I opened ours! What a gorgeous little chap the new Prince is, and I sounded just like my Mum when I said out loud ‘long fingers, he’ll play the piano!’

Come November there’ll be similar scenes, well maybe a little quieter, as one of my pals is due to have her daughter. Have to say we’re all excited and I keep finding myself looking at all things baby, as long as I don’t get asked if I’m the Grandparent I’ll be happy – memories of Tenbury Applefest last year still run deep!

Also happening in our world is that’s we’re full on with Food & Drink Festivals with our Cookery Theatres which is wonderful and it’s great to have livestock back on the bank again. I hadn’t realised just how much I have missed having something furry or hairy to play with.

I’m working at the first ever Cosford Food Festival this weekend whilst Glyn is over in Lampeter for theirs so a busy one ahead, good job those doors opened when they did then.

 

 

 

The column that never was!

When Herefordshire, Shropshire, Warwickshire & Worcestershire Life Magazines ceased printing at the end of June it meant that my July column was never printed, so here it is (with slight change to the County extras) and it’s all about fish!

I feel very proud at the moment and it’s all because something has been named after me. At this point you may be thinking animal, perhaps a friend’s baby, if not then a sweet pea or rose? Well, none of the above, my name has been linked to cheese – a fermenting Cheddar to be precise called Katie 3 & 4, carefully crafted by Head Cheese maker Dudley Martin at Ludlow Food Centre when he used the milk from the weekends I relief milked for the Earl of Plymouth Estates – how lovely is that.

Summer is well and truly with us then, although I’ve only just removed the electric blanket from our bed and must admit to keeping a Kagool within easy reach. I reckon it stems from being brought up on the east coast in Grimsby, once the busiest fishing port in the UK.

I do wonder if I overdosed on fish as a child as I have to admit it doesn’t regularly feature in my diet. Apparently we should aim to eat two portions a week yet, four out of five households are more likely to eat fish only once a month with Salmon, Cod, Haddock, Tuna and Prawns being our favourites but we need to be looking at other species such as Saithe, Hake, Ling and Gurnard which sound more like members of the Swedish version of ‘Take That’ to me.

When fish is the topic of a cookery demonstration at festivals, you can always guarantee a large audience and alongside learning tips and hints on preparation and eating, you also hear about fishing practices. You’d think the same standards of care and attention is taken with fish as we do our farm animals, but sadly that’s not always the case. Some fish are being taken out of the sea faster than they can replenish themselves, and it isn’t just how many fish are being caught, it’s how we catch them. Something I can’t believe is legal is the use of dredgers on the seabed, dragging everything in their path destroying the habitat as it goes – horrific. There have been EU talks discussing the disgraceful dumping of unwanted fish so that’s a start, but a lot more needs to be done.

There are ways we can help and it’s down to the fish we buy although labelling is under scrutiny too. The only official requirement is for species name, approximate catch area and whether it was caught or farmed in fresh or seawater. Use your local Fishmonger if you’re lucky enough to have one and if you want to know which fish to eat and which to avoid, there’s the website of Marine Conservation Society based in Ross on Wye.

When you think Shropshire is the largest landlocked county in England it is blessed with experts when it comes to fish. For instance Fish House in Ludlow owned by Andy and third generation Fishmonger Louise Hackney and Fiona Asson who founded Fish in a Box and now runs Fiona on Fish with cookery courses and underground supper clubs. Fiona will be demonstrating as part of the very first RAF Cosford Food Festival this month and all being well with the weather, it will also feature the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight Flypast.

One chap who knows his stuff is Tom Court from The Granary Restaurant at Shenstone near Kidderminster in Worcestershire. He’ll be taking part in the Five Chefs event celebrating the best of the county at the end of the month and we’ve just booked him to do a demo for Tenbury Countryside Show 3 August. Then there’s Martyn Emson who brought fish to the attention whilst chef patron at The Jolly Frog at Leintwardine and now runs Ludlow Traditional Smoke House from his home at Wigmore in Herefordshire and when he’s not doing that, he and Fishmonger Tony Wilkes from The Fish House in Ludlow  run courses at the local college.

Things I have also learnt about fish whilst writing this column – most of them have taste buds all over their body which means they can taste without opening their mouths, and flat fish aren’t born flat, they begin life shaped round whereas I seem to have gone in the opposite direction – maybe it’s too much cheese!

Out with the old

I hadn’t planned on getting up so early, but I guess with it being the last day of the year might as well make the most of it! 3.45am it was, due to a wet nose from an elderly Border Collie who doesn’t always go through the night and too many years of milking cows followed by early breakfast radio means once I’m awake, I’m awake.

 Not sure where the year has gone, but it has and it certainly will leave its mark especially with losing Glyn’s Mum in November.

Early on we had to say goodbye to our woolly and furry friends as we lost our patch of rented ground. We still have regular updates and all are doing brilliantly I’m pleased to report. Blossom and Ruby both in calf, Lily, Lottie and Shirl in lamb and dear Gracie still growing and best friends with fellow Highlander Button. Never a day goes by without me thinking about them but with all the rain we’ve had I know it would have been tough going here as I’m not the best on a slippery bank and where they’ve gone they stil are on grass and not on hay where as here, we’d have started feeding them end of October so they’re much better where they are. I’ll probably look at having something on our own 3 acre patch next year, but I won’t keep cattle again, not until the lottery of TB is addressed.

Then there were the highs, what a summer for the Country as a whole with The Olympics, Paralympics and Jubilee Celebrations and proud to say we were part of both the Herefordshire and Shropshire events that took place marking Her Majesty’s visit.

This was the year that saw our new business ‘Wots Cooking’ come to light. For years we’ve both worked for Food, Drink and Gardening Festivals either chatting or supplying sound and visuals for other peoples cookery demonstration kitchens, but now we have our own and we’re loving it. Huge thank you to all those who have supported us and if you’ve not seen it, there’s a video thank you on the front page of our website!

I’ve not worn a pair of radio headphones this year due to working most weekends, although have made the occasional appearance usually involving calories and that’s where I seem to be heading now. My existing column for Worcestershire, Herefordshire & Wye Valley Life Magazines is now a foodie one, and the last month has seen it included in Warwickshire Life and Shropshire Life too which I’m thrilled about, especially Shropshire having written for them 3 years ago.

Farming side too I didn’t think I’d ever have to buy a new boiler suit, but I’ve met and helped out a local estate (think Downtown Abbey) with relief milking duties early on in the year and more recently looking after the youngstock and even though my body is way too old for all things physical now, I loved every minute of it.

Friendship is something I care hugely about and I’m lucky to have some wonderful pals so it was lovely in the summer to catch up again with an old school friend who I hadn’t seen or heard from in 30 years (I’d like to say since primary school but sadly not)!

So, wonder what 2013 has in mind for us all, here’s hoping for a drier one, a kind one and maybe if we’re lucky, a warm one. Whatever it throws at us, let’s hope we catch the good stuff.

Happy New Year x