Lovable Labradors August 11, 2016 13:50
Baby bro with Duke the Labrador at a pet show. Literally nothing runs like a Deere.
We had a succession of adorable but stupid Labradors when we were little.
First up was Sam, who was already old when we came to know him. Poor old Sam was epileptic and from time to time would have fits out in the yard. He was always very embarrassed about them afterwards and would hang his head sheepishly for the rest of the day and lie listlessly in the shade. He probably felt awful, the poor old boy.
Next came Duke, star of a previous blog post and the most stupid of them all. If Duke was an actor in a film, he’d be an exasperating rogue that the leading lady, despite her better judgement, fell head over heels for in the end. You couldn’t help but love him, with his big brown eyes and endlessly wagging tail which somehow worked independently to his body. He lived in a kennel out in the yard and would chew anything he could get his teeth round: wellies, toys, sticks, school shoes, large rocks… he really didn’t mind. His food bucket was an old, large plastic tub that had once contained something to do with the horses and he would wander aimlessly around with it in his mouth, tail going non-stop, making funny whining noises with his dog biscuits spilling out behind him, like some kind of doggy Hansel and Gretel trail. We spent hours trying to train him to be the good gun dog he was supposed to be, hiding dummy pheasants around the garden for him to find and trying to make him recognise different whistle sounds but it never seemed to have much effect. He just snuffled around chewing stuff and trying to lick us. However, apparently out on the shooting field proper, he would rise to the occasion in front of the other, posher retreivers and didn't let himself down too badly most of the time.
A classic family portrait with Duke and Sam the Labradors. (That pink jumpsuit paired with blue jelly sandals and extra thick plaits is still a favourite go-to fashion choice.)
The last Lab we had was our golden girl Molly. She wasn’t anywhere near as crazy as Duke and didn’t feel the need to chew everything she saw, although she’d have a quick gnaw of your trainers if you left them in her way. Poor old Molly once had a problem with her legs and had to be taken to the vet, who said she needed an operation and would have to stay in for a few days. Pa Pheasant hated to see animals suffering and it upset him to see her in so much pain. However, the operation went well and the vet called a few days later to tell us she could be collected. Pa Pheasant duly set off to get her and bring her home. Molly was in a pretty sorry state – she’d had to have her front legs shaved as part of the operation and was obviously sore and tired. Pa Pheasant gently put her on the backseat of the car with a blanket and began the drive home.
Halfway back to the farm was a village called Blyton where a dairy farmer had diversified into making delicious ice-cream and we often called in for a treat in the summer. Being from a family where food, particularly sweet things, was seen as a tonic for all ills, Pa Pheasant couldn’t resist it and called in, got out and came back with two vanilla cornets, one for himself and one for Molly. Although I wasn’t there to see it myself, I have an enduring image of Pa Pheasant, with Molly next to him in the front seat, enjoying an ice-cream together in the sun and slowly feeling better with the world.
Do you have any photos of you as a child with your pet you want to share with us? Email them to us and we'll send a bag of Pheasant Plucker goodies to any that we feature on the blog.
Lambing season April 25, 2016 21:30
These months of the year irrevocably bring back memories of lambing season – a tense, exciting, tiring, happy time with all the ups and downs you can easily imagine. Our lambing shed was in the main barn, a large, corrugated tin roofed building that smelled of the accumulated cycle of farm years – cattle in the winter and the potatoes and hay they were fed on; a dusty tang from storing barley, wheat and oilseed rape in the summer, dried mud all year round, oil and exhaust fumes from the tractors and the particular wooly, milky, ovine smell of the spring.
The shed had an atmosphere of quiet calm and it was dimly lit, with warm, intermittent spotlights above the newborn pens. I remember watching my first lamb being born and the ewe quietly panting as her stomach began to contract more frequently. Pa Pheasant had a very easy way with animals, years of experience and a natural empathy and kindness towards them paying off as he carefully pulled the lamb by its back legs out into the world. We looked on in fascination, as this tiny, slimy, yellow bundle slipped out onto the straw and Pa cleared its airway before passing it up towards the ewe to clean. A few minutes later, the lamb struggled up on its wobbly, gangly legs to suckle. Some of the lambs, for all sorts of reasons, had to be bottle-fed and we had to hold the bottles tightly as they sucked forcefully on the teat, gulping the milk down and waggling their tails behind them.
Everyone learnt to give Pa a bit of a wide berth during lambing and to choose their moments carefully, as he’d be up at night checking the ewes and feeding the babies himself. He would bed down on the sofa in the hall in between shifts and be bleary eyed and a bit snappy in the mornings (so many things learned on the farm jump back at you when you have your own children).
As the lambs got bigger, they were taken outside into the fields and one of my earliest memories is watching them gambol around the paddock outside the kitchen window with Gran. There was a slope with a slight lip at the top of it which they’d race to the top of before jumping off, twisting their little bottoms in mid-air in what seemed to be a general celebration of life.
Lambs’ wool would often get caught in the fence wire and it felt soft and kind of slippery with an oily smell of lanolin. We docked the lambs’ tails painlessly with elastic bands, and they'd drop off in the fields. I didn’t realise at the time but they were also castrated in the same way and I shudder to think what the wool collection that I kept in a glass jar next to my bed really contained.
It always seemed a shame that the lambs lost their sparkle and grew up. I guess if there’s a lesson to be learned it’s to try to be more like the lambs in the fields, experiencing the joy of fresh air and life, rather than just simply turning into a boring old sheep.
Happy Birthday Crofty February 29, 2016 00:00
Isn’t it funny how some people leave a lasting impression even though you hardly knew them?
When we were kids, there was an old man called Crofty who lived a couple of villages over where he worked on the local large estate. He had a lot of brothers, including Herbert who worked on our farm, and although we knew him by sight, we didn’t know him to speak to. He didn’t have a car but cycled all around on his push bike instead. His cycling style was unmistakable: like all the old farming boys in those days he wore loose fitting, thick wool trousers which he secured tightly at the ankle with a bicycle clip. He would pedal determinedly with slow, leisurely laboriousness and with his knees turned out almost at right angles. For some reason, he really captured our imagination and there was always great excitement if we saw him when we were out and about; we sometimes even played “Crofty” in the yard and tried to ride our bikes like he did.
However, the most fascinating thing about him to us was that his birthday was on 29 February, which we found almost inconceivable. Did he really only have a birthday every four years? In our shallow, childish way we felt so sorry for him, imagining long years going by when he had no party and no presents and we loved trying to work his ‘true' age – could he really only be about 15 but be trapped in an old man’s body? It seemed like one of the great mysteries of the universe.
Thinking back, Crofty, Herbert and their brothers were amongst the last of a dying breed of people who worked the land before the modern mega-industrialisation of farming. There were three or four such men on our farm around that time who, when they retired, simply weren’t replaced – farming methods had moved on and there wasn’t the need for them anymore. Times change, for the most part for the better, but those old boys left a deep imprint in our minds. Thirty years on their faces and even their voices can still be recalled perfectly.
Happy birthday Crofty.
Note: unfortunately we don't have any photos of either Herbert or Crofty so the one used in this post is of two other men who worked on the farm back then: Jim Marshall the Foreman and George Brown. Jim had a heart attack and died in our yard one day in early summer and Pa Pheasant always treasured this photo of him.
An Ode to Valentine's Days past February 9, 2016 13:17
Growing up on a farm, whilst not without some incredible perks such as unlimited pets, learning to drive before we reached double figures and the freedom and space to tramp over miles of beautiful countryside whenever we felt like it, was not without its drawbacks. This was never more so blatantly obvious than during the awkward teenage years, when it slowly became clear that for some unfathomable reason boys aren’t particularly drawn to girls who can carry a bale of hay under one arm without breaking sweat, who sometimes smell a bit like they've just mucked out a stable and who enjoy scrabbling around in the bottom of hedges. Add this to the fact that you live miles from another house, most of your clothes come from Peacock and Binningtons and the hottest competition for your attentions are two brothers from the local Pony Club called Doggit and Tatty and you begin to get an idea of what we were dealing with.
As they surely are for everyone, those early adolescent years were a hormonal wilderness but Pa Pheasant, whilst not the most outwardly emotional man to walk this earth, tried to do his bit to make them easier. When he quickly realised his plan to set us up with two neighbouring farm boys*, on the basis that they wore leather patches on their sleeves so were obviously thrifty and good with money, was doomed to failure, he resorted to more subtle tactics to smooth the adolescent transition. Every year without fail, he would send all of us at least three Valentines cards, always anonymous and with mysterious messages inside (such as “to a devil, from a devil, who the devil sent it?” Or the even more cryptic “Now then?”). It was his way of demonstrating to us that he could begin to understand the complexities of youth, and although he always denied sending them, he knew we knew who they were from. If some inner voice shouted “ever so slightly tragic” at the back of our minds, we ignored it long enough to answer honestly at school, when grilled by the Mean Girls, that yes, as unlikely as it may seem, the postman had indeed been kind to us. Of course, we didn't let on who they were really from but they gave us the space to breathe on one of the most awkward days of the school social calendar.
Although no longer here to send us cards, Valentine's Day is synonymous with Pa Pheasant and it always means something more than a cheesy excuse to buy a bottle of cheap champagne and a box of chocolates. So thank you Pa Pheasant - this card is for you.
*It turns out one of those farm boys is now a professional tennis coach in Miami. If only we’d listened to Pa we could be living under palm trees now….