Against trend, Cindy and I took an afternoon off last week to
take our Melissa down the seaside.
Bit of ‘background’
required here. Cindy never drives out of a car park always finding a space and in
the same vain; traffic lights go green or stay green. An oncoming stream of traffic will keep me
penned at a junction long enough to grow a marrow in the cup holder. However
for ‘erself there will either be no traffic and in the event of any queue having
the audacity to appear, it will part, Moses on the banks of the Red Sea-like for
her to drive out.
I tell you this because it was with a wee bit of well-hidden
glee, as we approached the car park at the end of a no through way, that I
spied the CAR PARK FULL sign and frustrated drivers attempting ‘u’ turns. Did Cindy stop? Did she heck! She trundled up
to the kiosk “got room for me lovely? “, “over there” the young lady said
indicating a free place, she parked, I paid.
“Can I have a bucket and spade Dad-dad ” Melisa
asked “course you can” I said and we wandered
over to shop-shack-shed-shithole. Having selected the one she wanted I went to pay.
A young man slumped in a chair on the pavement chomping his way through a
family bag of crisps, blurted £4.50 . For the sake of family harmony, I paid the
shyster but did go back to the bucket and spade stand to check the price, non were
priced, all were crap.
Immediately, Melissa was wanting to go down to the sea and
as we were not about to let her go down to the water solo, I was voted
chaperone. Camber Sands tide goes out a loooooong way leaving large knee deep
pools, which I had to wade through to keep within sight of Melissa who was
running about with a new found friend collecting flotsam and jetsam that “could
kill a fish” the collected crap was brought back to the bucket holder, me.
There were lots, but the plastic milk bottle, bag of dogs dooings and the sanitary
towel best summarised the collection. After an hour or so of chasing the ebbing
tide I asked (not demanded) if we could go back, thus setting in motion a
sequence of five perhaps six, of “ just one more” as they repeatedly ran back
out into the surf.
Finally, we trudged back to the sand dunes, now
a distant line on the horizon. On the way I found a pole that had once been
part of a windbreak, most see ‘stick’ I see handy 5ft length of 1” dowel and retrieved
it for the workshop.
We could not at first find Cindy so wandered
back and forth scrutinising the prone bodies for evidence of a Cindy. Like a bizarre identity parade, having staggered
a hundred yards down the dunes eyeballing everybody without seeing her, I
turned around for another ‘bod’ inspection. Finally, we found her just a few yards
in the other direction from where I had started my yomp towards Rye. “I’ve been
watching you” she said, not in a kindly way, ”with that mop” she continued eyeing
my hair, “ that bloody great shirt, your trousers and those work boots soaked
up to your knees and a 6ft stick, glaring at everybody as you mooched around, you looked like a version of the Grim Reaper,
people where staring at you!.” People
often stare at me, I thought.
On the way home an informative
discussion about evolution incited Melissa to say ask if I was once a sheep? prompting
much laughter from the ‘kidlet’ and ‘er gran!
Our outing ended at a fish’n’chip restaurant in
Tenterden, where was had ample good nosh, several good pots of tea, topped off
with good apple crumble swimming in good
custard. As our Melissa was now full she
asked to leave her crumble. Fortunately, to help address the worlds food waste
issues the Grim Reapers sphere of activity had been widened to include the reaping
of proper puddings.
I wrote this piece about 30 years ago as part of our then Forsham Cottage Arks brochure, it’s a wee bit dated (no www) and as regular Granddad Robbers would expect , very much tongue in check, but I reckon still relevant.
Over the years the same sets of
questions keep getting asked. The potential new poultry keeper is at a loss to
get the answer to the simplest of questions. Hopefully this little bit of
information will help. It is not to say
that our ideas and observation are the absolute way, but just our own approach
to keeping a few hens for fun.
So, you want to
keep a few birds. You have decided to
satisfy a long-held ambition and keep a few hens. Simple thought can’t be
difficult to find out what’s involved. Books, mags, internet, and old Harry who
lives on the corner. Down to earth old boy is Harold, calls a spade a
‘whatsit’, “he’ll be a good source for information, after all, he’s got a few
hens and has had for as long as we can remember, we’ll ask him what’s
On the first info trawl you’ll be flooded with
advice books and info Keeping Poultry in the Garden, for garden read at least
an acre with high security fencing.
Books about producing meat for the table, birds for exhibition, for
eggs, books on keeping large fowl, water fowl, rare breeds, bantams. In short
there is no shortage of information some covering specialised aspects of fowl
keeping, some generalising. At first you
will need the answers to what you fear are ‘silly questions’, do you need a
cockerel to produce eggs? what is a
bantam? What are the best kiddie friendly birds? Which hens lay the most eggs?
What house should I have for my set-up and my bird choice? Do I need a run or
can the girls wander? How many birds
does a normal family need to supply them with eggs? Am I normal to even want to
keep chickens? Will the neighbours get ‘huffy’? What happens when we are home, or worst still
go on holiday? How much does a hen eat, what
does a hen eat.. how much will it cost
to feed them?
There are books
on the heavy stuff, on chick development in the egg – you never even thought
about the inside of an egg, now you are a baby eater. A comprehensive section
on genetics and colour sexing at day old, to distinguish boy chicks from girl chicks
so you can kill the boys, now you’re into infanticide. Feel the panic rising
when you see with the help of those useful line drawings showing the way to
‘dispatch’ (and no, that does not mean send them on holiday), the old birds
that have served their purpose, does euthanasia mean anything to you? The pictures of up a chick’s bum, and the
informative pic’s showing how an egg is formed inside the hen with her oviduct
laid out on a slab, is a subtle mix of gynaecology and your local butcher.
There is that really interesting page on what
to feed your birds and how to mill your own wheat and mix your own feed, not
forgetting to add those vital minerals, whose absence will give your hens the
chicken version of rickets. The
different mixes read like a recipe for down market muesli but on a grand
scale. Mix 2 buckets of this, 1 scoop of
that, 1lb of this, 3 buckets of something else. They give handy addresses of
obscure suppliers for milling equipment that are based in Cumbria, and judging
by the lack of post code and the title ‘Messrs Bloggs and Bloggs, Iron-mongers
to the Gentry’ there is a good chance they ceased trading about the same time
somebody called Mr Wilson was telling my Mum and Dad it wouldn’t affect the pound in their pocket. The author suggests that a handy tip is to
invest in a cement mixer. This saves
time as hand mixing seven hundred weight of ‘mix’ is quite arduous and can take
up valuable daylight hours when you could be digging the swedes or milking the
goat, but suggest that milling and formulating your own feed ration can be both
interesting and rewarding and make an ideal after work pursuit to while away
those long winter evenings. You have got
to have a serious problem if the highlight of your day is mixing chicken feed.
The things that
can go wrong with a hen are mind blowing.
There’s fowl pest, a notifiable disease, so you must inform the man from
the Ministry. Vent pecking, an amusing
little trait when birds start to peck an individual’s bum, that can turn to full
blown cannibalism. Feather pecking, this time they peck out the feathers
resulting in semi-naked birds. Crop binding, when the hen gets a blockage in
her neck resulting in the food not passing through –so you get a hen with a fat
neck, skinny body and dead. The birds
get attacked by red mite that sucks their blood until it is anaemic and dies.
The mite that lives on the birds and causes something called scaly leg, that
looks like the legs are disintegrating, and so on and on. Now at this stage I’m quietly confident the
Enid Blyton’s image of keeping a few hens to produce nice fresh brown eggs for
breakfast has disappeared behind a wall of confusion, and an overwhelming
thought that it’s not worth the trouble.
But before you finally give up on the idea
perhaps you should wander down on a Sunday morning to have a word with Harold
about keeping a few birds. At last
Harold has got somebody interested in his hobby. You’ll be enthralled with stories of birds of
old that ate nothing, produced 2 eggs a
day all year round, would face and back off a fox and after 7 years of laying
double yoke eggs was the main
course for Christmas dinner in 1953 when
it fed a family of five until twelfth night, and Harold built a climbing frame
for the local kids with the carcass. In those days we had real chickens, not
like the ‘mamby-pamby’ birds today.
As you approach
the chicken run, make mental notes on how the imaginative use of disused fire
guards and old iron bed frames can be implemented to not only block off the gaping
holes in the perimeter wire, but to add a certain rural charm to the overall
concept of the domestic poultry run.
Then be guided through the maze of wire and nettles, note the selection
of assorted feed utensils. old chipped enamel saucepans and rims of bowls of
days gone by, sticking out of the earth, the sight of which would make an
archaeologist’s heart flutter. Note also the pink baby bath that doubles as a
drinker and a pond for a white, (at least it should be white), duck that
splatters through the black grassless mud.
This is a ‘real’ chicken run.
That reminds me, do not go and see Harold if it’s raining, the black
stenching mud would give Torvil and Dean trouble in maintaining the vertical,
and would give their rendition of the ‘Bolero’ an essence of the Keystone Cops.
If you do go base over apex, the smell will stick with you until at least your third
from the mud is the Quasimodo of the chicken house world.
Before you stands
Harold’s pride and joy, the chicken house that’s built to his own design, based
on tried and tested theories of poultry keeping, on lessons taught to him by
his Dad, (can you imagine Harold’s Dad), with its special features like the
hanging-off doors, the clever way the house leans and twists one way to stop
the pophole shutting and combined with the torn and part missing mineral felt,
(Circa 1965), allows the rainwater to percolate through the roof, across the floor and forms a
handy integral drinking place. Hinge strips
cut from old wellingtons, hung with assorted nails and screws allowing the old
bed head that is now the nest box roof to lift and reveal the designer tomato
box nest with its carefully arranged selection of eggs and poo. The vision and
smell are reincarnated at teatime just as you take the first mouthful of real
Now I’ve probably
put you off keeping hens for the rest of your natural life. Perhaps you could
relent later in life if you become senile and your nearest and dearest
acknowledges your insistence on keeping hens as positive proof you need locking
away for your own protection.
Now start again.
Keeping hens need
not be one of life’s major challenges. Firstly, books have their place and
there are some very informative books, but in my opinion it’s confusing to read
too much too soon.
poultry book will tell you in great and often graphic detail of the things that
can go wrong with your birds. Unfortunately,
not too much about the fun a few hens can be, or the taste of your own eggs.
It’s my contention, to write a poultry book and make it big enough to bother
publishing, you have to delve deep and write down every scrap of information,
be it relevant or not. After all there’s a good size chapter to be written on
diseases but what can you say about a healthy one-egg-a-day bird that would
take more than a line or two? I have
never seen fowl pest, feather pecking, vent pecking, yes and it would be
irresponsible of me to tell you otherwise, but they are the exception, not the
rule and caused by improper feeding, poor conditions, poor housing, poor
husbandry and bored chickens. Like with
the dog, cat and dare I say children, lice, mites, worms are present but easily
held in check by good husbandry. If you
do get a ‘problem’ get over it, handle the situation, they wont paint a red
cross on the door or take your children into care (least ways I don’t think
As for the
feeding, go and buy ready-milled feed from a local merchant, it’s a balanced
diet that will keep your birds in good condition without the slightest hint of
rickets. Here again what mileage can the
would-be poultry book writer get out of different diets for different birds,
different times of the year etc. The
commercial egg producer that absolutely relies on an egg a day from each bird
in his flock of thousands for his bread and butter would hardly be bothered
with such rubbish so why should you? So,
look up ‘feed merchant, and go and buy Layers Mash or Layers Pellets, (see
thirteen words not thirteen pages).
Feed layers mash
dry. Because it’s called mash, you do not add water to create that mashed
potato look. Water soon turns the mash
sour and the hens won’t eat it; besides they eat dry bits and pieces they find
while scratching, it’s normal. When you
go to your feed merchant you will have the option of mash or pelleted feed.
It’s the same ration but the pelleted feed has gone through one further process
to make handy bite size bits. Chickens are not the brightest of creatures, in
fact, sometimes I feel God created chickens to prove he had a sense of humour.
You only have to look at the available room for a brain to confirm my
diagnosis. I mentioned earlier about bored chickens. The idea is to pander to
the basic survival instincts of the birds and that is in the first instance,
food. So, if you can keep a bird’s mind, (and I use the word sparingly),
occupied for a good proportion of the day just feeding itself, it does not have
time to practice its repertoire of nasty habits. It follows therefore, that if you feed mash
and not pelleted feed the bird will have a greater proportion of its playtime
occupied with the basics. Try eating sugar one grain at a time and then by
eating sugar lumps!
Feed ad-lib, your
book may well give you precise weights of feed consumed by a hen per day, per
month, per year. But I have never met a
bird yet that can read. They do not appreciate that they are only allowed to
consume 4 ounces of feed per day and then retire from the trough to allow
another bird to feed. The top birds will eat their fill and stuff the others,
so if you have 4 birds and weigh out one pound of feed for them to share, by
the time the strongest birds have finished eating there is a good chance that
there is nothing left for the poor hen at the back end of the pecking order so
in the fullness of time it dies.
. Use a proper
feeder that keeps the feed dry and make sure there is always feed in it. Be sensible though, only fill your hopper to
a level so that when you go and feed the next day there is still some left in
the hopper, this shows every bird has had its fill. If you overfill the hopper the feed will get
damp and go sour.
You will read and hear numerous times folks
listing a whole lot of stuff you can feed chickens from pasta through to grapes
I once heard a woman on R4 advocating choc ices. I am not saying they are wrong
I am TELLING you they are wrong. Chicken will eat it all and come back for
more, as I will with millionaire’s shortbread, but that does not make it good
for me nor your birds. If you think your hens are going to be a good way of
recycling table waste into eggs forget it.
The hens need a balanced diet to produce eggs and to stay in good fettle.
If you feed rubbish you will get rubbish.
It is being penny wise and pound foolish, there’s no merit in having a
low feed bill, unhealthy birds and no eggs. Think this through, your birds are
producing eggs for you family’s table so why expect them to turn two-day old
baked beans into eggs.
It needs saying birds do not have teeth, I
know its obvious but what is not so obvious is how they chew their food. Small
sharp stones which the bird pecks and holds in its crop, (that’s a pouch in its
throat), grinds the feed as it passes through, but if your birds are confined
to a run the access to grit is restricted so a grit hopper is required. There is a certain amount of grit in the feed
but often the feed is formulated for commercial egg producers where the hens
may have limited or no access to grass, so require less grit. There is often confusion at this stage that
the birds need grit to make hard egg shells, this is not the case. It is extra calcium which is derived by
feeding oyster shell, but there is plenty of that in the mixed feed so
initially there is no need, however when your birds are about nine months to a year
I suggest you give them access to oyster shell so they can ‘ top up’ as they
feel the need . After two years start adding limestone flour to their feed.
There is an
inbuilt need in most of us to want to scatter a corn feed and watch the birds scratch.
If done too much and too early in the day it will upset their fed regime and
effect not only their wellbeing but the egg count as well. Best to scatter a fist full of mixed corn per
bird, about an hour before dusk. That will satisfy your hanking and give the hens
a slow digesting energy source to help them overnight, it will not affect the
A RUN, ARK or FREE RANGE?
A dilemma for many
new keepers is that they want the birds to have freedom but know they are going
to have to secure a boundary of some size. If you give the birds complete
access to your garden, then given time they will destroy it. They love the
newly dug flowers borders to scratch in, they make dust baths in your lawn, and
there’s the little matter of the droppings on the picnic table, path, lawn mower
Free ranging works well in
books. The likely hood is that your fowl will fall foul of the fox. They will
eat stuff that will not necessarily be good for them, lay their eggs under the hedge
where you’ll never find them, and raid next doors dog bowl.
A fixed run, is fine but keep
in mind the section I wrote earlier about Harold, and before doing anything,
cost it out, and what about the time it is going to take burying the wire, a trench
is required. Electric fencing is an
option but not if you have small children, and what happens the first time you
forget to switch it on?
The size of the run is academic unless you are
talking about six birds in a half-acre run. The bigger the run the longer it
takes the birds to destroy the place, and instead of a small patch you have
fenced off for the chicken you have a smelly eyesore that the neighbours
complain about and you’re facing a divorce if you don’t get it sorted. The fox
is a major problem. Foxes are patient;
they will give you a regular visit because he has only got to be lucky once,
you have to be lucky every time. With a
fixed run he has time on his side to discover the weak point in the wire
fixing, or to dig under, or to jump the wire using that handy wheelbarrow that
you parked full of garden waste down by the run, and don’t think foxy won’t go
over the fence if there is no way out because
he will worry about an escape route after the kill
The movable ark ideally needs moving every day so birds to not poach the ground or make it fowl sick’. The grass does not suffer, in fact the scratching and the droppings do the grass good. And you can return the birds back to the same patch relatively quickly because the ‘damage’ is negligible.
A lot of new
keepers using arks want to let the hens out at some time during
the day, my advice is don’t. If you let
the birds out they will fret to get out at your every approach. If you keep
them confined they will have no concept that there is an outside, in fact you could, after a period, leave the
door off and the hens would not even notice. The birds every need is catered
for inside the ark, but you must give them constant changes of grass, and
remember the fox because he remembers you.
If you still want to give your birds an extra run there are two options,
bearing in mind you won’t have to spend out on wire, posts and gate
hinges. You could buy a bigger ark and
put less birds in it, this also gives you expansion room, or you could add on
the optional extension run.
You should take
into account , what happens if you move house.
With an ark they go too, so no panicking about building a new run. When you go away for a few days how much
easier it is to ask a neighbour to look after your birds in exchange for the
eggs, if there is no worry about all the birds having ‘come home to roost’ and
they do not have to put their wellies on, you could even carry the ark round to
As said above the
fox is a problem. they will give you a regular visit. In an enclosed ark and run the hens have all-round
protection day and night. I have watched a fox walk along the ridge of our ark
looking down at the birds with no idea of how to get at them, although the hens
were scared they lived to tell the tale.
The other advantage of an ark is that providing the house is stood on
turf, and not the freshly dug vegetable garden, the fox is unlikely to excavate
a hole to get into the run. When the next night he comes back for a second go
because you have moved the ark, his original scratchings are four foot from the
As you have no
doubt worked out I want to keep poultry keeping simple. This applies to the
hens as well. The potential new chicken keeper has often got no idea what kind
of hens they want, but when asked, rather than say I don’t know, they will
often quote a breed that they have heard
of like, a Rhode Island or if he really wants to impress, a Rhode Sussex cross,
but when asked why and the blank
expression says it all.
EASY KEPT LAYING HENS
It you want eggs
and birds that are relatively easily to keep then there is no real choice other than the commercial hybrid . It’s a
small brown laying hen that has been bred over thousands of generations to
produce a commercially viable egg, practically daily. They thrive on a layer
fed ration and are docile enough for the most novice of handlers. Do not
compromise the birds by feeding table waste. They are not a recycling plant and
need a PROPER feed. Remember their eggs
are going into your feed chain so don’t think feeding few stale crusts and last night’s leftover lasagne won’t end up back on your plate!.
A Quick word here
about Hybirds. My advice is always seek commercial lille brown birds an no other,what ever the breeder tells
you. The market is swamped with Hybirds mainly produced to produce variation in
colour They are not going to lay as many
eggs as the tones sold to the egg
farmers who needs an egg a day to pay the bills. I did at one time buy in these
‘play birds’ and can report that one lot
had some strange behaviour traits which actually turned into cannibalism. And
as new keeper you will think (or be told) it’s your fault
Again the commercially breeders have the
answer, personally I buy a dozen or more day olds and an equal number of 20Kg bags of feed. Once they are off the chick crumbs and onto growers ration they had until the feeds finished
before they headed to the freezer
. If you think this is a good way and getting cheap easy meat, then forget it and go and see Mr
If you’re wanting
something dramatic to look at. You will pay much more than you would for
the laying hybirds and you can forget regular
eggs. .Bantams can be fun, you won’t get vast numbers of eggs and those
you get will be small, but the variations of breeds are enormous and more
readily available than the large fowl..
Another assumption of the new keeper is that you have to have a cockerel or you won’t get eggs. Chickens lay eggs as part of a normal body function. The only time you need a cockerel, is if you require fertile eggs. Other than that they can be a real problem and indeed can actually be quite vicious. The breeders of traditional hens and bantams will often not sell you just hens, you have to buy the cockerel as well, usually in a trio, that’s one cock and two hens. If you do not want the cock you may still have to pay for him, but he stays with the breeder to await his fate. With hybrids you can’t buy a cockerel, so no problem. We once had a very large Maran cockerel that my daughter christened Gorebash. He was so tall he could walk through the potato helms and see the hens over in the next row. One afternoon I watched as he strode down the row, stopped, turned his head and gave an angled one-eyed glance over the mature helms, jumped the foliage and tried to give our ginger tom cat the benefit of his manhood. Needless to say, cat was less than impressed and legged it. Gorebash, not one to be upset by rejection, investigated the ‘nookie’ potential in the next row.
As is the case with lots of our housing, the customers are the catalysts for a new design. The Allington six nest wall mounted dovecote is a classic example of just this.
In about 1982/3 I was working in my workshop, the front door of which opened out onto a quiet country lane (Forsham Lane, Sutton Valance). A small red car trundled past, stopped and reversed. A quietly spoken American gentleman requested directions to a lady selling ducks a little further down the lane. Directions were given and away he went. An hour later the little red car reappeared, duck buying I assumed completed. Little red car stopped and out gets ‘Mr Quietly Spoken’ who ambled into my workshop. (it was our garage, but ‘workshop’ sounds more artisan) His question “do you make these?” seemed a little superfluous as other than him, I was the only other bod there and fitting the roof to a large dovecote as we spoke. However it served to break the ice and we began to talk. It became apparent that Mr Quietly Spoken actually required a wall mounted dovecote, which at the time I had never made. However not being about to let a sale slip away I suggested, more in a panic rather than any considered judgement (nothing has changed) that if I were to cut a big cote like this one, gesturing towards the cote that now stood between us, down the middle top to bottom, cap the cut with a new back wall., it would create a wall mounted dovecote. “If you can do that” said Mr Quietly Spoken, “I will buy both halves”
It transpired that Mr Quietly Spoken was in fact a Friar on a visit from the USA and staying with the monks at Allington Castle near Maidstone. He told me that the monks at Allington were the keepers of a possibly unique breed of chocolate brown doves that were in need of a new home.
So it was that a chance encounter with a duck seeking monk my panic
design driven by the need to not lose a sale led to the creation of
the Allington Wall Cote.
The friars helped us hang the cotes high up on the medieval castle walls. It still makes me smile when I recall brother Allias (‘Mr Quietly Spoken’) up a ladder, boring into ye-old rag stone with my hammer drill.
If by chance either you or somebody else you know of has a hankering to have a dovecote , or anything else we make. Than as starters please go to www.granddadrobdesigns.co.uk where you’ll find our current repertoire of animal and bird housing. However if you have bespoke requirements, or need some advice then e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org. or call me on 01233 822457. You are welcome to visit the workshop (best to call first please) Goreside Farm, Great Chart, KENT . TN26 1JU (choose SAT NAV option PURCHASE LANE) and bring biscuits!!
In 1990 Cindy and I had a trade stand at a show at a National Trust property. We sat for two days and did no sales, we barely even talked to anybody. Which was obviously very disappointing.
The following day there was a phone call from a gent who requested to have a dovecote and doves delivered & set up on a specific day. Explaining he was abroad on that day, it was to be a surprise birthday present for is wife who had seen us at the show and wanted a cote and doves, but he persuaded her otherwise.
Subsequently, on the agreed day, we were part of the ladies birthday surprise (nice). As always I engaged the customer in banter to discover she was a radio journalist working for Radio 4’s Woman’s Hour. Not being backwards in coming forwards, I suggested that we would be good material for a ‘piece’.
Some weeks later, lady with microphone was in our yard interviewing Cindy and I for a ‘bit’ to be broadcast as part of their Woman’s Hour Valentine issue (lovey doves). The day of the broadcast arrived …….. Nelson Mandela was let out of prison, Woman’s hour was cancelled because all the TV & Radio could talk of nought else.
The item did go out a few days later and we sold eleven cotes on the strength of that broadcast, apparently folks phoned the BBC to get our contact details.
Several years ago Cindy and I got home from a Sunday delivery to find our neighbour meandering around our garden, trying to find us. When I say neighbour I mean half a mile up the lane. The lady (who I won’t name) was a wee bit Chardonnay fatigued. After a few attempts we deciphered she was in need of Cindy’s horse whisperer skills because her pony and its mate the donkey had taken advantage of her ‘situation’ barging past her and doing a runner. The pair could now be seen as two dots on the far side of a fifty acre field, heads down feasting on whatever it was trying to grow over there.
Cindy gathered her horse catching gear consisting of a bucket of nuts (which sounds funnier than it is) and lead ropes. She sent the neighbour home and WE set-off to catch the renegades. With all the guile of a horse thief Cindy stalked the two, getting close by soft words and the promise of food (works for me every time) Having secured the donkey she gave him/her/it to me to mind while she then got the pony ‘in hand’.
Then began the long(ish) walk back across the field and up the lane to Chardonnay-Villa. Cindy leading, with me and donkey taking up the rear (so to speak). On getting to Chardonnay-Villa neighbour was there with a packet of their favourite digestive biscuits as a treat for coming home. The pony made a lung for the biscuit’s and was immediately brought to heel by Cindy who tugged it back with the effect that it could examine its own piles. This had the effect of scaring my donkey who took off through the gate. Now during the long(ish) track back, I, with the advanced knowing of a novice knob-head, had wrapped the lead rope around my hand, so as donkey ran, he had me running at his shoulder, inviting him/her to *ucking stop. For a full five minutes me and donkey ran around the garden, over flower boarders (rose bushes) with me making ground contact about once every eight foot, scared that if I fell me arm would come adrift. The progress of donkey was now being somewhat enhanced by my donkey whispering technique of the promise of a *ucking good thumping.
Part slumped on the gate with her back towards the unfolding comedic scene of me and donkey circumnavigating her (posh) garden at speed, with no sign of any chequered flag, our neighbour was getting a crash course in horse management from Cindy, who was also watching me as I practiced synchronised hop, skip and jump with a sodding donkey attached. Cindy crossed legged, holding herself and crying. Me about to expire with exhaustion as my arm was being eased from its socket and my legs (wearing shorts) were being eroded by repeated passages through assorted bushes.
Ferdinand was a BIG man, big in body, big in spirit, big in personality and big in heart. I have a wealth of blog fodder when it concerns this man. Ferdinand like some before and some after him strode into our lives with such an aura he made us wiser and hopefully better people.
Cindy and I first met the big man at the Chelsea Flower Show in about 1990. It was our second year exhibiting at Chelsea. The first year (a story still to tell) we had the bliss of ignorance to shield us from the mayhem that is the Chelsea Flower show build-up, show days and breakdown. We, two country mice, had no idea what was expected of us and we had no idea what we expected of the most famous flower show in the world.
AS second year exhibitors we could no longer claim Chelsea virgins’ status, so we had nowhere to hide and no excuses. We ‘girded our loins’; hatched a plan and started our set up nine days prior to the show’s opening. Whereas the previous year the three days we thought more than adequate proved to be ridiculously inadequate. Turning up as we did on the pre-show Friday we found the organisers had begun to think we were not coming. A lovely lady with a formidable reputation, but seemed to like us, took us to our stand allocation which was on the corner at the top of Main Avenue and Northern Road, opposite the RHS organisers facilities, so right in the “spot light”. To the west and south of our plot were two mega conservatory companies, who were vying for the really top end market. Both had built massive crystal palaces kitted out with marble floors, grand piano, orange trees, cocktail bars, and second floors with balconies. Space was tight, so over the past ten days they exploited the non-appearance of the country mice by using our little corner stand as a dumping ground for their vast piles of detritus. Mavis instructed them that they had half an hour to MOVE their stuff, and twenty minutes later they had, and we had our first Chelsea stand. Our thoughts then were that we were in danger of looking like a Robin Reliant squeezed down the alley betwixt the Rolls Royce sales rooms.
As the major elements of our year two display came together we kept shunting ‘tarting up’ jobs further up the schedule. “We will do that nearer the end”, “fit that when the site is clearer on Sunday”. That would best be done on Sunday “I’ll do the signage on Sunday”.
It was late into Sunday afternoon; we had a surprising amount of ‘tarting’ still to do. As always on any show set-up things betwixt Cindy and I were ‘fraught’. I kept me head down (literally) and was to be found on my hands and knees laying a foot path of Bethersden marble (look it up) leading off the main avenue directing potential customers to our purpose made summerhouse (we made especially … thankyou Colin) which was to be our Chelsea home for the show days.
I became aware of feet, big feet in big white plimsolls. Big feet that if left unmoved would soon be obstructing my footpath laying progress. I glanced up the grey slacks to see a partial eclipse, obscuring the sun was a ‘man mountain’ in pale blue (damp armpits) no tie and clutching a disproportionately small white plastic carrier bag to his ample girth.
We made eye contact, the giant boomed “ello” in an unmistakable German accent and without drawing breath went off into much speaking and gesticulating, the plastic carrier being swung back and forth like a semaphore flag.
“Hello” I said which was my entire repertoire of German (ie none). I shrugged and smiled in the universal body language way that says “You seem like a nice bloke but I have not got a *ucking clue what you’re on about, and on this particular occasion I incorporated an undertone of “go away I am under the cosh to get this done”. Eclipse man seemed to comprehend, offered me his hand, (big hands.. scared me) smiled and then he disappeared back into the main avenue throng which was now a throng of manic stand builders, who need it to be yesterday. Garden designers with an entourage of anxious young things all on the verge of despair, cos Sebastian has been held up by customs and is stuck in Dover with the specimen (suspect) plants they simply MUST have before judging. Plus hundreds of sightseers who had blagged themselves ‘build up passes’, which got them in a day early for a pre-show eyeball. Camera crews, microphones, sound booms, ear phones, celebrity interviewers, celebrity interviewees, and South Africans with high-vis-jackets, crackling walkie talkies and bucket loads of attitude who are shouting ‘gibberish’ at everybody as they tried to establish, who owns the apparently abandoned Volvo, with no windscreen ID, full of wilting plants, that has clouted somebody’s stand, bringing down the fascia and put tyre trenches up a show garden’s manicured turf.
“ELLO” I heard an hour or so later. Severing the crowed our big German was bellowing “Ello” looking at, and bearing down on ME. He went off on one again and made indication he wanted a brochure (the plastic carrier was now full of them). He flicked through the pages glancing at the pictures then at our display for confirmation the picture and the product correlated. He pointed to some pictures and glanced around the stand disappointed and perplexed we did not have a sample of a chicken house or dog kennel (like Gnomes, chicken houses back then were banned at RHS shows). Then suddenly he went, parted the red sea of minions as he strode forth, anxiously looking right and left obviously looking for somebody.
Those were crazy times for us, that decade of Chelseas, very highs and very lows. Like the time we found ourselves locked in the show ground at 10.30 pm, in the dark, in the rain, hungry, caked in mud and facing the prospect of a two hour drive home, but first having to walk a mile around the other way to our car. Our mood lifted no-end knowing we had to leave home before 5am next day to have any chance of getting back at a sensible hour to get in another long day.
Monetary restraints meant we needed to repatriate, plants, turf, shrubs, anything in fact that others had deemed ‘rubbish’ but Cindy could utilise to good effect on our stand (Cindy is brilliant at making silk purses from sows ears …… ie me) On one sortie to the communal skips I found Lord Snowdon crouching around the back, hiding from the cameras. As a pair of skip dwellers we had a chat about “the bloody press”, what I did (I knew what he did), and surveying our stand from the hidey hole, the merits of my dovecote designs. Nice bloke, reckoned his son did a bit of woodwork.
For those of you who know me well the next instalment of Granddad Rob antics will be of no revelation. To my mind mowers are God’s way of testing his flock’s resolve. Only the most devout know that when Moses came down from Mount Sinai with the ten stone tablets he had left number eleven up there.
ELEVENTH COMMANDMENT: As oxen level thy grass so will thy mower. Honour both in equal measure.
I am thinking Moses thought, these are heavy, ten’s enough to be going on with, there’s not much call for mowing in the wilderness. I’ll leave the last one up here, for now, hidden in the long grass.
Granddad Rob’s Mower
Mowers and me have a love hate relationship, in so much as we love to hate each other. They will blow up, seize up, wheels come off (hit a tree stump in long grass), the turning cutty grass thing falls off, bits break off or bend, and punctures are their default setting. Any attempt by me at TLC ends with grease and blood up me shirt. Every nut and bolt on all machines are especially selected so not a single spanner on the face of Kent fits them. Garden hose pipes throw themselves under it and get wound around the spinney bit. And “start the mower” is a penance dished out to grade ‘A’ sinners, by grade ‘A’ sadists.
One time when mummy needed me, (that’s ME) to start our mower, for her (she did the mowing back then), repeated attempts failed to wake it up. A fast rising frustration level was not helped by mummy saying, “why don’t you call Fred”…… “you could try asking Fred”……… “why don’t you just call Fred”….. “Fred will know what’s wrong”….. “Fred gets my mower started”. I had a brain wave and called Fred.
Freddy went into tech-mode, in Bobby* speak it translated to, spark-thing out, dry it, drop of petrol in the hole it came from, spark-thing in, pull the string. Did as was instructed. Mummy said …. “it will start this time, you see” ….“Fred knows how to get my mower started” ….“it will start this time”…“give it another pull”…“pull it again HARDER” BOOmOOFF an eruption of flame engulfed the mower (missed me, mummy and the stable). The obstinate mower was now in Joan-of-Arc mode. My defence, Fred’s fault for not quantifying “drop”.
Mummy immediately got very anxious….“can’t you put it out”…. “what have you done” “you’re bloody useless”….“what will we do”….“where’s the bucket” … “don’t just stand there” …….. “can’t you do something”
“Let the sod burn” I said, while just standing there.
In a short time the pyrotechnics abated. A comforting smell of grass flambéed in a really nice four star hung in the air. Mummy said nothing ……….. nothing ………. nothing (result).
I pulled the string. The mower started. Lesson learnt, torture or in this case torching is a much under rated procedure in machine obedience techniques.
Mummy now sitting astride a warm mower ….. “good ol’ Freddy I knew he’d know …now git out the way you mad Irish bugger ……. you’re bloody mental”.
* Fred is Cindy’s fifty something, baby brother, and the only person I can condone calling me Bobby. I have got to be nice to him; I think he knows I slept with ‘is sister…. I don’t want him telling mummy.
Cindy and I have always had a hankering for an old house with beams and an inglenook fire place. We wanted a house that smelt of stew, wood smoke, old church and bees wax polish. But properties like that came at a premium (over £30,000 in 1976 ) Before we settled on buying No3 Forsham Cottage we had looked at lots of older properties that were at the high end of our means and the low end of the period property market, so there was always an ’issue’.
At one stage we had our hearts set on the centre section of an Elizabethan farm house in Grafty Green. It was, and possibly still is, very small, but it had the beams, an inglenook and that smell! After weeks of waiting and hoping we were finally refused a mortgage because of something called a flying freehold. This meant that part of the next doors bedroom was over our front room, so if there was ever a ‘mishap’ (I won’t say the F word. ) there could be a dispute as to who owns what. I did argue that surely was no different than flats, when your kitchen ceiling is some other buggers bathroom floor. But this was back in the days when the folks in the building society were ‘up them selves’. It was the days when you could not get a mortgage without crawling over broken glass having first rubbed neat VIM in your eyes. These were the times when customer service as they perceived it was taking ones glasses off before looking down ones nose at the owiks, especially young owiks who obviously REALLY need the money.
We looked at a big semi in Yalding, right in the heart of village near the bridge. I asked about the planks in the porch, ”duck boards, so you can get to the road when it floods” declared the estate agent in that up beat way to try and make it sound like a quaint period feature. Then I notice the quaint little sand bags and the ancient tide mark up the ancient rag stone footing.
A charming little back street cottage in Headcorn where the hippy occupiers (not owners) had used spray cans to paint Gods magnificent oak beams gold and sliver, and the smell was not of stew and chapel. I wanted to buy this cottage just to rescue it, but the garden was non-existent, having long ago been built over to garage an oldie worldie Ford Capri, we had to leave that little gem to its fate.
Another place again in Headcorn which over looked the church and graveyard, I loved it but Cindy the witch, sensed ‘a presence’ and got a bit upset with me as I started to get exited about beams and features, ignoring her concern that Ebenezer and his misses were shuffling around in the back passage. Half the time I can’t, (or some would say won’t) focus on the real world, so to expect me to tune in to the spirit world is a big ask. Dill the dog was NOT impressed either, refusing to cross the threshold under his own steam, having to be dragged in. Then he laid prostrate by the door with his snout flat on the flagstones whimpering as he sniffed the ‘spook free’ air issuing in under the ill fitting front door. “Perhaps it belonged to a Vet” I suggested “you know how the old boy hates vets” ….. Apparently that was ridiculous, but herselfs “bad feel in here” was perfectly acceptable.
If we were to have beams and that big open fire then we would have to cheat and put them in ourselves. At this time it was possible to buy fake fibreglass beams. Examples of which could be spied in every recent pub conversion in the county where it was thought the punters wanted character.
I think I am allergic to fibre glass I certainly have a bad reaction to the look of ‘play time’ beams. For real authenticity, builders (I use the world cautiously ) advised ‘get a bit of salvaged floor joist, chisel off of the corners, thrash it with a bit of chain, give it splash of creosote, (or in one case old engine oil), and according to builderman “it would look the bollocks”. There was no option, if we wanted that oak look we had to start buying real oak beams. Whilst my contemporaries worked overtime and extra shifts for nice to have stuff like a tumble drier or to go out for a meal. .I worked extra hours to buy long dead trees with wood worm.
Forsham Cottage was a typical farm labours cottage with two down stairs rooms, which had recently been knocked into one twelve by twenty four foot room with the original two chimney breasts now in the one room. One chimney was a working open fire whilst the other had been sealed off. We wanted to ‘beef up’ the open fire with a fire back and log brazier and to reinstating the sealed chimney by installing a wood burner.
Normal folks would have possibly clad the original breasts in brick or perhaps removed the plaster to expose the brick work. Normal folks would have two matching bressemer beams (beam over the fire opening). However we don’t appear to understand ‘normal’. We bought an eight inch square, eighteen foot long oak beam which was to bridge both fire places and the space between them. We acquired a thousand hand made Tudor bricks from a demolished slaughter house in Charing. Enlisted the help of ‘Old Jack’ who was Cindy’s mums neighbour, somehow relation and it needs recording .. one of natures natural gentlemen. Old Jack was a retired bricky who’s speciality was fires and flues. For £60, a roast chicken dinner with pudding and custard, Old Jack built us a nineteen foot long, floor to ceiling Tudor brick fire place with two working fires and a single bressemer beam .. now that dear builder …… did look the bollocks !
I was getting the hang of the oak thing, and it took over a bit. I had plans to make beamed ceilings and studded walls. . I NEEDED oak. On one beam buying trip I followed the instruction to the village and then lost the scent. Finding a phone box (no mobiles then, and you may not be surprised to know that even today I neither have a mobile phone nor a watch , and have no requirement of either) I rang the customer again which yielded me a second set of directions. I was to go back out of the village, go left onto the main road, a mole or so on I was to take the next left into a country lane, which I was to follow until I saw a phone box and they were to found a hundred yards down on the right. I followed the instructions finding myself ten minutes later going back past the same sodding phone box . . but she was right they were a hundred yards down there on right !
We then had a phone call from uncle Bob the wood cutter, who via the family ‘tom toms’ found out “we was wanting sum beams”. I was flattered Bob had actually phoned us at all, he didn’t like the phone and avoided using it. After years of screaming chain saws, his hearing was ‘shot’. Two way conversation face to face was challenging enough, over the phone it was even more so. Auntie Glad (Mrs Bob, who makes brilliant Christmas cake) was repeatedly dragged into the disjointed conservation as interpreter and amplifier as Bob boomed …”cum er Glad ……wots e say” … If we wanted it Uncle Bob had us a whole oak barn that he had been asked to pull down mainly because it was unsafe, but also because the local kids were practicing pyrotechnics and ‘other’ stuff in and around it, so fearing an accident or christening, the owner wanted it flattened.
Three tractor and trailer loads of flat packed barn makes a very big pile, which soon filled our very small lay-by …… again.
And it only cost the same as a tumble drier and a couple of curries.
My answer to ……what to do with the cat while you’re at work.
Customer asked me to make a house for a stray cat that had set up home in her stables
I needed one of these one night in 1983…
Please read AFTER you’ve had breakfast. http://blog.granddadrob.co.uk/just-one-night-130/
ALL PRESSURE TREATED
JOINERY GRADE RED PINE
MARINE PLY LINED ROOF
GRANDDAD ROBS OWN INTERLOCKING TIMBER ROOF TILES
TONGUE & GROOVED WALLS
When I had a bit of a problem with my ‘doings’ Cindy, said I was to go see the doc, Doctor had the unenviable task of poking about with my ‘warehouse door’ said he could find nothing, but in his words “it’s a no brainer I’ll send you to have it checked out”. In about a week I had an appointment at a little cottage hospital in the back streets of Dover. My bestest mate came with me to help keep my end up (so to speak) It didn’t at first sight look like Holby City more like a Hobo City in that it consisted of a collection of prefabs that looked like the overspill classrooms of my old school (I hated school) circa 1964.
But as is correctly said ‘don’t judge a book with milk spilt on the cover’ ‘The staff were friendly and efficient they knew without being told why I was there as was the case with the succession of other blokes that shuffled in. Thursday was RECTUM TV day.
Having been relieved of my clothes and supplied with the mandatory white shroud with the ventilated rear exit. Cindy & I sat in the ward while a steady stream of blokes and partners where ushered to various beds, curtains drawn, mumble mumble, curtains open, bloke with silly grin, nurse taking off condom gloves.
Opposite our observation post was bedded an elderly gent of ninety years who was a bit deaf and accompanied by his seventy year old daughter. This background info was gleaned by me eaves dropping on a conversation twixt daughter and nurse, (we ALL do it).
Curtains drawn, mumble mumble.
“WHAT SHE SAY” the gent boomed.
“ I’M JUST GOING TO PUT THIS IN YOUR BOTTOM TO HELP YOU GO TO THE TOILET & I DON’T WANT TO STARTLE YOU”
“I DON’T WANT THE TOILET”
“Exactly” said nice nurse.
“WHAT SHE SAY”.
RECTUM TV’S entire green room now knew what was going to happen, everybody that is except the old gent.
“WHAT THE *UCK SHE DOING”.
“LAY STILL DAD, THE NURSE IS ONLY DOING HER JOB”.
Curtains drawn back, this time the nurse wore the silly grin while taking off her condom gloves. The old lady was mouthing sorry. The old gent with befuddle look on is face that said, if they want me to poo how’s blocking me jacksee with a humbug gunner help.
Then it came to my turn, we were ushered by the humbug dispenser to a bed the curtains drawn. I have to admit to a degree of embarrassment not helped by the nurse being pretty and the need to have Cindy hold my hand. The humbug was embedded, that wasn’t so bad I thought suppressing a grin, “In about twenty minutes you will want the toilet” said the humbug girl, “come and get me, I have to take you to bath room”. About five minutes later I was aware of a ‘goings on’ thinking I still had fifteen minutes till blast off I assumed this was the contractions, but a couple of minutes later I said to Cindy “its happening quick fetch the middenwife”
The walk to the toilet was fraught I had to waddle with my bum clenched, a violent reaction reacting in my nether regions, plus I had to try to maintain a modicum of dignity by keeping my back window curtains drawn. My Miss Nightingale being button holed at every stage of the way by other staff, patients, the coast guard, Dover tourist board and the man from Delmonty, compounded my discomfort. “Nurse, if I don’t get to the bog a bit quick, I will literally lose it” I said through clenched buttocks. I was having visions of me standing in the middle of the ward my back curtains flapping and surrounded by a moat of my own body waste and a humbug!
Nurse marshalled me into the bathroom, asked if I’d be OK and to my relief shut the door behind me. Too much info now could put you off oxtail soup for life especially when put in the bowl with all the panache of a fire hose. There is no way I had eaten enough to produce that lot. I found myself laughing out loud both with relief of having made base camp and at the magnitude, on ALL the poo scales, that was the granddaddy of ‘movements’.
I was barely back in the ward when the call came. Pretty nurse walked with me through double door into a place where folks had on their out door coats and the draught up my frock indicated we were the in some kind of covered walkway. In through the double doors opposite, on through another set into a brightly lit room with a Saddam Hussein look-a-like ensconced at mission control.
Arranged at the back of room was a posse of young’ns, the combined age of the lot being thirty seven, they had on green frocks and sported clip boards, one had crayon with a teddy bear ‘sitting’ on the end, which seemed a bit inappropriate. Nurse seeing me ‘eyeing’ the youth club, explained “medical students, is it all right if they observe”. My thoughts were they were work experience students, it was this or Kwik Fit. What the heck when you’re up to your neck in the poo pond one more bucket of water won’t make you any the wetter, why would a dozen ‘A’ level students looking up my bum make it any the more embarrassing. After all, we all have to start from the bottom up!
The Bugger from Baghdad (no slight intended to the gent) then showed me his prod which bore no resemblance to any camera I had ever seen. There was a quip on my lips about a clapper board but I suppressed the urge and said nought. As instructed, I laid over and waited to be skewered. For the first ten seconds every muscle that had a role to play in my daily doings was trying to eject Mr Hussein’s pole mounted Polaroid. I have to be honest the worst you could call the whole experience was uncomfortable and from my vantage point as I watched the monitor I became enthralled to see the inner workings of a Pellett, and in colour! I don’t know how far Mr Hussein’s prod went in, but I can report, that not surprisingly, I was empty. I spied something yellow which was either the back of my gold crown or a Christmas cracker whistle I swallowed in about 1959, but I’m not sure if that was yellow!
I got the all clear which goes to prove I was right all-along, there was nothing wrong with me, and everybody was being over cautious.
Cindy said I should stop talking out of my ARSE…………