Cement and Sympathy

For years the front garden of No3 Forsham Cottage looked like a builders yards. We had turned an idyllic little bit of Sutton Valence into an obstacle course, red sand stained the lane as the lump was eroded by the rain and washed into the road.

Stacks of bricks and blocks, which no matter how many times I re-stacked them still fell over (ground sloped towards the road at twenty degrees). What with the look of the place and the accompanying dust and noise, our neighbours (Mrs B & Mrs T) had every right to complain, but bless them they were always so tolerant and so supportive. I think they felt sorry for us. (We did milk the sympathy vote)

Number 3 FC had a really ugly flat roof extension ‘plonked’ on the side of it. To add insult it was painted battle ship grey, so blend in, it didn’t. From the very outset we were determined …. it had to go. We were endeavouring to transform the HMS ARK ROYAL into something a bit more cottagey and more in keeping with the original dwelling. The master plan was to convert the integral garage into a dining room. We were building a new porch and building a new garage next to the detached garage belonging to Mrs T. Top of the list was to replace the flat felted roof with a proper pitched roof using old Kent clays tiles. I should also add that between us we had amassed approximately NIL experience of the building trade.

Once committed we were spending every spare hour working on our house and spending every last penny not on ‘nice to have’ stuff like an Indian takeaway or a posh frock but on ‘must have’ stuff like cement dust, joists and replacing numerous tools I had either lost or broke. However with the aid of the Readers Digest DIY manual (wedding present) Stan and Reggie (Cindy’s and my dads). Hundreds of hours of swearing, our extension conversion slowly emerged from the mire. Things happened along the way like an eight foot long concrete lintel falling from the top story. She was just being dramatic, it missed Cindy by several foot, but it did harpoon the patio, which I never did repair. The dog caught a half brick I threw down off the roof onto the rubble pile. That must of hurt, but he still did it again! He also diligently picked up the clay I was throwing out of one trench and unbeknown to be was re-filling the trench behind me! Too cocky to be told , I f****d my back repeatedly carrying over full buckets of wet cement up a ladder onto the roof. The legacy of which thirty years later I still endure.

The bloke from the electricity company that came to move the meter got into a fluster because he was running late. Rather than go to get his drill, he borrowed mine. There was a slight problem, the trigger switch was bust (no dosh for a new one) so I had rewired it, bypassing the switch, which meant it literally spun into action as soon as it was switched on at the wall, which to the uninitiated could be a bit startling. It was not a good idea to plug it in holding on the ‘spiny bit’ or as some would call it ‘the chuck’, which he did. Ok, I should have warned him …..but he cottoned on quite quickly and dropped it, where upon it jerked and thrashed about on the floor like a demented critter on a leash having a fit, until I put it out of its misery by switching off its life support system!

Then my startled sparky mate used my stepladder, which had the second to bottom step missing, (concrete block fell on it). Now in my defence he must have known it was missing because he had climbed up it, so to forget a few minutes later when coming down, was in my opinion carelessness on his part. He was not a happy chappy laying there on the floor gasping for air (just a bit winded). SEEBOARD man was not having a good day, as was proven several weeks later when an inspector came out to ‘ eyeball’ and sign off the work. He found that our accident prone sparky had wired the meter up back to front so it had been unwinding for the best part of a month. Obviously his mind was elsewhere!

Cindy at nine months and two weeks pregnant spent her days pointing block work, in appreciation of her condition I did mix up the cement. She woke me about midnight saying something about waters breaking, which given we were always having problems with the plumbing and the back half of the roof was a PVC lorry sheet, I at first assumed she meant we had another leak.

I called the number (like my list told me to) and explained to a very nice lady, who in my opinion was far too calm, that something called the waters breaking had occurred. She asked if I was sure. “If Cindy says something’s broke, then it’s broke!” I told her. The blue lights turned up and two confused ambulance men stood in the lane, in the dark, in the rain, shining torches around the place trying to work out which bit of plastic sheet covered holes in the wall was the door and then what was their best line of approach. I gave them a lead, particularly drawing to their attention the two foot wide, three foot deep trench that ‘moated’ the building and the piles of now wet clay that had been exhumed from around and under the house (I was under pinning the footings). Having negotiated the obstacles two slightly bemused blokes stood in our front room with a stretcher and with clay up their otherwise very neat trousers. Procedure dictated that the patient was to be stretchered to the ambulance, which was not going to be easy. They thought of making an arm cradle and manual carrying her out to the road, but gave up on that. What actual happened was that Cindy, who was not overly fetchingly dressed in her night attire and wellington boots clambered over the trench and sand piles, followed by the blokes in black carrying the stretcher. Once we had gotten onto flattish ground they put Cindy on the stretcher and carried her the remaining twenty five foot to the ambulance. Dill the dog always liked a trip out and had to be persuaded that this was not an occasion for him to ‘get in the back’, so as a memento of their visit, Dill dropped a half brick on the ambulance step and left his mark up the side. (class act that dog).

It was snowing a week later when having convinced the midwife we had a warm nursery and that Cindy had help at home, she wangled the OK to take the ‘kidlet’ home. I consulted the list again. “When collecting us bring the bag on the table” it said. I presented Cindy with the bag of nappies, Zinc & Caster ointment jars and pins. She wanted the ‘bringing baby home clothes’ bag. “It didn’t say which bag” I offered as a pathetic defence. So it was that our Kidlet came home in ill matching and ill fitting clothes lent to us by the nurses, who had rummaged and borrowed them from around the ward. (they felt sorry for us)

Not the most auspicious of starts for our Tracey, but Dill gave her a bit of brick, so she WAS welcomed home ……..

“Just One Night”

It was snowing hard, the garden was filling up, the harsh edges being smoothed under a blanket of the white stuff. Then and now, as a so called adult I get a childish thrill watching the snow cascade from out of the heavens, especially at night thought the light an unveiled window.

A lone set of foot pints came in from out of the darkness of this cold winters night. Copper Cat (she had a brother called Tommy) was holding centre stage, framed as she was in the light of the kitchen window, bleating and crying, a sorry looking spectacle. Already she was up to her belly in snow and gathering a measurable ‘drift’ betwixt her ears. Copper Cat had stables, the hay store, a goat shed and the garage to sleep in …… she was pulling all the strings to be let in!

Unsurprisingly Cindy and the kidlet started to harangue me to let the pathetic critter into the house, “for just one night”

I have lots of ‘life rules’ one being that I don’t let anything in the house that can lick its own ‘jobby bits’! … trying to eat breakfast whilst some critter is tonguing its privates is a step too far… I remained adamant ……. I stood my ground………. I let the shyster in.

Next morning CC sat calmly at the door waiting to be let out, the snow had stopped, the garden was brilliantly white, and strangely tidy. On opening the door a small snow drift tumbled onto the cat and across the floor. Copper Cat gave me a look that was both accusing and vengeful. Without a hint of gratitude the shyster trotted out onto the frozen snow … “just one night” I said, as she slowed to a saunter and showed me her penny bit!

It became evident that the bugger had not slept in the card board box supplied, a mass of hairs portrayed it had hunkered down on my work jumper, which because of its unsavoury nature was not allowed anywhere near the coat hooks, destined always to be slung on the floor behind the backdoor. I hate pet hairs, so with a degree of disgust I pulled my jumper on ….. I had no option it was cold. Instantly a smell like no other was wafting around the kitchen. Cat crap! That bloody cat had shit, not simply on the jumper, that would have bad enough, the dump was UP a sleeve. The offending mess was now wiped a second time up my arm as I took my cat haired and poo smeared jumper off.

That cannot have been anything else other than deliberate! To gain maximum effect that cat must have diligently backed itself up the sleeve. Even now I can imagine the shyster’s smug expression as it relieved itself, thinking ……… “just one night”.

Ben Hur, Goats and a Hangover …

Our posh but very nice neighbours (Mike & Pat) were happy to have our goats on their grass, and we were happy to oblige because it saved our grazing. Therefore there was nothing untoward when one morning Cindy said “I’ll put the kettle on if you put the goats out on Pats lawn. Gert’s (the mum) got her tether chain with her but Oscars (Billy kid*) chain is still out with his tether spike, and as Oscar might not follow you out you’ll have to lead him by his collier.”

(* Yes, we did eat the Billy kids, but this one is another blog)

Over night Gert was tethered to her Ark, hence she had her chain with her, and Oscar free ranged in the chicken run. I didn’t normally get involved with the goats, Cindy did the milking she had built up an empathy with the critters, so there was an uneasiness in air as it was me, and not her they spied approaching them, fetchingly attired as I was in my old boots ( sans laces) and baggy shorts. It was still early enough that the nice posh folks had their curtains drawn and the birds were BLASTING out a dawn chorus which coupled with the persistent two tone bleating of agitated goats was not sympathetic to the aftermath of the several pints of cider which was still trying to impose its numbing presence on my skull bone.

I got the kid out of the chicken run, holding him as instructed by the collar. Unhitched Gert’s chain and started towards the grazing. Gert broke into a trot, anxious to get to the grass and to get away from me, the kid although young was getting to be a ‘handful’ and sensing the panic of its mother was pulling so hard it was rearing onto its back legs. To help with this torturous situation I was bent at forty five degrees, because when Oscar was on all fours, he was only stood a little over two foot at the shoulder.

I pride myself as being pragmatic, so rather than endure this situation and end up with a permanent stoop and arms proportionality so long as to never fit a ‘regular’ suit again. I had an idea …….I hauled Gert back to me and hooked Oscars collar to the other end of her chain so I could lead them both on the one chain ….‘Ben Hur style’. Proving that even under the haze of receding cider intoxication and applied torture. I could ‘sort it’.

All I did was to shut my eyes for a few moments, they wanted to be shut, I needed them to be shut! The tugging of two goats and that bloody bleating was doing my head. The sun was warm in my face. I was fighting to keep awake. OK, I may have remonstrated with the critters (just a little) asking them to “please be quiet” or words to that effect. Their instinctive ‘fight or flight’ mode kicked in, they went into flight mode, so now instead of the buggers being in front dragging me out across Pats lawn they were swinging out sideways and parallel with me. At this juncture I defiantly did question their antics in a slightly more animated and vocal way, which severed as the final impulsion they needed to cross behind me and run out tight which left me with a twenty foot tether chain warped around my naked legs being pulled tight by two goats who were not about to stop pulling and release the tension because the critter in middle (me) was now screaming every profanity he knew (which is lot), crying and starting to bleed.

How I laughed, laying on the grass outside my neighbours bedroom window ‘reeling in’ a kid goat whilst its now demented mother was taking up the slack in the chain instigating a cheese wire sawing action across the back of my knees.

Still looking on the bright side, the sodding kettle was on, so there was plenty of sterilised water!

In fear or ecstasy ….. it was hard to tell

Gert the goats first morning at Forsham found our new girl a bit ‘stressy’ her unrelenting bleating bellowing visibly into the damp morning air, an indication she needed attention in the udder region. With some trepidation we lead Gert out of her newly constructed (Stig of the dump) goat shed, to be milked. A liberal bribe of goat mix got her up onto the milking stand. Cindy positioned herself and the bucket, took a hold of Gert’s teats in the fashion Goat Bloke (see last blog) had shown us. A combination of her new surroundings and new slightly hesitant handlers were obviously going to impact on the new girl, so she was going to be, and did, get a bit ‘worked up’. To give Cindy her due she kept talking and assuring Gert, but initially only the odd squirt of milk resounded into the stainless steel bucket. As Cindy got to grips (pun fully intended) with the task and Gert started to relax. The squirts became more frequent and more rhythmic and although it took an inordinate amount of time, patience, and perseverance on Cindy’s part (the latter two attributes, God forgot to issue me) she actually had our first milk. Unfortunately this initial contribution to the Forsham Dairy Emporium was short lived as Gert then ‘plonked ‘ her foot in the bucket………

Cindy’s mum, Topsy, had hand milked cows as a girl, to her milking was as simple and as automatic as riding a bike. It took her only moments to get back into her stride, milk gushed into the bucket. Gert stood mesmerised, whether in fear or ecstasy it was hard to tell. It would have taken a high speed camera to actually see Topsy’s hand action, and an interpreter in ‘Middle Kentish’ to decipher her instruction, but Cindy’s milking technique was enhanced under her mum’s guidance.

After only a few weeks both the goat and Cindy were getting comfortable with each other. Gert would run to the stand to get grub, and udder relief. Cindy was getting as proficient at milking as her mum. The whole milking bit was becoming so ‘matter of fact’ that Cindy did not even have to clip (by her collar) Gert to the stand. This trust was repaid one bright and sunny morning when with surprisingly nimble action Gert jumped off the milking bench, knocking over Cindy and bucket. With milk swollen udder swinging like a metronome, and Gert bleating in time to the beat, she was out of the garden, and went heading off down Forsham lane. Gert’s progress was followed Benny Hill fashion by Cindy welding a feed bucket, the Kidlet in her red wellies and pants, a pair of demented Collie dogs (Dill & Basil) who assuming this was a game, were running in circles around the entire procession, barking manically at each other, at the goat and the pursuers. Gert took a right at the next gate, up the ‘posh but nice’ neighbours drive, across their manicured lawn, pass the patio window and family (now agog) at breakfast. She blundered her way through their boundary hedge back into our plot, stumbled over the wood pile and jumped back onto the milking bench. …. ……… lesson learnt.

I should at this time mention that neither of us had actually drunk goats’ milk. Cindy was completely at ease with milk straight from a warm hairy mammal. To her teats and udder cream, were normal. I however was not enamoured with the idea, and had qualms about drinking anything that had just been squirted into a bucket from the lady parts of a critter sporting a beard and Beelzebub eyes, and then had to be filtered through several layers muslin to get the hairs and ‘bits’ out of it.

After that very first mouthful, I knew I was right,……….. it was awful.

More ballcocks than bullocks……

As kids, the fields around us were ‘polka doted’ with cows, they were everywhere. Whenever you crossed a pasture a quick scan to see if the bull was about became standard ‘survival’ practise. As a dare we would grab hold of the electric fencing, set up to stop the cows braking out onto lusher grass. Bike riding slalom skills were required to avoid the twice daily application of cow poo which was literally splattered up and down just about every lane and byway as countless cows were brought up for morning and evening milking. Farms and lanes had a bitter sweet smell of cow poo and silage, which I found strangely pleasant (perhaps that’s just me). There’s still a junction in our village known as ‘smelly corner’ but I doubt if there has been a cow on that farm for twenty five years or more.

Cindy’s dad, Stan, was a farmer as was Stan’s dad, his dad, and his dad’s dad. Their family farm was in the middle of High Halden, I say ‘was’ because it’s now a selection of ‘desirable residences’ with not a blade out of place let alone a silage clamp. Elm Tree Farm was typical of its type and of its time in its framing diversities, including the requisite herd of black and white Frisian cows. Within living memory Stan and his dad had delivered milk, cream, farm kitchen butter, and eggs from a horse drawn cart. The milk being ladled directly from a churn straight into the customers own jug. (There’s a carbon foot print to ponder, hand milked, no diesel, no bottles, not even any foil bottle tops!)

Given her lineage, Cindy’s hankering to have a house cow was totally predictable, so we out and brought a ………. GOAT !

She may well have a blood line of cow keepers going back generations, but Cindy is scared stiff of the critters. Herself will sit astride a horse which looks to me as if its having a fit….. but she won’t go within thirty passes of a cow. Me, I’m not comfortable with cows or horses, my blood line goes back through generations of jobbing plumbers, so more ballcocks than bullocks in my case.

A scan of the local classifieds located us our first goat. Yet again blissfully ignorant we went to see our proposed addition to the Forsham Cottage mad house! We listened intently to the ‘Goat Bloke’ as he told us what he (and we) thought we needed to know. He showed us how to tether the goat. He showed us how to house the goat. He showed how to milk the goat. He showed us how when trimming the goats hoofs it was essential to hold the beast properly because if you didn’t it would kick out and you would plunge your pen knife into your leg. Goat Bloke demonstrated how to bleed quite badly whilst doing a one legged hopping dance and cursing at a disinterested goat. Mr and Mrs Goat Bloke started shouting at each other about ruined trousers, tetanus and tourniquets. Mr Goat Bloke did not look at all well as they sped off in the direction of A&E.

We posted £60 though Goat Bloke’s letter box and took the goat home. ……. another interesting day.

A chicken house with two letter boxes…. that’s class

Having finished building my chicken run, I could now stand at the kitchen sink and survey my stockade. I am not admitting to it being ugly or an eyesore as was some people’s unsolicited opinions. I would suggest my run had a certain rustic charm that only the more discerning, or somebody in touch with their weirdo caveman side, (see last blog) could appreciate and applaud.

Only a few days ago a friend referred to me as ‘Stig of the Dump’. In this instance it was because of my ‘ interesting’ dress etiquette and my unfailing ability to clutter any area I work in…. I could make the municipal dump look untidy.

However I willingly admit my Stig prowess, I can’t pass by a skip without having a rummage for the treasures it holds, seeking out those goodies that will ‘come in handy’. As a kid I wanted to be a dustman, I needed to rescue thrown away comics, toys, old bikes and those old prams with spoked wheels for cart building.

My first house was designed ‘from the hip’ (or should that be from the tip) which means I made it up as I went. The project was dictated by the ‘stuff’ I had salvaged, my limited woodworking skills, a minimalist tool box, a blissful lack of bird knowledge and ultimately lack of funds. What I did have was a big head, an ego to match.

A little time ago some bloke was up for the Turner Prize for art with a shed made out of a boat (or something like that) which indicates I was well ahead of my time. I built a chicken house out of a skip.

Stripped out pallets (saved the nails) a couple of old front doors with letter boxes, yale locks, knockers and glass still in place. The roof was water proofed with rubber printing blankets* salvaged from the skip at work. The floors and walls were lined with used litho plates* ( *printers will know what I mean).

This very first ever Forsham chicken house would have gotten me onto to the red carpet at the Stig Oscars. It was big, its was heavy, it was glorious, and I loved it. Everybody who came to visit had the guided tour of my poultry palace. When they came again they had to ‘eye ball’ the updates ……. not many came a third time.

Surprisingly this first effort actually worked, but more by default than design. I had four scruffy cross breed bantams (supplied by Uncle Bob the wood cutter) Those little birds would have used a tea chest with a hole knocked in the side, at Bobs they nested in the wood pile. They now luxuriated in an eight by six foot house with four massive nest boxes.

Access for cleaning was gained by lifting the HEAVY roof, which was constructed from the two front doors and propping it open with the broom handle. Yes, it did collapse, cascading front door glass over me the girls, but I STILL maintain I did that deliberately to lessen the weight …

A weirdo caveman

I have a theory based on no sociological theory whatsoever, other than my slightly distorted perspective on the world, and just about everything. I think, that buried deep in some of us there is this gene that has its origins from way back when a weirdo caveman decide that running about with a spear trying to harpoon dinner was too much hassle. The weirdo thought it made sense to build stockade around a hut, call it ‘Dunhunting’ and breed his dinner in the back garden, which at the time was some pretty radical thinking.

My weirdo gene was running riot, I needed to build my stockade using stout chestnut posts (cut from the forest). Secured with chicken netting (from the farm supplies shop). I wanted my stock tamed, corralled and safe from the wild beasts. (well that’s my theory)

Before we acquired the extra ground at Forsham Cottage we had already established a vegetable garden and chicken run in our existing garden. The location and size of this first chicken compound was dictated by a combination of ignorance and geography. If ignorance is supposed to be bliss, then I was blissful. I had no comprehension of the potential hassles of a permanent chicken run, let alone one plonked twenty foot from the kitchen door. And geographically because the only area in the original garden for a run was behind the garage. The area was shaded by the building and 50ft tall popular trees so never got the sun. Plus the soil was clay and a concrete slab that caped the cesspit was only a spade depth down.

To get the stockade started I went to find Cindy’s Uncle Bob. He was (and still is, ‘just’) a woodcutter, and literally had stacks of posts in his little fencing yard. Uncle Bob is as wide as he is tall, and he is not very tall. His donkey jacket came down to his knees. He has shoulders like a bullock and is as strong as somebody who spent their entire life reducing trees to logs, would be. If Mr Attenborough had every sighted Bob in the woods he would have the sequel to the silver back episode.

(Coincidentally I was once reading an account of the doodlebug raids on London during WWII . It told that a lot of the V2’s fell short of the capital and splattered Kent. The author mentions an incident during the raids when he discovered a woodman (guess who) dragging fallen V2’s out of the woods to get the scrap value of the copper wire they were apparently full of.)

My run was going to be constructed of neatly aligned posts, with wire pulled thigh and buried deep, to keep the fox out. I was going to have functional and secure chicken house. Feisty hens being attended by a vocal cockerel. And produce so many eggs I could sell them over the gate and pay the mortgage.

My neatly aligned posts were not neat and not aligned, tree roots, builders rubble and a cesspit cover hindered that. The tight wire, was baggy because the posts weren’t straight. And digging a trench around the lot to bury the wire was abandoned on the grounds that if I could not dig it, then nor could a fox.

Those eyes said it all .. and it wasn’t thank you!

Thanks to the spell casting prowess of Cindy (see, I married a witch). The field that was adjacent to our garden was now part of the garden of No3 Forsham Cottages. We paid way over the odds for what on paper was agricultural land. But we were not buying agricultural land we were buying garden and DTS (Despite The Spell) our farming neighbour did not actually want to sell land, so a classic case of a seller’s market.

Like a couple of seventeenth century homesteaders we started to clear OUR land of its Logan and Blackberries. This we did before the ink was even on the deeds, let alone dry. We were excitedly anxious to claim our patch and had a notion that the more we stripped out the evidence of cultivation, it lessened the likelihood of bloke next door changing his mind.

There was a lot of posts, a lot of wire, countless fencing staples, and multiple hay stack size mounds of sadistic, bramble briar’s in three acres. Usefully we found a lot of bagging hooks (local term for a sickle) and various pruning tools in the pickers shed which had come as part of the deal. Other than that we had very little in the way of tools and absolutely nothing that could be deemed agricultural machinery. As the plot was ‘land locked’ with the only access being via a six foot wide alley between our house and garage, we were a bit snookered as far as getting any mechanised help. And as we were in yet another one of our ‘dosh free times’ buying or hiring was not an option.

Our tractor and trailer was an old tarpaulin with ropes tied to the corners, on which we stacked the ‘fire fodder’ and manually towed it to the bonfire. So that Cindy could carry on ‘towing’ when I was at work, I made her a ‘lady size’ towing sheet…. those eyes said it all .. and it wasn’t thank you!

Having to construct a new boundary fence, as part of the deal, we recycle the posts, wire and staples that were serviceable. Cindy was the post holder, I hammered in the posts whilst standing on a kitchen chair and swinging a nine pound sledge hammer. When in full swing, and beyond the point of a controlled stop, I just had time to say … “the heads coming“……… before the head parted company with the shaft and hit Cindy in the stomach. I know cavemen are reputed to have clubbed the lady of their choice and drag her back to the lair. But in my case a nine pound sledge hammer head in the belly did nothing to impress!

Tracey (daughter) or as we called her ‘the Kidlet’ was very young at this time, and feral. Her wardrobe consisted of red wellington boots and a miniature tractor suit (overalls) or when she went casual, just red wellies and her pants! The Kidlet spent hours doing nothing, I say “nothing” because whenever you asked what she was up to it was always ‘nothing’, or in her parlance “nutink!” One day whilst doing ‘nutink’ she managed to find some white stuff in an old sack which had been long buried in the tangled grass of the headland, we found her slightly foaming white at the mouth, with a white chalk face pack which extend down to her hand smeared white chest … and she now had fast going white parents …………. she lived.

A really nice local farmer called Bob, delivered some hay, ‘Bob the farmer’s wife’ emerged from the old transit van (she was nice as well) and asked Cindy if she could meet our little girl. We whistled her up (which worked with the dog well) in time our little darling came around the corner. A bit miffed to be called up, because she had been washing her hair in a puddle, golden blond curls were liberally smeared with an Anita Roddick style blend of wet clay and oak leafs, she looked like a cherub version of the Green Man Green ManSurprisingly, Kidlet did have her tractor suit on, which went someway to lessen the shock, when the feral Pellett kid met the nice Mrs ‘Bob the Farmer’.

I had an affair … with Felicity Kendal

Way back when King Arthur held court, I’m talking Scargill here, not him with the round table. I had an affair … with Felicity Kendal. To be fair she didn’t know about the affair, but my wife did. When Ms Kendal and that really ‘up himself’ Tom bloke were rotovating their lawn and making Margo’s life a misery the Pelletts (that’s us) were also strutting their stuff. We had goats, chicken, ducks, horses, dogs, doves, pheasants  cats, a log pile, a poo heap and the ubiquitous vegetable plot. We weren’t exactly self-sufficient more self-satisfied. We never crochet our own Wellington boots or turned bottle tops into buttons. We did produce eggs, milk, cheese, chicken, the odd duck, goat meat,vegetables, salad, copious amounts of cider, in fact it could be argued, (but not by me) too much cider. But I stopped at 200 gallons so I can demonstrate a modicum of self restraint…… I just know Felicity would have been impressed.

We even had the same rotovator as the Goods from Surbiton. A monster machine called a Howard Gem. We never got around to converting ours into a car. It was a great orange beast of a thing which was an absolute animal and when you got it started, it became certifiable. Once it got a grip and a bit of a speed up I was often left hanging out the back, having to break into a trot to get back in touch to change gear or stop the bugger. After time I got good at catching up, but not before the monster had hurled itself into the duck pond. I did try to let go, but a combination of pride, panic and forward impulsion ensured I joined it in the pond. Oh how I laughed as I sat there up to my chest in duck poo soup!

Another time I got the spinning tyres hooked in the lower strands of a recently erected raspberry wire, in less time than it took to say “what the ******”. it had wound yards of fencing wire around the tyres dragged a couple of fence spikes out of the ground and attempted to pummel them into kindling wood.

Howard (YES I gave it a name) was also prone not to start and I am also prone to not be having any patience with things mechanical. I have a limited tool box (I mean spanners) and an even more limited desire to read a workshop manual or to find out what a valve guide is. One morning after numerous attempts to get Howard to ‘wake up’ I finally flipped, with frustration boarding on tears I ran to the log pile grabbed a suitable bludgeon, ran screaming back and battered the bugger. What I did not know was that our neighbours (posh but nice) overlooked our plot they had an old aunt who was deaf and whilst she sat with her back to the patio window oblivious to the Neanderthal goings on in the background the rest of the family were being treated to a Basil Fawlty moment …..

Having got Howard back after its second , if not third trip to have ‘it sorted’ I thought it was time to let Howard go. I sold the beastie to a couple of old lads who asked all-sorts of questions about compression and stuff, I just pleaded ignorant, which was not far off the mark. But things got a bit tricky when Howard was being manhandled into the back of their lorry and mum in-law drove up, clambered out of her little battered mini and without drawing breath shouted to the new owner’s “has it broken down again”!

Years later we did actually sell an Ark to Penelope Keith, so can claim to have sold a chicken house to Margo Leadbetter. (name dropping, of course I am ……. get used to it)

Next time. Let me tell you about the time I got run over by my own dumper truck, and I was driving.

Hardcore & cider

As we swapped shifts Ron shouted over the clattering roar of the printing press “do you want some hardcore Joe” ( my name’s Rob, but they called me Joe) “no thanks” I said “our video’s on the blink, we need a new one“. “No, not porn, you pillock*, builders rubble” (*old printers term for esteemed colleague).
Ron’s boy had some hardcore to ‘dispense with’ but it HAD to be done the next day. We didn’t actually need any hardcore, but it was a bargain and hardcore is always handy! (but perhaps that’s just me) plus it was on some distant agenda to make a ‘hard walkway’ from our old garden into the new field, so I paid Ron and sealed the deal.
I got back off that night shift about 4 or 5 am on Saturday morning, and went to bed, only to be disturbed a few hours later by the aggressive hissing of air brakes. I heard Cindy and somebody talking in the lane outside, then the sharp hiss of releasing brakes and the lorry drove away, assuming it was somebody asking directions, I went back to try and get some sleep.
I had not had the chance to tell Cindy about the pending delivery, to be honest I forgot, so she was a bit taken aback by the question “were d’you want this dumped” from the driver of a Really Big Truck fully loaded with hardcore. She woke me, I tried to explain, “you’re a nightmare” herself said disappearing back down the stairs. I would have liked the change to have a sodding nightmare, shift work had destroyed my so called ‘body clock’, sleep was something I couldn’t even dream about!
The RBT was too big to turn around in our little lane so he had speed off to find a turning place. More than an hour later RBT returned with a less than calm driver. Son of Ron had tried to turn around in a junction with a grassy island. A local farmer had to drag him off with a tractor. The grassy knoll was left trenched and ready for main crop spuds.
On returning RBT hurriedly backed into our little lay-by, tipped his load and drove off. Leaving us to admire our new rockery which partially filled our section of the lay-by and spilt out into the lane. The next time(s) RBT came he reversed the quarter mile down our lane around the narrow blind corners, good driving but not conducive to other road users AKA neighbours, who as they reversed in convoy back past us and then had to wait for the RBT to shed its load glared at us, not brave enough to confront the driver of a RBT. Cindy asked “how much of this stuff have you actually agreed to buy? “some” was the best estimate I could offer ……..“nightmare!” said herself.
Over the course of that Saturday morning RBT came back four times. He filled our drive our lay-by our ever suffering neighbours lay-by and partially blocked the lane.
The only way available to us to ferry the hardcore ‘around the back’ was a wheel barrow. After several hours I was wilting, it was hot, I was tired, the loads were heavy, Cindy was ‘little’ and bless her could only offer minimal assistance. Some of the lumps were so big I had to sledge hammer them into lift-able chunks. We only had the one wheel barrow, which one mad collie dog accompanied back and forth on every trip barking insanely and trying to bite the tyre, which on some occasions could be deemed funny.
Tony, the farming neighbour pulled up in the lane, he looked at us, looked at the lump and looked at the wheel barrow, shook his head slowly and drove away.
A quarter of an hour later Tony returned at the helm of a smokey, noisy, and seen better days, little red dumper truck (with a damp flowery cushion to guard against piles). I can’t recall the exact conversation, but “I can’t watch you crazy f****er’s” was the gist of it.
I do not have an empathy with things mechanical. It’s mutual, I hate them, they hate me. But in this instance I was prepared to let bygones be bygones. That little red dumper took a bit of mastering, the steering needed two full turns of the steering wheel to take up the slack in both directions. The clutch was a bit ‘snatchy’, but the brakes were fine, once, but not in our time! Having watched me remove part of the external rendering from our kitchen wall, failed to stop in time and crashed into the lump and stall multiple times, Tony walked back up the lane, still shaking his head. Me and the dumper became mates! By tea time we had shifted the lump, swept the road, and collapsed with a mug of chilled cider.
Whilst slowly drifting off into a cider induced coma, I concluded that we didn’t actually need a new video …what we needed, was a dumper truck!