Jonathan: Quaint how some archaic words linger on in fixed expressions: girding, for example, which is only ever used with his/her/my etc and loins. It shares the same root – in Old English – as girdle – originally meaning simply a belt. As for the connection with loins, well like many such expressions, it became fixed in the form we know today thanks to King James’ Bible. As to meaning, it’s equivalent to ‘rolling up one’s sleeves’ in readiness for a physical task; but in this case it means another mug of coffee and a couple of hours quiet and rest in preparation for shearing sheep this afternoon. I sheared eleven some weeks ago, but there’s seventeen still to do ; hours of back-breaking work with hand shears (I do a good job, but lack confidence). First the sheep need to be rounded up: Seonaidh will bring his dogs over at around 1pm, and that will take them no more than ten to fifteen minutes. The fank is in the new field, by the road, and at this stage is makeshift – a number of borrowed steel gates tied together: if this round-up works well, I’ll make the layout permanent with post and rail fences, or buy steel hurdles, but I’m reasonably confident that the temporary fank will do its job. What’s making me nervous, and a little stressed, is the weather. Shearing really needs to be done in the dry, not just because that makes it more pleasant work, but because the fleeces will spoil if they are stored wet or even damp: drying them out afterwards is no easy task! Yet – just as happened at the last round-up (and for that matter I’m sure every time I’ve made arrangements for shearing), the long spell of dry sunny weather we’ve been enjoying has been briefly interrupted for a day of clouds and intermittent rain – which on any other day would have been welcomed with shouts of joy, the land being so drought-stricken!. I’ve been keeping a close eye on the Met Office website, which currently forecasts for the Sound of Barra, the rain easing up at around mid-day, and it remaining dry, if overcast, all afternoon.
Jonathan. Bringing a croft back into proper productive use after years of neglect, underinvestment – or downright dereliction, is no small task! We certainly undestood that when we put in our bid for the tenancy, back in 2007, but only as high-level aspirations: keep a variety of chickens free-range and sell attractive quality eggs) and low-level guesstimates ; Clear out the old creel store and fix it up as a hen house – £200. Say it quickly and with conviction and who’s to argue? (Well it cost a great deal more than £200 and yet the hens are still arguing the merits of the case! But I digress.) There are some who bring to such a task a bulging bank balance – which runs to waste in paying others to do all the work. Some abound with creative ideas, but lack the practical skills or hard work and patience to acquire them. Yet there’s one necessity that can be neither brought nor bought, and cannot be accumulated as capital, yet is indispensible to many endeavours of life, not least working the land and keeping livestock. And that’s the good will of neighbours. Tolerance of our failings ; help when really needed ; advice that takes account of our own peculiarities of character, our aspirations and our circumstances – not a lecture. If the value of capital is realized only when put to work, and the good judgement of a budget only when well spent, then good neighbourliness is made manifest only if acknowledged, if actually put to use. And with that in mind, let me say this: We will not be keeping Highland cattle on our croft, as we’ve long intended to. They’re too big and and powerful for us to manage without help, and even when quiet and contented they can casually wreck a good fence just by scratching their neck on the wires. So thanks, Seonaidh, for telling us what we needed to know: not when it was too late to do anything about it apart from soldier on regardless or give up and lick our wounds, but in time for us to really benefit from that advice, when we’ve time and opportunity to redirect our ideas and energy into something more suitable for our circumstances.
Jonathan: D and I were away from home this morning – together for once, and not just to cleaning at our holiday lets either! No, much further afield – to Lochmaddy in North Uist, in fact. Seven hogget lambs to bring home from the abattoir. ‘A bit on the lean side’ he said, meaning that they weren’t particular big and there was very little fat on them. The mainstream market for lamb is leaner than it would have been in the past, but all meats are expected to show a significant proportion of fat. Hebrideans are a niche market (along with the likes of North Ronaldsay) with a reputation for darker, fuller-flavoured meat, very lean and such fat as there is being low in cholestorol. And that seems to be exactly what we’ve got! The seven wedders have come back with an average butchered weight of 9kg: they were 15 months old. Last time (October 2010), five wedders were 15kg average weight at 19 months. The difference? Their last four months were spent grazing down the verdent grasses and wild flowers of later summer early autumn, not requiring much effort, so much of the additional 6kg was fat – and very obvious it was too. By contrast, this year’s wedders have ‘finished’ on coarser upland vegetation that takes some getting – and that’s where the lean-ness and flavour comes from. Once out of the cold store and into the back of the car, the aircon was turned up to max (or is that min?) and we set off briskly for home before we caught a cold! This afternoon we’ve sorted and packed the meat as leg, leg shank, shoulder, shoulder-shank, chops, loin chops, scrag end (really a lot better than it sounds!), kidneys, … dog food … and bagged and frozen the meat, with a number of roasting joints set aside fresh – for those who have placed advance orders.