Jonathan: By the time I’d got everything ready and the appointed hour for this afternoon’s shearing had come, the rain had eased off and though it was still overcast and still spitting – there was a drying wind and there was hope enough that the shearing could get done before the weather closed in again. The only thing is that there weren’t enough hands – or paws – for the task: Seonaidh was still not back from Daliburgh with his new bull. An hour passed and I passed it with a few fencing tasks, but clearly something was amiss and so I called down the sheep down to the make-shift fank with a bucket of sheep nuts, and sufficient of those still with fleeces succumbed to the temptation for me to shut them in and get on with some shearing. I got another four or five done before it started to look like rain. Seonaidh came by as I was working, and agreed we”d try again later some afternoon during the week.
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.