Wednesday, 1 October 2014

Pigs 'Ere Blog Part 17: And off they went....

A short entry just to draw events with the four pigs to a close.

All OK in trailer - tick.
Trailer to abattoir - tick.
Unloaded OK - tick.
Pig Movement Licence competed and handed over - tick.
Carcass cutting lists handed over - tick.
Pig Movement confirmed on-line - tick.
Breakfast - tick.

And that's it until we pick the meat from these four up at the end of this week. We are already planning our Sunday roast.
And off they go into the morning darkness. Bye, bye piggies.
And were those remaining bothered? Nah. Gimme some apples. Gimme more apples. Oooh, I love apples, I do. Seems a little less crowded today - good. More for me.
Waking them up when we got to the abattoir and getting them unloaded.
That's it! Passed by the Vet as fit and entered on the Board of Death under Parsons. Next stop - chops!

Monday, 29 September 2014

Pigs 'Ere Blog Part 16: And then there were three.............

The Magnificent Seven were reduced to the Last Three this evening when we loaded up the four destined for despatch tomorrow morning. I suspect that everyone involved in the exercise went into it with as much trepidation as I did. I had visions of us spending a few hours chasing the beasts around the field before we could get them in the trailer. In the event, it was much, much easier than we'd expected: hungry pigs will follow food anywhere!

Many thanks to JMP for the photography.
Some pig pellets and a relaxed approach = success.
Gates being put in place...................
Job done! All cwtched up until the morning. Gulp!
And were the remaining three perturbed? Not in the slightest. All they were interested in was their food.
Don't we look pleased? And somewhat smug.
Our audience was so impressed that they burst into spontaneous applause.

Thursday, 25 September 2014

A Dartmoor walk overshadowed.

A great day for a walk on Dartmoor but, confession time, I didn't really feel like it. Radio 4 this morning carried the distressing news that Jason Orange was leaving Take That and, quite honestly, I felt more like staying in bed all day and playing my comprehensive collection of Take That CDs in tribute. But, as we were leading the walk, I had to bury my true feelings and put on a brave face. Hopefully, no-one except my IWC knew how this news blotted my enjoyment of our perambulation. I'm feeling a lot better now, thank you for asking. as the news that Take That are continuing as a trio was a wonderful morale booster.

Anyway, putting the heartache to one side, what about the walk? At just under 6 miles, one of the shortest ones we've done recently. However this was definitely a case of quality over quantity as it was a route enjoyed by all. The weather was ideal and our track, starting at Merrivale, took us down the Walkham Valley to Criptor and then onto the mineral railway around King Tor and back to our starting point via the stone rows on Longash Common.

For those who want to know, our route for the day and its elevation profile.
The view from our starting point, looking towards the old granite quarry at Merrivale and the three Staple Tors in the background.
The first mile or so was along a very old carter's trackway, emerging from the woods into more open land via this evocative gateway.
An old oak tree looking as if it's holding back the rocks.
Our route took us towards Criptor, coming from Daveytown to the right.
Looking towards the long-time defunct Swell Tor quarry, the entrance to which has been gouged out of the rocks at the top of the hill. Stone from here was used for Nelson's Column and London Bridge (more of that later).
A few corbels short of a bridge? - surplus corbels left in place after the 1902-04 widening of London Bridge (opened 1831), this was the bridge sold in 1967 to an American.  It has been said that while there were a dozen corbels originally, a few were sent as spares to America when the bridge was moved.
Around 1699/1700 an Act of Parliament dictated that waymarking stones would be put in place to trace the route of the trackway linking Ashburton and Tavistock, two stannary towns. A few of these remain and they are recognised with an A on one side and a T on the other.
One of the larger cists/kists/kistvaens we've encountered. The capstone was split by a farmer in the past and a large piece extracted for a gatestone. It can be found quite close to the very impressive double stone row at Merrivale.
We do like a bit of historical enactment and here we are reconstructing a Bronze Age burial. Oh, how empty the house seems without my IWC.
And here's another cist. This one is smaller than the one above but it is a goodie because you can see the circle of stones that surround it and get a good feel for how it would have been built up and covered with soil/turf.
The relationship of the circular cist with the stone row (which is about 1/2 mile long) suggests that whoever was originally interred was of 'high status'. The much larger cist is just off to the right.
There's always something to be seen on Dartmoor. This is a photo of a large granite block split in situ but never taken away. The drill marks can be seen and, in my humble opinion, the piece to the right would make a great gatepost. A lot of labour was involved and it seems a waste for it not to have been used.

Wednesday, 24 September 2014

Pigs 'Ere Blog Part 15: Decisions, decisions................

At the beginning of next week, 'our' pig will be one of the four taken on their final journey to the abattoir. But before then there are a number of decisions to be taken, not least of which is how we want the carcass jointed. Normally shopping for meat in quite straightforward: pork for Sunday? Off to the butcher's for a suitable piece. Job done. But now? How should we prepare a 100 kg carcass in the best way to meet our needs for the forthcoming months? How much meat should go towards sausages? How much for bacon, ham or gammon? Should we get the joints boned and rolled or do we want them to remain bone-in? What offal (liver, kidney) do we want to keep? What about the head? And trotters?  And, while I remember, there's the little question of have we got enough freezer space for all this?

The abattoir has provided us with this helpful (?) chart and a questionnaire for how they should butcher the meat for us. All decisions have to be made and entered by the time the pig is handed over to them. If we can't make up our minds by then, I presume the default position is sausages! 100 kg of them. We like sausages but 100 kg might be a bit too much.
And while we ponder on the above, we also have to think about how we are going to load up four probably uncooperative pigs into a trailer for transport. Stay tuned for the next thrilling instalment of the Pigs 'Ere Blog to discover how we get on. Who thought retirement could be this exciting?

Monday, 22 September 2014

Questions and Answers: Guardian Style

For many years, the Guardian Weekend magazine has featured interviews with a wide range of people in which they are asked the same set of questions. Sometimes I've mused on how I would answer the same questions. Today I've done something about it and here are my immediate responses to those posed in the most recent issue. I think the trick is to give the first thing that springs to mind without 'over thinking'. I'll admit that a few of my responses surprised me - where did those memories come from?

What is your earliest memory?
Crossing the Hall Fields in Bedwas on a moon-lit night with my mother (probably going to my nan's) and talking about the Man in the Moon. I must have been 3 or 4 at the time.

Which living person do you most admire, and why?
Bruce Kent, on the basis that I respect what he's done, I've learned something significant from him, I respect the way he's conducted himself and I respect the way he treats people. And there are others who fall into the same category.

 What is the trait you most deplore in others?
Disengagement with civic and humanitarian responsibilities and being proud of it.

What is your most treasured possession?
I'm not particularly bonded to anything material.

What would your super power be?
For the longer term benefit of everyone, to have the power to prevent the undoubted consequences of climate change.

What makes you unhappy?
Apart from the deplorable state of the world, anything that makes my family and friends unhappy.

What do you most dislike about your appearance?
I look the way I look and accept it as that.  Worrying about my appearance has not and does not occupy much of my time.

If you could bring something extinct back to life, what would you choose?
A simpler and less commercial way of life.

Who would play you in the film of your life?
Spike Milligan.

What is your favourite word?

What is the worst job you've done?
Digging up potatoes in the cold and wet on a farm in Rogerstone when I was in my early teens. And all for a pittance.

What has been your biggest disappointment?
Seeing the collapse of social democracy and the rise of voracious capitalism.

What is the worst thing anyone's said to you?
"You need a triple bypass urgently".

What is top of your bucket list?
Waking up tomorrow and the next day and the next day...

What do you owe your parents?
Given that education is the foundation of my present life style and given that my parents were always fully supportive of my education (and, at times, it would have been very difficult for them financially), I owe them the security I now enjoy.

To whom would you most like to say sorry, and why?
Susan Jones for an unfortunate incident in the playground at Bedwas Junior Mixed School circa 1957. I know she never forgave me.

Who would you invite to your dream dinner party?
A mixture of good friends who I know would get on and have a good time.

If you could go back in time, where would you go?
Walking my children to primary school, holding their little hands and enjoying their dependence on us.

How do you relax?
By being me.

What is the closest you've come to death?
Whilst on a vacation job at the coking plant in Trethomas, I stepped on a wrongly fitted lid on a large oven and almost fell into the furnace beneath.

What do you consider your greatest achievement?
Being closely involved in the work that got a very effective anticonvulsant into patients and made a real difference to their lives. 

What song would you like played at your funeral?
Days from the Ray Davies Choral Collection With The Crouch End Festival Chorus.

How would you like to be remembered?
Without malice.

What is the most important lesson life has taught you?
Don't panic - things always look different in the morning.

Saturday, 20 September 2014

A tale of two walks..

We've done two walks in the past week in the same general area of Dartmoor - on the western side, quite close to Burrator reservoir. In both cases, the nominal distance was "about 6 miles", according to our leader for the day, and in both cases the actual distance was more like 8 miles. Nothing new there! I thought I'd mention a few things that might not have featured in previous posts and which interest me.
For those who like maps, here is a clip of our routes taken from the relevant OS sheet. After using Romanian maps recently, my admiration for the detail and accuracy of our OS maps has been renewed.
Walk 1: 11th September 2014
This one started well into the moor at the car park in the lee of Gutter Tor and close to the 'scout hut', which was being used by a large number of young army recruits doing young army type things. From there we headed across Ringmoor Down to Brisworthy (War Horse country apparently) and then followed the Plym River up to Ditsworthy Warren. Our route continued across Ditsworthy Down to visit some impressive stone rows and hence back to our starting point. Excellent weather and views all the way around.  
Keen eyes will discern the rectangular shape of a mediaeval long-house, traced out by the dots. The smaller dots indicate the position of the cross passage that separated the animal quarters (hatched) from the living quarters. The solid line shows that the living quarters of this one were, rather unusually divided into two rooms. These houses were always built on a slope so that the animal quarters were lower down so that the muck etc could drain away easily.
This part of the moor was used for many centuries as a place where rabbits were farmed in large artificial warrens. Here's a good one on the hill opposite. Good soil was heaped up into a large mound, perhaps 3 - 4 foot high, with a drainage ditch around it. Always on a hill so that drainage was never a problem, they were located well away from crops and the isolated reaches of Dartmoor was just the place for them. Also the rocky nature of Dartmoor meant that burrowing rabbits were pretty much restricted to the soil of the mound or warren. The practice lasted from the 1300s through to the early 1900s.
Can you guess what we are looking at?  No? It's a vermin trap. Stoats and weasels were voracious predators of the rabbits in the warrens and they had to be controlled somehow. I'm not sure how effective these traps were in reality but they are fun to come across and interpret. They worked like this.....
Stoats and weasels do not like running across open ground and will follow walls when they can. The warreners made use of this by shaping walls so that they funnelled into a channel. I've traced this on the photograph.
Once in the channel, which would have had a cover of some sort, the beast triggered a trap which came down and kept it in the channel, and available for future dispatch. No-one really knows what the trap mechanism was like but you can see that the granite was grooved to accommodate it.
This squarish looking structure is a wind strew, built on a (very) breezy promontory. Harvested grain would be thrown from the top of the wind strew for wind to blow away the chaff, hence sorting the wheat from the chaff. There are just a handful remaining on Dartmoor and all attest to the agricultural practices of several centuries ago.
Probably as good a Bronze Age burial cyst as you'll come across anywhere. The chamber is clearly visible and the cap stone is propped up to the right. In their original form, they would have been completely covered in soil and would have formed a distinct mound.

Walk 2: 18th September 2014
The weather was variable on this walk, fine most of the way but with one short-lived but heavy downpour about half way around. Long enough for us to get our wet kit out but, as soon as we'd put it on, it stopped. We began just outside of Sheepstor village and skirted Burrator Reservoir through the woods to Norsworthy Bridge. Then it was up the track and across a stretch of open moor to Crazy Well Pool. Heading roughly south-west we headed towards Down Tor and Cuckoo Rock, before descending into the Deanscombe Valley and its long abandoned farms. Our last segment took us across Yellowmead Down, contouring around Sheeps Tor and back to the cars. Another good day out.
An example of sustainable transport? We didn't see any so couldn't check the accuracy of this sign.
I don't think I'll ever lose my amazement over how much of today's Dartmoor landscape is the result of many centuries of mining. Take this view: the valley bottom has been scoured, pitted, flattened, lumped and bumped by tin workings. At one time, so much silt was being produced and washed down into the sea at Plymouth that the navy complained about the need to continually dredge clear passages for their ships from the harbour into the English Channel. An early example of unintended consequences?
Part 37 of my occasional series on isolated Dartmoor trees. Autumn is coming and the leaves have gone. Although in this particular spot, the leaves are just have likely to have been stripped off by the wind as by biology.

Wednesday, 17 September 2014

Pigs 'Ere Blog Part 14: Pig in a bap anyone?

Cometh the hour, cometh the pig. Actually cometh Esmeralda as she seemed to have acquired a name by the time it came to start cooking her.  So how did it all go? All of us concerned were extremely pleased to have got this far and very satisfied that we had managed to feed so many people with our own produce. It's a good feeling. A few more photographs than usual to show how it went.

At the end of my lost post, we'd left Esmeralda all cwytched up ready for the big day. And the day came sunny and bright - and early as we had to start firing up at 8.30 am for a 4 pm feast.
The cavity was stuffed with local apples, of which there is an abundance at this time of year. Appropriately enough, one of these varieties would have been a local one called 'Pigs Snout' because, guess what?, it's shaped like a pig's snout.
Then the skin was lightly oiled and rubbed with rock salt.
About three hours in and the skin is just starting to go brown.
No, this isn't our roaster-meister, Adrian, praying that we get it right: he's decanting the collected pork fat into smaller vessels. Ready to be taken away by home bakers who swear by its efficacy in making good pastry. Not healthy but good.
Done to a turn. At around 3.30 pm, after some 7 hours cooking, she was ready. Now that's what I call a hog roast - which is a good thing because that's what we had set out to do.
Let the carving begin! OK, not silver service but the boys did good. And only three digits were lost in the process. Bring on the finger rolls.
Lots of lovely meat and crackling for a seemingly endless supply of baps -and apple sauce - and stuffing.
And did it taste good? Oh yes. A unanimous verdict from all who had one or two or three helpings. Or, in Ali's case, fifteen.
At the end of it all, the carcass was picked clean. About 90 satisfied customers left replete and may of us went off with plates of cooked pork for recycling into sandwiches, curries etc.
Another satisfied customer for the trimmings I put out on our bird table. It's not often we get a visit from a buzzard and the sight of this one was a nice ending to a perfect day.

Not the Scottish Referendum!

I was going to do a long, but very erudite piece, on the Scottish Referendum taking place tomorrow, but got bored. I thought I'd show some butterflies instead. Have you ever looked at a butterfly? No, I mean, REALLY LOOKED at a butterfly? Try it and relax.
Hummingbird Hawk Moth (not a butterfly!)
Map Butterfly (on my knee)
Red Admiral
A rather tatty Silver Washed Fritillary
Speckled Wood