Houdini hens

Our chickens keep escaping.

We decided not long after moving in that we’d confine them to the back half of the garden, in order to give the flowers and vegetables a chance to grow. The chooks were just eating every shoot before it had a chance to show itself. And although we quite liked them raking the lawn – and fertilising it thoroughly – we weren’t so keen on their doing the same to the path.

It wasn’t Bert doing his guard dog thing that visitors (and the postie) had to watch out for as they came up the garden path – it was where they were putting their feet.

So we figured the chooks could have the run of the back, where there’s plenty of room and bushes to rummage under as well as lawn to roam around, and we’d try to make something a bit more cultivated of the front.

Giving the tulips a chance to grow...

Giving the tulips a chance to grow…

We rigged up a temporary affair of some chicken wire at each side of the house to contain them – it’s not ideal as we have to unpeg it every time we go to feed them, shut them up at night, or hang out or bring in any washing, but it’ll do the job until we get something more permanent organised.

Or so we thought. We should have known what would happen. We discovered during our move to Shetland that James Mason, in particular, was an expert escape artist, as described in a blog post on my old website. Here’s a quick extract:

‘By the time we got to our b&b where the simply wonderful Elizabeth and Graham allowed us to set up a chicken run in their back garden, the hens were no doubt thoroughly teed off with being cooped up in their house in the back of a van all day. So much so that James Mason had obviously decided that there was no way she was staying in the space we’d provided with a hastily assembled bit of chicken wire fencing. Oh no. We thought the wire would be high enough to stop her getting out, but no, she get over it. We put a roof of wire over the top, but no, she wormed her way out of that. And even after we’d folded and tucked and created seams so there were no possible holes, she still got out.’

No chicken wire can keep me in...

No chicken wire can keep me in…

The funny thing is that it’s only when we’re not there that they make any escape bids. If we’re at home and feeding them behind the wire throughout the day, they seem quite content to stay there. But if we’ve been out, inevitably we get home and, even as we’re parking the car, we can see them come running down to the garden gate to greet us, chucking and clucking and demanding food. And all it takes to get them back behind the wire – which, by the way, is always perfectly intact and exactly as we left it, so we’ve no idea where they’re escaping – is a handful of layers pellets.

I think they’re just doing it to tease us…

Thinking outside of the box

Graham and I have moved house 14 times in the 11 years we’ve been together. (I think that might be some sort of record – can anybody better it?) We’ve got pretty expert at it, and in more recent moves, quite a bit of our stuff hasn’t even made it out of boxes, as, somewhere in the back of our minds, we’ve obviously thought we’d only have to pack it again in a few months. And – presumably from similar motives – wherever we’ve lived, there’s always been a store of boxes lurking in the spare room, in readiness for the next, inevitable-seeming, move.

I can’t really put a finger on what’s caused our peripatetic lifestyle. There always seems to have been a good reason for a move. Even during periods when I’ve been in the same job in the same location for years, we’ve still managed to have at least four different addresses.

There was a time when moving house filled me with excitement: the idea of pastures new, of taking a(nother) blank canvas – an empty house – and making it my own. Perhaps in my subconscious it was the idea of a new start that appealed: beginning with a clean sheet, reinventing myself, sweeping away past mistakes and getting to start again.

Now, though, the thought of moving house fills me with dread. I figure I’m getting too old for this constant moving malarkey. And maybe I’m more comfortable in my skin, don’t feel such a need to rewrite my story, wipe the slate clean, start again. So, in a show of commitment to our plans for the future and aspirations to build a life for ourselves here, I took all our empty boxes to the bakery, where they’re much needed for packing and sending out orders (which is what I do on a part-time basis).

I do get a strange pang, though, when I’m packing 48 packets of softies for the Co-op, and I suddenly recognise the box, and the legend on the top: ‘Ornaments. Living Room’ or ‘Books. Graham’s. Mostly guides’, or (the one that infuriated Graham most when it came to trying to find stuff before completely unpacked), the enigmatic ‘Odds and sods’. Those boxes have, in an odd, metaphoric sort of way, been a part of my life for so long.

But our life is unpacked now. We’re here, living outside of the box.

Top of the morning

The Shetland weather can be a real tease. You look out; it’s sunny; you think ‘Let’s go for a walk’; you put your boots on, and what d’you know, it’s clouded over and rain has begun to spit. You think ‘Oh bugger’ (or words to that effect); you take your boots, coat and hat off, and by the time you look out the window it’s sunny again. The best thing to do, I have found, is to ignore the weather and go for a walk anyway.

The same applies to hanging out your washing. I’ve hung mine out in glorious sunshine, only to find as soon as I bend down to pick up the empty washbasket, it starts chucking it down. There was a time when I would hurriedly grab everything off the line again, only to find, as soon as I finished, the sun came out. Now, I just turn my back on the weather, go inside and shut the door.

And so the weather taunted me again this morning, as Bert and I set off for our walk round the bay, him intent on bunnies; me – with 400mm lens attached to camera and wide-angle in my pocket – intent on capturing some wildlife and scenics. I was after a picture that I’d attempted but failed previously – of the little village church on the top of the hill in the background, with bright and cheerful marsh marigolds taking up the foreground.

I’d been woken up at 5am by bright sunshine pouring in the bedroom window – and I began to think I should have got up and made the most of it at the time, because as soon as we stepped out the door, the rain began to come down. I was tempted to go back inside and wait for it to pass, or just dump the 400mm lens, but Bert was already bunnying down by the marina and it hardly seemed fair to drag him back indoors just because of a little shower.

Sky dancing

Sky dancing

And persistence paid off, again. The shower lasted no more than two minutes and on the way around the bay I came across a colony of Arctic Terns, giving me ample chance to practise my tracking skills – which, heaven knows, need practice – and grab a few nice shots. And as I was messing about with my marigolds, a patch of blue sky opened up above the church and the sun came out to light it up perfectly.

On top of which, the washing was dry by the time I got home. A morning well spent I think.

You can see some more of this morning’s pictures here.

The best start to the day

The best way to start your day is with a walk through a bog with your dog.

Bert loves chasing rabbits through the heather

Bert loves chasing rabbits through the heather

Graham’s been busy taking clients out walking this week and I’ve been doing my part-time work at the bakery, so poor old Bert has had to spend the occasional day on his own. Which means that I’ve had to take him out at 7am for a good walk before leaving him.

The mountain hares still have white ears and feet

The mountain hares still have white ears and feet

It may not be most people’s ideal way to kick off their working day, but for me, tramping over marshy moorland, spotting mountain hares on the distant hillside and hearing red grouse chuckling and then seeing the male pursuing the female in low, whirring flight across the moor is better than breakfast.

Curlew in flight

Curlew in flight

And then there’s the snipe drumming, the golden plover and curlews calling and the larks singing, plus the wheatears flitting from heather top to heather top, and the meadow pipits peeping.

A very handsome dunlin

A very handsome dunlin

Not to mention the waders on the bay on the way back – the dunlin, turnstones, oystercatchers and redshanks, squabbling and displaying in between feeding.

Delicate wild violets

Delicate wild violets

Plus I can spend hours examining the richly coloured lichen and moss, and there seem to be new flowers springing up all the time. At the moment there are violets everywhere.

I get  back home with wet feet and one very mucky dog to be dried off and cleaned up before I head off to work, but I’m set up for the day.

Back down to earth…

This gallery contains 16 photos.

I have gone from being music journalist, hob-nobbing with (semi) celebrities and artistes, to part-time bakery worker again in no time. I thoroughly enjoyed covering the Shetland Folk Festival for Shetland News, but now it’s back to reality and getting on with life in the real world, and all the hardships that go with it. […]

Cool as folk

I’ve been having a slightly exhausting time the past few days. I’ve been reviewing the Shetland Folk Festival on a nightly basis for Shetland News (you can take a look at my reviews here) – since Thursday, and it’s not over yet. It’s the last night tonight, and though I’m looking forward to a grand finale, part of me will be a bit glad when it’s all over.

It’s not the going along to the concerts and standing for five hours solid that’s the problem (though making a rash decision to go for a run yesterday morning didn’t help on that front), it’s the being out until midnight and then having to come home, process photos and write up the review, before falling into bed at about 2.30am-ish. Only to be woken at 6.30am by the relentless sunshine pouring in through our flimsy curtains, and the knowledge that the chickens need to be let out.

It’s a hard life being a music reviewer – afternoon naps have become the order of the day. Talk about a rock’n’roll lifestyle…

A gorgeous little bright yellow finch

A gorgeous little bright yellow finch

WE SEEM to have some siskins hanging around the garden longer than they ought. These gorgeous little bright yellow finches are passage migrants in Shetland, essentially – a very few have been known to nest here, though none anywhere near where we are in Skeld. But Graham caught three in his net three or four days ago, and ringed them, and they are still here, hanging around.

Maybe it’s just that we’ve got food out and they’re taking advantage and feeding up before they continue their journey south, or maybe – just maybe – they’re thinking about setting up home here (or at least two of them are). Wouldn’t that be great? Having baby siskins in our garden?

More newcomers to the village

Obviously there are lambs everywhere at the moment – including some looking very cute in little bright orange jackets to keep them warm and dry (‘Those are the softies,’ said one of our new neighbours, ‘the southern cross breeds. Our Shetlanders don’t need jackets!’) – but it’s not just the sheep that are busy reproducing.

Thorougly deserving of all the attention he's getting

Thorougly deserving of all the attention he’s getting

Just across the bay from us are two brand new Shetland pony foals, busy bouncing around their field and being just about as cute as can be. We took a walk round the bay and went to say hello – being a bit wary of the mums, knowing how, shall we say, ‘feisty’ Shetland ponies can be. But we needn’t have worried; the ponies weren’t bothered by us and our clicking cameras at all, in fact they were rather noncholant about it, as if they thought it only natural that their beautiful babies should get so much attention.

And they’re not really wrong, are they?