Chuffed with chickens

I’ve been inspired by a lovely blog (visit to write a post about our chooks. I don’t do enough on our chickens, I know – one of the main reasons is because they’re actually very difficult to photograph.

Hens tend to make really sudden, jerky movements (usually at precisely the point when you’re firing the shutter) and even when they’re lying around sunbathing (as in the picture above) their heads are usually still twitching, they’re keeping an eye on everything that goes on around them. Plus, ours are really quite dark, and metering for them takes a fair bit of trial and error.

Anyway, excuses over, for those of you who don’t already know them, I introduce to you Agatha, Tabitha, Bagatha and James Mason. No, there isn’t a cockerel, they’re all girls. They’re named from one of Eddie Izzard’s bizarre stand-up routines. We got them last year, as pullets, and they’ve taken to life in Shetland very well. They present us with at least three – usually four – eggs every day, and they also provide quite a bit of entertainment.

Four fresh eggs, lovely

Four fresh eggs, lovely

Over the spring and summer we’ve had them contained in the back half of the garden, to give the flowers a bit of a chance to grow, but I’ve missed having them around the front door and their coming to see what you’re up to when you’re out in the garden, chook-chooking away to you, curious and interested in what you’re doing. And they’d lost quite a bit of the socialisation that we’d given them, because they weren’t not around us so much, so were running away when we went to stroke them or pick them up.

So, when they began escaping again, I just thought ‘Sod it’ – the plants are all OK and mature enough to look after themselves now, so the chooks now have the run of the whole garden again.

They do keep trying to come in the house – James Mason, in particular, seems to have an obsession with shoes. Just inside the front door, under the seat of an old pew, is our outdoor shoe collection, and she just wants to be in there, all the time. I don’t know if she’s looking for an alternative laying place (they all lay in the same box in the hen house) or just somewhere quiet to have a rest.

Shoe fetishist James Mason

Shoe fetishist James Mason

They eat flies and mosquitoes (hurrah for the hens!), and they also have a bit of a passion for potatoes and oatcakes, but their absolute favourite is bacon rind. As soon as they hear a window being opened, they come running and gather underneath, looking up expectantly, wondering what goodies are going to be rained down upon them. They do often end up wearing their food. One day, Agatha had a bit of bacon rind stuck to her back, and was running off along the path, with one of the twins chasing after her, desperate to get it before either of the others spotted it.

I love to sit on the front doorstep in the sunshine, watching their silly knock-kneed walk as they chunter to themselves, foraging about the garden, dustbathing in a dry patch, or just lying in the sun.


My job

I have a really good job in the entertainment business.

It’s quite simple, but involves a number of tasks.

Here is [part of] my job description.

I am:

The opener of gates into fields full of bunnies.

The lifter-over-fences-that-are-too-high, and
the lifter-upper-of-fences-that-are-too-low.

The thrower of old buoys, found on the beach.

The  winder-down-of-the-car-window
just enough so a head can be stuck out.

The retriever of squeaky balls from under the sofa.

The re-inserter of pulled out squeaks. Any number of times,
even when they’ve stopped actually squeaking and only huff.

The giver-upper of trying to write
in favour of tickling a tummy.

At the end of the day, when all is said and done, I am
The mover-upper to provide half the sofa and
The mover-over to give up three-quarters of the bed.


My employer has complete and utter faith and trust in me to carry out my duties without complaint, unstintingly.

That faith and trust are all the remuneration I need.

I love my job.

Ness of Burgi

Graham has gone to Orkney for a week, guiding a group over there, so it’s just Bert and me at home for the next seven days. Well, and the chickens too, of course.

We dropped Graham off at the airport and then, undecided about what to do with such a lovely afternoon, went first for a stroll along West Beach, where I came across a small group of very confiding sanderling, running up and down in front of the tide like little clockwork toys.

Sanderling at West Beach

Sanderling at West Beach

I was thinking about going to St Ninian’s Isle, so Bert could have a run around there, but really, without a ball the beach isn’t so much fun. No rabbits, you see. He was clearly a bit bored at West Beach, and finding the sand hard going, so I decided we’d go to Ness of Burgi instead.

I hadn’t been there since a visit to Shetland very early on in our relationship – probably getting on for 10 years ago, in fact – and I had completely forgotten how stunning it is. The aim of the walk is to get to the Iron Age block house, out on a tiny peninsula, with just a few feet of land around it, almost cut off from the mainland except for a slightly precarious walk over a rocky link, made safer by the powers that be with a chain rail.

Bertie being very intrepid on the chain walk

Bertie being very intrepid on the chain walk

But really it’s the scenery and views that make it, looking across to Sumburgh Head and miles and miles of open ocean to the south, with Fitful Head behind. Underfoot there are contorted rock formations and sudden drops all around, rocky coves full of smashed boulders, and the sea crashing against the unexpected cliffs.

The block house itself is pretty fine, too, though, with high walls still standing and low doorways and rooms to explore. How short, really, were the people who lived here? Bert was a bit disgusted at having to be on his lead for this part of the walk. There were rabbits everywhere and I didn’t trust him not to hurl himself off a cliff in pursuit.

To add to the day, on the way back, we came across an Arctic Skua having a bath in a small loch. It seemed most unconcerned at our presence and I was thanking goodness that (for once) I’d gone to the trouble of carrying the 400mm lens as well as my wide angle. The skua generously posed for a few shots, and even when he did decide to fly away, it was at a lazy and leisurely enough pace for me to get a couple of shots of him in flight too.

That was the highlight of the day for me. For Bert, though, I think it was the slowly dawning realisation that he gets to sleep on the bed for the next seven nights.

How does our garden grow…? (part II)

Well, at least we’ve managed to mow the lawn. I say ‘we’ – Graham mowed, of course, I raked up the mowings and put them on the compost, and Bertie ran around getting very green feet.

Graham has been suffering really badly with hayfever this year, so his tomatoes and salad in the greenhouse have been sadly neglected. Just sticking his head in there, where there was also a completely overgrown central area full of herbs, with fennel breaking out through the roof, had him sneezing like crazy. I’m no use – I don’t know one end of a plant from the other, and couldn’t be trusted to prune the tomatoes sensibly. I once put carrot tops in my sandwich, not realising they weren’t, actually, a salad plant.

The greenhouse before...

The greenhouse before…

Anyway, the past few days his hayfever calmed down quite a bit, so he at last brought the tomatoes and the fennel under control. It is now safe to go back into the greenhouse.

...And the greenhouse after

…And the greenhouse after

The garden itself is still bursting with flowers. The lupins are done, and the aquilegias are all but over, but all sorts of other things have been springing up in their place. The fuchsias are looking gorgeous in their rich purple and red, while etwined around them are yet more nasturtiums. Honeysuckle is sweetly scenting the back garden, and tiny purple and yellow pansies are popping out from underneath the (rather rampant) grasses. There are geraniums of all sorts of colours and rich red herbaceous potentilla. We even had – very briefly – two or three opium poppies.

And after mowing the lawn, we decided to let the chooks back round the front for a scrat in the grass and the leavings – sure to be lots of juicy insects in there. It was nice to see them in the front garden again, fluffy bottoms blowing in the wind.

garden-12 garden-11 garden-10 garden-9 garden-8 garden-6 garden-5 garden -3 garden -2 garden -1

A walk to Reawick

Bert and I walked around the coast to Reawick this morning.

It was a beautiful, sunny day; blue skies and fluffy white clouds, and, thankfully, enough of a breeze to keep off the midges which have come out in force the past week or so.

The walk starts out along our usual walk round the bay, then continues round headland after headland, with views way down to South Mainland and Fitful Head. We could, of course, have cut off lots of the little points – but what would have been the point (ha ha) of that? The idea was to walk the coastline, not get from A to B as quickly as possible.

Yes, we walked right out to the end of the point...

Yes, we walked right out to the end of the point…

There was lots of evidence of otter activity – some of the small points were strewn with broken-up sea urchin shells and crab claws, always a sure sign.

We stopped for elevenses at a photogenic bit of old building, with brightly coloured bricks in the wall and worn wooden gates adding to its character. Disgruntled, displaced sheep eyed us warily, not happy at our unexpected and no-doubt-unusual presence. I can’t imagine that many people do this walk. Far out to sea there was a little yacht with red sails bobbing about on the water, and later we stood on the top of a cliff watching a fisherman far below us, putting out his buoys.

A very photogenic bit of old wall and gate

A very photogenic bit of old wall and gate

When we reached Reawick, with its golden sandy beach, first thing I did was take my boots and socks off and cool my feet down. It was lovely! And then, suddenly, we discovered we weren’t alone. A little border terrier puppy appeared and positively threw herself at Bert who, though somewhat taken aback at first, soon decided he was definitely in love. The two had a great time, tearing around the beach, playing.

I met the man who owns this beach

I met the man who owns this beach

Meanwhile, I met Misty’s (for that was her name) owner, who also just happens to be the owner of the beach itself. How lovely, to have your own beach, and a beautiful one at that. How lucky to be Misty, to have an owner who has a beach for you to play on all day, whenever you like.

Love is in the air...

Love is in the air…

I think Bertie will be back to visit Misty again…