Sunday, March 25, 2012

A leap year was never a good sheep year

newborn Ouessant lamb
Sae much fur auld wisdom.  Luckily fur us an' uir woolly flock, thes auld Scottish sayin' is clearly a load ay balloney.  Had they instead said, “th' heed gaskit is gonnae blaw oan yer motor” they’d have been nearer to the mark.  En bref, this is a short tale of healthy lambs and a poorly Peugeot.

Gabrielle had left our Brittany smallholding for a trip to England to see her mother and daughter.  It’s a comfortably familiar trail now, four hours on uncluttered French roads followed by a pleasant four hours on the ferry from Dieppe to Newhaven.  After a few days with her mother, Gabrielle was making her way along the south coast, so that she could catch a train up to Christina in London.   She never got to Brighton.  She phoned me from a lay-by just outside Bexhill, “Houston, we’ve had a problem”.

Trying to keep a long story short, friend Phil came to see us last year, with his VW packed to the gunnels with wife, three kids and enough stuff for a weeks camping.  The turbo blew near Avranches one Friday evening.  I was able to rescue them in a borrowed minibus.  Phil was the nearest friend to Gabrielle’s breakdown and was soon on his way to help – car karma!

Gabrielle continued her now extended travels by train, while her car was undergoing surgery under the care of David, a mechanical friend of Phil’s.  Meanwhile, I was left alone in France with lambs popping out all over the place.

Why did you marry the billionaire Bernie Ecclestone?
Our four regular mums give us a lamb each, which is normal for the rustic Ouessants.  They were joined this year by a Suffolk cross ewe who we bought last summer.  The smaller Ouessant ram has clearly managed to rise to the challenge (Think Bernie Eccleston with now ex-wife Slavica) and our white lady with her black suitor has given us … (pause for effect) … one white lamb and one black.

Suffolk cross, crossed with Ouessant ram
The way we’d grouped our flock last summer meant that the ram had been in with the Suffolk ewe long before we introduced him to the Ouessants, so it was no surprise when she produced first, on 20th February, fortunately just after our really cold spell.  We had to wait until 10th March and then back-to-back on 20th and 21st.  All boys so far, with one ewe still to lamb.

Last night, just before turning in, I had a feeling in my water and went out to have one last look at the flock.  From a distance, the torch just picks out pairs of eyes and mum’s tend to shield their lambs, so it was a confusing few minutes, especially as I was counting one more lamb than I was looking for.  We moved mum and our one and only girl to the sheep shelter for the night.

So much for that auld Scottish sayin' as this leap year has turned out to be a very good lamb year.  However, David, a Scot, did tell Gabrielle that “th' heed gaskit has bloon oan yer motor,” and then proceeded to dismantle the engine and repair it.  The Peugeot is dead … long live the Peugeot: thank you David and Phil! 

Ouessant ewe with young lamb

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

You Can Spoon

This week I ’ave been mainly carving wooden spoons.  With 11 acres of woodlands green woodworking has long been on my list of things to learn about but, like so many things in our busy smallholding lives, it has remained in the ‘in tray’. 

The Jan/Feb edition of Living Woods Magazine (link) carried an article on ‘spoon evangelist’ and licensed pedlar, Barn the Spoon.  Through his blog I found Ben and Lois Orford’s carving knives and bought a ‘flatter small’ right-handed spoon knife for £27.  Then, taking account of the huge prices of his beautiful craft knives was happy to take Lois’s recommendation and bought a Mora Clipper CompanionKnife from The Bushcraft Store for just £10.95.  I already had a Gränsfors wildlife hatchet: a sweet little axe with a blade sharp enough to shave with.
I also wanted a book, of course, and the spoon carving bible seems to be Swedish Carving Techniques by Wille Sundquist.  It’s now out of print and is much sought after secondhand and at a price.  Wille’s son, Jögge, has however produced a DVD, Carving Swedish Woodenware, so I settled for that.

He’s very muscular, with flowing blond hair strapped back into a pony tail as he throws axes and wields fiercely sharp knives, all the while being terribly serious as he tells us how to “smoothen the wood”.  What is most important, and possibly where a DVD can improve over a book, is to show us the all important holds and cutting actions.

The basic rule seems to be: think what will happen to the blade if you slip.  Jögge shows us how to position our hands and manipulate the carving tools in a way that we should end up with a spoon or dough bowl without being rushed to the nearest casualty department carrying a finger in a polythene bag full of ice cubes.  I only half jest: beware these tools have fiercely sharp blades and the wood can take a fair bit of effort to cut.

I split a sycamore log with my froe to obtain a suitable ‘blank’, then drew on a spoon shape.  Purists may call my next move a cheat but I have a fine craft band saw (given to me years ago by a friend who had no further use for it) and I cut round the outline with that.  I used the axe a bit to cut off the bigger lumps, then used the knives.  Concentrating on not removing body parts and rewarded by this lump of tree looking recognisably more and more like a spoon, I found it curiously addictive.
When I felt I’d gone as far as I could, I put this wet-to-the-touch spoon in a dustbin of sawdust to allow it to dry slow enough to avoid cracking.  Two weeks later, I retrieved it and started work with some sandpaper.  Contrary to most things I try, my first attempt actually turned out rather well, the resulting spoon is deeply satisfying.  My second spoon (from a thin, twisted branch of ash) split as I was finishing but the third spoon (more sycamore) is drying and I have a wild cherry blank ready to go, just as soon as I finish uploading this blog.

Happy spooning !