Monday, September 19, 2016

Small Scale Chicken Farming

Coccidiosis is not the easiest of words to pronounce. For example, after taking a run-up at it earlier today, Mrs Grumbler managed ‘Cock Cilla Doses’, which sounds like a dreadful venereal disease caught some fifty years ago in Liverpool’s Cavern nightclub.  It is, in fact, a parasitic infestation of birds and animals and not a word most folk are going to need unless, like us, they are small scale chicken farmers.

Now, when I say “small scale chicken farmers” I mean that we have a relatively low number of chickens, rather than that we farm chickens whose size is a fraction of the generally accepted norm. Not for the want of trying, however….

Some weeks ago, while watching the BBC’s ‘Countryfile’ and reading a Victorian horror novel, I was struck by a particularly intriguing bolt of inspiration. There was an article on how people with small back gardens can keep chickens but what, my inner voice asked me, if I were to produce a chicken one tenth of the size of a regular one, specifically so that people with window boxes can have their own (admittedly tiny) fresh eggs for breakfast?  Several mad-scientist possibilities occurred to me and I resolved to begin my experiments in pico-poultry-production first thing on the morrow! 

We can cut a long story short and gloss over the many attempts which earned me little more than a startled “Awk!?” and a baleful glare from my test subject (as well as a turkey baster I can never bear to use again, but thats a story for another day) but, eventually, by good old fashioned selective breeding I’d managed to produce remarkably compact birds. With one small problem: every successful mini hatchling was, without exception, male.  All of the hens were regular sized.  And so it was that in the end I had to concede defeat because, and I know that you can see this coming a mile off, nobody wants a tiny cock…

Thursday, September 01, 2016

Dear Europe, an open letter

Dear European Union

I’ve never been afraid to admit when I am wrong.  I haven’t had to be, because I’m usually not wrong ;) When I am wrong, though, I can be quite spectacularly so…

So many years ago that it feels like a different lifetime, I had a relationship (who that was with doesn’t matter, and you don’t need the person’s name – even now I wouldn’t want to cause them pain)  which, if I’m honest, worried me a little even while it was happening. It worried some of my friends a lot more than that, and some of them were brave enough to tell me so.  But I was ensnared; I had built a relatively comfortable life (or so I thought) and I was terrified of what I might lose if I ‘took steps’ to end that relationship. I figured I could change the other person’s controlling behaviour, and bring logic and compassion to their world view (which lacked both of those things).

In hindsight it turns out that not ‘getting the hell out’ was one of the most expensive and damaging decisions I have ever made – or failed to make. It cost me health, money and friends.  The first friends to go (not of their own accord, the person I was with engineered their disposal) were the ones who had my best interests at heart.

OK, maybe I wouldn’t be where I am now (which is a place I like a lot, and wouldn’t change) but, had I taken a decision based on an ‘unclouded’ view of where I was all those years ago much pain would have been avoided. 

And now to current affairs...

A few short weeks ago, many of my friends voted for us to leave you. I was stunned, disappointed, and afraid of what might happen. Despite being concerned about many of what I perceived as your ‘flaws’ I really thought I could change you, and that I was better off in your arms.

In relationship terms, we’ve told you we are leaving and we have started to pack our bags but we haven’t divvied up the CDs yet and not even begun to talk about access to the kids once we have gone our separate ways. But you’re already telling us, and the rest of the world, that you’re gonna make us pay for leaving you.  Not necessarily because you want us to suffer, but you want to make it clear to the other people you’re in a relationship with that leaving will hurt. This is the first clue to me that I may have been wrong.

You know, that’s not how love is supposed to work.  Folk are supposed to stay together because of the joy that brings, not because of the fear of the spite and pain that going their separate ways might entail. Hearing you talk of how you’re going to make ‘an example’ of us has opened my eyes to your insecurity, and made me realize that perhaps the relationship I thought we had wasn’t as cozy as I’d believed.  It’s already put some distance between us, and that’s helping me see your behaviour in a different way.

The immediate ‘disasters’ that were foretold if we were to decide to split have spectacularly failed to materialize. If anything, I’m already a little bit better off.  This is the second clue that I may have been wrong.

I can see, just as happened so many years ago, your attempts to make some of our friends who are also in a relationship with you turn against us. You’re trying to line up France and Germany in particular who, along with ourselves have effectively financed your behaviour for all these years.  What do they gain from mistreating us?  Nothing.  So if you have your way, you are the only winner – everyone else loses.  The third clue, and a hard one to miss, I’d say.

The funny thing is that if you stop being so spiteful then you’ll see that you and we could both be better off in an amicable divorce, where we can still be friends. But I don’t think you’ll ever see that, because it would need you to change your ways, and drastically.

And now, let’s see how you’re treating Ireland, and Apple Corporation.  They haven’t actually done anything that is ‘wrong’ – in the eyes of the law (law which *you* made). But nevertheless you don’t like what they *have* done.  Whose fault is that?  Theirs, for doing nothing wrong, or yours, for failing to set out how you wanted them to behave?  Now that you’ve decided they’ve pissed you off, you want to make them both pay, and pay so much that the cost will echo through history. Your hubris is astounding.

This is the straw which broke the camel’s back as far as I am concerned.  The scales are lifted from my eyes. I now see you very differently, European Union, to how I did just a few short weeks ago.  You’re a jealous, twisted, illogical and self serving character, aren’t you?  The only interest you have at heart are your own, and you will rewrite  history or even the laws of nature to see to it that you come out on top. It matters not the slightest to you who has fed or nurtured you in all these years – if it suits you to turn on them and devour them, like a praying mantis to her mate, then nothing on earth will stop you. You are no lover, you are a succubus.

The irony of my ‘road to Damascus’ moment isn’t lost on me, as so many people flee their own literal or figurative war-torn Damascus in the hope of a safer, better life in Europe. Perhaps their hopes and fears, their energy, their relief in escaping a known devil,  this ‘new blood’ will satiate your vampiric tendencies, if only for a short time.

But you and I?  We are done, my former love. I will walk away, and not look back. No fear of turning to a pillar of stone for me, just a sadness in the realization that a relationship I held dear was rotten to the core, and at the same time a lightness of heart that things can only get better now. Others, soon, will come to realize the same and, in time, I think you will go the way of Ozymandias, and I don’t want to see the maggots boiling from the eyes of the half-sunk, shattered visage that will be all that remains…

Friday, March 11, 2016

Yerp - in or out - contains profanities (not mine, for once)

On Thursday 23rd June 2016 the UK Voting population will be invited to answer a simple question.  Do you want the UK to remain a member of the EU or not?

Seems like a simple question on an emotional subject where feelings are running strong.  To make a rational decision you need all of the available information, and the time (and desire) to weigh it up.  I'm not sure I have enough of either of those things, but I shall give it a go for myself (I'm not trying to influence *you* - this was one argument for staying in, recommended by a friend-of-a-friend and I understand that Stephen Hawking - who has never knowingly lied to me - is also in favour of the status quo - possibly the pink floyd and T rex as well).

David Cameron (like him or loath him) has been all over Europe seeking concessions to some of the things which annoy the UK, and has certainly secured some movement - though I'd hazard a guess not as much as he, or we, wanted.  On their part, the other countries in the UK have indicated they want the UK to stay, but that this is a one-time decision.


I am beginning to think that large swathes of the folk who'll be answering have no interest in making a rational decision.  My money is (would be, if I had any) on an 'out' result, which I think is going to be largely driven by reptilian (or perhaps limbic) fear and loathing.  In that respect, there seem to be many parallels with the Trump campaign in the US. The referendum result, more than any 'general election' has the power to change our country for many years - and I have no idea at present whether it will be for good or ill.

So why do I harbour this terrible fear?

Anyone connected via Facebook with a number of UK based friends is likely to already know the opinions of many of them - often in no uncertain terms.  Just this morning a friend of mine 'shared' a post from one of his connections championing the leave cause - no names, but I doubt very much that my pal shares the same opinions as the bloke he quoted (remember how many good people were taken in by Britain First?).  It was an interesting post - contained a number of serious grammatical errors, made a few unsubstantiated claims (for example "The EU needs us more than we need it") and reached a conclusion not supported by those same claims.  I have to admit, I was fascinated, so I went to the Facebook page for the originator where I was greeted by a middle aged fellow gurning alongside a can of Stella Artois (an overpriced tasteless EU import, ironically) and ringed by the slogan "Proud Enemy of Islam".  Now, I don't *like* Islam, in the same way that I don't like *any* religion - Id rather they didn't exist, but they do and I certainly don't think that all of the followers of those religions are evil. I have many of them amongst my friends - all of whom are most excellent individuals. Its impossible to tell how much of a person's Facebook life is locked down to their friends only - but a good guide is how much you can see if you are not one of them. In this case, that was rather a lot - of his and his pals opinions.  I got about as far as "Refugees Fuck Off", closely followed by "Fuck Islam" and decided I'd had enough. This is not a man who's opinions or morality I respect.

There is most certainly scaremongering on both sides, and that's regrettable. Most of the 'in' arguments seem based on what we might lose - which could be more positively phrased as what we currently enjoy. A great number of the 'out' comments Im seeing from the great British public seem to focus on not being bossed about by Belgians or 'overrun' by East Europeans/Muslims. But let's remember, that a 'pure' English person is most likely part Celt, part Viking, part Saxon and, most recently, part French - and stronger for it. And the EU was, in part, created after we all so nearly became completely German - so the irony of folk fearing that its a pathway to invasion isn't lost on me.

I suspect (but I'm really not sure) that we are better off in. I don't think we can escape all of the 'bad' points of EU membership by flouncing off in a huff, and if we do that we're stuck with them as we have no seat at the table. We will have stuck two fingers up to our neighbours in a fashion I'm not sure Winston Churchill would have felt comfortable with.

I'm starting to think about the whole thing emotionally too - I wonder if NOT doing so is actually impossible. Regardless of the facts and a determination to make a sensible decision I fear I may end up voting IN just to dissociate myself as far as I can from the kind of narrow minded, racist, poorly educated and dangerously stupid person whose Facebook page so recently turned my stomach - not an easy thing to do when you consider the quantity and variety of shit I've shovelled from one place to another.

Thursday, December 31, 2015

The Grumbler's 2015

I’ve got a memory like a sieve, so I’ve often resolved to keep a diary because it would be interesting to look back on – but just like intentions to be a regular gym goer, to stop drinking or swearing, the promise has been lucky to last five minutes into the new year.
It turns out that social networking means that I have actually been keeping a diary of sorts, via the ‘book of faces’. Reading through the last year’s posts reveals that the year’s been a lot busier than I thought…
I’ve actually managed to pretty much keep to one resolution I made at the start of 2015 – which was that 90% of all beer, wine or cider drunk at Grumbler’s Oast be brewed on the premises. Shares in local home-brew suppliers have risen dramatically over the year but are poised to plunge once more as Mrs. Grumbler and I contemplate a ‘dry January’.
There have been moments of sadness. Observers may have been surprised had they been walking in the woods in January and chanced upon the Grumbler, clutching a spade, covered in mud, crouched in the bottom of a five foot deep hole in the pouring rain, bawling his eyes out. We had lost our beloved friend and companion Floyd who, for nearly fourteen years had filled our lives with so much love, shed fur, barking and horrendous dog farts that the memories (and the smell – though come to think of it, I know someone who used to blame Floyd when she ‘trouser coughed’, so maybe that’s why he’s still so palpably with us) will never ever leave us. A few months later, after having spent a nice half hour chatting with him in a field before he came down with a very nasty case of colic, I was performing a similar task for Jet, though a simple shovel wasn’t going to cut the mustard on that occasion. Jet had been Mrs Grumbler’s friend for three and a half decades and, while he was undoubtedly the ‘Victor Meldrew’ of the pony world we all loved him very much. Further from home, the passing of Terry Pratchett felt like the loss of a personal friend, having loved his books and identified with more than one of his characters for many years.
On the other side of the coin, there were some new arrivals. Arfa, who we expected to remain a tiny ‘handbag dog’ came to live with us and has grown, like a weed, into an un-trainable, lanky git with the ability to be incredibly naughty and unbelievably cute simultaneously. And Ebby has added a touch of Andalusian class, beauty and teddy-bear attitude to the stableyard. We’ve hatched chickens, collected swarms of bees, adopted goats, raised pigs and installed turkeys. (And we’ve eaten some of them too.)
I’ve discovered a remarkable ability to inflict pain on myself. I left a couple of mates drinking beer in a tent and got my first tattoo. It’s still there but I think they’ve moved on. I made a spirited attempt (with the help of a rusty trailer and a lapse in concentration at exactly the wrong moment) to permanently disassociate myself from my right thumb. While helping a pal move some beehives I managed to get stung half a dozen times with the ‘coup-de-grace’ being delivered in style by a particularly sneaky member of the genus Apis mellifera to my right eye just after I’d taken my net-curtain hat off. In an attempt to reduce the swelling so that I could see again I worked my way through the various creams, pastes and ointments in the bathroom cupboard. I’m not convinced that everything I found in there is even ours. I started with the least distasteful and discovering to my immense relief that pile cream worked a treat. On the bright side, I’m not going to get stretch-marks, wrinkles, athlete’s foot, halitosis, zits, verucas, rust, limescale or – bizzarely – a puncture in that eye now, but the few possibilities that remained after my triumphant discovery still make me shudder.
We’ve crossed a huge number of things off our to-do list (though the damned thing still gets longer). The ‘pony playpen’ is completed so the horses have somewhere to let off steam without wading through hip-deep mud. We’ve had a log burner installed in the Oast to keep us warm. At first, most of the smoke came into the house, but we’ve had the chimney extended, metre by metre, until it goes where it’s supposed to. We may sublet it to Virgin Galactic as their UK launch base since it’s halfway to outer space already. We finally won a long running battle with the council to fix the drains outside on the main road – my threat that next time I had to clear them at two am I would do so without covering my night attire (see Marilyn Monroe, but substitute Brut33 for Chanel #5) probably did the trick. The thought of being sued for mental anguish by a trucker who’s been accosted in the middle of a flooded A-road by a naked old man angrily waving his grass rake (that isn’t a euphemism, by the way) was probably too much for them.
And finally, friends were a constant feature. Good live music was enjoyed. We (well, the horses) won some prizes at shows, and we made a good friend cry by giving her a beautifully drawn picture of her favourite horse. We made another attempt on Trailtrekker – the last, if Oxfam are to be believed. Some of the team went the distance while other (self included) didn’t get much past forty miles or so. And there was Grumblefest; where the rain held off, the pig stayed on, and the drink didn’t run out.
So it’s been another year where counting our blessings would involve removing not only my own shoes and socks but those of several family members. However, as I write this in the warm office, they’re mucking out the horses (score one for me) so I really dont want to get too close to their boots.
Happy new year everyone…

Friday, December 11, 2015

'Ark at that rain, but don't call me Noah. A swearfest.

I am awoken from hard won slumber and a dream involving a lottery win, twelve gallons of Harvey's best and a bus load of naked nuns by the howls of a thousand banshees and something that sounds like my house being demolished around me, mostly because it fucking well is, by my own beloved pets.

I discover an Eight foot wide swathe of water, four feet from my house on a sixteen foot wide road with forty ton trucks (sixty tons when fully loaded with migrants from the Calais camps) going past at fifty miles an hour throwing a ten foot tidal wave at the aforementioned abode. And over me in my sodding dressing gown as I try and unblock the drains at midnight?

Meantime there's 100 kilos of mad dog in my kitchen, two busted doors and a pile of 'terrified dog' shit that looks like it weighs more than the frantically barking canine cretin that's just laid it. I like mountains as much as the next guy, but I don't want a fucking brown one in the room next to my kitchen. Especially not one that smells like Tyson Fury's breath.

And the man at the council winces when my complaint contains the word 'fuck'? Well, bollocks.

My legendary patience is ended in a searing orgy of profanity.

Tomorrow, someone's going home from the council road maintenance office with busted eardrums, radi-fucking-ation burns and an extra arsehole they didn't have when they got up in the morning. And if that doesn't fuck their Friday night up as badly as my Thursday has been, I shall visit them at 2am on Saturday and personally shit in their handbag after I've tattooed 'Donald Trump is God' on their forehead using a rusty nail and a pint of hydrofluoric acid laced with smallpox, and sublet their toilet to a tribe of psychopathic midget headshrinkers from Papua New Fucking Guinea who hold a very specific grudge against south east English local government employees.

And by way of apology for anyone who's ever watched 'the thick of it' Malcolm Tucker is a pansified amateur who can kiss my hairy arse. And if you haven't watched it, then do, and you'll know just what I mean.

Right. Rant nearly over. I am grateful, after all that I don't live in Cumbria, to the residents of which goes my heartfelt sympathy. Where's my bloody whisky. I love you all dearly, but this has really pissed on my chips. Night night.

Thursday, October 09, 2014

Fifty, not out...

Ive had an epiphany, but its alright, I got ointment for it and the swelling's hardly noticeable now.

It might be an odd thing for the Grumbler to say, but I haven't got a lot to grumble about.

Don't worry, though, because that's never hampered me before and it isn't going to stop me now!

Hitting this age milestone feels a little different to previous ones. I don't feel another day older (and I'm no deeper in debt) but its more than likely that I'm over halfway through my time on Earth, and that's fine, I fully intend to be dust and memories long before the time said planet has all been carelessly used/fucked up.  Anyway, if the Daily Mail is to be believed[1] the entire population will be (a) vegetarian, (b) Moslem and (c) Chinese long before that happens, and while I've genuinely got nothing against any of them, I love bacon, can't believe in God and don't speak Mandarin (except for an appalling attempt at pronouncing something I'm assured translates to "Farting Dog"). I'd be no less conspicuous and no more welcome than half a Rocky Mountain Oyster floating in a bowl of carrot consomm√©.

Having lost a mum and two dads between Mrs Grumbler and myself in a scant twelve months certainly awakens a new perspective on mortality; but its a positive one, and it's to live each day and enjoy it. Fully. We only have one life (yes, I know that others will disagree, and that's OK. If they're right, Ill wave at them from the flames downstairs...) and it's too short to bugger abut doing things you don't like, or being unpleasant to people.

I'm not sure I've always been good at not wasting my time on things I don't enjoy, but as my brother Ralf says, "I can't change the past, so I'm not going to worry about it". I'm certainly gonna make an effort to concentrate on doing what makes me happy from now onwards (excepting, of course, things which are a means to an end; like work for example), and from that perspective I'm far from halfway done with living yet. What I AM sure about is that I must be reasonably good at not being unpleasant to people. Evidence, should it be necessary, is available in the number of most excellent friends I have.

I hope you're not bored by this introspection but, frankly, if you are I don't really mind. Its taken me many years and a lot of alcohol, but I like me.  I'm still going to laugh at things; especially myself, and at you too, incidentally, but it will be a laugh of delight, not of derision. For example:

So I've made some 'new-life' resolutions. A bit like new-year resolutions, but lacking the contumelious intent to ignore them after five minutes.

  • More time with the many people I love.
  • More creative expression - think, draw, paint, turn, carve, grow, brew, cook, write, imagine, make, build, walk, run, ride, play...
  • Its OK to be covered in shit, as long as you're having fun
  • No fear of failing. Be me, and to hell with whether anyone else doesn't like it. Empirical evidence tells me enough people do, so I don't need to worry.
  • No despair in the face of unpleasant tasks, get 'em done and forget 'em
  • Above all, waste no time or energy on "Flouty pelm-vessels" [2].

These just missed the cut...
  • Dance like no-one's looking, sing like-no one's listening.
  • Work ceaselessly to standardise the bowler hat as  a measure of breast-size

And there you have it - The Grumbler on being fifty.

[1] Its absolutely NOT, under any circumstances. If a Daily Mail reporter tells you your arse is on fire, I recommend that you call for a mirror to check rather than a bucket of water to put the flames out.

[2] I was watching the news last week just before turning out the light and going to sleep, and a guy was asked by a journalist what he thought of the defection of Mark Reckless to UKIP. His response "Well, he's a flouty pelm-vessel isn't he?" actually left me chuckling as I fell asleep. I recommend that heartily, and intend to do my best to use this utterly meaningless and yet beautifully descriptive term as often as I can in future.

Monday, October 06, 2014

Insomnia's a bitch

Sleep is frequently elusive at the moment. I've tried alcohol, but once I do manage to drop off I spill it over the duvet and the resulting wet patch wakes me up.  It doesn't impress Mrs Grumbler much either.

Counting sheep doesn't work, it too dark in the country to see them in the neighbour's field, and besides which, they only have about five.

So I tend to lie awake for what feels like, and may well be, hours.

Over the past few nights the same words have been echoing around my otherwise empty head. They've been pretty persistent, so I have to conclude that they want writing down (and then hopefully they'll leave me alone for a while). They wont be satisfied if I just put them on paper and file it away, but I'm not gonna spam them over Facebook either.  At least it takes some effort to get here, and seasoned visitors know what they could be in for.

Late addition: I chatted with a couple of people after I made this 'public'. Yes, this is extremely personal, but that's not a reason to hide it - in fact I'd hope that imbues it with a little power. Almost as important is what this isn't - it's not 'sad'. And having let the words out, I slept like a log last night.

Don't panic - (ab)normal service will resume shortly...

Half awake at night, feeling empty, feeling sad
I’d give a lot for one more chance to sit and talk with dad
The cold truth hits, like runaway train
He’s far away, I can’t do that again
The memory is raw and fresh
So every passing day
I hold his hand again, warm, fragile flesh
I sit with him as he quietly slips away
The sadness burns but then I find
If I tune out the noise
And search a quiet, peaceful mind
I can see his face and hear his voice
The good, strong man I’ve always known
Is still with me, I’m not alone
Then I no longer need to weep
I can smile and drift to sleep

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Disguising vegetables and embarrassing misunderstandings

I'd thought my days of disguising vegetables so that they would be eaten by the intended victim were over (at least until one of the Grumblettes brings forth a grandchild or two) when I was finally able to admit to the aforementioned ladies that the 'cooked lettuce' that they were eating was not, in fact, Iceberg (which they love) but was actually a Savoy Cabbage (which they had professed to hate).

This week, however, Mrs Grumbler informed me that it was necessary for me to cut the grass in the stallions' field because it was 'too long' for them to eat. This is not a physical problem, you understand, the poor pampered beasts don't suddenly find it impossible to chomp a mouthful of blades once they get past six inches long. Apparently, long grass tastes too bitter for them.

Oddly, in the hundreds of years Ive known her, I've never seen Mrs Grumbler disconsolately pushing a lawnmower over the ponies' dinner. However, now that we have a 'topper' (a mower attachment - not a posh hat) for the tractor, I was instructed to mow the field. This strikes me as pointlessness of the same ilk as drying washing up with a tea towel.  Just as the washing up will dry on its own, with time, so shall the horses eat the grass, no? Such arguments cut no ice with the missus, and so I was shortly to find myself driving the tractor round the field in ever decreasing circles.

At first, I learned the hard way that I needed to dodge the low hanging branches round the edge of the field.  Fortunately, after giving it a quick suck to get rid of stray grass clippings and horseshit, I was able to pop the eyeball right back in, and now you'd almost never know it had ever been gouged out by an errant sweet chestnut tree much overdue a spot of pruning. I considered holding a chainsaw and doing two jobs at once, but the potential for calamity was too great even for a chancer like me. After the first three 'revolutions' I was safely out of their reach, in any case, and beginning to understand that I had a quite different problem.

Blog devotees will know that I have previously referred to riding a seatless bicycle across a ploughed field as a substitute experience for horseriding.  May I add 'driving a tractor repeatedly around a paddock' as another possible alternative?  Tractors, or at least MY tractor don't have much in the way of suspension. The vertical jolting was of such ferocity that I suspect the fact that my moobs are a paltry B-cup (and all muscle at that) is all that saved me from TWO black eyes.

I make a small digression to explain my familiarity with the arcane art of bra-sizing. Back when I first met Mrs Grumbler, and love and lust were both in the first flower of their youth, I determined to purchase her some lingerie for Christmas, in the hope that she'd have something nice to unwrap in the morning and I'd have something nice to unwrap in the evening.  But what of size?  I had heard of 'cantilevered' bras and, as an engineer at heart, I assumed that weight of the contents might be a useful statistic in calculating the correct fit. I should advise any gentlemen readers that approaching the boudoir with a kitchen scale and a large spoon is unlikely to have any positive effect on your chances of a romantic evening, even if you have gone to the trouble (as I did) of warming the spoon. Rebuffed, I realised I'd have to wing it on my mission to purchase frilly things.

Undeterred, I sallied forth to an appropriate posh looking shop, perused the merchandise (suffering many suspicious glares from the unanimously female customers) and, having selected a likely offering approached the lady in charge. Viciously suppressing my embarrassment by staring her unswervingly in the eyes, I pointed over my shoulder at where I'd recently seen what I wanted, and declared, "I'd like a closer look at one of those please".  In my defence, I have to say that I had no idea that the changing room was in that direction, nor that the prospective bride who was seeking her friends' opinion on what she intended to wear under the wedding dress had chosen that moment to step out of its curtained depths. Had she been less than an arm's length away from me, my index finger would have had a soft landing - which is more than can be said for the handbag which made contact with the side of my head.

Once the concussion had subsided enough for me to drive, I took myself to a Marks and Spencer.  (in another town, just to be on the safe side). You cant go wrong in a Marks and Spencer, and I know it's clientele to be drawn from both genders. Surely I was safe.  I found an even nicer possible present, and, as luck would have it, was approached by a helpful young assistant.
"Can I help you sir?"
"Yes indeed!  I'd like to buy this for my wife.  Do you have it in a size thirteen and a half?"
"I'm not sure we have that size sir, how are you measuring it?"
"Well, my hat's a six and three quarters, and each of them fit rather nicely into that..."
Suffice to say that Mrs Grumbler got chocolates for Christmas that year.

Anyway, back to the tractor, I clearly missed a few bits (beginner's luck) and so the finished job had some resemblance to Hampton Court Maze.  A carrot in the middle and the rabbits could have had their own amusement park. All in all, though, a job well done, and I sat back with a glow of satisfaction. A very short lived satisfaction, it has to be said, and more than a glow. As I have since found out from a farmer pal, I should have done most of it standing up to avoid the 'soft tissue' injuries to the nether regions.

And that, honestly, is why, when the vicar came round, I was to be found reading the newspaper in the dining room with my plums nestled in a fruit-bowl full of iced water, gently steaming.

To think I thought getting more involved with the horses was going to be a doddle...

Friday, August 29, 2014

The voices made me do it...

Some time ago I wrote a little piece about NOT owning a horse.  Its proven popular amongst those who do, and their 'significant others'.  You'd be forgiven for assuming that I'd never own a horse, but you'd be mistaken.

There has been much water over the bridge since I wrote that. In fact, there's been much water down the drive, all over the damned fields, and in next door's basement too, but that's just because George Bush messed up the weather a few years ago, curse his little monkey face.  Now that we live in Castle Grumbler, and have our own stable yard on site I have been exposing myself to horses much more frequently than I did before. Stop that now! What FILTHY minds you have.

Anyway, I rediscovered how much I actually like these animals and, on a lovely trip to see a foal which is destined to join our herd as Mrs Grumbler's new "special boy" (more on him another day) I sort of fell in love with his cousin. For the technically minded, he's an Azteca. In this particular case, thats 50% Andalusian, 50% American Quarter Horse and 50% teddybear.  Yes, I know that's 150%, but he's a LOT of horse, OK?  After much deliberation (this is, after all, quite a commitment) I chatted with Karen, his breeder, (who carefully examined my credentials) and we reached a most amicable arrangement whereby I gave the good lady a stack of pictures of Her Majesty and, in exchange, she gave me 'Tino. Yes, that's ONE apostrophe, and it's important. OK? He's on the left in the picture, with his mum.

I've made much, in the past, of the unexpected costs of horse ownership.  Quite how unexpected was brought home to me only hours later when, just south of the Dartford crossing on our way home, the front tyre of the horse lorry decided to explode. To her credit, Mrs Grumbler (for she was driving) didn't flinch, and got us safely over to the hard-shoulder.  I should point out that she and I have an 'arrangement' regarding said vehicle. She lets me pay when it needs work doing and, in return, I'm not allowed to drive it. This would work well if I could convince her that it's the best vehicle for any trip to the pub, but apparently she's not that stupid. Predictably, it took four hours for the guy to come and change the wheel, and eventually I had to buy TWO new tyres.

Once we got home It was decreed that having been cooped up in the lorry for longer than we'd expected (though he travelled very well) I should give the lad a walk round the field.  Proudly, a wandered up and down the field with my new best friend at the other end of the lead rope.  Every now and then I stopped and gazed, to reassure myself that yes, this is MY horse. Whether 'Tino was proudly thinking "Yes. this is my owner" I'm not sure. (I have since learned to read his mind.  How can anyone spend that much time thinking about hay?) But I do know that he felt the needed to have a little jump about and, I'm sure it was an accident, he managed to kick me on the right thigh with both rear hooves at the same time.  I forgave him almost as soon as I could stand up again. Do you know, if I'd been two inches to the right, he'd have missed BOTH my legs. I may not have been allowed to display that impressive swelling in the office...

Well, we got him stabled and settled in for the night.  Since he's a yearling, it'll be two years at least before I can ride him. That's OK, it gives me two years to learn how to.  I suspect there may be more related posts as both he and I gain impressive new skills.

My education has begun: The girls have been keen to inculcate me with some of the more arcane mysteries of horsemanship, one of which they tell me is critically important, and is called "poo picking".  This involves regularly scouring the fields in which the horses graze, and picking up their, er, "apples"; depositing them in a pile in the corner of the field.  Apparently, in the winter, this pile of poo will be distributed back over the field from whence it came.  This feat amazes me, and I cant wait to see how it goes. Faced with a request such as "empty the dishwasher" or "take the bins out", the standard response from the girls after non-compliance is "I forgot". If their memories are that bad, how the hell are they going to remember which turd is supposed to go where?

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Final Last Words...

As those who know the Grumbler will be aware, my dad passed away fairly recently.

Of course, this hasn't been the happiest event in recent history from my perspective. I vividly remember the last words he whispered to me and while I know why he said them, and even agreed with him, they still made me feel sad. Until today.

It's important to note that it hasn't been without its own, sometimes grim, sometimes ironic, humour. I don't think dad'd be too upset if I shared the funnier bits and, frankly, even if he would be, he's not here to tell me so.

For example, Mrs Grumbler surprised and delighted me last Christmas morning by presenting me with a pair of tickets for the forthcoming (and now past) Monty Python Live shows.  I told dad about this, but he wasn't overly moved, having intensely disliked the Flying Circus. As if to underscore the point, he passed away on the day I was due to actually go and see them.  So, of course, I didnt.

The old chap was looked after, in his last days in intensive care by two very nice doctors; one of whom was not a gynaecologist, and the other of whom was not an oncologist. This is not at all funny until you know that the lady and gentleman are respectively known as Dr Feeley and Dr Touma.  Say it out loud if that helps.

I've been both lauded and lambasted in the past for talking and writing a "load of bollocks". Despite its funeral overtones, this post will be no different - if anything, more so. Dad was most definitely a
hoarder and, as number one (and only) son, it has been my task to sort and clear out his lifetime accumulation of "stuff". Ive encountered both expected and unexpected items - and I was delighted to reacquaint myself with these two fellows on the left.  That right, they are indeed perspex prosthetic testicles.  Now, before you jump to a horrible conclusion, let me just say dad once worked for a company that made them, and considered these two (rejects, of curse) to be a chuckle-worthy curio for displaying down at the pub.

As I laboured in the summer heat, filling black bag after bag with rubbish, and plastic crates full of stuff that I haven't decided is rubbish yet, I started to feel guilty.  Here I was, chucking away stuff that dad thought was worth keeping. It's, well, it's disloyal, isn't it? I began to worry what he'd be thinking if he was watching me and , as I continued, I felt quite certain that he WAS watching me. Odd, because I knew dad hadn't been in that room for over a year.  I think my
face even went red. Sure enough, I came across a little 'ring box' and opened it up...  Eye've a fair idea where that came from too.

Eventually, I reached the point where I'd almost finished one room. I realised there was one thing I'd been moving from place to place without making any decision as to whether it was trash, or a keeper. I couldn't really put the moment off much longer, so I picked it up, and stared at it. What was it for? Why on earth did he have it?

Here it, or should I say he, is. on the left. Imposing gentleman, isn't he?  I reckon he's a butler.

Closer inspection revealed a small switch under the base. With a childlike sense of wonder, I slid it to on.

I dropped him faster than I would if he'd turned red hot in my hands as, with a mellow strength and vibrancy I haven't heard in at least two years my dad's voice boomed out of a little speaker. Whatever I did must have erased the thing, because there's no way I could make it d it again.

"You haven't got a fat arse!" he boomed. Just the once, but once was enough.

I'll take a booming "You haven't got a fat arse" over a whispered "switch it off" as last words. Every day of the week.