Frozen Chickens

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Down the track.

I have, as I may have mentioned before, been feeding the local bird population and now they have discovered there is food to be had, I am beginning to understand Hitchcock’s vision, when he produced the film, ‘The Birds’. Their abundance is almost frightening and what’s more the sheer quantity of food they consume on a daily basis is no longer a joke. When I first moved in to the cottage I was delighted to see that three Red Legged Partridge seemed to grace the property, they were timid but could often be seen under the fir tree nibbling up dropped pine seeds or something similar, (do things with beaks nibble, pecking just does not seem right?). Then one day they vanished, I had no idea where and was beginning to think the worst, when last week they made a re appearance, well, when I say they, more accurately only two of them returned. One seems to be missing in action somewhere. Red legged Partridge are not indigenous, they are introduced onto the Scottish estates for game shooting, their country of origin is I believe, France and apparently they struggle with the conditions up here. According to Doogy they get wet and depressed and sit under trees with a disgruntled look, which makes them easy prey to the polecats, mink, foxes and sabre toothed tigers. I was a bit sorry to see one vanish as they are nice to have around and if things get really bad on the snow front, I have an air rifle and they would fit nicely into my slow cooker. Red Legged Partridge are apparently not the only things to suffer from the cold. According to Ellice in the Strathardle, who has kept and reared chickens, it seems they too can during exceptionally cold conditions be found in the morning frozen to a perch. Aren’t chickens derived from jungle fowl? No wonder they find Scotland a challenge! Ellice was telling me that she had even found a squirrel frozen on the road with a sort of teeth clenched grin and posed in a clinging to a branch stance. She surmised that the poor little creature had been exposed to too much overnight chill and mentioned that she had moved it off the road to a place where it would not get run over. Now, I like Ellice but I do feel the main damage had already been done. Maybe this lack of sympathy for dead animals is one of the gender defining properties which separate men from women, a bit like goats cheese.

Talking of game, when I arrived at the cottage and was unpacking boxes of stuff that had been in storage for so long I had more or less forgotten their contents, I found an old Gin trap, a particularly nasty thing which was used by game keepers to catch, or more usually maim foxes. It looks like a small bear trap with two jaws that are forced open and set with a small and delicate latch, the trap is then placed in a run where foxes are known to roam and when trodden on the jaws snap shut catching a leg in their grasp. I think these traps have now been banned and their only use these days is to decorate the walls of country pubs where the locals will regale townie visiting tourists with stories of how they were used to catch ‘children for the pot’ and other spurious yarns. Anyway I dug the thing out and not quite knowing what to do with it I stuck it in the shed. While cleaning the swallow poo off the flat surfaces in the shed the other day as part of phase two of operation ‘’clean the shed’, I spotted the gin trap on a nail where I definitely had not left it. This caused some confusion and I was beginning to wonder whether old age was creeping up on me quicker that I had imagined, or maybe I had a poltergeist, the haunted spectre of a long dead game keeper whose tormented soul’s only manifestation on this mortal pile was the constant moving around of old gin traps. Then I discovered the trap I had placed, which was more or less where I left it and all I had actually done was to unearth another one which was already resident at the cottage, and part of the shed furniture.

Another shed based account I have to recall in this week’s epistle has been the task of waterproofing the roof. The roof of the shed / lean to, at the side of the cottage has always leaked. This is annoying, as the whole point of a shed is to keep things dry. The shed in question failed this simple task to the point that my bicycles which were stored in there were getting rusty without having any use, which is not how it should be. So after some inspection I discovered that for some reason, best known to themselves, a person or persons who have since moved on, nailed the corrugated iron to the wooden rafter in about five places, placing the nail in the trough of the profile of the tin roof. Now everyone knows that you fix a corrugated tin roof through the peak of the profile and seal it with a rubber washer so the water runs off. Well this had not been done, and in any case the roof was already perfectly adequately fixed down. So bizarrely it looked a bit like there had been an attempt to discretely sabotage the roof, or at least compromise its effectiveness, or maybe my imagination is beginning to run away with its self. Either way it is now fixed. I had cut some patches from a sheet of corrugated iron and sealing them with large amounts of silicon sealant, I then riveted the patches in place over the holes and I can now say with some confidence that the roof is no longer leaky and the bikes already look shinier and altogether happier. While on the subject of sheds I spent some time fixing the doors of the big shed which did not shut properly and which always provided a tussle with the bolts when going in and out. I had got bored with this so realigned everything and now the bolts click open and closed with a slick and easy action and life has become easier in a slightly immeasurable way.

While I was being induced into the Pitcarmick angling club last weekend, the owner of the Pitcarmick estate happened to mention that the Loch on the estate was in fact due to its construction technique officially a reservoir. The proper description of a reservoir is a lake (or loch) which is formed with the use of a dam at one end. The original construction had been done by a Victorian land owner in the 1800’s and as a result of this reservoir designation every few years a chappie from the department of ‘something to do with lakes and lochs’ turned up, nodded at it and awarded it a certificate of compliance for leisure pursuits etcetera for another year or so. This was how things had ticked along for years, quite satisfactory to everyone. Recently however we were told things had changed and the responsibility for the safety of such land marks, reservoir or otherwise had been bestowed onto the department known as SEPA which stands for ‘The Scottish Environment Protection Agency’. The way they now do things, is to notify the land lord or owner of the reservoir and explain that the structure is no longer deemed safe until the landowner has, at his own expense had the thing fully investigated by a civil engineer who has to then submit a full report to SEPA’s accepted guidelines. This is apparently a very expensive business and will have to be done for every fishing pond bigger than four Olympic swimming pools, which is probably all of them every year. The one at Pitcarmick has stood without any repair necessary since its initial construction, so why make things so complicated? Sorry, that was a fishing rant and it is now over, I don’t know why I am so bothered, I don’t even own a gold fish pond for god’s sake.

We have here on the estate a couple of Lochs, one of them is called Loch Loch. It is so named because the Glen in which it is found is Glen Loch, so did the loch get or give its name to the Glen, who knows? This Glen is however the site of a tragic accident involving the RAF Hercules XV193 aircraft from RAF Lynham, which crashed on the night of 27th May 1993, this accident resulted in the loss of all of those on board. The Hercules was one of three engaged in a formation and low level navigation exercise. There is a cairn near Loch Loch which marks the spot where the aircraft went down. According to locals the track which runs up to and past my cottage was very much enhanced by the MOD who laid a high quality tarmac road over the existing estate track for the recovery exercise. The clean-up operation was a lengthy and scrupulous affair and the only evidence of this tragic accident is oil residue which permeated the peat and which periodically makes its way back to the surface.

I have bought a chainsaw and all of the appropriate PPE (Personal Protective Equipment) clobber to go with it, which should in theory prevent me from severing a limb in the search for flammable combustibles to go on the fire. Now, I am not new to the use of a chainsaw but a few years have gone by since my last encounter, so I am taking it very gently. While rambling around the estate, I have discovered quite a few trees along the edge of the woods which have been blown over in various bouts of intemperate weather for which this area seems to be prone. Some of these trees have been lying on their sides for a few years and should therefore be, at least in theory, nice and dry and fireplace ready. I have to confess I haven’t broached the topic of logging this timber with the estate manager, but don’t think it will be a problem. When it gets cold there is nothing better that lighting the sitting room fire and listening to the crack and pop of the flickering flames with a book, a good malt and some gentle music on the noise machine. It actually gets too hot if over stoked, it is quite a big fireplace and rather a little room. I did look into doing a ‘chainsaw awareness course’ or whatever they are called these days, but the cheapest one I could find was about £250, which would buy quite a few logs and therefore I have decided not to bother.

Last night I did the usual Saturday thing and went for a drink at the Strath’, it is still February so the drink was Becks Blue, a rather bland alcohol free lager, it does give a slight beery impression but that is probably as much to do with the glass its served in as the drink its self. I have noticed that two or three of them is about as much as I can take. Bizarrely if the lager had alcohol in I could probably keep going until closing time or the stocks ran out depending on whichever came first. On arrival I noticed that the car park was unusually busy and once inside I discovered that the Strath’ was playing host to the Kirkmichael Tug of War team. This was, as you can probably imagine, quite a rowdy affair, a good mannered and easy going group of youngsters who were enjoying their Christmas meal, at least I think that is what it was all about. Talking to one of them at the bar, I was informed that they are classed as a professional team. There is not a team in mainland Scotland that they have not at one point or another beaten and they did seem to take it very seriously. They travel to every event, usually a highland games where a tug of war is one of the scheduled activities and due to the points based nature of the sport, the team which does most tugs of war, is the team most likely to win. They train twice a week and in the winter they can be seen training in a field by the rived illuminated by the lights of a couple of cars. I had seen this out of the corner of my eye while driving past a couple of time and had wondered quite what was going on.

The last week has seen the cottage more or less on the snow line, the snow had fallen and settled a couple of times but it had melted quite quickly the next day in the morning sunshine. The hills nearby have been getting snow while it was usually falling as rain in the village. The last couple of days however have been quite cold so the snow flurries have not been melting. When I say quite cold it was -6 yesterday on my way to the pub and I think it got colder during the night. This morning was absolutely beautiful with bright sunshine and a clear flawless blue sky, there have been flurries of snow, you can see them coming, they look like fog on the hills until they blow through, the Bright morning sunlight was sparkling on the delicate, filigree snowflakes as they were drifting through the air, the effect was quite magical. I came in this afternoon from wandering around with my camera, to watch the rugby and noticed after a while that it had become quite dark. When I glanced out of the window we were in the middle of a white out and the wind had got up, blowing the snow into drifts around the garden and along the track. It has been quite wild for about three hours now so my late Sunday lunch might not happen. I might pack a snow shovel and a blanket and give it a whirl, if only to add some excitement to the day’s proceedings’. Last night when I got back from the pub, I made a drink and turned on the TV to see what was going on with the world, I settled down in front of the BBC news channel for about fifteen minutes when the TV went on the blink, it could not tune in to any channels , so after checking the cables etcetera I put on some warm clothes and went out to check the satellite dish, to discover that it had become plastered in snow, after dusting it off I returned to the sitting room where the TV had settled back into delivering the news. That is why satellite dishes are so close to the ground up her.

Well on that note my stomach is suggesting that it is roast time, I should hopefully have missed the Valentine’s Day mob by now. Valentine’s Day seems to me to have been hijacked by those folk who are in a relationship and who therefore have no need of St Valentine, there you go, you have just been served with my grumble de jour. If you do not hear from me by this time next week, ring the estate and ask them to check the track for rictus squirrels, frozen Partridges and lost tenants…

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