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Friday 29 August 2008

Life with Chickens.....

Well here I am, a bit later than promised! Sorry for the interruption in service but have had problems with my back and sitting at a computer doesn’t help – and of course most of my work entails sitting at a computer…….. Hence rationing time at ‘puter to work. Anyway beginning to feel better and hopefully this is just a minor “blip” and full recovery will be speedy! For those of you that don’t know me, I have a severe spinal curvature (scoliosis), so have had lifelong back problems, which sometimes escalate outside my comfort zone for a while. Hoping to be back within the comfort zone really soon!

In my rest periods I’ve been lying on the sofa listening to audio books – sometimes the best position is to lie with my legs over the *back* of the sofa, and sometimes the stories I listen to are so soporific that I doze off. I’m waiting for the rumours to spread around the island about the odd English woman at Sandside who hangs upside down and sleeps like a bat! (Well my neighbour has called me batty for years….).

Things are very quiet here at the moment. As well as the house being quieter with no Fitzi-cat, the coos from the field at the back of the house have been moved, and (vegetarians stop reading) I had Finlay III despatched this week. Well he had been quite a problem for some time as he was a very aggressive cockerel and not at all kind to the hens. After Clara died I was down to three hens, and I noticed one had a limp. Would he leave her alone – no – it just meant she couldn’t run from him, and in the end she was so crippled she couldn’t walk, and bless her she gave up and died. That left two hens – and one went off to be broody. Apparently this can be quite common – a hen will do it to get away from a busy cockerel! So that left one brown hen who wore a permanent startled expression, bless her.

In addition to this Finlay III was really horrid to poor Finlay II who was doing his best to stay out of the way, and was quite happy being a pet as long as he could get some food. But whenever Finlay III saw me feeding Finlay II he would rush for the attack. So…… Finlay III brought it upon himself is all I can say!!

Anyway I have now found the broody white hen (sitting on eggs), and the single brown hen has met up with Finlay II and they seem to be getting on OK. I think Finlay II will stay in retirement (he no longer crows, and does look a bit motheaten from living rough and being beaten up a bit) so hopefully he won’t “bother” the hens. However my next evil act is to remove the broody hen from her eggs – it’s a bit too late in the season for her to start hatching etc. So I’m hoping once it’s dusk tonight and the brown hen is in the henny hoose I can sneak in and get the white hen and shut her in the henny house too, remove her eggs, and after her initial squaking about that tomorrow she will go back to scratching around with the brown hen and Finlay II. However….. the best laid plans etc……..

I’m hoping to replenish my hen stock and am on the look out for about 4 more hens. Don’t mind what I get – I just love having hens scratching about!

So I’ll keep you posted on Life with Chickens…… (and no I did NOT eat Finlay III – I make it a policy never to eat anything I have become personally acquainted with…..!)

Tuesday 26 August 2008

Normal service will be resumed shortly......

Sorry for the lack of postings this week. Have been unwell and consequently limiting time at computer (clearly I haven't got my priorities right I hear some of you say!). However returning to what passes for "normal" for me so will try and post something over next couple of days!!

Sunday 17 August 2008

The demise of Clara Cluck

Another sad day today as dear Clara Cluck, one of my favourite brown hens, passed away during the night. She’d been a bit “off colour” over the last few days, not her usual ebullient self so I suspected her days were numbered. She was quite an old hen and had provided lots of lovely eggs over the years. I shall miss her as she was quite a character and always there ready to grab any juicy worms or grubs as I dug in the garden. But she had a good life, living completely “free range” scratching about wherever she wished and with a nice cosy hen house to sleep in at night. The other hens showed a complete lack of concern at her demise today, more interested in the scraps I had for their breakfast! Heartless things!

I’m still missing dear old Fitzi-cat. I keep thinking I hear him about the house, a soft foot-fall on the stairs, a snore coming from the other room. I like to think his spirit is still around the house. In the summer he slept in various favoured places around the house, but in the winter always snuggled up on the bed and kept my feet warm, so I shall miss him then. Though sometimes my feet would go numb – he was quite a hefty cat weighing about 9 kilos!

I remember when I first moved to Graemsay I lived in a caravan in the old garden while the house was being renovated. This was fine in the summer, but during the winter gales was a little alarming at night. I’d lie in bed watching the walls of the caravan flex! On many a wild night Fitzi would crawl under the duvet with me and we’d huddle together hearing the wind screaming like a banshee around us, amid the sound of crockery crashing off shelves!

Neighbours had always offered us refuge when gales were forecast, and one night I decided to take up the offer of a slightly more solid residence for the night. My neighbours were rather surprised to see me turning up at midnight with Fitzi-cat under my arm. Well I could hardly leave him to take his chances in the caravan on his own! Thankfully they covered their surprise well and made us both welcome. Both Fitz and I were very glad to move into permanent substantial accommodation eventually!

This week has been a busy week for me though as I had a painter over to do some work on the exterior of the windows and doors. As the house is a “listed” building (listed as of historic interest with Historic Scotland) there are restrictions on what materials can be used on the house, so we had to have wooden windows put in during renovations rather than plastic surround windows. That’s fine except as the house is so exposed to the wind and salt spray, the paint takes quite a battering and needs a lot of maintenance. Added to that workmen are never particularly keen to come over and work on Graemsay, particularly for outside work. Partly due to the possibility of being stuck here if the weather changes without being able to get on with the work. From my point of view it’s also a little worrying as of course even if they can’t work I have to pay for their time here! Anyway thankfully the weather held this week and the painter, Dave, did a great job of all the windows and the house is looking bright and fresh again. He’s definitely one to recommend and I’ll get him back again when they need redoing.

Hazy day today with a bit of a breeze, but at least it’s still dry. Think I’ll go for a breath of fresh air now.

Thursday 14 August 2008

Sad news about Fitzi-cat

Sadly last week I had Fitzi-cat put to sleep. It was a really difficult decision for me, but he had been in a decline for some months, and various tests and medication wasn’t stopping the decline. In fact last week he stopped eating (which made giving his medication interesting) and then stopped drinking. He was very obviously losing weight and although moving about and sitting on the windowsill watching the birdies he didn’t seem much interested in anything else.

I took him to the vet and discussed options but given poor Fitzi had to be sedated to even get him out of the box the idea of trying to keep him on a drip over the weekend was problematic. It also became apparent that whatever treatment was given would just buy him a bit of time and in the end I decided it was a quality of life issue and make one of the hardest decisions I’ve had to make. At least he went peacefully.

I miss him dreadfully as he was a constant companion. I kind of “inherited” him from a friend who was travelling a lot, and Fitz would come and stay during his absence. In the end the periods got longer and Fitz stayed for good. I’d never had a kitty before and we kind of eyed each other with suspicion for some months. However when I moved to Orkney we really bonded. We drove up to Scotland from Kent and Fitz sat on my lap the entire journey (don’t panic I wasn’t driving!). Given he weighted about 8 kilos at the time you can see it wasn’t the most comfortable of journeys!

He had always been an indoor cat in Kent due to too much traffic and I had hoped he would enjoy being more of an outdoor cat on Graemsay. However, it also became apparent that he hadn’t really figured out he was a cat! So when he came into contact for the first time with the barn cats he came off rather the worse for wear. He generally learned to give them a wide berth and I made sure he only went out during the day when any self respecting barn cat was asleep.

He also got into trouble exploring heights. He climbed onto the garden dyke (wall) which led to the roof of the old byres (which now form part of the extension) and walked along the roof ridge. I took a couple of photos. But bless him, when he tried to turn round at the end, gravity took it’s part and he gracefully slid down the roof. Fortunately it was only one level high and he landed on a nice soft clump of grass. I ran out expecting a badly injured cat, and saw him sitting there looking a bit dazed, he then got up, and walked off with his tail in the air as if to say “I meant to do that, what’s the fuss”!

He learned great respect for the hens and the cockerels always giving them a wide berth. I don’t think he ever chased them – that would require too much activity. But I think their squaking alarmed him. He did on occasions make attempts to catch one or two field birds, but when he did succeed he immediately let them go again with a look of alarm on his face – he clearly wasn’t sure what on earth to do with them next !

He was an extremely pampered kitty – when away on hols I’d leave the heating on for him….. and his favourite occupations were eating and sleeping. He lived to 14, which is a reasonable age, and certainly enjoyed life until the last few weeks anyway. So although he will be sadly missed by me for some time to come, I have lots of happy memories of him!

May the wind take his spirit and set it free.....

Sunday 3 August 2008

Gardens and flowers

Here’s a photo of the garden after it was recently burned (deliberately I hasten to add!). It may need setting fire to again but it’s now hoped that the burned bits can be cleared to reveal what’s underneath. There are likely to be some stones used as paths or edging of borders. These now need to be lifted and hopefully in the autumn or spring the ground can be turned and replanted with grass seed and maybe begin some borders too.

For the time being I have to content myself with growing flowers in plant pots, along with the wild flowers and daisies that grow around the house!

I’m still not allowing myself to go out and work in the garden after my recent neck and shoulder problems. It’s really frustrating especially as the weather has been glorious this weekend.

At least Mick has very kindly been up to mow the grass around the house so things look reasonably tidy (as long as I avoid looking at the weeds…..).

The farmers have been out this weekend making the most of the good weather, cutting grass for hay and silage. While sitting meditating at the beach yesterday I heard a great hullabaloo coming from Windbreck on top of the hill. It sounded like the rodeo had some to town with car horns tooting, lots of whooping, and sheep baaaaaing. Then I heard Sandra’s voice – which gladdened my heart as it meant she was yelling at Mick to chase the sheep. He still hasn’t worked out that for every insult he throws at the “ladies of Graemsay”, Sandra makes him run twice round the field after the sheep. We’ll not tell him though, eh?

Saturday 2 August 2008

The rescue of Finlay II……

Well there I was pottering around yesterday when I heard a kerfuffle and squaking coming from the shrubbery outside……. So I headed out to see what was occurring. I could see Finlay III apparently attacking a fuschia bush with much vigour. On closer inspection I could just see, peeping out from underneath the bush, two black and grey tail feathers belonging to Finlay II. Poor chap – Finlay II had clearly incurred the wrath of his offspring by daring to set foot on his territory. I chased off Finlay junior back to the hen house where he should have properly been supervising his flock of hens. He was not impressed and spent most of the time crowing loudly or trying to make his escape back for the attack. However eventually the hens come out of their house to see what all the fuss was about and he was distracted enough to at least forget about his poor elderly relative cowering under the fuschia bush.

Back I went to inspect Finlay Snr, who clearly (and sensibly) had no intentions of coming out from under the bush. So I poured a little grain underneath and some bits of bread and with much rustling his beak appeared and he demolished the offering of food. It was a horrid misty damp day and I wasn’t outdoors much so I’m not sure how long he stayed there. However he now seems back to his usual self, pottering around the old garden, barns etc and steering well clear of his very uppity offspring!

Despite lots of mist this week we had a glorious sunset on Wednesday. Below is a photo taken by Irene of Breckan

Friday 1 August 2008

Update on Fitzi and me.....

I’ve been staying away from my computer for a few days due to problems with my neck & shoulder which was very painful and more conducive to lying wimpering on the sofa than sitting at my PC. However I am now well on the road to recovery (hopefully) so will try and catch up with things.

Fitzi-cat paid another visit to the vet this week – more trauma for all concerned! However the news is good – his potassium levels have returned to normal and his thyroid levels are getting there. So there are some modifications to his medication and then re-testing again in a few weeks time. Fitzi is still losing weight but the vet isn’t too concerned as he is also still classed as “obese” – sigh. Hopefully the medication will stabilise things and he’ll at least *stop* losing weight. Though getting THREE pills a day into him is something of a challenge……. Anyway he appears to be a happy cat, enjoying the sunshine and warmth when it’s around, napping, eating and generally having A Very Good Life! So fingers crossed this continues for some time to come!

The weather this week has been very changeable with a lot of sea mist. Tuesday the mist lifted long enough for an island BBQ, though as I headed home it was creeping across from Stromness again. And today after some heavy showers and a bit o’ a breeze the mist is back again. So no chance of seeing the partial eclipse of the sun today – well not the astronomical one – we got a FULL eclipse with the mist….!

Well enough computer activity for today……..

To make up for an absence of news about island life here are a couple of websites to keep you amused:

Fiona from Tankerness has taken some stunning photos from around Orkney available at her website here:

If you click on “Kayaking in Orkney” you will see some photos she took of a close encounter with a seal while out in a kayak.

Tim Wootton is a local artist and writes a great blog giving fascinating insights into his work as a wildlife artist: