Hens do not enjoy paddling

Mother Nature is asserting her power, reminding us that we are not in control. Last night’s storms brought down trees and an elderly gentleman lost his life attempting to deal with one just up the road from where I live. Homes and farmland are flooded, roads closed, transport networks disrupted. To the west we have the Somerset Levels Floods, to the east the swollen River Thames keeps rising. Trains can no longer run into Cornwall since a section of railway line was damaged by high tides.

The rush to blame others is gathering pace. The government, the previous government, economic cutbacks, irresponsible planners, short term environmental decisions limiting river maintenance, climate scientists, climate change deniers, people in general are all being blamed. Until the rain stops, and this is not forecast to happen in the short term, little can be done to prevent further hardship and heartache for those affected.

I live on a hill so have escaped the worst effects of the weather. On the soggy walks that I have taken over the past few weeks I have seen the flooded fields, swollen rivers and closed roads. Trees have come down in the woodland beside my house but, as yet, we have not suffered direct damage. My heart goes out to those who have not been so lucky.

To date, the greatest challenge that I have faced has been how to keep my hens healthy and happy. The ground is completely saturated so each heavy downpour temporarily floods their run. The shed where I keep their feed has become damp and waterlogged as the constant rain has warped the wood and permeated the gaps. Come spring it will have to be replaced.

For now though I do what I can. I have moved all my hens into the bigger run which offers a little more protection from the elements. The larger coop is raised off the ground so suffers less from water ingress and general damp. Having all the hens together helps to keep them warm overnight. I am grateful that our coops are plastic so, unlike our mouldy shed, have not been damaged by the incessant rain.

During the day there is little more that I can do. If the rain holds off then I can allow my girls to free range. They scratch around in the gravelled areas and dustbathe under bushes. The rest of the garden is a puddled mudbath, including about half of their run. I have put up perches to allow them to escape the ground but they must come down to feed and drink. I am grateful that hens do not suffer trench foot.

I am giving them lots of treats. Corn to help keep them warm, leafy greens from the kitchen to supplement their pellets as there are no plants for them to forage for in the desolate garden. Egg production is down but this is a small price to pay if I can keep them happy until the better weather arrives.

When I see the pictures of the Somerset farmers moving their livestock to higher ground, appealing for feed as theirs is underwater, I realise that I do not have problems. My hens will neither starve nor drown. They may not enjoy paddling but they do have some dry ground to rest on.

The news is full of politicians and so called experts eager to espouse the lessons to be learned. When we have got through this crisis I hope that they listen to those who know, those who have lived and worked the land and understand how to manage these conditions long term.

My fear is that too many will see the cries for action as an opportunity to gain funding for pet projects, as a chance to make a quick buck. My worry is that there will be too many seeing this as a financial opportunity rather than a wake up call that the way we are developing and managing the natural resources on which we rely leaves us unnecessarily vulnerable.

Those who are suffering need help, but this has happened before and will happen again. We need to look at how we can all live with nature, how we can mitigate the damage of these naturally occurring events.

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A weekend away

I am currently enjoying the cosy warmth of a small, woodland lodge with my elder two children. Outside our window is a lake where a number of ducks appear to be revelling in the rain. They are the only ones doing so. Since we set off from our home yesterday morning the weather has been utterly foul.

Thankfully we are on a site where there is plenty to do whatever the weather. Our current inactivity is the result of a need to prepare for exams rather than a lack of attractive alternatives. As I write this my children are discussing ‘A’ level physics, not a conversation I am capable of usefully contributing to. My husband and younger son have escaped to the swimming complex for the afternoon.

As well as the lake and the ducks I can admire our very wet bicycles, securely locked up outside our lodge. Early last week my husband suggested that, given the unfriendly weather forecast for the time we were planning on being away, we should leave our bicycles at home. The children were having none of it. Since they were toddlers we have been coming to Center Parcs for regular, family holidays and we have always travelled around the site on our bicycles. It is a part of the holiday that they enjoy.

Thus, yesterday morning, my husband was up bright and early attaching racks and bicycles to the roof of our car. He then faced the challenge of driving a much heightened vehicle through the increasingly wet and windy conditions to get us to our destination. On arrival we where greeted by a thunderstorm and hailstones the size of golf balls. I kid you not. I have never seen anything like it.

We beat a hasty retreat to the swimming complex and had a most enjoyable few hours making good use of the various flumes and pools. Well, the rest of the family did this. I sat and read my book with a warming cup of coffee. Much as I like to swim I am not a leisure pool person. I prefer to swim up and down, counting length after length, before relaxing in a hot jacuzzi. Such things are not possible here where the pools are filled with families having fun with floats and other water toys.

I was, however, happy with my book and my coffee; watching the rain through the glass domed roof; handing out snacks as hungry family members randomly appeared in need of nourishment. It was dark by the time we were ready to make our way to the accommodation.

While I unpacked our belongings and prepared our lodge for a few days stay my husband unloaded the sodden bikes, slipping down a hidden gully as he wrestled them off the high roof of our MPV. Of the two pairs of trousers that he brought for the weekend, one pair is now impressively coated in mud. The air was less impressively filled with his exclamations at this turn of events. I hope that no young children were within earshot at the time.

The bikes are now likely to remain locked outside our lodge until it is time to load them onto the roof of the car again at the end of our short stay. The rain is not forecast to stop. I think perhaps we should have left them at home as was suggested.

One of the down sides of bad weather on a site like this is that it drives everyone inside. The sports hall was packed this morning when we walked down to book some activities; perhaps it is as well that there is school work to complete this afternoon. Tomorrow we will enjoy an afternoon of table tennis, badminton and squash, but there are only so many of these sports that we wish to play in the short space of time available.

It is interesting to note how the demands of the family change over time. When they were little we would book the children into craft workshops. As they got older they tried the challenge activities available such as archery, climbing and abseiling. These days they are more interested in racquet sports or, if the weather would only allow, walks and cycle rides. They are just as capable as they ever were of growing bored.

Personally I do not consider boredom to be a bad thing. If entertainment is constantly provided by others then one never learns how to explore alternatives for oneself. My children are certainly old enough to be working out what they enjoy. I have so many things that I wish to do that free time is never wasted.

For me then a good holiday is one where we can spend time doing things together, where we can enjoy the camaraderie as much as the activity; and some time when we can simply relax and enjoy whatever we choose to do as individuals. It will be unfortunate if the weather restricts our options too much. It is also rather a shame that the WiFi connections available are so limited; I think that is proving to be frustrating for us all.

When they were younger I would severely restrict my children’s screen time, but these days I am much more lax. They have been offered the option to try a huge variety of sports and activities over the years. If what they now choose to do when on holiday requires electronic equipment then I feel I must, to a certain degree, accept that decision. I can hardly complain when I too choose to log on. Holidays are a time to indulge in the things which we enjoy, and I am as much an internet addict as anyone.

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Autumn

Autumn is here. Today is a typical, October’s day here in England; it is dark, dreary, wet and windy. Having opened the windows a crack to air the house this morning, I now have a whistling draft disturbing my peace as the gusts of wind push their way around the house. I love this time of year when the weather is dry and I can go for long, sunny walks with crackling leaves underfoot and glorious colours to admire in the trees that surround our village. On a day like today though, I am tempted to stay snug, warm and dry indoors.

The BBC failed to forecast this weather on line last night. Younger son had arranged with a friend to cycle to school if the weather was dry and I was informed that it would be. The ground was wet but it was not yet raining when they set off in the dark this morning. I was unaware of the unpleasant conditions to come; I wonder if this will put them off repeating the exercise. I would like my children to cycle to school more often, but not in weather like this.

Younger son has developed a minor cold that he has been sharing with the rest of us. Sitting around in damp clothes is not going to improve his ailment. Perhaps it is as well that the teachers have arranged to go on strike tomorrow, giving the children an extra day’s holiday. A day of rest may help him to recover.

I have been struggling to keep the main living area of our house warm this last week. Temperatures have dropped significantly so we switched on the heating only to discover that part of the system is no longer working. A plumber should be calling with us today; I hope that he can quickly rectify the problem and return us to comfort throughout the house.

Yesterday I spent the afternoon baking which helped to warm things up. I have been doing my reading and writing wrapped up in a duvet to protect against the cold. My elder son is impatient at such necessities; when things stop working he cannot understand why I do not act immediately to get them fixed. I can give him no logical answer.

Yesterday I was required to stay in to sign for a parcel. I was impressed with the communication I received from the courier, reminding me the night before and on the day that I needed to be here. In the event, the parcel was delivered but left on our doorstep. There was no knock to inform me that it was there; I could have gone out after all. Yesterday would have been a fabulous day for a walk; today is not.

Despite the weather, despite the cold, I have maintained a more positive attitude to my life recently. I am still jittery; walking in sunlight but always on the edge of a dark void. Long, bony fingers reach out to try to pluck me down into the abyss; I glimpse them out of the corner of my eye but will not acknowledge their presence. If I keep moving forwards, pay them no attention, they will not get me.

There is talk of Christmas amongst some of my on line acquaintances; I am trying to avoid this spectre. Christmas was a bad time for me last year and I need to build up my strength to cope with whatever it may bring this time around. I lose control at Christmas. I am not good at dealing with expectations and demands; going with this type of flow erodes my well-being.

For now though we are approaching Halloween; a festivity that offers family fun with no need to interact with the world. My daughter has many plans for the holiday, some of which clash with my husband’s wishes but none of which seem insurmountable. I am looking forward to the break from routine.

I am discovering new ways to live in my world that challenge and excite me; new paths to walk that are mine. I like this feeling, that I am finding my own way without coercion. The newly discovered independence of thought and action wraps around me like a warm blanket. I wonder where I will find the armour that I need to protect it.

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Sunshine / sunshade

It seems like quite a few years now since we had a warm, sunny summer here in England. I love to sit out in the sun, sipping on a glass of chilled white wine, dining alfresco. My husband tolerates my wishes but becomes grumpy if he gets too hot or if he has the sun in his eyes. This is one of the reasons why we do not travel abroad on holiday. He prefers to be active and finds that the heat restricts him; exhausts him before he feels he has worked hard enough to justify a rest.

At the end of the last sunny summer I was mulling over how to allow us both to enjoy the glorious weather and decided that we needed a sunshade for our patio, where the large, wooden table and benches (that I spent months hunting down) are located. We had acquired a collection of garden umbrellas but none provided enough coverage. They were sufficient for the smaller table that adorns our upper deck and for the picnic table that we keep on the middle deck (we have a sloping garden with lots of levels built in). What I needed for the patio was a shade that would cover it entirely.

I considered having a sail and supports custom made but this proved too costly an option. I looked into having a wooden gazebo built, but this was a permanent solution where I wanted something temporary for the warmest months only. Eventually, I came across a site that offered sturdy marquees of the sort used by market traders and party providers. A small, cheap marquee can be picked up easily in the high street, but these were not available in the size that I required. I was also unconvinced about their longevity in our exposed, hillside garden.

At around the same time as the boxes containing my new purchase were delivered, the weather broke. We have not had a prolonged period of warm, sunny weather since. Each year I have erected the marquee either for a social event (it has protected us from more rain than sun over the years) or because the weather forecasters have promised us barbeque weather that has not lasted. The marquee takes several hours to erect so once it goes up it is not taken down until the end of the season. It has survived wind, rain and hail; it provides us with a useful storage area for the garden toys that emerge from the depths of our shed each year when the sun teases us with a brief appearance.

This year I decided that I would only go to the effort of putting the thing up if I was reasonably confident it could be of use as a sunshade. The weather forecasters tentatively suggested last week that this month could be unusually warm and sunny. When it started to look as if their prediction might actually happen I decided to go for it and spent yesterday constructing. I am writing this from under the marquee’s welcome shade; it is hot out today.

My husband’s reaction to the prospect of a prolonged period of good weather was to order a garden ping pong table. Thus, he is out in the sun making use of this while I sit in the shade, sipping on my glass of cooling water. He has been in town today with our younger son, watching a civil war re-enactment, while I have been tidying the house. I am the one who is supposed to enjoy being out in the sun.

The British spend a great deal of time discussing the weather. It has been said that, if the weather didn’t change once in a while then nine out of ten people couldn’t start a conversation. The welcome arrival of the sun has prompted much happy comment. No doubt it won’t be long before some start complaining that it is too hot to sleep or be exposed to the rays for extended periods.

For now, I am enjoying being able to be outside in the fresh air. I have looked out my underused shorts and strappy tops (unflattering but so comfy to wear) and am making plans to partake of activities that can only be fully enjoyed when the rain and cold stay away.

I seem to have written a blog post about the weather. Oscar Wilde would not be impressed.

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‘Conversation about the weather is the last refuge of the unimaginative.’