The neighbouring kids keep popping in to walk around my garden. Wandering around eating things off trees, bushes and plants have been a new experience for most of them.
“What are these?”
“What are they like?”
“Can I have one?” - which really means two or three or four!I feel like the reverend Grandmother passing on her wise wisdom and it is another reason why I always grow far more than I need for myself. It never ceases to amaze me as, each year, the new little friends who arrive with the old little friends have no idea how to pod a pea or strip a cob. None of them would have seen beans drying for seed or basil hanging up for winter pizzas. I love showing the kids around, their ever-alert minds keeping me on my toes, but I had a bit of a shock when one of the mums came to pick a couple up.
“Are those peas?” she asked, looking at my bucket. “Yes,” I replied proudly, “I’ll have them in the freezer by tonight.” “Do you peel them before you freeze them?” she enquired. We have a whole generation that doesn’t know what flour is for!
I am frequently asked how did I learn the many daily tasks that I take for granted. These are the sorts of tasks that I do as part of the routine job of surviving to the next day, month, season, or year. Dairy skills; wine making; producing and preserving food; animal husbandry; health and medicinal remedies; spinning, weaving and dyeing; and, of course, hospitality. All skills that our pioneering women brought with them in their long journey from the other side of the world. All skills meant you lived rather than died. All skills which have been lost to us in only a couple of generations. I know where my Great-Grandmother came from and I know the tenacity and sheer cussedness she must have had to achieve the almost impossible thing called ‘her life’. When I researched her life many years ago I decided, out of utter respect for what she had achieved, that every year I would learn one new skill which had been lost to my generation.
To learn, and perfect, one new skill a year is not a difficult task. Some years, because of up-and-coming commitments, I have made it an easy skill. In other years I have struggled through failure after failure until I got it right. Some skills I have achieved and have then rarely used again, for whatever reason. But each year, for the past thirty years or so I have added a new skill to my list of ‘Can Do’s’. I am only alive, and on this side of the world, because of a very brave, strong and overwhelmingly determined Great Grandmother. With each new craft I accomplish, I feel I have drawn closer to understanding the resolve to survive which is in all living creatures. It gives me great pleasure to pass these skills on whenever an opportunity presents itself - knowledge becomes a greater thing when it can be shared.
It’s been rather like musical chairs at Middelmost this week as Little Cream Cheese was dried off and taken to graze with Bossy Boots and Sweet Pea. She has well and truly done her duty for me, she deserves a well-earned rest and an extra month's holiday will do her no harm. When I arrived at the paddock with Little Cream Cheese in the horse float, the farmer had a team of workers about to attack some fencing and, with their help, Little Miss Jonquil was rounded up and popped into the float to be brought home for a couple of months ‘house-cow’ training before being turned out with the big girls for the winter.
Mr Pig was next. Mrs Shona’s mum rang to say that, as much as they had fallen in love with Mr Pig, it was time for him to go. Apart from that initial misdemeanour when he had arrived at Mrs Shona’s place, Mr Pig had been a perfect guest, wooing all and sundry with his bright blue eyes and his gentle requests for a scratch. Both pigs, I was assured, had settled in together and had become great paddock mates. The only hiccup was Mr Pig showing Mrs Shona how to lift the ball cocks out of the troughs! Anyway, he was collected and driven back to Middelmost where I found a message from one of his regular stopping points ... “When is Mr Pig coming home again?” A quick return call, and Mr Pig was driven out of Middelmost and off to a new set of ‘ladies’. Oh, what it is to be in such demand! I am lucky in that, wherever he goes, he seems to have everybody well trained as to how much a busy boar needs to eat. The demands that the ‘ladies’ are making upon his person certainly don’t seem to be taking much of a toll on his girth!
And then Albert arrived home with a wee friend. You know the cartoon ... small kid dragging a Tyrannosaurus Rex through the gate saying, “Mom - he followed me home. Can I keep him?” I looked out the kitchen window and there was Albert smooching an adorable little black kitten. Who knows where it had come from? It was far too small to be a Christmas kitten and it was far too wild to have come from a ‘house’ litter and I haven’t seen any stray cats anywhere to make it a runner from a feral litter. But there it was, absolutely rapt to have found some company and there was Albert, absolutely rapt to have a mate to smooch - he has missed Buppy quite a bit.
The kitten has ended up living under the house for the last week but it is now coming out to have breakfast and tea with Albert. Yesterday, as I walked past the open door of the flat, I realised there were two bright yellow eyes peering at me from under the chair. I didn’t stop to disturb it, but I did grin at Albert. I wondered which of his Great Grandmothers had given him the gift of hospitality.