Dottie – the little red hen

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Written by guest writer Dottie Bantam

‘What do we want? Worms! When do we want them? Now!’

I’m leading the other two girls in one of our many informal protests on the picket line. I tell them this is what Jeremy Corbyn would want. For the masses to rise up against our capitalist masters and mistresses. For us to demand our rights, our freedom and our worms.

 

Waiting for fellow unionists… And meetings in progress
Successful results from protests…

Jemima is a member of the elite, she tells us.

I scoff, she is just as much a worker as me and Flo. All three of us. True, we do have better, much better conditions (thanks to being union members, I tell Jemima) than those poor slave girls we hear about, kept in tiny prisons. But we still do our fair share. We are labourers (sorry Jemima), we manufacture and produce beautiful, delicious (so I’ve been told, no less than by Jemima who had a sneaky taste) petite eggs. Our accommodation and food is supplied, true, but we should always demand more. What would our boss eat if not our perfect eggs?

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An important union meeting in the boss’ office

We have our own private gravel garden, with some herb pots for us to jump onto, dig into and nibble. But we are sometimes allowed access to the communal gardens where there is a pond and apple tree. Our boss who looks after our accommodation for us and supplies our food, nicknames it the hens’ garden.

I ask the other union members for a ballot on demanding access every day.

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On our way to a union meeting. Florence takes the lead

‘She doesn’t like us going in when it’s wet’, says Florence. In my view, Flo can be a bit wet behind the ears herself at times.

Florence continues, ‘Our human says our feet get muddy and wet and then they’ll have to get washed.’

We have fashionable feathers on our feet, top trend-setters we are. Even we reds need to look the part. Think flares in the 70s, that’s us, but up to date. Jemima thinks our feathers are more akin to Victorian pantaloons but that’s Jemima for you. Stuck in some upper class fantasy from the 1800s. She thinks Jacob Rees-Mogg is marvellous and that she ought to be living the life of luxury. Poor Jemima. At least she has the union to look after her.

And Flo. I’ve tried to boost her assertiveness, she’s appeared rather weedy to me in the past. But now, sometimes I wonder if Florence is going too far in the other direction.

‘****’ She screams at times. I’m not sure swearing at odd moments for no apparent reason will work. The boss just smiles at her fondly as if she’s eccentric.

No, it won’t do.

Reasoning has to be behind all our demands.

In our latest union meeting, held behind our house, I go through our list of demands for future protests. Access to communal garden, extra mealworms, extra corn, cabbage and lettuce, bread (as a now-and-again treat, Jemima says it’s not good for us and is fattening) …

Flo pipes up. ‘No more baths for muddy feet’.

Good point, I agree.

And if we don’t get what we want, we can always go on strike. See how the boss lives without our beautiful eggs! I cackle loudly to myself. My comrades look at me suddenly. For leadership I reckon.

Okay, I say, here our boss arrives with the red bucket. (She’s also our personal cleaner). We’re ready for action.

‘What do we want? Worms. When do we want them? Now.’

Intimidation is the key. And sticking together, backing each other up.

We follow her to the door of the shed, home of treats galore.

Our union protest is in full swing. And as I see her hand go towards the packet of worms, I know it can’t fail…

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Trek Diary: April – Scafell Pike (height: 3,210ft/978m)

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When I was a teenager, the Big One was a rollercoaster in Blackpool. Incredibly high (was it the highest in England at the time?) and rather scary, the views over the Blackpool coast – if you hadn’t closed your eyes in sheer terror – were wonderful.

I loved it.

Go forward a few (and then some!) years later and wanting to go up the Big One has a very different connotation to way back then. This time the Big One is in the Lake District and is Scafell Pike.

High, tick. Scary, tick. Views (weather permitting), tick.

Simon and I were going on a walking weekend to the Lake District. And as it was a ‘big’ birthday, (21st since you’re asking 😉), I decided I wanted to do what any normal person would want to do to mark a significant date.

Climb the highest mountain in England, of course! ☺️⛰️

So with trepidation, I awoke sluggishly at 5.45am one Saturday morning and by 7am, we were off. We headed past Wast Water, a tranquil lake overlooked by steep mountains, and parked in the National Trust car park, complete with wooden refreshments stall, information board on Scafell Pike conditions (cold in a word) and festival-style portaloos.

There were many walkers on our distinct stony path leading uphill and seeing them resting en route made me feel happier, as if I was given permission to rest too. But we kept going mostly. It was hard, as there appeared to be very few flat sections – so when there was one I felt as if it were the equivalent of a good afternoon nap compared to the uphill trudge! Compared to Pendle Hill, it was more gradual, not as steep, but much longer. And still onwards and upwards… And upwards…

I was grateful then that we had trekked up that bewitched Pendle Hill twice as this felt, definitely not easy, but more tolerable than I was expecting. And I was glad I had tried to become fitter by swimming and walking. I wasn’t fit at this point, but more so than a few months ago and it made a difference.

 

Looking back was the stunning sight of Wast Water.

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Wainwright says the usual route from Wasdale Head (near where we started from) was via Brown Tongue – the shortest way but ‘also the dullest unless the opportunity is taken to visit Mickledore by a deviation from the path’.

Do we take the nice easier option to the top (my choice!) or go the, what Wainwright calls, ‘magnificent’ journey into Hollow Stones and along the Mickledore Ridge? 🤔

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Mickledore it was. Its name reminded me of Mordor in Lord of the Rings. What would Frodo do?

I thought it was tough walking up the path. It was nothing compared to what was ahead. A steep scree gully called Lord’s Rake.

At first, it was not so steep and the scree not so loose, it was manageable. But it got narrower, steeper, and the rocks I placed my feet on seemed to collapse on contact.

Falling, sliding and slipping all seemed viable options… And the bottom seemed to get further and further away with each foothold.

I was not enjoying this. Concentration was key and so was bravery. A young woman in front of me was crying, her courage having left her. I knew the feeling. Along with her boyfriend, they let us go in front. As Simon told me the safest places to climb up, I felt sure that, behind us, his advice would help her too. And once we got up, they weren’t too far behind.

Like me, she too had conquered her fears.

At the top, on Mickledore, we followed the ridge – once again full of rocks and stones – past a mountain kit store, mentioned in my 1979 map, up a more gradual path to the top.

The final hurdle was a rocky barren landscape, there was even a patch of snow. We had to be careful we didn’t fall through the cracks of this makeshift pavement. Onwards and upwards, passing various cairns but not the real deal until…

 

There it was – the summit. A huge cairn and a trig point. Many fellow achievers were there, celebrating having made it, including two Yorkshire terriers – in mini-rucksacks adorned by their humans. It was misty so no wondrous views although there was a lake – Buttermere we were told – in the distance as we climbed down.

 

As Wainwright says, the paths are distinct but uneasy to walk on, because of the boulders. We headed back to Wasdale Head via Brown Tongue and Lingmell Col. Wainwright says this tourist route is ‘a tiring and uninteresting grind, designed to preserve users from falls’.

But at that moment, that suited me fine. We passed various hikers and they passed us. A couple of weary travellers asked us hopefully, ‘How long to the top?’  ‘About half an hour’, Simon said honestly. Faces fell. A man in a group on the way down clutched a can of lager, perhaps to celebrate reaching the top?

Instead of venturing left to the car park, we went right, heading to the little village itself. The mile stretched itself as far as it could. Once there, a quick visit to the gift/hiking shop – you can buy a certificate marking your achievement for a pound  – and an evening meal in the pub before wearily traipsing back to the car and to our B&B.

 

Down the Garden Path

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The back of Cosy Cottage Garden. At the bottom, there is a bird box which serves as a busy nursery for great tit chicks 

It is now May and Cosy Garden has woken up after a long, peaceful slumber. 🌻🌻🌻

It is easy for me to feel overwhelmed when pondering what to do next with a garden, even a little one, but the decision making is pleasurable. Even if confusing at times… My memory and identification skills are not the best when it comes to plants. Is that a seedling I planted last year or an unwanted weed (aka plant in the wrong place)? Where did I sow those foxglove seeds? What did I actually sow this time last year? What on earth is that unusual plant called?

My garden has become a school classroom for me, the plants are the teachers (sometimes very strict with their lessons. Even dying on me if there is not enough water or too much) and I am the pupil.

There is, as always, much to be done but here are some pictures of what there is at the moment.

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Buddha guards two pots of geraniums and lobelias 

Potatoes in a tub and a mini vegetable patch, so far planted with lettuce and parsley. It is hoped the patch will be extended later  this year 

Forget-me-not, fuchsia, erysimum, primrose, berberis… 

Work is overdue on the Herb and Container Gardens. Also pictured, the Insect Hotel, open for business

As you can see, there is plenty to do. Time to get my spade and start digging… 🥀🥀🥀

A guinea pig bromance

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Regular readers will remember the two guinea pig residents of Cosy Cottage, Bugsy and Loco, and how, sadly, Bugsy left this earthly realm. Loco lived a solitary life for the following month, still eating and drinking, but somehow seeming to age in that time. I didn’t remember him looking so old or so blind. And when he was given the option of venturing further afield from his cage home, he often stayed put or, at least, moving only to a spot nearby.

And yet when I thought of adopting a new companion, my mind reflected on all the info I had gathered over the years about boars (male pigs). How they had to be introduced slowly, oh so slowly because, if not, they could end up fighting and biting… And Loco was getting on now and the last thing either of us would want is aggro.

So I dithered. Looked at the RSPCA website for suitable ‘bachelors’. And thought, maybe. Maybe not. It was akin to entering the world of internet dating and lonely hearts columns. Should I place an advert in my local newspaper?

Elderly black, red and white boar, recently widowed, looking for easy-going male for platonic friendship. Hobbies are food and food,  particularly dandelions and parsley. 

And then Blaze, small, dark and handsome, arrived on the scene.

 

My Book Club friend Liz also had two guinea pigs and Fury had sadly passed on. Now she was looking for someone with a lone guinea pig who could be a companion for Blaze. And if it didn’t work, she would take Blaze back.

This was Loco’s second chance of a ‘bromance’ (friendship between two males).

Liz, her husband and I tentatively introduced the two elderly widowers one evening, holding the two up close to each other so they could smell the other’s scent. Then she left Blaze in his cage, alongside Loco’s, so they would get used to each other’s company nearby. Blaze hid mostly the first couple of days, while Loco peered in, looking for him. Loco tended to show this interest after feeding time. Perhaps it was Blaze’s food he was more curious about.

Is he getting more than me? I could imagine Loco wondering…

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A few days later, it was time for their first date, a breakfast date at an improvised cafe (otherwise known as eating lettuce together in a cordoned off area of my hallway). They could have been entrants for First Dates on the telly!

This was their first time together and it looked like, at worst, they tolerated the other, at best, was this the start of a blossoming friendship?

There was a little sniffing but lettuce was the priority of course!

After this, they were let out together more often. They followed each other, smelled each other, and took turns to mount each other. I was curious to see Loco doing that as Bugsy was always the dominant pig in that friendship. This apparently sexual behaviour is perfectly normal with two boars as it’s a way to figure out who will be top pig. The experts say that, as long as the newly introduced boars aren’t fighting, it’s best to leave them to it.

Eventually co-habitation day arrived. Up to now, they had been either apart from each other or in a large area, closely supervised. Now they were going to move in together.

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First, I placed Blaze in Loco’s cage and vice versa, so there would be less of a territorial feel. Then back again.

Keeping Blaze’s cage and Loco’s ‘bed’ (a wooden house he is doing his best to demolish with his teeth), taking the plunge, I moved Loco in.

It was going to be for an hour or so at first, but they seemed to get on so well, so the hour became permanent and Loco’s cage was dismantled and the base turned into a seed/plant tray.

One evening seemed a cause of concern when, after being fed parsley, Blaze started following Loco around and trying to mount him to the extent that it started looking like harassment. This worried me, especially after they had been getting on so well. Would I have to separate them again and give Blaze back to Liz? I had got rather fond of the silky dark featured one, normally so placid and laid-back, and I didn’t want this scenario to happen.

Phew, the following day they were back to normal. Since then, they live together quite happily albeit with rare minor disagreements that, let’s face it, we all have with those we live with. Loco seems to have got younger and more inquisitive as well. Who needs a face-lift when you have a Blaze in your life?

I imagine the below scenario may have happened at the beginning:

Loco tells Blaze his number one rule: What’s mine is mine and what’s yours is also mine. Blaze responds: Amazing! That’s my rule too!

So Loco will try to take food off Blaze and Blaze will do the same to Loco. Their favourite game appears to be tug of war with dandelion.

It’s a perfect match (second time around) for these two elderly widowers. Thank you Liz for bringing Blaze into Loco’s life ☺️

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