Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Another lion, witch?

Well, we have the wardrobe anyway. And it is possible that we live in a corner of Narnia, or at least Archenland. No talking horses, but we have a wardrobe, and winter that is lasting an uncommonly long time.

Which is a roundabout way of saying Barbs and I bought yet another large old ratty Victorian wardrobe, of wood unknown. We're at 3 now - and a selection of other pieces from the same era. I like them, and fortunately so does Barbs. Getting it in to the house was a bit of an adventure, but we lived, and no fingers were permanently lost.

I've got 5 strawberries. The sun has been such that we haven't had a lot of grown for a while, and lost a few fruit to hail. But 5 is better than none, and I showed my optimism by buying cream (a small one) today.

Monday, October 28, 2013

The unhappy hooker

This has almost nothing to do elderly pornographic novels, and indeed the only similarity was the title, and you're safely past that now. Instead it has to do with the poor bloke who hooks carcases up on his rather makeshift system from gutting and then gets a totally unjustified swat alongside the head.

See it goes like this: my system for gutting and cleaning wallaby has evolved piecemeal without much thought and with what we had on hand just then. So there is no rail or nice solid hanging point. Instead there there is some sharkmesh strung between two buildings - the gap is about 2 meters. On this line there hangs an S shaped hook, which I really cannot remember who or where I got from. Onto that I have hung a gambrel of sorts - a W shaped bit of very sturdy steel. I don't think it was intended to be a gambrel, I found it with some scrap iron. It works, but could be wider. Because shark mesh stretches, the entire rig is about 6' 6" high -it sags to a nice working height, to drop the guts and skin the animal.

It works... but the downside is hooking the carcase up - means lifting a wallaby - can weigh 30+kg - straight up and out to hook - on a hook that moves, that you don't have a spare hand for steadying. And it's bloody and it's not nice and handy like a set of weights to lift. Just straight awkward. Peter brought me back a proper gambrel and pulleys from the States, and I will set up a proper place for it as soon as I get one of those 'tuits' (I've caught square tuits, and triangular ones and even the odd hexagon, but the round ones are incredibly rare. Endangered even. I better leave them alone to breed) But I tried the new gambrel from the rig - it was MUCH wider than my old one and the central upside down V of the W shape very shallow. Still, it was working fine, until I got to pulling the skin off the tail. Now this is rather like skinning a sausage... and is something of an art which I am not too good at. You slit it all the way down (gut-hook works perfectly) and then it needs a sharp sudden jerk and a steady pull and off it comes. Jerk too hard, and the tail comes off with half the backstrap, but the skin does not. Jerk too little and nothing happens. Stop after you have given it the right start and you're a jerk, because you have to do it all again. And so I hunched down and gave the skin a tremendous tug... only to have another possibility develop rather too rapidly - obviously the shallower W and the angle combined to allow the Gambrel and wallaby to depart from the hook and make me sit down most ungenteely with a wallaby carcase on my lap. Trust me this is not done in the best circles. Actually I don't think it is even done in the worst squares. And to add injury to insult the hook - nice heavy steel got sling-shotted up toward the stratosphere by the shark-mesh, whacked the inside of the shed roof, ricocheted off that to carom off the side of my head for parts unknown.

I delicately expressed my displeasure, put the wallaby on the table, pulled the skin off the tail...

And started hunting the for the hook so I could do the next one.

I had heard it hit the concrete (no, I was not referring to my head. That's rock). But there was a lot of dark, junk and a bin full of wallaby entrails out there. Ten minutes later, still expressing my displeasure I had to give up and use bailing string. To think I used to say the hook was a PITA.

Anyway. I found it the morning, not, to my relief in my skull, or worse, the gut bucket, but about six yards away.

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Sheep manure

Exciting news! I have added a couple of wheelbarrow loads of sheep-poo to the veggie gardens. Doesn't that make you quiver with excitement? Well, not me either, really. But it has to be done - the soil is nothing much more than sand. I'm a very average, lacadasical gardener, who tends to chuck occasional bursts of intense energy at it when either the current book is struggling, or I am overcome by sudden wave of fear about feeding ourselves. The results are fairly patchy! Still, so far we are managing to eat, sometimes far to much. In all of this the chooks have been a lovely steady supply of eggs, probably because unlike the plants I would have real guilt if that suffered neglect. The downside of this is eggs, which also the upside. In spring and summer however people wonder around trying to give away eggs with a rather hopeless optimism. And to add insult to injury one of my best mates has left the island (temporarily) TRIED TO GIVE EGGS BACK. It was nearly the end of a beautiful friendship! :-). Perhaps we could have a tourism drive where we lure politicians of various stripes over here to help the island economy... and sell eggs. I think people would fly in from all over. Only given Australia's penchant for regulation, the eggs would probably have to be grown in batteries, health checked and packed in standard sizes and have little inspectors checking for hard-boiled ones...

On other news... the wind isn't actually blowing right now.

Friday, October 25, 2013

A man needs a Shed...

I'm thinking of changing Pugsley's name to 'Shed'. After all, every man should have a shed, and right now, even if we're still lighting fires and spring plants are not growing... his fur is coming out in handfuls. I have what I call a rainbird (big brown thrushlike bird, which has quite a distinctive whistle, like calling sheepdogs,) and a pair of swallows nesting in the little house on the prairie-shed at the moment - which is awkward because I want to replace the door. It'll have to wait a little longer.

I dug a new strip in the new garden patch (which is harder work than it sounds - it's thick turf, and very poor soil just below that, so I loosen the grass, beat the soil out of it. The strip is about 2 feet wide by 20 long.) -Planted now with potatoes.

We're still having intermittent storms and occasional hail, and this is not much good for the spring plants...

Tuesday, October 22, 2013


I described a trip to sea yesterday to a writer acquaintance as a 'rent-an-epic'.

She asked what that was.

I had assumed it was common parlance, but then maybe it only is to those of us who... rent out epics. It's a sequence of disasters that seem to accompany some people, usually on some expedition. They get lonely without them, and bring them along to stop the malaise and boredom of safe, comfortable successful well-run ventures. Really they only do it for our benefit.

And as someone who is frequently accused of being a rent-an-epic, that is my story and I'm sticking to it. We were beach launching into quite a good size shore break yesterday. Now done well on a calm day, you choose a 'gutter' a deep channel which has steep drop off, reverse the trailer into it. The other boatman pushes the boat clear, swings her bow into the sea, and you drive out, come back on foot, and jump in, the other feller pushes the boat out a bit, you get the motors running, and he jumps on and off you go. On a less good day you watch for a series of low swells, time coming back so you can slam on brakes just as it reaches about 1/3 the tail of the trailer. The boat slides off onto the deeper water, and you -driver get the hell out while the other boatman/men get the boat turned around before the next wave, and with luck a good bit further out before it breaks. If it's really nasty the boatman jumps on and takes it out beyond the break, and will come back or make the driver swim. If they don't turn it fast enough waves break over the stern and the boat gets swamped. If it is broadside on it can roll, which is about the worst... well, bar the scenario yesterday. The driver stopped too soon, and the water was too shallow. So the boat didn't come off, and instead of driving forward, and trying again... the driver backed into the wave, and then braked too late, except to get the ute stuck, the trailer to swivel a bit and the boat to come half off. Now the worst case is the boat can broadside, dragging the ute, and rolling and wrecking the lot. So it's a hasty unhitch - and the twist jams it a bit, the driver's hand is crushed against bin - no bones broken... and we get the trailer off - but too late as the next wave is over the back - I turn the now heavy boat while driver runs to try ute. I push the bow through the next wave, jump up, get the motors down, one outboard running - other won't start, gun it anyway, and get beyond the break. Anchor. get ready to swim in, try to haul the trailer out and use the boat winch to free the ute -as the tide is rising and water is at door height... driver has called his mat -who lives about 3km away - and is the only person for about 15 miles ... He luckily is in 4x4 and can detour fast. A snatch strap and the ute is out of the water, and a snatch strap and the trailer is rescued undamaged. I have emptied some water (but we need to run on the plane for about 5 minutes to get it all out,) and I manage to come and fetch the driver without rolling the boat (she turned very sluggishly and did half broadside, because I am on one motor and she's heavy. Anyway - I get her out beyond the breakers and we fiddle with the second motor and get it going.

It was a bouncy, rainy day, we got wet to the skin, only got about 16 fish - bad for us. I lost an entire rig to a shark, and the recovery was... interesting. A lot of winch and snatch-strap, but no near disasters.

But I was pretty tired. And then at 3 AM there was a noise like a pig being strangled by an angry bag-pipe from the kitchen. I ran to the rescue... lots of soft fur, no dead cats...

A possum, we think had come in via the kitty door, and met a cat. Both were not pleased, by the looks of it.

But that was the end of sleep.

And that's a Freer rent-an-epic day.

Come and visit. We have cheap rates for friends...

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Bad Moon Rising and the Foine Wee Wee Beastie.

The moon last night was a lurid pumpkin orange - and flattened so it looked more like a nuclear disaster half way to New Zealand. Of course by the time I'd fetched my camera, and reset on dusk - not only was the colour not the same but the picture just doesn't do it justice. It looks small.
I took the good advice and didn't go round.

And here, new to the farming world of Freer is a hand-tractor - courtesy of Peter. As it is undoubtably a beastie, but is rather small for even vineyard tractor. (Those who have read Rats, Bats, and Vats will understand. The rest of you: it is just one of Life's little mysteries.) So rather than a foine wee beastie it's a foine wee wee beastie.

I'm honestly not sure how effective it will prove.

And just to prove I don't only grow veggies badly, here are some flowers

And Robin inspecting my gardening from a suitable distance. She is not impressed.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Sometimes the post can make me quite grumpy. I had figured that finally I would be getting a cheque from Amazon UK (there has been a trickle going in there from sales since oh about October 2011. The US pays quite often, but sometimes has to accumulate as it a $100 limit on issuing cheques. Then of course the bank screws me on changing the cheque and the exchange rate, and the US government claims 30% of my income (which they take off before they send the check. Now in theory I should be able to claim tax treaty benefits and save some of that, but it would involve a trip to the US embassy or sending my passport (a no-no as a resident alien - imagine if I needed it, and had to try and get help from the SA embassy). I got my associates cheque (which is the 6% of the sale I get when someone clicks through to Amazon from one of these.)
I got my US Amazon cheque for the month. No sign of anything from Amazon UK. I was sure I had now well passed my $100. Added it all up. Did a conversion. Yes $126 - check the site. The other countries have payment when it reaches $100. Amazon UK 100 pounds. So I am still way short. We will not even talk about the rest, where I may get paid something in 10 years. And of course the post brings me dentist bill which exceeds the Amazon income for this month by 20 dollars before the bank takes its share. Being a writer is all roses, I tell you.

Oh well. onwards. We eat well, and have a new tow-hitch.

I fenced a new section off for the expanded potato patch, - not a brilliant fence -just knocked together with scrap wire and scrap star poles, but its only function is to let the dogs know there is a boundary, and to give me something to attach the wind-breaks to. Our wind can play havoc with the potatoes. I've got some more Zucchini up, nothing else. (I have squash, pumpkin, melon and watermelon, and capsicums and tomatoes planted indoors) Oddly wehave some tomato volunteers. We're eating artichokes, salsify, elderly carrots, lettuce, silverbeet, beetroot, leeks, and cape gooseberries. Garlic supplies will be reduced to 'dried' soon... thank heavens harvest is not that far off.

I should go out and shoot tonight - getting a bit low on Wallaby, and at about 6 cents a kg, it's a better deal than the Dentist or Amazon give me :-) but the wind is really still very strong. It has to abate soon, the seafood stocks are getting perilously low.

Monday, October 14, 2013

towing the line

We can haz a draw bar and tow-hitch!

Now in most people's universe that is not a stellar event. But when you're trying a high level of self sufficiency, it means you have scavenged a tow hitch from the tip, and got a friend to do a spot of welding on it. It's a major step as the trailer exists, and will now go through the hoops to become street legal (which won't be quite as cheap as the tow-hitch, but will still be maybe 150 dollars - which ain't bad for something that will allow us to cart stuff around - much more easily - including the boat.) Officially this is the Zoo's carrier, but I am already planning on using it for the large supply of tree debris from the storm, a load of wood, and a load of sheep manure. Not sure if it would do a load of horse poo, or cow,(it's a very light trailer) but sheep is light.

Years ago, when we were young flat-dwellers, newly together, and Barbara's family still owned the farm in the Drakensberg from whence the family rock comes, we were industriously, every weekend and holiday, trying to fix the old place on every trip we did up there. Purchases on not very much spare cash (Yes, we have practice)of various tools and bits of kit for the farm became pretty important to us. The Robin brush-cutter with its delightful Japanenglish instructions 'If you fell your leg in a hole, place blade in earth to stop revolutions' was one of our first, and did tons of work (all of which has now returned to bramble and invasive wattle after the place was expropriated by the conservation authorities... because of the wattle :-( It's now FAR worse than it was). We asked an engineer friend what bit of kit we needed most, next. His answer was 'off-road motive power.' Something to carry big loads from A-Z. I didn't really get it, then. We had strong backs and the volumes we were dealing with and distances we were moving stuff was small. I've learned since how right he was, and how this can multiply what you can achieve. A trailer and a two wheel drive ute isn't enough, but it's a big step up on a sedan car, or your legs and back.

And we work towards bigger steps.


Sunday, October 13, 2013

Hmm. Let's see. How to put this tactfully: Wind and snotty weather continue. Artie - who used to run the airport and has weather for 40 years, and a good memory of a fair bit beyond that, says this is the coldest spring we've had. Fishing and diving do not happen. Water looks vile.

The first strawberry that I was preparing to celebrate... got nailed by a rat on the night before the day I had planned to pick it. A rat-trap is now in place, but it won't bring the strawberry back. The only one of the long list of things I have planted that is growing is 4 Zucchini plants. No watermelon, no melon, no pumpkin, no squash, no peppers.

However we are on our 3rd artichoke.

I now know what pink onion weed looks like having been employed to root it out. It's a bit embarrassing when weeding pays so much better than writing. Perhaps I have missed my metier.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

I went and had a look at Jamie's amazing bandsaw log mill yesterday, and I must say it does fill me with envy. I also got lessons in the use of a chainsaw as a construction tool (he's modifying his stable) and I think it takes more precision of eye than I have.

Today was hot and humid, and I planted out the first two planted on the kitchen windowsill zucchini. I have various other pumpkin/squash/peppers seeds in pots, but no germination yet. I'm getting a bit worried. tomatoes - we have some fruit on the overwintered plants, and start of flowers on the early red, and a lot of volunteer plants up. I'm a bit behindwith planting more maincrop ones. but we will have early salad tomtoes. I collected some scrap wire and shade cloth to try and fence another area as anothe veg patch (that will make 3 tanks, 2 gardens, and the old chicken run And a lot of 20 liter pots). The size makes up for my lack of ept (I can make 2 plants grow badly where 6 flourished wild - it's why I hate disturbing food-type volunteers. I also have an area which will be devoted to pumpkins again. I just need to go and fetch another wheelbarrow of sheep manure for it.

The wind was such that I could possibly have gone to sea today. So maybe things are improving, weatherwise.

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Bipod trial

Well, I took the bipod, attached to the rifle, for a walk last night, and it was awesome. And yes, that's the right way to deal with meat... except NEXT time I will do it somewhere where the walk back with 3 wallaby and a rifle without a strap, is just a little shorter. Okay so I'd only walked 400 yards or so, stalking. But that was one big buck, perhaps 27kg, a doe of maybe 18, and red of another 8 (I wanted a small one for roasting whole - that was actually a bit bigger than I wanted. I only weigh 67kg because I'm as fat as a pig at the moment. Rock-climbers work on low mass to power ratio, and right now I could lose 4 kg and smile about it. Long winter, not enough exercise with the chainsaw and spade. So that was 20 kg short of my body weight, and I only had one hand (the other full of rifle) Long walk, with a fair number of hand-swap stops. Of course when I get maybe 25 yards form the ute, there are a bunch of 'roo just there, just come out of the bushes.

My gutting and skinning time is still stuck on 11 minutes (which is about 9 too long), but I am a lot more confident about what I am doing now, which does make it easier, anyway. I think it'll get better with practice, and I am confident that it's a nice clean piece of meat after.

I've planted some more volunteer leeks out. The leeks have been a great thing, this spring, as we're out of onions. I've cared the first two barrows of sheep poo to try and do some fertility enhancement along. And I cut some grass. And did some writing. Life... wouldn't mind getting in the water sometime, although the cray season is closed.

Friday, October 4, 2013

Fly in, die in.

A fly in, fly out flyman came to spray today. (Yes, we spray for flies, with long lasting pyrethrin. Deal. There are a lot of flies in summer, this way there are many less in and around the house. When you live here you can tell me how toxins are bad. In the meanwhile, I suggest you consider that the pollution level in most cities makes the stuff straight out of the sprayer nozzle look good, let alone our normal air. The blowlflies are a summer problem, largely due to the huge amount of dinners (aka roadkill and livestock - roadkill because we have very high numbers of wild animals, and livestock because this is an extensive farming area. Animals die, sheep get fly-struck.) You can screen most of them out, but my wife decided the kitty door could not have a flap, they would never learn to use that. So one hole, in come the blowies.

Anyway, because you're supposed to leave the windows alone for a month after I did a window-washing this morning... I think I should start offering my services, because it gives me a chance to sing George Formby songs. And besides it's work I'd gladly pay to have done, so therefore others would probably feel the same way.

And for the discovery channel - inox (spray lubricant, good for rifles) makes not a bad aerostart substitute if a small squirt is applied inside the air intake of a brush-cutter. (400 pulls later we find this out).

Thursday, October 3, 2013


Sometimes writing novels has its small rewards (other than the financial ones, which, trust me, are smaller still. I think the best part is the friends I have made through it.) I get to find out important facts such as that there really is a place called Hardegg, and another called Marchegg. Perhaps that is where the march hare come from, to go and deliver Easter eggs...

Jamie and I fixed the petrol pump a few days ago, and then of course I needed it for Barbs this morning and it was once again jammed. So I took it apart and fixed it. I think it may come under the list of 'bad buys'. It's a pity, I like having fuel out here, it avoids the need for expensive trips to town, just for fuel with the ute, and saves a bit on the fuel (about 20 cents a liter. On 200 liters that's a fair bit, and it all helps). Anyway, we'll deal with it somehow.

We've plucked and drawn a rooster that got bolshy with some friends of ours so... chicken on the menu. That's rather unusual with us. I've also got my new cheapo bipod for the rifle. It's not great, but will hopefully make a difference when I don't have a nice dead-rest. I'm not much of a great marksman. I shoot purely for the pot and have no interest in being 'sporting'. Not that I have a problem with other people being so, or spending loving hours on their firearms. You're welcome to it. For me it is a tool to do what I must. If I had a zappo-matic I could be sure of quick clean (and cheap) kills with, every time, no chance for the wallaby, I'd be a keen customer.

My first Zucchini plant has its head up. That's a relief, they're a major standby (as well as quite overwhelming at times)

At least the sun is shining today, but the wind continueth. My constructive deed for the day was taking out three small poplar trees which had decided their roots would benefit from the new veggie patch. That is going to need fencing, wind-screening, more clearing and fertilizing, but I have started planting there, basically to add a bit more potato-space.

I've grown a lot of salsify over the last season, and am actually not very good at using it. Suggestions?

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Well, we'd better have a corker of a summer because spring is being outright miserable. The wind and rain have continued nearly uninterrupted, and it is rather cold. Still, we've eaten our first artichoke for the year. Barbs says to me "It's been ages since we had an artichoke! I said yes. A year...