I have a new string to my bow - oh yes. No longer am I just a former telephone installer, AS400 operator, Dad and mock Tudor Monarch - I am now officially the world's worst chicken keeper. With the summer holidays upon us I had the pleasure of looking after my son full time for a few weeks - something I always look forward to. It was decided pretty early on that James and I would be spending a large part of this time down in Wales at Newcastle Emlyn with my parents, known to James as Nanna and Bapa. So armed to the teeth with James' PSP, DS and Nintendo Wii (just what you need when visiting one of the most beautiful countries in the UK!) we struck out west. The majority of our time would be spent at leisure doing proper holiday things, but we had a period of a few days looking after my sister's small holding near Cynwyl Elfed, and in particular, her chickens. James was very excited about this, but it was an excitement I was pretty sure would wear off after a couple of days of muddy toil.
The week began with blazing sunshine and heat, so of course one of the first places we took James was the cinema to see Toy Story 3 - in 3D. This was at the Apollo Cinema in Carmarthen, which if you have never visited, you really must as it is a wonderful place. James, his Nanna and I all donned our snazzy 3D glasses and thoroughly enjoyed the film - a work of genius. It was just a shame the support film, usually one of Pixar's strong points, was so utterly crap. Other visits included a day trip to Poppit Sands near Cardigan where we built a sand castle and then flew a kite in the strong breeze - great fun, stopping for excellent fish and chips at St Dogmael's (a shop called Bowens) on the way back. We discovered a great smoothie and ice cream bar in Carmarthen called Cowpots (http://cowpotsicecream.co.uk/) which I cannot recommend strongly enough. On another day we went back down to Laugharne, Dylan Thomas' stamping ground, and had tea at the delightful Owl and the Pussycat Restaurant. I met up with my old Skandia colleague Carole Davey again at her lovely pub/restaurant The Daffodil at Penrhiwllan (see their website here http://www.daffodilinn.co.uk/) for a fine meal. James carried on his valiant efforts to teach Nanna how to play Super Mario Brothers on the Wii console, which to give her her due, she was really getting the hang of it by the time we came to leave! James also took great delight in snuggling up with his Nanna to watch his favourite Indiana Jones movies of an evening on DVD. And a really big shout out to Harrison's Cafe in Newcastle Emlyn which is friendly, welcoming and has the most charming proprietress (if that is even a word) you could ever wish to meet. She is also very easy on the eye - another winner as far as James and I are concerned!
Soon it was time for James and I to become chicken wranglers. The balmy summer weather had long since scarpered and our first night of trying to get the chickens into their run took place during the Welsh equivalent of Hurricane Catrina, in the near pitch dark on a small holding which was doing a very passable impression of the battle field of Passchendale transferred to the north face of the Eiger. We slipped, we slid, we slithered. James cried. I swore a lot and the chickens went "bwock? bwo-ock?" but we did eventually get the feathery buggers in their home. James insisted on going into the run to put them to bed as it was slippery as hell in there and "you might hurt yourself, Daddy". Bless him. I think he was just worried that if I fell over he wouldn't have a snowballs chance in hell of levering me into an upright position again. So we looked after all 10 chickens, Buffy the goose, Bear and Marley the cats, and even Ted the shaggy guinea pig. And do you know what? James NEVER got bored of it once! He loved it! Oh sure we had some bad moments - the day I nearly broke my hip when I slipped and twisted in one agonising movement on the steeply sloping bank down to the chicken run, and the time James had collected six eggs, put them in his basket and then promptly slipped over and fell on them. He was devastated poor little mite. "I'm so sorry!" he kept saying, but I re-assured him and despite his upset and the fact he was caked in mud he was soon ready for more chicken related fun. Each night when he finally locked the door on the chickens he'd shout "Bingo!" We cocked up on a few things - I put the chicken's water back in the wrong place on the last morning causing it to drain out of their drinker so that when Sue got back that afternoon the poor chookies had no water - just mud. I had also managed to do something to their food hopper which meant their feed wasn't coming out properly. If chickens were covered by the NSPCC I'd be in prison by now... But all in all, for first time small holders I think James and I did pretty well.
I drove James back to Essex on Monday of this week and he had a lovely cuddly reunion with his Mum. I drove back to Somerset yesterday and I am missing him so much. He is my pride, my joy and my love. I feel like I have lost a limb today and I really can't wait to see him again.
Henry VIII returns this weekend on the Bank Holiday Monday where I will be appearing at Barrington Court for a garden walkabout. Come and meet the King between 12 noon and 4pm.