You are what you eat, they say, which is bad news for Bramble.


There is no delicate way to put this, but our border terrier has spent most of April feasting on calf skitter, hoof parings and cleanings: a banquet of spring delights.

You have to admire the sheer resilience of the border terrier digestive system, which can stand up to such punishment with no serious side effects (apart from a fairly ripe aroma). Compare this to Clan Elder, for whom a dish of the finest scallops leads to 24 hours on the sick list.

Bramble has also been foraging in the house. Archie recently found that half of his Easter egg was missing, presumed pinched. He immediately compiled a list of likely suspects – a) his sister, b) his mother and c) his father.

Bramble sat innocently on his knee throughout the investigation. What was that yellow glint in her mouth? Butter not melting, perhaps. Eventually it became clear that Bramble was in fact the culprit, when an eyewitness revealed that they had caught her in the act. Her response? A little wag of the tail.

Theoretically, we are now in the middle of the lambing season. But somehow the ewes don’t seem to have got the memo. April has been warm and sunny and the sheep have been soaking up the rays and taking things easy. We are not sure whether the ewes are waiting for rain or for the children to go back to school. In any event, our keen team of shepherds has been somewhat frustrated by the slow pace of things.

The children have spent most of their time escorting ewes with twins from Field A to Field B and feeding the pet lambs. These are mainly gimmers’ twins rather than the product of disasters. Jake finds that our gimmers make a much better job of raising one lamb rather than two, so he tends to split the twins.

To date, the main lambing time drama has been the fox problem which was affecting our next-door neighbour. He lost eight lambs in four nights before someone was able to deal with it. Bramble had to be kept in for the duration in case she got caught by friendly fire.

Apart from lambing, one of my main outdoor activities for this time of year is planting the new potatoes. I usually follow the guidance of my grandfather in these matters. He took no interest in horticulture until he retired from farming, at which point he found his inner market gardener, and started producing fruit and vegetables on an almost industrial scale. His dictum on potatoes was that they should be planted on Good Friday to be ready for Plate week (the last week in June) and that Arran Pilot was the variety with the best flavour.

Given that the date of Good Friday can vary by over a month, it has always puzzled me why this should be fixed as the planting date. However, it largely seems to work.

Along with the outside activities, we have had two major internet tasks to complete recently: first the Census, and then our application for London Olympics tickets.

Completing the Census proved quite an interesting exercise in which I consulted the whole household on how they saw their religion and nationality. There were mixed voting patterns. An old friend of ours, an arable farmer, always used to write something pithy in the Census in the bit where you have to describe your job. Classic lines from previous years were ‘plough, sow, reap, mow’ and ‘unpaid guardian of the countryside’ in the days before he went into Stewardship, obviously. Our responses were all rather dull by comparison. However, when they view them in a hundred years, Archie’s descendants may wonder how he could see himself as English and Scottish but not British. The answer seems to lie in the cricket and rugby teams he supports.

The application for the Olympics has involved much discussion with the whole family before, in an entirely democratic way, Jake and I decided what to do. Jake’s first choice was to apply for the track cycling. He was particularly keen on the race where they follow a moped around for a few laps before finally getting the courage up to overtake – a concept which I think most Northumbrian road users can identify with. Still, it is in some ways quite a surprising choice, as he is not normally very keen to see cyclists, especially those lycra-clad oldies from Ponteland who insist on riding three abreast on the A696.

We thought we should also go for something less mainstream in the hope of actually being successful in the ballot. The children suggested Taekwondo but we rejected that. If we wanted to see people attempting to kick each other in the head to an Olympic standard, we could just as easily go down to the Bigg Market in Newcastle on a Saturday night. No, the wildcard we have opted for is beach volleyball, situated in the unusual setting of Horseguards Parade. Archie was surprisingly enthusiastic to see the women’s event. He is certainly growing up.