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DIARY FROM A FAMILY FARM IN ULSTER

30 August 2002

MORROWS WORLD

DIARY FROM A FAMILY FARM IN ULSTER

OUR international visitors have all but left us now after a summer of unprecedented activity in this house.

The girl who Jenny stayed with in Milwaukee three years ago was here for the whole of July. Amys American girl only stayed 10 days, but she had eight friends with her on at least two occasions and as for the plan of one moving out before the other arrived… well it never really happened and so the sleeping arrangements have been complicated.

For a start, our Australian niece, Zoe, who we thought was staying with us for a few days in June, is still here and getting quite excited about the thought of a real pine Christmas tree, so that has meant the spare bedroom is out of commission.

Secondly, Jennys boyfriend, Aaron, seems to have forgotten how to get home at nights and there was a stage when I was scared to open a door for fear of what I might see. Indeed, I actually made him a sign to put up – DANGER! AARON SLEEPING IN HERE. For the parents of three teenage girls the sight of a large teenage boy dressed only in boxer shorts is quite terrifying.

Anyway, to add to the masses, we gathered up a travelling French Canadian bloke that Zoe invited to stay, never dreaming that he would, so we put up the trailer tent in the garden and let them get on with it.

Unfortunately, this meant the rest of the family and neighbours could also see what was going on and certainly my father-in-law, Addie, was as appaled as me when one morning he peered in through the plastic window to see Aaron sound out in his boxer shorts as usual.

I didnt like to tell him that not only Jenny, but also her American friend had been in there all night with him as well!

Jennys friend Kari was working in the tearooms while she was here, along with the 20 or so young people that we employ during the busy season. We are very stereotyped in our jobs and would never pass the fair employment test. For instance we have café girls and yard boys.

And when we took on a young man to do pony rides this summer, all the kids were aghast. "Thats a girls job", "whoever heard of a pony boy" and "weve only ever had girls before" were only a selection of the comments.

Perhaps I am biased, having only daughters of my own, but it has been my experience that while girls can turn their hands to most things, boys are pretty much set in a gender pattern. They balk at cleaning toilets and serving food attractively seems totally beyond them! Obviously with all the wonderful chefs, this is a skill that they can develop, but for any of the teenagers that have worked here, quantity is the only important factor where food is concerned.

As it happened, our break away from the male/female pattern was not successful and the new "pony boy" is no longer with us, he has moved house to the south of England.

Our international visitors are not confined to the human variety as we have just taken delivery of three Alpacas on the Open Farm. I first heard of these Peruvian llamas in a Farmlife article about them being used to protect sheep flocks against foxes and as a result we now call them our Woolly Bullies.

They are a interesting stop on the tractor and trailer ride round the farm, and although our plan is only to keep them until we close at the end of the month, it would not surprise me if they are still here at Christmas.

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DIARY FROM A FAMILY FARM IN ULSTER

2 August 2002

MORROWS WORLD

DIARY FROM A FAMILY FARM IN ULSTER

I WAS badly caught out last week when my mother-in-law came into the kitchen to see me making a new sign for our wee banty hen. It read: "Nancy hatched out her chicks…". Of course, my mother-in laws name is Nancy. Thankfully she took it in good part and to be honest she could have had something far less attractive named after her than my wee white banty.

We had a big Highland calf called "Molly" after a favourite aunt, a massive rabbit called "Janne" after a very large Swedish friend, but probably the biggest test of friendship was when I called two Berkshire pigs Ellie and Susie after two of my best friends Eleanor and Susan.

Giving animals names and personalities seems to come quite naturally to me – I am a wee bit "saft" when it comes to a guinea pig or kitten and I am absolutely daft when it comes to pups, they are by far my favourite animal.

However, I am getting harder when it comes to dealing with people who want to palm off their unwanted pets on me. I used to really struggle when I heard the sorry tales of people moving house and not being able take their well-loved floppy eared rabbit (who is always really good with

children and usually pedigree) and who would just love to donate it to a good home. Then there are the ones whose children have just suddenly become allergic to the cat, the old people who can no longer look after the pet goat they have had for six years and the inevitable family who have just had a stray dog dumped on their doorstep and who would love to keep it but they have a cat.

For a long time I felt really guilty saying no. I could picture the wee abandoned rabbit with the floppy ears, I heard the tremor of emotion in the grannys voice as she tried to persuade me, I felt like the wicked witch of the north at times.

However, I have been converted. I now realise that these people are the ones rejecting the animals, not me – I do look after mine, my conscience is clear. I will no longer be made to squirm as I make up excuses as to why their beautiful white kitten wouldnt get on with my spoilt ginger tom. I now just keep my voice as cheerful as possible, and with a carefully measured level of sympathy I tell them we do not have the facilities to rehome unwanted pets. I must be getting very hard in my old age.

But all this new-found assertive behaviour doesnt help when people just leave their abandoned animals on our doorstep. I have literally walked up to our rabbit pen to see a fully grown bunny who was not there the day before. Just yesterday Addie, my father-in-law, saw someone throw a box from their car and drive off. By the time I got down to it the box was overturned and what ever was in had escaped – hopefully to follow them home.

As you might imagine, Helen is appalled at my new determined self. She would take in every waif and stray that passes her way, but luckily she wasnt here to worry about what had happened to the occupant of the empty box. She is in Spain with her friends family, enjoying sunshine, which is something we havent seen here for quite some time. Amy is away too, leaving Jenny very miffed that she is getting no foreign holiday this year. We have our camping week in August still to come however and Johnston and I are really looking forward to the break, but I can understand why Jenny is not excited about the prospect of a week of drizzle under canvas. But for me, there will be no phone and the only rabbits are wild ones – thats holiday enough.

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DIARY FROM A FAMILY FARM IN ULSTER

31 May 2002

MORROWS WORLD

DIARY FROM A FAMILY FARM IN ULSTER

I HAVE never thought of myself as much of a fashion icon, comfort being my main consideration most of the time, but now it seems I am cutting a bit of a dash round the countryside. People are talking, passing comment, taking notice – even my husband Johnston has made mention of my new fashion accessory. Its not a sexy mini skirt or a controversial mink coat, in fact its amazing to me how anyone even notices it as it is only a small silver sparkly belt which hold up my work overalls.

As you may remember I have had difficulties in the past in getting female shaped work wear and Im still struggling with the problem. I had been pretty happy with an old-fashioned "bib and brace," type overall, but Amy borrowed them to paint her bedroom pale lilac and they are now reserved for decorating use only. Inspired by my sister-in-law who was wearing a very neat boiler suit I thought I would try mine on again – but I still had the same problem, the body was far too long on me and unlike the bib and brace, it was quite tight, so when the waist slipped down I felt as if I was wearing a straight jacket! A belt was required and the only one I could find was a little silver one belonging to Helen, so I hitched up the boiler suit and secured it in place and off I went into the yard. Well, what a reaction! From jokes about how to tell a farmer from his wife – shes the one with the glitter belt- to lorry drivers shouting "great belt, love!" Whatever the comment at least I am noticed, so now I wear it all the time. It doesnt only brighten me up, it seems to have the same effect on everyone who sees it. So in this post-foot-and-mouth, depressed milk price farming environment I recommend a shiny belt to everyone – it will definitely put a smile on peoples faces.

I am trying my best to keep a smile on my familys faces at the minute as we are facing both GCSEs and A levels this year. So tension is running pretty high and saying the right thing is as dicey as walking a tightrope. But now I have discovered the answer for the depressed exam weary teenager who wants my support, but not my words of wisdom – a mobile phone top up card! Then she can go and talk to someone who really understands – another depressed, exam weary teenager!

I suppose most women whatever their age, like to have a little confidence booster. I never feel quite dressed without a dash of perfume. For the new generation it seems to be fake tan. Unlike my splash of Chanel, fake tan takes hours to apply, requires a bath with a full body scrub before hand and a complete load of washing afterwards (for the stained towels and bed linen). This is all going on as I type as tomorrow is Jennys last ever day at school and there will be a Record of Achievement presentation. Obviously she has to be as brown as a berry for it – especially as she is wearing a new white jacket. "Mum, you cant possibly wear white without a tan". So what will I wear? I am taking a class of children round the farm, having the family for lunch and have to be back for feeding time at 4pm, so I doubt if Ill have time for the full fake tan routine. Ill aim for a quick shower, touch of lipstick, spray of perfume and a shiny belt to complete the look but I promise not to wear my boiler suit!

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DIARY FROM A FAMILY FARM IN ULSTER

26 April 2002

MORROWS WORLD

DIARY FROM A FAMILY FARM IN ULSTER

I KNOW it is nearly May but I am still trying to get to grips with my New Year resolution. Every year, just before Christmas when my head is full of cranberries and stocking fillers, Tim Relf from Farmlife rings me up to ask me for my resolution. My mind is always blank; I never seem to remember that he will be writing his seasonal article and I have never any idea of what I might aspire to in the following year – apart from maybe surviving both physically and mentally for the next 12 months.

Yet I am now rather convinced of the worth of setting myself a target for the year. The first time Tim asked, my resolution was to buy myself a bunch of flowers every week and, by and large, I have been doing that for the past three years. Last year I made a big declaration – no flies in the kitchen – and indeed, we are now a fly-free zone. I have started this summers preparation early and my first bag of gunge is already "cooking" on the clothes line getting ready to hang in the cherry tree in the next few days.

This year I have resolved to try harder at recycling – and I am struggling. I am a great believer in the school of thought that says the world wont be changed by a few determined fanatics, but rather change will happen if all the ordinary folk do a little to help it. All those small things will then add up to a major difference in the way we treat our world.

Even so, I am still finding it hard to make even small changes. Now, I have been good about taking the bottles to the bottle bank, and food waste has never been a problem for me – theres always some animal that will eat what we leave; but rubbish disposal is a nightmare, especially since the open farm is back in business.

We throw out a mountain of bin bags every day, none of it sorted, all of it bound for landfill, which is threatening to engulf Northern Ireland. On top of this we have to pay for it to be dumped – and it is now priced by weight rather than volume, so Johnstons trick of squashing the contents of the skip with the digger bucket doesnt help much. We do try to have different bins for cans and plastic, but its not much fun trying to sort these out when someone has thrown an ice cream or dirty nappy in the middle of it.

Somewhere there has to be a serious solution to this, on a wider scale than me using empty meal bags as bin liners to save on the amount of non-biodegradable plastic we use. Anyway, Tim, I am still working on my resolution – but I have a long way to go.

The open farm is well and truly back in business and with the lovely weather recently we have been pretty busy. It is great to hear so many people saying they are glad to get back into the countryside after last years closure due to the foot-and-mouth restrictions.

Of course, Northern Ireland – indeed the whole island, really – did shut the doors in the countryside so for many, this spring has been a long-awaited chance to get back to the open fields. And the countryside has not let us down. I have rarely seen the place look so well as last weekend when Johnston, Helen and I took the camper out to North Antrim. The golden whins were spectacular against the green hills, dotted with sheep and their lambs and with the backdrop of the sparkling blue sea beyond, I was

genuinely moved by the

beauty of the glens. Perhaps I was looking with rose-tinted spectacles, but I didnt even see a plastic bag fluttering in the breeze.

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DIARY FROM A FAMILY FARM IN ULSTER

22 February 2002

MORROWS WORLD

DIARY FROM A FAMILY FARM IN ULSTER

WE are heading off on our big holiday tomorrow and Johnston is getting spruced up for the event. Hairdressing and Johnston have never gone hand in hand but he was reasonably happy when the girls were small and we had a hairdresser coming to the house. We just gave him a shout at the end of the proceedings, usually at teatime anyway and he would have a quick trim there and then.

As the girls got more sophisticated and wanted to have highlights, lowlights, perms and every other procedure available, that meant going to the salon. This was not a place where Johnston ever felt comfortable and so came quite a few years of me trying to make appointments at a time to suit him, then him forgetting all about it or if he remembered it was always in the middle of a very important task.

To be fair, I did agree that it was essential to have at least a wash and change of clothes rather than impose the warm aroma of cows on our local salon, but of course this all adds to the time and effort involved.

So over a number of years he has worn me down on the battle of home hairdressing and I am now chief stylist. This is not a new development in his family. We have a photograph of Johnstons great grandfather sitting in the field with a big white sheet round him keeping an eye on the harvester while he was "tidied up" by a travelling barber.

The girls had been on at Johnston to adopt a new trendier short hairstyle and he assured me that it would be dead easy, just set the electric trimmers at level 3 and go at it like shearing a sheep, but I have rarely been as nervous as when I made the first stroke across his lovely curls and saw them tumble to the kitchen floor. Mind you, the back was simple compared with the forehead, as for round the ears…my heart was racing and I found it hard to keep in the little gasps when more scalp appeared than I had expected. But now, I am an experienced home hairdresser, this is my second attempt and nothing could be just as bad as the first.

Everyone is now quite used to the new shorn Johnston (apart from his mum who hates it!) and he is very happy. He can now wear his woolly hat without worrying what his hair looks like when he takes it off, he is saving a fortune on hair gel and salon fees and the girls like their trendy dad. I however could do with a few tips on how to manage the ears, so if any other farmers wives have moved into the hair styling role, please let me know your secrets.

I was listening to our local farming programme this week to hear that 20% of children do not eat breakfast at all. The expert nutritionist stressed the terrible implications of leaving the house without a proper meal – lack of concentration in class, the temptation of eating high fat snacks at break time, low blood sugar – all very plausible, but our youngest daughter Helen, is just not a breakfast eater. I have tried everything from Pop tarts to pancakes, porridge to poached eggs in order to tempt her in the mornings, but the truth is, she is just not ready for food so early on in her day.

Traditionally on this farm, the men get up early and go out to the milking with nothing to eat and then come in to a good breakfast and bit of a sit down before facing the rest of the day and I think Helen must have inherited this pattern in her genes. If she could just go straight to school and have a breakfast at mid-morning she would be much happier.

Speaking of milking reminds that our "busy time" will soon be upon us. Calving, milking, 18-hour days and no time off for the next couple of months isnt a pleasant thought – but then we have a week in Florida, "theme park hopping" before it all starts. We are working on the theory that a change will be as good as a rest and a suntan makes you feel better no matter what you are doing – even feeding the calves.

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DIARY FROM A FAMILY FARM IN ULSTER

25 January 2002

MORROWS WORLD

DIARY FROM A FAMILY FARM IN ULSTER

ONE of my Silver Campine hens hatched out nine chicks at the beginning of the month. Eight are still alive and well and nine would have been if I had been quicker to put the chick drinker into the pen, as the ninth drowned in the trough. I watched the hen over the Christmas period sitting huddled under a heavy pine tree, snow and frost only inches away, totally focused on her role in life – to stay on those eggs, no matter the conditions around her. I was so pleased to see the result of her endeavours cheeping around her feet and equally pleased to see a rise in the temperatures.

I didnt know whether to take the chicks away and rear them under a lamp, but decided not to, out of what Im sure is a misplaced empathy with the mother hen. How on earth do I know how she would feel about losing her chicks after all the effort put into hatching them? Shes a hen and Im a human and I am quite sure it is a bad idea to expect animals to think or behave like us. However, whether it is my city rearing or simply being female, I am afraid to confess in these circles that I am guilty of doing just that on many occasions.

Last week I was helping Johnston bring a few cows in to be served and I stayed to hand him the various bits and pieces he needed. He started to complain about this wee Jersey, who according to him, was purposely "humping her back" just to make his job harder. Well, I can only say I could see her problem! I get the same sort of split emotions during calving time – which of course will be upon us in the next couple of weeks.

I understand with my head that a cow who backs herself into an awkward corner when calving makes life difficult for the farmer, but my heart wants to protest that shes doing her best and its not much fun at her end either! Best just to keep my mouth shut and slip her an extra taste of meal afterwards. Thats on the commercial side of things, but with my wee hen, I am going to let her have a go at rearing the chicks herself and just hope the nasty weather doesnt come back.

The last phase of all our building work was to take place last June, just before the farm opened to the public and that was to have the area round the house tarmacadamed. Well June came and went, as did all the summer, the autumn passed and there was still no sign of the men after Christmas. Johnston had been ringing on a regular basis, but to be honest we had really lost interest in the job and had got quite used to the various bumps and holes in the drive. I was able to manoeuvre down the broken path to the freezer shed reasonably safely – even in the dark and so we had quite given up the idea of it ever being finished.

Indeed we decided to upgrade our plan of a half-term holiday in the Canary Islands to a week in Florida for the whole family with the money saved. I spent the first couple of weeks of this month searching the internet and teletext to get the best deals for flights and accommodation, got it all sorted, booked and paid for last Monday, then on Tuesday the contractors rang and on Wednesday they started work! So now we have a holiday of a lifetime to look forward to and a driveway fit for a palace. Who can complain about that – except perhaps the bank manager!

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DIARY FROM A FAMILY FARM IN ULSTER

30 November 2001

MORROWS WORLD

DIARY FROM A FAMILY FARM IN ULSTER

Ive started! The Christmas shopping has begun. This is slightly earlier than usual for me as we have a tradition in our house that the festive season only begins after our family weekend at Corrymeela.

This weekend has been going on for the past 10 years when we started going with a group of Catholic and Protestant families to a reconciliation centre up in Ballycastle. Now that all sounds very heavy, but it is the opposite, with loads of Christmassy fun and none of the horrible commercialism.

Ten years on, our family is very different and the appeal of making Christmas shortbread and hand painted decorations has somewhat dimmed, faced with the competition of city lights and boyfriends. Nonetheless, four of us are still heading up this year and I think if it hadnt been for Jennys mock A-levels starting on the Monday, she would have been tempted to come too. The problem is, we are going to Corrymeela a week later this year and I think it is a bit risky to leave all the preparations until after Dec 10 and so my mother-in-law Nancy and I are heading off today to make a start.

Now I think Im bad with three daughters, but Nancy has eight granddaughters, so Christmas shopping is a bit of a nightmare for her, especially as they are all into the fashionable clothes era. How does anyone over the age of 25 have a chance of knowing what is going to pass the teenage test? Well just have to keep all the receipts!

Ive also started the University interview circus with Jenny, who has applied to six universities to do Occupational Therapy next year. Only one is this side of the water and all require an interview before they will offer a place. So today I have spent hours checking on the cheapest way of getting to the North East of England and basically there isnt a chance. One possibility was flying to Leeds at a mere £260 return – each! Then of course, theres the train fare or car hire and an overnight stay. The whole family went to Tenerife last year for not much more than its going to cost Jenny and I to go for one interview!

We could have chosen boat and train, but that would have meant three days off school and with those mocks just a couple of weeks away, the teachers would not have been happy. Once she has one trip under her belt, I hope Jenny will be confident enough to do the rest on her own, although it is always nice to have someone to travel with.

Johnston is simply not an option, he doesnt mind travelling, as long as he has to take no responsibility for getting there.

Sadly he feels rather the same about shopping and so it is a task that falls almost entirely to me – except at Christmas, when I insist on Johnston getting in to Belfast for at least one day. I used to have the excuse that I needed him to carry the parcels, but now that we are beyond the toy stage the packages tend to be smaller, but still I hate making all the choices myself.

So his compromise is to spend a couple of hours in the music shop buying everyone a CD that HE likes and taking me out for my lunch. I think for a farmers wife thats as good as Im going to get!

Ready to shop: Judith and Nancy tackle the Christmas present list.

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DIARY FROM A FAMILY FARM IN ULSTER

27 July 2001

MORROWS WORLD

DIARY FROM A FAMILY FARM IN ULSTER

I FINISHED my NVQ in "tour guiding" last month and I am trying to put some of the things I learned into practice now the open farm is back in business. Staff training was a big element and our tutors stressed the importance of a piece of paper in todays competitive world – it doesnt matter how good you are at your job if you dont have written proof. So I have invented a new qualification for the young people at Streamvale and my first successful candidate got her certificate today. I am probably more keen on such bits of paper now, having teenagers who are about to start on the big career hunt over the next few years.

A qualification, no matter what it is, at least gives the young person something to talk about at interview, or to list on this all-important "personal statement" which Jenny has to complete for her university entrance forms this summer. My memory of "my day" was it was just a list of school societies I belonged to, but now its practically an autobiography with a major selling job about how wonderful you are in every aspect of life.

Amy is now nearly half way through her "Ulster project" in Milwaukee, USA, and seems to have landed well on her feet as far as her host family is concerned. According to her, the house is a mansion and it has its own lake in the back garden. When quizzed further on the "private lake" we discovered it was actually Lake Michigan, so we are presuming the garden just runs down to the lakeside rather than the family actually owns it. Whichever, Amy is enjoying her time there and brushing up on her water skiing – so we are expecting a big improvement for when we also head to the lakes this summer – the lakes in Co Fermanagh that is.

Our right-hand man, James, is leaving us in a few days time after nine years milking our cows, maintaining the tractors and the milking parlour, fixing the fences and everything else really – including sorting out my computer problems! A nine-to-five job with the Department of Agriculture has tempted him away from the early mornings and weekend work here and who could blame him. In fact, weve asked him to find out if there are any other positions available. We lost our right-hand woman earlier in the year when the foot-and-mouth crisis started to bite hard and so all of a sudden we are back to only family members working here full-time. This farm has always employed staff, indeed in my father-in-laws day there would have been upward of a dozen men working here, so this is the first time in living memory that we have been left to our own devices. Luckily the children are getting to an age where they are a real help. Jenny has been job shadowing me for the past week, to allow us to get away on holidays next month, and Helen has been putting her animal skills to great use as a "cuddler".

Cuddle times have become a very important part of the visitor farm over the past couple of years as we have introduced a lot more supervised handling of the animals and it is now one of the most popular activities.

Mind you I am not sure how it will look in future years when Helen is at the stage of putting together a personal statement and she lists under the previous work section " five years cuddling experience". It should certainly lead to interesting interviews.

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DIARY FROM A FAMILY FARM IN ULSTER

29 June 2001

MORROWS WORLD

DIARY FROM A FAMILY FARM IN ULSTER

JOHNSTON and I have been married for 20 years this month. Our tenth anniversary was spent with the children at a local folk park celebration picnic on the grass – so our plan was to do this one in style.

A week away in the sun, we decided, with all the luxuries a travel brochure could provide. Full board for a start – and free cocktails, well why not! Plenty of water sports for Johnston and a wee bit of interesting history and a few old churches for me.

Greece seemed a good idea or, even better, the Caribbean. We even had our travel companions lined up, too, as Johnstons sister Susan and his cousin Peter were both married the same year as us and six seemed a good diplomatic number. It meant two could sneak off for a romantic moment should the mood take them.

Well then came foot-and-mouth and reality hit home. So Johnston, Susan, her husband, Rocky and I are just home from a long weekend in Cork in the tent and it was great. No cocktails, but we did drink Guinness while watching the rugby on the pub TV, feasted on lobster and other local gourmet delights and there was plenty of history and churches for me. Pity about Johnstons water sports though and the sun. Well, you cant have green fields and constant sunshine.

Amy is off on her holidays on Monday. I suppose it is not really a holiday as such, although sun and fun are two big components. She is taking part in the Ulster Project, a cross-community development programme which takes Catholic and Protestant 15-year-olds and, over a six-month period, they learn about each other, themselves, their history, do a bit of public service and spend a month in America.

Jenny was involved in it two years ago and we were delighted when Amy got the same opportunity. Jenny is still in regular contact with both the American and local teenagers and, while we are no doubt a lot further along the road to reconciliation in Northern Ireland than when I was 15, we still have a long way to go – especially when you see the polarised voting in our recent election.

One of their tasks is to put on a big show for the American families and we were invited to preview it last Saturday. As we say here,a real "Come-all-ye". Everyone takes part, talent or no, and the result was indescribable. I have never heard Molly Malone sung quite so badly and, as for the yellow raincoated dancers who performed Raindrops keep falling on my head while twirling golf umbrellas, its just as well the audience were relatives!

Yet it was a great night: the kids had a wonderful time and certainly we all did some laughing and every parent there felt very proud of their offspring and not a little wobbly about the prospect of them leaving for America in the next few days.

Getting back to the dreaded F&M, we are opening the visitor farm at the beginning of July. The decision to do so was not an easy one, not only because of the still-present risk, but also because we have spent the last four months wondering if being a visitor attraction was really what we wanted to do with the rest of our working lives.

Im still not sure what the answer to that is, but I do know we havent been able to come up with any better ideas of how to make a living. And so Im back to being Mrs Streamvale the farmers wife to half the children in Belfast. Ill be handing out wee chicks, singing happy birthday, trying to explain the morals of modern dairy farming and cleaning the toilets. Such is life!

On the look out for a new opportunity… Judith and family are thinking about a change of direction.

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DIARY FROM A FAMILY FARM IN ULSTER

25 May 2001

MORROWS WORLD

DIARY FROM A FAMILY FARM IN ULSTER

THIS could well be the last month of builders invading our home. I first mentioned their arrival last October – and they are still here.

Granted, we have achieved a lot in that time and they havent been here full time, but there hasnt been a week when we havent had part of our lives disrupted. It has given me a fantastic opportunity to undertake a major clear out of all the outgrown clothes, shoes, sleeping bags, worn out towels and sheets.

Actually, I had to get rid of some perfectly good sheets that I got as wedding presents nearly 20 years ago because my daughters refuse to have anything so ugly on their beds. I insisted that those lovely moss greens and mustard yellows were the height of fashion in the early 80s, but they only regarded me with that despairing look that teenage girls keep especially for their mother.

The truth is, I have never been able to afford such quality since, and while their current lilac and silver bedwear might look the latest fashion, next winter they will be so balled that the girls will have razor rash sleeping in them.

Of course, I have plenty of time to do all this clearing because Streamvale Open Farm is firmly closed, with the disinfectant mats and foot-and-mouth warnings out.

I am trying hard to believe that this more relaxed lifestyle is better for me and the whole family, but its hard to relax with the severe drop in income.

However, I am not completely idle and as visitors cant come to me, I am now going to them with my Chicken Run Roadshow. The mixture of stories, songs and general chat seems to be going down well with the primary schools and I am really enjoying getting out and about round Belfast. I was at my own primary school yesterday – indeed in my old classroom – although when I told the four-year-olds this they looked at me with total disbelief that such an old lady could ever have been at school.

In my presentation there is a time at the end to ask questions. Well, this is what I initially thought it would be, but now I realise it is more accurately described as a time for the children to tell me interesting stories. Once they get on to a particular theme, it is almost impossible to move them on. I find death is a favourite topic and have spent an amazing length of time chatting about the various ways a chicken could be squashed to death – by anything and everything from a tractor (reasonably likely) to a passing elephant (rather unlikely).

Of course, the children insist that all these incidents have actually happened. Usually to their grannys chicken.

Johnstons life has changed as well. He is now back to milking cows and tractor work instead of maintaining the visitor farm. He is surprised that he fell back into the way of it so easily and indeed finds cows more manageable than people most of the time. The strange thing is, everyone still seems to have to work just as hard as ever. Isnt it true that the work around a farm is never done – no matter how many people you have working there is always a job which needs to be tackled immediately or really should have been done yesterday.

Addie, my father-in-law, speaks nostalgically about the days when life moved at the pace of the working horse. Johnston often feels he was born in the wrong era and would really be better suited to a slower pace of life. Who knows?

Im off now to another inner-city school with my chickens, so Ill say cheerio with our now familiar farewell greeting "cock a doodle do".

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DIARY FROM A FAMILY FARM IN ULSTER

30 March 2001

MORROWS WORLD

DIARY FROM A FAMILY FARM IN ULSTER

AH, no, no, no, what other words are there? Well, to be honest, there were plenty of words used in this farmhouse when we heard of the smuggled sheep which brought the foot-and-mouth disease into Northern Ireland – but none of them are printable. All that hosing and cleaning, bedding and clearing out was for nothing – the gates to Streamvale Open Farm are firmly shut and protected with disinfected straw. So what next? Well, there are no answers to that one, and there are certainly no answers to when we might open again, or whether the Department of Agriculture will give the Department of Education permission to start school trips this school year (currently all out-of-school activities are suspended in Northern Ireland) or if all the schools we have had to cancel will bother to book again for next year. Or indeed if our townie visitors will really believe that foot-and-mouth is not a risk to them or their pets. Do I sound fed up? Well, yes I am, just like everyone else whose whole source of income has been snatched from beneath their feet and can do nothing about it.

However, I once heard there are two sorts of people, those who wring their hands and those who roll up their sleeves, so Jennifer and I have been rolling up our sleeves and getting on with any other work we can find, particularly telephoning schools and doing the best PR job we can. However, with foot-and-mouth this year, E coli scares last year, cryptosporidium and newcastle disease the year before, we are beginning to think our arms arent long enough for much more rolling.

Anyway, Ive moaned enough. Sure, havent we our health and strength and three beautiful teenage daughters to keep us going? The calving is nearly over and the daffodils are out and when you look at some disasters in the world, like the earthquakes in India and El Salvador, our troubles are nothing.

With my extra spare time I have been typing up my father-in-laws memoirs. Physically reading his written word has proved a challenge at times, indeed I feel as if I am struggling with a crossword with no clues – it has an s in the middle, ends with "ed" and has about seven or eight letters. The tales are ones my generation are familiar with, as Addie is a keen storyteller, but our children dont know them, and I was certainly one of the people who encouraged him to record all the characters and stories of his childhood as a gift for his grandchildren. I am particularly enjoying his recollections of his mother – she and I shared the same name (my middle name is May), lived on the same farm, in the same house. But my goodness, what different lifestyles. I knew her very well in the last years of her life, but she was already suffering from the early stages of dementia and so the person he describes is barely recognisable to me. Yet she lives on – bright, energetic, thirsty for knowledge denied to her in her short education – through Addies stories, not just for those who knew her, but also for the generations who will only recognise her name on a family tree.

Im off to watch EastEnders now – I am an avid fan of this particular soap. Not for me the green fields of Emmerdale, or the rolling hills of Ballykissangel. No, I like the grim streets of cockney London, where country life and farming matters dont get a mention, vets dont even make cameo appearances and no one ever wears wellies. For the next half hour I wont worry at all about such mundane matters as foot-and-mouth and no income for the foreseeable future – who shot Phil Mitchell will be at the forefront of my mind!

Judith Morrow

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DIARY FROM A FAMILY FARM IN ULSTER

24 September 1999

MORROWS WORLD

DIARY FROM A FAMILY FARM IN ULSTER

Ive been blackberrying this week and it is one of those seasonal occupations which brings back all sorts of childhood memories. I lived in Belfast as a child and getting out to the countryside was a big treat at any time of the year – add to that the promise of bramble jelly on plain loaf and I was very happy to help pick fruit. We all had different ways of gathering. My dad was awful – he would only choose what he called "luscious" berries and so his contribution would hardly cover the bottom of a bucket. Mum was a demon picker and with no concern for the scrapes and tears on her hands, would plough into nettle patches if she thought there would be a pound or two to pick. My dad died 11 years ago this month and my mum has Alzheimers Disease, so I now do my picking alone, but I remember with great pleasure those times we worked at our own mini harvest.

We are doing a lot of tidying up jobs outside now getting ready for the winter. Weeding still continues with the fruit and then we will start on the pruning and the tying up of the raspberry canes. All the little maintenance jobs which cant be done with people around are caught up with now when the weather is still good but the visitors are few. The Open Farm has not closed completely yet, and in many ways it is a very pleasant time, as most of the groups are small special needs schools and they bring a whole new perspective with them. The pace at which we have to guide the children around slows down and we can really enjoy taking time with individuals, watching them respond to the animals and helping them become confident at handling them.

At this time of the year I spend a lot more time inside – making the bramble jelly for a start – and mostly in the kitchen. This room is the centre of the home. It is very big with yards of worktops and a massive pine table in the centre, yet there is not a square inch of clear space anywhere! Theres computers and school books, laundry and hi-fi equipment, magazines, boxes of eggs, cats, plants and dear knows what else sitting all over the place and I am convinced it would all disappear if I had a utility room. People with utility rooms never have untidy kitchens. You can always sit at their table without having to make a space amongst the ironing or talk over the noise – they would never be a problem again, because they would be pitched into the utility room where only close family members would be allowed. The cat would be able to sit on the worktop in a utility room, which in itself would greatly reduce the trauma of our everyday life, as we are a divided family when it comes to cats, indeed animals of any kind, in the house. My husband Johnston has the traditional farmers view that animals have a job to do and that they do not live in the house. Jenny and Amy take after him, while Helen and I are quite happy to share our living space with furry friends. So there is a different set of reactions when we walk into the kitchen and see our cat Sunny lying curled up beside the mug tree. Helen and I think thats quite a nice, comfortable space to sleep. Jenny and Amy consider it simply disgusting, while Johnston can hardly stop himself drop-kicking the cat out the back door. So you can see how pleasant life would be if we had a utility room, all our problems solved at once.

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DIARY FROM A FAMILY FARM IN ULSTER

27 August 1999

MORROWS WORLD

DIARY FROM A FAMILY FARM IN ULSTER

I am getting a badge printed with the words "The buck stops here!" to wear on my Streamvale Open Farm jumper. I would like another which says "Dont blame me, its not my fault" but I dont think anyone will heed that one.

I have just come in from apologising profusely to a woman who rushed home from work to pick up her raspberries freshly picked on the farm to find there werent any – I had no idea she had even ordered them and even though I offered to go and pick them myself there and then she was not a happy customer. I suspect everyone who is self-employed and working with the public learns to ride over and learn from complaints but there is no doubt they can be hard to listen to.

Im sorry to say we have been getting quite a few about the lack of strawberries this year. The great masterplan of planting out the cold store plants in May was not as successful as we had hoped.

The plants themselves have established very well, but sadly so did the weeds which has meant Johnston has spent the past six weeks crawling along the ground with six or seven teenage boys, while I have grovelled to disappointed customers and narrowly managed not to tell them that this years crop is a lot more frustrating for us that it is for them!!

Addie, my father-in-law and I have got somewhat obsessed with the Morrow family tree. I originally became interested when our oldest girl Jenny was born and Addie dug out a lot of old notes which had never quite been put together. Between us we sorted it all out and 15 years later we are still at it. The farming history is currently occupying us – the extended family has been working this land for over 260 years and the farms have been bought and sold, inherited and passed on between generations throughout those years.

As a woman with three daughters I am particularly taken with the farms which have passed down through the female line. The tradition in this part of the world is for the land to be passed on to the son who remains at home (most of the rest emigrated) and so there must be an interesting story behind these women. Another feature which is very evident on our tree comes from a Scottish Presbyterian tradition of the mother passing on her family name to one of the children as a middle name – there was even one woman who gave four of her offspring the name Morrow. So there is a serious amount of people with a connection to the original family – indeed there are 10 Mrs Morrows who live off the road between here and Gilnahirk – which is only 1.5 miles away. As you can imagine the postman isnt delighted if someone leaves off the house number and we have had some interesting mix-ups collecting the holiday snaps a the local chemist!

We have just been to a lovely wedding in Cheshire and our daughter Amy was the bridesmaid and Johnston was the best man. I revelled in the title, "Mother of the Bridesmaid", which made me feel significantwith absolutely no responsibilities – perfect.

It was quite a sobering experience for Johnston who confessed to me later that he was completely taken aback at how grown up and beautiful his 13-year-old daughter has become. She had followed the letter of bridal etiquette and hadnt breathed a word of what she was wearing or how she would look. The transformation was a total surprise to her dad when he saw her walking up the aisle so poised and confident. I think it has maybe helped him forgive her for the diamond stud she has just put in the top of her ear.

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DIARY FROM A FAMILY FARM IN ULSTER

29 January 1999

MORROWS WORLD

DIARY FROM A FAMILY FARM IN ULSTER

POOR old 1999 – if ever there was a year to be overlooked this is it. Everyone is so absorbed by the millennium that 1999 seems totally irrelevant.

We always have a New Years Eve party in our house and the main topic of conversation was "What will we do next year for the big celebration?"

It was decided to change nothing. We will meet up in our kitchen, eat whatever arrives on the table, take part in Johnstons beloved table tennis tournament and try to ignore the fact that the children are wrecking the house – same as always!

Things have already been changing around home though. This has been a different winter break for us as, for the first time in living memory, we have also had a break from milking cows. Timothy, my brother-in-law who manages that side of things, has been changing over to what we call here the "New Zealand system" of dairying which includes drying the cows off all at one time. What a wonderful idea to do it over Christmas when the Open Farm is closed as well. It is strange though – when I head out into the yard in the afternoon and there is no familiar drone of the milking machines it seems almost eerily quiet. Usually silence at that time means something has broken down.

We decided many years ago to close the Open Farm to visitors during the months of November, December and January and have never regretted it. Not only does it give us a decent period for maintenance but it also gives us all a time to be a normal family without the constant demands of the public.

The days when our girls played outside with the visiting children are long gone and while they love the money they earn serving in the cafe or doing reception work, they enjoy these three months of privacy – as do Johnston and I.

There has been a new development over the past couple of years in that Johnston seems to have got himself the reputation of being "not too busy at this time of the year with access to a trailer". A dangerous combination for anyone with a lot of non-farming friends. So he seems to spend most of November moving furniture, delivering manure, clearing out the church store, taking items to charity sales and getting rid of the rubbish afterwards.

Christmas is the highlight of the period and the "craic is mighty" for the whole month. We are part of a very large family and everyone feels the need to entertain at least once. This year we had Christmas dinner at Hilary and Timothys home – all 23 of us around the one table. It was a tremendous feat of engineering involving considerable measuring, furniture moving, squeezing and a seating plan which could not be deviated from. All possible problems were foreseen and everyone got a hanky and went to the toilet before we sat down, so there were no disasters at all, despite the vast quantity of food and drink consumed.

In true Irish fashion we finished off the evening being entertained by the children. A wide variation of talent was displayed and all equally applauded. A wonderful night – and no cows to milk in the morning!

The Morrow family – Johnston, Judith and daughters (l to r) Helen, Amy and Jenny – plan their next New Years Eve celebrations.

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