Saturday, 21 December 2013

The Other Place

Our dear old donkey Mimosa died peacefully this afternoon. She slept her last hour away, warm under one of Mum’s blankets, and I am just back from the stable where she died. We let Arran in to the stable; he sniffed around her mouth and ears and looked a little quizzical, sniffed again and then moved very delicately around the body.

Mimosa in the flower of old age

That’s the second animal off in “l’altre barri” (the next-door district, in Catalan.) Blackie, guardian of the Croft and the son of Perla whom we inherited with the house, died a couple of weeks ago. We buried him under a rose bush at a point from which he often looked out, and one of the Crofters built a very fine chestnut bench next to the grave. Blackie was the head animal (including the human animals) here and we all miss his solid, sensible, guardian self. He was a lovely dog - a strong bark, a waggie tail and an addiction to having his tummy scratched.

Blackie the Guardian (old softie)

Monday, 16 December 2013

A(nother) Commentary on “Scotland's Future”

You’ve read the press commentary, heard comments on the radio and seen them on the Beeb. So here is one more view on the Scottish Government’s proposals.

It's Clear

Important, in a document that you want voters to read.

The book (I read the electronic version) is in clear English. Technical terms are explained, and the layout, with a chapter on each main area of government, and 650 questions – which form an index, referring back to content in the book – is easy to use and understand.

The text distinguishes between the changes that will happen if a majority votes Yes in 2014, and the policies that the current Government would bring in if they win the planned 2016 elections. That is an important distinction. The referendum is about one question – independence. If a majority vote “Yes” then there will be an election in 2016 at which Scots can vote Labour, Tory, SNP, Green, Raving Monster Loony, Jedi Knight or whatever they want.

I've never read a book on how to run a whole country

This book covers almost everything. From the armed forces to women’s rights and from banking to whisky exports. I’ve never read a book that describes in detail how to run a country; it is like a Haynes Manual for Scotland, showing how the engine works and how to fix the air conditioning.

It's a Rebuild

The writers of this book are drafting a new country, and that gives plenty of opportunities to put right the things that are inherited, wrong, when you carry on carrying on in an old country. For example, “Scotland’s Future” proposes that Scotland should have a written constitution. Yes! Of course it should! Every modern democracy does!

The Poor, and the Rich

There is a lot of focus on the poor, and on the wealth gap; “poverty” is mentioned 82 times. This, for me personally, is the most important part of any Government’s work. How we treat our poor is the measure of our civilisation.

The UK’s record is not good. You don’t really need statistics (“Scotland’s Future” includes plenty) to know about poverty, and the substantial gap between rich and poor in the UK; next time you buy a copy of The Big Issue, just ask the vendor about her or his life and you’ll get the picture. But just in case you do like the certainty of numbers here are a few from my own research:
The poorest tenth of the UK population, 2.6 million households had, in 2011/12, a disposable income of £174 each week. The wealthiest tenth, again 2.6m households, had a weekly disposable income of £1,452, eight times as much. [Source: Office of National Statistics Family Spending 2013, Chapter 3, Table 14] These are the numbers behind the “Gini Coefficient”, the OECD’s measure of the gap between rich and poor (in fact the OECD, using a slightly different base, calculate the difference in disposable incomes as 10 times).

The UK has the seventh largest wealth gap, measured by the Gini Coefficient, amongst 34 countries analysed by the OECD [Source: Gini Coefficient of Household Disposable Income 2010, Fig. 4, OECD]. Amongst the few countries with wider wealth gaps are, er, Chile, Mexico and Turkey, while fairer, much fairer countries include all of the Nordic states, Germany, Netherlands, Hungary and even Switzerland.

Leaving your poor to become (relatively) poorer while your rich become richer, as the UK has done since the 1980s is, for me, a moral abomination. But it is also bad news economically. I interviewed a medical researcher a while ago who told me that the UK’s wealth gap was the indirect cause of illness and of educational failure. There are many studies that show that when countries reduce the gap they improve health and educational outcomes for the whole population.

Hidden in the text is a technical phrase that shows a newer style of thinking about poverty and welfare. Welfare is described as a “’social investment’ – an investment across a person’s life that is designed at all stages to promote equality, fairness and social cohesion.” [p109] This style of thinking, using investment principles in social provision underlies much of the new thinking in philanthropy and particularly the world of “venture philanthropy.” This direction, should it be taken by a Scottish Government, would be a radical departure from Westminster’s “handout” thinking.

“Scotland’s Future” focuses on poverty and on reducing the wealth gap – these are central ideas, backbone, to this particular vision of how Scotland should be. For me, they give this vision a moral value that others lack.


The situation of women in Scotland is another central theme in this book. In part this is linked to poverty; the majority of the lowest paid workers in Scotland are women, says the book, and women live longer and thus are more dependent on pension provision, so the book lays out plans for linking pensions to inflation. There are plans for universal childcare from age one; with women as, still, the main child carers at home this would allow women to return to work and earning sooner.

“Scotland’s Future” also has plans for boosting the number of women in positions of power. In fact the Scottish Parliament has already done much of this; 35% of MSPs are women [source] against 22% of MPs in Westminster. There are a number of reasons for this but one is the simple, stupid but practical fact that the working hours in Westminster are horrible (I’ve worked there, and know), with debates going on late into the night. This does not attract women, or anyone who cares for a family. By contrast, the Scottish Parliament works until 6pm. Yes! Sensible!

More Good Stuff

And there is more, most of it easy to agree with; continuing free university education, a rebuilt taxation system, a focus on renewable energy, and a constitutional pledge to provide 0.7% of GDP for international development work…

Yes, I know. Who pays for this?

Who Pays for This?

We will, of course.

“Scotland’s Future” says “there is no requirement to increase taxes to pay for the services we currently enjoy in Scotland.” [page 83]. I have no way of assessing that claim.

But tackling the wealth gap means taking money from people who are wealthier, and shifting it to people who are poorer. This does not have to mean loads more taxation; Austria, where the wealth gap is one third narrower than in the UK, takes less taxes out of personal income than the UK does. So do Hungary, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Germany and Switzerland, to pick a selection of European states, all with substantially narrower wealth gaps than the UK [sources: Gini coefficient of household disposable income 2010, and Taxation Key Tables, OECD, 2010].

This is not smoke and mirrors. People who are wealthier will have to pay more tax, if the vision set out in “Scotland’s Future” is played out. Then it becomes a simple choice: are you willing to pay a little more in order to make a fairer society for everyone?

This is Not the Future

This book is a vision. It is how one group of people would like Scotland to be. It is not, of course, a description of how things will be. No one can write that book, outside of a Tardis.

But that is what we always have, in politics. Our politicians tell us about their vision and we vote for it, or we don’t. We can no more tell whether the vision of Messrs Cameron and Clegg will play out, or whether it will be the UKIP vision that will dominate in UK politics. We cannot know in advance of a referendum how negotiations over the pound, the EU, the Queen, or Scotland’s membership of the International Monetary Fund will go; but this group of people have told us what they will be aiming for when they negotiate.

The vision in “Scotland’s Future”, with its focus on women’s rights and on a rebuilt modern state with a written constitution would be enough to make me vote Yes, if I could vote. But above all, the vision of reducing the appalling wealth gap in the UK and the effects that has on millions of very poor people, is the vision of a fair, good country. For that alone I would vote Yes.

Saturday, 30 November 2013

La Meva Única Via

Sóc del sud. D’Àfrica. Em dic Adn.

La mare de me mare de me mare de me mare em va portar a mig orient. Ella va canviar. De cos, i de ruta.

Anava cap al nord. En davant, la terra era blanca. Blanca, gèlida. Hi havia molt menjar – fruits, herbes i caça. La via era lenta però sempre cap al nord.

Al nord, a Finisterre, la mare de me mare de me mare va veure el sol tot el dia, i la nit tot el dia. La nit amb llums blaus, verds, taronges. I el mar. Els seus fils i filles eren viatgers, i van aventurar-se pel mar. A l’inici, anaven enganxats a la costa. Però amb el temps anaven mes aigües endins.

Una filla va deixar Finisterre per una illa on hi vivia gent que edificaven cases i tombes de pedra. Per nosaltres els vaixells i cases eren sempre de fusta. La filla va enamorar-se d’un home de la illa – un home extraordinari - i va tenir fills i filles – una de elles, la mare de me mare.

De la illa a una terra mes fèrtil, on el sol baixava cada dia sobre el mar. Durant segles vam viure a Dalriada, un país independent, fins que uns altres, gent mes important, van decidir que no, que hauríem de estar sotmesos a ells.

Però jo, Adn,  porto dins meu la ADN de la mare de me mare de me mare. Elles tenien la ADN independent. Jo sóc independent. He nascut en un país que vol tornar a ser independent, i visc en un país que també ho vol ser.

Es la meva via, única.

Christopher Carnie, Sant Esteve de Palautordera, 30 Nov 2013

Monday, 14 October 2013


This is the BIG MAN in caterpillars.

Come any closer and I´ll bite your head off

We found him, or her, yesterday, chewing his way through the aubergines. I think it's the Death's-Head Hawkmoth, Acherontia atropos

Bigger than the Swiss Army


Friday, 11 October 2013

Cabbage White-Out

We've been cultivating butterflies.

Normally this would be a lovely thing to do. But it has been accidental, and worse, it has meant the total destruction of our cabbage patch:

Holy Cabbage!
This is Pieris brassicae, the Cabbage White; the caterpillars are at the fifth instar or stage of development. We'd spotted the tiny yellow eggs...but by then the damage was largely done.

5-a-day caterpillar

No sauerkraut this winter, at the Croft. Too bad...

Thursday, 10 October 2013

Walking Women

We have been talking about trementinaires.

Trementina is an extract of Abies alba, the silver fir (or, says one source from Pinus sylvestris, Scots Pine). The sap was collected and filtered, and used to make a strong-smelling balsam.

Trementina was produced by women working in the Pyrenees. These women then set off on foot, on long routes through Catalunya. Our neighbour Isidre told me yesterday that he can remember a pair of trementinaires – mother and daughter – who came past the house two or three times a year. They carried trementina, but also other herbal remedies, oils and salves, and had cures for animals as well as humans. The family always purchased something, and normally invited the trementinaires to eat.

Trementinaires. Picture from

Isidre said that the trementinaires, who followed the same itinerary each year, would sleep in the house or barn at Can Marc

These were independent, travelling women from the end of the 19th century and the start of the 20th;  very different from the stereotype we might have of Catalan women of that era.

There is a wee museum about the trementinaries, in the Alt Urgell:

More about the trementinaires in this video:

Saturday, 5 October 2013

Another lamb, just

It is only thanks to very careful attention by Crofter's mate, and good advice from the saintly Pep-the-Vet, that we still have little Nosey around.

He was born on the 30th September to Ballachulish, her second lamb. Last time we'd noticed a wee bit of blood on a teat, and this time Ballachulish had full-blown mastitis. One half of her udder hot and lumpy, the other secreting puss. Not a good scenario for the new lamb.

I was away, so Crofter's mate spent hours with the wee one, making up a mixture of milk, egg and honey to get him started, and then feeding him some cow colustrum from our neighbour's farm.

Boy on the bottle

Finally we found that the wonderful Dolors down the road had a nanny goat that was milking, so we put him onto a diet of goat milk. Mum's been on a programme of antibiotics (she had a raised temperature and was really under the weather.)

Now, six days later, Mum is recovering and he is beginning to get a little milk from her. He looks skinny, but is growing.

Mastitis is not nice at all. We try to be as clean as possible, clearing the stable and disinfecting with lime, but this is the countryside, and that's bacteria soup.

Limey stable

Wasp this spider?

We had two female spiders - in the yellow and black stripes of Alloa Athletic FC - on our lavender this week. The colours are dramatic, on such a large spider.

Argiope bruennichi. Not great at football.

Nae flies on me

The flies are everywhere this Autumn - demonstrating how they evolved before us and will survive our Armageddon.

They are everywhere on the poor donkeys too, however, so I've had to mix up a fly repellent that works. This is an adaptation of a recipe from The Barn Equine Surgery,, with the addition of a little piperine, extracted from black pepper.

Put 20g of whole black peppercorns into a tall sided pot. Add 150ml alcohol (from the pharmacist). Using a  hand-held liquidiser, liquidise the pepper in the alcohol. Leave to stand, covered, for an hour. This will extract a little piperine, which will help to drive the flies away.

Home chemistry. No naked flames, please

Mix up the other ingredients:

200ml Citronella Oil BP
120ml vinegar
30ml washing up liquid
450ml strong black tea

Pour the pepper and alcohol mixture into the other ingredients using a filter (I use a cloth filter) so that the pepper itself does not enter the mix. This is to help prevent the sprayer from getting clogged with pepper grounds.

Dilute up to three litres, with water.

Shake before use. Spray on the animal, avoiding the eyes and mouth. (And avoiding your eyes and mouth - this is, after all, pepper spray as used in self defence...)

Monday, 23 September 2013

Decay, by fungus

 These fungi are are attacking pine logs, cut six months ago and left outdoors to dry. Trying to steal my winter log supply...

Possibly Xylaria polymorpha?

Sunday, 15 September 2013

It's not Cricket...

...or is it?

I saw this possible-cricket, possibly Meconema thalassinium, the Oak Bush-Cricket, on the Swiss Chard planted this summer by Emily Hornett

Cricket on the green
The snake in the grass is only a little bigger than the cricket; look at the oak leaf beside it. I think it is a juvenile ladder snake, Elaphe Scalaris, but feel free to correct me.

Snake in the grass

Monday, 9 September 2013

On Gluttony

The fig trees are in fruit. Not one tree-full, but the whole lot - seven large trees all producing ripe fruit all at once.

Eat me

I can eat a lot of figs - but really, this is gluttony. So we share them out with the birds, the donkeys and sheep (who take those they can reach) and with Papilio machaon, appropriately called the Swallow Tail Butterfly; gluttony comes from gluttire, to swallow.

Papilio machaon - I'd Swallow my Tail
So far, I have bottled them and made jam - in a moment of madness I made five separate jams from the fruit of five separate trees. Next comes chutney. And then really, no more figs thank you, till next year.

Bye bye, Button

I have just said goodbye to Button, our first year-old lamb. 

He was a sweet-natured beast, and I was more affected by his departure than all of the other lambs that have left us ("left us" being, of course, a euphemism for "been sent off to the abattoir.") This is how most lambs live in the UK - at about a year old they are sent off for slaughter - but here we have become used, or at least come to be able to bear, the Catalan system of sending them off at 3 months old. 

Strange how one's perception of the emotional impact is greater for an older sheep than for a just-weaned youngster. In both cases the only consolation is that these sheep lead the best possible life, and thus that the meat we eat is truly fair-traded.

Monday, 8 July 2013

Limping Sheep

Thistle was limping yesterday, and worse today. Pep the Vet said "splinter" - and, as always, was right.

I extracted this from her foot this morning:

Stick that in your toe

An hour, and 4ml of penicillin later, she's doing fine.

Joan Serra Vilamitjana, 1947-2013

Joan died on the 5th July. 

Joan was beautiful. 

He was a beautiful dancer - I saw him performing just a few months ago, every movement measured, precise, flowing and relaxed. He created beauty from a group of very variable village dancers, building more than 30 years of Gitanes dancing (in the 1970s Joan had gathered and choreographed the traditional dance steps, at that time only in the memories of the village elders.) 

Joan in the crowd, Gitanes, Sant Esteve de Palautordera, 2011

He had beauty in his vision of how we should be - enjoying the moment, not planning for some unknown and in his case, terrible, future.

And he was beautifully inclusive. I'm an immigrant here, but Joan welcomed me and my son as dancers in Gitanes, drawing me in and giving me an entry to a new world of friends, of Catalan and of festa.

Never stop dancing.

Tuesday, 18 June 2013

I, bee

I've started to co-habit with bees. "Keep" bees is not the right phrase - they are free to go, or come, as they wish.

Miguel gave me my first lesson today, as we transferred a few of his lovely wee black Montseny bees to my shiny new hive:

The place to bee
A few got away and made a sort of mini-swarm (it's in the centre of the photo, though you will have to look closely to spot it):

's warm, here

Thursday, 13 June 2013

Cherry harvest

It's time for cherries at the Croft:

Cherry d'amour
I've made my version of cerise confite. It's built from a recipe by Henriette Lasnet de Lanty and Michèle Parfonry in "Confits, confitures et Conserves", Dargaud Éditeur, 1978.

2kg cherries
2kg sugar
Juice of one lemon

Remove pips from cherries. Crack open at least 12 and preferably more pips and extract the kernels. Cover cherries and kernels with the sugar and warm slightly so that the sugar dissolves in juice. Leave to stand 24 hours.
Remove cherries and boil down the syrup to 107ºC on the sugar thermometer
Add the cherries. Boil and count 2 minutes. Take off the heat for 2 minutes. Put back on heat and boil 2 mins. Take off for 2 mins. Put back and boil for 2 mins - in other words you do the hokey-kokey on-and-off-the-boil thing three times.

Put the cherries into sterile jars. Reduce the syrup again to 107ºC, then fill up the jars. I normally finish off the whole thing by sterilising the jars in a bain marie.

These cherries are really good for using in cakes and pastry afterwards. They are a little like prunes (pruneaux séchées if you are reading this in France...)

Friday, 17 May 2013

Test-tube Baby

Thistle is our problematic mother. Two of her three lambs have died at 4 days old, after desperate attempts to keep them alive. We don't know why. They simply do not take to their mother's milk, gradually get sleepier and eventually doze out of the world.

So when she gave birth on Tuesday we became hyper-active. Pep the wonderful vet came up and gave the new lamb a shot of vitamins. I gave him a shot of Thermovite Plus. He had the same dozy approach to milking, approaching Thistle's flank, vaguely looking for an udder and then wandering past to lie down. "Walk-Past Disease."

So I intubated the new lamb. This time I did it within 4 hours of birth - 150ml of his mother's milk, laboriously squeezed from her teats. Then 4 hours later a further 150ml, and again, by now at 23:00 with the lamb still not having fed naturally, a third batch of 150ml.

Tube of life

And this was the result; the next morning he was feeding himself, and now he is growing fast.
Now 100% natural

Thanks to Pep and his vitamins, and above all thanks to the stomach tube, the new lamb lives. We called him, naturally, Pep.

Wednesday, 1 May 2013

Weed eyed

The potatoes are growing nicely...but not as fast as the weeds.

Karol plants tatties, 3rd March 2013

Potatoes with weeds, 30th April 2013
It's been raining hard - 250mm over March and April. Perfect weather for weeds, and for ducks

Muscovy must eat

Tuesday, 23 April 2013

Free-range lamb

We will shortly have lamb for sale - free-range lamb from our smallholding flock, here in the Natural Park of Montseny.

We provide lamb as a side of lamb - leg, rolled shoulder joint, and lamb chops - freezer-ready and weighing a total of around 6kg. We can deliver to your home in Barcelona.

Contact the Crofter at for details of price and delivery schedule.

Sunday, 24 March 2013

Cheese, Muck and an Olive

We've been busy on a new Spring cocktail here on the Croft; cheese, muck and an olive. 

We were given 5 litres of goat milk by a friend and so we made curd cheese. It's very, very easy. Just boil the milk, allow it to cool a little from boiling, add the juice of 2 lemons and leave overnight. In the morning you'll find a pan full of thick curd, and yellow, sweet  buttermilk.

Cheesy, easy
Put the curd into a cheese cloth and leave to drip for most of the next day. You can move the curd around in the cloth a bit to encourage it to drip more. Then eat, on fresh brown bread. Yum.

Meanwhile at the other end of the scale I have been Spring cleaning our sheep enclosure. Keeping cuddly, attractive lambs is not all sweetness and light. It's hard work clearing a sheep shed:

Where there's muck, there's more muck
And up at the top of the land, still overgrown with climbers, I found another olive tree, and cut away a pine to give it some breathing space. A hundred years ago the Croft was a producer of olive oil and wine. The pine (I counted the rings) started growing 30 years ago - in 1983, the point at which the olive grove was finally abandoned.

Olive sees the light

Friday, 1 March 2013

Snow Storm

We had a perfect snow storm...

Snowy Lavandula sp.
 ...and then Storm arrived.

Storm, 30 minutes old

He's the calm, in the storm.

Thursday, 14 February 2013

Burgers, burgered

This is why we grow our own meat here at the Croft.

Horse trading, European style.

The map, from, shows the trade routes used to make burgers for British supermarkets. These burgers include horse meat from Romanian abattoirs...

Wednesday, 13 February 2013

Putting on the kilos

I have been tracking the weight of our lambs. Last week Digby, the first of the new batch, went from 5kg to 7kg in a week - that's a 40% increase.

Growing up - the power of mother's milk

The lambs in the last batch added weight at a very consistent rate - with just one outlier, Broch. We will be checking how the new batch grow to see if we can find out what determines growth rate.

Wednesday, 6 February 2013

Tiddles toddles into the world

He was born at 18:00 yesterday - a blustery day. Geisha, his mum, was distracted with the messy business of getting rid of her placenta, walking round and round the shed dragging the bloody bits behind her.

The new Tiddles didn't pay much attention to anything, so I milked Geisha and gave him a few drops of colostrum, and then a little more from a syringe. I tried to put him onto the nipple, but he was not really interested. I checked him late into the night - and still he was toddling around, not really paying attention.

No, Tiddles, the milk's near the back...

This morning the slightly sleepy, dazed lamb was lying down and I began to get seriously concerned. So I milked Geisha and intubated the lamb with 75ml of her milk. I also took his temperature - 39.5º C and thus pretty normal. Pep the wonderful vet suggested 3ml of multivitamins, so I injected him with that.

...and the result, this evening, is a much more alert bouncy wee lamb who has definitely started to suckle. He's a bit hazy-lazy, and takes a little drink before wandering off, but he's looking much more alert.

Lambing - it's a life-and-death business.

Tuesday, 5 February 2013

Southern Vandal

Another palm tree - a  young one - fell victim this month to the Giant Red Palm Weevil, Rhynchophorus ferrugineus.

The Red Menace

The weevil, which may originally have arrived in the Peninsula on imported Egyptian palms, has come up from the south with the warming climate, and palms all around here have fallen as a result. The Botanic Gardens at Blanes are keeping their palms alive and free of weevils, but at the expense of spraying insecticide into them.

So that's your choice - palm death or chemical warfare.

Monday, 4 February 2013

Digby the Sheep

Digby the lamb, an early 2013 surprise and the first new lamb in my ANCRI scheme was born weighing just under 5kg on Saturday 2nd. Mother and daughter (we named her Digby before I'd quite worked out whether she was a male or a female...) are doing well.

The new ANCRI member

Bee Breath

This is Xylocopa violacea, the Carpenter Bee, breathing its first Spring breath, on the 2nd of February 2013.

My reference book, Collins Complete Mediterranean Wildlife Photoguide (Harper and Collins, London, 2000) says they are active April-September.

Is this early breath another sign of us all warming up - climate change, bee-style?

Thursday, 31 January 2013

Not crofting, but cycling

Marcus and Nick, friends of Crofter's son, are attempting the British Columbia to District of Columbia (Vancouver to Washington DC) ride this summer, to raise funds for the Haileybury Youth Trust, working with young people in Uganda.

Here's their blog - from BC to DC.

Cristóbal Colon (after whom BC and DC are named, I guess) would be proud of them. Although he'd probably claim he had arrived in Washington, India...

Monday, 28 January 2013

Burns Night, at La Rectoria de Sant Miquel

We spent Burns Night at La Rectoria de Sant Miquel de Pineda, in the green hills of La Garrotxa. Roy Lawson and Goretti were great hosts, cooking a splendid supper including flown-in haggis and thermonuclear Clootie Dumpin'. Francesc Punsola played the bagpipes, and Roy and I read Burns' poems to a bemused audience of Catalans and lovers of Scotland.

Being abroad makes the Scot more Scottish. That could make us romantics, but Robbie Burns reminds us what it meant in the 18th century; hard work, deprivation and a society that left most with little.