Monday, 12 September 2016

Home once more!

Ian has been busy while I've been away. He wired up some
plugs for my kitchen in the greenhouse. Maybe I should go
away more often 
I'm back home now in the caravan. It is hard to imagine being back in the apartment now, but time will come I'm sure. Unless, of course, we are very fortunate and manage to sort something else out in the meantime, but I doubt that. It is still quite mild and warm and so not an issue about being in the caravan at all, until the evenings that is. The cooler nights and the mosquitoes has us heading into the caravan to eat, instead of the greenhouse like we were doing. We still cook in the greenhouse and that helps with making it easier in the caravan as there is not so much room and sometimes the cooking can create too much steam and make everything feel damp anyway.

He also made a lid for our new well. We reckon it is producing
about 10 litres of water a day. Not great but at least it is
flowing. It has been emptied once so far and it is supposed to
get better the more it is flushed out. Admittedly we haven't
had the rain to percolate through either, which is why Ian
has been cutting hay again.
Anyway back to what happened last week. First of all an apology. I haven't been back to the apartment yet and so I still do not have the photos from the trip. I think I will post them tomorrow, if I remember, rather than wait until next week, which will seem weird. One thing I found out from my trip was that the Austrians call the area I visited Tie-rol  ("tie" as in the item of clothing you wear around your neck) and not Tee-rol like I have always heard it called in the UK. Innsbruck is a pleasant enough town and I really enjoyed being able to walk alongside the green river down a leafy path to the university every morning. It was just far enough away to get a good bit of exercise before the long days, which started at 8:30am and finished late. The first night finished with a reception at the local municipal building, which was a little like a full introduction to Innsbruck to a captive audience, instead of a short introduction and then a time to network, which is the normal format for these things. There was a bit of grumbling about that and rightly so.

Mari is a gorgeous looking alpaca and sweet natured too.
The second day was a little shorter and finished with a tour around the town, but I missed that, as I got chatting with someone. It still finished around 6:30pm though, so not exactly short days. Again there was not much free time for networking, which to be honest I think is more important than many of the presentations. It is a bit of an issue in the academic world that funding for these trips is dependent on presenting papers and not on what would really benefit academia and that is bringing together a whole host of experts from different fields to work together on something that could do with some fresh input. I know that outside experts are not the answer to everything, but it is good to bring in fresh perspectives from time to time and to have access to quite a vast range of knowledge.

Chanel in reflective mood
I got my Lancashire fix from the group of sessions that I had a presentation in, as the host of the sessions was originally from Barnoldswick and he still had the Lancashire twang. I also sat through a presentation which had a map of the area where I used to come from and where I was born. Felt a bit weird with it being the subject of a study by someone who was German but lecturing at Sheffield University where I got my bachelor degree.

This is the "I'm pretending to be asleep"
pose, because as soon as your back is
turned I will be up on the table or in the
sink to see what tasty treats you have
left behind 
My presentation was okay. It was not particularly fluent as it was just after lunch and I was quite tired. It didn't help that I was up finishing it off the night before after the late reception finish. One lady really liked the presentation though and was very enthusiastic about what I was doing and my supervisor said I was much clearer than the other presenters, so that was kind of okay. However he also said "Where was the methodology?" and said I wasn't clear enough on the landscape aspect as usual - will have to work on that for my PhD defence for sure. I often have to re-write something and insert the word landscape a few times to make it fit with the theme of my studies better. I'll get there.

The autumn raspberries have been brilliant this year. Last year
they mainly did not ripen before the frost got them, we only
had a few but this year we have been having to freeze them.
What I really liked about this conference though was the fact they broke up the long days with a field trip in the middle of the conference. It gave us a better chance to chat with others and to see more of the agricultural landscape of the Tyrol (did you notice I put landscape in there?). It is quite fascinating to hear of farmers who only have a small number of animals, one only had 17 cows and yet they were still in farming. It helped that there were subsidies to maintain the landscape (done it again! :D) in the traditional alpine way. It also helped that there were lots of tourists to the area to stay in guesthouses they ran and that they had a good market for their cheeses. During the winter months, when obviously it was more difficult to get up the mountains they kept the roads clear and did forest work. Quite a diverse lifestyle then!

Ian has been sculpting around the well. Hopefully it will grass
over soon
The first place we visited was to a cooperative who managed one mountainside with separate herds of cows, some dairy and some beef. The milk was pooled together and a cheesemaker rented a place from the cooperative to make his cheeses. I bought some raw milk to drink, since I was missing ours from home. Of course we got to taste the cheese too. The next visit was to a farmer who produced his own cheeses and had a shop on site, where we had a rather nice lunch of cheeses, salamis, hams, eggs and salad, all from the farm. You may notice a theme here of cheese, because our next visit was to a cheese factory in the valley. The farmer we had just visited sold his excess to the factory as did a few others but all had to be mountain farmers, no milk was bought from the valley farmers. Many of the farmers even sent their milk down to the factory via a cable system. That would be a sight to see, but when we got there the cheese making had finished for the day. Guess what! We also ate cheese here too and had a drink of buttermilk.

Cobwebs on the fencing
The next visit was to see a young chap who had just started producing vegetables for a local hotel. The hotel owner had bought the land to supply his hotel as he wanted to keep the produce local for his Ayurvedic diets. It was great to see the weedy garden. It was of course the first year and he was only experimenting, so only to be expected. The plans did seem a bit odd at times because they planned to produce eggs for the hotel, but there are always cockerels that need dealing with when trying to raise your own and it was supposedly a vegetarian hotel, well you could get meat if you wanted but the thrust of it was vegetarian. They also had sheep to keep the grass mown (sounds familiar) but again there is a problem if there are too many males and the same problem for the milk they aimed to produce at a later date. He did admit that the staff would probably benefit from the meat, when it becomes available. He was right though that it used to be that eating meat was a rare event and not a daily event like it has become and his own grandmother only used to eat meat a couple of times a week. We didn't have cheese here, but chives on bread with a home-made syrup for drinks.

Veronica has been putting on weight after her pregnancy free
year. We don't think she is pregnant this year, she was too
busy fending off all advances
Finally we finished up at another dairy farm, but funnily enough we didn't eat cheese here. They had some ancient protected pear trees and so instead they made juices and a spirit from them and we got to taste these. I had the pear juice first, which was lovely and then tried the alcoholic pear drink. I couldn't taste the pear, just the burning sensation as it went down and I couldn't finish it off. I said it was too strong for me and the farmer laughed and said "No! No! 60% is strong!" I dread to think! He assured it was "only" 40% proof. Still more than I can take anyway.

Agnese is probably pregnant though and she has been acting
strange, rather like Estelle last year.
We had the conference in two locations and so after the field trip we were dropped off in Seefeld, a tourist resort higher up in the mountains. It was rather twee with all the balconies overflowing with flowers and just about every building was either a guest-house or an eating place. I found the guest-house I was staying in, Haus Orplid and was met by a lovely lady. She welcomed her guests every morning and made sure she said goodbye when I left a couple of days later. She greeted everyone warmly without overdoing it, which was rather nice. There was a bit of an issue in the fact that the guesthouse only served breakfast between 8-10am and the conference started at 8:30am again. She said I could come down 5 minutes earlier and assured me there was plenty of time to get there, as the venue was only 10 minutes away. Well it is if you find it straight away! I got there in the end, is all I'm saying.

Tomatoes ripening in the late summer sun
The evening was a reception up in the mountains and to get there we had to use the funicular railway. Another presentation by the local dignitary and the obligatory facts about the place, but blessedly short and he gained everyone's approval by stating the first drink would be paid for. The meal was rather good and I chatted for a long time with a chap from the UK mainly and a bit with chaps from Norway and Switzerland - they mainly spoke in German to each other though. At the end of the evening we had to go back down the mountain and when we got to the bottom I realised I had left my alpaca scarf at the top of the mountain. The problem is that I had come down on the last but one train and although the train would go back up the mountain, it would not come back down. A phone call to the top though and I was assured my scarf was found and would come back down with the next group.

A bird's nest made from sheep's wool we think
I waited in the waiting room but for some reason the guy shut the door. I had visions of being left there all night. He let me out, but by the time he did, most of the folks had already left and my scarf was nowhere in sight. I had to go back to the hotel, but as I went around the corner the lights all went out and I was left trying to find my way back in the dark with just the torch on my phone to guide me. What fun I have! I did find the bridge that we went over to get to the railway and once over that there were streetlights and getting back was simple from that point. Fortunately I also got to keep the key to my room and that let me into the guesthouse itself. Phew!

Amazing the contortions an alpaca can do to scratch an itch
Fortunately the scarf was there in the morning. It was the scarf I had knitted from our own alpaca wool for Ian's mother who died last year, so I would have been rather sad to lose it. The last day of the conference was a short day and many left either that morning or shortly afterwards, so it felt like only a few were left behind. Most were taking advantage to go on holidays or to join the post-excursion trip to the Italian alps. I was only leaving the following day as there wasn't enough time to get to Innsbruck after the conference to get home. Later on in the day though I bumped into one young chap from the conference as I was looking for somewhere to eat. Since he was also doing the same, we decided to eat together. As we were making our way along to the restaurant he had planned on eating at, we saw another fellow from the conference. His partner had joined him in Seefeld for a day or two and so we all sat down and had a right good chinwag. It was better than eating alone anyway.

The golden head of an amaranth plant in the greenhouse
Saturday I set off back home. It was a fairly uneventful journey though, albeit with a rather long overlay in Frankfurt, apart from meeting a rather interesting young chap on the plane from Frankfurt to Riga. He asked me if I was visiting Riga and of course I said I was going home, which as usual surprises folks. I found out he was a joiner on yachts in the South of France, which made a bit of a change from working for an Irish joinery company, as many Latvians do, which he had done for nine years previously. He might even pay us a visit to the farm, he said, as he lost his cashmere hat and would love another hat made from natural materials, but he is allergic to sheep wool.

A rather large tomato that is now in the process of being
reduced to soup
So back home once again and it is back into the more mundane aspects of life, like harvesting amaranth seed, starting to tackle the tomato mountain, hanging some of the self-sown hemp to dry (they are huge now and taller than me), helping Ian with the sheep by holding them while he gave them injections and then helping make sure the lambs got to the new pasture. Unfortunately while I was away one of the lambs died and so we are down to two. The lamb was rather thin and it also got stuck in the wood pile one day before I went away. It could be that it wasn't thriving due to worms, which is why we gave them the injections about two weeks ago and this one was the second dose. Who knows! Sheep do sometimes just keel over and we are not the most experienced of sheep farmers.

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