Sunday, 29 August 2010

More optimistic now

When I wrote the last post the mother and baby alpacas were both looking quite knackered, it was raining, and I was feeling a bit traumatised by the whole experience. But the sun has come out, Jemima has got the hang of her legs with impressively few tumbles, and she may even have suckled -- she certainly had her head in the right place and was making slurpy noises. But she at least seems to understand that she ought to. It can be very frustrating when baby alpacas are just standing up, because they seem to have an innate sense that there is good stuff to be had somewhere around their mother's undercarriage, but aren't sure where or what, and you have to watch them tentatively licking their mothers' shoulders or other unproductive bits of anatomy for quite a while before they get it right. Anyway, I'm pretty sure she has suckled now, and hopefully all will be well! Hurray! Because she's really a very lovely little alpaca. Here is some footage of when she had just got the hang of standing up, and knew there was something she ought to be doing:

But she missed.

She's brown because her father is a champion brown alpaca, and has even held his own at shows against white alpacas, which tend to be of a much higher quality. A lot of effort has gone into breeding very good white alpacas, and coloured alpacas tend to lag behind, and look a bit more like llamas than is ideal. If Jemima's going to be a good quality brown alpaca, and it looks like it, then she's a very good thing indeed.

Tense situations, country style, part II

So this time the alpaca really had gone into labour when I was the only person here, and it wasn't a normal labour. The head and front legs are supposed to come out together, but only the head was out, and gasping horribly. Luckily my dad wasn't far away, so that by the time the vet was giving over-the-phone instructions along the lines of "put the head back in and feel around for the legs" my dad was the one who greased up and did the whole James Herriott thing. I just held Esther the alpaca's head. She made the most horrible noises, and eventually ended up just lying on her side looking utterly exhausted, poor soul. Even more luckily a real vet was able to get here and sort it out properly -- it only took him about ten minutes of rummaging to get the legs sorted out. The alpacas do this really rather endearing thing where, although they are usually a bit stubborn and like to do their own thing, if something is actually wrong they declare a truce and are really nice to us. So that even though we were clearly causing Esther a lot of pain she seemed to realise we weren't doing it for no reason, and didn't ty to get away from us -- she just expressed herself through blood-curdling shrieks.

Anyway, at the time of writing a baby girl provisionally called Jemima is sitting next to her mother, making occasional movements towards standing up. I ought to feel all elated, but the crucial thing with baby alpacas is that they suckle. If they've suckled by nightfall they're almost always fine. If they haven't then they almost always die. Usually when things go wrong with the whole process of birth and the first few days it's because there's something underlying wrong. Hopefully feet in the wrong place is just the sort of random thing which could happen to anyone, and doesn't indicate a bigger issue. But she must be very tired after such a protracted birth, and I'm sure her mother is exhausted too. So I am not totally optimistic as yet. She is adorable though and I will take some pictures to put up. And I expect that the next post will either be a happy one, or an RIP.

Sunday, 22 August 2010

Cows: a photo story

I was walking up Corks Hill the other day at milking time. Herds of cows are just one of those things around here -- like not being able to use the motorways at the weekend in August. Where are the cows?

There they are!

These cows really know where they are going. I don't usually encounter them on foot, and I think that if I had had a dog with me I would have been nervous. Apparently the thing to do is to let your dog go, and don't try to protect it: it can run faster than the cows, and if it legs it the cows are less likely to trample you. Anyway, some of them had a good look at me, but it was time to be milked so they trundled on. Apparently cows have a very fine sense of order and hierarchy, so here you looking at boss cow:

When I was a small kid, about seven or eight, my mother used to buy me Pony magazine, and my little brother used to say that cows are much better than ponies, and that he wished there was a Cow magazine. At the time I thought this was amazingly inane of him, but maybe Cow magazine would be quite good. Our local farmer's supply shop probably sells it -- it sells birthday cards with specific makes of tractor on.

These are just standard Friesians, but still have their own grace. Cows have a cow style in the way that cats have a cat style, and terriers have a terrier style but most dogs don't. There are some wonderful Devon Reds round here, and other less usual breeds. The horned types in particular seem to channel an ancient spirit of cow; they are quite soothing to be around.

Goodbye cows!

Friday, 20 August 2010

Alpaca alarm, regretsy, and energy music

Alpacas make odd noises when they're alarmed. They sound part like a bird of prey, part like an angry donkey. I've never managed to record one before, so when Edith was annoyed the other day I picked up my camera and filmed. The view isn't very good because I was sitting at my desk with my window open -- I just wanted to get the sound.

Edith is the further away of the two adult alpacas on this side of the fence. We don't know what upset her, but she's been very tetchy ever since these three girls were moved away from the main herd, and Jabberwocky annoys her in the evenings by running round and round her very fast. I think the donkey-ness of this alarm call suggests as much anger as genuine worry.

Ever since I have been following Regretsy I have been inspired by the "WTF Alchemy requests" and want to commission my own mad celebrity fights animal picture. This person wants to decorate their home with Charles Bronson beating up a shark while a dinosaur roars in the background; but Lady Gaga eating a unicorn is better. I do like the way that almost anything is on etsy; it's the ebay of crafts. The chances are that if I decided I wanted a picture of Michael Hutchence dancing the tango with a bear while watched by vultures it would already exist.

Actually I just checked and it doesn't, but I did somehow get sidetracked into the world of fish portraiture and traditional Japanese fish printing. (Good slogan by the way.)

The freelance work I'm doing at the moment is very dull, and also very similar to the actual paid jobs I've done for the last six years or so, which is giving me pause, because I'm currently doing it for much better money. But I will have to sort out my own tax, which leads to the question: will I be able to claim Lady Gaga's Fame Monster as a legitimate business expense? I really would work much less well without it. Yesterday for work purposes I bought a BWO album which turned out to be below their usual standards (too many ballads) but had a few excellent songs on it. Here's the video for one of them: the beautiful Martin has to sit in the back of the car while the grown-ups drive.

And today I bought for a fiver off of Amazon MP3 the Clubber's Guide to Summer 2010. I love this one with very clear Soulwax input -- Soulwax are great. Start it playing and then get on with some data entry, and you will see what I mean.

Wednesday, 18 August 2010

Internet gambolling

Jabberwocky likes to run about like a mad thing in the evening, and this is the first time I have managed to get some video of it. I was feeding Iris chopped carrots at the same time. Jabberwocky has a cute thing where he copies the adult alpacas, and at the start of this clip you can see him chewing along as Iris munches.

Wednesday, 11 August 2010

Even more stuff from the internet

Dear Blog, I am quite fond of you, but even so, you would not exist if Penzu had been around when I started, because I really only wanted an internetty way of writing. (Although the fact that this blog is public probably does make me better behaved.)

Also, It's for writing three pages a day. I've only done it for seven days so far, but I am already collecting badges, and points, and just feeling good about writing something completely throwaway every day. I intend to try to make it a regular thing, and if I do I think I'll subscribe. It has algorithms for analysing what you've written, and keeps telling me that the prevailing mood of my writing is "self-important", which is a bit harsh, because I don't use it as some sort of therapy like they seem to assume you do, but instead write random and pointless short stories based on random and stupid things. Hurray!

Folksy! It's like Etsy but UK-based! (Awful name though.) I bought this handmade print of the beast with seven heads from Revelation. It's called What Have I Become. Hurrah! The European Etsy is called DeWanda. These are both quite good if you feel like finding something unusual, or just supporting makers. There are lots of nice hand-made cards, at prices congruent with mass-produced cards. Earrings are good too. I quite covet these ones with sea urchin chips in.

Plus you can buy Hark A Vagrant prints now. I love Hark A Vagrant. I'm going to buy this one, which is on several different topics; they're all good, and I really like the strip about the Bad Monk.

Question: is it time for a kindle? When I really wanted an ebook reader about a year ago I looked into it and decided that it would basically be stupid to buy one. I think maybe now they've got to the stage where it would no longer be a stupid purchase. Some books are cheaper as ebooks than as paperbacks, and it seems that you can now read pdfs on them OK. And the contrast is apparently higher. But my enthusiasm for the whole concept has waned, so I'm waiting until either I get enthused again or it gets so good that it becomes an actively sensible thing to buy.

Tuesday, 10 August 2010

Jabberwocky the alpaca born this morning

The baby alpaca was born this morning. Sunday's events were a false alarm, and my parents laughed at me for worrying, which I think was a bit unfair, given that I was a) doing my best when left alone to care for their animals and b) there were some odd things going on. My new rule is: never look at an alpaca's privates. Someone has to do it, but it doesn't need to be you.

Anyway here is little Jabberwocky, in a rare bit of sunshine between today's storms and showers of grey rain.

Isn't he lovely? He's large for a newborn (which may explain Sunday's disconcerting phenomena, as that's about when he was probably turning in the womb so as to come out right). Alpaca labour is reasonably straightforward and seems to cause more stress to any neurotic humans in the vicinity than to the animal herself -- there was a wierdly comic bit this morning where Edith was grazing, and Jabberwocky's head and front legs were dangling out under her tail, and she would occasionally try to look round to see what was making the bleating noises, with about as much effectiveness as a dog trying to catch its tail, but much slower and more vague. She got quite a bit of grazing done before he was finally all out and on the ground.

Anyway, before long I am going to blog about all sorts of exciting things, like books (I've read some interestingly crazy ones recently) and why Devon is great. (Here's a teaser: one of the great things is cows.)

PS I'm taking it as read that I accidentally put on a stupid voice whenever I record sound or video, like how all of us tend to pull an expression for the mirror, and if you know me and that's my real speaking voice, please do not tell me.

Sunday, 8 August 2010

Tense situations, country style

My parents are not around, and from the vantage point of my desk I am pretty sure that one of the alpacas (I think it's Esther) is about to give birth. Either that or she has suffered some sort of really disgusting rupture, and let's not rule that out, because the alpacas have a habit of saving up their most revolting diseases until they're alone with me.

I have never been an alpaca midwife before. My parents are not within mobile phone reception. How very different life is in the country.

Friday, 6 August 2010

Some stuff on the internet

What are Japanese robot designers trying to do to us? I think, but I may be wrong, that this robot is a bit like a way of transmitting your facial expressions telephonically.

Someone on Boing Boing pointed out how much it looks like the thing that tries to kill Buffy's mum after her brain operation, one of the creepiest Buffy episodes ever.

Boing Boing have something they call a Unicorn chaser, a cute or soothing follow-up to a disturbing post. In that spirit I offer you this Mattias Adolfson drawing. I really like his pictures.

Also, Jan Morris is right about how we shouldn't have to go around kissing people, but is regrettably soft on hugs. I hate hugging. I was famous for it as a teenager -- during the sign of the peace in communion services I would go around resolutely holding my hand before me to be shaken, while the rest of the youth group went around hugging like they were in an American sitcom. In fact the other day I found a copy of the Forever Friends Hugs Book which someone gave me for my 18th birthday in reference to this. It is amazingly nauseating.

William Shatner stole Leonard Nimoy's bicycle. I must track down and watch some Original Star Trek.

Tuesday, 3 August 2010

Actually I just like how it catches the light

On Saturday I went to the artsy bit of Exeter. While I was browsing some earrings in a little shop, the lady behind the counter was telling a customer all about the manifold properties of some crystal or other. I wasn't really listening until I thought I heard her say that it boosts broadband function -- which sounded pretty useful in a rural area. Probably I misheard, but it's interesting how sometimes these sorts of superstitions relate to the mundane. Recently I have read a few horoscopes in papers left on trains, and I have noticed that they tend to have one of the twelve giving some sensible practical advice about life. In among the stuff about romance, etc, they often have one that says something like "a conjunction of Saturn and retrograde Mars means it's time to make sure your bank statements are filed properly" or "this weekend the sun will be in the house of Jupiter, making it a good time for big chores like defrosting the fridge". So if you strip away the superstition that the movement of planets affects us in these big broad ways, and just look at the structure of it -- imagine that you're allocated to one of the twelve by drawing lots -- then it's quite an interesting thing. Presumably there are people out there who do believe in it, and who are influenced by their horoscope for a day or week, and behind it all there are the horoscope-writers, who come up with little schemas for the lives of strangers. It's the same with the healing crystals. It seems to me self-evident that lumps of semi-precious stone don't have emotional powers, and any sort of discussion about whether or not they do is going to be very dull indeed. But if you ignore that bit then you can just look at the stories. It's as if someone has picked a structure for belief without bothering about what it's based on, like a house without foundations. The lady in the shop was warning the customer not to wear a haematite ring twenty-four hours a day, because it would cause a bulge in her energy field, and I suppose this taboo emphasises the idea of the stone as powerful. In the end the customer settled on a stone which was guaranteed to dispel nonsense, which boggled my mind for a moment -- she clearly has a complex love-hate relationship with nonsense. Anyway, people = quite interesting.