Monday, April 16, 2012

The mystery guest and other stuff.

Its now been a couple of months and things are ticking along quite nicely at the lodge, guests have been sporadic but given the global financial situation and all, pretty good. However, we do not dwell too much on the trials and tribulations of the world here in Garston for it seems, at times that we are somewhat protected and removed from those mainstream worries...... so on with the news from our beautiful valley, that was carved from the land by a glacier all those millions of years ago and, of course, our little ol' Lodge.
Since Christmas we have welcomed guests, among others from NZ and the UK, including my Mum and Dad, great to see you both, Australia, Finland, Germany, America and couple of great guys from Liechtenstein, of all places, who I think bought the entire stock of Stu's Fly Fishing Shop.
Although, one guest will stand out above all others for a little while at least and means that we can now make claim the to be the 'Internationally Renowed' Castle Hill Lodge. It all started innocently enough, much like any other before the rumble of tyres across the cattle grid and distinctive crunch as a bland white rental vehicle, much like the thousands of rental vehicles that pass every day meandered its way up the drive and toward the house. Sharon showed it's American occupant, Seth, into the house and he quickly decided on the Borneo room and settled himself in. Not much out of the ordinary there and in fairness it remained that way for the entirety of the Seth's stay. He was very pleasant, very talkative and he seemed pretty comfortable and happily worked away on his computer making use of the Wi-Fi. Off he went the next day after a good breakfast, lots of coffee and some more frantic typing on his laptop, nothing out of the ordinary there either. A few days later, however, an e mail from Seth arrived and read.....
'It's Seth, your solo guest from last week. First, thank you so much for a lovely if brief stay, with individual thanks to Sharon for the excellent breakfast and Mark for the regular coffee. It was the perfect place to rest and get work done, not to mention learn something about the widely ranging personality of goats, before moving on. 
I'm sorry to say I engaged in a bit of deceit during my stay -- I am in fact a travel columnist for The New York Times and write a weekly online article about budget travel.  The work I was doing was an article about the North Island, which I had recently arrived from and was on deadline to produce.  And now, guess what? I'm writing an article about the South Island, which will focus on...rural accommodations.  So, while I will not be writing a review of your place on TripAdvisor, as Sharon requested, I will be mentioning your lovely bed and breakfast (and Basil and Parsley) in an article that will appear in my column, which is called The Frugal Traveler.  It appears at, and should be online by Wednesday morning.'

Needless to say we were very excited and indeed very proud. Seth's (or should we call him the 'Frugal Traveller!) article did indeed appear in the NEW YORK TIMES and can be seen by following the link below:
So that is how our little lodge in Garston, NZ, made its way to the NY Times, and we are all prepared for the inevitable flood of New Yorkans next summer.
In other news, Sid and Reo have both been 'tidied up', a shearer's term for....well a haircut but not around the head, enough said! Reo, who will be a mother this year by the way although she does not know it yet, is of considerable intelligence and she saw it coming a mile off as our good friend Mac unpacked his shearing gear and she proved to be quite a chase! Sid, however, who is of questionable intelligence, cannot claim to have the same foresight. He watched and skipped around with merry abandon as Reo was 'tidied' and proved an easy catch as he walked over to see what was going on and stuck his nose into proceedings, undoubtedly looking for pellets in Mac's pockets!! He looked a bit bemused by the entire process of being flipped on his back and roughly shaved clean but I fear, for Sid at least, it is unlikely that he learnt anything at all from the experience.
Ducks will, hopefully, soon be the new additions to the expanding brood. There are currently 8 Khaki Campbell duck eggs in the incubator and will be due for hatching on or around the 11th May. We have not experienced to much success as yet with the hatching process so fingers crossed! Other than that it is also possible that Elvis and Priscilla the long awaited Donkeys of Castle Hill may soon be making an appearance, watch this space for further news.  

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Seriously, who gets a chicken for their birthday!!!!!!!!!!

Garston is an occasionally strange and wonderful place!! We are truly blessed with some fantastic friends and neighbours but their choice in birthday presents never fails to amaze. Word of the great stoat attack and loss of one of our dearly beloved hens has clearly reverberated around the area but I could never have guessed that she would be replaced so soon.
Sharon and I celebrated my birthday with lunch at the Mt Difficulty Winery (very good by the way) and then that evening Sharon invited a few of the neighbours around for a few quiet drinks. Which are rarely few or quiet!!
As a staunch and regularly disappointed Everton Fc supporter I was surprised at how it was a blue theme that ran through the evening. Football, or soccer as it is more commonly know here, is a relatively new and largely disliked and disregarded concept, especially in Southland, as rugby, or football as it is more commonly known here, rules all! However, always willing to embrace the unknown, our good friends, embraced the love of the Toffee men, for the evening at least.
I was afforded at bottle of Wolfe Blass wine cleverly disguised as an Everton tipple and was even serenaded with a Kiwi rendition of....... 'it's a grand old team to play for, its a grand old team to support........' you get the idea. Tom even went to the trouble of dressing up, in a, well, ill-conceived but well meaning way, as a Scouser.
But most surprisingly and intriguing of all, taking nothing from Tom's beautiful, if not altogether tuneful voice, was a large box, wrapped lovingly in Batman birthday wrap, gifted by he wonderful Wilkins' clan. Carefully and somewhat nervously I unwrapped the gift. A long standing joke involving some Police 'do not cross' tape and the Wilkins' newly opened vegetable and superb venison and lamb outlet gave me reason to be concerned.
As the batman wrap and small portion of said Police tape peeled back and underlying box revealed it became only too apparent from the agitated scratching and clucking from within what its contents were.........a chicken! However, this was no ordinary chicken, oh no. This chicken had allegiance, this chicken new the pain of supporting perennial under achievers, this chicken supported Everton!! It proudly displayed it's alliance by virtue of its blue beak and claws and most proudly by the medallion that adorned its neck!!! This was, and proud of it, an Everton FC supporting chicken who shall for ever more be known as.... Ever-tina!!
Following the obligatory photographs, see attached, Ever-tina was introduced to the hen house and settled in for the evening as did we. The wine flowed in what turned out to be a fantastic evening. I am regularly, pleasantly, overwhelmed by the people here, their warmth and their humour is unsurpassed.
Castle Hill Lodge would like to inform readers that no chickens were hurt in this episode and Ever-tine has settled in swimmingly with the other girls of the coup.

Friday, January 27, 2012

The little fella didn't last long!!

Sad news I am afraid. Having successfully hatched our first baby Quail on my birthday, I am very sorry to report that today 27th January, 2012 he passed away. He will remain unnamed.

God speed little fella.

We are hoping to have some better luck with future hatchings at the Lodge.

Moving Piano's Southland Style!!

When Tom, our neighbour from up the hill and soon to be father of two, invited us to his place for a BBQ we thought, great, great way to catch up with our good friends a crack open a beer for the New Year, brilliant. Now pretty accustomed to the Southland BBQ we rummaged through the freezer for some decent sized slabs of meat and slapped them in a old ice cream tub, preparation, done! For those of you that may be reading this in, say, London, Paris, New York or any other city or town where supermarkets are two a penny and pretty handy, meat is done a little different down here.
First of all you generally, knew the beast, cared for it, fed it, moved it between paddocks or at the very least, and in our case being the big city sissies that we are, were, are.......anyway, at the very least you know someone who cared, fed or regularly moved it, a few months prior to it eventually makes its way to the grill. The second and perhaps most obvious point of difference is that they really don't care what it looks like, its meat, it ain't  meant to be pretty! Oh no, long gone are the days of water filled, plump, carefully portioned and exquisitely presented mince and trimmed, symmetrical and perfectly sized for the discerning diner steaks from Asda. It's a dead cow..... chop it up, whack some cling film round it and Bob's your uncle! However, the third difference is that it tastes sooo much better!
Anyway, I have strayed somewhat from the point. Innocently, we arrived at said BBQ, irregularly sized steaks in the ice cream tub which we to the cook, Tom, and sat down for a beer or two. Things continued quite merrily. Tom's cooking was to an excellent standard, there was, as expected, a ton of meat, of various kinds and a completely irrelevant and largely untouched salad.
It was only when we were all very pleasantly full and mildly intoxicated that Tom's heavily pregnant wife, Katie, disclosed the true reasons for the festivities. There was, in fact a piano that required moving!! To make room for the imminent addition the upright piano was to be moved out the room, across the kitchen, through the pantry, across the garden, over the road into the paddock and be relocated in the workroom!
Buoyed on by the raucous Chardonnay swilling female crowd, the testosterone took over and muscle it we did. Four burly chaps, one on each corner, lifted, dragged puffed and panted our way through the trick chicane of the kitchen and pantry and breezed across open expanse of the garden to the gate. It was a scene not dissimilar to that of the old PG Tips adverts and their famous chimps. Pretty exhausted by the effort, although all of us were trying not to show it, we looked despairingly at the not altogether short distance between the house and the workroom and the rather rough looking path and gravel road which would not allow use of the piano's inadequate wheels.
It was then we saw it..... Tom's tractor, yes the tractor, the tractor was the answer. Operating heavy machinery would allow us to maintain our masculine pride and prevent the need to break out into an unsightly and completely unnecessary sweat or run a risk of pulling a hammy!
With Tom at the helm of the powerful blue beast and forks lowered we carefully and ever so precisely moved the piano into position. At this point the sensible thing to do would be to find some rope or straps, not that hard to find or particularly rare on a farm and secure the piano. That would be the sensible thing and for that very reason, not what we did. Instead, Gerry and I positioned ourselves precariously on the prongs and held the piano in position. Not that we would have been able to hold the thing in position anyway had it moved, but I think it made us feel better.
In a scene that would have given a health and safety inspector a heart attack and killed them on the spot, we trundled across the public road, perched on the 2 inch wide prongs of a large tractor 10 feet in the air holding onto a really heavy piano!
I am pleased to report that I am still alive and in one piece as are all of the removal experts of Garston. We were lucky, it all turned out okay, but there is a lesson here........ If you are ever invited to Tom and Katie's for a BBQ, find out why before you say yes.
Just another night in paradise!!!!!!! 

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Stoat attack at the Lodge!!!!!

Having just enjoyed the festivities of the new year with our very good friends, feeling extremely relaxed and happy albeit a wee bit tired we returned to the lodge and settled in front of the TV for the evening. I must at this juncture deviate and just extend our thanks to the best neighbour in the world, Pam Naylor, for taking such good care of the place and animals in out absence.
It is about midnight and we are lying prone on the settee, Hercules nestled between us, snoring as usual, watching The Green Mile when there is an almighty squawk from outside. We both looked at each other, mainly for reassurance that the other one had also heard it and in the hope that they had answer as to what it was!!! With the TV muted and the pair of us now looking out of the window into nothing but darkness we waited.......... 'SquawK!!!!!!' there it was again.
This time I ran outside and heard the now more frequent and panicked squeals from the chicken coup. With extreme bravery and with complete disregard for my own safety :-) I charged for the coup only to trip up over one of the now free and hysterical chickens. Picking myself up I made it to the enclosure. One of the hens was tipped up and unfortunately no longer with us and across the run I saw it, the grotesquely elongated and stealth like body of a stoat....
'Sharon' I exclaimed 'get me something to hit this f*****g thing with.
Sharon who was by this time in hot pursuit in her pink pyjamas, turns tail runs back and quick as a flash returns with the biggest axe in the world!!!!
Meanwhile, me and the stoat are transfixed in a stare down both trying to work out what the others next move would be. The chickens are running everywhere and of course all the activity has alerted Sid the sheep to the state of emergency. Sid, however, finds the sight of Sharon carrying an axe in pink pj's hilarious and is completely oblivious to the seriousness of the situation and proceeds to skip around like a new born lamb and take advantage of the open chicken run by helping himself to the chicken food!!
Me and the Stoat are still locked in our trance.
Sharon hands me the axe, no one is more surprised than me at being handed a very large axe to go into combat with a stoat. Anyway, Sharon's return or possibly the sight of her looking really rather lovely in her jim jams breaks my concentration and the Stoat seizes it's chance and runs for it and is lost in the dark!!
There is nothing I can do for the prone chicken, she did I believe put up a brave fight but now we have to recover the remaining five.
"SQUAWK!" Sharon is alerted to more panicked clucking runs across the yard. Armed only with a small torch she elects the screaming, slightly crazed unpredictable foe approach as she bound into the darkness and possible confrontation!! I follow as fast as I can and we find bumbles the chicken upside down head lopped to one side. I can hear rustling beneath the bush and try to flush the little rodent out, still clutching the enormous axe and still determined to take revenge for not only the unnamed chicken but for Bumbles!! She was so named as she had a bout of 'Bumble Foot' a skin condition that we had nursed her through a couple of months prior.
Unfortunately the stoat was too quick and it scuttled passed me and into the woods and that was the last I saw of it.
I returned to where Bumbles had fallen and bent over her expecting the worse. She was still alive!! Carefully, I picked her up and put her back on her feet; dazed and a wee bit unstable, bleeding slightly from the beak, she waddled forward and sat down, feathers all puffed and panting ever so heavily, for a chicken. I scoped her up and carried her back to the coup and slowly we rounded up the remaining chickens and locked them securely away for the night.
I am glad to report that Bumbles and the girls are doing well.
As for the stoat, he'll come again but this time we will be ready!!!!!!!!!!!

Happy New Year

Sharon, Mark, Hercules the Cat, Jack and Ryan the pigs, Sid and Reo the sheep, Basil and Parsley the goats, the goldfish (as yet unnamed but suggestions gladly accepted), Bumbles the Chicken and her 5 new friends would like to wish all the customers of Castle Hill Lodge, past, present and future the very best for 2012.