This is how my voyage of self-discovery started. With a gift bottle of alcohol.
One (OK, three) glasses that evening and my inhibitions yielded. I got straight on the Internet to fulfil my apparent heart's desire. Do you know what I did?
I booked myself on a welding course.
I did the equivalent of drunk-dialling an adult education centre. Who knew my yearning to weld was so strong? I'm not sure if I think this is sad, or a sign that my life is so replete that all I crave are some skills to stick two pieces of metal together.
The course was full, probably with sober participants, so there was no room for me. However, it seems that our work experience student Ian is competent welder. He stays with us most weekends and gains 'keepering experience working alongside Mike. On hearing my story (after he stopped laughing), he offered to bring over his arc welder and teach me the basics.
Have I mentioned that Ian is 17 years old? These farm-raised kids have serious skill sets.
We found a spot in the yard away from anything we could burn down or blow up. Ian gave me a quick demo - rod goes in here, tighten, touch rod to metal, weld. And it is that easy when you get the hang of it. Which I didn't. At least not right away.
I started by making what Ian called 'bird shit' welds -
It's a result of moving the rod too fast and too far away to properly heat the two bits of metal until they 'weld' together - a rookie mistake. It's a weak weld and wouldn't hold up to the kind of abuse it would get on a farm or pheasant shoot.
Besides technique, there are safety tips to learn. Firstly, assume everything is hot. Inner core, centre of the earth hot. Secondly, sparks. Nothing to panic about, unless one happens to go down your boot. Then you'll be dancing the funky chicken and the running man at the same time, trying to get your boot off.
Occasionally I could smell burning and later noticed tiny holes in my sweatshirt. Wear old clothes. And safety glasses. I forgot to put them on when I cleaned the slag from my weld, and a small piece landed on my left eyelid. It was hot enough to blister the skin. It's scabbed over now, but sore. It would have been serious if it went in my eye. I'll take that as a shot across my bows from karma.
That's a lot to learn in a first lesson.
With more practice I got used to looking through the dark screen of the welding helmet and a better feel for the materials. In moments of clarity, I produced an inch or two of good strong weld -
Ian gave me 'the nod', which around here means 'It's acceptable'. It's the closest thing to praise in Dorset. It means I'm ready to take on a simple project. And I have just the thing -
A wool packing frame. It holds the bag so I can pack my newly shorn fleeces ready for sale to the Wool Board. Even if my newbie welds aren't perfect, they will be strong enough to hold up a bag of wool.
We've been busy with other projects that I'm equally inexperienced with. Our hay has been cut and baled -
It was nearly two months later than last year but it's a reasonable crop. The grass benefited from a dose of fertiliser in the Spring.
We also managed to dig out a yard at the entrance of our hay field, lay a hardcore base, and crane the horse shelters into place -
The shelters can double as lambing sheds for the next few years, until the flock outgrows two small buildings. The sheep and their lambs can graze fresh shoots following on behind the cut hay, and overwinter in the field.
The horses are still living in their summer residence, which they share with a nest of swallow chicks. I know the chicks are still there by looking at Alan's back -
Bird shit. Those baby swallows wouldn't be any good at welding either.