Wednesday, 23 December 2009

Having a very quite cosy night in by the fire.   Olly is away at his Christmas works do/leaving do and won’t be home until tomorrow so I am using this opportunity to get ready for Christmas.   We have brought a little Christmas tree and put it in the corner of the study.   I love decorating the tree although I am always left vaguely disappointed at the finished article.   Growing up we always has fabulous Christmas Trees.  Mum is brilliant at decorating them and has a knack of making them look so magical.   You could stare at one of her trees for hours and still discover wonderful decorations hidden in it’s branches.   She is a bit of a perfectionist – it must have driven her mad when we helped her as children and I am sure she must have rearranged the whole tree once we had gone to bed.   I have to say this is a trait that my husband thinks I’ve inherited as each year he tells me there is no point to him helping as I only move the decorations to a more aesthetically pleasing spot as soon as he’s plonked them on.   Of course, I tell him each year that is not the case and that I really love it when he helps with the tree – and each year I change the position of every single decoration that he puts on as soon as his back it turned!   This year he quit whilst he was ahead and took some decorations out to decorate other parts of the house.   This is not something that we normally do however, I really quite like it.   Having not put any of them up myself I keep discovering new ones every so often – in fact, I have just spotted a Father Christmas parachuting down from our rather lovely velure crushed velvet gold curtains (inherited with the farm)!

All in all, we’ve had a very Christmassy week. The weekend saw the arrival of the lovely Megan who spent the whole weekend with her coat on. I think I forget just how cold it can get here sometimes.   And to add insult to injury I dragged her along to our Farmers’ Market on Whiteladies Road in Bristol on Saturday morning and made her stand on the pavement for three hours asking strange men if they wanted a taste (obviously of our jams and chutneys!). In fact, she was brilliant and with no uncertainty demonstrated to Dee and myself the benefits of getting people to taste our produce before buying. We eventually sold out and made our way home frozen!

Sunday daytime I got the house all clean and tidy to the tune of Kings College Choir singing Carols on constant repeat.   Sunday evening saw the Carol Service at the church which was lovely.   There was a little girl in the choir who can’t have been any older than 6 or 7 years who was singing her heart out – it was so sweet to hear this lovely choir all in tune and then this real belter of a child at the front!   I always get a bit carried away at things like Carol Services and Olly couldn’t help sniggering at me as I spent the first two carols with tears streaming down my face.   I just find the whole thing really emotional!   After the service we were invited to ‘supper’ to friends of our in the village.    When I say supper, I actually mean Champagne followed by a five course dinner – it was beautiful!    Simon used to be in the wine trade, so not only was the food fantastic but the wine served with each course was exquisite.   It is the second time we’ve been round to their house for supper and both times I have come away with a renewed vigour to have a proper dinner party where we really push the boat out and make a huge effort. It was such a lovely evening and we came away feeling utterly spoilt.   So often these days, entertaining at home is made to look as if you haven’t gone to any trouble or made any effort so as to make for a relaxed atmosphere but actually, it is really nice to go that extra mile and to make the effort.   Next time, I will do three – maybe even four – courses and I will use the best silver and have Champagne to start.   I cannot promise that the wine will be quite Simons standard, however, I will make sure I do the whole thing properly!

If I thought I had had enough of Carols by Monday I was wrong.  Monday evening saw Wotton Brass Band in the Chipping outside the pub for more Carol Singing.  Once again Olly was away so I made my way up there alone.   As I was walking up there I bumped into Wendy (With from With Lunch or Dinner) and we and her dog Champ joined the throng of villagers just in time for Silent Night. It was very lovely and made me feel very Christmassy. Snow fell gently around us as we sang our little hearts out!

Tomorrow I am going to my aunt and uncles house in the Cotswolds where I very much hope we will sing Silent Night in German around their tree. It is a Jourdan tradition to do this every year along with eating Herring Salad made by various members of the family. There is German in our family from my Grandfathers side so hence the customs.   As it turns out, we, as a family also sing abysmally, so the Stille Nacht, Heil’ge Nacht is a little ropey and the Herring Salad is a definite acquired taste.   Ask any poor man who has gone out with or married a Jourdan girl and had to put a brave face on eating a purple salad made mainly of raw herring in front of the whole family – not only on Christmas Eve but Christmas Day too and if their lucky there’s enough left over for Boxing Day with the ham.

So that’s it. I’m ready. Just got to get a couple of last minute things tomorrow and make some mince pies for Dee’s drinks party (Dinner from With Lunch or Dinner) and that will be it. Christmas 2009 will be upon us.

So, here’s to you, my lovely little band of readers. May your Christmas be magically and shiney like the baubles on your tree and your New Year be full of ambition, achievements, laughter and love. 2010 is going to be a cracking year. I can feel it. We have lots planned and a farm to build and I cannot wait!!


Wednesday, 16 December 2009

Can’t sleep so have decided to get up and have a cup of tea instead. Very rare for me not to be able to sleep and even more so when it’s so bad it actually drives me to get out of bed. Usually I just lie there and pretend I’m in hospital – but I think I may have shared that little nugget of my inner psychie with you before!!

Lack of sleep tonight is due to many things, most of which I cannot detail here. It’s not that I want to be super secretive or alienate you at all, it’s just that it’s work stuff and it would be unprofessional of me to discuss that on the internet. Unprofessional and a little dull. Especially when this is supposed to be a blog about farm life and how we are progressing with our house that is slowly sinking further and further into the ground. So much for the life less ordinary. I didn’t quite expect that to include waking up in the middle of the night worrying about my day job.

I guess that’s the ‘catch 22’ isn’t it? I watched River Cottage Christmas on the iplayer tonight. It really made me long for the time that we can start carving up the fields into separate livestock pens, get a really good selection of vegetables going and have outbuildings and barns to create storage and commercial kitchens and that sort of thing and I guess that’s the frustrating part. All of that would enable us to live a completely sustainable life here where the farm would pay for itself and we could live off the land and make the farm work for us. But, and here’s the catch, you can only do that if you have a massive cash injection to spend in the first place, i.e., a really good day job. It is almost impossible to step off the tred mill of 9 – 5 life and live a self sustainable life, ‘off-grid’ for as much as you can be, without having a huge source of income to begin with. Therefore, the self sustainable life, in true Tom and Barbara style, is only achievable by living in the rat race. I mean how did they pay for their mortgage on the semi in Surbiton?

On other matters, Christmas is only a week and a bit away. I can’t see how that happened so quickly. One minute we were at the 1st or 2nd of December and I was thinking how ridiculously early people were in getting their Christmas shopping sorted and Christmas trees up. The next, wondering when on earth I’m going to get my Christmas shopping sorted and Christmas tree up! It is always at this time of year that I truly wish I was uber organised. I would love to be one of those people who have an immaculate house and by this time of the year have the tree up with wrapped presents underneath and all Christmas cards posted well before the last posting date, but I think it’s part of your DNA structure. Obviously, I have that particular gene missing and however much I try it is a skill that I can never possess and all that know me are doomed to have rubbish presents every year as I panic buy on Christmas Eve. It’s the nieces and nephews I feel sorry for. I’m rubbish and I know it. If any of you are reading this now – apologies in advance.

It’s not as if the intention isn’t there. I had dreams in October of getting fairy lights wrapped round the postbox at the bottom of the driveway and having a huge Christmas tree in the front garden laidened with twinkling white lights from top to toe for all of the village and dog walkers to see, but I can’t see it happening now. Haven’t even got the fairy lights and where’s Woolies gone when you need them? Was also planning to have a Christmas Drinks party a la Nigella Lawson and look seductively at people as I served them delicious canapés while they sip champagne cocktails in front of our roaring log fire, but the wall paper is only just hanging on in there on the walls, the door from the sitting room to the hallway keeps blowing open by the amount of wind whistling around the main house and the carpet is still muddy brown when it should be cream and I am just not 100% sure I’ll be able to pull off the Nigella look with all that going on. Never was particularly good at looking seductively at people anyway.

Monday, 7 December 2009

December already… summer and spring seem so far away today.

As I worked at my computer this morning, I heard a raucous going on outside between some rooks and magpies. For a stretch of my legs I decided to see what all the fuss was about. As I wondered back from the front orchard with the wind and rain howling in my face, I tried to imagine us having a chilled glass of Rose sitting underneath the apple trees like we did in Spring. It was virtually impossible!! The ground was sodden and squelchy underfoot and the sky had a nicotine tinge to it which I always associate with snow – I was wrong in this instance, but when you have no central heating or running hot water, it often feels like it’s cold enough to snow.

The ducks are loving it, of course. As soon as you let them out in the morning they head straight for the brook running through the pen and spend the rest of the day running between there and the mud flat they’ve created on the other side of the house. Depending on which cycle they are on you will either find brilliant white or muddy brown ducks! Count down is now on for Olly finishing work. Three weeks left and then FARM TIME!! For fear of sounding like a stuck record, I cannot wait to get started on the build. The novelty of living so rustically is wearing thin and I feel we are both at the stage where we need to see some kind of progression. The house is constantly dirty and unkept and I strangely find myself going the same way – it’s as if the house is a reflection of me, or me of the house. I find I’ve really let myself go of late, so much so that a friend posted a picture of me on Facebook and I was appalled at what I saw. I could not believe that I looked so knackered and overweight . I’m forty next year and refuse to have my 40th birthday looking like this. We are fortunate to have enough laborious jobs around the farm to get me into shape as quickly as my motivation will allow and those photos are going to come in very handy!!

With Lunch or Dinner had it’s first stall at Christmas Under the Edge in Wotton on Saturday. Unfortunately, the weather was not kind and therefore was not as busy as it could have been. But we took a decent amount of takings and it is excellent to no longer be ‘stall virgins’. We are doing Chipping Sodbury Farmers’ Market this Saturday which will be another steep learning curve and then, apart from online orders, we break for Christmas. It is so good to have the comradery of Dee and Wendy – it makes a huge difference to have that support. After we had taken the stall down we all piled down to Dinneywicks (local pub) for a well deserved bottle of wine or two. It was great as all of our other halves get on too which makes it a very jolly party!!

Sunday, 29 November 2009

Woke up this morning to find that half of the Stable roof had collapsed in on itself during the night. The front wall is also looking decidedly shaky and we don’t think it will be long before that follows suit. We will have to knock bits of it down before it falls down just to make it safe. It’s such a shame to see it in this state and we were hoping to take the roof down in a more controlled way so we could reuse the tiles, however, it was going to have to come down anyway and it won’t be long before proper work can start on rebuilding it. It’s just a very sharp reminder of how delicate the whole property is and with the strong winds and driving rain we are having we can only hope that everything holds together – at least until the Spring!

Saturday, 28 November 2009

Cold, crisp Saturday. Woke up with the realisation that the local pub can be a very dangerous place. We only went for one but friends came and went and brought us drinks and in the end Olly guided me home much later than we anticipated! I’m supposed to be off alcohol at the moment in a vain attempt to loose a little weight before Christmas – well I say ‘off alcohol’ but really what I mean is off it during the week and then try and limit it at weekends.. yesterday I obviously failed dismally! And tonight is the Kingswood Kurry Klub at the Village Hall where for £15 per person you go and enjoy an Indian meal with a live band and dancing with all your fellow villagers, so I can’t see I’m going to obstain then either – hey ho, it’ll be Monday soon enough where I will climb back onto that wagon. 

Today I spent in my workshop making another Rustic Rudolph for the Farmers’ Market. Everything is either work or the Farmers’ Market at the moment. Next Saturday is D Day and we are all starting to get a little nervous! I finished the sign for the s
tall which I’ve made out of an old pallet from Waynes’ yard. I had a little difficulty attaching the letters ‘WLD’ to the sign so Olly suggested I screw them on from the underside. I thought I’d done a really good job until I turned the sign over back to the front and realised I’d attached them the wrong way round.. don’t know how I did it but to make any sense of it you’d need to read it via a mirror!

Letters round the right way!!!

Anyway, once that little mishap was resolved the sign was completed and I have to say, I am quite pleased with the result! We are having a mock up of the stand tomorrow so we can see if we’ve forgotten anything 

Tuesday, 24 November 2009

Once again, not written for ages. My apologies. It seems as if the world is running at 100 miles an hour and I just can’t keep up. I know I should be really enjoying this time but don’t seem to get a minute to appreciate it and when I do I seem to spend the time in shock disbelief that so much has passed me by. I want to grab every second of life and appreciate it for what it is. I want to take long lunches and long walks, discuss philosophy and life in general in front of a roaring log fire, cook slowly and with effort and application, take time to pamper myself and make the effort to look after myself, I want to read more…. So many things that just get put on the back burner when the mundane dredge of day to day life takes over.   New Years resolution to self, (may as well start now!), make more time for everything!   The thing is, I’m not to sure of the recipe for time.   It sounds like the sort of thing you probably need lots of complicated equipment to make.

In the meantime, let me fill you in on what’s been going on.   Main headline news is that Olly has handed his notice in at work and will leave full time employ at the end of the year.   We both cannot wait.   He’s going to work on the farm and the building project on a more full time basis as well keeping his finger in a couple of other pies. The idea is that he can then totally project manage the build and do a lot of the labouring work himself. I’m looking forward to a more relaxed pace of life as a result and having a less stressed and over worked husband.   It will also be great to have him around more. ‘What about money?’ I hear you cry! Well, I’ve always thought that Olly and I are at our happiest when are backs are up against it and when we haven’t got a lot coming in through the door – don’t ask me why – it’s another one of my psychoanalyst moments! I think it’s the thought of us against the world, taking a step off the treadmill and not have to keep up. We do, of course, have the mortgage and other bills to pay as everyone else has, but we can do that, as long as we are careful, on my salary and we’ve got a few months put by if all goes to pot. So it’s self sufficient living as much as we possibly can from January 1, 2010. Home grown veg, eggs and meat, make our own wine, real Tom and Barbara stuff!

With Lunch or Dinner is starting to gear itself up for it’s first Farmers’ Market!   Christmas Under the Edge is on the 5th December and will be our inaugural stall!   Absolutely petrified about it now.   What if nobody turns up?   Or even worse - it’s packed and we don’t sell anything regardless!   I have to say, I am so fortunate to be doing this with Wendy and Dee. They are brilliant and keep on coming up with fantastic new ideas like Christmas Cookies on a Stick and Gingerbread Christmas Decorations. The samples that they have baked up look brilliant so I’m hoping just to ride on their coat tails! We’ve had a whole load of stone delivered for us to fill up the holes in the driveway and to put down where we park the cars. Wayne, a friend of ours from the village, has been brilliant about lending us his digger and getting us the materials we need. He runs a business selling soil, compost, aggregates and that sort of thing, as well as plant hire and he’s just been an absolute diamond to us. I think Olly may have found a drinking partner in Wayne as well! The stone will be brilliant to stop us getting so muddy as soon as we leave the house, although I fear it may have come to late for the temporary cream carpet (what were we thinking) we put down when we first moved in. It is now a distinct shade of browny, grey. I can’t even move the rugs around to cover the worst areas as it only shows up the original colour against the dirt!

The amount of water we have had flow through the land over the last few days has been unbelievable. The ducks are loving it as their little stream is now at bursting point and they have a great area to swim and play in.   You could imagine, over the last couple of days, what this place would have been like as a mill as you could hear the sound of rushing water from outside the back door. The leit that we almost finished clearing over the summer is running constantly now and makes me wish I’d worked harder to get it finished. It’s a source of irritation every time I walk over the bridge to get to the cars! Maybe I’ll learn from this and work harder next time! I can only feel for the people of Cumbria however, it must be soul destroying to see your home and livelihood under water.

Thursday, 12 November 2009

Just gone outside to put some washing in the dryer to find one of my chickens mangled to death on the driveway. I let the girls out this morning to give them a stretch of their legs and this is what happens. The others are fine, it’s only one and the fact that she was left on the driveway means it was probably a dog more than a fox. Apparently, a few people in the village don’t like our dogs as they think they are unruly, and as a result don’t like us. Millie does bark at other dogs and Morgan, whilst Millie was on heat, tended to mount everything that moved but other than that they are well behaved dogs that would never go a kill another animal. Everyone lets their dogs off the lead at the bottom of our driveway and leaves them to run around our field and down our private road to the house without even thinking of the consequences and then slags me off for having unruly dogs. It just doesn’t seem fair. She was my favourite as well. She had survived two fox attacks at our last place, was exceptionally broodie and a real wylie lady. I will miss her. She used to sit on the gate outside the kitchen door, such a lovely girl.

Wednesday, 4 November 2009

It’s been ages since I last wrote, and I do apologies for my tardiness. Once again work has over taken me and it’s been absolutely manic. Anyway, less of the excuses… so let me tell you what’s been happening.

Halloween came and went, I carved a pumpkin to sit at the end of the driveway, which managed to last the 31st but got smashed on the road on the 1st. I am hoping by hapless youths rather than an angry village mob who had taken offence at the sloppy workmanship of my carving or to my participation of the Celtic festival of Samhain. I very much doubt it be the latter as many other houses had pumpkins outside them too! Not to my surprise, we didn’t get any trick or treaters, to be honest, I’m scared of walking down my driveway in the dark, Halloween or not, so I should think it was probably too much for a 10 year old.


Work continues with WLD (With Lunch or Dinner) to making produce for our first ever Farmers Market stall. Wendy, Dee and I (WLD… get it!) are starting to get a little nervous about our venture, but we’re having loads of fun getting it all ready. This weekend will find me mainly knee deep in jams or chunteys of one kind or another. We have also made Christmas decorations from dried chillies and cranberries and will have soups and cookies and cakes and all manner of things to sell! I have also set up a website for it ( and we hope to do a few orders from there for delivery around the area. Watch this space… world domination any day soon!!

The garden is looking totally drab now. I have weeded a couple of beds but there is so much more to do before we can say that it is finished for winter. Hopefully, amongst the jam and chutneys I may be able to do some more weeding this weekend.

Olly had loan of a digger last weekend (he is never more happier than on a digger!) and he managed to scoop away a lot of the soil and rubble from the original mill house ruin, so much so, as to expose the original floor. It really made us realise just how much excavation has to be done here. It is such a mammoth project. And we still can’t find a builder! We have had one tender back from all of the enquiries we have made and I am starting to panic that we will never find one that we trust and like. We don’t want to start building until Spring but even so, you need to book the good ones in.

Olly is off on a Coppicing course this weekend so that he is able to harvest more hazel for me on a regular basis. I think he’s really looking forward to it and I’m sure he’ll love it as much as I loved my Greenwood Furniture course. The good life is nearly in our reach! We’ve just got to win the lottery and we’ll be able to afford to do it!

Talking of furniture, I have finally finished my two seater version of my chair and it’s not looking too shabby. I am now working on another chair but in a totally different style and also want to try to make some rustic wooden Rudolph’s to sell on the WLD stall for Christmas! Will post some photos over the weekend for you to laugh at!

Two seater in progress...

Monday, 19 October 2009

Once again time has run away with me. It seems to happen a lot and I fear I might just wake up one of these days and find out I’m 74. I will try and fill you in as best as I can about what’s been going on. There seems to have been an awful lot and although I can’t reveal all of it to you at this stage,(due to political reasons, you understand!) I will do my best to be as descriptive as possible.

Autumn came last week. I think it was Tuesday. I know this because the majority of the leaves of all the Ash trees on the farm fell on this one day. This is the way with Ash, as if it’s waiting for a perfect moment to drop and then…. Flomp…. Down they come. I am sure if we were truly diligent we would be planning to rake them all up, not from all over the farm, but at least from the driveway and garden, but there just never seems to be enough time for such luxuries. It’s the same with the garden, I know it’s awful to see it look the way it does, especially after all our hours of labour there over the Spring and Summer, but there is so much else to do! I know what it is that is taking up all my time, apart from the obvious work thing. The chair that I made on the Dorset Rural Skills Course seems to have set something in motion. I am just loving making stuff with wood now. I have made a garden gate, because our old one had fallen off it’s hinges and was disintergrating, I am now in the middle of making a two seater version of the chair I made on the course, I have made wooden letters which I plan to string together to make garlands of words, I want to make Christmas decorations out of wood, boot racks, more chairs…. It’s become a bit of a thing! I love it! We have converted a room which is part of the house but cannot be accessed through the house (if you get my drift) into my workshop. Olly has been really supportive, bless him, and took me to B&Q in Cribbs Causeway and brought me nails, a drill, a mallet, toolbox, hammer, workbench, all sorts of things and then as a surprise, brought and left in the workshop for me to discover, a beautiful plane set. I love him! He has been out with me foraging for wood on the farm, he is an absolute gorgeous diamond man of a husband. Although, in true man fashion, he totally believes that a woman cannot handle a drill or hammer and comes into the workshop on a regular basis with a surprised and bemused look on his face as if he cannot believe that his cockhanded wife could have created anything at all!! 

Another reason for my busyness (oh, I wonder whether that’s where the word business came from? Busi-ness, get it?) is that, along with two other lovely, beautiful women we have created WLD. WLD stands for ’With Lunch or Dinner’ or ‘Wendy, Lara and Dee’, depending on where your coming from. We are going to have stalls at Farmers Markets in the area selling great quality, local produce. I will do jams and chutneys (obviously – for those who don’t know I used to run a small jam business), Wendy is our master florist and baker making wreaths, garlands, biscuits and cakes. Dee, who is the mastermind of the operation is chief bread maker (great bread!), soup, quiches, etc. As a bit of a sideline, we will also put my chairs out there to see if there’s a market for them. It is never going to make us millions, but I have a feeling it will be great fun and the three of us will have a lot of laughs and hopefully make enough to go and have a nice glass of wine after!!

Farm news. Planning permission has finally been granted, which is great. I think I’ve mentioned that we won’t start anything until Spring now but it will give us the winter to get all of our ducks in a row and get the builder of our choice selected and on the starting blocks. I am very excited about getting started now. It seems to have been a long time coming and now it’s getting colder everything is coming back into sharp focus as to what we need to do here. It’s going to be a long, old haul, but we are both psyched for it now and just want to get on with it. We have made some lovely friends in the village. I’ve mentioned Dee and Wendy, but there are lots others and we are slowly starting to feel part of it all. There is a regular quiz at the local pub ‘Dinneywicks’ of which a guy called Dougie is usually quiz master. Unfortunately, Dougie was away for the last one, and we were amazed when Jude, the landlady, asked Olly to be ‘Guest Quiz Master’. It was truly an honour and he was absolutely flattered. I think Jude was swayed by his velvety voice (!) – well, whatever it was, to have his name in chalk outside Dinneywicks for the few days leading up to the quiz was a very special time. To be fair, I think Dougie probably does a more thorough job, but as a stand in I don’t think Olly was too shabby. Bearing in mind the only time we had been to any sort of quiz before that was the Saturday before where we won the Wooden Spoon prize. It was the Friends of St Marys fundraiser for the church and as such, was at an intellectual level that was a little beyond Olly and I. Afterall, I still think that ‘In his trousers’ is a very logical answer to ‘Where is Arthur’s Seat?’   That night, brought me to a classical embarrassing moment, that I never quite believed I would be in, but yet I found myself being asked the immortal question by a relative stranger… ‘Are you expecting?!’   I wasn’t embarrassed or offended in the slightest, but I did feel awfully for the poor lady who said it. I had met her a couple of times, and have even been round to her house for coffee so perhaps stranger is an unfair way to describe her. It’s difficult though, do I really look as if I’m pregnant?!! I haven’t put on any weight for about a year although to be fair, I haven’t lost any either. I think it’s one of those things I should dismiss as one of life’s little laughable things, be happy in my own skin and have another chocolate brownie. I am fit and healthy and happy…. So what if I look like a heffer!!   Maybe, making chairs and being constantly freezing cold will take a few pounds off!!   We also went to our first 40th birthday party at the weekend. I think 40th’s are going to be like weddings, where you will suddenly find there is a year or two where all you seem to do is going to them. Bring it on, I say. I’m quite looking forward to being 40. I think by this time, you’ve worked out what makes you tick. You’ve got over most of your insecurities and are still young enough to live life to the full but old enough to have the confidence and wisdom to do it better than you ever have done before. That’s what I’m hoping for anyway.   That and a pregnant pig.   Well, a pregnant pig or an old beaten up Landrover.   I’ve given Olly the choice of what to get me and to be honest I’d wish he’d do the same to me.   I am rubbish at buying presents and have no idea what to get him. It’s in January, so I’d better start to put my thinking cap on. If you have any suggestions then please feel free to email!!

Wednesday, 7 October 2009

I feel as though I should enter something to the blog as I haven’t done so for a while. Olly and I are just about to embark on a few days off work and have a list as long as your arm of things to do. Everything from splitting logs to building a pig pen. It seems there is so much to do just as the weather has turned. In retrospect, it seems we get a lot more done during the not so nice months than we do in the beautiful ones. January – March inclusive earlier in the year, we seemed to get so much achieved that then came to a grinding halt in June and has never really picked up momentum. I think a lot of that is to do with the fact that people have wanted to come down and see us during the summer months, and who’s to blame them, it’s by far the nicest time to see the farm, but it does mean that we spend more time entertaining and less actually doing during this time. I am looking forward to completing lots of jobs over the next 5 days that we have off and really getting everything ready for winter.

We have found out, by chance, that our planning has been approved by the normal planning department and we are just waiting on the listed planning consent to come through. We have only had two builders come round to have a look at the place, even though we have left messages with about ten, and of those two, neither of them have come back with a quote. I feel so frustrated that we can’t seem to get anything started or accomplished that it’s driving me mad. Olly and I sit and plan, and talk, and sit and plan and talk and all the while nothing is changing around us. I have a real fit of the ‘ we must start doing stuff’ about me that even though it’s twenty past nine on a Wednesday night I could easily go out and start splitting logs now. We are so good at talking about our dreams but I am fast realising that this is completely different to actually actioning them. We will get there, and hopefully these few days off will be enough to get the ball rolling again, but just don’t want another couple of months to pass with nothing being done.

In other news…. Olly and I went to the Village Beer Festival at the weekend with our lovely new village friends, Dee and Wayne. We had a brilliant time and I even drank enough to manage my out of rhythm dancing. For those of you unfortunate to have seen it before, you will know that there will probably quite a few people in the village now who will cross to the other side of the road if they see me coming. Not the best way to meet new people, quite possibly, but was a lot of fun in the process!! 

Pig Keeping Course was great on the weekend and we had a thoroughly good day. It was lovely to get up close and personal with loads of pigs and get hands on experience with them. Suitably, they served roast pork for lunch and it was possibly the best pork I have ever tasted and the crackling was to die for.   It was really succulent and delicious – nothing like supermarket meat – just the most mouthwatering pork and crackling ever!! The course has given us the confidence to go ahead and make the pens and order the pigs. The idea is that we will start with 3 or 4 weaners and rear them for slaughter and then sell the meat. That way, we know the pig has had the best life possible, not been brought up on chemical growth enhancers and has had a life in a beautiful orchard in Gloucestershire, living off windfall apples and having loads of space to roam. We are only going to get rare breeds (I’m starting with Gloucestershire Old Spots, of course!!). If you are reading this and would like to put your name down for half a pig then please let me know by email. Everyone I have spoken to already has expressed an interest and there will only be a limited amount of halves to go around! The meat will come packed and jointed all ready for you to stick in the freezer to enjoy whenever you want.

Thursday, 1 October 2009

Autumn is definitely good for crisp air, crunchy leaves, conkers and the novelty of having to light a fire in the evenings. We have not lit the rayburn in the kitchen yet which does us for both warmth in that room and hot water to the kitchen sink.  This is not because we are hardy individuals who laugh in the face of warmth and convention or because we are trying to save the cost of burning oil for another few weeks, but simply because we can’t get the bloody thing to light!   To be fair to it, it is approximately 100 and snot years old and has probably seen better days, but you would have thought it would have pulled itself together for what will most likely be it’s last year of essential service.   We are hoping that the kitchen will become a ‘boot room’ and would like to keep it in there as a quirky bit of history and to provide somewhere to hang working clothes when we’ve had a wet day on the farm. It will also be the dog’s room and would be nice for them too. 

Rayburn in the corner of the kitchen

The weather, so far, as been such that we haven’t had to have it lit, but I feel that day ever approaching and am getting a little nervous as to what to do if we can’t get it lit. There seems little point to get someone in to have a look at it – it’s ancient – so I am just hoping that Olly will be able to sort it.

In other ‘things going wrong’ news the shower has also broken – something to do with the pump or something or other – it’s definitely a boy job and I am keeping out of it. As long as it’s fixed by tomorrow, then that’s fine.   One thing I have learnt in my short time here, is that there is absolutely no point in worrying about things that are broken – you need to assume that everything is and then anything that isn’t is a bonus!

Getting quite excited about next week. I have taken Thursday and Friday off work, along with the following Monday and so has Olly. It will be bliss and cannot wait to have a few days without my work phone and Olly all to myself. We hope to get lots of jobs around the farm done and get fully prepared for winter. Olly is hiring a mini digger and I hope to finally get the sluice finished and the veg beds cleared – boy, we know how to have a good time, don’t we?!

Pig Keeping Course this weekend. Very exciting. Ooooh! That reminds me….saw Hugh Fernley Whittingstall today. He was on the same train as me coming out of London. As I got off I walked passed him and he was asleep. I quickly got out my notebook, tore out a bit of paper and wrote ‘’ on it. I wanted to put it on the table in front of him so when he woke up he would see it there – unfortunately, when I went back, I completely bottled it and walked straight past him again. I then kicked myself all the way home. I am sure he probably wouldn’t be that interested anyway – not until I get the pigs, at least. Maybe I’ll see him on the train again another day, by which time I will have pigs and maybe goats and this will be a little more up his street!

Got home to find Olly had got some drafts of the Park Mill Farm logo back from the designer. Now we have to choose which one we like best. Olly has already made up his mind, but not told me which so as not to influence my decision. I am going to sleep on it and come back to them in the morning. All of them are looking really good though - I won't give too much away - so we can have a grand logo unveiling!  ... But here's a clue!!

Monday, 28 September 2009

Just had a great weekend doing my furniture making course – and really impressed with the results!  Over the two days I made a chair out of hazel and am going to keep it outside in the orchard where I can take a cup of tea and settle down to watch the world go by. It’s actually really comfortable and very solid!! I am now imagining myself as a woodsman type character with a little workshop/studio tucked away somewhere and getting hundreds of commissions for various beautifully crafted pieces of furniture. I will become world renowned and known as ‘The Wood Lady’ and my furniture will go for hundreds of pounds!!!   I realise that I maybe getting a little carried away but it’s a nice thought and next weekend we are going on a pig keeping course where I will no doubt come back with visions of running a pig farm a la Jimmy’s Farm, will become an immensely successful pig breeder and become best friends with Jimmy and probably Jamie Oliver too – I will be known as ‘The Pig Lady!’.

In all seriousness, I am certainly going to make another chair sooner rather than later so that I can remember how to do it. The hardest part was getting the joints accurate enough for a really strong, tight fit, but I guess that is just practice. Anyway, photos below – be gentle. It is the first chair I’ve ever made after all.   And who knows?   You may be getting one for Christmas!!

Thursday, 24 September 2009

Thursday – on the train. A couple of months ago I was waking up to daylight on my Thursdays, but now it’s barely light by the time I get to Andover train station at 6.45. It’s a beautiful morning. There was fog this morning driving the one and a quarter hours to the train station, but now it has burnt off leaving a misty haze of golden light bathing the countryside as we hurtle towards London.

I forgot to mention, I went Sloe picking yesterday, to make Sloe Gin. Unfortunately, Michael had already come and cut the hedges at ground level so to get them I had to precariously balance a ladder against the top of the bush and climb up to reach them. I thought Millie was being particularly Lassie like when she started barking at me as I climbed higher. ‘Don’t worry, Millie’, I said. ‘I’ll make sure I don’t fall’. I thought it rather sweet and endearing that she was so concerned for my safety, until I realised that she was barking at the cows on the other side of the hedge. Oh, well, it was a nice thought. As we have not yet had our first frost, the Sloes have to go for a bit of a tenderise in the freezer for a couple of hours. After that you have to thaw them and then prick them several times with a fork before filling a bottle half full of them, adding the same amount of sugar and then topping up with gin. I know a friend of mine who has used Bombay Sapphire to make Sloe Gin although I think that is a little unnecessary and I, instead, have used Co-op’s own brand. Once you have done all that, you need to leave it for nature to do it’s thing. I am hoping that Sloe Gin can be added to the hamper of Park Mill Farm stuff that I am planning to give as Christmas pressies. I know this is very forward thinking, especially for me, but I think it would be a nice present to give and encompasses everything we want Park Mill Farm to be.

Talking of Christmas, the deluge of Christmas catalogues have started to pile up in our mail box. Cannot believe that the whole mass marketing, commercialisation of Christmas has started already. I really feel there should be a law against it. No advertising, marketing or booking of Christmas party venues until 1st November, at the absolute earliest, in fact, 1st December would be better. That’s what I would do if I were Prime Minister, anyway.

Very much looking forward to my Greenwood Furniture course at the weekend. I first thought about doing this a couple of years ago when we went round to some friends of ours who are very ‘earthy’ and who had really lovely garden chairs made out of willow. They were made by a friend of theirs. Olly and I had a whole load of willow that came down in the garden a few months later and so we decided to build a chair each. I wish I had taken some photos to show you the results! Bloody hilarious. Not only could you not sit on them in any way, shape or form, but they actually looked more disorganised than the pile of willow we originally started with. It’s a lot harder than it looks!! Anyway, by Monday I will be furniture maker extraordinaire and knocking up beautifully crafted pieces of furniture in a jiffy. I come from a family of chair makers so it must be in my blood!

Friday, 18 September 2009

Had quite a bad ‘baby day’ today.   Not only does ducks dying send me off, so does finding out that friends are pregnant too.   The tricky thing with this is that I am genuinely happy for them and hold no bitterness or resentment at all, it just makes me a little sad.   It is not the all consuming grief that I felt with the ducks but just more a ‘oh, buggar’ feeling.   The problem with this is that it is all too often translated as resentment, bitterness or a sadness that people find difficult to negotiate and then tip toe round the issue, which makes me feel alienated or don’t talk to me at all which makes me feel even worse!

To cheer myself up today I went into Wotton to do a bit of retail therapy.   The taxman has just paid me back some money that he owes me so after clearing my credit card to zero….. YES, ZERO!..... I still had a little left over for myself! Unlike most women, I cannot stand the thought of shopping for clothes or shoes. I hate the crowds in big shopping malls and am always disappointed once I have tried clothes on.   They always look much better on a hangar than on me.   It probably has something to do with the fact that the hanger does not have x stone of flesh hanging of it (and did you really think I would tell you how much I weigh?! – am happy to bear the innermost thoughts of my soul but not my weight I’m afraid!).   And changing in those changing rooms with mirrors to catch your every angle and lighting reminiscent of the school hall lights being switched on at the end of a very dark disco – eurgh!!   It’s enough to make you feel rubbish about yourself, and that I don’t need right now!   So, my alternative, is retail therapy of a different kind – what should a girl like me do when the fashion and clothes industry make me feel fat and ugly – that’s right – food shopping!!!   I like nothing better than going to a great deli or farm shop and buying really great food.   Food that I can trace back to it’s origin and that was grown or reared locally, food that costs a bit extra but is worth every penny. A shop were I can mooch around smelling different fruits and mulling over delicious cheeses, where I can order a great latte on my way in and wonder round with it whilst I pile up the shopping baskets!   And that’s exactly what I did!

Wotton Farm Shop was great retail therapy and even Sarah behind the cheese counter noted that I was beaming!! I obviously don’t save this type of shop for when I’m feeling down as you will find me there at least twice a week, but when I’m there as a treat I shop with much more gay abandonment than at other times. Luckily, we have two loads of friends coming over at the weekend. One for lunch on Saturday and the other for lunch on Sunday, so I could really go to town. I won’t tell you how much I spent for fear of Olly reading this, but it was enough to make me feel better.

Monday, 14 September 2009

Nugget of information for you – platting onions is not as easy as it should be.  I have our crop of red onions on the kitchen worktop in front of me and thought that it would be great to plat them up so that I can hang them from the drying rack with some garlic I brought (obviously platted by someone who had done it before), our pots and pans and a mass of bay leaf from our bush outside the house. I will post you a photo of the result of my labours which ended in me getting frustrated and tying the whole lot up with an elastic band. Doesn’t really conjure up images of French countryside and a man riding a bicycle with a beret and striped t shirt – but they are still home grown and maybe it’s nice to have a bit of rustic living around!

I was asking Olly, earlier, what had gone on this week that is worth writing about. I have been uber busy at work and spent two nights, last week, away from home as a result and therefore feel that nothing outside work has really happened. Of course, things have. Olly has cleared most of the ivy off the Mill Pond wall and much of the mess that was around the Stables and has made it look brilliant. As such I was chastised for thinking that just because I hadn’t done it, didn’t mean it couldn’t be mentioned on the blog! He’s quite right, of course. He does work bloody hard and I should perhaps recognise him more amongst these pages – Well Done Gorgeous! I Love You!   There.  

Part of the reason why my week has been so hectic was because I had to go to Dundee for work. In my infinite wisdom and trying to save the company money, I choose to go by train. I know! You don’t have to tell me. I now realise that this was a ridiculous idea. You see, I had this image of me getting a seat with a table and being able to set up my computer and connect to the internet with my dongle, thingy and work away the hours up north. I had visions of space and light with nothing but the sound of the train slicing through the countryside. A gentleman with a lovely refreshment trolley would pass me every couple of hours or so and serve me beautiful coffee with maybe a nice Danish or slice of cake. I would be able to achieve mountains of work and arrive in Dundee refreshed and with a feeling of accomplishment and then on the way home it would happen all over again……. Eeeerrrk….. (sound of screetching brakes - quite difficult to spell actually!). The reality – all seats with tables were taken on all three trains that I took, both up there and back. My computer dongle thingy, kept on bugging out so could not connect to the internet and therefore could do little in the way of work. Light was one thing but space was severely lacking and I hadn’t reckoned other passengers, of course! From Birmingham onwards the train started to fill, but not with normal considerate passengers but with screaming children and students going back to university. Don’t get me wrong – I totally realise that everyone has a right to not remain completely silent on a train and that children, no matter how well brought up, will occasionally scream and shout, but these were not well brought up children and I am sure technology should have thought up some sort of system by now that totally eliminates the tinny, symbol like tones that emit from an ipod or, even more controversially, that the listener of the said ipod would have some sort of thought for those around them and turn it down a bit. Going up to Dundee on a Friday and coming back on a Saturday, to any regular train traveller, would have probably thrown up warning bells, but to me in my sheltered existence, it did not. So on Saturday, when making the return journey, I was a touch dismayed when we pulled into Carlisle station which immersed the train in a sea of football supporters. And so this continued until Bristol, Parkway where I got off. Carlisle – Bristol with adult men acting like children. Drunk, vulgar, abusive and loud. I descended into the seventh circle of hell. It was as if no one else on the train mattered to them. We seem to have developed an ‘it’s all about me’ culture, and I felt partly responsible for letting that happen since I didn’t make a fuss, I didn’t complain, I didn’t even look up from my computer – I sometimes even fained sleep to escape being bothered by them. There was an elderly lady sitting across from me when we first pulled into Carlisle and when we saw what was waiting on the platform we quickly joined alliances and she came and sat by me. As soon as they got on, the chanting started, followed up by really loud abusive language. I felt ashamed that this was my culture and my country and felt bad for the lady sitting next to me. The whole journey was a real eye opener to life in the UK and made me feel even more privileged to be living in such a glorious place.

Sunday was a complete contrast. Having got back on Saturday night, Olly and I planned to make our way to the Frampton Country Show on Sunday. It was one of those great days. We didn’t get up too early, but sun was shining when we did. I had no guilt complex about work as I had done more than my duty in Dundee, so after sorting the animals we headed for Frampton. Michael, our lovely farmer friend, had told us that Frampton was a good show so we were expecting great things.  

Olly and I made a bet, as there was a car that pulled next to us in the car park. It was an Audi TT with the roof down, with a very blonde, young thing in the drivers seat and a very old, very fat thing next to her. Before getting out Olly and I joked about the motivation that kept a relationship like that going. I said that the Audi TT was no doubt part of the package and we guessed about the personalised number plate that would be on it. Olly reckoned it would be Sharon so therefore SH4Z something, and I thought Stacey so would be ST4CY. Needless to say, in our generalisation and pigeon holeing of people, we were both totally wrong. It was, of course, Karen, KAZ.

In the show was great.   They had every kind of animal being displayed in pens around the site. We saw different breeds of cows, sheep, pigs, llamas, goats… anything.   It was really busy.   We walked up to one pen where people were standing around and there was a gap in the crowd so we could see what was being displayed. I thought it rather odd, but never having really been to a country show before, I couldn’t count it out.    There, in the pen, was a larger built lady, in her late 40’s, early 50’s, sitting on her bum on the grass, eating an ice cream. “Well”, I thought, “she’s certainly a crowd puller judging by the amount of people watching her!!” As we got a little closer we saw there was another lady in with her. A little older and this time, up right.   I was expecting to see a sign reading 'Lesser Spotted Country Ladies!'   It was only when we finally got a ring side space that we saw there were actually two otters in with them. “Aaaaaaaah!”, I thought. “I get it now!

All in all it was a great day. Getting out of the site was a bit of a mission as there were huge queues. In the end, everyone started doing U-turns and going out through the entrance. When we decided to do it we were flagged down by a white haired lady with a heavy Bristolian accent who asked inquisitively.. “Oi! WHERE YOU GOING?!!” We told her that we were purely following everyone else and had no idea where it would lead us. As it turned out she got out of the site before we did and Olly and I meandered our way back wishing we had had the foresight to reply “HOME!” and drive off!!
It’s five past ten on Friday evening.  Olly and I have just had a lovely evening going into sunset field in the truck with the dogs and a bottle of wine, came back to the house, made a gorgeous thai green chicken curry (from scratch, she’s says smugly!) and then went outside in the garden where there is a full moon.

It’s funny, we went for a walk around the farm and whenever I do so in moonlight I cannot help but have the song Moonlight Shadow (shadow!) going around my head. Anyway, after that we sat outside but sometimes it’s really nice to sit out there on your own, and tonight I felt that’s exactly what Olly wanted to do, so I have feined tiredness and come inside to ‘go to bed’.

Today, Olly handed in his notice at work.   It’s a fantastic move and one I am 100% behind. He is brilliant at what he does and I have no doubt will be brilliant in the future. But for him, this is a big thing. The job he has at the present is very prestigious and the top job in his industry, to get to that position at his age is one thing, to then have the balls to leave it is another.   But for us, life has never been about money, but more about lifestyle.   We know that we will never be rich, but really? What does that mean? Life is about enjoying who your with , and where your with… I am not naïve enough to think that a certain income isn’t essential in this day and age, of course it is.   Equally, I am not advocating a complete self sufficiency life for us…. It’s just not…well us.   However, there is a balance to be struck and I would rather it be on the self sufficiency side than the monetary wealth side. It’s not for everyone, I realise… but it seems to fit for us.   My best friend once told me that she thought that Olly and I were at our happiest when we had just taken on our first full blown mortgage and both decided to go self employed within 6 months of each other. We didn’t have a pot to piss in (excuse the crude expression), but do you know what? It didn’t matter. It was Ol and I against the world and that I loved.   Bring it on again!!!

Friday, 11 September 2009

I’m off to Dundee for a couple of days for work and find myself on a train somewhere between Bristol and Birmingham.

I was hoping to get a whole load of work done but the beauty and wonderment of up to date technology has let me down and frustratingly I cannot get internet connection.  So instead, I’ll write this and post it later.

The train takes us up and out of Bristol and past the farm – you can’t see it but you can see Wotton on the hill and it’s fire station with bright red doors which you can also see from the garden at Park Mill.  I almost felt heartache at leaving it.  It is a beautiful early autumn day, the sun is out and it’s that wonderfully warm kind of day where everything seems laid back and relaxed and has a lived in feel.   Yet on the train I am.   Everyone seems to be irritating me at the moment. The lad with his headphones on with his music just loud enough that I can hear it even though I’m two rows away. He has a very strange taste in music and seems to be head banging to Keane which I would have thought was a near impossibility.   Ooops!   He’s just got up and moved further down the carriage – I hope my negative vibes didn’t get to him.

In his place another young man has sat who is wearing a Swindon football shirt on (at least I think it is – SWFC?), and a baseball cap with skull and crossbones all over. He is a picture of our british culture. Spotty, fat and unshaven with little sense of style. I am a right one to talk I know but I would like to think I try a little harder than that. In the seat behind and across from me is yet another young man in a suit – the type where he, somehow, seems new to the workforce.   The suits a little too big implying that he’ll grow into it and his tie is tied with a big fat knot.  He is playing some sort of game on his phone and it’s pips and buzzes are as annoying as the music through headphones was.   We have just gone past some great allotments with loads of rows of vegetables waiting to be harvest. Puts my efforts to shame and makes me wonder whether my pumpkins will ever turn orange.   They seem to be a greeney, blue at the moment and the rest of the plant has died away. They have another few weeks before I am supposed to harvest so there is time yet but I am sure I saw flashes of orange on that allotment which makes me wonder.   Directly behind me there is an older couple who seem to constantly bicker.   I find that quite a sad state to be in really...

Sunday, 6 September 2009

Just eating the best bacon sarnie – ever! We get our bacon from the farm shop up the road and it’s proper bacon. Sliced thickly with no added rubbish and when cooked well, produces just the best start to a Sunday! Millie is looking at me expectantly, I think she wishes she was human right now.

Talking of bacon, we went to see friends of ours yesterday who started keeping pigs about a year ago and who are loving it. We went to pick their brains about how to rear and keep pigs with a view to getting some of our own soon. It was lovely to see them, both the friends and the pigs, and has cemented in our minds the fact that we definitely want them. We just need to make sure we are ready first, which will involving going on a pig keeping course, getting bloody good fencing in place and building a couple of pig arks. But the thought of one day waking up to eggs and bacon from Park Mill Farm is marvellous!

We also picked a whole load more fruit yesterday. The blackberries are starting ripen and we picked our first load along with more apples and plums. Excitingly, our plums have made celebrity status in our old village in Hampshire by making second place in the jam category of the village fete. My lovely friend, Megan came up last week and we sent her home laidened with plums. Obviously, Megan lives in London, so it quite clearly wasn’t made by her, as that is not allowed in the rules of the village fete. Entries may not be made by ‘outsiders!’. But she gave the plums to her mother to make the jam, who does live in the village and it was a complete success! Plum jam with a hint of cinnamon, which sounds lovely and which I suspect may have swung it for the judges! It is a high accolade indeed, as there are many people in the village who take the whole thing VERY seriously! That particular village fete has made tabloid news in the past as there was uproar because someone, who was not a member of that parish, entered one of the many classes and won! As I mentioned, this is definitely not the case with our jam, as Megan’s mum has lived in the village for many years and is an upstanding member of the community, but do you think they may have an issue of the plums not coming from the same county, let alone the same village?!

As for my jam making, I have made no more since my exceptionally ordinary attempt, but have instead turned my focus to crumbles which I have made and put into the freezer. It is very satisfying harvesting and storing food for later on in the year. Last weekend I picked up a whole load of apples and plums off the ground in the orchards and in the garden which I put in boxes and left in the lean to. Needless to say, the week ran away with me and they sat there, and sat there until they eventually turned rotten. Every time I walked past them my conscience was pricked that I was being lazy and wasteful which was brought into sharper focus by the satisfying feeling yesterday of being productive with the fruit. I want to try and make a big batch of nettle soup over the next week to put in the freezer before they all die back. Nettle soup is my one success recipe this year. We first made it in May and took our first sips with a little in trepidation, but surprisingly it is delicious and since we have them in absolute abundance on the farm it seems stupid not too!

I am sure there is lots more I should be telling you, but can’t think of what right now, so will leave you with this and post more soon.

Wednesday, 2 September 2009

With the turn of the month comes that inevitable shift.  I made a lovely homemade vegetable soup today for lunch with all of our own veggies.   Picking the beans I was thinking about all that I have learned this year from my little growing experience.

I think I would sum it up like this: You can never grow too many potatoes, courgettes do not always grow in abundance, staggering lettuces is harder than you’d think, radishes are only great if you eat them, carrots definitely need to be thinned out, runner beans need a very sturdy support frame and tomatoes are very high maintenance. I could go on with these little nuggets of fairly useless information forever but will probably note them down somewhere in private for my own information next year, for fear of boring you to tears with my inadequacies.

It’s been stormy the last couple of days and the dogs do not fair well in such conditions.  At the sound of thunder Morgan shakes and whines to go outside where he will then lie under the truck and Millie shakes and insists on lying down in the loo – not right in the loo of course but the ‘room’.  For those of you who have visited Park Mill Farm, you will know that our loo is about the average size of any downstairs loo and therefore having a hefty black lab stubbornly lie there regardless makes the room pretty much out of order until she feels it is safe to come out.  As I sit at my desk in the kitchen window, I can see the colour slowly drain from the garden. The sweet peas are starting to fade and in this weather I find it a real struggle to go and pick them. I will, tomorrow, as the mug of them on the window sill in front of me have died a complete death and make the whole outlook from here rather bleak. On a more positive note, we have had the technical drawings through from the architect and can now get proper tenders from builders for the work to be undertaken. We have also had our mortgage offer accepted which we have extended a little, so at least, for now, the building account is looking healthy and we feel we have a bit of a clear run ahead.   Obviously the timing stinks looking out the window at the weather, but there are things that we can get started on which at least means we will be moving forward.

Thursday, 27 August 2009

Another Thursday – London.

I can now measure summer coming to a close. When the alarm went off at 5.00am this morning it was pitch black outside and as I crept out of my warm bed there was that stillness outside that makes you think that no one else on the planet is up.   Before the dawn chorus, when all is still.   As I reached for the hairdryer I thought I heard a solitary bird outside start up it’s song until I stopped for a while and listened and realised it was Olly whistling through his nose along with his snoring.   It made me smile which was a nice thing to do at that time of the day!  

The jam didn’t turn out quite as good as I hoped.  After running a little jam business a while back I was hoping I hadn’t lost my touch, but although it was certainly passable, it wasn’t my best.  Unfortunately, I now have 18 jars of it and was hoping to give them away as presents. I probably still will – if you get one – please fane surprise and joy at being given, albeit a mediocre jar of jam, a jar of jam from our first proper Park Mill Farm harvest and made with the utmost of love and good intentions!!

So the end of August is almost upon us and I am really feeling the transition from Summer to Autumn. Although the leaves haven’t yet started to turn you can see the conkers forming on the trees and there is the chill in the air before the sun comes up and after it goes down. We have a bank holiday weekend spread before us, with absolutely no plans, which in a way is lovely. I am thinking that I might do an autumn clean of the house and clear out every room. With the changing of the seasons also brings the prospect of spending more hours in the house and it would make life easier and more comfortable if we can make our small living area as clutter free as possible. There was a time when we thought we wouldn’t be spending the winter in the main house, but rather in a lovely converted, central heated outbuilding – but that possibility is no longer so we must make the most of it. I actually don’t mind spending the next few months in the main house. I can’t quite decided whether last winter was not that bad or whether I remember it through rose tinted glasses. Time will tell, I guess. The garage also needs a huge clear out too. There are lots of boxes in there that we haven’t touched since we arrived and I am sure that there are some bits and pieces that we moved here but, now that we’ve settled, we will have no use for. It would be good to make some space in there for the mowers and stuff to live in over winter. Anyway, we’ve just passed Clapham Junction (I’m on the train). Next stop Waterloo.

Once more into the fray…..

Tuesday, 25 August 2009

Just finished de-stoning 8kg of plums from our plum trees.  Long job!  Luckily Olly helped me and it was actually quite nice to sit outside in the evening sunshine plodding away at the plums with a glass of wine and chatting about our days.   It seems to have been raining plums here over the last week or so. They are falling off the trees so quickly that we have to be quick to either pick them up off the ground before the wasps get them or pick them straight off the trees.   As I write this the first preserving pan of plum jam is bubbling away and the rest of the plums are in the freezer.   We have also had a lot of windfall apples already which I am not too sure what to do with. I think I will stew and freeze them for later on in the year. The idea was to make our own cider but we have been very bad at getting all the kit and unless we pull our fingers out we may have to put that on hold until next year.  

The weekend saw another run of guests which was great fun.   My friend Liz and her gorgeous daughter Poppy were first to visit and it was great to see what Poppy found fun to do on the farm as a guide for future paying guests.   She loved to dig up her own vegetables and go fishing in the brook which gives me ideas on where to focus our attention in future. She also loved the chickens, ducks and cows and I do think it is imperative to get more livestock, not only for it’s meat, but also for children to come and visit and learn about.

Poppy at the Farm

After Liz and Poppy, we also had great friends of ours for Sunday lunch, from just the other side of Bristol – they have two children who both seemed to love the farm as well. We had a really lovely leisurely lunch outside of baguettes, cheese, pate, salads and fruits and the sun shone brightly.   After they left Michael and Sarah came round from the next door farm. It was lovely to see them and we made sure they left with a bag full of plums and a tray of eggs.

We had some bad news on the planning permission.   Unfortunately, the Parish Council have put in an objection about covering up a leit, which in itself is pretty useless, as it’s already covered up and has been for years, but because they have not bothered to come out and see the property for themselves they are unaware of this.   Anyhoo, our planning officer is fine with it and says it makes no difference to our plans, however, as the PC have raised the objection the plans have to be on hold until they can be notified.   Unfortunately for us they have decided to cancel their September meeting and so will not meet until the second week in October which means we have to wait at least until then before we can do anything.   I feel a little let down by our architect has we expressly asked him to submit plans at the beginning of June which he agreed to as we wanted to maximise the usefulness of the time we spent in South Africa, however, he did nothing whilst we were away and only submitted them on our return.   If they had gone in earlier, this whole delay could have been avoided.  But this is the fun and games of our wonderful bureaucratic system and come the end of the day we as the paying customers and owners of this building, can do nothing but bow down and wait until we are told we can do anything. Very frustrating. I don’t think we will start work this year now due to this delay. There is no point starting anything in October/November – it will just cost us more in the long run.  We will be better off waiting until Spring.

Sunday, 23 August 2009

Can’t believe it’s nearly Thursday already. Just don’t know where this week has gone.

The weekend was lovely – fantastic weather with fantastic friends where we made the most of the last of the summer sunshine. The swallows have now all flown south. Last week they were swooping and diving in Sunset field every day as I walked the dogs, but now they’ve vanished. It’s as if they all got up really early one morning, packed their bags and headed off. I miss them – their departure is a sure sign of the change of seasons and like them, summer has headed south.

Made a realisation today that I was getting a little preoccupied with other people’s lives and neglecting my own. I was getting bogged down in stuff that has no relevance to me and, instead of it bouncing off, I was absorbing everything to the detriment of my own life and value of self worth. So, with a renewed vigour, I am back and focused on Park Mill Farm and what I have. As a result, I am going on a course this weekend to teach me to make chairs out of bits of hazel and willow that I can harvest from the farm – and next weekend Olly and I are going on a pig keeping course! Cannot wait. We have also decided, in our quest for recycling, that instead of getting a puppy, we will get a stud for Millie and get her pregnant (if only every thing in life was that easy!).   We have always contemplated breeding with Millie and Morgan but although Morgan is as keen as mustard, Millie just doesn’t fancy him. He becomes this massively doting ‘puppy dog eyed’ puppy that looks at her so longingly when she’s on heat that you just have to feel sorry for him.   Unfortunately, Millie just snarls and bites him or just simply sits down, leaving Morgan so frustrated that the big bean bag we have gets a good seeing to about 10 times a day – lucky old bean bag.   So a stud it is.   Millie and I have been browsing the internet, but haven’t seen anyone who quite comes up to the mark yet. We saw a lovely looking partner for her but he turned out to be a bit of a short arse and, as we all know girls, they tend to have a bit of an attitude problem!   So our quest continues, if any of you know about a tall(ish), dark and handsome Labrador out there willing to put himself about, Millie is willing to do the same (after the obligatory drinks and dinner, of course!). 

Other news is that we finally got a builder to come round and see what it would take to do this place up. It was great to finally talk to one, as we have had loads contact us in the form of marketing letters since our planning went in, yet when we express an interest none of them follow it up. I thought things were supposed to be tight for them at the moment, but now I’m not so sure. Anyway, the one we met on Saturday was lovely. He has come recommended through a trusted friend which helps, so we will wait and see what he comes back with.

Friday, 21 August 2009

Just shot my first ever living thing – a rabbit. I am not too sure exactly how I feel about it, if I’m honest. I only went to go and buy some milk from the village shop but as I went out to the front of the house, there was this rabbit, as bold as you like, munching on lush grass just outside the chicken house. I guess I have been thinking about shooting rabbits for a while and certainly want to stay up one night and try and get the fox, so I saw this as a good opportunity. I think I’ve hardened a bit since the ducks have gone. My overriding thought when I went to fetch the gun was ‘it’s the circle of life – the fox didn’t go through anguishes of ‘should I, shouldn’t I’ when he took the ducks – it’s just what foxes do. So if I want to have a rabbit stew, then why should I feel any differently?’ Some would argue that I have a choice of what to eat and that I didn’t HAVE to shoot the rabbit, but if I didn’t want rabbit stew then it would probably be sausages, or a nice steak, either way something’s got to give – and don’t take me down the veggie argument – I am a carnivore. I did however, feel remorse and an empty feeling that I find difficult to put into words. I hit the rabbit clean on and although it’s back leg twitched a little I don’t think it would have felt much, however, when I went to pick it up, it had died with it’s eyes open and that I found very disturbing. It was if it was looking at me, questioning me, pleading with me. I wanted to pick it up with a shovel but thought that showed the animal no dignity or respect, so forced myself to pick it up with my hands. What it is that makes me scared to pick up dead animals, I have no idea, but I seem to think that they will come back to life and bite me. I have always thought that, about mice, spiders, chickens, whatever. As if however they died, whether it be my fault or not, they would blame me.

I seemed to have created another entry for the shrinks, which I had no intention of doing. I promise you I am not mad, maybe a little compassionate but trying to adjust to ‘good life’ ways.   It’s not easy, but I do feel as if I’ve made progress today.   I am not proud of shooting a rabbit and it is certainly nothing I would ever do for sport.  But we are overrun with rabbits and foxes here and the rabbits can fill our freezer and our bellies. The foxes need to be controlled if we are to protect our livestock so I can easily justify my actions. I don’t think I’ll ever feel good about killing something.   Quite simply, it’s not a nice thing to do.   However, as with everything, there is a balance to nature that needs to be maintained and is never more so evident than on a farm.  In order for this farm to flourish and therefore the wildlife in it, I need to play my part in the whole thing.  As I walked towards the rabbit to pick it up though, I did think that we live in a very harsh world.

Tuesday, 18 August 2009

As promised, below is the pictures of our first bale of hay!! Whilst I’m on, I might as well jot down a few lines. Life is OK at the moment. It’s not quite the summer that I had imagined in my head but it’s still not bad. I think at times I just feel a little isolated here. Olly is away tonight and I haven’t left the house since Sunday morning when I went to the village shop to buy some milk. Working from home can be very lonely and whilst I love the freedom it gives me, I can actually go for days without seeing anyone other than Olly. To be fair, if I had to choose one person on the planet and that was the only person I could see, then Olly would be it, but even so.. I seem to be lacking in a bit of get up and go at the moment. Some would say my mojo has taken a few days off – I suppose even that needs a holiday sometimes, could do with one myself! Had a meeting with the architect yesterday and things seem to be moving slowly in the right direction. He has gone away to do the technical drawings for the farm which would be great because then we can start talking to builders properly about how much this is all going to cost. Then we can really scare ourselves silly. It’s frustrating sometimes, I can see how beautiful this is going to be once it’s done and it is going to be such an amazing place but I know that there is a huge mountain to climb before we get to that final stage. Still haven’t won the bloody lottery – can’t understand why – maybe I ought to start doing it on Wednesdays as well as Saturdays?

Sunday, 16 August 2009

It is the end of a very long week. Work has been really busy and there seems to have been an endless stream of people here since time began.   Not that I am complaining – I love it – but when everything else is full on I feel like I haven’t had five minutes to sit down and catch my breath.   Work has dictated late finishes and early starts and as a result I am absolutely knackered, which being on the tail end of my emotional see-saw, hasn’t helped.   It’s funny.   I have had a real response to my emotional overspill and it seems as if the ducks has now become a euphuism for my infertility.  I have had emails and even people coming round saying how sorry they are to hear about “the ducks” and giving me huge hugs. I, of course, am ever grateful for the support and their sympathies and it is really heart warming to know that people genuinely care, however, I find it odd and even a little amusing that the most honest response I’ve had from someone is from a 20 year old who I have only ever met once in the flesh, who said “I read your blog and I can’t believe you can’t have kids, that’s tragic”. It felt very raw when he said it as it was the first time that I heard it from someone who wasn’t from my immediate circle.   Bizarrely it made it more real, as if it wasn’t already.   It was said from the complete heart and I felt every word of his sincerity.   Another friend of mine advised me to write more on people’s reactions and on my emotional state, but the reason why I think that entry has evoked such a response is because it was completely honest and real – not preconceived or moulded in anyway.   It was me, in my dressing gown at 7am on a Saturday morning sat at my kitchen table because I was too awake to lie in bed anymore.   So, I apologise, you won’t get the inner contents of my soul on every entry.   Only every now and again.

What I did find interesting though was just how cathartic is was.   Writing things down really does help – it is quite amazing.   It was a huge decision posting that blog and in some ways I regret it, but it has helped.

Meanwhile, back at the farm….. we had Olly’s nephews down this weekend helping us out, which has been brilliant. They have both worked really hard and it is amazing what a pair of hands can do that hasn’t yet been worn down by age and alcohol.   Under Olly’s guidance they have stripped the old stables from all the junk and debris that was in it.    We have applied for this to become a dwelling and want to convert it so that Olly and I have somewhere to live whilst the main house is being done.   It used to be used as a bird house and was full of fenced off cages, beer cans, mattresses, an old chair, bird seed, straw, bricks and rubble and the occasional dead rat.    The roof has holes in it and is covered in ivy which we have managed to kill off and the upstairs floor is starting to give way. It will make a great one bed cottage and faces the front orchard with the brook off to one side. The boys uncovered a beautiful brick floor which will have to be taken up, but I hope to put back down again once all the damp and heating issues have been sorted. I have to phone the architect tomorrow to get him round now we have cleared it to look into the more technical aspects of converting to liveable space. The nephews are hopefully back next weekend and it would be brilliant if they could do the same amount of work. It is heart-warming to achieve so much in a short space of time when so often it seems as if we are just chipping away at the surface. We also had my best friend down with her husband and step son to camp in the garden. I felt a little sorry for them as by the time they got here I was so bloody tired I was a little zombiefied.   This week is all about catching up on sleep and getting ahead.