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 na├»ve 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.