Monday, 20 December 2010

It’s bitterly cold outside this evening.   The moon is full and bright and reflects the remnants of the snow on the ground.    We are so lucky to be in the warm.   I have no idea how we would have coped if we were still in the house now.    You just don’t realise how easy life is made by the modern conveniences at our disposal (for those of us fortunate enough to have them).    Warmth has never been so starkly reinforced to me as an absolute essential to our survival.   It’s something we all take for granted in our centrally heated houses with their running hot water.    I have only had a glimpse of what life is like without these things and it’s bloody harsh.   So whilst I lounge on a huge armchair in front of a beautiful glowing woodburner in our deliciously warm little house I think of those less fortunate tonight and wonder how on earth they will survive temperatures like these.    We are exceptionally lucky and privileged, not only to have the warmth that we have but to have had the opportunity to sample life in the cold and therefore appreciate what we have and not take it for granted.

The pigs on the other hand are not so fortunate!    I have put down extra bedding in their little shed and upping the quantities of their food in an attempt to make their lives a little easier.    Olly didn’t want to get pigs in the winter, and I am starting to understand why!    Looking after them at the moment is almost a full time job commencing with the making of their swill, feeding them three or four times a day and making sure they have enough  water and that it doesn’t freeze completely like their water trough has done.    They seem in good enough spirits and are quite boisterous.      They are definitely going to be harder to handle than the first lot once they start getting bigger.    Even now they could push me off my feet (they haven’t yet, but I am in no doubt that one day they will) and should they manage to get their head in the bucket of feed before I’ve had a chance to put in the trough I really feel just how strong they are.  I have a feeling that these are going to be a lot easier, emotionally, to take to slaughter!!    

The ducks, geese and chickens are also on double rations, although they seem perfectly impervious to the cold and run to the stream for an ice cold wash every morning (well, the ducks and geese do).    The chickens scratch around a bit and then head to the Cow Byre where we store all manner of things, but mainly crap, where they love to scratch around and take shelter from the wind.  That is, all the chickens except Gloria, who can be found either standing by the stream watching the ducks and geese frolick in the water or stood outside the window of the Stables looking enviously in at us all warm and snug.  I love the fact she hangs around the Stables and have started feeding her little pieces of bread or other nice snacks.    Her favourite place to stand is outside the kitchen window where she has an excellent view of the dog bowl.    Millie (who is no Supermodel), was put off from eating by Gloria coming right up to the window and watching her.

So we stand on the brink of Christmas 2010, and I am feeling surprisingly calm!   Nearly all presents have been made or brought, Christmas cards posted, meat ordered, veg ready to be pulled from garden, vast quantities of wine and bubbly brought….. I can’t think of anything else I should be fretting about.   Due to animals, we are staying here for Christmas which whilst I am really going to miss not being with family, I am really pleased that we can be here.    We have my lovely, gorgeous friend Kay coming to spend the day with us and I am really looking forward to a relaxed, cosy day.     We decided that a Christmas tree was a decadence that we could do without this year, so instead I have decorated an apple tree branch that I found on the ground in the front orchard with antique glass baubles and some decorations that I made in my pottery class.    Outside we have adorned two of the apple trees with fairy lights so they can be seen from the Stables and that with some lovely Christmas tree bunting made by Kay, and some strategically placed pieces of mistletoe is the sum of our decoration this year.   Quietly simple and understated, I hope, and not a little bare and too minimalistic!!

Happy Christmas everyone.    I hope you have a really lovely one and that 2011 is better than 2010.     For us, 2010 was a building year.  2011 must be an earning year – I don’t think we could have picked a harder one if we tried!

Tuesday, 7 December 2010

Whilst I realise I have been rubbish at not keeping up the blog I can just about justify it with the reasoning that our lives have been put on hold trying to get the Stables finally finished.    After such a flying start in April with Gary the Brick and his team getting the brick work done, we then hit a massive wall with disasterous carpenters and roofers and then delays with windows, problems with plumbing, ecetera, ecetera….. but finally….. WE ARE IN!!

I cannot tell you how lovely it is to be so warm.   To wake up warm, to relax warm, it’s just lovely.    We unfortunately, were not in before the cold snap hit but it almost makes it more enjoyable now we had that week when the shower head would take an hour and a half to thaw in the mornings and having to put a blow heater in the washing machine so we could take out the washing that had frozen in the machine.   You don’t realise just how much energy and stress being cold takes up.    Life was tough.    However, it is now plain sailing.    As I sit in our lovely big armchair with the woodburner aglow and a nice cup of tea by my side, I listen to my husband gently snoring upstairs as he has the first Sunday lie in that he’s had for at least a year, if not two.    I can see a squirrel clambering up a tree, a cock pheasant with his hareem of seven,… no hold on,…. Eight hens pecking at the fallen apples in the front orchard.   There is a moorhen there too and the sound track to all of this are my ducks and geese frolicking in the stream to the side of the cottage.    It’s just idyllic.    Although it would mean us moving back to the house, I cannot wait to start letting this out as a holiday let.    It’s going to be such a gorgeous place to stay.

Lovely, warm, clean, kitchen!!   And no tiles falling from the walls!

Lovely, warm, clean sitting room - Morgan thinks I'm taking a photo of him!

The pigs are doing well, although they really are so much more naughty than our last lot.    Olly and I went away last week for a night at my parents to celebrate my Dad’s 70th birthday.    My lovely friend Dee was left in charge of all of our animals, including the pigs.    We arrived home to find that the back orchard where the pigs are kept looked like the trenches in World War I!   The pigs were barrackaded in with sticks of hazel and willow, garden furniture, bamboo canes, the lot!    Poor old Dee had come up one evening to check on them and the little blighters had got through the electric fencing.    The worst part was that they had started to root up the lawn and make a right mess.    Dee did a brilliant job of getting them back in and with the help of another friend of ours, Jayne, managed to restore calm once more.     It was only the next day when I realised that the connector had fallen off the electric wire hence rendering it nothing more than a piece of orange string keeping the pigs in – or not!

Our gorgeous, naughty pigs eating beetroot!

So, life can resume again.    I’ve got to try and get as many bookings for the Stables as possible for 2011, landscape and prune both orchards so they look fantastic by Spring, market the pork for the pigs and source a really good butcher to make delicious cuts of meat and mouthwatering sausages.   Olly is arranging a festival on the farm in May so there is much to be done for that as well as coppicing all of the willows on the farm (there are many!) and, most importantly, starting work on the main house.     As my dear old Grandmother used to say, ‘Crack on!!’.

Coppicing the big willow tree in the Mill Pond at the weekend

Job well done, and lots of wood to season!

And finally.....   I love the Stables!!

Sunday, 7 November 2010

Such a lot has happened at the farm recently yet we both still feel as if we are running in treacle.    Autumn is displaying it’s fantastic colours with the yellow, golds and reds of the trees and summer is but a distant memory.     In movie terms summer is the bit where a song has been playing normally but then turns echoie and fainter – if you don’t know what I’m talking about, please don’t worry –  it was a good enalogy in my head, but putting it down on paper somehow looses it’s effect!

Fireworks have just gone off nearby – the first I’ve head this year and Millie,our black lab, is searching for a safe spot.   The only trouble is that the dogs  have a friend over on a two week sleep over and in order to keep the peace I am feeding them apart.    I have put Geoffrey, our cocker spaniel house guest, in the office where Millie likes to hide under the church pews.    It’s either there she likes to hide or the loo but I’ve closed the door on that one!    All in all, it’s probably not the best weekend to dog sit.    Olly is away until Sunday, it’s bonfire night and Millie is on heat – I couldn’t have planned it any worse if I tried!     However, everyone has been walked and fed and are, fireworks aside, settling in for the evening.    Geoffrey, in particular, has made him self very much at home!

The pigs arrived last week and are settling in well.    They seem to be very different from the last lot and can’t decide whether that’s due to the fact we’ve got them in a different season, the bleakness of Autumn compared with the optimism of Spring,  my memory is just a little rose tinted from the first lot or whether, in fact, it could be like children.    Someone I know, for example, had the most wonderful first baby – slept from day one, always smiling and gurgling at everyone, so much so , she thought the whole motherhood thing was a complete doddle.    Baby number two however, was the baby from hell.   Always screaming, never slept, just screamed.    All day.   I am not saying that these pigs are pigs from hell – far from it, they are absolutely lovely.    But, and this is where I think it maybe my memory, I am sure the first lot didn’t create quite so much destruction in such a short space of time, and I am sure that within a week they were rolling over to have their bellies scratched rather than flinching everytime I touch them.     The new lot do come when I call them, however, so we are getting there and I am sure in time they will come to know us a lot better.    As a group I have decided to call them the ‘Piggilie Diggilies’ as opposed to the ‘Piggilie Squiggilies’ that was the last lot.    This is mainly due to their attempts to dig to Australia from our back orchard.    I cannot believe that this is the orchard that I was once so precious about I wouldn’t let anyone else mow it for fear of cocking it up.    Oh, how times have changed!!    I still do mind and do care about it a lot but it is good to have the pigs close to the house over winter, just in case the water pipe freezes and I have to lug watering cans to their water trough.    And, I keep convincing myself that they are doing a good thing.   By turning over the back orchard I can then plant it all with beautiful meadow grasses and wild flowers such as poppies and cornflowers, as well as the lovely buttercup and it will be even more beautiful than before.   You can’t make an omlette without breaking a few eggs and by the end of Spring it will be wonderful there.

The Stables are nearly finished.   I say nearly.   They have been nearly finished for weeks.  It’s driving us both absolutey mad and we are trying our best not to take our frustrations out on each other.    Two weeks, I reckon, and then we are there.    It’s just so difficult having contractors constantly around and not being able to get on until they are finished.     We have, however, found a brilliant company who are being fab and really helping with the final push.    JAB Construction are fantastic and to boot, it’s owner is a friend of ours.    That along with Wayne who has been fantastic with his company Soils we have really found our feet.   

I started this blog on Friday 5th November and it’s now Sunday the 7th.   The weekend has been mainly spent painting the stables and taking the dogs for walks, and I have to say, I am absolutely knackered!    Over the next few days I am looking after 3 dogs, four pigs, ten chickens and 21 ducks and one cat which when you write it down doesn’t seem that much but when it comes to feeding time, it’s an ice cream headache!   Especially as they are spread over two separate sites!  Don’t know why that should tire me out though – we want to build up the livestock on the farm to much more than that!

This weekend has been trying in a few other ways too.    I am always of the assumption that if something is going to go wrong it will go wrong when Olly is away!  And generally, I'm right!   On Saturday, I got into the Stables to start painting only to discover a wet patch on the ceiling in the kitchen.   After investigation of the bathroom above, I find that the plumber had not tightented the pipes on the loo or the sink and both had been leaking.    I will not start my assult on the building trade because, quite frankly, you have heard it all before.   I am just aggog at the fact that so many tradesmen can continue to survive as sole traders when they do such a crap job and swagger around as if they are the one doing you a favour!!  Wish I'd known this when I was at school - I would have become a plumber, or sparky and wiped the floor with the rest of them purely by caring about my work and having the decentcy to not throw my discarded lunch waste on the floor or leave my fag ash in the sink.....  oooohhhh..... here I go again..   I will stop and .... b r e a t h...    But just one last one.   The lovely window man who is taking an age to get the windows finished, came down today to change the lock on the door.    Brilliant.   Lovely.   Clearly showing his committment to the job by working on a Sunday and had both the doors off and gone by 8am.   I didn't ask him to work on a Sunday, but jolly impressed that he did.    He was back at 4.30pm to put the doors back on.   Also brilliant.   I was working in the Stables at the time, painting upstairs.   Doors where put on but without a handle on the inside.....  you know where I'm going with this, don't you!....  Anyway, window man left saying that he'll just leave the door open a bit so I could get out..... But he didn't... So now, I'm pissed off with the plumber, have been painting all weekend, have three dogs all barking for their supper in the main house, I have chickens to put away on two separate properties, and I am locked in to the Stables by the window man who should have been finished by mid July.    Not only that but I have to disturb friend on a Sunday evening to come and let me out the Stables.

Lastly, I leave you a picture of Gloria which I love.    Gloria is truely believeing that the Stables is her new home and keeps on going in for a little look.    When it turns into a holiday let, I would like to think that Gloria will be one of the attractions.   Anyway, she still likes to run with the duck and geese and this head shot of her was taken on Friday morning.    I took it because it looks like she's gone all Goth with her makeup hence reinforcing my tranny image.    We must remember, she is, of course, a cockeral!!

I am sure there is so much more I should be saying, but I just can’t think what it is.  It's Sunday.  I’m tired and all painted out…. And my gorgeous husband is delayed coming home until tomorrow.     Rubbish!   I’m off to bed….  xx

Friday, 22 October 2010

We're getting more pigs!!   We're getting more pigs!!    Powers of persuation are up to Warp Factor 15 and Olly has said yes!    Just got to wait for confirmation from our friend Anthony who supplies them that he still has them and if he does, they'll be ours next week!  We are not going for the 8 - 10 we were hoping to get, but are starting with 4.  Two boars and two gilts.   This is mainly because it will be over winter and we'll wait to get the numbers up in Spring when the weather is a little more forgiving.

For now the 4 will live in the back orchard and help clear the grass down and polish off all the windfall apples.   Come March we'll then move them to Sunset field and sow wild grasses and flowers in the back orchard to make it look even more beautiful than it has done in previous years.    I really want to make that an idyllic place to be for parties and gatherings - it could be lovely!

Very excited that we are getting more livestock - it's what this place needs and from here we can build a plan for 2011 that encompasses many more.   

So this weekend will be spent getting ready for them and trying to get some free food sources like the local fruit and veg shops.    If we can polish off any of their waste then so much the better.

Just in case you'd forgotten how gorgeous the last lot were, here are some reminders!!

Monday, 18 October 2010

I know.    There is no excuse – I’ve just been absolutely rubbish.    It’s been over a month and I have no doubt you’ve been climbing the walls wondering what I’ve been up to!!       Hopefully, this will quell your inquisitiveness although I have to admit, whilst typing this sentence I have also been thinking “What have we been doing??”

Ok.   Beginning of September, let me think…   Stables is probably the most prolific in our movements of late.    Windows have been VERY slow in getting in but they are highly crafted so I am prepared to wait for perfection – Olly on the other hand has been a little less patient and now refuses to come out of his office whenever the window man is here!    That is not to say that I haven’t had a few words with the window man myself – they were, after all, due to be in by mid July and here we are in mid October and they are still not finished.    The funny thing was that I had these ‘words’ with him on a Tuesday morning – now for those of you who don’t know me – I am the most unconfrontational person ever!   It takes a great deal of courage to even ask the cost of things in a store sometimes for fear of being bullish about the price, however, it had been a stormy night on the Monday and the window man had taken out the ‘temporary’ casements and told me it wasn’t going to rain.   Needless to say, Olly was away on business and I woke at 1.00am on the Monday morning to the sound of rain pounding against the bedroom window.    I went out to the Stables in my dressing gown, and did I mention, the pissing rain, to see if there was anything I could do to stop the horizontal torrent going into the newly plastered Stables, but alas, no.    I was powerless to do anything so instead, did as any woman would do in that situation, lay awake all night worrying about it!   Needless to say, when the window man arrived at 9.00am the next morning, any inhabitions I had about being non confrontational went right out the window, or should I say, unprotected opening.    

Having said that, I was very controlled.    We had another chap on site building the retaining wall around the Stables and I didn’t want to make a scene in front of him so purely had a ‘conversation’ with the window man about just how long they were bloody taking and how, if I had known they weren’t going to be in until mid October (looking more like end of October), I would have gone somewhere else.     It is at this stage in the proceedings that I refer you all to my entry of 17th June where I mention that our window man is ‘by far the most expensive’!!     Anyhoo, I felt very controlled, very clear in my communication and very satisified that the window man was in no uncertain terms about my dissatisfaction.  

As I mentioned, that was Tuesday morning.    On Wednesday our plumber turned up.     ‘Morning Kev.’   I said.     ‘ Heard you gave the window man a right rollocking yesterday!’ was his reply!     Village life!!!  

Other than that, the Stables are coming on great guns.    Woodburner is in thanks to a fantastic guy called Alan Barbone from near where we used to live.    I highly recommend him to anyone putting in a woodburner.   We had loads of companies come round to quote and all of them told me how difficult it was for them (think I might have covered this in other entries so won’t dwell!)    However, Alan was informative, knowledgeable and helpful – and very competitive.    Our woodburner looks great and packs out the heat!

Am really started to get excited about moving into the Stables over winter.    Olly and I have been decorating for the last week along with help from my Mum and Dad and we’ve probably got another week to go before we are all done, but after that it’s just kitchen and flooring to go in and we are done!    I can then start taking photos for the marketing of it for holiday lets.    Olly and I were in there this evening painting when suddenly Olly said ‘Look outside..’     The Stables is South West facing and there was the most beautiful sunset.    Pinks, purples, oranges and blues with this massive ball of fire slowly sinking.    In the mornings the sun glissens off the brook and makes rippling patterns on the ceiling of the bedroom.   It really is going to be the most idyllic place to be.

We have also been making the most of the orchards.   Our friend Tom who is a brilliant joiner has made a beautiful cider press in his garage and he very kindly agreed for us to press our apples there.   The only problem being that Olly was far too busy with the Stables to pick or press so the task was left to me.   I have to say that I only skimmed the surface of the amount of apples we had and picked a very small quantity.   Next year I will definitely get a working party to pick and press with me!    However, we have about 100 pints fermenting away as we speak which can't be bad!!

In village life, I have taken up a pottery course.    It’s very cool and I am making loads of things although I don’t feel quite as skilled at it as I did the furniture making.     On the first week we made a jug and I really thought I was doing really really well.    I’d made the cylindircal bit of the jug and had somehow got into a theme of sweets so thought I’d put a whole load of ‘Refreshers’ on the outside.    I don’t know whether you can still get Refreshers now.   They used to be a bit like Love Hearts but were thicker with no silly writing on them and had a very shallow hollow in them like someone had stuck their finger in the middle very gently.    Anyway, I have no idea what made me think of them but I did and proceeded to cover the whole jug in little Refresher type buttons.    I was very pleased with my creation too, until I looked over at another girls who had gone for the very simple approach and made the most gorgeous jug with no decorations – just simple.    I looked back at mine and saw the Zsa Zsa Gabor of the jug world next to the Keirah Knightly of the other girls.    At least it will beat the ash tray that my husband is convinced I’m going to come back with at the end of the course.   That’s apparently what everyone makes when they go on a pottery course!

Beginning of October saw the Kingswood Annual Beer Festival which is great fun.   Basically, you go to the Village Hall, the local brewery puts on everything they’ve got, a local band plays REALLY loud and you queue up to get some grub.   Everyone gets a little drunk, does a bit of a body throw in time (or out of in a lot of cases) to the music and we all go home very happy.    It is totally what villages are good at and why we love being part of one.   I did my usual mind illusion of thinking that I’m a really good dancer when in actual fact I’ve just had a bit too much to drink – but then if nothing else, at least I’m consistent!

So, here we are on 18th October, 2010.   Moving into the Stables is imminent and hopefully, with a bit of arm twisting of me to Olly, pigs are on there way.   The man we brought them from last time is coming down this way and has a whole load more weaners if we want them, with the added bonus of free delivery.    Olly would rather wait ‘til Spring but I would love to get some now.    We will just have to see how good my powers of persuasion are!

Lastly, I’ll leave you with tales of Gloria.   Our beautiful tranny cockeral is getting more and more cocky by the day.   She has had a go at my shins once and follows my mother around with an errie stare whenever she comes to visit.   Even Millie, our black lab is scared of her.   However, we continue to talk to each other and are still great friends and although she is now too big to sit on my shoulder she continues to love to be wherever we are and follows me around the farm.    Bless her!!

Gloria in the flowerbed!
And lastly, I leave you with the Competition of the Week - How Many Chickens can you Count on the Digger?!!

Wednesday, 8 September 2010

Don’t want to put to much of a kibosh on it, and I will say it in a very hushed whisper, but I have a funny feeling that we are going to be in for an Indian Summer in September and October, like we had last year. It’s September 8th and I am sitting in my garden in jeans, tee shirt and shades writing this blog. There is blue sky above me and nothing but the faintest breeze across my face. The cows are mooing and the geese a honking… life is good!

I rotivated the old pig pen at the weekend so that we can turn it into a soft fruit pen next year. After all the piggilies hard work with snuffling and eating of roots, the rotivator glided through the soil with the utmost of ease. Very different to where we used to live when it would get all clogged up with nettle roots and were thwarted by the many, MANY stones we had in the ground. To celebrate the success of the rotivating I have ordered some strawberry plants, raspberry, loganberry and tayberry canes as well as some black and redcurrant bushes. Next job is to make the cage around the enclosure so the birds don’t get to the berries next summer before I do and create paths inbetween the beds for ease of access. The plot is at the bottom of the back orchard and I hope it will look as pretty as it will be practical. Maybe I’ll grow some sweet peas up the netting for a bit of colour.

Newly rotivated soft fruit plot

If May was the month for the smell of wild garlic and June, elderflower, September is most definitely apples and plums. We haven’t made nearly enough use of the fruit this year. In the midst of business plans, getting the Stables finished and day to day life they lie forgotten on the ground. I feel completely guily whenever I see or smell them and promise to do more with them next year. By then we will be a lot more sorted and life will be easier – won’t it? One of the apple trees in the back orchard uprooted itself a couple of weeks ago. They have been so laidened with fruit that they just can’t take the weight. Two trees in the front orchard also seem to be in self destruct mode with branches being riped from their trunks. We want to plant lots more trees this autumn and prune the ones that are still left to keep them in good shape but I can’t get hold of the local orchard man to find out what types of apple we have as I want to keep the orchards as traditional as possible.

Uprooted Apple Tree in Back Orchard

My heart shaped tree in Spring last year....

My broken heart  (sorry!!  That's really pukie!)
Now here’s the thing. And I apologise because this has been ranted before, but need your honest opinion on this. Tell me if you think I’m being a little paranoid… it seems like every time I go to ask people, businesses, professionals (call them what you will) to quote on doing a job here or to ask for advice, they never call me back or respond to the messages I leave!? Is there a tag on our website that says “Don’t touch that property with a barge pole, it’s a ****ing disaster!” Or maybe there is a line under my signature on my emails that says; “ I wouldn’t if I were you..” I’m just not sure anymore as there are a few things that I just can’t get done. Borehole specialist… any of you out there? If so, do get in touch, your competition can’t be bothered. Woodburner installators, again happy to receive contact, your competitors think it’s a bit of an inconvenience. Electricians and plumbers… help!! Orchard people.. the list goes on. Anyway. I will leave this now as I know I’ve touched on it before and fear I maybe becoming a bit of a bore, but you get the gist of my frustration.

Other than that there is not much to report. Windows for the Stables go in over the next two days. AM VERY EXCITED!! Will post photos to show progress. The anticiaption is nearly killing us as they were supposed to go in mid July!! Hey ho, that’s life! Let’s just hope they are worth the wait!!

Lastly, the other morning there was a glorious light and I felt the urge to go and take photos....


Last but not least... check out the size of my pumpkin!!!

Saturday, 4 September 2010

Last of the Summer Wine

It’s one of those evenings when it feel s criminal to sleep. We have just come back from spending the day with the family. A bizarre day, as only families can be, but a happy day none the less. We got back at 8.30pm and for September, in fact even if it was the height of summer, the evening sky was beautiful and the temperature balmy. Oli and I took a drink outside under the gazebo in the darkness with nothing but some oil candles to light the table. We could have been sitting by the Mediterranean. The candles burn straight and constant and there wasn’t a breath of wind. Just beautiful. Someone is obviously having a party over in Nind, the next door village, as the sound of a 70’s band is wafting over the fields towards us. We climbed on the mill pond bank to try and have a look to see if we could see any lights, but we couldn’t. To be honest, on a night like tonight, it may have been coming from further afield – who knows.

But, as it is, we are both knackered, and as much as we would have loved to stay out there all night talking about our hopes and fears, trials and tribulations, the fact of the matter is that we can barely string a sentence between us. So, we have left one of the last balmy nights of the year to carry on without us while we come inside – faff around for a while and then go to bed. Maybe tomorrow will be the same and we will be less tired. One of those is more likely than the other – I’ll hedge my bets on the weather!!!

Friday, 3 September 2010

Wonky Windows

Our House

(Happy Birthday Big Sis!!)

Well, I realise it’s been a long time since I last wrote and although I hate to admit it, we’ve had a really difficult time of late and I couldn’t face writing the blog. I apologise profusely, as that wasn’t the deal – you are supposed to get a warts and all persepective of taking on a derelict farm and making it work – not a fair weather blog. However, we are both feeling much more upbeat which, let’s face it, will make for much more cheerful reading! I’ll give you a little insight as to what’s been going on so you don’t feel too deprived of the depressive side of living the idyll!

First and foremost, and probably the largest proportion of my depression was the departure of the pigs. They were booked into the abbatoir on the 16th August, so, through very kind lending of a livestock trailor from some lovely friends and local farmers, the Tewksburys, we went and collected the trailer on Sunday 15th. The weekend up to that point had been spent mainly with the pigs, taking photos, letting them have full run of the orchard so they could clear up as many windfall apples and plums as possible and getting my head around the week ahead. Once we had the trailer, we left it in the pig enclosure open and lured the boys in with pig nuts and then let them come and go as they please so they got used to it and didn’t see it as a threat.

On the morning of the 16th we got up with heavy hearts, and loaded the pigs in the trailer. The abbatoir that we’d chosen was only a 20 minute drive away which is perfect. Once we there we had to queue whilst trailers in front of us unloaded their pigs into the lairage. Olly and I said hardly a word to each other the whole drive and whilst queuing and just watched. In the truck and trailer in front was a lady, in her late fourties, early fifties. She’d brought about 6 pigs and was happily laughing and chatting with the slaughter men as they unloaded. I was about to write that she was devoid of emotion, but I don’t think she was – it was just another Monday and another load of pigs going off. It’s probably what she did a lot of Mondays and as a result has become desencitised from it. Obviously, when it came to our turn I was an absolute gibbering wreck. I was determined to be there and to do right by my pigs and to make sure that they were not stressed or afraid, however, I could not hold back the tears. Even now, as I think about it I have tears streaming down my face. In some ways it was mildly funny. Have you ever tried to cry and talk at the same time? It’s as if someone puts a plug in the pit of your diaphram that doesn’t allow words or air to come out unless it’s all at once! One of the slaughtermen came up to ask which farm we were from. “Pppppppark, deep intake of breath, Mmmmmill, another gulp, Fffffffarm.” I stuttered back. I’m not sure whether he didn’t realise I was crying or was trying to make me think of other things but, bless him, he kept on asking me questions!! Turns out, he knows Michael, our neighbouring farmer really well, so it’s probably going around the whole of Kingswood farming community that ‘those townies are real cry babies!!’ However, I’m proud I care about my animals and proud that the pigs we delivered to the abbatoir that day were the happiest and healthiest that they could possibly be.

Driving away from the abbatoir, Olly and I were both in tears. It’s hard, really hard, to do what we did but I am really glad we did. It is only through our desire to breed Gloucestershire Old Spots that this breed exsists and people can only breed them if they have a purpose. I have finished our first pig keeping adventure with a true passion for the provenance of food and the husbandry and welfare standards of the meat we eat. It is something I would like to do more of and do really well. To that end we are planning to get 8 more weaners in by February next year and keep half for pork and half for bacon and hams. We sold our meat from the pigs within 2 weeks of advertising, and could have sold more if we’d had it. I have no doubt that the next lot will go equally as quick. If you would like to be notified when our pork packs are ready to order, get in touch with us through the contact page on

The demise of the pigs came at the same time as many other daily stresses. August has been a shallow month for us, income wise and that in itself can be quite a worry. What it does is put more pressure on getting projects finished that will enable the farm to generate its own income. When those projects then faulter and slow down the frustration can be overwhelming. I have been trying to find someone who will install a woodburner into the Stables. To be honest, I didn’t think it would be that much of a problem and therefore didn’t pay that much attention to it until now but I was wrong!! Firstly, there doesn’t seeem to be that many people around here who install woodburners, and those that do either suck in air through there teeth at alarmingly regular intervals or tell us that there are a whole host of problems that make it a really tricky job to do! All I want, is someone who is more experienced than me at installing woodburners to come and say “Yes, Mrs. Madge, that’s no problem at all – it’s quite a tricky job but do you know what? I’m the expert and you’re the customer so you don’t need to know that, I’ll just do a good job then take your money.” Is that too much to ask for these days? I am happy to pay whatever is a reasonable price to install the woodburner but just want someone to come and do it and not insinuate how much of an inconvenience I am in their lives. In fact, that goes for pretty much any tradesmen when it come to building a house. I’m the customer – I’m going to give you my money – I am not the enemy!! Sorry, rant over! Anyway, as it stands, the Stables are on go slow because we can’t find anyone to fit the woodburner, dig us a borehole or connect electricity. Fairly essential stuff to a good holiday let – heat, water and power!! On a positive note, the windows are being installed on Monday which is really exciting. The building will suddenly feel like a house rather than a building project which I am sure will spur us on.

August also saw some lovely social things happening at the farm. The first weekend saw an old school friend and his family come down and camp, along with another friend and his two sons and another couple. It was a full house and really good fun! The kids loved it and Gloria became an instant fashion accessory and the only thing to wear on your arm this season, darling! Many a marshmallow was roasted over the firepit in the garden and lots of giggles and laughter had by all.

The following weekend was our Cluedo evening! We, with four other friends, dressed up as the characters of Cludeo and played the game whilst eating and drinking a lot! Photos below!!

Professor Plum!
Rev Green (looking rather scared) and Mrs Peacock
Olly as Crnl Mustard but looking errily like Dick Strawbridge 

And then the Bank Holiday weekend was our ‘End of Summer’ Party. Mainly inspired by the day after our 40th birthday party in May which was great fun. We invited everyone round in the afternoon, brought an array of Sunday Papers, roasted up two big joints of pork (obviously from our piggilies), and had a big buffet lunch. It was great fun, and even the weather played ball for the most part. Needless to say it carried on well into the evening and once again, acculmunated with roasting marshmallows over the firepit in the garden. (Can never have too many marshmallows! (well you can actually but it’s worth it to keep going until you really feel sick!))

End of Summer Party

Chilling out with the papers

Roasting Marshmallows!
Morning after!

And so that brings us up to the present day. Stables is still in go slow mode, although we are more chilled about it now. Pigs have been sold. Ducks, geese and chickens are all well. Morgan and Millie are fine and have their friend Geoffrey over for the weekend. Geoffrey is Wayne and Dees’ cocker spaniel and is too cute for words.

The only thing that has really progressed is our vision for this place. After much thought and many versions of our business plan we have finally come up with a clear, comprehensive idea of how this place will run. I will detail it more as time progresses but we are busy completing the business plan and research for it and I have to say…. We are both VERY excited. We have a meeting with our architect, planning and conservation later this month so will share with you our vision once we’ve gauged their reaction!!

Me, studiously writing our Business Plan
And through it all, in the depth of our despair, I found this great sign which is now hanging up in our kitchen.   It has become our mantra!!

Says it all!!.....

Tuesday, 3 August 2010

So, what’s to report?.... well, life is moving on. Our friend Wayne tells us that summer is over, but I refuse to believe him. We still have the whole of August and September to go. To me Autumn isn’t here until October and even then, if last year was anything to go by, it could still feel like late summer! I would say we are mid summer now, and although we are not getting the clear blue endless days of May and June, it is still warm and the garden still needs rain!

I booked the pigs in to the abbatoir yesterday. You have to book them in two weeks in advance. It took at least an hour for me to build up to making the call. I feel a tremendous sense of betrayal. After the call I went and sat with them for a while. They are totally trusting of me and are happy to lie beside me whilst I scratch their tummies – oh, if only they knew. However, if I wasn’t able to do this, then I wouldn’t have them and the demand to breed them wouldn’t be there if everyone felt that way, and then they’d be just another breed that had become extinct. These are truly the happiest pigs on the planet and I do believe that their meat is going to taste absolutely fantastic as a result. They have lived longer than commercially breed pigs ever would have, have fed off apples and lush grass from the orchards along with pig nuts and vegetable cuttings from the garden – they want for nothing and have a lovely time and we have enabled that to happen for them and for that I am proud. Orders have started to come in for our free range pork which is great. My biggest fear is that we cannot sell all the meat as that will put a kybosh on us getting anymore which would be a great shame. If anyone would like any, please contact me and let me know – whilst we cannot post the meat we can certainly see if we can deliver to your area. I am doing a run down to Hampshire to my parents and a few of their friends so anything is possible. 

Another revelation has come about. I got up early one morning and was tottering around the house when I heard Pavarotti, our cockeral, let out his usually morning call only to be followed a few seconds later by a similar call yet sounding as if the cockeral was being strangled at the same time whilst crowing badly out of tune. It certainly wasn’t from Pav, as it was coming from the lean to attached to the house and not the hen house. I opened the top of the stable door in the kitchen, looked into the lean to and saw Gloria standing there as proud as anything!! We now have definitive proof – Gloria is a boy! We should, of course, change his name to Gavin, Graeme or Gareth but somehow, none of these fit so I think Gloria will remain. I quite like this idea and have come to think of Gloria as the Tranny of the Cockeral world – it suits her love of the mirror and her girlish reaction whenever she sees Pav (she still screams and runs in the other direction!). So although Gloria is definitely a boy I will continue to refer to her in the female and continue to call her Gloria – it just fits! 

The lovely Gloria

The ducklings are coming on well, although they have worked out how to get out of their enclosure I made for them so how long it will be before a bird of prey or heron comes along I don’t know. I keep trying to usher them back in but as soon as my back is turned they are out again.

The Stables are progressing nicely. Olly has completed the electrics and plaster boarding upstairs with the help of our friend Tom and is now at work on the downstairs. We have a friend of ours from our old village coming up to spend a couple of days with us next week to help Olly with the plumbing and stuff. This is brilliant news as Richard is a real ‘doer’ who I know will help us immensely. I am hoping that we will see real progress in the days that he is here.

Lastly, my veg have been going great guns! We have carrots, lettuce, onions, courgettes, potatoes, tomatoes, cucumbers, broccoli, cabbage…. Have never had a bumper crop quite like it!

Friday, 30 July 2010

Cannot believe how many lovely messages I got after our last entry. It really is uplifting to know that people are behind you and genuinely want you to succeed. Thank you to everyone – you have no idea how much it helps! I am feeling much more positive about the farm. It’s been a productive week and things have progressed. Firstly, we’ve changed the website to make it a bit more reflective of all aspects of the farm rather than my whitterings. As you may have noticed, we have a dedicated page for pork and the holiday lets which is great. I also have flyers being printed up today advertising the pork which I will distribute around the village next week. I have no idea how many takers we will get for the pork but it would be fantastic to be able to sell it all. I have total faith in the fact that the pork will taste fantastic. It has been a total pleasure and the priviledge to have the pigs with us. They have been delightful and really have had the best life they could ever have wished for. They’ve had all the space they want, great food, endless supplies of scratches to ears and tummys and a lovely little garden shed packed with soft straw to sleep in – who could ask for more! And to top it all, I’ve found the best abbatoir I could have for them. It’s close, it’s family run and a small outfit. The owner has been there all his life, in fact his parents ran it before him and they have been really helpful and friendly. When I have asked to have a look around and talk about how the meat is butchered and packaged they haven’t minded or when I’ve asked questions about waiting time and how will I know I get my pigs back and they have been brilliant at realising that this is going to be a tough time for us both and we need a little nuturing and our pigs need a little extra attention. Couldn’t have asked for better. 

The Stables are also coming on. We are just finishing the insulation and have started to put the plaster boards on. We are having a big planning day on Sunday, Olly and I, and are going to go through everything that needs to be done and when. We are coming round to the conclusion that we will try and get it done by end of September, but if we don’t it doesn’t matter. We would rather we do it right and have a really great place at the end of it than rush to get in before winter and cut corners. I know I said I would never spend another winter in the main house without central heating, but for the sake of the long term and doing the Stables properly it is a price worth paying.

We also had our Conservation Officer here on Wednesday, along with a Structural Engineer. The Engineer is going to write a report about stabilising the main house which would be great, and from the noises he was making, I don’t think it’s going to be that bad. He did point out that we have wood worm in the main rafters, which obviously isn’t great news but doesn’t come as a great shock! Even my untrained eye could have told you that. It would be niaive of us to think that this house isn’t going to be one huge can of worms once we start work on it. We will discover so many things that we hadn’t anticipated on but I think we’ve just got to roll with the punches. We also talked about the Cow Byre with the Conservation Officer who is still adamant that we should renovate rather than rebuild. The Structural Engineer was saying that it was probably a rebuild which leaves us slap bang in the middle. If Building Control say it’s not fit for purpose and yet Conservation is saying we can’t rebuild the Cow Byre will just stay as is and fall down! No one wins! What a waste! I think what we will do is just let Conservation and Building Control fight it out between them. Otherwise we are just piggies in the middle and will get caught up and stressed with it all. Rather hand it over to them and see what happens!

All in all, a good week. Feeling more positive – got things done – and who else can say that in one day (yesterday) they scratched pigs tummys, blow dried some ducklings who got too wet, got splattered with concrete while trying to help lay foundations for a retaining wall and insulated a bathroom?! It’s all good…. And if it was easy, everyone would do it!

Gloria, growing fast but still remains on my shoulder!

Thursday, 22 July 2010

Help, help, help. I feel as if I am sinking really fast. I am failing at every turn and even Olly is starting to be disappointed at my lack of ability to get things moving. It’s like I am running in treacle and however, hard I try, I am just not getting anywhere at all. I have never felt so utterly useless. I know I am a capable person – I used to fly aeroplanes, for goodness sake, and yet I cannot seem to formulate any plan to make the farm money. I need to get plans in place for The Stables to be completed and for the Cow Byre to get under way. We are thwarted partly by buraucracy in that the Conservation people want us to renovate the Cow Byre but we feel it is irrepairable and therefore want to rebuild it. This one point has held us up immensely, to the detriment of both the Stables and Cow Byre as without being able to dig the foundations for the Cow Byre we are unable to lay the electric and water lines for the Stables or put in the joint Cesspit for both properties and the rainwater storage. Without this it means we will not be able to landscape the properties which means we won’t be able to let them next Spring… AAAAAAAAAAARrrrrrrrrggggggg!!! I cannot tell you how frustrating this is. I am getting to the stage where I am crying at will which, as you can imagine, is not helping the situation or my marriage. It is of paramount importance to get the holiday lets rented out at the start of Spring next year – we cannot afford not to but as each day passes it looks less and less likely.

I never imagined that this would be so hard. Everything is hard work. The animals, as much as I love them and wouldn’t be without them, are hard work. The ducklings need to be in a cage morning, noon and night with mum as I found a heron in the pen yesterday. It explains where the last two ducklings went in the last brood she had, and I am determined not to let that happen to any of this lot, but, and understandably so, mum is not keen to be caged with the kids the whole time. Especially when she sees all the others having free range of the farm. It takes about half an hour each morning and half an hour each evening to herd mother and children into the right shelters. It’s not a long time and on it’s own it’s not a bother at all but with everything else it’s time consuming and frustrating. I think everyone gets to points in their lives when they feel useless and inadequate and every little thing seems like the biggest mountain and right now, it’s my time. Not helped by the fact that my husband is so disappointed in me that he is unable to hide it. I do not blame him in the slightest and my quest to change and to get this farm on track is huge… I cannot loose the farm, and most importantly, I cannot loose him. He is my rock and my life, I love him with all my heart and the knowledge that I let him down time after time kills me. Without him I am the worst version of myself and I will do everything in my power to make him proud of me and to work with him as a team, as an equal contributor…. him and me against the world…. not him battling against it on his own.

And so it is that I am trying to write a business plan, get schedules in place and not cock up… the latter is proving very difficult.

Tuesday, 20 July 2010

Ducklings have arrived!! Nine of them hatched on Friday morning. They are very adorable. Unfortunately, we had planned to go camping at the weekend (another story) so the lovely Trish who looked after the ducks and chickens when we went to South Africa last year, once more stepped into the fray and looked after not only three geese, 13 ducks and six chickens, but three pigs and nine less than a day old ducklings! She was a true star!!

Came to a blinding conclusion last night. We had some friends round for drinks and the farm was full of the sound of children and it was magic. After they left Olly and I started talking about the farm and all of our plans and it hit me like a thunderbolt that we have been here for 18 months now and we have done relatively little to make this place sustainable for us. I seem to be totally immobilised by fear and yet I cannot begin to tell you how my biggest fear of all is losing this place. I have to start making this farm pay for its keep and I have to start now. I feel like getting Mary Queen of Shops or that woman from Country House Rescue here to give me a big kick up the bum as I seem to be dithering and faffing at everthing to do with here and not spurring myself into action. I’m talking in the singular very specifically. Olly does do stuff, and more importantly, he goes out and makes money too. I don’t. I have a part time job that doesn’t bring in enough for anything but yet doesn’t afford me enough time to really get to grips with this place and if I’m not careful before we know where we are we will be out on our arses as the mortgage goes up and this place continues to eat through our savings and we will have nothing to show for it. It has to earn its keep and it has to do that now. Imagine how devestating it would be if we’ve been given this chance to live in a place like this and we threw it away because we didn’t get off our behinds and make it happen? My god, I cannot begin to tell you how that would make me feel. We are so lucky to be here and to abuse that opportunity would be immoral. I would never forgive myself. So, here it is. This website is no longer going to be my personal journal. I would still like to keep the blog as I thoroughly enjoy doing it but the blog will be the bit on the side. The website will start to advertise our meat and plot the progress on the holiday lets. I want to start serving cream teas in the orchard and have open days so people can come and see what we’re doing. I want to investigate fully the idea of Glamping (glamourous camping) here and utilising the fields to their full potential. By Spring next year, I want the Stables to have a full season of bookings, I want to start designing and making my cut flower garden so I can sell bouquets of beautifully hand tied flowers, there are benches and chairs that need to be made and sold – there is so much that can be done, that needs to get done and yet day after day I waste by not knowing where to start. How ridiculous is that? I feel like grabbing myself by the shoulders, giving myself a good shake and shouting ‘COME ON!!!!’ , ‘PULL YOURSELF TOGETHER AND GET MOVING!!’ ‘DO IT!!!’.

And do it I shall….

Monday, 12 July 2010

It’s Monday and I am feeling a little lack lustre this morning due to an impromptu picnic on the farm yesterday accompanied by tractor racing and lots of wine! Immensely good fun, with Wayne’s two very old, very beaten up John Deere tractors, Mildred and Ethel. Unfortunately, Mildred bowed out quite early on when, whilst driving her, I yelled at the others ‘I’m on fire!’ They assumed I was merely ‘bigging myself up’ at my tractor driving skills until they saw the smoke coming from the battery!! Ethel however, kept us amused most of the afternoon until she, too, gave up the ghost with a blocked fuel line! I have no idea what Michael the farmer must have thought when he turned up this morning to count his cows and found a gazebo and two vintage tractors abandoned in Sunset field!

On Saturday, I went and collected Mrs. Goose from my aunt. My aunt and uncle have kept two geese for years. Mr. Goose unfortunately died last week leaving Mrs. Goose on her own. Mr. Goose was 28yrs old when he died (I know!! I had no idea that they lived for so long!!!) and Mrs. Goose was his third wife. She is about five or six and my aunt felt it unfair for her to be on her own so she has come to join the Madge clan. I think she is still a little bewildered as to the amount of company she now has. We are up to 14 ducks now that the ducklings are grown, we’ve got 7 chickens and the two goslings AND a duck is sitting on 12 eggs due to hatch any day so we are about to grow again! However, despite meeting so many new friends all at once, she has settled in very well.

Mrs Goose

Progress has also been made on The Stables. Olly and a friend of ours, Tom, put the stairs in on the weekend so we can now trundle up and down in a much easier way than the ladder. They also put the floor in downstairs and with the stairs Olly can now make real progress on the rest of the first fixings.

I have spent the morning researching local slaughter houses in preparation for the pigs final journey. It’s still quite a way off yet, but it is really important to me to do this properly. I am struggling to come to terms with their end and it’s going to be a tough journey for me (and the pigs!). I will try and explain what’s going on in my head to give you some idea of my thought process, although, bear with me… it’s a bit of a mess. I am hoping that by writing it all down it will help me focus on what needs to be done, better.

So, here it is. I am a meat eater and for the last twenty years, at least, I have been going to butchers or supermarkets to buy my favourite cuts of chicken, pork and beef. So let me analyse that. A simple process that millions of people do every day… you’re probably accustomed to the task of food shopping yourself. When I picked up that meat to put into my trolley, what was I thinking about? ‘What else was on the list that I needed to buy?’ ‘Whereabouts do you think the cereal section is?’ ‘My goodness, that woman looks awful in those shorts! Note to self, must start diet on Monday… ‘ Probably any one of those things. Occasionally I would think about the provenance of the meat as a passing thought… ‘Must make sure it’s free range/organic’ ‘Definitely don’t want that intensively reared stuff’ but I think I can safely say that it never took more than a minute of my time to think about what I was doing. Properly. Not once did I look at the meat and think of the animal it had come from as an individual, as a living thing with a personality and with a thought process, however less superior than ours. Not once did I ask exactly which farm it came from and where that was? Not once did I think about the abattoir that it went to or what sort of conditions it was killed in. Not once did I think about what it was thinking for the last few minutes of its life. If I had, it would have taken an age to do the shopping, and I may not have brought the meat at all. It’s impractical and unrealistic to think that every person would think these things whilst shopping – in some cases there may be other priorities, budget, time, etc. And in some cases, people don’t want to think about these things as it grapples with their conscience a little too uncomfortably. But me, I now have the opportunity to do that. I have the chance to think about all of those things and to be lucky enough to control the outcome. What we have done, Olly and I, is not groundbreaking, it’s not even difficult, raising your own food is relatively easy, but what is tricky is making sure you do justice to your animals and to your own set of morals. I will never be anything other than a meat eater. I love it. I love bacon, I love roast pork with really crackling crackling and juicy, melt in your mouth, meat underneath. And if I can’t raise happy, gorgeous pigs and send them off to a good, small, caring abattoir and feel good about it, I shouldn’t eat meat at all. If I can’t look those pigs in the eye and respect them for what they are and know what I’m doing is right then I don’t deserve to eat meat, in fact I feel I would be hypocritical to do so. How dare I eat meat but not want to kill them? It’s a bit like wanting to have a fantastic garden but not wanting to get your hands dirty creating it. As with so many things in life eating meat is an absolute pleasure but there is a cost for that and I feel if I’m not prepared to pay it then I shouldn’t be eating it. I have an opportunity to raise what I eat and for that I feel deeply privileged, but I am also using it to test my own understanding of what being a meat eater is all about. There will be, I’m sure, people who think I am over thinking this and maybe I am. If I’m truthful about it, I only am because I have the opportunity to. It’s a bit like not being able to have kids, you only really think about whether you REALLY want them when you’re faced with the possibility of never having them. I’m not sure whether that makes sense, but I truly believe that most people don’t think enough about having kids they just do it because that’s what happens, you leave school, get a job, get married, have kids… anyway, I digress!! So that’s where I am with the whole pig thing. My job is to look after them, make sure they are happy and healthy, find them a really good local slaughter house and take them there myself – however hard that may be, however sad I may feel – it’s not about me – it’s about keeping those pigs calm and happy to the very end. And then it’s about enjoying the meat – wholeheartedly. They are going to taste fantastic; they have had such a great diet and the ability to roam all over the place. They have been allowed to grow at their own, natural pace and I have absolutely no doubt that it is going to be the best pork I have ever tasted.