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.