Amazing Days

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We have had such fabulous days.

Last night, at my wits' end and just about to break, I insisted we sit down and attack our situation logically, with a permaculture slant - the problem is the solution, right?

After a long and ofen painful evening, facing up to our fears about old age and homelessness, my unhappiness at being indoors all the time, the housing crisis, being called to the land, and sundry other trivial little matters, we kind of formulated a plan.

There was something I didn't like about it though - no instant significant change.

Then this morning, after an early Lidl run, while I was putting the shopping away with one hand and chatting to Jo with the other, it came to me.

Part of our plan is to move out of this rental and find some way to finance our own home. It is going to take a lot of blood, toil, tears and sweat *  but we can do it. On this bright spring morning, I was going out into the garden ... but, wait. If we are moving, why am I gardening here?

Surely, if we believe all we've planned, I should be starting a new garden - an allotment of sorts - on our field?

And everything dropped into place. That's our big change. That's our declaration of intent. No garden here this year. Our own allotment, on our own land, to grow and expand into ... who knows what? But as a testament of intent.

Not here. This is not the garden. This is an upward gaze across the hay meadow.

 Then to add to my joy, this evening I think I finally got the drift of my 1940s cardi pattern. This cardi has had more frogging than Paul McCartney.  It starts with the fronts, and I've undone the left front a half a dozen times before deciding to start half way through the pattern, with the back, as is more normal these days. And finally, finally, I think I'm getting it.

Like so many wartime publications, it presupposes a level of skill long since forgotten. Be it knitting, sewing, cooking, gardening, mending ... anything of any use really, these publications prove that the women (and men) of 70 years ago had a skill set that puts us in the shade.

But I'm happy because I'm on the way to my cardi! **

*why does everyone omit the toil and get it in the wrong order? Get it right!
** a link to the pattern can be found here.

Another Garden Club and a House on a Hill

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This seems to have been a  month or more of general illness and yuckiness
I went from a major cold/flu/viral thing straight into a crippling session of aches and pains, on into a nicely time IBS flare up and now back into a cold - yes, the sore throat and cough are back.
I know I'm run down. I know I'm designed to live outdoors and when ever I live indoors I get sick. I know my immune system is not up to much at the moment, but SERIOUSLY? This has to be the fourth cold in as many months.

Garden club last night was another triumph of a lecture on science in the garden, although the highly qualified horticultural prof (echoes of Rosemary and Thyme for those with similar trash TV habits to my own.) who began early on with a story about how we shouldn't really use plastic as it was an environmental disaster, proceeded to feature I would guess about 80% products and innovations which involved plastic.

The tea tasted of mouse droppings as usual, and Mr P shared some priceless nuggets  of gossip. There was debate over whether the little pub in our village (not the main village, we are the outlyers, the marsh dwellers, the hamlet people. We are very much Larkrise to their Candleford) has new managers or not, and a great deal of worthwhile information about the current situation of the previous managers.

Tonight I came home with a mountain of work, only some of which I have cleared, and accidentally watched the episode of Grand Designs featuring Simon and Jasmine Dale again, and now I am in bed planning to run away with my husband, the dogs, the chickens, my seed stash and all my wolf tools, and just find a place to live at peace on the land.

Not quite sure about the format I've found it for you in, I hope it plays for you. I hope it inspires ...

Can't work out how to embed it just now so here's a link


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Yesterday, we heard that we had not got even an interview for the County Farm we'd worked so hard on.
It was for us, a huge body blow. Possibly our last shot ever at a tenancy, and the difference between *both* girls living at home next year and both leaving - it was a fabulous opportunity and the farm we'd dreamed of all our lives.
I was at work when we heard, and had to hold it together - though I could have cried and cried.
Last night, we sat and talked, and tried to focus on what we can do on our (rented) land.

Today, another thing struck me.

In the last three years, we have:

  • tried for three farm tenancies
  • looked at and applied for half a dozen shared ownership homes
  • made contact with a budding eco village project
  • tried to figure out a private sale on a bungalow
  • tried with help from friends to buy a field, on which one day to build a roundhouse or similar
I may have missed some.

During that three years we have paid out nearly £30,000 in rent. In the ten years we've been here, we've paid over £80,000. In that time we've raised two lovely girls, both hard working and decent. We've worked every single day of our lives. We've had between us numerous jobs and extra jobs.

We cannot afford to buy a house, a plot of land, a shared ownership house ... we can't afford a deposit. We've lost our last chance at a farm. I am 57 and Neil is 50.  

I don't want to say it is over - because I do not know what we are going to do, when we can no longer pay the rent, or when our landlord wants his house back. It simply can't be over. But I'm beggared if I can see what we can do.

This is not about losing a farm. Again. 

This is about being one of a growing number of people (AND THEY ARE NOT ALL 'YOUNG') who just simply do not have a safe and secure way of housing themselves for the rest of their lives.

And it's blooming terrifying.

Excuse us while we regroup.

And Dance by the Light of the Moon*

When I was young, I was heartily convinced, I'd fall in love with and marry a tall, blond, viking, and settle somewhere amid the hills, with horses and fields and barns and acres and  ... well, I guess, money,

I made a lot of mistakes, between sweet sixteen and full of bright ideas, and beaten to a pulp at 29, but I pulled myself back up by my fingernails, and with the never forgotten help of friends who were heroes.

I still had a bit of a viking complex.

And then this happened.

and if anyone wants to know why I ended up married to a short, dark guy of Jewish extraction, who was  in media, (with polyester shirts!) - blame these guys!

We've moved on a long way - no more media, no more polyester shirts, but oh, how I loved this show.

We held a party, me in my Melissa stage, with Judy and Martin, then our Hope and Michael, and Jo, our Ellyn, ... on my 30th birthday because we really were all thirtysomething.

So long ago.  I wonder where they'd be now?  I wonder if Janie and Leo gave them the kind of grief we're getting now? I wonder if Leo insisted on working three nights a week in Pizza Express and ploughed his A levels**?

I doubt it. I expect Michael and Hope kept their gorgeous house in the burbs, and just became wealthier and wealthier.

But hey. They were my inspiration, The theme tune still makes me cry.

*You've either got this, or not :)

**Or US equivalent.

Midnight Forty Five

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Fourth night in a row I am up so very late.

We've been building a business plan to submit for a farm tenancy. Exciting, but also demanding, and painstaking.

The chances of our getting a look in are so small, I'd considered not even mentioning it, but the process is something we've gone through several times before - though never in quite this much detail.

We competed for Rixham Farm in Devon - I'm finding it hard to believe that was over three years ago! - and got to the interview stage, but it was not to be.

We've tendered for County Farms before but this one would be a perfect opportunity for us - if only we get a chance. Often sons of local farmers are top of the list . We think our business plan is sound, and while we are at the elderly end for new entrants, it's all about giving our daughters a start.

Tonight I finished constructing the proposal. Tomorrow it will be proof read for the hundredth time, and printed again. Then on Thursday it will go in, only one day before the deadline.

And all our dreams go with it.

*Edited to add: the backdrop to my toil the last two evenings has been the BBC's excellent new series  Farmers' Country Showdown on iPlayer. Aired at the ridiculous time of 3.45pm or something equally ridiculous, I'm glad I've got the online feature available - plan to catch every episode over the next couple of weeks.

The Billy Rag

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So we've had one really rather upsetting setback this week, which Neil took on the chin and ... well I took it on the chin but then fell over.
It took me a day to regroup and then I just knew that we had to get back to being us. More us than we have been in years.
Yesterday's list included starting work on a hedge, and dealing with the unpregnantness of our goats.
First stop, the field, armed with sundry tools, to do some 'siding out' on our native hedge, which quite possibly reached an age worthy of cutting and laying this year, but unfortunately we haven't, so the least we can do is side it out. This is where you  take a machete (given the current circs not sure if it is wise for me to do this!) and take all the side growth of the hedge plants, thus encouraging thicker growth from below.
We drove into the field, said hello to the two Oxford Down rams who were skipping about in the dandruff effect we lovingly refer to as 'snow' and started work.  We got about a metre cleared. You have to clear dead weed growth, remove old tree guards and canes, saw off any branches which were actually stopping you doing your job - then, side up!
One tree in, we realised that one ram was lying down expiring.
Change of plan.*
Built a pen, got him in, gave him a shot of antibiotic and a dose of vecoxan and then set off to gather hurdles to make a pen for his brother.**

Then we set off to Pewsey to see a man about a billy rag. A billy rag, dear reader, is a bit of cloth which has been lovingly wiped all over the smelliest bits of a boy goat.
When you have girl goats but no boy goats, it is notoriously difficult to spot when they are in season. So the way you go about it is, you go and get a billy rag, and then you waft it optimistically at your girls on every encounter and when they get all unnecessary you chuck them in a trailer, and you take them to meet Mr Billy Right.

I love goat people. A nicer person you could not have hoped to meet. A young man in (I should say) his middle twenties, cheerfully mucking out his goats. And his mum and dad's goats. And his sister's goats. Apparently, his goat - well his and his wife's - was a wedding present. Well played, mum and dad, well played.

On a true smallholding, not far from the epically wonderful village of Pewsey, close to which we lived when we first moved to Wiltshire and which will always hold my heart, lives this mum and dad, with their goats and their pigs and their vintage John Deeres and their Landrover.  Father and son are carpenters by trade. As you can tell by the purpose built goat boxes.

We were introduced to goats and their pedigrees, we chatted about mutual goaty friends, and we enthusiastically wiped a large section of Boo's pyjamas from about six years ago all around the nether regions of a rather smart billy boy.***

The snow was falling and despite a tempting offer of a cup of tea, we set off for home, feeling just a little bit better about living where we do, and being where we are. Thank you, Ed, for being just an absolute top bloke.

*The hedge remains unsided out.

**The sorry ram is still indoors, he's perked up a bit , but sometime sheep will do that to you, just to lull you into a false sense of security before fulfilling their true life calling of dying.

***According to Neil, as yet, Linen and Lace have looked at the pink pyjama, but not tried to chat it up in any way.

We're completing the application forms to tender for a County Farm.
Chances of getting it = vanishingly small.
Hopes and Dreams = unbeliveably vast.

A True Good Lifer

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One of our new year resolutions * was to join the garden club.  More broadly, to get out and enjoy our community, but specifically, to join the garden club.
Tonight was the first regular meeting of the year, and we duly togged up and set off out to the village hall.

Our village hall. No really. I know.

The village hall holds very mixed emotions for me ** but mainly this evening I was feeling a little apprehensive. Although we've judged at the last two annual shows, I wasn't quite sure what to expect of a meeting - howbeit one featuring a talk by a popular local speaker on a non gardening topic.
When we arrived well in advance of the 7.30 kick off, Jill was with the speaker,  by the door trying to operate a key safe. She'd forgotten the key - dozens of people have keys to that hall! - and was trying to liberate the 'spare' from the most complicated key safe I have ever met.
"It's always been Tony's waist measurement plus 5 and 6" she said, bemusedly outing her husband as a 38" round the middle and heaven knows where the 5 and 6 come from. "But I expect one of the committee has changed it and not told me."
Eric, the chairman was due to arrive around about when he felt like it and might or might not have a key or Tony's alternative waist measurement with him, but we volunteered to go back to Jills house in the next village along, ringing the unfortuantely unwaisted Tony (A) enroute - he being home with a chest infection - and asking hm to liberate from the bowl the village hall key.
As expected, when we got back, Eric had arrived, the door had been opened, and everyone was inside.
It was a strange thing, being newcomers and yet not. Neil in fact was a founder member 16 years ago. We were the newcomers with people who by and large we'd known for close on two decades. Seeing in the parish newsletter that the garden club was 16 years old was one of the things that prompted us to rejoin.
I was discussing this with Eric while we waited to pay our dues (£5 each for the year. Find me better value)
"And most of us are still here" he beamed "Well except poor old Tony L who died a few years back now"
"True " I replied "But his polytunnel is still going strong - in our garden! His widow sought us out and gave us that and his wine making kit!"
"Ah yes," Eric mused "Tony L was a true Good Lifer. Really self sufficient."

The talk was excellent - about the Outer Hebrides since you ask and very informative too - and it was good to be out. We had a long chat with John Parsons, a beloved shepherd of an older vintage, who also produces exquisite primitive tapestries of local scenes.

We came home to a glass of wine by the fire and it struck me, that Tony L's epitaph, courtesy of Eric would do for me:

A True Good Lifer.

Not too much carving, eh?

* I will say, those of you who know me know I don't usually make new years resolutions in January, but after Easter brings Resurrection and a new beginning. This year, however, it felt right to do so.

** I spent ten years opening and running first a  Brownie Unit, then a Guide one, and sometimes both in that hall. The jumped up little madam I was foolish enough to put forward for District Commisioner, pushed me out as fast as she could, as if I were 85 and over the hill. I was ill for two years over it. Sisterhood? Yeh, right.

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