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.

Candlemass has passed

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I can't believe I've said nothing for nearly two months.
That's not like me!

We've had a mad busy January, a lot of things have changed, and it's not been that nice.

Moving on.

To cut a long and frankly depressing story short, this year has to be the year we get out of debt. Really.

We still have land to work, and a dream to believe in, so this year's words are CHANGE and surprisingly COMMUNITY.

We've started (again) a proper written budget. The debt is the thing that's killing us and the reason I have to work full time and Neil has to work for himself full time and our smallholding plans are always on hold.

We've decided to declare a year of  'Buying Nothing Needlessly New'.  Where business and growing is concerned we've had to acknowledge some needed new - like a hosepipe! - but for our personal use it will all have to be wombled or charity shopped.

Vegetables absolutely must be grown. In full on Dig for Victory mode, with the cheapest of seed and the plainest of fare!

We've decided to focus on money earning to clear debt via 1) My job 2) Neil's business and 3) Side hustles - so far the cut flower patch, the turkeys, and maybe writing  are on the list.

The farm based side hustles are important, because we really long to keep our self sufficient, and land based business ethos alive in this incredibly testing time.

And then. My new year insight was that in terms of community, and all that that brings, we might be sitting on our own 'acres of diamonds'.

So we resolved to join the garden club, at the very least, and make more effort to be out and about in this village where we live, because we might surprise ourselves.

I feel like the internet is amazing at connecting like minded people, but that can make us intolerant of  the unalike people who make up our local community. Sure I can talk to natural goat keeping christian homesteaders who homeschooled part way through seniors then moved to state school and who like crafts! all day long online, but my real, messy community consists of people who think we were nuts to homeschool, have never heard the term homesteading, can't tell a goat from a sheep, and while going to the local CofE at Christmas and on Remembrance Sunday are suspicious of chapel types .. but they are our local people .

We're mid church-change for various very, very upsetting reasons. I'm mid job-conflict which is also not very nice. The girls are in transition and at loggerheads. Into all this comes this triple challenge:

  • Save all we can
  • Earn all we can
  • Join our community.
Any wonder I left it a month to write?  2017. Bring it on.

A Cunning Plan - Smart Ways to Rent Land and Live the Dream!

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I thought I’d share some thoughts on looking for land.
We’ve been ‘smallholding’ for over two decades, in various ways, on various bits of land – and we still don’t own a square foot.
A growing number of people want to get onto the land and find a way to live a simpler life. I come across people who have a way to buy a bit of land, who are prepared to build an offgrid cabin, or live in a van. I’m not one of those people – I have a family. When we started out, we had baby children. Rightly or wrongly, we weren’t prepared to live in a ditch.
When we first came down to Wiltshire, fresh from a number of catastrophes, we came down to a farm job.  Neil had some experience of working on a farm, but nothing major.  This particular job had a number of things going for it, and these may or may not be some things to look out for!
1.   They were getting desperate. If the job is doing the winter feeding and mucking out for dairy cows who come in in October, and the job’s still going in September, there’s a chance they may be less than picky when they’re hiring.
2.   It was a simple, basic job. Once you knew how to drive the tractor and operate the feeder, you could do it. As time went on, you’d do it better, but you were competent really quickly. There wasn’t much training to do, and they gave someone half competent a shot at it.
3.   It was seasonal. It came with a cheap house to rent, which was a big plus, but it was only a winter job. We had to take a chance that we’d find work in summer. As it turned out, Neil started a gardening business that ran for some years off the back of those unbooked summers. But the income from the farm job from April to October was: zero.
4.   The bloke who was herd manager was less than charismatic. If you were hoping for a new best friend, you weren’t going to want this gig. If you could let it wash over you on the other hand …
So. That’s how we got our first shot at it. We got a three bed bungalow with a huge untouched slab of garden for a song, and a half decent income in winter.

Once we moved away from this first job, we rented cottages from the Crown Estate.  Rented houses can be adaptable, quirky, with land, with woodburners - and you can be free to keep pets, keep chickens, grow vegetables. Your average buy to let landlord isn't going to let you do that though. Landlords like the Crown Estate, Duchy of Cornwall, and the National Trust, can be a bit more relaxed.
  • The National Trust properties to let. I'm warning you there is actually a tearoom in Somerset on here. I may  have to pack after I finish writing this.
We never actually got around to community living, but it's undoubtedly a way to get onto the land, and also to learn a lot. There are some unusual opportunities and although these days some of them come with a price tag that would buy you a regular house, there are still some openings for renters.
Eventually, we got into a private arrangement with a local fellow Crown tenant who had some grazing he wasn't using, and we had that off him on a handshake for a number of years before we formalised it, and we now rent on an FBT off the Crown. Having a little faith and just getting on with it paid off for us - it might not have done since he was in breach of contract, subletting to us, and it could have ended horribly wrong, but it didn't.
II have no way of knowing what's on offer in your area, but land does go up for let.
  • UK Land and Farms is a good place to look for land tenancies.
  • Greenshifters used to be good but these days has few lets in the UK, and those it does have seem to be overpriced. 
Ihope that's been of some use to people whose hearts call out to the land, but know they can't afford to buy, and don't know where to start to make a big life change while renting. 
Renting has its issues - don't we know it - but if you really want to get onto the land and get started, you may be like we were - we had limited choices!

i don't regret our choice to move right away, diving into life onto the land by way of tied and rented accommodation. I'd always advise you to watch your back, and have an exit strategy* but it's been a lot of fun. 

If it's where your heart is, you probably need to follow!

*ho hum. We still don't have one!

Street Cat

A couple of weeks ago, it was my birthday.

I was thinking about this after my shared ownership rant last night - for my birthday treat I chose to go to see 'A Street Cat Named Bob'. I knew I wanted to see it, from the moment I saw the trailer.

Funnily enough, the other movie I wanted to see  - I, Daniel Blake - also touches on similar issues  but I  made it pretty clear that wasn't birthday treat material. I still haven't seen it, and I still want to, but I'm very aware it will not cheer me up.

If you haven't seen it, (and please do) A Street Cat Named Bob is the true story of the redemption of a homeless heroin addict.

What's that got to do with shared ownership?

Well - it struck me that night - which was a fabulous one, the movie was great, we went and ate Mexican, I had a wonderful time - that we are actually this close to homelessness. Many of us are.

In a moment, we could have been on the road to owning our own home. But. In a moment, we could be homeless. It could happen. It would not take much.

I sometimes loathe being at work. Today was one of those days. The sky sparkled and the cold, brilliant light bounced off my prison walls. The hills mocked me from the window. My heart broke pretty much on the hour. My very soul needs to be outside. However, I mustn't lose my gratitude for the job that keeps the roof over our heads.

It's very, very cold tonight, I am wrapped up in bed, with my knitting, the Tightwad Gazette, Tales from the Green Valley on YouTube, and a mug of Horlicks. I wouldn't like to be out there, alone and afraid.

We really do have to nail this financial thing.
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