Autumn and Fledglings

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Approaching the Autumn Equinox, and I have a bizarre week ahead.

On Wednesday Boo departs for Uni, and I will go with her and DH - I have to see her safely in - and then he will drive me most of the way across the country to Managers' Conference, where I will stay until Friday.

Two utterly traumatic events on one day. When I come back, it will be to an empty nest. Next expected visit of chick will be two weeks hence, when H will be back to work for the weekend, but that is not going to last long this term, I fear.

We've built a new log shed, but as yet I am afraid it lies empty.  We have logs in plenty, seasoning in the field, but they need transporting, splitting and stacking.

It's getting colder and it's important to us to have enough wood - we don't have central heating, and coal is expensive.  With just the two of us this winter, at least until the girls come back at Christmas, we'll be cooking on the Rayburn, and sitting in the kitchen, as we did briefly last year, and making the most of one lot of wood a night.

The Rayburn also heats the bathwater, so we keep the Big Kettle on her in the evening, for washing up or any other hot water needs, so that the tank remains toasty for a bath. The electric immersion heater, which heats the water in summer, will go off until Christmas.

This has been a costly and frenetic season. Time to slow down and take hold.

The last days ...

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Over the  next three weeks, both our girls will be away to Uni.

While H is going back for her second year, last year she was home most weekends, this year, she won't be.  Boo, meanwhile, is leaving for the first time, and will probably not be back until Christmas.

To offset Empty Nest Meltdown, I've set myself a few challenges.

I pinched the idea for my first challenge from the awesome Mel 's  'Analogue Days'.

'Real Time'

This one is about the time we spend once they are gone - challenging us to learn to create more of our own entertainment and spend less screen time - TVs, computers, phones - and more time on traditional crafts and pursuits.

As one of the designs for my Diploma, I decided to look at how much we could replace in our lives by the hand made, homegrown, home reared,  done ourselves. Of course there is food and clothing, but there is also down time, entertainment, life stuff.

Instead of glumly watching TV or tattering away on our laptops, we aim to learn to play a musical instrument (which neither of us does) and involve ourselves in developing a craft apiece - although I really do want to learn to spin properly, I think I've opted for dressmaking first - I can throw together a garment, but I'd like to have some real skills - to be able to make things that don't look homemade.

This together with  my other challenge, an audio diary called

'The Frugal Commuter'

Should keep me busy.  This one is something I've recently started doing somewhat haphazardly, but aim to get more organised.
I talk to my voice recorder on my way to work! As it is, I'm inclined to ramble, but my aim is to stay on topic and talk about what steps we've taken towards repaying debt and building a fund towards one day owning land of our own.
Thus far the quality is quite appalling, and I'm wondering if you can actually get a cheap mike which would cancel out the road and engine noise - in which case at some point in the dim and distant future, I might be able to share it here, or even create a podcast!

Everything I do at the moment is haphazard. When they are little, and they interrupt your chain of thought, walk in on every attempt to write, sit down in the middle of your de-cluttering, talk through anything you are listening to or watching - you say 'I need to establish some boundaries. I have to have time for myself, or I shall never get anything done. We need to set aside time for me to do this'.

When they are two days/two weeks away from leaving, you set aside the laptop, turn off the radio, say to hell with the clutter, and you take every last moment on offer. It can all wait. I'd gladly never write another word, or live surrounded by endless clutter, and even terminate Radio 4, for just another year with them safe at home.

A Bit More Structure

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We have a lot of plans.
We're living in incredibly turbulent times, not just globally and politically (although ...) but also in our house.
As Boo has just turned 18 and August races ahead of us, the time is coming closer when the house will be a lot quieter, a lot more echoey, and I will be dealing with an 'empty nest'.
Our loose plan is to get right clear of debt, put a roof over our heads (shared ownership house? co-housing? long term lease of land? buy land?) , move to building more of our own income streams (hubby is already successfully self employed, I need to move that way before I am too elderly!) and making more of them land based, increase our self sufficiency, and hang on to our smallholding, where ever we need to take it to keep it, as it were. Ultimately to live a plain and simple life, "living simply that others might simply live."
The key word here is 'loose'.
In some ways, it's good to keep plans loose because, to be honest, we don't know what opportunities for housing will come up, or what possibilities will strike us as income streams, and we need to be adaptable.
However how we finish off our debt, and save for our future, should probably be just a little more detailed!
We need more structure, more accountability, more tick lists and target dates - more detailed execution, more feedback loops.
I'm looking for some good frugal challenges to join, and I need to reorganise my time to make better use of what little spare time I do have.
What's your top time management tip?

I wish I knew

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We've been on holiday for a week in Cornwall, and for some reason, I thought I'd come back with the whole plan sorted out in my head.
I didn't.
I still need a lot of pieces to fix this puzzle.
The time off work was great, but I know I'm going straight back into a very stressful week, with a lot of high pressure stuff going on.

The land is bare at the moment - the sheep moved over a village while we were away to be watched over by a dear old friend who is a retired shepherd.

Little girls with goats - 2006?

This land, on which we have done so much - on which our children played, and rode, and worked. On which they grew up, from toddlers to grown women. The land where they kept their first cute ponies, and I my last, loved horse. The land where we started a business and it grew and fed  people. The land where we grew a big flock of beautiful jacob sheep, and then they were sold. It's still ours - well, the tenancy is still ours, for another 8 years - and it's still there and it's still precious and just now and then when I get to stand at the top of it and breathe, it still makes my heart sing. But it's doing - nothing. It's ungrazed, unworked, unloved. The hay crop which should have come in last month in the heat now stands overgrown and damp. Waiting to know what we will do.

Tall girls far away - Cornwall 2017

It feels quite horribly metaphorical. It's a metaphor for ... well, me.

On the edge of change, with change behind me, struggling to give voice to a new life after all this. After they go away in September - both of them this time - to build their own lives at University. After the long sweet years at home and on the land, trying to come to terms with years locked away indoors. It's a good and worthy job that I do, but it's inside.

I feel the weight of the deep wet hay. Tears rise to realise it had no purpose. It just stands wilting. There is no one needing the shelter of the barn, and the nurture of its provision this winter. For our two goats and half a dozen sheep, last year's surplus will more than suffice.

Where once were lovely, pretty sheep, and goats and kids, and sweet milk and soft cheese. Where once were row upon row of succulent peas, and chubby fingers picking and popping. Where once when we called, heads raised, and nostrils flared, and tiny hooves came thundering. There is an open green space. It's not malevolent. It's blank. It can be what it wants to be?

Surely? It can be something new? Something worth being? Can't it?

As I stare at the blank canvas, sorrow is slowly making space for hope.  I've signed back up to finish my Diploma in Applied Permaculture Design, and booked onto a course in October to explore new livelihoods.

Something will have to be done with the hay.

Trying to Act Normal

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I don't blog regularly enough to suggest that any given gap constitutes 'taking a break from blogging', but I haven't been around for a while.

I think it's fair to say I've been just numbed by the horrendous few weeks we've had. Two terrorist attacks, a General Election with a wobbly result, the ensuing bargaining and bartering, all the while with a daughter home from her first year in Uni and another one taking her A Levels.

It's pretty easy to be speechless.

Summer goes on, and I continue to miss most of it, being shut in an office. Three of us went to the Bath and West Show, two of us to the Green Scythe Fair.

The sheep have now all lambed, and all been sheared.

I'm starting to get used to Oxford Downs, they are nice, but I miss my Jacobs.

And so I return to saying something. While we all struggle to come to terms with this happening.

We, Who Have Compromised?

I wanted to attend a screening of We The Uncivilised - A Life Story, before it was released as a download, but never quite got the opportunity.
We live in social economy black spot. No one believes us until they look at the map of just about any membership organisation and go 'oh there's a big hole, right there'. From beekeepers to WWOOF hosts, goat societies to smallholder co-ops,  calculate the biggest gap between willing participants, and we'll be smack bang in the centre.
Anyway tonight we downloaded and watched the film.
Motivating myself with this as the payoff, I closed out April's budget with a will of iron. Then started May's. I am, in one sense, happy to report that all our corporate and entreprenuerial diligance is making a difference. We will soon be closing the gap.

On another level, how hopelessly sold out and useless do I feel?

If you haven't seen the film (- do -) it's made by a  young couple desperately seeking place, community, sustainability, responsibility ... and they talk to many of our friends and heroes : Sarah Pugh, friend, hero, innovator, people lover, trainer, teacher, inspiration. Mike Feingold, the Royate Hill pixie, such a genius of a man, and so kind. Neil's guiding light, Simon Fairlie ... and above all, they talked to Patrick. Not long before he died, they captured his closing remarks, his legacy, his extraordinary funeral, his wife, Cathy's, poems, I will not lie, there were tears in our sitting room, and they weren't all mine.

On an unbelievably cold day, in February 2002, Patrick came to see our land. He walked it with us, talked to us about it, drew up some plans, and gave us some advice. Thereafter he never failed to support us, love us, have faith in us, and help us. He often gave us things because, he said, 'he believed in what we were doing'.

Tonight, I wailed, 'But we're not now, are we? We've let him down.'

'Not yet, we haven't' Neil replied grimly. I think that's  the man version of my response.

 Patrick Whitefield, 1949 - 2015
Patrick Whitefield 1949 - 2015

House Rage Returns

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Well, it's back to work tomorrow.
Tonight, by way of experiment, I've done my shopping online to be delivered tomorrow night. I reckon it's cost me about £10 more than my usual Lidl run and freed up my Saturday morning. So it remains to be seen what I do with my Saturday morning and whether it will be worth it in the end.
While I was doing this, I made the basic error of watching Sarah Beeny's 'How to Live Mortgage Free' on Channel 4.
Oh. My. Gosh.
How can you be mortgage free?
Plan A. Well, you could buy a boat, with some money you happen to have, and save lots by not paying the £1.7k per month rent on your little flat in London. And then, as an additional idea, you can get a job in January.  How were you paying the rent?! Without any mention of the real costs of living on a boat, you can just celebrate the fact that you have a hole in the floor in which to keep your potatoes.
Plan B. Buy a tin church. The catch here is that it's not possible to *get* a mortgage on a tin church, so you purchase it for the mere pocket change of £90,000 and there you are, mortgage free! Why didn't I think of that?
Plan C. Buy your house the normal way by getting a £200k mortgage (oh. wait.) and then by dint of eating cheap pasta and only playing with water pistols to amuse your kids, pay it off in half the normal time. Of course for this one, you do need to be able to get a mortgage, and not be paying so much in rent that it is impossible to save a downpayment on a pedalo on the local lake, never mind a house.
There was a Plan D but it involved a 26 year old with £70,000 buying a brownfield site and magically getting planning permission for an eco home. I know so many people with good designs for eco homes and land that they own, who have not a hope in hell of getting planning permission that I don't even want to discuss how she did that.
Housing, or the lack of it, is becoming the hot topic in this household. Sarah Beeny helped us not one jot.

Cutting Back - In More Ways than One

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The piece of land that we still rent, as a nod to our farming days, has been overcome over the last few years with thistles and nettles.  It's a damp squib of a no good corner which is the only reason we got to rent it from the Crown Estate,  and our being busy for the last year or two working to try to pull up our income means our farming activities have been severely curtailed.
Although we're committed to organic production, we won't have been alone among organic types in considering a one off spray to get rid of all the darn things. We're not certified, so  we can do as we please, and we called a local contractor to get a quote.
The guy has a living to earn, and I don't think his price was unreasonable, but it was untenable. We don't have £660 to spend on clearing up weeds.
So, we've added an after work workout to our schedule that beats any gym.
There are very few things we possess in duplicate, His'n'Hers models.  In fact, apart from the Bible, of which we each possess multiple copies (a freedom by the way we should not take for granted,) and John Seymour's Complete Book of Self Sufficiency, of which we definitely do possess such, I can only think of our beloved scythes.

Daily, we advance on the field and its rampant nettle and thistle growth and we spend a solid half an hour scything. Oh boy that works some muscles. Half an hour does well for now. We may need to increase as we build up stamina and technique. You can scythe for a very long time if you are very good at it. I am medium good at it and unfit. Frugal triumph number one, a saving of £660

In other frugal news, H and I took a quick trip into town to spec out the charity shops. I do feel they have gone to the dogs a bit to be honest. Prices are silly high and there is not much of any quality on offer - the annoying practice of copying retail stores and grouping all the clothes by colour instead of style, just does not work in a charity shop. It's all well and good leafing through the rose greys and loving things but no use if they only exist in an 8.

What with all this and a long day's gardening, supper was limited to a classic from my own days of youthful penury - tuna rice and peas.  Mine with soy sauce, Neil's with chilli sauce, and H's with kind of pop up Marie Rose sauce - i,e, a squirt of ketchup plus a squirt of mayo.   The funny thing was, my own skint student, upon whom I clearly had not previously inflicted this delight, at least not recently enough for her to remember, was in paroxysms of joy about this new cheap and swift supper, and has sworn to add it to her repertoire once back at uni.

Oh and a General Election was called. Of which, I fear, very, very much more later.

Two Elephants : One Room

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Twelve years ago (can it be? It really can) we were in the biggest financial doo ever.  There's certain terminology I won't ever use on the internet, so I won't really ever explain how bad it was, but you can imagine. Go on imagine. Now just imagine it being a little bit worse. Yes. That.
And eleven years ago, we were released from that kind of condemnation, but boy, the clean slate was slippy.
For a few years we were ultra cautious around finances, partly  because we had not a lot of choice, and partly fuelled by pure fear.
Our income, however, was absolutely miniscule.  We recently worked out that when I was homeschooling two children, our rent was equivalent to more than half our income. We lived close to the wire, but as the years went by, we got less and less careful and the debt slowly began to build up again.
Once bitten, twice ... um ... bitten.
Thankfully this time we were a little bit more aware, and over the course of the last two years, we've both set about earning more money. We didn't get in this mess overnight, and we won't get out overnight either, but we are trying. 
Elephant #1 : Until recently, our rent and our debt repayment together accounted for around about 60% of our income.

Part of the problem - actually rather a huge part of the problem - we have with any situation is my inability to focus and stay on plan for any amount of time at all. I don't know if there is a name for my condition, I guess it has elements of OCD about it, or even ADHD.  
It started to become a problem maybe 15 years ago, when I would be wholly committed to one plan, one future, one job, one business, one idea about how my/our life would look, for up to six months. Then suddenly I would change it all completely.  I would shed a skin, and become someone new.
The investments of time and money I'd made into Plan A would all be written off. Plan B would launch and I would be sure this was it.
Another few months would pass, and Plan C would emerge.
Over the years, those months became weeks, days, and at the worst of it, hours. I couldn't sleep for it, nothing made me happy, because it was impossible to be progressing towards a goal, when the goal kept disappearing. I thought I would go  insane. I think at times I did.
There are a hundred stories to tell, by a hundred personas, from those days, and I am still afflicted with this illness.  Two of my closest friends share the very same problem, and that to me means : either somehow we attract one another, or it is very widespread indeed.
It is an illness (I truly believe it is that) perhaps caused and definitely aggravated by the internet. I am so sure I want to be one thing*, until I see a really nice instagram picture of the other thing. I'm gone. The internet makes endless options seem real. In the end, it is a  terrible plague of a condition, and without treatment, because it doesn't exist, all you can do is experiment with ways to make something, ANYTHING, stick, before they carry you out feet first.

Elephant #2: I have a mental health issue which effectively stops me pursuing any goal, with mindful intention, for more than a few months, sometimes hours.

I'm incredibly proud of us this year, for tackling both the elephants - of which more another day - but for today, the issues needed naming, and putting out there.

I have, as they used to say in the cringeworthy 80s, run it up the flagpole. Now let's see if anyone salutes it.

*Bear in mind I am closer to 60 than 50. Deciding what I want to be may well be a bit superfluous.

Small Plates

I've been thinking a lot about losing weight.

I seem to have fallen out of love with Slimming World, and as we try to keep a very tight rein on our finances, the weekly cost can't be justified when it's just not working.

I have always had a bit of a thing about how much our meals have changed in my lifetime.

It began with Christmas, when I would wonder how on earth, as kids,  we ate a big Christmas breakfast of cold cuts ( a Midland thing, I think),  turkey and all the trimmings at lunch, tea with cake and trifle, and turkey sandwiches for supper.  The only conclusion I can draw, is that the portions were much  MUCH   smaller.

I've dwelt on this, and I'm sure I'm right,  The plates were smaller!  Everything was smaller.

I was born fourteen years after the end of the second world war, but scarily, only five years after the end of rationing. My mother could make a shilling do the work of two and feed a family on next to nothing. My father was ill, for the whole of my life, but worked relentlessly.  They had been through impossible to imagine hardship.

I'm absolutely certain that what to them was the untold luxury of unrationed food, of imported treats and the birth of supermarkets and frozen foods - to us, today, was meagre fayre still.

So I've got this theory I might be able to gain control by just eating like my parents did.

Fortuitously I found three plates sitting in the greenhouse which are more the size we used to have. They've had a good clean and are in the kitchen.

For lunch, I had a ham and tomato sandwich. Just that. And a cup of tea. It had un slimming world spread on the bread, but it was not accompanied by any extras.

For supper, I fished lamb chops out of the freezer - ours are huge by shop bought standards but we've still often had two each. One today, with plentiful vegetables and rather less potatoes - though it was the spuds which were always piled up to feed the men! The men, incidentally, had bigger plates. More the kind of size we now use.  In a real nod back to childhood, there was bread and butter on the table, and the teapot warming for straight after the meal.

A small dessert of tinned peaches and one small scoop of icecream.

I struggle to find time in the evenings to do the things I need to do - study, do the garden, do some sewing - so I plan to simplify meals, and make them smaller. In summer, night after night we'd have salad - which amounted to plain cos lettuce, tomatoes, cucumber, and a dab of salad cream - with some new potatoes and either ham, cheese, or egg.  I see a few of those in our future. I can produce most of that!

We talked about packed lunches - one round of sandwiches - just cheese or maybe fish paste - a small slice of cake if you were lucky, and an apple.  Neil can remember with his two brothers, having a bag of crisps to share!

I'm happily fascinated. I must dig out Nella Last.  And get to using the small plates.

Some you win ...

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I've always been a bit leary of switching to interest free balance transfer credit cards.
I hear Dave Ramsey in my head saying 'No! Because it makes you think you did something. And you didn't. The interest is not your problem, the debt is.'
However my free credit report was offering an unbeatable 40 month 0% deal and my credit card has gone down a lot - by the noddle calculation, it would save me £900 and be paid off within the 40 months paying just what I'm paying now.
So I applied - there goes another credit search on my file - and here is where you have to look out - was offered a credit limit well below my balance. Grrr.
If I was the kind of mathematical genius who could see whether I'd be better off with half of it on one and half of it on another, I wouldn't be in this mess. I suspect I wouldn't. So I cancelled the application.

On the upside, I've been helping H look for scholarships. Do you know about the scholarship hub?

With a free account you can locate quite a few bursaries and scholarships students can apply for - lots not attached to any one university or subject. There are plenty of small bursaries with an essay submission for entry.

I went mad and invested £12 for the year - I'll give them both my password so that's 50p a month per daughter! - and with that you find loads more obscure and varied opportunities to try for scholarships. I'm really encouraging them both to make that effort. I know (from Dave again) that in the US it's possible to fund your entire college education with scholarships if your grades are good enough. We may not be there yet, but let's get in on the ground floor.

So a lose and a win today - how is your financial spring clean coming along?

Spring Cleaning Finances

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We'd just started having a bit of a clear up when Martin Lewis popped up on the telly doing just the same thing.

Always a good idea to have a skip through your finances and see if you can trim them back.

We checked our electricity with U-Switch. There are deals that look good, saving nearly £300 per year but with companies we've never heard of. Taking Martin's advice and googling their reviews or looking on Trust Pilot it seems they are not the most reliable.

Ended up taking our existing supplier's one year deal (our deal had just lapsed)  and still saving around £200 a year.

Did a fair bit of research on Neil's mobile which is coming up for renewal, and we're pretty sure we'll go with a sim only deal with Three and a cheap handset from Carphone Warehouse via one of the cashback sites. Anyone got any better ideas?

We have still not tackled the daunting task of submitting a PPI claim - not for want of people calling us offering! - and that's another thing we need to do the leg work for.

This is the year we get our budget in order, and beat the stranglehold of debt. Have you spring cleaned your finances? Found any especially good deals? Set particularly challenging financial goals? Do share!

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.

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.

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