Like a lot of people who love the country, I dream of running a smallholding. Nothing fancy or too big – just an acre or two would do it; just enough space for a couple of pigs, a handful of sheep, more chickens, and a vegetable plot and fruit trees.
You might wonder why I’m not already doing this and I’m afraid the answer is boringly predictable … money or, rather, the lack of it. When I divorced, I had sufficient cash to buy a flat and not doing so is one of my biggest regrets. I didn’t do it because it would have taken all I had, I was a student at the time (very mature, of course!), and any income from renting it out wouldn’t have been enough to live on. Now, with hindsight, I think perhaps I could have found a way to make it work. If I’d done that, I might have made some sort of profit which could go into a new place with Mr P. But I didn’t, so that’s that. I just wasn’t brave enough I suppose. Anyway, after that, I took the money I had and invested it in an education, studying for a PhD full-time. I was self-funded and I did take on teaching work when it was available but it’s amazing how fast your nest-egg gets depleted, not to mention depressing and slightly scary.
Today, of course, I’m happily living with Mr P in our rented cottage which is fine for the time being but can’t be a permanent solution. You’d think two divorcees might be able to afford something rather nice but our means, as well as our aspirations, are modest. Though I’m a full-time academic earning relatively good money (but probably not as good as you think) and Mr P is something important sounding, prices round here (and our respective ages of 52 and 53) mean we can’t look beyond a terraced cottage with a couple of bedrooms and a back garden. For instance, a small terraced cottage in the village, which is in need of everything doing, is up for sale for £260k. A one and a half acre parcel of grazing land is for sale just a mile up the road for £17k. As for getting a house which comes with land actually attached to it? Well, they’re not easy to find and I doubt we’d find anything for much less than £500k. Certainly we won’t be in a position to buy the house and couple of acres we’d really like, unless one of us has a long-lost relative who’s somehow made a million without us knowing!
So, in the absence of miracles, I’m doing what I can, to get as close as I can, to The Dream. There is ‘The Plan’ for a start. This is essentially a notebook dedicated to The Dream, divided into sections such as and trying to come up with ideas and schemes for making it work in the event of The Miracle. Importantly though, breaking down The Dream into smaller chunks means I can see which parts of it I might be able to achieve without divine intervention.
Just having The Plan makes me feel better and I add to it now and again as things develop. For example, I have the allotment and the girls – both of which will be covered extensively on my blog as time goes on. For the time being, I’m spending time on both of those projects and, to be honest, I have my hands pretty full with them! The allotment was very overgrown when I took it on last May and hadn’t really been productive for some time so, as a complete beginner, it’s a steep learning curve. As a novice chicken-keeper, I had a lot to learn when the girls arrived last July. Saying I’m a beginner, and a novice, is really code for “I have absolutely no idea what I’m doing”. On the other hand, my chickens are thriving and producing an egg a day each, despite the Arctic-like conditions we’re currently experiencing. Plus, the allotment is getting clearer all the time and I’ve even managed to put some manure on some of the beds! Nevertheless, my lack of knowledge IS an issue and has led to something of a crisis of confidence when it comes to actually planting anything. It’s one thing to draw up allotment plans on graph paper, dig up weeds, and chuck a load of shit about, and another thing entirely to start planting things. I mean, people will be able to see what I’m doing and my mistakes will be on public display. In front of experienced allotmenteers. Bloody hell!
So, what does an academic do when faced with a lack of knowledge? Books, books and more sodding books! I could single-handedly stock a library section on allotments, vegetable growing, and poultry-keeping. Here are some of my favourites:
Of course, I also need practical, hands-on experience. With that in mind, I’ve booked myself on a lambing course in just over a week’s time, and have thereafter volunteered my services to a local farmer whose lambs are due in April. I can’t say yet whether all this research and planning will pay off but if I ever do achieve The Dream, I’ll perhaps be less likely to make a complete cods-up of it, and it certainly makes me feel better. Plus, being the geek that I am, I really enjoy it! It gives me the sense that I’m doing something, moving towards the kind of future I want, taking control of it, rather than just sitting and wishing and waiting.