Dogs: Basil, Mr Kasta, and Echo

Our dogs are, quite possibly, the best things in our lives.  It’s entirely possible that Mr P loves the dogs more than he loves me.  When we first met, Mr P already had two – Basil, a Jack Russell-Manchester Terrier cross, and Mr Kasta, a German Shepherd-Border Terrier cross, both rescue dogs.

Basil’s been pushing his luck again!
Mr Kasta has the ‘Aw’ Factor!

I took to Kasta immediately – everyone did, he had something about him.  He had a way of looking at you that just made you melt, and I don’t think anyone ever looked at him without saying ‘Aw!’.  Basil, on the other hand, was another kettle of (dog)fish entirely.  He’s wilful, demanding, and unbelievably noisy.  We never really go anywhere without the dogs; they come to the pub, we take them on holiday, even when we go out for meals they often come with us!  Basil and Kasta would travel in the back of Mr P’s estate car, safely behind the dog-guard.  What wasn’t safe was our ears.  Basil would bark frenziedly and whine practically the entire time, reaching notes that Mariah Carey would envy, and that were substantially more nerve-jangling than nails on a blackboard or the thought of chewing silver foil.  Every now and then he’d shut up for a minute but would be set off again by the sound of the indicators.  After a while, the racket he made set Kasta off and they’d both start howling.  Also, he had the rather annoying habit of trying to hump poor Mr Kasta every time they got into the car.  It would be fair to say that I didn’t love Basil straightaway.  However, over a period of time, I did come to love Bazzer (aka Little Shit), and can’t imagine life without him somehow.  He wormed his annoying way into my affections, and is absolutely adorable in his own funny little way.

Our dogs go everywhere with us – even the cinema!

Mr Kasta was already elderly when I entered the scene and in January, we had to make the decision to let him go.  He’d become frail; even just six months earlier he’d seemed pretty fit, regularly walking several miles with us but he’d begun dragging his back feet and started to struggle with stiles, with Mr P having to lift him to get him over them.  He also developed dementia.  Never a particularly affectionate dog, he started coming to us for attention, and seeming to seek reassurance that he was in the right place.  He’d wander aimlessly from room to room, not sitting still, and standing staring into a corner.  In the end, he started to fall over on even very short walks and was obviously in pain.  We called the vet out and aged 17 he died, very quietly, in Mr P’s arms.

On holiday a couple of years ago.

We talked about getting another dog and even half-heartedly looked on-line at some rescue centre websites but weren’t quite ready.  There’s always that guilt when you lose an animal you’ve loved; you feel as if it’s wrong to replace them.  But that’s not really what you’re doing, is it?  The greatest compliment you can pay to them, to anyone you’ve loved and lost, is to say “I loved you so much, it was wonderful, and I want to experience that again”.  Around the end of March we started looking a bit more seriously for another dog.  We weren’t looking for anything in particular, though Mr P was absolutely set against a ‘pure breed’ of dog, and I preferred a female since I’ve been outnumbered for so long!  We thought a small to medium sized dog would suit us, and probably something around 5 years old.  After much to-ing and fro-ing, we spotted a likely looking candidate at a rescue centre in Yorkshire (a two hour round trip), were inspected and approved, and made several trips there for ‘meet and greets’ but were disheartened by what seemed like a never-ending process.  It was always ‘oh, maybe one more meet and greet, just to be sure’.  Well, if you’ve ever had dogs, you’ll know that you can’t be sure of anything til you get them home, especially when there’s already a dog in residence.  Basil had met the other dog twice and they seemed fine together so we were getting pretty fed up.  The final straw came when we’d travelled up for another meet and greet, only to be told on arrival that we couldn’t go in because they’d got an outbreak of kennel cough.  Of course, we understood but were pretty annoyed we’d wasted two hours in the car!  On the way home, we decided it was time to look elsewhere.

Back home, strangely enough we both spotted the same dog on the Ark’s website.  Echo was described as a large, nine-year old labrador-collie cross who loved water and playing with her ball.  Plus, she had the most ridiculous ears I’ve ever seen.  She wasn’t what we were looking for.  I called the Ark immediately.

Our lovely 9 year old rescue dog, Echo.
Basil and Echo share a stick outside at the pub.

Turned out Echo had only just been brought in and needed to be assessed before anyone could see her but they’d call me back in a week.  Hmm, yeah right!  But they did!  On the Sunday, we drove over there with Basil in tow for a meet and greet and, within a couple of hours, we were on our way home with Echo in the back of the car.  She and Basil had hit it off straight away and it was love at first sight for me and Mr P.  Well, when I say she and Basil got on, they pretty much ignored each other which we reckoned was a pretty good start!  Basil was amazing really, and seemed to accept Echo with absolutely no problem at all.  As I said, you can’t tell until you get them home!  Now, several weeks later, they actually play together and steal food out of each other’s bowls.

As for Echo herself, she’s an absolute joy.  She’s more poodle-collie cross than labrador, with a very poodle-like curly coat and those silly ears which seem quite collie-ish.  She’s completely adorable and has collie traits.  She rounds Basil up when he’s piffling about on a walk, and does an out-run before dropping to wait for you to throw a ball for her. She’s commandeered the armchair, and likes to lean on you for fuss, which she can’t seem to have too much of.  She does love water but won’t swim in it, preferring to just splash about in the shallows.

Our girl loves water!

She’s a terrible food thief and can whip your dinner off your plate right under your nose like a super-hairy stealth ninja.  On a walk this week, I stopped off for a sausage bap and a latte.  I got almost to the bench when Echo pulled the old ‘I’m ravelled up in my lead’ routine, nearly tripping me up, and knocking the bap right out of my hand onto the floor, from where she scoffed it within a nano-second, much to the amusement of the other walkers and cyclists.  She’s pretty much forced her way into our affections – you can’t help but love her, much like Mr Kasta.  We can’t imagine being without her.

10 Tips For Moving To The Country

  1. Be realistic about country life.

It’s not all roses round the door.  You may come across the occasional dead lamb in a field.  Farmers sometimes shoot foxes and rabbits might chomp their way through your veg patch.  Mole catchers string their victims’ bodies on wires … no, seriously  – just don’t ask me why!  And petrol is more expensive in rural areas, as are other things.

 

  1. Consider your future needs before taking the plunge.

Are you likely to need regular visits to a doctor in the next few years?   Will you still be able/want to drive?  Is there a bus service? How far is the nearest supermarket or school, and will you be able to get there in bad weather? See tip no.1.

 

  1. Friends matter but don’t expect to make them overnight.

There are no shortcuts and you can’t force it; it takes time and effort.  https://countryrealist.com/tag/friends/

 

  1. The local community is crucial so get stuck in with it.

Unless you have people queuing up to be friends on your arrival, join the local bee-keeping club, wine circle or scuba diving club – whatever floats your particular boat, so long as you’re getting out there and meeting like-minded people.

 

  1. Support local events.

Help out with well-dressings, flower festivals, and fund raising events.  God knows what my offering for the flower festival will look like but it’ll be fun doing it.  If you’re completely cack-handed, turn up in person to buy cakes, second hand goods, and offer support of the pecuniary kind. Read more here https://countryrealist.com/tag/village-life/

 

  1. Avoid rocking the boat.

On Twitter recently, there was the story of a farmer whose new neighbours kept lodging official complaints about the smells emanating from his farm.  I mean, seriously?!  You don’t want everyone thinking you’re the neighbour from hell – make sure you know what you’re letting yourself in for before taking the plunge (see tip no.1).

 

  1. The country is a working place.

Farms do smell, and are noisy at times (tip no.1 again!).  Livestock represent a huge investment of time and money so treat cattle with respect and keep dogs on leads round sheep.  Ask visitors to park considerately; at the May Market, one visitor double-parked and caused chaos because farm traffic couldn’t get through.

 

  1. Chickens make great pets!

They’re no trouble to look after and just need a balanced food, fresh water, and a clean, safe place to sleep and lay their eggs.  With their funny ways and their little puk-puk noises, they’re so endearing.  Those amazing eggs are just a fantastic bonus.  Read more here https://countryrealist.com/category/chickens/

 

  1. The great outdoors is fabulous for your physical and emotional wellbeing.

I can practically feel tension and stress sliding off my shoulders when I’m on the allotment.  When I’m digging and pulling weeds I don’t think about work. At all.  Get your name on the allotment waiting list – you might get lucky like I did!  Read all about it here https://countryrealist.com/tag/allotment/

 

  1. Weather is king.

In a farming community it really does rule everything that goes on.  In good weather, silaging might go on til 10pm. In the snow we had early in the year, I couldn’t get to work, but had to defreeze the hens’ water every couple of hours (and we’re back to tip no.1!).  Follow the link to read more https://countryrealist.com/tag/weather/

 

This boils down to tip no.1 – being realistic and doing your homework.  If you’ve done that, and you’re convinced the country is the place for you, go for it.  It’s an amazing place to live – good luck!

 

I’m always a bit excited when someone reads my posts!  Please leave a comment using the ‘comment’ button below – woohoo!

 

 

 

 

Chickenopolis: Phase 2!

The girls now have free range of the piece of land behind the house and they love it.

A while ago, I talked about how we went about getting our chickens and how we’d been given a hen house by a very kind farming neighbour.  Well, the chicken bug has well and truly bitten and we’re now thinking (well, I am!) of getting a few more.  Just three or four and then that would be it.  Honestly!  I was initially thinking of going for pure breeds, perhaps one of those which are particularly rare and/or local, such as the Derbyshire Redcap or the Marsh Daisy.  However, I then saw something on Facebook about ex-battery hens and felt compelled to rehome some of those instead.  After having a totally horrendous life confined to a cage the size of a sheet of A4 paper, they deserve to see daylight and feel grass under their feet.  Besides, most of them are ‘disposed of’ at around 17 months old and have plenty of life, and eggs, left in them.

This means that my current coop isn’t big enough to accommodate both my flock as it stands and any newcomers.  On top of that, you can’t just introduce new hens into an existing flock; the incoming birds need to be quarantined to avoid them possibly bringing in an infection or disease, and to prevent them being bullied by the current flock members.  This, of course, all means just one thing. A new hen house.

Chickenopolis! The wooden coop will be moved out of this enclosure and renovated.

Choosing a new hen house is a big deal.  It needs to be practical; big enough, easy to clean, red mite resistant, attractive and comfortable for the girls, and so on.  Because everyone I know has told me horror stories of major red mite infestations which caused them to give up on chicken keeping, I was perhaps a tad paranoid about this and made it my mission to find a suitable, affordable, plastic coop.  Plastic is, apparently, less attractive to red mite than wood but plastic coops tend to be less attractive to me.  Eglu is a practical brand but I don’t find them at all attractive and they’re expensive.  There are chicken arks made from recycled plastic but, again, they’re just not attractive in my opinion.  I did locate one plastic coop which combined all the practical benefits I wanted but with a traditional look.  However, this came at a price.  Almost £600 to be precise!  This was way beyond my budget.  Eventually, after a couple of weeks of researching I found something which seemed to fit the bill; a coop made of recycled plastic and wood fibre with a relatively traditional appearance, at a more affordable £180.00.  This is, of course, still a chunk of money but with a bit of luck it should last years without rotting.

The front of the coop with the nest box to the left.
The rear of the new coop.

There was a bit of a delay in delivery but eventually it arrived in one large, flat box with over 40 pieces which needed fitting together.  No tools were required to do this though an extra pair of hands would have been nice.  Unfortunately, Mr P chose this moment to go and have a nap, leaving me to it.  It actually went together without too much trouble, apart from the nest box which I thought should have been done at an earlier stage in construction (instructions aren’t always well thought through, are they?).

So, what do I and, more importantly, the girls, think of this new hen house?  Well, the girls seem to quite like it!  They refused to go in it the first night so the following night I put them in it but let them go in the old house the next morning to lay their eggs.  After that, we closed off the old house and they’ve been using the new one ever since, with no trouble at all.  After that first night, they went in it on their own and laid in the nest box straight away.  As for me, well I think this chicken house is in need of a redesign.  The roof doesn’t lift off for easy cleaning as you might expect of any hen house.  To access the inside you have to unscrew the bolts at the sides of the roof and slide out a couple of the roof panels.  I now don’t bother putting the bolts back in as it’s a pain.  The roof to the nest box does lift up though …   The roosting bars are too narrow, at about 1″ wide and are positioned so low that in winter, if you’re deep littering, they will soon be useless.  I’m putting in a homemade roost bar instead.

The roof is sectional and can be pulled out for cleaning.
The left-hand roosting bar and the nest box. This is too narrow for a roost.

This house is easily big enough for four to six hens (my four girls free range so only sleep and lay eggs in theirs) but there’s only one nest box which isn’t big enough to divide in two – -luckily, my girls don’t seem to mind sharing!  Having said all that, if you can live with the deficiencies or make some alterations, it’s probably worth the money.  It’s miles cheaper than other plastic houses, is easy to put together (I did it on my own in about an hour and a half but, as I said, it’d be quicker with a bit of help), and I’m hoping it will help avoid the dreaded red mite.  It’s made from recycled materials which appeals to me too.

The nest box – the girls will insist on sleeping in it!

The plan now is to renovate the old wooden coop for the incoming girls until I’m in a position to afford another new, plastic coop.  But that’s something I’ll cover in a future post!

 

Do you keep chickens, what sort of coop do you prefer?As always, please do contact me and share your thoughts on this.  You’ll need to sign up as a user in order for your comments to appear under the post.  I’d be delighted to hear from you.

 

 

Peak District Colour: Monyash May Market

Monyash has a thriving community spirit and there’s usually something going on.  Today it was the annual May Market.

Pommie band in action. Note the new bull under the sign!
Skittles on the village green.

Held every Spring Bank Holiday, this has been going on for as long as anyone can remember – the village was originally granted a charter for a market and fair back in 1340 but sadly this is the only market remaining.  We met a family today who, though they no longer live in the village, retain local ties and had come specifically for the market today.  They remembered the market as a big affair, with over 40 stalls, a pet competition, and much more.

Mr P’s in charge of the shopping bag!

Today’s market is a much more low-key affair, with just a handful of stalls selling second hand goods in support of local causes, such as the primary school and the small park behind the pub.  But everyone has a good time and certainly doesn’t go hungry!  There is a rather splendid barbecue, from which I enjoyed an absolutely massive hot-dog which deserves a much better name, featuring as it did a fantastic Critchlow’s sausage completed with fried onions and mustard.  It was hot, juicy, and incredibly delicious.  Mr P hardly ever eats meat so missed out on a real treat, I reckon.  Yah boo sucks to him!

The best hotdogs in the world!

The May Market also coincides with the well-dressings, which take place at the same time all over the Peak District.  This is the result of an awful lot of hard work, with volunteers staying up til midnight to puddle the mud and get the petalling completed in time but the results speak for themselves.  It’s great to see these old traditions surviving in a world where the screen seems to dominate everything we do.

Monyash’s well dressing 2018

The local school hosts afternoon tea but I’m afraid all I could manage was a piece of rhubarb cake and a cup of tea.  Mr P had said “Just get me anything” then when I got back a piece of lemon cake for him, claimed that was probably the only thing he didn’t really like. Didn’t stop him eating it though.   I had rather hoped for a piece of a cake I’d seen being carried in a few minutes earlier but it turned out to be intended for the cake competition.  Drats!

 

 

Results of the cake competition – how did the judges restrict themselves to such small pieces?!
The school all decked out for the occasion.

We also managed to buy a picture of the Peak District, which is already hanging in the hallway, from the stall in the Methodist Chapel, where I also bought a big Pyrex roasting dish just the right shape and size for a chicken.

Our latest purchase. £5 well-spent and for a good cause.

This year, we actually won a bottle of wine from the ‘Wine or Water’ stall (last year it was water), and picked up an Alchemilla Mollis for the grand sum of 50p.  There were skittles on the village green, and cade lambs in the schoolyard.  Music was provided courtesy of the Pommie (Pommie is the nickname for Youlgrave) Brass Band.  The weather was fabulous, which makes a change from the previous year when it was sodding awful.  Fingers are crossed for next year!

Coming soon – my review of our new chicken coop. Try not to get too excited!  Please contact me if you’d like to comment – it’s always great to hear from you.

 

Chickens: A Love Affair Begins!

I was in two minds whether to write about dogs or chickens this week but I have better chicken pictures than I do dogs.  That might not be a very good reason to choose to write about chickens but I don’t care!

The girls’ first day! See how small and pale their wattles and combs are?

 

I’d always rather fancied having a few chickens as part of The Dream, and I knew someone who kept a few in her back garden, so I was at least aware that you didn’t necessarily need acres of space for them.  When I moved in with Mr P, and there was a patch of land at the back of the house which was completely covered in weeds, it was practically begging to be occupied by a flock of feathery friends.  This bit of land – I can’t tell you how big it is because I’m hopeless at visualizing measurements and distances.  It’s no use telling me to drive a couple of hundred yards before turning left because it means nothing to me; but I can park like a pro!   Mr P says it’s about 600 sq.yds.  But he also said we needed 100 metres of chicken wire to fence it off; we’re now trying to sell the excess 50 metres.  Anyway, yes, we thought this bit of land must come with the cottage we rent – turns out we were wrong but that’s a story for another time.  The next-door neighbours had tried to buy or rent the patch behind them but without success.  Neither were they allowed to do anything to it, which seems rather harsh and not terribly sensible, especially as in summer the weeds sent out their seed all over the place, including into all the neighbours’ gardens.  It seemed like the obvious place to put chickens, as the garden at the front of the cottage would soon have been churned up by them.

The girls’ first home – compact and bijou but it has all they need.

 

Chickens don’t need a great deal to be happy.  They need fresh water, a properly balanced feed, a secure coop, and space to move about.  Obviously, the first thing was to get a coop sorted out before getting the chickens themselves.  You might remember that I discussed the importance of making friends in an earlier post, and this was really important when it came to getting both the coop and the hens.  It was a farming contractor friend and his son who offered us a coop they weren’t using, and also offered to get the chickens for us.  Basically, all I needed to do was let him know when we were ready, what kind of chickens we wanted, and he’d order the girls for us when he was ordering chickens for himself.

I’d bought a book on chickens and had been reading about them for some time which helped me to decide to go for hybrids rather than pure breeds.  I’m slightly obsessed with doing the research first, which might be a method of procrastination … Anyhow, the pure breeds look beautiful but the hybrids are supposed to be more robust and better layers.  On the advice of our contractor friend, we opted to have four girls since any fewer would be more likely to squabble and peck at each other – that’s where the term ‘hen-pecked’ comes from.  Apparently it can turn really quite nasty, so we decided on two brown, one white, and one black; I now know the brown ones are Warrens which are the kind you find in a battery situation, and the others are a White Leghorn hybrid and a Black Rock hybrid.

This book has been really useful – I recommend it.

The girls needed picking up from the farming contractor’s yard and he opened the door of the chicken shed and said “just catch the ones you want” – er, right!!!  The nearest I’d been to a chicken was shoving one in the oven on a Sunday.  He took pity on me in the end and just caught four of the right colours, put them in a cardboard box, and off I went, over the road with it.  I was so relieved when I got them to our place without dropping them, I can tell you!  They were duly installed in their little house, where I shut them in for a few hours – this is so they realize that this is ‘home’ and it’s safe.  Later I was able to let them out to scratch about on the little patch we’d originally fenced off for them.  The next day I went and let them out but just minutes later I was absolutely horrified to realize one had managed to fly over the fencing and had done a runner.  Because Mr P hadn’t been home when I’d collected the girls, I hadn’t been able to clip their wings.  After a few minutes of heart-in-mouth we managed to retrieve the naughty girl and, with Mr P holding them, I managed to clip their wings.  This doesn’t hurt them – you just trim the flight feathers on one wing – it’s like you cutting your nails.

I had wanted to name the girls after famous feminists – Betty (Friedan), Germaine (Greer) … you get the idea.  But Mr P vetoed that (though since I am the one who does all the chicken-related work, I don’t know why I let him get away with that one!) so in the end we went with Evadne Hinge, Hilda Bracket, Cissy, and Ada.  I think you need to be a certain age and definitely British to understand that!

As a chicken-novice a major eye-opener was chicken poo.  You’ll probably be relieved to hear I don’t have any pictures!  Chickens poo – a lot.  Their poos are enormous and you wonder how on earth something that size could come out of such a small bird.  I had a major panic when I noticed that some of their poos were a bit runny and brown whereas their ‘normal’ poos were brownish and topped with white (the white is chicken-pee).  After a frantic search on the internet, googling ‘runny chicken poo’, it turned out these runnier ones are ‘cecal’ poos and are totally normal.  I hadn’t realized either that chickens poo, wee, and lay eggs out of the same opening.  In case you’re about to go off eggs for life, I should add that when they lay an egg the opening for poo closes off so the eggs come out clean.  Actually, they also come out with wet coating of anti-bacterial stuff which dries within about a minute.  This is why you shouldn’t wash eggs as they don’t stay fresh for as long without the coating on them. But we didn’t have any eggs yet …

The girls were only young when we got them, roughly 18 weeks old.  This is called ‘point-of-lay’ and just means that they’re starting to mature and should be starting to lay within a few weeks.  At first, their combs and wattles are pale pink and quite small but, as they mature these get redder and larger.

The girls inspect their new home.

I was checking every day to see if they’d started laying and after a few weeks of nothing, was starting to wonder if I was doing something wrong.  They had a safe house, plenty of food and water, and access to outside space to do their chickeny thing, and I spent time with them every day, picking them up to check they were healthy.  Ok, that’s a bit of an excuse really – they’re actually really endearing and you just want to pick them up for a bit of a cuddle.  They’re surprisingly light – they’re not table birds and there’s just no meat on them so they’re really very skinny underneath their feathers – but they feel lovely to hold; their feathers are really soft and nice to touch.  Eventually, after a month or so, they did start to lay of course and I can’t tell you how exciting it was to discover the first egg, or how wonderful it feels to pick up a fresh egg, still warm from the hen’s body.

Our very first egg!

It’s still lovely now, months later.  In future posts, I’ll definitely be talking about chickens again, including how we coped over the appalling winter we’ve just had, and our plans to have just a few more …

I’d love to hear from you, whether you have questions about the girls, have some advice for me, or just want a chat.

Country Life and the Day Job: Finding Balance

This is a more personal post than my usual.  After my post last week, I was asked to say something about how I manage my work life alongside my life in the country.  So far I’ve shied away from talking too much about myself, partly from a fear of giving too much away, and partly because I haven’t wanted to bore you!  But, since I’ve actually been asked to talk about me, well … you asked for it so here goes!

If you’ve read my other posts you might have gathered that I’m an academic.  To be precise, I’m a psychology lecturer.  No, I can’t read your mind, no, I’m not analysing you, and no, I can’t offer advice on your issues!  I’m not that kind of psychologist.  I work full-time and it’s pretty full-on a lot of the time.  Lectures don’t just materialize out of thin air, ready to be delivered; I only wish they did!  Preparing a lecture can involve weeks of research, reading, writing, and putting slides together.  Related seminars also need to be put together, and this often means having to put together activities designed to engage the students and to consolidate and build on what’s been covered in the lectures.  It’s a lot of work to get to the point where we’re delivering lectures but our face-to-face teaching time is just the tip of the iceberg so far as workload is concerned.  I’d say 70% of my time is spent on admin.  Emails, meetings, and increasing layers of administrative red-tape can drive you crazy.  Marking is incredibly time-consuming and stressful.  We have just two weeks to get all our marking done once it comes in, before it goes off for moderation.  This fast turnaround means we’re marking in the evenings and at weekends.  On top of all this, it takes me the best part of an hour to get to uni by car.  There’s no other way for me to get there in that time frame.  I have to leave at 7am or wait til 8.40am if I want to miss the traffic.  And I absolutely loathe driving in the dark which makes winter particularly difficult.

The question which was put to me last week, then, about how I manage to balance this with my life in the country was pretty apt.  I’ll be honest here – it’s difficult, and at times I think I must be mad to even try.  But actually, I’d be mad if I didn’t do it.  It’s the allotment, the chickens, dogs, and sense of community (not to mention Mr P) that keep me relatively sane.  So how do I do it?  Well I wish I could say it was all down to some amazing organization on my part, but I’d be lying, I’m afraid.  Basically, I just squidge things in where I can.  I’ll try to give you some examples.

OK, so in the morning I roll out of bed, and without bothering to take off my night things, I just tuck them into my walking trousers, mooch downstairs and, pushing my feet into wellies, I head to the chickens to let them out of their coop, feed them, and give them fresh water.  Luckily, they’re handily located on a bit of land just behind the house – I can see them clearly from my sitting room and bedroom windows, so this doesn’t take more than about ten minutes.  Except in winter when the outside tap’s frozen … Anyway, then it’s off to work after a quick breakfast.  

In the evenings, the chickens (aka ‘the girls’) go into their coop as soon as it starts to get dark and they need shutting up then to keep them safe from the fox.  The rest of the evening is mine so depending on the time of year I might be reading about allotments, planning the allotment, sowing seeds for the allotment … you get the picture!  Now that the lighter nights are on their way, I can get up to the allotment after work for an hour or two before the girls need putting to bed, which works really well.  On Tuesdays I have the quilting group for a couple of hours before meeting Mr P in The Bull’s Head for a quick drink.  One night a week, Mr P plays squash, so I take advantage of that quiet time to write my blog post, and take Basil for his evening constitutional.  I’m often able to work from home one or two days a week (depending on teaching commitments, meetings, etc.,) and this offers a little more flexibility.  For instance, because I don’t lose up to two hours travelling on those days, I’m able to take an hour or two to work on the allotment or clean the girls’ coop, maybe sow a few seeds, and still fit my work hours in.  At weekends, I’m usually desperate to get out for a walk, so I generally join Mr P and Basil for a good couple of hours’ walk before coming home to either work on the allotment (!!!) or maybe do a bit of baking, reading or sewing.  We generally head to the pub at least once over the weekend, often heading to The Flying Childers at Stanton-in-the-Peak, which is a pub I can’t recommend highly enough – http://www.flyingchilders.com/  

You have probably gathered by now that I’m pretty busy most of the time but I think that without my life in the country, I wouldn’t be able to keep going with the day-job.  That time spent on the allotment, in the fresh air, with fabulous 360 degree views, is one of the things that keeps me on the level.  Digging, hard work though it undoubtedly is, stops me from thinking about any problems I might have.  Pulling up weeds keeps me in the here and now instead of worrying about the future.  At some point, I hope the allotment will provide me with more than just raspberries! Spending time with the chickens keeps me entertained and supplied with fresh eggs daily.  The quilting group ensures I have female company, and helps me learn new skills.  I suppose, in a nutshell, my life in the country acts as a counterbalance to work.

Because, let’s face it, it’s all about work-life balance.  For me, that means that my life is what happens in the country.  My day-job is just that; it simply facilitates my country life.  It provides me with the means to replace the roof on the chicken enclosure after it was blown off in the recent high winds.  It enabled me to buy a shed for the allotment when I was desperate for somewhere to store my tools and shelter from the wind and rain.  It pays my share of the rent on a cottage in a beautiful part of the world.  I’m grateful for my job. But it’s not my life.

What does work-life balance mean for you?  I’d love to hear from you so please drop me a line.

Chasing the dream: Keeping it real

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.

A section of The Plan – you know what they say? Failure to plan is planning to fail!

 

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:

This is the first book I bought and I’ve read it cover to cover many times. Incredibly useful and highly recommended.
Bought in a charity shop, this is great for a beginner.
Completely inspiring and very, very, down to earth! It even shows you how to butcher your meat.
The classic, updated. The go-to book for losing yourself in a good daydream.

 

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.