This is, I have just realized, my first post in over a year. Almost 18 months, in fact. Time seems to have gotten away from me somehow but, hopefully, the following will explain that to some degree. It may seem rather out of place amongst all my previous posts about the allotment, chickens, and other assorted country themed writings but it says something about where I’ve found myself over the last few months; unable to get words down on paper, to feel an interest in anything very much, and certainly utterly unable to face the allotment. So, here goes and, as my mum would say, “Like it or lump it!”
During a prolonged period of sick leave due to stress and depression, I found myself increasingly interested in style and fashion – almost to the point of obsession. I scoured charity shops for books on related topics, cleared out my wardrobe, Kondo-ed my sweater drawer, and spent heavily on expensive pieces which I expect (thankfully!) to wear and love practically forever. What on earth was going on? I feared I was turning into some kind of shallow, frivolous recluse. It took some considerable time and navel-gazing to realize that, at a time when my life felt like a bottomless pit, my clothes were the one thing over which I had a modicum of control. My usual creative outlets – sewing, gardening, cooking – just felt too challenging and I was completely unable to face groups of people. Instead, getting dressed in nice, good quality clothes allowed me to present an acceptable face to the world even when I was trying to hide from it (at times, literally). Once I had managed to drag myself or had been dragged out of bed in the morning, getting dressed was my daily act of creation; who did I want to be that particular day, which face did I want to show to passers-by?
In my quest for a controllable identity I came to understand the importance of beauty in creating a life which was more than simply existing. This isn’t just about personal beauty but the beauty inherent in good quality items which would stand the test of time, things which are pleasing to the eye, and give one a psychological lift. For me this has now extended itself to ‘nice things’ beyond mere clothing. A beautiful china coffee can, saucer, and plate, bought for a mere fiver in a charity shop, now bring a touch of grace to afternoon coffee. And doesn’t coffee taste better when it’s stirred with a silver spoon? It may be miserable outside but this small, seemingly trivial, ritual is a moment of light in a dark winter day. Likewise, instituting what I call ‘posh breakfast’ at the weekend (e.g. a warm croissant, fruit, and fresh coffee served on good china, eaten at the table) gives me a reason to get up on a wet Saturday morning. I could exist without these things but with them existence becomes living.
I think my point here is that by bringing small moments of beauty into my life when I felt overwhelmed by feelings of futility, and despaired of ever feeling normal again, I actually began to feel better. I slowly returned to work but it’s only more recently that I have felt able to confront the absolute wreck that is now my allotment or any activity where there will be lots of people. But I am at least hopeful that I will get there in the end. Whether it’s snowdrops in a churchyard, a lovely ring, or a good cup of coffee, whatever your moments of beauty consist of, make the most of them. They’re the things that keep us sane.
I don’t really think of myself as a pessimist but, rather, a realist. For me, this means accepting what seems the undeniable fact of climate change. The world is changing and, like it or not, we have to change with it unless, of course, you are a climate change denier and, like Donald Trump, are sticking your fingers in your ears and shouting LALALA.
Obviously, a problem as monumental as climate change requires monumental changes and it would be easy to think that there’s nothing an ordinary person can do to address it. I’d agree that politicians and big businesses are much better placed to make changes on a large scale but there is so much we can do as individuals, if we would only embrace the challenge. This is something I’m working on right now in my own rather ad-hoc way, one small change at a time. This is the longest post I’ve written so far, so if I were you I’d grab a cup of tea and a biscuit before you go any further.
For me, one of the biggest problems is plastics. The amount of plastic packaging we accumulate in one household is ridiculous and much of it either cannot, or will not, be recycled. I decided to address this in our house in several ways: The first thing I did was buy beeswax wraps. These come in various sizes, have a pleasant, slightly honeyed smell, and can be used in place of clingfilm to wrap sandwiches, cover bowls of food, or half an avocado (more on those later). I bought mine from Lakeland – they weren’t cheap (about £12 for a pack of three different sizes) but they should last a year, and what price saving the earth?! I am also investing in strong, reusable tubs of the Tupperware/Lock&Lock type – I buy them reduced in places like TKMaxx and take them with me when I go to the butchers and the cheese shop. I’ve found shopkeepers are happy to put the goods straight into them without any additional packaging.
One of the key things for me is to avoid supermarkets as much as possible, so none of those horrible, unrecyclable, black plastic meat trays. Instead, I’m buying locally reared meat from the butcher, cheese from the cheese shop, and veg (when not from the allotment) from the market. The market makes a big difference, as a fair bit of the produce is locally produced and there’s very little in the way of packaging – and I take a load of reusable bags. I think what packaging there is mostly covers goods which have been imported, such as celery from Spain or strawberries from Holland. Obviously we can’t avoid the supermarket entirely – you’ve got to get your baked beans from somewhere! Besides, Mr P still likes to buy huge blocks of cheese in resealable plastic bags but we’re not buying as much of that as we were so that’s progress of a sort, and the bags (and those from bread and so on) are being reused to wrap things for the freezer.
I’ve started making my own yoghurt, using whole Jersey milk from Tagg Lane Dairy which is just about a mile up the road. The milk is raw (i.e. completely unprocessed), and delicious; it’s really easy to make yoghurt from it and I’ll post the recipe in case you fancy giving it a go. Making my own means fewer food miles and no plastic. I did try making butter too, but hadn’t realized just how much cream you need to make a worthwhile amount so I’m parking that idea for the time being! The allotment is providing us with turnips, swede, and spinach so I make lots of vegetable based soups and casseroles, and with a bit of luck we’ll have much more next year which I’ve had the allotment going for two years. We’re also trying to avoid all those foods which are out of season, so no Dutch strawberries in winter for instance. Eating seasonally helps us to reduce our food miles and going without strawberries now will, I hope, make eating our own homegrown ones in the summer all the more pleasurable.
Also in the kitchen, we’ve stopped buying those throwaway dishcloths and are using the kind you can stick in the washing machine instead. I’m not much of a knitter but am thinking of having a go at making some of my own from cotton yarn, as they last so much longer. Non-biological washing liquid has been replaced by powder in a cardboard box and we’re converting to a more environmentally friendly washing-up liquid. Eventually, when I’ve got Mr P on board a bit more securely, I’d like us to use a refillable bottle for washing-up liquid, as there’s a new shop opened in Buxton which sells things without packaging but I’ve not yet had chance to visit it; it’s closed on Wednesdays which is my day off, so I need to make an extra special effort to go on a Saturday when I would normally avoid shops like the plague! I did suggest making our own washing-up liquid with lemon juice, soda crystals, etc., but Mr P vetoed that one – I think he felt it was a step too far but I reckon we’ll get there in the end, though it may not be til we’ve got our own smallholding and have retired!
We’ve made a good start in the kitchen, I like to think, but I feel like we’ve barely even started, and it’s nothing compared to the uphill task that is the bathroom. Just go into your own bathroom and look around – I’m willing to bet there’s almost nothing that isn’t swathed in plastic of all sorts.
This is the room where I felt the task before me was the most overwhelming, to the point of being almost paralyzed by the ‘bunny in headlights’ effect. We’ve been using Simple soap for the shower for quite some time but that was mainly due to problems I had with the perfume in shower gel irritating my skin rather than any virtuous intent. Still, this made me think: If I use soap bars for the shower why not try them for my hair too? I have to admit, I was sceptical about this. My hair is naturally curly and completely unnaturally coloured and, as I’ve aged, my hair has become drier than it used to be. Nevertheless, I decided to give it a go and headed off to Lush where I spent a whopping £7 on a shampoo bar which smelt like lemons but, confusingly, was a lovely deep lavender colour. The Lush bars come with no packaging at all, so I bought a little tin (Lush sell them for about £2.50) to keep it in and stop it going mushy. I was so unconvinced it would work that I bought the bar before we’d used up all our liquid shampoo just in case. Mr P was actually the first to use the new bar and declared it a hit. I liked it too and so that was that – we’re on our third shampoo bar and have no intention of going back to liquid in plastic bottles. If you fancy giving them a go, the purple lemony one is lovely, as is the honey vanilla.
So far, so good but I’m struggling with stuff for my face. I decided to stop buying micellar water and look for something more sustainable and, preferably, not in plastic at all. This has proved to be really difficult, as I haven’t used soap on my face in about 30 years and didn’t want to start again now. I trawled round the usual suspects – Boots, Superdrug, etc., and couldn’t find anything, so decided to try something I’d read about online; olive oil. Yes, really – olive oil! To cut a long story short, used in combination with a muslin cloth it cleansed my skin brilliantly but I couldn’t quite shift the slightly oily feeling on my skin. I could have been imagining it but it felt weird so I headed back to Lush, where I bought something called Ultrabland.
Good, old-fashioned Simple Soap sits next to a Lush shampoo bar.
Lush do quality eco-friendly products but they aren’t cheap.
This sounds really boring and it’s a terrible name for what is actually a pretty good product. It’s a thick, gooey texture and you just massage it in and, again, take it off with a muslin cloth rinsed in very warm water. You have to be thorough with the cloth but it does leave my skin very smooth and soft. The container is made from all recycled plastic and you can take these back for Lush to reuse. Eventually I’m hoping to find a recipe for my own cleanser which will replace the Ultrabland but, for now at least, I’m reasonably happy and my skin looks pretty good. However, I draw the line at the daily moisturiser – I am completely wedded to a daily dose of factor 30 and can’t bring myself to give up that or the hair dye. Nor am I prepared to say goodbye to my beloved electric toothbrush. I’m a flawed human being who is happy to do what I can but I’m just not ready to turn into a toothless old bag!
We’ve made a start – we recycle too, obviously, but there’s a long way to go before we can really say we’re properly environmentally friendly. Ultimately, we’re aiming for a smallholding where we can produce all our own fruit, veg, eggs, and maybe chicken and pork, have a small wind turbine and solar panels to produce our own electricity and maybe even sell some back to the grid. Rain water harvesting is an aim, along with a composting toilet. The point is to be as self-sufficient as possible but we’re not hair-shirt people; we still want an internet connection. We like our own company and each other’s but we don’t want to be completely cut off from the outside world. We’ve no idea quite what the future holds but it seems as if we’re beginning to develop a plan, of sorts and that, in itself, is a comfort.
Well. It’s been ages since I wrote a post and I do feel bad about it, honestly I do. I’ve kept thinking about it and meaning to do it but somehow … you know how it is. Sometimes life just takes over and before you know where you are, despite all your good intentions, you simply fall behind with the things you really want to do. My intention with this post is to bring you up to date with what I’ve been doing over the summer – just an outline or I’d be here all day and you’d lose the will to live. Future posts can go into it all in much more detail. Here we go:
It’s been a funny old year, hasn’t it, at least weather wise? I don’t know what the hell’s going on but we had the most god-awful winter which went on forever, had no spring at all but skipped straight to summer and, no sooner had I started to think that was endless too, we then launched straight into full on autumn. One minute we’d got 30 degrees C, and the next I was getting out my scarves and gloves, while some bloody no-life-numpty started bleating on about Christmas and isn’t it great that it’s only 20 weeks away or some such bollocks. Well, no. Frankly, it isn’t and it’s way too soon to be thinking about that. And I’m getting sidetracked already! The prolonged dry spell, with no mains water on site, affected the broad beans particularly badly; growth was stunted, resulting in a poor crop. The new potatoes, likewise, were ‘all tops and no bottoms’ – the potatoes themselves were a reasonable size but there were too few of them. I had better luck with the runner beans until a recent high wind ripped them out of the ground, leaving a right old mess. The high points were the perpetual spinach – the plant that keeps on giving – the apples which are so much better than last year, and the plums which have been absolutely amazing; plentiful, juicy, sweet, and delicious.
I had to do something with all those plums, so we’ve got plum and cinnamon jam (sounds strange but delicious), and a plum and apple chutney which could well be Blow-Your-Bum-Off chutney, as I went a bit mad with the spices – we’ll see in about another four weeks’ time when it’s ready to eat. Runner beans, gooseberries, and raspberries are in the freezer, along with stewed apple in various guises.
Just over a month ago, I became the proud and slightly frightened owner of four rescue hens. Liberated from a commercial barn environment, these girls had never seen grass or daylight, looked rather scruffy, and were surprisingly (and rather alarmingly) feisty. After being quarantined for two weeks, they were released to be with my existing flock who didn’t stand a chance. Poor Hilda, Evadne, Ada, and Cissy were jumped on, pecked at and generally bullied into submission but this only lasted two days, after I threatened the new girls with the soup pot or being taken back where they’d come from. In a bizarre display of chicken-ness, they are now all happily sharing a coop – I hadn’t intended this, and had spent ages renovating the wooden chicken coop for the new girls. There’s gratitude for you!
Damn. My first poorly chicken, poor old Hilda had the remains of a soft-shelled egg poking out of her bottom, with a soft-shelled egg stuck behind that. Much TLC was required but she recovered really well and is now fine and dandy, and laying again. I’m happy to talk more about this in another post if you think it’s of interest and don’t mind me talking about chickens’ bums and poo.
Aha, now this is a definite positive! As of the 1st October, I became a part-timer. This is something I’d been considering for some time, talking to my (very supportive) boss, working out finances, worrying about the effect on my pension, blah blah blah. In the end, I decided to just do it. I had what turned out to be a relatively minor health scare earlier this year and, at the end of the day, it’s no use having a pension if I drop dead before I get to collect it. I need to be happy now, instead of putting it off and saying ‘Oh well, I’ll do such and such, and be happy when I retire’ – I could be dead next week so I’ll take the gamble that I’ll have something better than cold baked beans to live on when I retire. Tomorrow will be my first day off, and the first day of my new life. I’ll keep you posted on how it goes.
That’s sort of up to you! I’ve decided to let you choose what I write about next. Do you want to hear more about the allotment, the chickens or is there something else I’ve not covered which you think would be interesting or useful to read about? Please let me know – I love hearing from you!
I’ve finally managed to persuade Nick Pearson to write a short piece on rural poverty. Nick has spent the best part of 36 years working in both the charitable and private sectors, advising on personal debt. I’m hoping this guest post won’t be the last, as rural poverty is a depressing reality for many – Sarah.
You Can’t Eat The View – Nick Pearson on Rural Poverty
Visitors to the Peak District often tell me that it must be wonderful to live somewhere so lovely. And they are right, it is. It must seem to outsiders as if the 38,000 people who live within the Peak District National Park boundary are living the dream. Most are. Compared with the rest of the UK, particularly urban areas, the level of deprivation is very low in the Peak District. Indeed based on every indicator of poverty, from crime levels to unemployment we are indeed fortunate. Government statistics for rural versus urban poverty across the UK show a similar picture – the percentage of households in rural areas in relative low income was 16% before housing costs and 17% after housing costs. In comparison, the percentage of households in urban areas in relative low income was 18% before housing costs and 24% cent after housing costs (“Rural Poverty 2016/17” DEFRA).
Below the surface, things are not always as rosy as they seem. House price inflation caused by wealthy incomers buying second homes or simply moving to the area, the continued expansion of holiday cottage numbers, and a lack of affordable social rented housing make it very difficult for lower income families to be able to afford to buy property in the area. The Peak District is in fact a low wage area. People who live and work locally are dependent on farming, tourist related services, (such as pubs and restaurants), and the local quarries for jobs, most of which are low paid – if you don’t believe me look in the “Peak Advertiser” at the jobs on offer. Better paid locals usually travel to work in places such as Manchester or Nottingham and sometimes beyond each day.
As with other rural areas, the average resident of the Peak District is c5 years old than that of someone living in an urban area. Retired residents can sometimes be asset rich but cash poor, reliant on the state pension as their only source of income. These folk are usually born and bred in the area and have to rely on family who still live in the area to get out and about.
Public transport services are few and far between as are local shops, many of which have now closed in Peak District villages. You need a car or good neighbours to get to the supermarkets, doctors or shops in Buxton or Ashbourne. If you need to go to hospital for something serious expect to be taken to Macclesfield, Stockport or Chesterfield, all of which are the best part of an hour’s drive away – if you have a car.
I don’t want to over-egg the pudding – compared to those who live in the inner cities, Peak District residents are indeed fortunate but as a local farmer said to me in the village pub the other night, “Aye, it’s a grand place to live but you can’t eat the view, lad.”
Nick Pearson is Head of External Relations at Gregory Pennington Limited.
I’ve been pondering this post for some time now. Over the past few weeks I’ve considered all sorts of topics, with weather being at the top of the list for obvious reasons. However, today is considerably fresher than the last few weeks and we’ve actually had some rain – hooray! Anyway, there’s been so much talk about the weather on Twitter, Facebook, and the news that I eventually decided to be very un-British and talk about something entirely different for a change. Finally, today it came to me. This blog is supposed to be all about what it’s really like living in the country, and part of that is rural pursuits.
But what does that actually mean? The phrase ‘rural pursuits’ conjures up images of rich people who really ought to know better galloping about the countryside on horseback, ripping animals to shreds. Or just galloping about on horseback. Or possibly weaving a basket before taking a break for high tea, complete with home-made cake and cucumber sandwiches. Well pardon me but for most of us that’s just chocolate box fantasy so sit back with a cuppa while I tell it like it is.
My mornings invariably start around 7ish (give or take) when I roll out of bed. Rather than Laura Ashley and tweed, I opt for usually grubby, paint-spattered walking trousers and a fleece. Oh, and wellies. I practically have them welded to my feet. Thus glamorously attired, I can take the girls fresh water and feed, let them out, and hand pick the poo out of their house – this gets saved for the compost bin on the allotment. There’s usually at least one or two eggs – I’ll collect the rest later – and it’s back in for breakfast. This weekend it was the Monyash Quilters exhibition – “Quilts in the Peak”. Held just once every three years, I had offered to help out in the kitchen on Sunday but I popped along on Saturday morning just to have a look while Mr P took the dogs out. I have to say it was a pretty impressive display!
From there I headed straight to Bakewell and Mr P went off to play cricket. For those of you who haven’t been, Bakewell is very pretty in a quaint sort of way, with a few high street chains, such as Boots, Fat Face, and Costa but otherwise it’s mainly independent shops selling everything from clothing to bears, books, and kitchenware. There are some real gems: Bakewell Cookshop, Birdsong (possibly the prettiest shop ever), and the Hartington Cheese Co. For those who like to browse the charity shops, Lighthouse is set out like a French brocante. I headed there first before legging it to my favourite place for coffee, Gallery Cafe, to try to avoid the lunchtime rush. I celebrated losing a bit of weight this week by indulging in a homemade scone with clotted cream and jam (cream first before you ask!) and a large flat white. It was a valuable bit of me-time accompanied by the book I’m reading at the minute – At the Existentialist Cafe by Sarah Bakewell, funnily enough! It’s a good read and I highly recommend it.
Unfortunately, I couldn’t hang around too long as I’d got things to do at home but I did just swing by the Farmer’s Market where I picked up a couple of succulents to plant in the wall at the back of the house. Given the weather lately, it seemed sensible to give them a try! If they do ok, I can buy more at the market when it’s back next month.
Back home there was a load of fruit waiting to be dealt with. I had gooseberries from my allotment and my neighbour on the next plot had given me a batch of whitecurrants. I’ve never actually eaten whitecurrants before. I grow blackcurrants on the allotment and there are two very productive redcurrant bushes in the garden which, to be honest, I don’t bother with. The blackbirds are welcome to them – I’ve got enough on my plate (pardon the pun) with everything else! The gooseberries just needed topping and tailing for the freezer, as I’d already made a batch of jam a couple of weeks ago. It’s not my favourite job but it is quite absorbing and I sorted them into cookers and ‘ripe-enough-to-eat-raw’ as I went. With those sorted and bagged up for the freezer it was time for the whitecurrants. I always think currants are a bit of a phaff, quite frankly, and probably more trouble than they’re worth – at least if you’re bothered by the seeds. I’m including a short video of the easiest way of getting currants off the stalks using a fork.
My allotment neighbour strains hers to get the seeds out but I really can’t be fannying about with all that – life’s just too short and besides, that’s what flossing is for. Also, I don’t really have space for doing it in our little kitchen. All our jam has to be made in the microwave because of the utterly useless piece of shit that is the Rayburn which masquerades as a cooker, water heater, and fires the central heating. Even when it’s turned on it’s hopeless but in this weather the only option is to turn the whole thing off and just use the immersion heater for water. This means we don’t have a hob and can’t even boil a bloody egg! So the microwave is the only option for jam. Or any kind of cooking at all. All I do is bung the fruit into a large bowl, heat it til it’s a bit mushy, add an equal weight of sugar and stick it back in the microwave for a few minutes – I just keep checking it and stirring a bit til it seems about right. It’s all a bit Heath Robinson but it seems to work pretty well really. Luckily, I prefer my jam soft – it’s so much more versatile as you can spread it on toast, dollop it on scones, or slather it over icecream. Or mix it with whipped cream. Or custard. Or … you get the idea.
By the time I’d done all this I was pretty knackered as I’d been on my feet all day and it was around 4.30pm. The dogs had already been out with Mr P for a good long walk but needed a quick ten minutes to stretch their legs. And so on. I still needed to get cracking on this blog post too but gave myself permission to watch an episode of Foyle’s War with a cup of tea. I love Foyle’s War; Michael Kitchen is fab even if Foyle is just a tad dour, and Sam’s a female version of Tim Nice-but-Dim. Having said that she seems to have a bit more about her in the later series. I managed to fit in a bit of sewing at the same time – I’m currently working on dressing a bear in clothing inspired by Dolly Parton’s song “My Coat of Many Colours”. This basically means I’m making a tiny patchwork coat – the pair of patched trousers are already finished. Anyhow, Mr P came home from cricket and I got sidetracked into going to the pub around 9pm, where Echo started barking and had to be taken home in disgrace, while Basil did his impression of a starving dog for the benefit of the people eating dinner at the next table and combed the carpet for errant chips. Somehow, in the midst of all this the girls were shut up in their house for the night well before I fell into bed long after midnight.
Today has been rather less busy – I’d volunteered to help out in the kitchen at the quilt exhibition so after dealing with the girls, I spent two hours washing pots. A highlight was venturing out to see how things were going and meeting Jenni of @notreallyafarm. It turns out we have plenty in common and a cup of tea is on the agenda. There was lots of cake about and I bought a whole chocolate, courgette and coffee cake to take home, with a promise from the baker to let me have the recipe. After a piece of cake and a cup of tea I managed another episode of Foyle’s War and then by 4.30pm felt compelled to take a nap! This isn’t like me really as I usually only sleep in the daytime if I’m ill but, since having been particularly unwell last autumn, it’s become a more regular occurrence than I’d like.
I really enjoyed my dinner tonight, partly because it was delicious, partly because some of it came from the sweat of my own brow. An omelette with home grown courgettes, my own potatoes, and eggs from the girls only needed a little feta cheese to become a feast. That was followed with a short walk with Mr P and the dogs, shutting the girls up for the night, and back to the blog. Bed is calling and I won’t be able to resist for long. Apart from the fact that I haven’t been to the allotment this weekend because of the rain, or walked with Mr P and the dogs because I was otherwise committed, this has been a reasonably typical weekend.
I suppose the point of all this is to say that there is plenty to do if you live a rural life but the days when I lived in the city and spent weekends meeting friends in town for coffee and shopping or going out for cocktails are long gone, and seem a million miles away. Much of what I do now revolves around creating things, whether it’s an allotment, quilts, bears, cakes, or meals. Dogs feature heavily, as do chickens. Activities are weather dependent, and maintaining a social life is largely reliant on me making an effort to get involved in what’s going on locally.
In short, you need to be able to find things to do indoors on a wet weekend without relying entirely on the TV or heading off to your nearest shopping centre; you only get out what you put in. A rural life is very much what you make it.
Don’t get me wrong. I love my allotment, I really do but just at the minute it feels like I might as well be banging my head against a brick wall. It’d certainly be less frustrating! I’ve been working hard on my plot for the last year, battling against waist-high weeds to try to carve out something even vaguely resembling a productive patch of ground. Until relatively recently, I had felt as if I was getting somewhere; I’d had much of my patch under thick black plastic for months on end, I’d manured a couple of areas last winter ready for planting in spring. Over winter, when anyone possessed of their sanity was keeping warm indoors, I was trogging up to the plot and digging over as much of the ground as possible, removing the roots of perennial weeds feet long, and picking out what seemed like a quarry-full of stones, setting them aside for use around the shed. I ordered seeds, three blueberry bushes which overwintered in the shed, and dreamed and waited for spring. And waited. And waited …
Spring never really arrived. It seemed that one of the worst winters I can remember surrendered abruptly to the advent of summer. And what a summer – it looks set to rival 1976! Our allotments, you may recall, have no running water and we are entirely reliant on what we collect from our shed rooves into water butts. My water butts were full but, with no rain to speak of in over two months, they’ve run almost dry. In desperation I ordered four 10-litre jerry cans. Now I wish I’d ordered twice that. Today I made two trips to the allotment, each with the jerry cans and half a dozen 2-litre milk containers saved for the purpose – 104 litres in total – in an effort to top up at least one of the five water butts.
At this point I’d like to stress that I’m not filling these straight from the tap but have pressganged Mr P into joining me in putting the plug in the bath when we have showers, and saving the washing up water. Doing this makes you acutely aware of how much water you use in the space of just one day, and much more careful not to waste any – I’ve found I can wash my hands perfectly well with just a trickle! However, as regards the allotment, with the best will in the world all this dry, hot weather is taking its toll. Basically, things are refusing to grow, and any produce I might have expected or hoped for is puny to say the least.
Raspberries are tiny but very raspberry-ish. Broadbeans are stunted so are producing very little though, again, what they are giving me is very tasty.
On top of all this, I’m having a god-awful time with voles. The sodding things are tunnelling their way through every bed, chomping on seeds and seedlings as they go, leaving holes everywhere. Moles are burrowing underneath and disturbing my planting, and my broadbeans are afflicted with blackfly. Like I said, banging my head against a brick wall! The old chap on the allotment in front of mine says he’s been doing this allotment lark for fifty years and can’t remember a worse year for growing produce. God only knows how farmers are managing. Mr P and I ran into one of the village farmers the other evening in the pub and got a bit of the lowdown. Grass isn’t growing and is so dry there’s little nutrition in it so livestock are having fodder taken out to them. Water pressure is lower than usual and troughs located uphill from the farms aren’t filling so farmers are having to take water out to them. What’s happening on arable farms and with vegetable producers I can’t imagine; apparently lettuce stops growing above 30-degrees centigrade. I think we should all prepare for having to cough up more for fruit and veg over the coming months.
Basically, I’m feeling frustrated, and a bit pissed off to be frank. I’m caught in a gardening Bermuda Triangle of worries relating to weather and wildlife. It would be easy to give up and hand over the allotment to someone on the waiting list.
But it’s still a beautiful place to be, it’s still the place that keeps me sane, and besides, I’m not a quitter. To paraphrase Scarlett O’Hara, 2019 is another year!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Friends matter but don’t expect to make them overnight.
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.
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/
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).
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.
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/
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/
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!
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
Monyash has a thriving community spirit and there’s usually something going on. Today it was the annual May Market.
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.
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 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.
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!
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.
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.