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!
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.
My website is connected to Twitter and Facebook. These days I don’t use Facebook as much as I once did, not necessarily because of the Cambridge Analytica data scandal (though that is a concern), but because Twitter has suddenly grabbed my attention. In part this is because it’s awash with shepherds, farmers, gardeners, and allotmenteers all tweeting away with useful hints and tips, not to mention cute pictures of lambs. It’s also because I’m somewhat obsessed with anything to do with rural life and am somehow living vicariously through other people’s seemingly wonderful lives – even though I know that it’s all bloody hard work. Yes, rural life is more about feeding the soul than the bank account, this I know.
There’s a fly in the Twitter firmament though. All these gardeners and allotmenteers, whose tweets and blogs I read, enjoy, and inwardly digest, are annoyingly good at it, far more organized than I am, much more experienced, and, quite frankly, I’m getting just a little bit pissed off. Everyone’s wonderfully supportive and helpful but, even so, I’m starting to feel just a little bit inadequate! Don’t they ever have seeds which fail to germinate? Don’t they ever buy completely the wrong tool for the job? Or suffer attacks of the heebie-jeebies worrying if they’ll ever produce anything at all that’s even vaguely edible once they’ve cut out the manky bits? Don’t they ever feel like, well, like a fake? I definitely do.
All this is putting me very much in touch with a sense of my own inadequacy; what if I’m not up to the job and actually don’t produce any edible crops? I don’t want to fail, who does? However, to date my successes are few and far between. When I took over my allotment, about a year ago, it was a beautiful, tangled mess of wildflowers and weeds. There was no shed, no water; you couldn’t even really see where beds had been.
Now, there’s a brand spanking new shed, on a site I levelled myself, complete with shelves I put up myself (do yourself a favour – don’t buy metal shelving units from B&Q), hooks to hold my tools, and a kitchen unit/butchers’ block bought from a charity shop to act as storage/potting bench. There’re blue plastic barrels bought for £2.50 from the local brickworks which act as water butts.
I’ll admit I was grateful to Mr P for carrying them up the sloping site but I could’ve done the guttering and downpipe myself if he’d let me. I connected the barrels together with a bit of plastic pipe … basically, I did pretty much everything myself. I don’t want to eat chemicals so I’m clearing the site the hard way … by hand, digging out the most enormous perennial weeds – nettle, dock, couch grass, and dandelion. It’s back-breaking work but strangely satisfying and it has a practical purpose – to feed us. I’m proud of what I’ve achieved on my own. But oh, it is taking time to get going.
Apparently it can take up to 21 days for broad beans to show their faces. I planted some at the allotment and about 10 days later, as a sort of experiment, planted some in loo roll innards (I wish someone would come up with a one-word name for them) and put them on the window sill in the sitting room. A couple of days ago I came home and was beyond excited to find that a broad bean had finally germinated. I was so excited I couldn’t do anything except point and say “broad bean, broad bean, broad bean!!!” The trouble is, nothing’s happened since. And I do mean Nothing. Nada. Ne rien. What am I doing wrong?!
It’s not that everything’s refusing to grow. I’m having some success with anything floral; the nasturtiums are going great guns, the sunflowers are coming up trumps, and the French marigolds are doing well too. But the tomatoes were looking very leggy and weedy so I’ve planted them deep in their 3″ pots, and the squash aren’t looking as if they’re going to do anything at all at the minute. Ok, so the leeks are doing really well and I’m happy to plant more but Mr P and I can’t just live on nasturtiums, sunflower seeds, and leeks (if anyone’s got a recipe which requires all three, please let me know).
The question is, what can I do? I can only keep going I suppose, try to be patient, refuse to be browbeaten by vegetables, and resort to alcohol. I’ll have a ‘Pissed as Arseholes’ cocktail, thank you very much. Well, it is a bank holiday weekend. Chin chin!!
Please feel completely free to contact me about anything at all. All gardening advice gratefully received or we can just talk about cocktails we have known and loved.