Thursday, 28 May 2015

Out with the new and in with the old

There are days when I feel like I have stepped back in time. This time last year our hurried morning conversations revolved all around train times (pick a time, add 20 minutes then add a bit more to account for SW Trains delays), nursery pick-ups (me or you?) and any meetings that day which were likely to overrun and therefore throw all of the above into a total, panicked chaos. Nowadays the conversation is more likely to go along the lines of “Have you fed/watered/checked the dog/cat/hens/chicks/sheep/tomatoes/carrots/children? Should we really be planting peas on a new moon? Did you know there is a Gloucester Old Spot market in town next week?” in manner of harridan 19thcentury farmer’s wife. Whereas my days used to be ordered by the hourly ping of Microsoft Outlook telling me which delightful client I was to meet with next or which teleconference number to dial into, our days are now broadly divided into ‘light o’clock’ and ‘dark o’clock’, punctuated only by the blood-curdling shrieks of ‘milk o’clock’ from my three month old daughter. Each day starts with roughly the same slow rising sense of panic as we huddle in front of the ever-expanding To Do list on the whiteboards in the office (you can take the girl out of the City but you can’t take the City out of the girl!). There follows some sort of vague prioritisation based on a) the weather b) energy levels and c) number of toddler tantrums already thrown  that morning. It’s then just crack on and get as much physically done as you can before dark o’clock. Job done (or not, as is more often the case).

You can take the girl out of the City...

Once you’re out there, it’s very easy to lose track of time. Head down, knee deep in weeds with only the worms and the songbirds for company, you could be forgiven for thinking that you were living a generation ago. The only thing to remind me I’m in the 21st century are the Hawk T1A fighter jets that pass at Mach 1.15 through the mountains at pretty much my eye level or the Airbus Beluga A300-600ST en route to the factory in Broughton (oh yes, I am a self-confessed geeky plane spotter and these two little beauties are a definite highlight of living here for me!). Then you hear the shrill whistle of the steam train that has just been reinstated at the local station and you are brought back to your 19th century reverie with a jolt.

Not my photo,obviously

Nor this one

Continuing our journey back in time, we had a surprise visit this week from a lovely lady called Mary who was actually born in our house in 1945 and grew up here farming the land with her parents. Clutching a handful of sepia toned photographs (the real deal for once, not your phoney Instagram ones) she gave us a guided history tour of our own house (very cool), pointing out the old snug where dear Uncle Fred was sitting to watch the 1953 Royal Coronation and the former scullery where old Aunt Mabel got her tit caught in the mangle and so on and so forth. It seems the cold store is pretty much the only part of the house which has not been knocked about by its subsequent residents. It was fascinating to hear that the room we now use to stockpile baked beans from the Cash & Carry (such is our faith in our own ability to be self-sufficient) and keep our beers cold was where they used to hide on the day that the pigs were slaughtered. Lovely little heart-warming stories like this (!) are what makes us feel a great sense of responsibility and honour in our humble attempts to restore some of the former greatness of the place:  like resurrecting the old vegetable patch and bringing back the hens and the pigs (we hope).  It is also a timely reminder that as we start to make our renovation plans we need to keep one eye firmly on the past as well as bringing the place into the 21st century.

Watch out for the old mangle

This visit also made us realise that our quest to ‘live from the land’ in this day and age is a lifestyle choice made from a position of relative luxury, whereas in Mary’s parents’ day it would have been done out of pure necessity.  So is the concept of self-sufficiency desperately outmoded when even in remote Wales you can nowadays buy pretty much everything you need – even pomegranates and soya milk?! Why beast yourself so hard for months when you can just nip to Sainsbury’s (other supermarkets are available) and buy anything you could possibly grow or raise or make yourself?  It’s not just about the cost or the taste or the fact it’s organic or that you can guarantee it’s fresh. I think there is something deep within our ancestral memory that gives you a real buzz from the delayed gratification of eating the fruits of your labours. Not to get all “motorcycle maintenancey” on you, but I think I actually really enjoy making life hard for myself. The hard work in an office is not a patch on the hard work on your own land. Fact. Am I regressing to a more natural, pre-urban state? (*takes a drag on her imaginary cigarette, Carrie Bradshaw style*). Is this such a bad thing?  

Or perhaps this is all just a sign that I am hurtling towards middle age at an alarming rate. I feel like I have aged about 25 years since arriving here, and not just from the stress of moving my entire family to the middle of nowhere and ploughing our life savings into the place to boot. I mean I have easily spent more time pottering in my greenhouse in the past three months than drinking in a pub in the past three years (although not sure ‘pottering’ is the right verb to describe the chaos that usually ensues when a toddler is let loose with some plant pots, a large bag of compost and a watering can!). I have a CQ (Chutney Quotient) to rival any self-respecting member of the WI. My back feels like that of a 70 year old after pulling weeds and lugging wood all over the place (70, incidentally is not that old of course, Dad, if you’re reading) and I felt genuine, unbridled excitement at the discovery of Lily of the Valley at the bottom of my garden yesterday. I mean, what’s that all about?! I have to keep reminding myself that I haven’t actually retired and I am just on maternity leave….

The sub pub  (randomly positioned in an old pig sty)

Check out my Lily of the Valley!  Oh yeah. 

But as a parting thought, I wanted to tell you a little story about a man called Wally who used to live near our old house in Hampshire. At 97 years old he had The Most Immaculate vegetable garden you could imagine and was quite the envy of the village. Despite losing his wife in 1976, he retained such a zest for life and living from tending his vegetable patch that it would seem to me that rather than making you old, growing your own actually keeps you young and ever optimistic. Here’s hoping!

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