Thursday, 4 June 2015

You get less time for murder

This week we celebrated ten years together and five blissful years of marriage. The nature of our wedding was perhaps a sign of things to come:  memorable for the high volume of wellies worn and forgettable for the high volume of alcohol consumed. It’s not everyone who celebrates their nuptials with Welsh lambs cooked in the ground, homemade venison sausages and shooting contests mixed in among the champagne and speeches. In fact, I kept the white wellies I was wearing on the day, not for any overly sentimental reasons, but rather because, as my father pointed out just as we were about to walk down the aisle, “they might come in helluva handy one day down the abattoir”. I think the writing was on the wall.  So after five years of going to work, coming home, spending the odd evening, weekend and holiday together, we suddenly find ourselves almost constantly in each other’s company as we take a year ‘off’ to sort things out with our new place. With no 9-5 (more like 5-9) or other fixed commitments to occupy your time, embarking on a project like this puts a whole new angle on your relationship, so what’s the secret for success? Here, for what it’s worth, is my Guide to Ultimate Marital Harmony on the Land.

Wedding day

Five years later...

1.       Give each other space
There are some tasks that can be completed en famille in manner of soft focus pictures straight from the pages of Country Living magazine. This week, for example, we spent a happy afternoon strimming and clearing grass and weeds from the drive: Dad on the brushcutter, Mum on the rake and a giggling toddler hitching free rides in the wheelbarrow while the baby dozed quietly in her pram. Easy. Now to be fair we have achieved this a sum total of once by some completely flukey alignment of weather, toddler cooperation and baby sleep patterns.  In order to get anything actually done and keep frustrations and screaming (from all of us) to a minimum I wholeheartedly recommend putting as much distance between yourselves as possible. Ideally, at least three fields if you can. My general rule of thumb is to remain out of sight as much as possible during daylight hours, convening only for meals and the kids’ bedtime. Other than that the only way I know my husband’s whereabouts is by the almighty racket usually issuing from one of his many new and potentially life threatening pieces of machinery. I can generally be more covert in my operations around about the place, other than the piercing shriek of a toddler that has misplaced a worm or the cries of an over-hungry baby. When I start to get a bit twitchy is when it all goes quiet. That’s when I really have to self-manage my paranoia that he has severed a limb or, worse still, mangled said equipment in some costly error of judgement. Again.

2.       Share the load
I.e. divvy up the shit jobs, quite literally. For example, clearing months’ (possibly years’) worth of chicken shit from a very neglected hen house, a task I neatly managed to avoid on the grounds of being eight months pregnant. So I watched somewhat smugly from the wings as husband and father-in-law (on a very badly timed visit) donned Ebola-esque outfits (masks, rubber gloves, overalls, I kid you not) and waged war on the neglected hut. However, I was not quite so smug when it became apparent that we needed to address the seemingly indiscriminate bowel movements of the previous owner’s dog. So there I was on Easter Sunday (still not entirely sure why we chose such a key date in the Christian/Pagan calendar, depending on your persuasion - think it was just a nice, sunny day), skulking around stony-faced with my spade and bucket, watching the kids frolicking around hunting for chocolate eggs, whilst I embarked on a wholly different type of hunt. This did however get me out of clearing up the kitchen in the aftermath of a particularly virulent bout of canine diarrhoea the following week. Ah, you see, we really are living the dream.

3.       Surprise each other with thoughtful gifts
Five year anniversary. Wood. Some women might be expecting some beautiful carved ornament, or perhaps some tasteful table mats. Or, indeed, to hell with tradition and show me the damn Mulberry handbag and diamond rings, Mister. But it seems we know each other too well. When I was presented with a stunning piece of Alder, hand cut and sanded from the first tree that we felled on the place I was genuinely touched (i.e. weepy, but thankfully still able to blame the post pregnancy hormones, just) and it now has pride of place on our dining room table. I wish I could say the same for the pressure cooker which arrived right behind it. I’m pretty sure that I speak for most staunch (and borderline) feminists when I say that any gift with the vague whiff of ‘get back in the kitchen and slave, wench’ would be met with a sharp jab to the nether regions followed by even sharper sting from the tongue on a better choice of present next time. However, it transpires that in our house pressure cooker falls into the category of ‘gadget’ and not ‘cooking equipment’ and therefore I am not allowed to touch it, let alone cook with it. Hurrah to that! It also turns out that this is yet another piece of equipment that can be added to our growing list of ‘Things That Could Easily Kill Us’. Who knew that pressure cookers were so potentially darn lethal?! But I tell you one thing: it can work absolute wonders with a geriatric rabbit, a few bendy carrots and an onion…

Our very own Alder

New pressure cooker - stand well back!

4.       Play to each other’s strengths
For the most part our To Do list here has naturally fallen to one or other of us quite easily and we have just cracked on with our tasks, me looking largely after the veggies and the flowers, him dealing with the heavy lifting and anything involving potentially lethal machinery. However, experience and a few blazing rows have taught us that there are some domains in which Thou Shalt Not Interfere. Something as seemingly innocuous as making a sausage (not a euphemism by the way) can result in an almighty slanging match. For those of you not familiar with the art of sausage making it’s really very simple: meat in, much noise and grinding of metal, sausage out. Where we differ is on the optimum rate at which meat should be fed into the machine. It seems our definition of ‘optimum’ differs widely and thus we have decided that in the interests of our marriage and not filling the coffers or our lawyer this is one task that is better tackled alone. Number 2: rotavating. Once again, how hard can it be? Put machine in ground, press go, lo and behold earth turned over, deep joy. Oh no. Again it seems there can be two very different opinions on the speed and depth and general handling of the tool.  To avoid one of us ending up six foot under the newly rotavated earth, we have again agreed that one or t’other of us handles this. Alone. And finally, number 3: firewood. Now I am quite happy to stand back and let The Master work his magic with the ridiculously pimped up Vauxhall Nova of the chainsaw world, but when it comes to placing a piece of wood on a pallet, surely any old fool could manage that right? Apparently not. Apparently there is A System and that System must be adhered to at all times throughout the chopping, stacking and burning process. Dear lord, I fear my husband is suffering from a severe case of OCD (Obsessive Chopping Disorder, sorry…).

DO NOT mess with The System
5.       Share the dream
Now before you all find the nearest bin to puke in, I think there have been more than a few occasions when it feels like we are sharing a nightmare, rather than a dream. The one thing that has stood us in good stead throughout the ‘dark days’ is the thought that we are in this together, come what may. It is so very easy to get bogged down in the minutiae of everyday tasks and start to dwell on how relatively easy and free of chores and stress life was before we bought the place. However for all the low points, like the drains just plain refusing to drain anything and the seemingly never ending growth of grass and weeds (like those magic candles on a cake that you can never blow out that my toddler is obsessed with), there is always something, however minor, to give you hope: FOUR eggs in one day, the surprise discovery of a ton of gooseberry bushes on the drive, or the sight of our first runner beans coming up. I think as long as we hang on to the little successes, with luck the rest might follow. And if it doesn’t, we will still have learned a shed load about what and what not to do in a place like this, and a whole hell of a lot more about each other.

No comments:

Post a Comment