Friday, 10 July 2015

State of the nation

I can hardly believe that it has been six months since we turned our backs on our old lives and embarked on this Great Adventure into the Welsh unknown. Opportune moment it would seem to pause and reflect upon our achievements (or otherwise) to date. The big oil companies used to have what they called the 1H Status Report; in other words, a mind-numbingly boring summary of the first half of the year usually peppered liberally with some eye-poppingly large $$$ figures.  Here, in a somewhat modified format, is my summary report of the dream so far…


In a fit of early organisation and action that surprised even ourselves we are now generating about 50% of our own electricity from solar panels and have enough scalding hot water to bathe most of the Welsh rugby team, I WISH (but only if the sun is shining of course). We still have absolutely no clue how the funky plumbing works in our house and have given up trying to pin down a plumber to help us work it out. They are an elusive breed in North Wales it would seem…

We spent the first three months of the year bemoaning the fact that our freeloading chickens bore us no eggs. We spent the next three months struggling to ‘go’ if you get my drift… A classic case of be careful what you wish for if ever there was one. With 5 eggs a day (that’s 35 a week – who in their right mind would buy 3 x dozen boxes in the supermarket for your average family of 4?) each mealtime is now met with the groan of, “really? More sodding eggs?” as we are rapidly exhaust our repertoire of eggy cuisine. Also not massively helpful in our quest to potty train our toddler. The many hours spent in the loo gently encouraging “a movement” have to be multiplied again given her love of “eggybogles”. Will we ever learn?!

Be careful what you wish for...
We’ve felled 8 trees since we arrived and managed to chop, chip and stack all the wood without severing any vital body parts. Bonus. Investment in logs for this winter £0! (disregarding the cost of the hideously expensive chainsaw and chipper of course - but hey this is my status report and I'll massage the stats as I see fit!).  But the burning question (fnar, fnar) is will we have enough to see us through to next year. At the rate I get through logs of a winter’s evening, probably not.

Having spent most of the past six months outside we are well on our way to resembling one of those gnarly Tibetan locals, only with an Anglo-Saxon twist – ruddy cheeks and freckles atop a growing number of wrinkles. I reckon we’re also a wee bit fitter than we were before we arrived. Lugging wood and fence posts and massive bags of animal feed and compost about the place beats David Lloyd’s Body Pump class any day of the week. I’d even go so far as to say you can see a little bit of muscle definition beneath all the mud and scratches and bruises.  But whatever steps we may have made towards the Californian beach body (ahem) we’ve certainly offset through the number of grey hairs on our head (and beard in some cases – not mine before you all start jeering at the back about my descent into becoming completely feral) and rouched bags under our eyes from late nights working outside and even later nights dealing with a newborn baby.  

Food & Drink
We are still a long, long way from living off our land but we have consumed our own rabbits, half a chicken (in tragic post-crow attack circumstances) and enough rhubarb and nettles to shame even the greatest wild foodie stalwarts. We’re also cracking on through our radishes and various fancy forms of lettuce as the warm up acts to the main events, which, inevitably, will all be ready and overwhelm us in exactly the same week sometime in late summer. I reckon the current ratio of hours invested to actual produce consumed is roughly 267:1.  At this rate we will be 104 (not to mention emaciated) before we actually produce all of what we eat. Thank god for Asda home delivery that’s what I say! We’ve also been dabbling in elderflower champagne and lemon balm tea. I’d choose these over a cold, crisp glass of 1996 vintage pink Laurent Perrier or a nice, comforting cup of PG Tips every time. Honest.

Laurent Perrier rosé or homemade?

We either seem to be drowning or in drought. No half way house. We’ve gone from off piste rivers and bog to dustbowl in a matter of weeks. How is that even possible?! This is North Wales not the bloody Mojave Desert… But we’re wising up to this slowly with tanks and rain butts now all smugly set up to capture every last drop. It’s just a shame we forgot to turn the taps off before the latest monsoon…D’oh. Schoolboy error. Precious water pissing away all over the ground. Not to worry, Wales being Wales I’m sure our next downpour is but moments away… And as for the drains. Well, we await with baited breath our promised contractor to work miracles in our fields à la Moses. Watch this space...

You remembered to turn the taps off right?

It still very much feels like we are fighting a losing battle with the relentless invasion of grass and weeds. No sooner do you feel like you have got on top of it then you have to start all over again. The Forth Rail Bridge painters had nothing to grumble about compared to this! We are gradually getting used to the nagging feeling that there is always something pressingly urgent to be done that never leaves you as a new landowner (eek, that title still totally freaks me out!). On the up side our television hours have reduced to < 1 hour a week.


·      Farmers think  you are batshit crazy for going for a run - you can see it in their eyes are they watch you trotting past their tractor: ‘if you have got so much bloody energy come and wrestle one of my bullocks or clean out the slurry pit, you mad townie’.

·    There isn’t a non X-rated way to clean a stem of rhubarb with your hands – try it and see

·       Eggs don’t bounce – so don’t entrust them to a hyperactive toddler (unless of course you are trying to surreptitiously get out of eating them…)

·    Sheep produce an extraordinary amount of shit – it is also magnetically attracted to children’s wellies, clothes and hats (how?!)

·       Holidays are now but a fond and distant memory – the effort it would take to organise someone to cover the care of all the animals, plants and land would outweigh any benefit gained from a holiday. Besides which we have too much to do to be cavorting about on a beach somewhere. And anyway, what is a holiday? Isn’t it just spending time doing the things you enjoy? Ergo this?

·     Its bloody hard work – harder than I think either of us had ever imagined but looking back on what we have actually achieved in the past 6 months (rather than focusing on the mountain of work still to be tackled as we are wont to do) I don’t think we’ve put in a poor show. My husband said to me the other day as I was grumbling about the never-ending task of weeding the veg plot, “would you prefer that it was ending?” A good point well made (she conceded reluctantly). What would be the point of embarking on a project like this if you could reach the finish line straight away? And on that note, I’m back off out…

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