Thursday, 7 January 2016

New year, new normal

It was exactly a year ago today that we arrived here and embarked upon our crazy new adventure. I can hardly believe that we have been here for 12 months and have seen the full cycle of seasons (sometimes all in the same day). Through all the giggles and tears we’ve learned a lot about how to grow a few veggies, raise your own animals for meat and more than we would ever care to know about drains and ditches. There has been a fair amount of swearing, a lot of laughter and more mud than I thought physically possible. But more than that I feel like we have evolved as a family in ways that we haven’t even realised so that things we once took for granted now feel hard won and equally, things that once used to blight our daily lives are now not given a second thought. So here, in no particular order, are my top ten new norms that now seem to characterise our daily life.

1.       Parking
This used to be the bane of our lives, coming home every night and wondering whether some cheeky-arse commuter had nabbed the spot outside our house and disappeared off to London for a week, leaving us to park miles away from the house and struggle to the front door laden with baby, laptops and the weekly shop. Once a source of constant stress, we can now park wherever the hell we like and never, ever have to worry about it. Wonderful. Although I do sometimes miss the pleasure of blocking in some flash motor with our beaten up Landrover, then waiting for some po-faced grey suit to come knocking on the door, only to face the wrath of a 6'3'' hairy Scot and a brusque lesson in parking etiquette before finally being allowed to drive away. Never got bored of that bit.

2.       Food
Once upon a time I used to get a bit hungry of a morning, wander along to Pret a Manger, purchase a lovely cup of coffee and a croissant and eat it. Just like that. Now I can easily go three hours after waking before I finally get anything to eat such is the long list of mouths that need feeding before my own. Forget Maslow, this is the all new  Smallholders Hierarchy of Feeds – see figure 1.1 below (can you tell I am going back to work next week and needed to brush up on my PowerPoint skills?!)  There is a strict order of feeding that starts outside and finally works its way back to me. Once we do all sit down for a meal there is then is another hierarchy for who gets the scraps. I can honestly say that hardly anything gets wasted here at all. Forget the kilos of waste that each family is supposed to generate each year. I think we are single-handedly working to turn this statistic around.

Figure 1.1 Smallholders Hierarchy of Feeds - Order of feeding

Figure 1.2 Smallholders Hierarchy of Feeds - Prioritisation of leftovers

3.       The hot water lottery
We never, ever used to give hot water a second thought. Turn on tap, out pours lovely, steamy hot water, take a long shower, and take another one, and another one after that if you like. It never ran out. Now we are at the mercy of the elements and the wood stoves. If you somehow manage the perfect alignment of the appropriate hours of sunshine on the solar panels and/or the right type of wood on the fire (Ash I’m told is the hot one) for exactly the right length of time before you plan to perform your ablutions, then you might, just might, get a tepid shower. For one person. Woe betide us if we have any house guests or need to bathe the children more than once after unfortunate mud accidents (occurs almost daily). Our one saving grace is the electric ‘power’ (in the loosest sense of the word) shower which guarantees hot water, but at a dribble and costs more than our whole electricity bill for the rest of the month. Hence we are only allowed to use it at Christmas and on our birthdays.

4.       Phones
I wonder where he is. I’ll just give him a shout. Errr no. Actually that won’t work because he could be bloody anywhere. Now we use our mobile phones like walkie talkies to converse with each other. It saves charging about the place pointlessly wasting ones voice with two kids in tow. And it also means we don’t have to see/smell each other (see point about hot water above). We also both seem to have unwittingly adopted the characteristic Welsh sign off on all our phone calls, ending every conversation with a high-pitched “tarr-aarr”. If we carry on like this we may soon be mistaken for locals.

5.       Opening hours
If you had told me a year ago that I would not be able to buy anything in the local town between the hours of 12-1pm, on a Wednesday afternoon or at the weekend I would have laughed loudly in your face and told you not to be ridiculous. This is 2015 after all. But somehow, now this feels like the most normal thing in the world. Of course you wouldn’t want to go and buy a bag of pig nuts at lunch time. How very uncivilised. And unspeakably disorganised to find you have run out of food at the weekend. It’s taken us a few wasted trips into town and a few hungry and grumpy critters earlier in the year to learn our lesson but we’re now firmly in the groove with the Welsh rhythm of retail. Then again, if you need a pint of milk and a paper at 5am you will have absolutely no problem at all…

6.       Money
Just as I was leaving London the whole touchless payment revolution was in full swing. I thought moving to the backwaters of Wales we would be back to bartering eggs and potatoes for half a shilling and thr’pence. How wrong I was. Forget touchless. Here we have telepathic payment. You don’t even need to get your card out or even have it on your person. I actually have no idea where my purse is these days because down at the Farmers Mart (source of anything and everything you could ever possibly need) we just put everything on our account. They now know our faces so we don’t even have to tell them our names or address. Easy as. The only snag is when you get the stinger of a monthly bill. The “time of the month” has come to have a whole new meaning here as we each start to dissect the bill and start squabbling over who bought what and why.  Turns out the stuff isn’t actually free after all.

7.       Community
We used to live in a small commuter village in Hampshire so thought we knew a lot about rural communities and how they work. Moving here has been quite a shock to the system as we are just now starting to realise what a tight knit and deep rooted community we have moved into. There are farming families that go back generations and people who have lived and worked here all their lives. Everyone knows everyone and although we cannot actually see another house from where we live, our new neighbours are already becoming good friends. At least I hope they are. We received some delicious beetroot chutney and a couple of enormous swedes as an offering over Christmas which we are taking as a token sign of inclusion. It sometimes feels a bit like playing snakes and ladders: you have a great conversation with some folk in the pub or with the lovely ladies at the Farmers Mart and you feel like you have climbed the rungs of the acceptance ladder. Then you get spotted with your Landrover stuck in the mud or one of your pigs keels over and you come sliding all the way back down the slippery snake of credibility. I think this may take us some time…

8.       Outside
Back in the day going outside was a finite, structured activity to walk the dog on our predefined route or to take a trip over the road to the swings. It took roughly an hour, possibly more if the weather was nice and we met someone we knew for a natter. Nowadays we spend most of our time outside, regardless of the weather or the day of the week. So much so in fact that the baby will only sleep in the pram outside during the day. Most days I set out with some task in mind (planting seeds, pulling weeds, digging up stones for our new herb garden) and most days we don’t even start said activity and end up playing in the streams or building dens in the hedgerows. The only downside to all of this gallant element-braving is finding and donning the appropriate clothing. This can take anywhere up to an hour by the time you have located the right fleeces/socks/scarves/hats/gloves/coats/wellies and then wrestled with both children to get them on whilst simultaneously trying to find the rain cover for the pram and then negotiate with a three year old to wait while you pull on your own perpetually soggy waterproofs. By the time you have done all that you feel ready for a long sit down and a cup of tea. Only you know that it could be hours away by the time you have mucked about outside for a while and then finally managed to persuade child back into the house and then started the whole disrobing process all over again.  Cue a bit of gratuitous Excel to get the corporate juices flowing again.... I think I need all the practice I can get!

Figure 1.3 Reckon I am back in work mode yet?!

9.       Mud
Mud and shit (in every sense of the word) have become an omnipresent feature of our lives. We are either digging in it, clearing it out, or washing it off something or someone. Our back porch has become like a quarantine holding area where you have to remove every item of outdoor clothing before being allowed into the relatively clean area of the kitchen and the rest of the house. My children, although they apparently disregard a lot of everything else that utters forth from my mouth, would never, ever dare to wear their wellies past the sacred threshold. Ditto the dog (although he obviously doesn’t wear wellies. Yet).  They have worked out that the fear of me bellowing “WELLIES!!!” and the potential consequences are not worth the risk.

10.   Rains and drains
I couldn’t let a summary of the year go by without mention of the drains. A year ago, I barely knew what one was and have probably walked over thousands on the pavements of London without ever giving them a second thought. Now I have an acute mental map of every single pipe under the place and can almost calculate from lying in bed the number of centimetres of rain per hour that is falling on our already saturated land. A recent statistic revealed that over ONE METRE of rain had fallen during the month of December at the weather station just down the road. That is the most rainfall that has ever been recorded ever, anywhere. With news like that we are just thanking our lucky stars that the house and workshop have remained dry. Ok so the fields may resemble paddy fields and the streams are thundering like waterfalls but we've not resorted to the sandbags just yet. And on the up side it is a fantastic new training ground for the crazy Mud Run that I have entered in April (I was signed up in a moment of weakness – and I thought I might as well embrace my new mud-filled existence. Wish me luck!).

So there you have it. A year on.  A year older. A little wiser maybe but still a long way to go. I do still sometimes feel like I'm living someone else's life and I'll wake up to find that I've just nodded off on the 06:12 to Waterloo and it's all been some crazy dream. It’s back to work for me next week, my maternity leave/early retirement now having come sadly to an end (although it might mean I get to spend a little more time sitting down and drinking cups of tea whilst they are still vaguely warm). I will endeavour to keep posting my blog as and when I can but suspect that they may be a little less frequent than they have been this year. If you have enjoyed reading (*shameless plug alert*) I have entered the UK Blog Awards 2016 and voting is open from now until the 25th January. If you would like to vote for me, all you have to do is click here, enter your name and email address and the category you think I deserve to win and voila you are done.  It only takes a couple of minutes and I will be eternally grateful.  Ok plug over. Happy New Year everyone. Here’s to a happy and healthy 2016!

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