Wednesday, 27 May 2020

Tales from a lockdown

Nothing like a pandemic to encourage one to finally put pen to paper again! I'd love to say that this is due to all the wonderful free time I have now, wandering around our fields oblivious to the outside world. But alas, the dreaded CV19 has encroached upon our lives too, even up here in the far flung reaches of the North Wales hills. Given that we have, to many intents and purposes, been self-isolating since we moved up here over 5 years ago, you’d be forgiven for assuming that we’d be in our element in a locked down world. Indeed, for the first couple of weeks after Boris Johnson’s announcement, once we had stopped reeling from the realisation that we’d effectively have no income from The Forge or the Wild Bushcraft Company for the foreseeable AND we’d overnight become home-schooling teachers, life felt pretty sweet. We slightly smugly floated around the place, self-congratulating ourselves on having five freezers full of meat and a polytunnel full to bursting with greens to tide us over, whilst watching the scenes of Tesco-related horror unfolding on the television.

With neither of us travelling for work and two small kids to entertain for days on end we decided to whole-heartedly embrace The Good Life, taking on 6 tiny pet lambs and 2 piglets, and digging out the incubator to fill full of eggs, marvelling at our own genius in using the countdown to hatching day as a mathematics teaching aid (Oh! Hark at us!). Bottle feeding the lambs four times a day provided a lovely structure to the day and whiled away the hours, especially once you had rigged the kids up in their special ‘lamb feeding’ clothes and meticulously mixed up the formula, washed and disinfected the bottles and finally peeled the milk-drunk dozing lambs off the children’s laps.

Lockdown lambs
We spent hours on the vegetable patch, meticulously planting seeds and catching worms and insects to inhabit our oh-so-creative bug hotels. We foraged for wild garlic and nettles which we lovingly turned into healthy and nutritious meals. We taught our kids all about lofty concepts such as philanthropy through the medium of free eggs and surplus young plants which we left at the bottom of the drive for those less fortunate than ourselves. And then basked in the warm glow of random acts of kindness as each day we skipped down the drive to see if any kind passer-by had left us anything in return – we received pints of milk, hospital grade hand sanitiser (equivalent of 35 gold ingots in today’s economy) lots of lovely thank you notes and even a cockerel (more about that below…).

Life lessons
We have explored hidden corners of our land which hitherto had gone unnoticed, tuning in and paying attention to the hundreds of different plant and animal species that also call our place home. With no glampers staying, we discovered lots of birds’ nests in our camp kitchens and composting toilets filled with gorgeous pretty blue eggs and, a bit later, hungry, gaping little mouths. We’ve made elaborate frog enclosures and pressed wildflowers and discovered hedgehogs under bushes and climbed trees in floaty skirts. Oh and did I mention eating honeycomb directly from the bee hive? Honestly, Enid Blyton had nothing on this.

Our first taste of our own honey, straight from the honeycomb
And as the heat wave shone down and we settled in our new routine, we smiled beatifically at each other and marvelled at how much we just born for this situation. This was exactly what we came here to do – a true test of our ability to be self-sufficient.  Life seemed so much quieter and calmer all of a sudden, as we switched off our news feeds and limited our exposure to the outside world. Most of all, the road noise which had been a bug bear of mine for the past five years suddenly became close to non-existent. It really felt that all our dreams had come true…

Two months later…

Fast forwards 8 weeks and the rosy glow is well and truly starting to wear off…

It turns out lambs grow fast, really bloody fast and the initial cutesy lamby love-ins with lots of warm milk and cuddles rapidly degenerated into the need for full on riot gear to deal with the onslaught of six hefty teenage sheep charging towards you at high speed like a mob of fleecy Hell's Angels. Not to mention the fact that the farm supplies shop ran out of the delicious vanilla scented milk powder after the first three weeks and we had to resort to the cheaper and rather revolting substitute, which the kids (with surprising perspicacity) described as smelling like “rotten pizza”. And don’t get me started on the endless washing and sterilising of bottles and teets and buckets. Locked into an endless Groundhog day, six times worse than newborn babies… Somewhere along the line we also completely gave up trying to get the kids to wear their ‘lamb outfits’ and get straight in the bath after each feed – this quickly degenerated into the kids lying about on the ground munching the remnants of their lunch in one hand, with a lamb trying to wrestle the bottle out of the other. The irony that the rest of the world is hand washing and sanitising every aspect of their life to an unprecedented degree, whilst my kids are quite literally rolling around in shit is not lost on me.

Not so cute now...
The piglets have also started to lose their appeal. From cute little oinky creatures frolicking around their pen they have become eating machines, intent on munching absolutely anything that comes in their path (and yes that includes us, we have the scars to prove it). Apart from lemons. They bloody hate lemons for some reason. Unless they are gangster-flavoured lemons, because as we repeatedly tell each other, pigs have a particular penchant for anything with a hint of Mafia.

Munch munch
We’ve also been paid many visits by marauding farm animals from our neighbouring farms, keen to get their chops around our long green grass, which with no glampers around to mow it for, is clearly far more appealing than the stuff on their side of the fence. Hardly a day has gone by without the cry of “the f’king sheep are out again” being sent up and the whole family hastily pulling on the nearest item of footwear and charging up to the top fields to stop the pesky blighters munching all our young trees. We also had a whole herd of cows break in for a party on our glamping site the other evening, leaving us ‘presents’ everywhere (which yours truly had the pleasure of clearing up). I tell you, who needs Joe Wickes when you have to be human sheep dogs every day of the week!

Our own animals are not much better. Another bloody cockerel has arrived (they always make an appearance somewhere in this blog!). This time a black leghorn who was exchanged for half a dozen eggs. So far, so Jack and the bloody Beanstalk. I entrusted my husband to transact the deal and arrived back from our daily walk to find our new acquisition very croakily trying to crow whilst running laps of the hen enclosure looking like he had just stepped out of the roadrunner cartoons. On the evening of his arrival, I went to check on him and he was nowhere to be seen. I eventually caught sight of the back of him heading very rapidly west over the hills and faraway. And so that was the end of that. Or so we thought. No sign of him the next day, despite searching every square inch of our place. Nothing that afternoon. We had given the whole thing up as a bad job. The following morning there he is. Larger than life, strutting about again as though nothing had happened. We’ve already got a hen called Houdini so the kids have called this one Magic for his now regular yet still uncanny ability to completely disappear and reappear. Derek, our resident cockerel, has never looked so pissed off!*

Now you see me, now you don't!
And I never thought we would get bored of all the glorious sunshine, endless blue skies and warm evenings playing outside. Until of course our rain butts started to run dry. And our seeds failed to germinate and we spent every waking moment wondering if it would rain today (which generally it didn’t). I also had the ‘joy’ of shovelling 3 tonnes of cow manure onto our beds which, alongside the endless meals of sodding wild garlic and nettle soup, ensured that I stank so badly that the 2 metre social distancing rule was never, ever going to be an issue! You would be lucky to get anyone within a 20-metre radius of me.

So yep, fair to say the honeymoon period of lockdown is well and truly over. We are becoming more feral by the week and I fear for the day when one of us has to actually get a brush through our hair or find a clean pair of clothes (with the exception of my husband whose head I shaved to grade 0 in week 2, via a Mahican for shits and giggles!). Here in Wales, as I write, we are still in full lockdown with no indication of when things might ease up. Most days this doesn’t really bother us – we are so far away from everything and everyone. We even play rock, paper, scissors to decide who makes the weekly foray to the local shop, such is our reluctance to engage in what is actually happening. Face masks, Thursday clapping, endless queues for supermarkets – this has all very much passed us by.  

Some days are hard though and the reality of what is happening hits you like a fist to the chest. The fact that we have had probably the best run of glamping weather EVER while our site sits eerily silent is a source of huge frustration (not to mention a major concern for our bank account). The constant gnawing sense of guilt from trying to hold down a job whilst home-schooling (and keep all the above mentioned farm animals and plants alive, not to mention all the housework) where you feel that you are never giving the best of yourself in any situation. The feeling constantly exhausted by the sheer lack of time to focus on anything or truly relax – whilst the rest of the world engages in a Netflix binge, I am lucky if I watch half an hour of telly a week these days. And I long for the day when we don’t eat the same bloody thing for lunch and dinner every sodding day. Believe me when I tell you, there is only so much venison and spinach a person can eat.

Please mum, no more spinach!
What has not passed us by though is the recognition that we are so bloody lucky to be living here right now. In years to come we may all talk about where you were ‘when the music stopped’ and how the lockdown was for you. Despite all the ups and downs and the relentlessness of the routines of feeding and cleaning and watering and digging, we would honestly not wish to be anywhere else. I am sure it has changed us all in ways we will not even begin to truly appreciate for some time to come – but that’s a blog post for another day.

We really hope you are all keeping well and positive – stay safe everyone!

*Postscript: since writing this blog, Derek, our old cockerel has sadly fallen off his perch and gone to the Great Hen House In The Sky. Probably our favourite cockerel to date, and father of all of our most beautiful hens. Gone but not forgotten, RIP Derek. 

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