Category Archives: Village Life

Land girl

You’ll be pleased to hear that I’ve been swotting up on the good life this month, dear Reader.  As most of you will know, when we first moved here in summer 2013, it marked the beginning of a new life for the four of us – turning our back on the urban sprawl and learning the ways of the countryside.  In fact it was the view above of one of the cottage’s neighbouring fields which convinced us to move.  For a couple of beginners like Jerry and I, the prospect of living the good life was more than a little daunting.  Yet here we are, nearly three years down the line and we’ve raised orphan lambs, adopted a Large Black called Cumberland and an elderly pony named Willow, taken on hens and now have a share in three little piglets, Huff, Puff and Snuff.  We never intended to grow such a menagerie – it just sort of happened.  I often wonder if our friends ever thought that we would turn out to be this animal mad when we left the Big Smoke.

I suppose you could say that it was all Country Living’s fault.  Almost as soon as we had moved in, I stumbled on a series the magazine had commissioned on Walnuts Farm and its owners Nick and Bella Ivins.  Charting life as a family run smallholding, it gave an insight into how the bucolic pastoral idyll we had always dreamed of could be achieved.  I say we, dear  Reader.  Anyone who knows us well will certainly agree that Jerry never pictured washing down a sheep’s backside in his idyllic rural scene.  Country Living’s series on Walnuts Farm shared Nick and Bella’s growing your own tips, how-tos for those brave enough to give livestock a go and many a delicious recipe using hedgerow fodder.  Nick and Bella painted a wonderful portrait of smallholder life and made it seem somehow achievable on a small scale for a pair of Londoners seriously lacking in green fingers.

Imagine my joy, dear Reader, when Nick and Bella announced that there was to be a book to follow the series.  The New Homesteader was an eagerly awaited parcel – thank you to Nick and Bella for the fabulous gift and for the invaluable tweets and replies on caring for lambs, pigs etc when we got a bit stuck.  I very nearly bit the postman’s hand off to rip open the jiffy bag and devour the contents!

Homesteader3

The book doesn’t disappoint.  It is a wonderfully put together tome of self-sufficiency and learning to live the good life.  Leaving the city behind and relocating to Walnuts Farm ten years ago, Nick and Bella have embraced becoming smallholders with their daughters Flora and Peggy, making it work for them and fit in with family life, rather than being slaves to the land.

Their book offers practical advice on a plethora of ‘good lifer’ topics (accompanied by Nick’s beautiful photography) from yoghurt and butter making… Homesteader to the benefits of planting wild flower meadows…

Homesteader2keeping pigs and hens, planning an orchard and getting started in the kitchen garden.  Nick and Bella’s aim with The New Homesteader is to inspire others to give modern homesteading a go whether it’s in the countryside, city or suburbs.  You might not be able to keep pigs in a courtyard garden in South West London but you can grow fruit and veg in pots or try your hand at making your own butter (not as difficult as you may think).  Honestly, dear Reader, even if you have no desire to up sticks for a rural living, I challenge you not to fall in love with the wonderful pictures and story which Nick and Bell tell in The New Homesteader.  It’s a rare treat and the perfect read for those who yearn for a slice of the good life.  The pictures of their delightful home will have you on Pinterest seeking to recreate their country chic in a jiffy!

Taking yet another leaf out of Nick and Bella’s book, Jerry and I have turned all land girl on our little plot (I’ve been channelling victory rolls and khaki cropped dungarees) this spring.  Jerry looks wonderful in a head scarf and pinny…..  He’ll kill me for telling such fibs.  With our veg patch sowings underway, we’ve planted our own wildflower meadow in a patch of long grass bordering the driveway and taken to some guerrilla sowing on our verges too.  We used seeds from a fab little company called Seedball  – thank you so much chaps for sending us a selection of your marvellous seed tins.  We’ve already ordered a few more tins!  The Seedball seeds couldn’t be easier to sow.  Each Seedball tin comes with seeds, compost and a little chilli to put off the birds all rolled in together so that the seeds have the best chance of growing.

seedball

Growing your own wildflower patch is as simple as throwing the seedballs onto the area which you’d like the wildflowers to grow, watering a little and then waiting for them to pop up.  Perfect for the more erratic gardener like me…..  I can’t wait to try the Herb and Tea seed mixes.  Not blessed with acres of kitchen garden, I shall be popping those in a container near the kitchen window.  Now’s the perfect time to sow and you don’t need a huge garden to scatter a few seeds.  The bees will love you forever and you never know, it could be the start of your very own smallholding, dear Reader.

Charles acre

Bluebells, birthdays and a touch of fever

Oh dear Reader, I could really do with a bit of cheering this week.  More on that in a mo but suffice to say that things have been rather hectic of late at Margot and Jerry HQ.  Celebrating reaching halfway to 70 (let’s gloss over that one fairly quickly) was top of the list, shortly followed by some pretty amazing birthday presents from Jerry and the girls.  What could be better than a bottle of my favourite gin, a bottle of Pol, a jolly green handbag and A PIG?!!!!  Yes that’s right, dear Reader.  Jerry bought me a PIG, just a few weeks’ old, for my birthday.  A gorgeous Large Black with inquisitive snout, floppy ears and a penchant for pig nuts.  It was pretty tricky to tell who was squealing more, when we first clapped eyes on each other!  Although, I’m not sure that the dear little piggy will be squealing with excitement quite so much once he’s realised that he will be salami come the autumn…..

CumberlandHaving promised that we wouldn’t name any more animals we intended to eat, Primrose and Poppy promptly dubbed our teeny little porker, Cumberland.  After the sausage.  Obviously.  I suppose if you going to name an animal you’re going to eat, it might as well be a foodie name.  Names aside, there is another little snag with this whole piggy thing….this little piggy doesn’t actually live with us.  Nor does he even live in our neighbour’s field like the lambs did.  Essentially Cumberland is at boarding school.  I know dear Reader and yes, you did read that correctly…we now have a pig at boarding school.  The lovely John and Sarah Mills took pity on me and my dreams of being a pig farmer and offered for me to adopt one of their pigs, taking it from weaner all the way through to slaughter and beyond.  So Cumberland will live with his brothers (Lincolnshire, Merguez, Chorizo…..I could go on) up at Parsonage Farm, home of delicious Hampshire charcuterie for the duration of his fattening up period.

PiggiesSince Jerry and I haven’t suddenly inherited a large estate or managed to persuade any of our other neighbours to part with some land for us to rent, this seemed a very good option for now.  Although, we won’t be able to be that hands-on with Cumberland, this is the very best in next best scenarios and at least we can go and visit him regularly.  When abattoir day comes, I will then pop over to practise my newly found butchery skills and hopefully persuade John and Sarah to let me air-dry some ham over in their cabinets.  A little bit sad that I won’t get to use my new Pig Haynes Manual but a good learning experience all the same until I can have a couple of weaners in the garden…..don’t tell Jerry, dear Reader!  It wasn’t so long ago, that I persuaded him to move all his stuff out of the shed so I could house the lambs temporarily whilst I was still doing their night feeds!  I’m only hoping that he didn’t notice how much damage the piggies had made of a grassy patch in just two days down at John and Sarah’s!

Piggies2

From pig fever to fever of a whole other kind.  With birthday celebrations over (and hangovers overcome), our little Poppy, with her habit of catching the more rare and unpleasant childhood illnesses, ended up joining more than a handful of Victorian poets and half the population of a workhouse too as she caught scarlet fever.  Never a good moment when the GP has to Google for a diagnosis but there it was in black and white, or rather scarlet spots, scarlet fever.  Always a worry when it’s on the Notifiable Disease list too.  Poor Poppy.  Probably the worst thing she’s had and with imposed house arrest plus feeling distinctly unwell, there wasn’t even an episode of Peppa Pig that would cheer her.  To add to the sickness woes, Primrose then fell ill with an ear infection and a large touch of cabin fever set in, almost resulting in me very nearly trading them both in for a dachshund puppy.  A lie down in a darkened room with the Pig Haynes Manual was the only answer at that point and of course a medicinal gin.  Mother’s ruin?  More like Mother’s restoration, dear Reader.

Bluebells2With all slowly on the mend, the four of us took to the woods for a much needed change of scene.  It’s a wonder a red cross hasn’t been daubed on the front door!  Still, our little secret glade of bluebells never fails to lift the spirits and we even managed a bit of den building too.  It’s such a gorgeous spot.  Pity I can’t keep Cumberland up there really.  I certainly wouldn’t mind having to venture up to the woods each day.  Perhaps I should just build myself a “Mummy needs a quiet 5 minutes” sort of den up there instead, complete with emergency gin rations and a good book?  Now there’s an idea, dear Reader………

den

Seeing through the blue

keyboardApologies for the interruption to transmission dear Reader, but I have been enjoying a little break from all things writing over Christmas and New Year.  I was in danger of being renamed “Mummy’s on the computer” by Poppy and Primrose (although this would make a change from “Mummy’s in the kitchen”) and felt that it was high time for a little sojourn from all things scribbly.

Settling back into the daily routine has proved shockingly difficult after such a lovely Christmas and mine and Jerry’s first real few days off since the summer hols.  I must remember that I’m only supposed to be cooking for 4 and not preparing the gargantuan feasts a la festive period and that I can no longer stay up until an ungodly hour trying to finish my latest good read (Jerry bought me a TON of fabulous books for Christmas) or the end of Mad Men, Season 6.  Trickier than I thought it would be….. Continue reading

Pumpkins and bonfires

pumpkins Halloween and fireworks are upon us already – where is this year skipping off to in such a hurry, dear Reader?  We’ve had weeks of watching the village next door preparing for the annual Bonfire and fireworks’ night, wood piling up and strange straw-stuffed people cropping up all over the place.  Primrose and I are always caught unawares by the extremely creepy looking ‘guys’ which pop up round the village this time of year.  One in particular terrified the life out of me in the dark the other night, causing me to slam on the brakes and utter some rather unrepeatable words.  Continue reading

A year on

wild flowers
There we have it.  Our first year of living in the countryside.  It’s simply bizarre to think that a year ago we left the Big Smoke and moved to Hampshire to begin a new life in the country.  WHERE has the time gone, dear Reader?  So many wonderful, funny, strange, downright mad things have happened to us in that time.

To name a few, we got some chickens……..we took on some orphans…….Jerry brewed his own beer and I foraged from the hedgerows with a good deal of trepidation – Primrose and Jerry telling me, rather helpfully, that I was destined to poison the whole family with my concoctions.  Continue reading

Midsummer magic

A little midsummer rose magic

Perfect for Thumbelina!

With midsummer here at last, I’ve been wondering if we have been touched by a bit of that good old midsummer magic of late.  Don’t worry we weren’t last seen dancing naked at dawn around a stone circle or joining a load of druids on a pilgrimage to mark the summer solstice.  (Although, Jerry swears he was on the 18:23 from Waterloo with Druid Arthur Uther Pendragon on Friday night).  No, nothing all ‘Glasto’ drastic as that.  However, trundling along the parish boundaries in an ancient village church tradition to bless the fields and the beauty of our little patch of countryside, I couldn’t help thinking that perhaps  Jerry and I had gone native, dear Reader.  In a month or two, it will be the anniversary of our first year here and it is difficult to imagine us anywhere else these days. Continue reading

Oh what a week!

winter leaveDear Reader, I can only apologise for the wall of silence from me of late.  It has been one thing after another lately!  Water coming through the ceiling, trees coming down making roads impassable, escaping chickens, 3 cracked windscreens (twice on my car, would you believe it?), 2 flat tyres, 1 pair of favourite trousers ripped and the week from hell when Poppy caught the norovirus and was very ill indeed, resulting in our first trip to a countryside hospital!  I wish spring would really take hold, dear Reader.  The four of us are sick of the rain as I am sure so many of you are too.  Our school run route is under water and we can see sandbags are out, water is being pumped on to country roads and carpets have been taken up.  Farmland is awash with water and the landscape is more brown sludge than green with flecks of white snowdrops and yellow daffodils.  Still, we must be thankful we are not in Somerset.  My thoughts go out to those poor people.

I found myself ever grateful for the wonderful nature of country folk around here  a week ago.  Trying to get home after dropping Primrose off one morning, I found myself face to face with rather a lot of water.

Ah....where's the road gone?

Ah….where’s the road gone?

Luckily for me, a very nice chap in a tractor (Poppy still hasn’t got over that a tractor stopped to talk to us) stopped me before I went any further.  The road was in the process of being closed (no guesses as to why…) and there was even more water further down – only really just passable with a 4×4 and certainly not with a puny school run car.  The ‘very nice chap’ looked me up and down and asked if I had any wellies in the back.  I replied that I hadn’t but I did have a rather smart working cocker spaniel who enjoyed a swim.  Judging by the bemused look I was given, it would appear, dear Reader, that Monty on this occasion would be of no use….and wellingtons would have been a more sensible addition to the boot that morning.  Said very nice man then told me to follow him through the water and I proceeded to drive through the wake of a tractor until I reached a dry track again.  I also received a very much needed lecture of the list of countryside must-haves for the boot of the car should I find myself in a similar pickle in the future.  To the ‘very nice chap’ – you are my hero of the day!

I’m afraid it didn’t stop with watery incidents either that day.  Jerry’s supposedly trusty Lanny giant got a flat battery and Jerry and I spent half an hour in the dark trying to extract the enormous thing from the car in the freezing cold before attempting to recharge it in the laundry room.  I am sure that this sort of stuff only happens to us.  It just hasn’t been our month.  Still, as someone said to me this week, we must count our blessings and looking at all the flood water in the surrounding countryside, I have to say, our lot could be far far worse.  There was even a hint of a rainbow this morning so that has to be a sign that things are on the up, wouldn’t say, dear Reader?

If you squint really hard, you can just about see it....

If you squint really hard, you can just about see it….

In all the recounting of chaos, I forgot to tell you dear Reader, that Monty, our gorgeous spaniel boy, turned 1.  Any excuse for cake.  He even got a feathery birthday treat when Henny, our little brown hen tried her special ‘escape from chicken Alcatraz’ number and shimmied under the fence.  The birthday hound saw an opportunity to embarrass me further chasing her all round the garden whilst I ran after him in my dressing gown, pyjamas and wellies, yelling “Leave”.  I imagine that our neighbours had a good old giggle at my expense that morning.

Pup all partied out

Pup all partied out

My silver lining finally appeared though……a couple of nominations in the Mad Blog Awards for Most Entertaining blog, Best Blog Writer and MAD Blog of the Year.  Whoever you are – I could kiss you for nominating me.  I got the tweets just as I thought the week was a complete dead loss!  I hold no hopes out for winning but the nominations have cheered me up no end.  So….THANK YOU!  I raise a gin to you!