Thursday, 28 January 2010

Dreaming of "The Good Life."


So January is nearly over; I cannot say I am sorry. As the snow receded it left behind a sea of brown mush and boggy land. My Aeoniums have had it. I am not holding out much hope for the Echeveria either. As for the rest, the jury is still out.

I started off the year with flu and a side order of chest infection. I’m almost over it now.

Did I mention I hate January?

The month has almost passed and I have not even done a January at Tumbledown post yet. I suppose I better get on with it and tell you what is new here. You may have picked up from my previous posts that I have not been feeling particularly content of late. You could say that the thrill has gone out of my life. I have fallen out of love with almost everything. I’ve spent the last four years either commuting between North Wiltshire and Oxford or South Lincolnshire and Oxford. The hours of my life wasted sat in a traffic jams have stacked up. The recession hit archaeology hard. Months of stress from worrying whether I would be made redundant and then having to see extremely dedicated friends and colleagues lose their jobs has taken its toll. Last month after months of working long hours doing a job far removed from the archaeology that made me passionate to enough to become a Dr of Environmental Archaeology, I handed in, with a heavy heart, my notice.

I’ve called time out. Enough is enough. I want to fall in love with life again instead of feeling constantly tired and pulled in fifteen directions. I need a challenge, I need to be creative and feel alive again. So here I am, at Tumbledown, full time. Will I go back to archaeology? The answer is I really do not know. I am going to take a year out. Perhaps after that I will. Or should I re-train and turn one of my other passions of photography or gardening into more than just a hobby? Time will tell (although if one more person tells me I would make a really good teacher I may just punch them).

On Tuesday the sun came out. To feel its warmth on my face again was incredibly uplifting, I could not have handled another grey and grisly day. I had several errands to do and decided to drive across the Lincolnshire border into Cambridgeshire to Wisbech. As I made my way across the big empty flatlands I smiled to myself as I drove past the familiar farms and smallholdings; ducks eggs for sale at the gate, a sneaky band of free-range chickens scratching in the neighbouring farmers field and a field of sheep cleaning up brussel sprout stems all caught my eye. They made me think of Monty Don’s new TV adventure My Dream Farm. Sickly sweet, sentimental “dream farms” do not exist out here. This is a harsh landscape; living in this area is no bed of roses. After a quick trip to the bank, a brief stroll around Wisbech for the first time in more than ten years confirmed that nothing has changed, it is still an utter grot hole; a glorious crumbling Georgian town whose prosperity has long gone. There is no trace of it save the ghostly outlines of beautiful crescents and lonely town houses. There is no work in this area; there are core jobs for Nurses, Teachers, and so on but no real industry except the land. Twenty years ago the gang vans used to drive the unemployed out of London to work in the fields picking fruit, veg and flowers, now that role is filled by large numbers of Eastern Europeans in search of a better life in the U.K. Wisbech is crammed with pound shops, charity shops and take-aways. There is little else. Farm shops with coffee shops, expensive organic deli ranges and yummy mummies “doing lunch” do not exist here.

My parents did dream of living a self sufficient life, of having a smallholding with animals 30 years ago when they moved out of London to The Fens. They never kidded themselves that they would make a thriving business out of it, but they achieved pretty near self sufficiency for many years until they realised that their offspring wanted to go to University and that it was going to be a costly affair. They went back to work and cared for the land less and less. The chickens were slowly phased out along with the pigs (large blacks) and calves for fattening with their big eyes and licking tongues. The goats have remained. My mother has successfully bred a herd of Anglo-Nubian dairy goats for 27 years now. She has achieved great success with them and is now one of the most respected breeders in the U.K. Young stock are ordered and sold before they are even born, people travel from across Europe to buy them with the aim of improving the stock in their own countries. She has achieved this with years of hard work, blood, sweat and tears. No dreamy landscapes, yurts or softly spoken garden presenters and their television crews were involved.

This year I hope to get the smallholding going again with more force. My parents are ready for it, and the least I can do is give them a hand. Actually I am enjoying being outside again, even if it is January and my hands are so cold I can barely feel them. It is good to feel I have a purpose again and the chance to achieve something. I know it is not going to be an idyllic dream; I spent the first 18 years of my life on the smallholding, I have a fair idea of its ups and downs. When I was growing up it was a struggle financially, I never had the latest pair of trendy jeans or faddy toy that all the other kids had, peers often thought I was weird wearing home made clothes and charity shop bargains.  We were however growing our own food, rearing our own meat, producing eggs, milk and cheese. Today we are still producing our own milk, cheese and yoghurt. This year I would like to have a go at making butter too. Chickens are a must. I really miss them (although an effective way of keeping them out of the garden area’s will have to be found) and if we have the time pigs. I would be lying if I said I did not have other hopes and plans for what could be achieved here, there is a lot of potential. For now I am just happy to get on with the reclamation of Tumbledown and hope this blog will to some extent become a diary of my efforts as the year progresses.

When I lived in The Fens in my teens I found the landscape bleak. It certainly has an acquired, somewhat gritty taste to it, but as I look out into the fields that stretch out before me, a sea of dark brown with scarcely a tree or building staying afloat, I do not see a bleak landscape anymore, merely a blank page waiting to be written.


Unknown said...

A wonderfully pensive and thoughtprovoking post, RO. Susan at The Bike Garden described the colours of January/winter as being the colour of waiting, and I like that.
There's so much to comment on, but I think most importantly, congratulations on having the courage to take a time out so that you may fall in love with life and your surroundings again. Last year, I went from being a longtime freelancer to taking a job two hours from home, which necessitated me staying down in another community all week, away from my home, hubby, and cats. It nearly killed me, emotionally and physically. No job is worth that. Luckily I was able to step right back into my freelancing, because I hadn't closed them off, and have rejuvenated in that direction as well as in the rest of my life. It will be all right. It's always surprising and scary to take that leap, but it works out. Stilton knows this. He (and I, and many others) will be cheering you on.

Anonymous said...

This was the best post ever, RO. The excitement in your voice builds as you go from the past to the future. The dairy of your life is calling your name. Your mother must be joyous with your decision, as your youth and energy will recharge her cells as well. I loved the fungi, BTW, but the kitty brings a broad smile.

Victoria said...

Mega Gorgeous post! I adore your cat's mouthy attitude and the moss and fungi ha ha! That was hilarious..!What a brilliantly beautiful post..nature-candy!!

Anonymous said...

Dear RO, Such a highly charged and deeply felt account of your recent past and what I am sure will be a promising future.

I admire so much here your honesty, your realistic outlook on life, your obvious determination and courage. It would be wrong to pretend that things will be easy [life, as we all know too well can be hard] but I am confident that with the qualities of character that you clearly possess, you will overcome the obstacles that will undoubtedly lie in your path.

May success be yours and I shall follow your progress with great interest.

Carol said...

RO, This is a beautifully written, heartfelt post... I am so excited for you! It takes courage to change... to start a new journey in life, especially when you have worked so hard to achieve what you have. You are young and will make a success of it I am sure. Your mom sounds like a great mentor! What a lovely story of going home. I look forward to your posts of your new life unfolding and your land and farm developing... or the reclaiming of it. Your parents must be so delighted! All the best of Luck!! ;>))

Aspidistra said...

I love 'the bleak landscape' becoming just a blank page, that's a great image and I like your honesty about where you are at.

And of course, Stilton is absolutely right. Nothing compares to pictures of him, but you are going to have to watch him, he's being talking to some other cats on the net and he's heard that they get paid to model.

Bay Area Tendrils said...

My dear RO,
I'm deeply moved, and greatly enlightened after reading this.
Giving credit may mean little overall,
but I do need to say how much I admire you.
Blogging is an incredible venture when it opens to friendships and connections such as the one I feel with you.
Anything you wish to take photos of is fine by me....
Warmest hugs and a pair of hand-knit virtual mittens to you
(they're very beautiful... cashmere!) xoxo Alice

Noelle Johnson said...

Hello RO,

I must admit, I enjoyed reading your post very much and saw something of myself in your thoughts. I understand feeling burned out and the need to step back. I took a year off of work and now have rediscovered my passion for plants and the landscape. I am glad you are on the beginning of your journey and I look forward to hearing more.

Moonstone Gardens said...

RO Dear,
I empathize with you. I too have been feeling the need to change gears and direction. I found out yesterday that the large garden I have created and nurtured for the last 9 years may be sold and bulldozed for a truck stop. Even though I have always thought of gardens as ephemeral art, that this is even a consideration broke my heart.
However, I have gained enough wisdom in my years to realize that there is a reason for everything and I look forward to finding what lovely Phoenix will rise from these ashes.
Hang in there. I'm sure you have a few Phoenixes ahead of you too.

HappyMouffetard said...

Wonderful post. The photos are so beautiful and really tell the story of how you have felt.

I'm glad you have made the decision; I have recently made a similar one. who knows what you'll be doing in 12 months, but in the mean time you wont have the hassle of a job you no longer enjoyed. Freedom.

PS - you'd make a great teacher ;-)

Anonymous said...

Quite a story and how clearly you paint the landscape and the life and Wisbech!

Loved the photography, the honesty and look forward to following your year.

Good Luck
Best Wishes

Liz said...

A very interesting post RO, although not strictly in the same situation of travelling, but rather being very unhappy in my job I can feel your pain. So I too will be joining you by handing my notice in over the summer.
Instead I'll be going back to Uni to retrain and hopefully make a better future for myself, however I know this will come at a price as the field I wish to go into will require plenty of travelling, and no doubt blood, sweat and perhaps tears along the way.

Good luck with your plans, living off the land sounds like an excellent idea - one which I wouldn't have the first clue where to start!
Perhaps you could look into natural farming... Argh can't quite remember what it's called now, where your crop is mainly from wild trees and plants rather than traditional bought in crops.
Ok ok, I know I'm making no sense at all now!

Elizabeth Musgrave said...

Hi.I came here via Twitter and am glad to have found you. I too put my notice in last March and turned my back on a fascinating, well paid job which kept me away from my welsh hills too much. I have had six months off, gardened, fed chickens,had time for my family and friends. I am just about to step back into the world of work on my terms. It was scary to do it but now I know I will never work for anyone else again. Autonomy is all!
Good luck with your decision. Having hens will be bound to make you smile. I am not a winter person either. Roll on spring.

VP said...

Fantastic RO. I'm not surprised with your decision. Having done long commutes I know how it destroys even the loveliest of jobs.

I smiled when you described your journey to Wisbech. It reminded me of the time when I handed my notice in at work and I commuted back to Chippenham station. Then I went for an enormously long drive in the country which seemed full of joy and infinite possibilities.

Stopping work is scary, but not taking time out for yourself and what that can result in is even scarier.

I'm really looking forward to reading all about how you get on.

Amy said...

I enjoyed your post and admire you for making a change. Your photos are beautiful and I love the cat, moss and fungi! :)

Andrea said...

It's a very honest post. I think despite of the current happening you are a very privilege human being, considering your experiences from childhood to now, with excellent education, etc. That farm and family you have is a very pleasant, rich heritage. Besides, the envy for many in the next few years is a farm self sufficient, organic, non-polluted, homely, etc. We can only envy your conditions. And you will be famous. Your mother's goats are very famous and they even reached this part of the world. You will be tending the world in that sense. God bless!

Richard Barrett said...

When describing Oxford to outsiders, I often say that, traditionally studying at Oxford (or Cambridge), was a statement of wealth, rather than the means to acquire it! So you have done well to reach the dizzy heights of a PhD student. If you are over-stretched the greasy pole of academia is not the place to be, because at the top the rewards are not always there. Let's hope 2010 is your year and the lazy day's of summer restore your ambitions.

Dan said...

All the very best with your new venture at Tumbledown. I'm sure you will make a success of it. No matter how scary it seems to make these hard choices in life, it's important that you do have a choice, and don't find yourself stuck in a place you don't want to be.
Your photos are fantastic - for the future, you could begin a book of photos of all those wonderful gardens you've visited, and those on your wish list. I know there are many people who enjoy reading your posts on the gardens you've visited!
Best wishes

Karen - An Artist's Garden said...

A very beautiful and moving post.
Thank you

Amanda said...

Good for you and very best of luck with the new/old direction you're taking. Look forward to hearing how it goes!

Jean Campbell said...

Love the cat, love the mosses -- what do cats know?

Sentimental romanticizing of going off to live on a farm a la Don Monty and being self-sustaining pales when the reality of taxes that exceed profits hits home. We happen to live on a farm, but have no illusions about 'living off the land,' as it lives off us.

Noel Morata said...

aloha RO, it seems that there are times when you just need to change your outlook in life and go down a new path...bravo for taking making that a new challenge in your life...hey you can always visit me in paradise if your bored, which i'm sure you'll never be in your new quest!

Anna said...

Sorry to hear that your year has not got off to a good start and hope that you are soon back to full health. Being a Peterborough born girl with a father from Wisbech the Fens will always be home to me. It is certainly no easy life farming in the area. Dad was the youngest of five children of a Fens farmer and grew up in the 1930s. Sad to see and read how Wisbech has declined over the years. I do hope that whatever path you take will allow you to 'fall in love with life' again.

janie said...

I've always found that the hardest part of making changes in my life was making the decision about what to change.

I have recently made a big change in my life, and I have to tell you, I am enjoying it thoroughly. We can get so mudded down sometimes.

Keep us informed, RO. I do enjoy following you about.

easygardener said...

Good luck with your new direction in life. You obviously have a grip on the realities of running a smallholding.
I hate TV reality shows - as with garden makeovers there is no sense of hard work over a long period of time. No wonder some people rush off to start up some new fangled "farm" project and can't understand why it fails.
I am trying to imagine the cats meeting the goats :-)