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.
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.