Tuesday, 29 March 2011

Paddington Farm Trust

We have finished at host number two, Paddington Farm Trust, near Glastonbury, Somerset.

It's been a really interesting week, a huge contrast to our first host and an education in all sorts of ways.

I've already talked a little about the work in the previous post, along with pictures so this is an overview of the week rather than more of that.

We spent our time there feeding animals and doing general animal care including trimming sheeps and goats hooves, dusting the pigs ears and the chickens bellies for mites, walking the goat twice a day back and forth from field to yard, did some brash clearing, some burning rubbish, took some fencing down, put some fencing up, cleaned the feed shed, lit a pizza oven, moved some chickens from one area to another, drove the tractor around and got a really good overview of how the farm works.

We spent loads of time talking to people; M&T the farm managers who gave us an insight into how working for a trust and managing a farmland works, some of the other long term volunteers including a couple of foreign men who had stories to tell of other farms around the world they have stayed at, an ex traveller who is a whizz at green woodworking, a retired engineer who maintains the machinery, the teachers accompanying various special needs children including teens with behavioural, attitudinal and learning difficulties, a selective mute boy, autistic children and other special needs, the people at the food co operative that M&T are also involved in running locally and the other residents of the farm who run an organic fruit and veg growing business. We spent time talking to a man pruning apple trees in the orchards and all sorts of other visitors to the farm from weekend guests, nearby neighbours and ramblers taking the footpath through the farm.

We spent a fair bit of time in Glastonbury itself, a mere 20 minute walk away which has been an interesting experience as it's unlike any other place we've ever been to. There is lots to love with a laid back air, plenty of spiritual stuff, lots of people hugging and being all peaceful but also plenty to cast a cynical eye at particularly if like us you are less comfortable around casual drug use and not quite so into crystal healing and the smell of joss sticks! It's way before my time but this is what I imagine living in the sixties would have been like...

We'll stay in touch with our hosts, it was a great place to spend a week, a chilled out experience after the full on living of the previous two weeks. Our first impressions were not great; the kids got involved in playing with a rather wild child who turned violent with them both which is simply not something they are used to so they were shaken and disturbed by that, we lived in the van without hookup so all evenings were torchlit and although we were given free rein to help ourselves to anything in the kitchen it felt too strange to go and help ourselves so we ended up buying most of our own food for the week which put rather a strain on our budget. But on balance we gained loads of new skills, new experiences and made some contacts that will hopefully prove useful in the future.

Finishing with bad, good and learnt at Paddington Farm:
Bad - less direction than the previous host in terms of what we were expected to do... but...
Good - the freedom of directing our own workload
Learnt - don’t panic, give things a second chance.


Bad - it didn't feel like I thought WWOOFing would be because we spent so much time just the four of us rather than working alongside hosts and learning from them and eating with them at mealtimes.
Good - spending time with the animals on the farm
Learnt - that goats can’t eat rhubarb, that mutton is ‘old sheep’ meat, about fighting cockerels (the resident cockerel is that sort of breed) how fun tractor driving is

Bad - being hurt on the first night by a visiting child
Good - all the animals on the farm
Learnt - various things about animals including a first sign of an unhappy sheep is droopy ears.

Bad - a more expensive week as we spent money topping up food supplies
Good - diverse environment for learning - lots of different aspects
Learnt - about animals hooves, that there are jobs managing farms, how to drive a tractor

This post was bought to you using a Mifi from three

Friday, 25 March 2011

what we lack in hill we gain in crystals

We're at a farm trust near to Glastonbury, Somerset for about 10 days. I say 'about' because we were planned for a week here and then a week at a nearby farm but due to problems there we are staying on here for an extra few days but I don't yet know quite how many. Which is fine as we are enjoying it, learning loads and adding huge amounts to our 'stories to tell' quota :)

We are in Willow for the week but without hook up, so relying on charging up laptops etc in the house every couple of days and torchlight for cooking and eating and evenings. But it's cosy and warm and beats a tent!

This is a very different experience again as the farm trust exists to bring opportunities for experiencing the countryside and farming to people who would not otherwise access it. This means trips from cities, adults and children with learning difficulties, special educational needs, rehabilitation for substance or alcohol abuse aswell as being part of the local community and a working farm. It is currently in a quite downsized phase of it's 25 year history but on the up with big plans afoot and changes happening all the time. The livestock here includes: a goat, four sheep (three ewes all pregnant, and a ram), two pigs (mother and daughter - grandmother/mother and four siblings are in the freezer, we've been enjoying them as sausages!), seven hens and a cockerel. The land includes a couple of orchards, a paddock and various fields for animals including Silver the pony who also lives here, a small area of woodland where an outdoor classroom is in the process of being built for forest school type activities, an enclosed organic fruit and vegetable patch with 3 polytunnels and a wildlife pond, and along with the farmhouse there is a barn being converted into a farm shop, a workshop and art room, feed shed, a long house and a hostel style building with self contained kitchen and bathroom facilities and a fab playground with wooden equipment along with a fire pit and pizza oven. We are parked up between the pigs pen and the playground, bliss for Dragon and Star all round :)

We're quickly learning that no two days are typical but there is a rhythm and pattern to our days which begin nice and leisurely with us rising around 8am, listening to the radio to hear the news and some of Chris Evans early morning banter while we breakfast and get dressed - the last couple of mornings we've been breakfasting outside it is so lovely. From the windows of the van we can see the pigs, various fields containing all sorts of wildlife but sparrowhawks, buzzards and starlings doing their murmerations are a fairly common mornings entertainment. We then let the chickens out and feed them, gather food for the pigs and sheep and bring the goat round with his breakfast to walk alongside us from his night time dwelling in the yard to his daytime haunt of the field with the pony. Never did we anticipate taking a goat for a walk twice a day :)

Once all the animals are in the right place with food we tackle whatever task we've been alloted. So far this has included fencing, moving brash about, lighting and tending bonfires, clipping the goat and sheep hooves, riding on the trailer to different parts of the farm and woodland, helping light a fire in the woods to burn brash and load the tractor, working in the orchard clearing pruned branches ready for firewood or burning, taking down an old fence, cleaning out the feed bins, helping to chicken proof a chicken run and much more. We have learnt about feeding and keeping animals, pruning apple trees, using various tools, driving the tractor and loads more.

We have spent time walking locally, into Glastonbury, up the Tor, visited the neighbours who had a pizza oven warming party and we were then invited back the next day for a private session in the swimming pool in exchange for some photos of the kids enjoying the pool for their website. We also had a tour round the 350year old holiday cottages, reputed to be haunted with the kids playing Ghostbusters. We've visisted the food co op our hosts also run and met a huge variety of people who live and work in the area too.

It's yet another different experience to the last host; challenges are new and different and Glastonbury itself has taken a little getting used to. Working days are far less intense and more laid back and flexible but we are fending for ourselves a lot more food wise and making our own workload a lot of the time which is a huge contrast to the last couple of weeks.

The down time is free, fabulous and very welcome :)


This post is brought to you using a Mifi from three.

Sunday, 20 March 2011

Steward Wood, Devon

We've had two weeks at Steward Community Woodland an intentional community in Devon. It's been an amazing experience for all sorts of reasons and the most perfect start imaginable to our adventure and voyage of discovery.

We arrived and were slightly traumatised by the hill the community live on. It is very, very steep and thanks to a spring at the top which supplies water and also generates hydro power it is very muddy in places too. We were greeted by dogs -four live there full time, my personal phobia - and a collection of dreadlocked people using hippy talk like cool, awesome, man. Everyone lives in benders or other low impact housing, clad with army surplus tarps and solar panels, a communal 'longhouse' is where WWOOFers are hosted, everyone is fed and gathers for chatting, meetings and regular social events such as music evenings or storytelling sessions. There is a compost loo, sawdust urinals and strawbale urinal for men and women, a bathhouse with a wood burner to heat the bathwater and we were shown to a flat area chiselled into the hillside with stunning views to pitch our tent. Sleeping in a tent for two weeks in March was a challenge, at least twice the overnight temperature dipped below zero and there were two very heavy frosts. Food is vegan or vegetarian, organic, wholefood, there is no alcohol, WWOOFers work mostly on splitting or chopping wood, carrying heavy stuff up or down the hill, assisting with gardening tasks, helping with food preparation or whatever else needs doing at the time. It is very seasonal with a heavy focus on wood.

Our work varied from chopping and splitting firewood, taking bark off felled trees (which is then used to surround the base of saplings to suppress weed growth), carrying mulch (made from chipped wood, bark, pine needles etc rotted down) up or down the hill to put around the saplings, we helped in the kitchen, lit the bathhouse burner most evenings, did some clearing of areas - much of the woodland is left alone as it is wildlife habitat but areas are cleared and coppiced and two different areas of forest garden are being planted out. We did lots of brash clearing, moving piles of ivy, branches and wood from one pile to another and put up a brash fence around an area of young hazel trees to protect them from deer and spent time clearing another area ready to put up a goat pen. The work is physically demanding, there is no denying that but it does all make sense - there is a logic and rhythm to spending your day chopping wood to provide heat, warmth, cooking, hot water,  planting trees for the future, using everything to create such a minimal level of waste.

There was plenty that would push us to look for a different permanent home; the hill being the main decider, but Steward Wood is changing; it has only very recently moved from being a vegan communal area to a vegetarian one; they keep chickens and at a meeting while we were there it was passed for them to start keeping goats for their diary needs. Almost all of the community actually eat meat in their own dwellings. They started with no machinery at all but now use chainsaws and one of the community has a landrover which is used for winching felled trees, moving large and heavy things. There are challenges and down sides to living in a community; occassional tensions when ideas and ideals clash but they seem to have communication and discussion down to a fine art and things are aired and talked over rather than left to fester so while there are frustrations when consenus can't be reached on issues and people have to compromise it does have the feel of a loving, large family.

We learnt a huge amount there - practical stuff like how they make use of and harness solar and hydro energy, how much wood is needed to keep everything operational, a small insight into how their buildings are constructed, how the toilet systems work, how they filter drinking water only, how long term plans have to be and how most of them realise that the work and energy they invest today will possibly not even come to fruition in their time for them to enjoy, but that's not why they are doing it. We learnt from the individuals there; some of them shared their stories with us, showed us their homes, taught us things they know from bird language and wildlife, to wilderness skills, their personal spiritual beliefs and customs, we learnt about sharing, about community, about openness and entitlement.

The people are what makes Steward Wood such an amazing place. It has stunning scenery, rich and varied wildlife with ravens, buzzards, bagders, deer, owls, foxes and much more. It has gorgeous views (the upside to the hill!) and it's a woodland which is a breathtakingly beautiful place to spend time, watching, listening, being. But it is the mix of fantastic individuals who live there who make it such a special and inspiring place to be. The community began with a group of ex protesters, who had spent time living on protest sites fighting road widenings, by-passes, holiday villages, Tesco stores, housing developments from claiming chunks of nature. They had some victories too but many more losses and all of the negative attention that comes with living outside of society and fighting against change. One of the community told me she was just tired of always spending energy on negative things and wanted to be investing herself in something positive. I think that sums up Steward Wood for me really, it's Something Positive. It demonstrates that you don't need running water, flushing toilets, gas and electric, you don't need supermarkets, chemicals and televisions, you don't need a washing machine, fridge or built in oven and if you want to change the world the very best place to start is by changing your world. I guess we already knew that but Steward Wood was a fantastic place to spend time to prove it and give a living example to us.

But there is much more we want to learn, see and experience. This was merely the beginning of our adventure. So we've added all the best bits to our wish list, forged some close bonds with some of the amazing people there and have promised to stay in touch, visit again and spread the word about them and now we're off to the next host.

Some words from everyone now on their bad, good and what they learnt at Steward Wood:
Bad: The food, I tried all the food but I didn't like most of it.
Good: It was really, really good fun. I enjoyed the work, learnt about solar power, made new friends
Learnt: How much can be run off solar panels.

Bad: Missed cheese and butter and meat
Good: Made loads of new friends and I liked the food I tried
Learnt: About ravens

Bad: putting cold and damp clothes on each morning after a night in the tent
Good: All the new people I met; members of the community, visiting friends and other WWOOFers
Learnt: building fences, lighting fires, bird language, about keeping goats, some basic Chinese Mandarin from a fellow WWOOFer, startling example of the power of people working together as a team.

Bad: The hill. I struggled with all sorts of aspects there - the food, sleeping in a tent, the hard work, the mud - everything else is surmountable and possibly changable but the hill will always be there and it was the single toughest aspect of the time there for me - my knees protested, my feet ached from slipping up and down and I wheezed and gasped my way up hill whenever I had to go up. every single task is made 10 times harder because of the steepness of that hill.
Good: Amazing people, stunningly beautiful location and everything just makes sense. The theme of permaculture runs through everything but every task is logical and has a purpose and end result.
Learnt: Hard to pin down to one sentence really; I learnt I have so much more to learn and I really want to learn it.

We've had a night in a campsite - the only people here, topped up our meat rations with a mighty cooked breakfast eaten sitting outside in the sunshine, we've dealt with all the dirty washing the weather conspired against us to not get dry outside and now we're off to the next host, ready to meet more new people and learn more new skills.

Saturday, 12 March 2011

End of week one

What an amazing week it's been.

When we arrived here on Monday I think we were all feeling such a mix of emotions; impatience to actually begin the WWOOFing adventure, apprehension about what would be expected of us, how the hosts would be, where we would be staying and what it would be like.

We always said this first host would be our 'baptism of fire' - staying in a tent (in March! Our usual camping season runs from May to September), living totally off-grid, eating vegetarian food, coping with living in a community and dealing with hard physical work. Less than a month ago we were living in a house with mains gas, electric and water, TV with sky channels, working in a library and an office job driving a company car around, drinking wine or beer every day and having every modern convenience you can think of.

I think this is almost as far from that life as we could get really. It has a feel of boot camp or I'm A Celebrity about it with the compost loos, wood burners for hot water and cooking, the hill to climb countless times every day and a fair bit of being shown a pile of tools and a problem and being left to figure it out. It's been easy this week to judge or privately think we'd do things differently but left to our own devices this weekend burners have gone out because we've not tended them, food has been really, really late because we underestimated cooking times and we've been chopping wood by torchlight because we didn't put the preparation in during the day.

So we're learning, all the time we're learning. We're learning stuff every day from the people here - just knowledge they are sharing about the woods around us - tree identification, bird calls, how the changing seasons change the environment around them. Here they live in harmony with nature, responding to the world around them rather than trying to change it, using the bounty that is already here and working with it.

Wednesday, 9 March 2011

Pushing Buttons

Sorry to all those who have contacted to check we are okay for not updating sooner. Online time is limited as we are totally off grid, but we are really well, happy and loving our experience at our first hosts.

We're at an intentional community on the side of a hill, a very, very steep hill. There are about 6 or 7 families here with children of various ages, some in school and some Home Educated. The families all have their own individual dwellings and there is a large communal building for cooking, eating, socialising etc. The water is provided by a spring, the energy is solar and hydro power stored in great big batteries, heating, cooking, hot water etc. is all done by  wood burners. The communal area is vegetarian food, it used to be vegan but that has recently been changed, although there are only one or two vegetarians living here now, everyone else eats meat in their own dwellings.

So far we have done two full days work and a little help in the kitchen on our first afternoon - we arrived mid-morning but thanks to the 1/2 mile trek up the hill to set our tent up (3 wheelbarrow loads) and then the actual setting up of the tent, with a break for communal lunch it was mid afternoon before we were free to actually do anything so we helped with communal dinner. Yesterday we spent the morning with one of the community taking stuff down the hill from his dwelling ready to be collected for the tip, then some time dealing with firewood - I did some 'feeding' a chainsawing person with wood and then we did some moving and stacking in the woodstore. After lunch we spent time with another member of the community on their forest garden. This was hard work, moving heavy lengths of wood up the hill and then clearing brash (heaps of branches and leaves from felled trees).

Last night we had a bath in the bath house, which involves lighting the wood burner about 3 hours beforehand and feeding it with wood to heat the water, but utterly blissful, A bath in a moonlit and firelit bathhouse at the end of a very hard days work was so lovely.

Today we spent both morning and afternoon in the forest garden. This morning we made a hedge to guard some young hazel trees from the deer in the woodland. This involved cutting then sharpening stakes to hammer in to the ground at intervals and then lying long lengths of various wood along and weaving them in. I really enjoyed that work. This afternoon was more heavy stuff which I am struggling with more because of the hill than anything else - I am incredibly clumsy and my boots are rubbish for gripping so I am ever cautious about falling. So far I've only gone down once but it is meaning I am very slow. Ady is finding his pace - we have been working alongside two French WWOOFers who we are probably old enough to be the parents of and they are putting us to shame but Ady is enjoying the reward of looking back and seeing what we have achieved at the end of a hard days work - so much more fulfilling that 8 hours sat in a company car...

Dragon and Star have fallen in with the children who live here and settled in really well and really quickly. We're really proud of them for being open to try food which is hugely different to what we'd eat at home, happily sleeping in the tent and managing to find common ground with both adults and children here.

The people are fascinating, such interesting and varied backgrounds but a really good atmosphere and an excellent advertisement for communal living. There are of course tensions and politics and things which cause friction but it seems to be a very open environment with things discussed and calmly talked about and a real ethos of sharing and looking out for each other. I'm loving the time spend working and living alongside them and feel really priviledged at their openness and willingness to share.

We have another two work days before two days off at the weekend. I think various of the community are off doing their own thing so we have plans to cook some meat (Dragon particularly says he misses meat) which is okay in the camping area where we are pitched - we have a fire pit right next to our tent and visit the local shops for a few bits. We need to do some washing - there is a washboard and mangle here I am really keen to have a go with having only talked about them to the kids last weekend when we were debating which appliances we could and couldn't live without (not literally of course!). Then we have five work days next week before we're planning to leave here on the Saturday morning and have a night in a hook up campsite somewhere before the next host.

We're walking down the hills to where Willow is parked every morning to collect clean clothes and it feels nice to unlock the door and climb in, the tent is fine - if very cold - but I'm missing our home on wheels.

This is a challenging place to be - for us as WWOOFers and to live, for various reasons. The hill being the main one, the terrain is rough and everything is made harder by that. We are eating food, which although delicious is vastly different to our usual diet, not drinking, sleeping way earlier and doing a good six hours of incredibly challenging physical work. It is as direct a contrast to the life we were living just a few weeks ago as you could imagine really, but it's amazing. The people are inspirational, we are learning constantly and I already know more about trees identification, which timber is best for what, different types of alterative energies and the pros and cons and what challenges the off grid lifestyle brings than I could have learnt from 20 different books.

There is no doubt we will  be walking down that hill again at the end of our stay fitter, healthier and educated. A perfect start to what looks to be an amazing year.



    I am not a great lover of supermarkets, certainly the 'big four' have me gnashing my teeth at their air freighted, out of season, fruit, their excessive landfill-filling packaging and urges towards waste and over consumption with their BOGOF offers and slashed prices.

    But I accept growing and rearing your own food 100% is an all but impossible dream. Fruit and vegetables, some animal produce are probably within reach - but growing grains to mill to make flour? Or grind to make pasta? All probably a little out of reach of the normal family's grasp I reckon.

    I have used supermarkets and I guess will probably continue to do so for the foreseeable future but I do have choice over which ones and can carefully select what I use them for. My supermarket of choice for several years has been the The Co-operative . I have a members card, several of their cloth bags to bring along and back at home we live easy walking distance from two Co Op stores. We buy our tea, coffee and sugar (fair trade), our fruit and veg (local, in season or fair trade) and our cereals, flour, pasta and tinned goods. I love the fact all of their own brand products are fair trade and excellent quality as well as being reasonably priced.

    It was my Dad who told me a fair bit about how the Co-Operative started back in 1844 with the Rochdale Pioneers  who were revolutionary in their actions and ideas and they are still going strong today, with a whole range of products under the Co-Operative banner. When we lived in Manchester for a few years it was plain to see how strong those roots still were and how proud of those early pioneers the local people still were whenever we visited Rochdale and saw the signs proudly proclaiming 'home of the Co-Operative' everywhere.

    But the Co-Operative isn't just about financial services, food produce, funeral services and other branded products, they are also supporting countless initiatives both here at home and in the developing world, helping people to change the world around them. Empowering people to create co-operatives of their own. A campaign, launched this week is highlighting some of the amazing success stories made possible by the Co-Operative, including the inspirational story of  Urban Bees whichwas set up by bee-lovers Brian McCallum and Alison Benjamin. They wanted to help protect dwindling honeybee populations in urban areas by educating city-dwellers in beekeeping. 


    Having already invested £500,000 into Plan Bee, our own bee protection and education programme, funding from The Co-operative helped Urban Bees to run training courses for beginners, give talks and work in partnership with other organisations and companies. 


    Brian and Alison have now established 20 new hives on rooftops and in community gardens and allotments across London, and they will have given training and start-up equipment to approximately 300 people by the end of 2011.



    This article is really really interesting to us this week as we are at our first hosts WWOOFing and they are an intentional community, families all living together and pooling resources for working on the land, chopping firewood, cooking, minding children and just sharing all the tasks that need doing to create a sustainable, contained community. It's opening our eyes wide spending time here and giving us a great start on our 'wish list' of what we want long term for ourselves. I love the idea of grouping together for big tasks and workloads, for sharing skills, for using group buying power to get discounts. Our wish list is something we'll be coming back to lots over this year but reading about the Co-Operative, finding out how to Join the revolution and just educating ourselves more about the different ways to Get involved is something everyone could look at, whether they are learning in as extreme a manner as we are, or learning at home from their armchair and laptop.




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Sunday, 6 March 2011

Last night of 'freedom'

The 'holiday' or 'transition period' as I've been calling it is coming to a close. It's been a mostly lovely week. Cold, not our ideal campsite in terms of view and general environment but a short walk from the campsite is a section of the River Teign and we've spent plenty of time walking alongside it this week.

Star was been bringing out her wildlife tracking books and after seeing what she was sure were otter prints yesterday she's been desperate to actually see further signs of otters. We talked about them being nocturnal so highly unlikely to spot but right at the end of a walk this afternoon we did indeed see one. We'd been walking alongside a faster flowing portion of the river and enjoying the gorgeous scenery. It had been pretty busy, we must have exchanged smiles and hellos with about 50 people in the course of a 2 hour walk, mostly out walking their dogs. I am pretty dog-phobic but working very hard to conquer it and today I actually commented that I almost missed having a dog to walk along with us. We were returning and a load of noisy crows flew over our heads so we paused to watch them land and roost in their rookery when suddenly a flash of chocolate brown on the other side of the riverbank caught my eye in the setting sunshine and I realised it was an otter. We all watched as it went in and out of the river several times, giving us a fab display of swimming and clambering in and out of the water and followed it downstream for a few hundred feet. It was quite a while before we even thought to get the camera out and take a picture.

Tonight we're having an attempt at a Campervan roast dinner in the van, comprising pork chops, roast potatoes, stuffing, some mixed veg and gravy. We're watching a dvd and toasting the last night of hook up electric, before the adventure really starts tomorrow.

Saturday, 5 March 2011

A visual on our week

We've parked under a willow tree at the campsite, it seemed fitting. We're enjoying debating on how we'd run a campsite if we were in charge (it's a revenue stream that seems a good match with landowning / animal rearing). This campsite seems to have lots of rules - Ady got told off for walking on the grass!

Here's the lovely Willow at night, looks cosy doesn't she? It's bloody freezing at night this week (making us very edgey about sleeping in a tent next week) but the van is snug and warm.

 We've been experimenting with campervan cooking. We have a two ring hob, a small grill and small oven. They definitely cook slower than a domestic oven and we're glad we brought thin camping pots and pans. We're mostly lacking workspace though, so meals have to be planned in advance and everything kept very organised.I cooked a lovely breakfast of sausage, bacon, eggs and toast yesterday - a repeat has been asked for tomorrow.

We've done some eating seperately to the kids, prepping our dinner while they eat theirs and watch a film.

Today in honour of being in Devon I made some scones to have with some home made jam we'd brought along with us and some local clotted cream and we enjoyed a cream tea.

 When we're not cooking, eating or otherwise hanging out in the van we've been walking. Lots and lots of walking. We've seen herons, buzzards and Star brought her animal tracking book out with us today and identified a front and back footprint from an otter at a point along the walk we'd seen yesterday and speculated on whether it was a path to and from the river for otters. We also picked some wild garlic to have in our dinner tonight and with the help of google, and
 identified some scarlet elf cup fungus, which apparently while edible is not particuarly nice to eat but is used to garnish salads as it is bright and colourful.

Friday, 4 March 2011

A word or two from the Wanderers

I've just been reading the last couple of entries out to the others and that coupled with a conversation we had earlier today about journal keeping and diaries I wrote as a teenager myself and enjoy re-reading from time to time led to the idea of them having a turn at blogging every so often. I'm very aware that this blog has my voice as the narrator and while I hope I can give a fairly accurate representation of the year I think it would be nice to have the occasional 'in their own words' contribution from the rest of the family. So, dictated to me, at the time of coming up with the idea so with no prior planning are a couple of sentences each from the rest of the WW crew.

Star says:
"I think it's going to be really exciting. I think this bit is a bit boring waiting at the campsite, I want to get started with the rest of the year. I'm enjoying the walks and I like wild garlic leaves!"

Dragon says:
"I've only just recovered from Star's stinky garlic breath after she ate the wild garlic! Since we've been in the van my sleeping habits have changed lots and lots. I'm getting used to other food - oh talking about food, the gas bottle has just run out halfway through cooking our dinner. Daddy has gone outside with a torch to see if he can change over the gas bottle. I'm getting excited about actually doing some work (WWOOFing stuff - getting out and being busy rather than sitting around). I'm missing our chickens and eating their grain (Nic says - I didn't know you did that!) - that's all folks!"

Ady says:
"I'm finding that I can do things that I would previously have decided I couldn't do without trying and called someone out to do for me. I'm really touched by the phonecalls and support from friends (thank yous particularly to Fergie and James). I'm finding it mad and crazy staying on a campsite where there are loads of people still clinging to the same lifestyle they would have at home - watching TV in their van rather than actually spending time outside, parked in a campsite right next to another caravan or campervan just like a housing estate. My wonderance of the day is why are all caravans and campervans white?"

Every stop we make, we make a new friend

Oh how I loved The Littlest Hobo, wonder how much of that show from my childhood is responsible for our adventure?!

This week has been great, a sort of half way house between, well a house and WWOOFing. We're on a campsite situated on a beef cattle farm. It stores caravans for people so it feels quite full although there are actually only a handful of people here at the moment. Off season campsites are a funny place to be, a bit like seaside resorts in the winter. An empty air about the place with echoes of last summers busyness still in evidence. Of the three campsites we've stayed at over the last week all of them have sections and facilities closed down, which in some ways mean the 'low season' price isn't actually such a bargain after all. The showers here are on and hot, the bathroom and laundry room have radiators on and the few people who are also staying here are providing us with interesting people-watching opportunities with us speculating behind our nets about their lives and why they are on a campsite in Devon in early March!

We're doing lots of walking, we had a go at using public transport (something we *never* do at home apart from the train up to London for museum visits a few times a year), enjoying all the time together and having some really interesting conversations. It all feels very theraputic and life is very much reduced to the basics of keeping warm, gathering food (albeit from a supermarket still at this stage, although we did our first bit of foraging yesterday and identified and picked some wild garlic!), getting fresh air and exercise to stay healthy and plenty of wildlife spotting and nature gazing. There is a fair bit of light pollution here where we are in Devon but our night in Dorset was amazing for star gazing. We're doing lots of talking to people too, we spent half an hour this morning talking to the farmer here about our plans when he called by the van with some eggs and burgers for us, telling people about our adventure feels good, even better now that we are actually living it rather than just talking about it.

News from home is good so far, the tenants finally moved in on Tuesday after a bit of a hiccup - I'm assuming no news is good news and the fact we have not heard from either the letting agent or my Dad means they have settled in okay. 

Thursday, 3 March 2011

New normals

I remember sitting up at 4am with a newborn Dragon, over ten years ago now. I'd been in a proper full time career type job before I had him. I was a Manager and people did what I asked, when I asked them. I wore grown up clothes to work and talked to people in joined up conversations rather than that motherese way of talking we have when addressing babies. I'd never even really held a baby before Dragon, certainly never changed a nappy or been in sole charge of one so I was grabbing all the information I could from books, from parenting magazines, from the ante-natal classes we'd been to and from the other mothers each week at baby clinic with babies a bit older than mine. In my head I had this idea that there would be a sudden magic change at a certain magic date when everything would return to 'normal'. When sleep would happen in one whole block at night again, when food could be eaten without a child jiggled on my lap, when tea could be drunk while still hot. I clung to this idea of 'getting back to normal' for a few weeks, pestering anyone who had already had a child about what age they slept through, didn't cry for no apparent reason and allowed you to resume your life as a person in your own right. I realised, during one of those 4am moments, sat gazing down at him in his cot, stroking his cheek and listening to the tinkly Winne the Pooh song his mobile played that things had already become normal. The New Normal. What needed to change was me and my attitude towards life, not life itself.

It was a powerful moment and one which made me shake up and change some of my approaches to parenthood and life in general I guess. I let go of a lot of the parenting manual and magazine mentalities and dictats. I learnt to trust my own instincts and ideas, to listen to my son rather than the world around us and by the time I had Star two years later I was almost an old hand in adjusting my view and our life to suit what was happening in it rather than trying to make it fit my view. It's a skill that I think all four of us have in varying degrees, Dragon, Star and I perhaps slightly more so than Ady but he's learning and whilst his adaptation may be slower with a little more hiccups and clinging to old routines than ours it is one of the things he has said he hopes to get out of this year.

We knew when we started planning this year that there would be the things we could anticipate in advance would be testing and challenging and then there would be things that cropped up along the way and just tested our ability to cope with curve balls and living in the moment. Lots of people voiced concerns about how we would cope living in such a confined space. We're a week in now and this is probably the most intense period of living in the van we will have to deal with as we are cooking, eating, sleeping and full-time living in the van. When we are with WWOOF hosts we will probably only actually return to the van to sleep. So far we're doing fine, the dynamic has shifted and all four of us are equal partners in making things work. So far we have all made each other laugh, given comfort, shown compassion and empathy for each other. We'e also all shouted, been grumpy, felt fed up or hankered after home, got cross with one, two or all three of the others and been tested, challenged and learnt stuff.

Yesterday Star told me stuff I didn't know about squirrels, Ady told Dragon more stuff he didn't know about squirrels, we all learnt about spirit levels thanks to a random question and an answer provided by google, we all walked slightly further carrying heavier stuff than we'd have chosen, Star and I had a fascinating conversation about plastic surgery and body image, we all watched a film together and shared a dinner that none of us would have chosen as a favourite but all enjoyed nonetheless. We're getting used to moving things around the various spaces in the van depending on whether it is being a kitchen, a lounge, a  bedroom or a vehicle. Currently I am sat in the van writing this, Ady is doing the washing up, Dragon and Star are out playing in the sunshine in the field next to the campsite, so there is more than a shred of our 'old normal' still very much in evidence too.

I don't know what next week will hold- our first WWOOF hosts where we are due to sleep in a tent, what next month willl hold, as we ask Willow to get us another 100 miles or so along the route and I've no idea what next year will hold when our adventure is complete and we have to decide what happens next. But I know that living in this moment seems to be suiting us all pretty well and as Ady has just come back from the washing up room, I can hear the kids laughter calling me and the sun is shining I'm off to share the next moment and probably the one after that with the rest of the Wanderers.

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