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Archive for August, 2011

Fieldwork mayhem

So long since my last post!  I spent several glorious weeks working at Old Chapel Farm, where I mowed the entire place several times over, producing loads of grass clippings for mulching all the gardens.  We whacked down bracken in the newly planted woodland to stop it from shading the new trees.  We hiked through the boggy fields pulling out ragwort, a poisonous weed, several times nearly being sucked down into the bog, wellies and all.  And we (im)patiently waited for Tess the cow to give birth.  For several days, it seemed imminent: her udders grew enormous; she started laying down in the barn and moaning; things at the business end looked telling ( I spare you the details)…. and then she would walk back out to the field, munch on grass, and look fine.  One day, to check her udders, which were expanding by the hour, I reached down to see if any milk would come out, and with the slightest tug, a stream of warm milk!  So much excitement!  Anticipation!

And then I had to leave – I had scheduled to go down to another farm in Devon on Monday, and had already delayed by one day, so I couldn’t stay any longer waiting for the calf.  As I drove out of Old Chapel with my car full of belongings and fellow wwoofers, Tess flicked her tail happily in the pasture.  I have the report that she finally gave birth a day later to a beautiful baby girl calf.  I can’t wait to go back and see her.

Leaving Old Chapel was both sad and exciting.  Exciting to move on to new things.  Sad to tear myself away from the little community.  Living and working there every day can be all-consuming.  Except for trips to the local town, I really hadn’t left the place for a month and a half.  It is a world unto itself up there.  Working and eating and sleeping.  Your whole bodily, mental, and emotional effort is put into the life of the farm:  the daily chores, the gardens, the animals, cooking dinner, talking to the other people there. Leaving was a bit of a shock to the mind and the body.  I slept for hours, finally feeling exhaustion of dropping out of full gear.

Luckily, I had wonderful companions – two french guys were returning to Bristol, and a local girl was going home to Shropshire, so I gave them all a lift.  Which was lucky for me, since I needed all the navigation help I could get.

And here I am in Devon, in the Blackdown Hills, where I seem to take the wrong turn about 70% of the time in a maze of tiny twisting roads sheltered by hedges so high you can rarely see over them.  Think of it as driving in a hedge maze, with cars hurtling past barely inches away from you, and bewildering signposts leading you in what feels like spirals.  I decided today, while rambling around, that the british social mind must mimic its road system: excessively complicated and bewildering, with little obvious signage, and cloaked in the privacy of sky-high hedges.

Today, however, after leaving the wwoof host I stayed with for a few days here (lovely woman, dainty alpacas, fascinating conversation), I stopped into the headquarters of the local Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) for the Blackdown Hills, where the director showered me with literature and information.  Then I headed for Taunton, where I indulged in some shopping.  Feeling the nesting urge, I bought a duvet, some bedding, and a cooking pot (in anticipation that I will have somewhere semi-permanent to nest soon).  And THEN, I wandered into the local independent bookshop, where I STRUCK GOLD!  OH MY GOODNESS I WANTED TO BUY EVERYTHING in their local books section!

So all this has left me a bit befuddled and excited and overwhelmed!  So much material and what to do?  I plan to return to Shropshire next week to look for a place to live for the next few months, branching out from the network I have established from my time at Old Chapel.  But I am very much enjoying scoping out the Blackdown Hills for future reference.

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In between weeding, milking the cow, making cheese, and having general good times in the countryside, I have been attempting to forge my identity as a genuine social/political/economic entity in the UK.  This is surprisingly difficult.  I’ve been trying to open a bank account since the first week I got here, and after several visits to the branch, time on the phone, and various documents signed, certified, and mailed, I am still waiting for the bank account to come through.  And without a bank account, it is rather hard to get anything else done here.  To circumvent the lack of bank account problem in order to buy a car, I simply took out cash from the ATM until I had enough to purchase the vehicle I wanted.  To insure the car, I’ve had to shop around for someone who will insure me on my American license while I go through the motions of getting a British license.  Finally, having found such a company who won’t charge me an arm and a leg, I have found I can’t pay monthly (which I had hoped to do in order to re-negotiate coverage premiums after I get the UK license), unless I have a UK bank account.  AHHHHHHHH!!!!!!!!! My head is going to explode.  And my American bank won’t let me initiate a wire transfer unless I am physically present in one of their American branches…..

But on the upside, I have A CAR!  And it is an Automatic!  My very kind host family put me on their insurance for their little car, and my very kind friends Chris and Bea were teaching me how to drive the manual.  I was doing reasonably well, and even starting to enjoy the challenge, but I felt it would be better if my own car was an automatic.  You have to pick your battles. Driving on the left while trying to learn a manual, in a strange country with SMALL country lanes while attempting to conduct research seemed a bit too much.

So, lessons learned: Living in the country requires a car, which requires a host of other bureaucratic entanglements, which is exactly the kind of hassle one hopes to avoid in a back-to-the-land scenario.  A conundrum.  Chris and Bea, who were teaching me the manual in exchange for me taking them places, live here in a yurt and currently have no car.   They cycle into town for work (four miles and significant hills), and they have recently joined the town’s car club to rent a vehicle when they need one.  I am sure there are more lessons to be learned about the car and the countryside, but for sure, when I drove off from the car park where I had exchanged my envelope full of 20 dollar bills with the sellers (a kind older couple who had driven the car there for me) for various pieces of paper and a hunk of metal called a 1999 Vauxhall Corsa cdx V16 Automatic, I felt a sense of freedom of movement I hadn’t experienced here before.  A little like home.  The open road.  No stalling.

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