Saturday, October 1, 2011

Life on a smallholding

Cast of Characters for Devon, England:

Ann – Hostess, makes amazing cheeses, chutneys, jellies, puddings, (any food, actually), and oversees the farm. Wonderfully nice and efficient.

Mick – Host, teaches Islamic and Arabic politics at Exeter University. Traveled widely when younger. Makes me secretly feel like a fatty because he’s ridiculously fit.

Ruth – Fellow workawayer, ex-soliciter, owner of a very dry, distinctly British wit. Travels in a camper van. Extremely entertaining.

Rowan – Eldest son of hosts, rugby crazy.

Declan – Younger son of hosts and expert killer of wasps.

Charlie – English rat terrier mix. Fearless. Attacks cars, wasps, and towels with admirable fervor.

My father told me that my last post was crap, so here’s my sincere attempt at adequately explaining what the hell is going on. If it’s confusing, don’t worry – my Dad will reiterate that my posts are confusing heaps of crap and I’ll improve.

So the journey to Tiverton from Bath wasn’t too exciting. I ended up buying a huge rolling luggage case, but it was too big for casual travel so I borrowed a smaller roller luggage thing from Kari and Rob and left part of my wardrobe behind with them in Bath. I made sure they won’t forget me by stationing my overly large purple luggage in their music room. You know, besides stabbing my hand with a knife. They definitely won’t forget me.

I left from the bed and breakfast and starting rolling my way down the hill, but I had to run back up because I forgot my socks in my other luggage. Typical. I really can’t go anywhere without first going BACK because I forgot something. I then had to restart my trip down the hill to Bath city center and I was running WAY behind. Thankfully Rob drove by and stopped to pick me up off the side of the road and deposit me in front of the train station.

See? I’m getting the hang of this bum thing!

I took the train to Bristol and met a girl name Lily along the way by striking up a conversation. Lily is an artist. She showed me where to get my second set of tickets for the ride to Tiverton. Honestly, she was very sweet. We had a few laughs and parted ways with a hug.

The rest of my journey was uneventful. I took the train to Tiverton, took a bus from the Tiverton train station to the bus station, and then switched over to another bus to get to Nomansland, my destination.

Yes, that’s right, I’m in Nomansland, Devon, England. No, there were no epic battles fought here, much to my disappointment.

Ann picked me up at the Mount Pleasant Inn and drove me the short way to Riverside, the farm. The farm is gorgeous. It’s on a hill and they have a beautiful farmhouse, a barn for the goats, a milking section, a billy goat section, two pigs, a duck area, and an area for the geese and chickens. There’s a wind turbine on top of the hill and a quaint tree house nearby. The surrounding area is green and luscious and beautiful, and there are sprawling gardens (herb AND vegetable), fields, and orchards. A stream runs along the edge of the property. It’s a little slice of paradise.

I met Mick, Ruth, Declan, and Rowan. All of Ann’s family towers over me. I’m used to it. Even their youngest, who is 11-ish (I think) is my height. Thankfully they’re all very, very nice, and the boys are well-mannered.

Things are very tidy and organized here. The family is very efficient. I love it! My day-to-day routine is pretty straightforward. I wake up at 6:45am and get ready before having breakfast with the family at 7. Then the chores begin at 8-ish. I feed and water the ducks, geese, and chickens, and collect any eggs they might have laid. This usually takes me about 15 minutes. I also climb to the top of their hill and close a gate that adjoins their field with a neighbor’s. The neighbor’s cows roam their fields at night, and then I close the gate so we can let the goats loose to roam during the day.

After I do all this I join Ruth and Ann at the barn. Ann is usually milking and feeding the adult goats one at a time in the milking area while Ruth fills the hay racks and gives the goats clean water. Ruth and I have taken turns milking the goats. Yes, it’s somewhat awkward. Here’s why:

For your entertainment. Thanks Ruth.

After the milking is finished Ann retreats to the dairy and Ruth and I finish the chores. We clean out the feed buckets, let the goats out, and wash the milking area. Sometimes there are extra big jobs to do, such as cleaning the yard. By the way, when I say “yard”, I mean the British type of yard, meaning the concrete in front of the barn. Not the lawns.

Ruth and I have had some good conversations during this time. I can’t be around her without laughing at her dry tone and witty one-liners.

We usually finish these chores around 10am. At this point I take Charlie for a walk. On hills. Big hills. That I’ve stupidly started trying to run up. This excursion generally lasts for thirty minutes to an hour. It’s a very rural area, so there aren’t very many people on the road. The roads are also very narrow, so if I do see someone I have to get right up against the hedges for them to pass. I’ve done that for quite a few tractors, actually. At one point I saw a neighbor herding two bullocks with a four-by-four.

I come back for “barley cup” around between 10:30 and 11am. This is basically morning tea. “Barley cup” is a neat alternative to coffee, actually. It’s tasty and doesn’t make you crash. I’m also not tempted to put loads of sugar and cream in it.

From 11:30-ish to 1:00-ish is miscellaneous work. I’ve done a variety of things during this time. Ruth, Ann, and I pickled onions at one point. We also made chutneys and jams. I’ve observed Ann working on her cheese. One day I did weeding. Another time I helped Mick with cutting up firewood and stacking the logs. Yet another time I went out back with a handsaw and started cutting down some small trees that were growing up in front of the shed. I’ve helped Ann trim the goats’ hooves. I dipped into my long-buried vet tech skills and administered medicine to a goat. I made new labels and signs for Ann’s booth at a fair she went to sell cheese at. There are always things to do on a smallholding like this.

At 1:00pm we have lunch. Half the time it’s leftovers from the night before, but it’s ALWAYS delicious. Both Ann and Mick make amazing, wonderful, and delightful dishes. Ann is a vegetarian, so she gets creative with some of the food. I love it. They probably think I’m a total cow because I always eat a ton at their table. Good thing I’m running up ginormous hills with Charlie.

At 2:00pm I feed the poultry and pigs again. This usually marks the end of my work day. We sit down for afternoon tea and biscuits (read: cookies) at 4:00 when the boys come home. After that I’m free to kind of hang out. I generally spend a few hours on my computer chatting with my family and friends before joining the family for dinner. Again, amazing food. AND Ann and Ruth make wonderful, wonderful puddings.

When I say puddings, I mean desert. For some reason all deserts are referred to as puddings here. The first time Ann said “Save room for pudding” and then brought out an apple crisp I was quite confused. There’s been quite a few of these language misunderstandings.

That’s a basic summary of my day. Ruth left half-way through my first week and I was very sad. She was a ton of fun to work with. Thankfully Ann and Mick are both very entertaining people and working alone wasn’t bad at all. The first week and a half of my stay was spent entirely at the farm.

The farm itself was amazing. I enjoyed working on a smallholding and I definitely enjoyed watching Ann make cheese and learning about the process. I told Dad about it and we’re going to try to make some hard cheese when I get back home during Christmas. It won’t be near as good as Ann’s, no doubt, but I’m excited nonetheless.

Good news: when I made enchiladas for this host family I didn’t stab myself in the hand. And yes, they loved the enchiladas.

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