Wednesday, 21 January 2009

Un-skilled for life

I am feeling rather ashamed having been watching the BBC's latest reality TV offering, "Victorian Farm". In it 3 intrepid historians/archaeologists are taking on the challenge of spending a year living/working/farming the Victorian way on a traditional farm in Shropshire.

It's a strange ménage-a-trois - a female expert on Victorian housework busying herself with laundry, poultry-keeping, preserving, embroidering, foraging and preparing food on an authentic Victorian coal-fired range, while 2 other blokes do farm maintenance, ploughing, sowing, harvesting, chaffing, milking, shepherding, raddling and general "animal husbandry".

The reason for my shame is nothing to do with my penchant for reality TV - I'm really quite brazen about that, nor is it the puzzle I have in my mind about the conjugal relations or otherwise of the programmme's participants. Neither of these is making me pink with embarrassment. No, what is making me shrink behind the cushions on my sofa is how damn hard these people have to work – and how alarmingly skillful they have to be just to get by from one day to the next.

Take the laundry for instance. I whinge when I’ve got to put washing in the washing machine and switch it on, leaving it to go merrily through its cycle while I go off and enjoy myself. I then huff and puff when I’ve got to take washing out of the washing machine and either bung it in the drier or peg it out on the line. And as for ironing! I’ll stare at the ironing basket for days before mustering up the energy and inclination to get on with it. The maximum amount of time that the whole washing/drying/ironing cycle needs to take in my house is about 4 hours, whereas that poor woman on the telly took 4 days to get through all hers the Victorian way, before having to start all over again.

Then it showed her plucking the Christmas turkey – which she had personally slaughtered, having hand-reared it from the egg and named it Evie. All I need to do is go down to Asda and pick up an anonymous packet of diced turkey, and all the skills I need to do it are driving my car and reading the words free-range on the wrapper.

Meanwhile, out in the yard the blokes are learning how to build stone walls using traditional Victorian tools and methods, so that they can provide a home for their two Tamworth pigs before winter sets in. They’ve already had to master ploughing a field using a horse-drawn plough, driving a horse and cart using a genuine Shire horse, painting the chest of a horny ram with red “raddle” so they could tell which of their ewes had been “tupped”, and growing and harvesting their own animal feed. And all this after restoring the farmhouse to a livable standard.

Phew – I’m worn out watching it! But I am also filled with awe at how hard life was for my farming ancestors, and with gratitude that amongst so much hard graft they didn’t neglect the business of procreating and raising kids – otherwise I wouldn’t be here.

It also has me reflecting on our modern “skills for life” educational initiatives, and makes me wonder whether we would be better served learning some more of that self-sufficiency stuff that the Victorians knew so well, instead of literacy, numeracy and how to drive computers and cars.

I shall certainly think twice next time a roll my eyes at having to do the washing, or load the dish washer or pour the raw ingredients into my bread-maker.

Sunday, 11 January 2009

Essential Trees

It's been jolly cold this week in the UK. Cold enough to keep the ground frozen and the trees frosted up for days. As hubby said yesterday - it's been a long time since it's looked like an arctic tundra in this country.

How beautiful the trees look. And there's only one thing for it when the trees look so pretty, and that is to scoot off to Westonbirt Arboretum and have a stroll around the winter wonderland of arboreal splendour.

I've loved Westonbirt for many years - ever since my first trip there in Autumn 1997, just before the birth of our first child. I lurched my way up and down the avenues and rides, admiring the fabulous autumn colours, and dreaming of enjoying this environment with my new baby.

So yesterday we headed over there with both babies - except they're not so much babies any more. And they were quite happy stalking hubby and I through the trees and shrubs while we enjoyed a romantic stroll, dampened only by the meltwater which was pouring off the Wellingotnias and the Lawson Cypresses.

There is something about walking amongst trees which cheers me right up. Being at the Arboretum, with the kids playing some version of The Crystal Maze, finding crystals attached to different species of tree, and having mock light-sabre fights with sticks, somehow makes time stand still. All the pressures and worries of the day just float up amongst the canopy above and evaporate into the sky. I become aware that I'm walking around with a silly grin on my face.

I'd love to go back to the trees each month, to get an impression of how the seasons change, and to get a regular soul-uplift. Hubby says it smacks too much of routine. So what? Better to have such a seasonal routine that pleases the spirit, than get into couch-potato habits which are quite deadening.

Get out and look at some trees - and be inspired!

Thursday, 8 January 2009

What happened to December?

I wanted to be really cool and go to the Hub while we were away in Canada so I could update my blog. The Hub is an internet cafe at Whistler Creekside, full of young people wearing the crotches of their tartan or tweed effect ski pants between their knees and those woolly hats with ethnic patterns and plaits.

As you can see I didn't get to update my blog. Instead, feeling shy, I went in there and paid $1.30 canadian to go online and renew my library book at North Swindon library!!

We had a fun time skiing, although there wasn't much snow, the slopes were sheet ice, there weren't many runs open and the temperatures plummetted to -26. Nevertheless the views were stunning, the sky crystal blue and the hot tub was bubbling in the evening.

Christmas was mad. What with the jet-lag, all the cooking and a houseful of guests over the middle weekend I felt like I needed a whole new holiday. So we took one - and went up to my parents' house for New Year. I spent an extremely schizophrenic New Years' Eve between my parents' house and their neighbours' - raucously drinking lager in one place and demurely sipping G&T in the other.

And now it's January, and the kids are back at school, which is about time as they've had a month off already. I love this time of year, when everything gets back to normal and suddenly the house seems twice the size because the Christmas tree's gone.

We've had snow in Swindon this week. It's been looking very pretty early in the morning as we've walked to school with the kids. I was hoping to get my bike out and try and shed some of the extra Christmas poundage, but the roads have been a bit too icey.

Any Resolutions? Only getting up a bit earlier than everyone else so I can do a bit of scribbling in my journal. It's lovely when the house is quiet and I can settle down for quarter of an hour with the first brew of the day. Trouble is, I'm still there at 7pm when I ought to be making up the kids' lunch boxes and kicking everyone out of bed!

Other than this attempt to get in some regular writing each day I'm planning on pretty much carrying on where I left off last year. Oh yes, and I'll be rebranding Treetops too.

Happy New Year everyone.