Sunday, 17 January 2016

In need of a bib





 Is it just me?  It can’t just be me, surely? So why don’t I know anyone else over the age of, say, nine, who is in need of a bib?  I’m excluding the need for maximum coverage when sucking one’s way through a rack of spare ribs draped generously in the sauce du jour be it hot, barbecue or sticky; not only do you need to be covered in a tablecloth to eat this stuff but finger bowls have to be bath sized.  No, I’m talking about daily meals, the usual breakfast, lunch and dinner, and the cooking, prepping and eating of same.  

It seems fair enough to expect that you can keep yourself and your clothes neat and clean while in the kitchen, but I am literally unable to handle food without smearing it on my clothes, most commonly my sleeves and upper body.  OK, flat-chested I am not, which clearly creates a platform for drip-catching, but why am I dripping stuff with what appears to be major abandon, in the first place?  

I know that aprons exist – I have many of them – and that other people wear them successfully, but the putting on of an apron is normally a precursor to baking (flour gets everywhere) or roasting (dropping meat fat on your best jeans is painful as well as sartorially inept).  And I do wear my aprons to cook in.   And still, I’m covered in gobs of this and dabs of that.  If, unusually, I am wearing something smart or new I actually have to change into old clothes to cook because it will be an absolute dead cert that I will embellish my new favourite top with something that will leave a semi-permanent stain directly between the boobs.  This does not cheer me.

I don’t think I eat like a ravening Henry VIII, tossing half carcases of game birds and whole legs of lamb over my shoulder after violently sinking my teeth into juicy flesh, or perhaps I do.  My chin is only occasionally decorated with a splat of gravy or flake of fish, so again, why am I such a food clutz, unable to ferry the contents of my spoon, fork or chopstick daintily into my mouth without creating leavings that adhere, which the dogs will delight in licking off me later in the day?  

I‘m thinking that perhaps I should get an extra farm boilersuit just for wearing in the kitchen, or perhaps a wetsuit would be better, although that would make standing and stirring stuff over the Aga unbearably like tending to hell fires.  Or more eccentrically, one of those all in one things that astronauts wear to moon walk, complete with helmet.  With an extra bib to keep the airpipes unclogged.

Monday, 21 December 2015

The Thoughtfully Dressed Farmer



Linda Grant, a writer who has me entirely in her thrall, mentions smallholders in passing in her book The Thoughtful Dresser:

 “It would be something if I could learn to live with sensible shoes.  Lady traffic warden lace-ups, Doc Martens, T-bar children’s sandals in primary-colour leather, clogs.  But to wear those shoes is to stand to one side from life (or life as I want to lead it), which doesn’t involve a smallholding in Wales, with obligatory rain over the low hills, and clucking, shitting chickens). I want beautiful fashionable shoes which I can nonetheless walk in...”

 This made me laugh, of course, as I considered the shoes I own.  Shoes that you can walk in are a pre-requisite for life on the smallholding and the farm, but long gone are the days of wooden pattens, which must have been just as uncomfortable in medieval times as the elegant pointed toes and stiletto heels that Grant craves now.  What made me chuckle though, was not just the neatly categorised and passed over life of the smallholder, but my realisation that shoes for the farm, unlikely as that may seem to many, also have a hierarchy of beauty. 

Let me start with wellies, which, bizarrely, held a place in fashion not so long ago and always looked entirely weird and ridiculous on London streets on anyone other than toddlers being taken out in the rain. I am as picky about my wellies as Grant delightfully is about clothes, shoes and handbags.  Spend a tenner on those pale green farm wellies with toffee coloured soles available in all agricultural merchants?  No chance. That would be the equivalent of traffic warden style.  I want wellies that come to an inch below my knee, no lower, with a gusset and a buckle so I can fix them over winter or summer thicknesses of jeans or thermal cyclist’s leggings or bare legs.  I want them to have fabulous fit around the ankle so my feet don’t slop about in them and are secure for walking many miles.  I want thick, heavily cleated soles that stop me sliding on the slippery Devon clay, and I want them neoprene lined, thank you very much, preferably in pillar box red to cheer me up as I slide my feet inside.  The rubber outer should be dark brown or deep green or possibly black, although I‘ve yet to find a good black wellington boot. I should not feel as if I have slippers on and be able to detect every lump or stone I walk on, so they should be well heeled as well as soled.  All this, and utterly workmanlike too – I expect them to last me at least a couple of years with daily, aggressive wearing.  Wellies like this are not cheap. They are probably my most important tool, so why should they be? And to my biased eye, they are aesthetically pleasing.  But unlike gorgeous suede wedges, they should not be box fresh; a lack of soil or wear declaims the naivety and charming ignorance of the newbie. 

When it’s not raining there’s walking boots for on the farm or in any weather for 10km jaunts on Dartmoor.  They are clunky, chunky, comfy.  They tell a story about intent and journeys past.  They are leather, reliable, also non-slip (a recurring theme with much of my footwear) and have interesting laces.  The laces are long and in some unknowable way, technical.  They never seem to get wet, they rarely come undone, they give a bit of visual light relief to the tan boots; they are ineffably fit for purpose.  Would I choose pink walking boots, or sky blue or anything other than natural leather?  Of course not.  I have standards too.

It’s really hard to wear slinky shoes or high heeled anything on the farm (although I’ll come to that in a minute).  But I don’t wear wellies or walking boots all the time.  I have several pairs of what I call everyday boots.  Some are ankle boots, usually lace-ups, preferably lambskin lined, although I do have a pair of zipped boots that I love because the leather is intriguingly aged.  These are what I wear to go shopping – to buy livestock feed, do the monthly food shop, go to market and so on.  If I find a lamb out on the road, these are sturdy enough to cope with puddles, slush and mud, so don’t hamper any rescue efforts, but tidy enough to be seen out in public without me looking like some rural hermit who doesn’t get out much. I also have leather wellies that I use to visit other people’s farms or agricultural shows so I don’t risk transferring disease to or fro on my everyday wellies.  I could wear these in London quite happily, although I haven’t, yet.   I do love boots, always have.  I have knee high ones that work with dresses or jeans.  I even have suede pointy-toed kitten heeled ones, but I can’t wear them going from the house to the car across the farmyard, so because I am lazy and can’t be bothered to change boots once I’m in the car, I don’t wear them as often as I’d like.  Talking of boots, I’d not be in Linda Grant’s good books – I have several pairs of sheepskin boots, knee high and ankle height, for wearing indoors from autumn to spring.  My office is cold, the heating is reliant on my remembering to throw more logs on, so warm boots are as essential as bootees on a baby.  I know summer is here when my feet get too hot for sheepskin.   

I do have some high heeled shoes and boots.  I used to wear them in the house when we had friends over for supper.  But the scullery (yes, there are aspirational benefits in having a house outside of a city) is cobbled directly on earth and I’d get my heels stuck between the stones and leave deep pits in the floor.  

There is one pair of shoes on the shelves in the boot room that warrant the full disdain of Ms Grant; my practical, ever useful, but rather ghastly embarrassment, the Birkenstock plastic clog.  I can quickly slip them on to go outside to collect the post, ferret deeply in a freezer, check on a farrowing pig or stop the dogs bothering a delivery man.  But no, even though they are covered in colourful flowers (perhaps because they are covered in colourful flowers), they do not please my eye, do not offer joy, they just play a functional role that suits a life that includes clucking, shitting chickens,  mooing, shitting cows and bleating, shitting sheep.

Thursday, 24 October 2013

A response to Russell Brand who lit the touchpaper of revolution last night



What Russell Brand said on Newsnight last night has struck such a chord with people.  (as has his related piece in the New Statesman) So it made me wonder how we can make the change, make politics and politicians focus on the things that matter – people, humanity, the planet, and turn them from their increasingly venal practices. 

Those who are disenfranchised and disenchanted are from a vast political spectrum from UKIP to communism and everything in between and beyond.  There is no single new political party that could be formed that could deliver the revolution that’s required, the complete reworking of our dead in the water system.  So I offer up this alternative for our collective consideration.

We create a people’s manifesto for government.  We set a number of clear expectations of what we want from our government that they are duty bound to progress and achieve.  Call them rules, call them objectives, call them outputs, call them outcomes, call them goals, call them must haves, call them targets, call them no-brainers, call them whatever current Babel talk fits the bill, but make them the only imperatives, and the things that we measure government against.

I have hoiked these ten rules for politicians out of my head as starting points and they need
much debate and refinement, but I offer them, notwithstanding, as something to chew on. Cry against them as naive and socialist, but naivety may be what’s required here.

  1. Ensure that the most vulnerable in society and those teetering towards vulnerability are the first priority for support and guidance.  We are working towards being a place where vulnerability is minimised and opportunity is equalised.  This is a FIRST PRIORITY and the needs of other groups become irrelevant in the face of vulnerability. The others can stand up only too well for themselves.
  2. Delete choice from the menu: we do not want choice in education or health – we want the best possible health and education for all. Make our National Health Service and our Education system the best in the world.
  3. No-one should be homeless or be bringing up a family in a B&B.  Homes are needed for everyone.  This might mean that no-one has more than one home within the UK.
  4. Profits should not be made out of natural resources that the whole world needs.  Government should be running the utilities and transport systems with all profit ploughed back into those systems to make them the best they can be.
  5. Create a moral touchstone within political decision making.  If you can honestly say and prove wherever possible that the decisions you are making will improve the lot of society, then that is probably a good decision.  If you have whispering doubts, say so, discuss them and make better decisions.  There is no longer a party line, there is just government for the betterment of society (yes, it does exist).   This moral touchstone is critical in making decisions that impact on the environment.  You can not make decisions that will enrich the pockets of the few whilst ruining the lives of many, now or in the future.  We must hand over a planet that is healthier than it is currently to future generations – making things better, not worse is your mantra.
  6. Regarding the environment you must make decisions that are scientifically, not politically based.  Do not ignore the advice of world experts on climate change, Bovine TB, fracking (etc etc etc), unless you are able to show that their advice is based on inadequate evidence.  Do not be bullied by lobbyists – we are not interested that your future consultancy career depends on them, your political career depends on US.
  7. Whenever corporate bodies pit themselves against individuals, believe in the David and Goliath principle and do not be swayed by men in suits, not until they also abide by a people’s manifesto (and even then, be wary).
  8. Remove religious considerations absolutely from decision making – we ARE a secular society and no group should be able to discriminate against others on the basis of religious belief.  We are all equal.  No religious schooling (people can do that in after school hours if they wish), no right to say women can’t be bishops or that being gay means you can’t have absolute equal rights. 
  9. Stop using others as reasons for failures in society.  Single mothers, Moslems, immigrants, women, homosexuals, it goes on and blooming on.  Prejudice under the aegis of a honeyed rational voice is the lazy way to hide failures in other parts of the system.  Do not go down this route, it is a dead end and leads to horribly frightening consequences.
  10. Become a politician to make the world a better place.  Retire from politics knowing that you did make the world a better place.  You will have our thanks.
I'm tempted, in complete contrast to Brand, to make a rule for the rest of us... perhaps voting should be compulsory...