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The mundane and the magnificent

A homestead is a isolated dwelling, especially a farmhouse, and adjacent outbuildings, typically on a large agricultural holding such as a ranch or station.  A homesteader is a lifestyle of self sufficiency.

A year ago we would not have called ourselves homesteaders, but by the close of this year, we actually feel we are heading in the right direction to have the nerve to call ourselves this title.

It’s more than growing a few veggies and having a couple of Rhode Island chickens pecking about. It’s more than having a wood burner. It’s more than painting your picket fence white or planting a few herbs to waft their heady aromas on a summer day as you brush past carrying your washing basket.

It’s actually making a conscious effort to move yourself away from urbanism and reliance on outside forces. These last few months we have grown more dissatisfied with supermarket food, the plastic packaging onslaught that’s not diminishing any time, the quality of products you buy that used to be good but have sunk in the mud myre of profit margins and quick turnover. And I mean into the bin, landfill, and not sales. These guys don’t give a rats arse about keeping loyal customers. The next generation will be born all too soon and think what they have is unique.

My girls and boys – Ronnie Rooster and Billie Bantam

But I think this is misquided. I hope the younger generation look back to times where local made was good, where time taken to master a skill and feel pride in that skill was honourable. Where a tough day working outside is as rewarding as people believe a social media career could be behind a computer. Where relying on perceived wealth gained through debt is a worm hole ambition.

But when that change will happen, who knows. At the moment we are drowning in recycling. A weekly deconstruction of plastic, cartons, aluminium tins and glass bottles. Packaging is increasing, not diminishing whilst goods are prepared in China for an unknown end user. Retailers pick from warehouses and add more packaging to show their brand. The merchandiser adds a hanging hook, a price tag. It takes life moments to remove all this. I want my life moments back!

So we made a decision a year ago to buy more property and land. We were lucky we had the funds but still we could have splurged it all on holidays, lifestyle, clothes, social etc. We chose homesteading. I miss London. I miss the traffic drone, the push n shove of Oxford Street, the cosy leather and varnish aromas of a dim lit pub. But I can visit. It’s day to day life that really irked us over the last few years.

Getting control back of our money situation through inheritance meant changes. Much to everyone’s surprise we made France permanent and closeted ourselves deep into the countryside. The Farmhouse had two hectares and no one wants that much land without a farm. We got it cheap.

Land meant homestead lifestyle. A magnificent realisation that would, with a few years of focused hard work, step us away from the modern reliance on others to provide services and food.

Magnificent means elaborate or impressive. Some of the work we are tackling I suppose can be classed as impressive. We are repointing, re-roofing, building drainage and changing the useage flow of buildings and land. Everyday we tackle projects as diverse as water management on our land, to running electrics to the outbuildings, building new chimneys, to creating windows and tanking cellars. This week I pruned over 20 trees…on a windy day of course..was that a master stroke to observe which branches looked precarious or just stupid?

I made magnificent oat and date biscuits. They did taste far better than the shop ones and had not an E number in sight. I started collecting second hand items to fit out my campa van..bowls, linen, chairs and pans. The campa will provide magnificent days out exploring, picnics, nights under the stars.

But magnificent I found comes with a temporary mundane. The homestead dream is initially filled with dirty buckets, dirty gloves, bins and mud. An endless onslaught of wet washing and driers crowded round our little stoves. We have a humid house and with seven wet cats sleeping in our hall, there is a very tangible aroma. Our magnificent egg producing hens require an hour a day of mundane poop cleaning and squelching across to the composter. Weekly that compost needs turning. Until we have organized for the tractor to manage this, I have a weekly sweaty hour up to my knees, heaving my browns and greens into some order.

My other compost mound waiting for a cover.

Mundane is humping straw and hay bales by hand across muddy fields as we have yet to build our magnificent gravelled roadway. Mundane is cutting the long grass by hand because the silly mower doesn’t do wet grass. Mundane doesn’t mean boring. I love being outside and tackling all these jobs, but homesteading is about progress. It is about smart organising to take on more ambitious plans. Time spent cleaning mud off boots and unblocking drains doesn’t get the lake built or the solar lights installed. In France especially rural homes are neglected. Rooves leak, drains drip and damp proof courses were buried long ago. Rectifying these problems seems commonsense, obvious. Why spend money heating a damp house? Why close a room because the roof leaks? Why fill your garage with rubbish and park your car in a muddy driveway? Habit.

Long term the homestead should run itself leaving time for crafting, writing, better animal husbandry and hobbies. Breaking bad habits and seeking out new ways of doing things does create more time.

Our three goats arrive tomorrow. The magnificent plan is to end the mundane of hand grass cutting and get these guys to keep the grass trimmed along with the hedges and brambles. When the weather dries my ride on mower should work but that’s unreliable. Homesteading needs reliable and we are learning fast that taking inspiration from the past works. Using ancient hand tools, homecooking, hand washing, poultry keeping, tree planting, composting, allotments, hedgemaking, sewing. Our country living may seem mundane to many. Too quiet, too much physical work, too outcast. But to us it’s magnificent. Independent, reliable and sustainable.