Archive for September 1st, 2008

The so-called “Good Life”

My intentions had been to publish a series of posts introducing y’all to my animal friends but that’s gone a little wrong as I can’t find the cable to hook my phone up to the laptop in order to bore you all silly with photos. So, instead, I’ll do a little blurb about why I’ve given up my well-paid job in retail management for a life outdoors shovelling shit.

Apart from right now when I’m hiding indoors with the laptop and a mug of coffee because it’s raining…

Just over a year ago, B and I went on holiday to Norfolk and as we sat on a riverbank on a gloriously hot summer’s day, I realised that I hadn’t spent any quality time outdoors for more years than I cared to remember. As a consequence, my life was lacking something significant. I’d spent many years working in an office and travelling the country, then a year working in a shop as a sales assistant, then a trainee manager and had recently been given a bumper pay increase and my own set of keys and the alarm code to celebrate my promotion to Assistant Store Manager.

So why was I so unhappy?

  • I was working for a company whose ethics I mostly despised, yet I took home their wages every month
  • Said job involved a daily commute of at least 75 minutes. Each way. With the prospect of working a 12-hour shift, six days a week during the build-up to Christmas.
  • Even if took advantage of my recent management status and left that company and joined another, I’d still be stuck in a sector I disliked as a whole. Besides, I’d have to stick it out in my current job for at least a year…
  • A move to the charity and/or voluntary sector would be much more appealing but it still didn’t seem right.

And that’s when we come back to the Great Outdoors. I wanted to be outside during the day, to work with our environment, to learn from it and to benefit from it, to help it and nurture it. To do what the human race has done since the very dawn of our existence. To use the earth we stand on to sustain my family, rather than solely relying on conglomerates to do it for me. To get my hands dirty in the production of my own food.

And so we moved to my mum’s farm in west Wales and spent a year learning the basics. We bought a load of chickens, some ex-battery and/or commercial, some pure-breds. We collected eggs every day, enjoyed them, sold many on to friends, dropped a few and even gave some to a broody hen and the 4 chicks I can hear chirping away are the result of that delightful experiment. The next stage is slightly less delightful, though I’m hoping I will eventually be able to use the word ‘delicious’ to describe my endeavours. Yup, you guessed it, the boys will be introduced to the freezer. Harsh, but where else to the chickens on our plates come from?

And therein lies the whole point of what I’m trying to do. I know exactly where my food comes from. Ok, so far it’s just eggs and pork as the chickens haven’t made the final stage of that journey yet, and the vegetable garden is still just a theory, but I’m getting there. I know for a fact that the pigs who provided my pork roasts, chops and sausages (47kg!!!!!) had an amazing life, albeit a short one. They knew their names (Vicky and Albert) an came when I called them. They had a wide range of foods, from pig nuts to fruit and vegetables and treats such as fruit cake and doughnuts.

I was gutted when the pig shed was empty, but that was in March and the freezer’s still packed. And I’ve never tasted meat so delicious. Our sausages are 100% pure pork. No rubbish, no bread, no fillers. Just meat. You can’t buy that in a supermarket. And you certainly can’t buy the love and devotion that went into those pigs long before their final journey.

Now, we’re compromising. When we moved to mum’s, the local petrol station was selling diesel at 97.9p per litre. In July, which is when (and mostly why) we decided to move to Cardiff, it was priced at 129.9p per litre. It’s currently 125.9p and I get excited when I fill up down here for 120.9p. You all know the story, everything has shot up in price. And when you’re on a budget, it’s no longer possible.

And so B has returned to full-time employment in Cardiff and I’m setting things up with the pigs and chickens and the veggie patch before looking for part-time work near the menagerie. It’ll take some time, but we should be able to dramatically cut our shopping bill and know that we’re eating food where animal welfare was the highest priority.

It’s not “the Good Life”. It’s bloody hard work and the results aren’t immediate. Dung smells, especially when you kneel it it by mistake. You don’t always have the luxury of hiding from bad weather and being cold and wet is just a fact of life. But it’s worth it, every second, when you have built up such a good relationship with one of your pigs that she lets you stay with her when she gives birth to a litter of squealing piglets. And because mum trusts you, they trust you and (most of the time!) are happy for you to pick them up for a cuddle.

I could list thousands of reasons detailing why this makes me happy but a well-paid job didn’t, but you don’t have the bandwidth to cope! And I don’t have the time as the rain has cleared up and I’ve got acres of undergrowth to clear.

Have a good day – I will 🙂