Sunday, 21 February 2010

A week of courses

Tough, long, week. Held three courses in five days, a two day butchery course, a one day smallholding experience and then a three day combined butchery and smallholding course. I’m absolutely shattered now.
They were very nice people and great fun, but I don’t think we’ll do three on the bounce again. It’s too much, especially as this lot were all clever people, and the questions they asked were pretty complicated.
We butchered pigs from start to finish on our kitchen table – everything we teach is designed to happen in any normal kitchen. Butchered the pigs into chops and joints, and then made sausages, bacon, brawn, fagots, ham and gammon, before moving on to a little dairy, making a quick cheese, butter and yoghurt. Lunches were all homemade from the produce or hot soups with fresh bread straight from the oven.
Then we go out onto the land and teach people how to act around the animals and how to treat them kindly and safely. We make sure it’s very hands on. We make sure people touch the animals and bond with them. We show them basic care, such as how to foot trim and inject a sheep, and then encourage them to do it. We show them how to load a pig into a trailer, and how to inject that, and then encourage them to do the same.
We get them to feed the animals. We get them to check the animals, do the bedding and the watering – all under our supervision, but we get them to do it. We get them chasing chickens into bed, do the feeding and then collect the eggs, and then round-up the geese. They learn how to work my collie dog and how to drive the quad bike. In short, they experience the day in, day out, life of a self sufficient smallholder, mud, poo, good and bad smells, high and low moments and wonderful, hearty, homemade food. The lot (with us in control all the time, but try and make sure they are fully involved!).
I feel shattered, but you should see the people when they leave us. Some of them can’t talk, they’re that tired. They look punch-drunk. It’s a lot to take in. They wander off to their hotel or b&b and tell us they fall asleep while it’s still daylight. I guess it’s the same with any lifestyle, if you’re not used to it, it hits you hard. If I spent a day in an office with phones ringing continuously and people bustling about, and then went out in the evening to a club, it would wipe me out for days (that’s my idea of an alterative lifestyle, because obviously mine is totally normal).
So yeah, it’s been a busy week. But now it’s done, I can get on with the things I need to do, such as coppicing the woods – I desperately need to cut down enough wood to lay for next years heating. Might start that tomorrow.

Sunday, 7 February 2010

London town

Short blog this week, because i have to nip to London for a couple of days. The trip is unexpected and I'm pretty much leaving Debbie with a pile of hassle, but a phone call late yesterday with my brother means i have to drop everything and run back. He needs a bit of moral support. We all do from time to time. I leave in 20 minutes. Just enough time for a quick coffee as i pack. Back home in three days time.

Monday, 1 February 2010

That's a wrap!

The trick when being filmed for TV is not to look at the camera, because unless you’re the presenter, it makes you look shifty. However, that’s not as easy as it sounds. It’s a human nature thing, if you’re told not to look at something, the urge to look is almost unbearable. So the day before the cameras from Sky One arrived, I spent the entire time practising not looking at things.
The absurdity wasn’t lost on me as I walked along picking trees or rocks or walls or buildings, and then not looking at them. At first I found myself casting quick glances at the thing I was trying not to look at just to make sure it was there, because if you are trying purposely not to look at something, it feels for all the world like it’s looking at you.
But little by little I overcame that, until in the end I was ignoring things like a professional, and strolling past trees like they weren’t even there!
Then the film-crew arrived.
The program was all about me re-homing two cockerels from the North Devon Animal Ambulance. I’ve got about forty chickens and the two cockerels I did have both died last year, so the hens have been husbandless for a while and they’d begun to bicker and argue; nothing too serious, just kind of handbags at dawn sort of thing. What they needed was a man, that way they could give him hell and not feel the need to fight amongst themselves.
Filming was fast, and we were done in just under two hours. The only slip-up was just that, a slip-up. Walking away from the camera I had to follow the hens down a steep slope, and half way down skidded. What I should have done was turn and smile at the camera, or at the very least laugh, but oh no! All too aware that the camera was on me, I did that really stupid thing of pretending I meant it, as though the slip was perfectly normal and something I did most days. It must have looked like I did a sudden courtesy mid step.
Desperate not to look a fool, as soon as the camera was switched off I begged the producer not to show that bit and bribed him by collecting all that day’s fresh eggs and handing them over. Assuring me he hadn’t even seen it (yeah, right!), he said no, no, no, he absolutely couldn’t take the eggs – unless of course I was sure? By the time I looked down the eggs were already safely tucked away in his bag.
They were really nice people, and lots of fun to work with. I’ve done quite a lot of filming now, and the thing that always gets me is how empty and quiet it all seems when they have packed-up and gone. It’s almost eerie. I think part of it is when they’re there you’re so aware and focused on them, that when they leave part of you is still searching for the camera out of the corner of your eye so you can ignore it.
The program is new with a working title of The Nation’s Pets, but that could change, and due to air on Sky One in April.