Wednesday, 7 December 2011

Towards a homemade Christmas

Who wouldn't like a few homemade touches about the place for Christmas? It makes it nice, it makes it cozy and it makes it personal. And, there's nothing quite as personal as a homemade gift.

Sure money's tight right now, but giving a homemade present isn't about saving money, it's about giving something of yourself. Even rich, famous people give homemade gifts: Vic Reeves for instance, half of Reeves and Mortimer, makes bars of homemade soap for his family and friends.

We're in good company.

So here's a couple of ideas that i think are lovely, Homemade Firelighters and Edible Tree Decorations.

First, Homemade Firelighters that when treated each burn with different colours.

Pine cone firelighters

These are really easy to make, but the standard Blue Peter caveat applies: make sure you're a grown-up or have a grown-up around to help.

To start with, you will need:

Dry pine cones

Wax - the old ends of used candles are ideal

Sawdust/wood shavings

Additives to colour the flames (see below)


Melt the wax very carefully in an old saucepan. You just want it melted, you don't want to cook it or heat it any more than you need so don't put it on the hob and wander off - in fact, if you're at all worried, make up a double boiler with one saucepan inside another and water in between just to be on the safe side.

Dip the bottom half of a dry pine cone in the wax, and then straight into the sawdust so that the sawdust sticks to the wax, and hold in the air to dry.

To make the sawdust burn with different colour flames, you can mix a little sawdust with one of the following (don't be tempted to mix the colourants as they tend to cancel each other out and just burn normally):

For yellow flames - Sodium Chloride (table salt)

For orange flames - Calcium Chloride (bleach powder)

For violet flames - No salt substitute

For green flames - Borax

For white flames - Epsom salts

These are great firelighters, fun to make, romantic to burn and special to receive.

To jazz them up into a present, maybe get a small wicker basket and half fill with pretty dry leaves and put the treated cones on top. Then add a festive ribbon.


Edible Tree Decorations

For these you will need:

350g plain flour

1tsp bicarbonate soda

1tsp cinnamon and/or sweet mix spices

175g brown sugar

100g butter

1 beaten egg

4tbsp golden sugar

Coloured boiled sweets

Okay, now the method:

Heat the oven to 180 degrees Centigrade. Line 2 baking sheets with grease proof paper. Get a bowl and add the plain flour, to which put in the bicarb of soda and Cinnamon/sweet mix spices. Put the butter in and rub together with your fingers until it becomes like fine breadcrumbs. Next add the egg, syrup and brown sugar and hand mix until it comes together.

Separately, crush some boiled sweets with a rolling pin.

On a floured surface, roll out the dough until it's about as thin as a pound coin. Now to be creative. Cut out shapes, you can cut circles or triangles, but if you're feeling bold, cut out Christmas tree shapes, or stars, anything you fancy. In the centre of them all, cut a circle so that the middle is missing. Then place them on the lined baking tray. In the cut out middles, sprinkle some of the crushed sweets, and maybe make a hole near the top if you want to hand them up later.

Bake for 10-20 minutes until golden brown, then leave to cool.

When cool, thread with ribbon, and away you go, edible Christmas tree decorations!

Tuesday, 1 November 2011

BBC Radio Devon!

I know what you're thinking, the only time i blog is when it's connected with the Shep and Jo show, and at the moment you're right, but it's only because i'm struggling to get so many things done before December, not least of all finish writing my book.

Well, it's written!!!!!!!!!!!!

All i need to do is spend a couple of weeks polishing it, and it's done *phew!*

Normal blog service will soon be resumed. Thanks for putting up with me.

In the meantime, dad, dad, darrrrrr...

The lovely Shep and Jo have allowed me on their show once more, it was at 3.30 today (here's the link to listen again if you missed it

We talked about:

Sloe Gin & Rose Hip Syrup

First, Sloe Gin

1lb Sloes
300g sugar
1 bottle of gin

Sloes are the berries from a hawthorn tree. Traditionally you pick them after the first frost, but actually you can pick them right now and replicate that frost by popping the sloes in the freezer over night.

So you've got your sloes.

Then take the bottle of gin and empty the contents into a bowl or jug. In the empty gin bottle, put the sloes - they should go about two thirds up (one third from the top). Add the sugar, then tip the gin back in right up to the top. Put it into a cupboard and forget about it.

It will be ready for this Christmas, but even better next Christmas!

Decant to drink.

But don't discard the gin soaked sloes!

Because, next, make Sloe cider

On top of the gin infused sloes, poor cider - cheap cider is fine - to the top and leave for a week. Sloe cider is brilliant, you've got to try it!

Again, don't discard the sloes!

The sloes now have been marinated in lovely gin and lovely cider. Take them and sivve them to make a beautiful topping for dinner party ice-cream (dinner party or in front of Strictly on a Saturday night).

Rose Hip Syrup

Rose Hips are in season right now. They're the fruit of the rose; when the bud dies, the fruit flourishes.

Rose Hips are so good for you...

There is more Vitamin C in a couple of Hips than in over twenty oranges!

Make a syrup, but ensure to strain through muslin cloth to remove all the fibres because, as every mischievous boy will know, the fibres are itching powder!

Rose Hip Syrup is good for:

Or, Marmalade

Healthy and versatile!

More blogging coming soon...

Tuesday, 4 October 2011

It's the Shep and Jo time again, on BBC Radio Devon!

We've had a good run of weather in the last week or so, but October is here and sadly things are set to change. As things get colder, we don't tend to feel as good as we might in the summer. So how about we talk over some simple self sufficient homemade soothers for everyday ailments?

Please note: These are not in place of a doctor, and they don't cure, all they do is sooth and hopefully make you feel a little bit better.

For example:

Fatigue: Take ginseng tea or capsules.

Common cold: Drink tea made from elderberry extract and ginger - and never underestimate the soothing effect of a thick chicken soup if you have a cold. Also, add eucalyptus oil and clove oil to your bath.

Water retention (including swollen ankles): Drink dandelion-leaf tea and increase your intake of vegetables that have diuretic properties, such as carrots, onions, cucumbers and leeks.

Sadness: Before going to bed, add some pine needles, willow bark and larch bark (the inner part) to a mug of boiling water. Place it, still steaming, on your dressing table to scent the room while you sleep. Do not drink.

Sore throat: Blackberry tea to sip.

Ingredients can be found in a most heath food shops.

I'm really, really, really close to finishing my book, and when it's written i promise to blog again properly. Honest Injun, no fingers crossed promise.

Tuesday, 6 September 2011

It's that radio time again!

I'm back on BBC Radio Devon this afternoon at 3.30, and thought it might be fun to talk about making paper. Here's how to do it...

Until the industrialization of the nineteenth century, all paper was handmade one sheet at a time. Paper is actually an ancient Egyptian word derived from papyrus, which was a flat woven sheet made from strips of the papyrus plant, however paper was not invented by the Egyptians, but rather by the Chinese, and to this day some of the most beautiful paper still comes from China.

Making paper at home is all about recycling, taking old newspapers, utility bills (nothing is more satisfying than putting a bill into a blender and blitzing it) and turning them into crisp new sheets ready to be used. In fact, both in the UK and America, around 70% of the material used to make all the paper each year comes from recycling. Paper manufactures collect old newspapers and magazines and subject them to a simple process that can be recreated in any kitchen, though the process is a little soggy – so it’s ideal for children then! But it’s not just wood and recycling that can be used to make paper, and more industrious makers use rags, cotton, even elephant dung, though quite how many people involved in self sufficiency would have an elephant is questionable.

How to make paper
First you need some equipment, most of which is easy to find around the home, the only exception is likely to be a deckle. A deckle is the frame in which the paper is made. You can buy them from craft shops and online, and if you are going to turn this into a small business, then it’s worth the investment. But if you are only going to make a few odd sheets then it’s cheaper to make your own.

To make a deckle, take an old picture frame (boot fairs and recycling centres are ideal for finding old pictures), the inside measurement of which is just a little bigger then the piece of paper you want to create, but smaller than a washing-up bowl. While you are out, the other thing you need to source is some tightly packed mesh the same size as the frame, the ideal is the gauze used in a screen door or the fine mesh for windows on a chicken house to keep the flies out. Take the glass, picture and backing out from the frame and cut the gauze so it fits snugly into the frame and staple or pin it in place. That’s the deckle.

For an even quicker version, get a coat hanger and bend it into a rough square, run a stocking over the top right down to the foot and tie a piece of string at the top where the hook is so the stocking is tight as a drum. This works well as a one off, but is unlikely to last any longer than that.

In addition to this, you will also need a washing-up bowl, lots of scrap paper, letters and bills work best. Avoid shiny magazines and although newspapers work well, the ink does come through so you may need to add a little bleach to your pulp solution. Two tea towels, blender, rolling pin and a clothes iron.

To prepare the paper, either shred and rip the lengths into strips, or tare it into coin size pieces. Half fill the bowl with warm water and soak the ripped up paper for about an hour, then drain through a colander. Take out the blender and half fill it with water, and add a little of the pulped paper, taking care not to add too much in one go as it will just clump. Blend it until it is completely smooth without any lumps, adding more pulp little by little.

Meanwhile, rinse out the washing-up bowl and half fill it again with warm water. Slide in your deckle so it rests on the bottom and add a spray of laundry starch to help stiffen the paper. When the blending of your pulp is complete, pour it into the water and swish it around so it settles evenly and blend some more until you are happy that the amount in the bowl will create a single sheet. Swish the whole lot once more and let it settle (shake the deckle a little if you feel it is still not landing evenly), then carefully lift out the frame and rest it over the bowl to drain. When it has stopped dripping, gently press down with the tips of your fingers to help squeeze out any excess moisture.

Lay a clean tea towel over the deckle and place a plate on top of that, then twist the whole thing over the same way you would turn out a sponge. Remove the deckle and the plate so the tea towel is resting on a flat surface with the sheet of paper in the middle. Lay the other tea towel over the top and with a rolling pin roll the paper sandwich to clear as much water as possible, take the top tea towel away and let the paper dry for a good couple of hours. Don’t let it dry out completely, just until it’s mostly dry, and then iron it with a medium to low heat iron still with the tea towel as a backing. Leave it for twelve hours, and then peel it away from the tea towel. Again leave it for twelve hours, and there you have it, homemade paper.

If you are an incurable romantic and want to use your homemade paper to write a love letter, add a couple of petals or leaves for a girl, straw or herbs for a man, into your pulp at the blending stage after the pulp has been zapped and smooth.

Homemade greeting cards
In the UK alone it is estimated that a billion pounds each year is spent sending cards.
There are masses and masses of cards available, but none of them compare with a handmade card as any parent will testify the first time their little one hands them a card they have made themselves. Sending a homemade card says so much more than one bought from a shop.

Of course the best way would be to attach a sheet of your homemade paper to the front of a card so it sits in the middle and write you message on that.

Taken from my book - The Self Sufficiency Bible - Hundreds of ways to become self sufficient

Also check out our website

Sunday, 7 August 2011

It won't work!

To everyone who's posted on my blog recently, just to say i've tried and tried and tried to put replies up, but it won't let me!

I thought it was this one particular computer that i favour, so i tried another. And another. None of them will let me.

It keeps chucking me back to sign-in. Stupid thing, i'm already signed in! I sign-in to access the blog in the first place! But i do as i'm asked, and sign-in again, and it takes me back to the publish comment point, and i do, i press the button, and it takes me back to sign-in again! Aaaaahhhhhhh!!!!!!!!!!!

All i do is go around and around in circles.

Apologies if you've commented and i've not responded, it's not because i don't want to, it's because this stupid thing won't let me. But i will get it sussed. I will beat the machine. I will overcome the small mindedness of the Google Account that won't let me publish a comment. I will figure out what the hell i'm doing wrong and make it right.

I'm really very grateful for all comments, and i will get back to you as soon as i can.

Rant over.

Wednesday, 3 August 2011

Cheeky cheats chutneys

I was listening to Desert Island Disks with Tony Robinson (Baldric in Black Adder) who said, I can achieve anything as long as i stay relaxed. Who could argue with Baldic?

Well hopefully, having met Shep and Jo a couple of weeks ago - two of the nicest people you could ever wish to meet, and so damn good at what they do - I'm hoping that i can stay relaxed on the radio this afternoon and not sound nervous. 4.30, the Shep and Jo show, BBC Radio Devon. You'd be insane to miss it!

This month we're going to be talking cheeky cheats chutneys.

Now is the season to be thinking about chutney making ready for the winter.

If you've got a glut, or overgrown veggies such as marrows, courgettes or stringy green beans (runner bean chutney is a real west country treat, and absolutely stunning!) then this is what you need to do. If you haven't got a veg garden, nip down to your local farmers' market. Most of us small producers (I sell pork at South Molton farmers' market every Saturday) haven't put our prices up for years, and on the whole we're cheaper than the supermarkets. There are some real bargains to be had, especially for vegetables right now.

Okay, cheats chutney. Now traditionally chutneys are boiled and reduced for hours and hours, which uses stacks of electric (or gas) and you're losing half of what you put in. However, cheats chutneys takes about 30 minutes and you get out what you put in. I'm all for cheating.

Oh, by the way, the runner bean chutney is coloured with Turmeric, so visually it's vibrant and a heart warming colour to cheer you up on gloomy winter days, but also Turmeric is a natural digestive, so it easies digestion.

Runner Bean chutney
You will need:

4-5 onions, peeled and diced
900g/2lb runner beans, diced
68oz/1.5lb granulated sugar
900mls/1.5 pints vinegar of your choice, for example malt or cider
1.5 tbsp turmeric
1.5 tbsp mustard powder
1.5 tbsp cornflour

Put the onions and beans in a stainless-steel pan of salted water and bring to the boil, then reduce and simmer until tender. Strain through a non metalic colander, allowing the mixture to drain well. Tip the mixture into a food processor and mince or pulse until it is chopped and mashed, but not puree. Return to the pan and add the sugar and 720/1.25 pints of vinegar. Bring to the boil and boil for 15 minutes. Meanwhile, mix the turmeric, mustard powder and cornflour in the remaining vinegar and add gradually to the beans over a low heat, stir until mixture has thickened. Return to the boil for another 15 minutes, then leave to cool thoroughly before pouring into cold jars and sealing.

Will keep for about 2 years.

Spicy Marrow Chutney

1.3kg/3lb marrow, peeled, deseeded and cut into 1cm/.5in cubes (about 900/2lb prepared weight)
450/1lb tomatoes, skinned and quartered
450/1lb onions, peeled and chopped
1 garlic clove, peeled and crushed
50g/2oz sultanas
1tsp ground allspice
1 tsp salt
1 tsp ground black pepper
570ml/1 pint vinegar
680g/1.5 light soft brown sugar

Put the marrow, tomatoes, onions, garlic, sultanas, allspice and seasoning in a large stainless steel pan and stir in 425ml/.75 pint of the vinegar. Bring to the boil, then cover and simmer until the marrow is tender. Remover the lid and continue to simmer to reduce the liquid. Stir in the remaining vinegar and the sugar and return to the boil, then simmer until the chutney is thick. Remover from the heat and cool thoroughly before spooning into cold jars and sealing.

Again, should last about 2 years.

It's all a very cunning plan...

Tuesday, 26 July 2011

Moving home

All was quiet, tranquil and calm. I reached in and very gently picked up the hen. She had been sitting on eggs in the main chicken house and very cleverly hatched five chicks. Now she was off the nest and unsure where to settle had gathered her babies under her and plonked herself down in the doorway, which was hardly the safest place.

So I needed to move her. So I picked her up.

She screeched. She screeched and screeched and screeched and flapped her wings and went into complete chicken hysterical meltdown. Sometimes language is no barrier. It wasn’t hard to work out what she was screeching. She was calling for help. She was calling for lots of help.

She was calling for the police. She was calling for the army. She was calling for the air force, the navy, the cavalry and the gods of war. She was calling for a swat team and helicopters and napalm. She was calling for Heaven to rain down thunderbolts and Hell to rise up. She was, it’s fair to say, emotional.

The cockerel was the first to respond to his damsel in distress. He charged at me talons flying. I ducked and shouted at him. Then the goat joined in and attempting to protect me started trying to head-but the cockerel.

My dog was running round in circles barking, the hen screeching, the cockerel attacking me and at the same time fending off the goat, and the goat trying to head-but the cockerel.

Then the geese joined in. Geese love any excuse for a scrap. Good gander that he is, he stood to one side while his wife did the goose equivalent of taking off her stilettos and shouldering in, wings back, chest out, mouth open and tongue going nineteen to the dozen.

The hen was screeching, the dog barking, the cockerel attacking, the goat head-butting, the geese scrapping… and then the pigs joined in. Luckily they were in their pen to one side and couldn’t actually get over to us, but they showed their solidarity with their brothers and sisters against the evil oppressor, me, by charging up and down the fence line woofing and barking.

The crowd, any duffing of this magnitude always draws a crowd, consisted of the rest of the chickens and the ducks, who screamed and shouted and jumped up and down in excitement.

I kept hold of the hen. If I let go of her now, I’d have no chance of getting her again. I brought her up to my face to protect myself – this isn’t as cowardly as it sounds, using a female as a shield, as trust me nobody was going to mess with her, not even the geese – and stepped back.

It was carnage. Blindly I staggered through it and popped her into the broody-coop. I slammed the door. She went silent. I rushed back, scooped up the five babies and put them in with mum.

She went all mother hen and fussed over them, then settled down, quite happy, babies under her, a nice, new, safe, single-mother apartment around her, and looked out as if to say, I feel better now.

With the focus of the riot taken away, the rest of us shuffled our feet a bit then wandered off in different directions, hands in pockets, whistling. Only the goose remained, her hubby still off to one side while she screeched and strutted around the empty battlefield as though the whole thing had been orchestrated for her, and she wasn’t finished yet.

It’s true what they say, moving home is without doubt a stressful business.

Sunday, 3 July 2011

Getting back to London

I've become very bad at updating my blog lately, mainly because I'm desperately trying to write this book and at the same time keep all the magazine, newspaper and radio work going, not to mention the farm!

It is a lot of fun and i wouldn't change it for the world, but it is hard going sometimes.

However, I did manage to get back to London for a sneaky weekend.

“Can we take a pig with us, not one of the big ones, just, you know, one of the small ones?” I said, standing in front of our bed strewn with clothes, a half full suitcase on the floor.


“How about Dex, can I take Dex?”

“Simon, shut up.”

Oh. In the twelve years since we left London to live on Exmoor, we’ve only been back together twice, both times for funerals, and the last one of those was seven years ago. Now, Debbie’s sister is getting married and we’re off to London.

I think I’m looking forward to it. I love my animals, but I haven’t had a single day off for eighteen months and I could do with a break. However I’m not sure I want to leave them. What if they forget me while I’m gone? Or I loose my position as leader, a tenuous state of affairs at the best of times? We’ve all read Animal Farm, what if the pigs revolt?

To keep control, I’m going to have to entrust the symbol of my office to another. The orchestral conductor has a baton, the judge a gavel, the train controller a whistle. I have a yellow bucket, and I shall pass it into the safe keeping of the one left in charge. That should cover it.

I rummage through the clothes on the bed for something of mine. I know what I want to wear. I’ve already picked my outfit. Black shoes, black trousers and a smart fitted shirt. Classic but dapper, with just a hint of cool dude.

I know what Debbie’s going to wear because she’s had the dress hanging up on the outside of the wardrobe for the past six months. It’s, er, long. Floor length. Kind of strappy, cut low front and back with muted colours of dark blue, rusty gold and light grey, and she looks beautiful in it.

After a week of solid work typing up the “How to,” and “What happens if,” manual list of instructions, I’m happy with the result. It’s always a worry of what to include and what to leave out. How in depth should I go without terrifying her of the possibilities? In the end I opt to include the chapter on, “What to do in case of a flood,” but leave out, “What to do in case of an attack by zombies,” figuring if the council don’t need to take precautions then neither do I. Besides, the pigs would probably eat them.

So that’s it, I’m off to party like it’s 1999. For a whole day and night, I’m going to be a human being, not the stressed out worry-wart dad to an odd crew of animals. It’s exciting. No welly boots, no mud, no screeching pigs desperate for dinner NOW! No driving around on a quad bike with rain pouring down my neck. No stampeding naughty horses. No chickens demanding attention. No goats to milk by hand. No killer geese. No stinky Dex. No flying head butts by the lambs. No aloof sheep.

No cats, no ducks, no great dane on the bed at night taking up all the room. No spending hours outside, no wood to cut for the fire to keep warm, no bread to make by hand. And no meat – away from home we eat vegetarian. Just human beings. Normal, everyday, human beings.

Mm, I wonder if I should lie when anyone I don’t know asks me what I do for a living? I could tell them I’m an estate agent! You’re right, maybe not. No, I’ll probably end up drunk in a corner slurring about how the General, a fifty stone pig, is my “Best friend in all the world.”

Yep, it’s time to go and embarrass the family.

And I promise to blog more.

Wednesday, 1 June 2011

Microwave crisps and home grown peanuts

Yep, it's the scariest time of the month again, my little slot on BBC Radio Devon at 3.30 this afternoon.

Shep and Jo are allowing me on once again, this time to talk about microwave vegetable crisps and grow your own peanuts.

Microwave vegetable crisps
Take raw vegetables, something like parsnips, beetroot and carrots all work well, wash and then slice them thinly with a potato peeler. Dry them in kitchen paper, put them in a bowl and toss them in a little vegetable oil. Microwave on full power for about 2 minutes, depending on how many crisps you're doing. Season and eat - how simple is that?

Possibly the most confused plant out there is the peanut plant. It's the Platypus of the plant world. Technically peanuts (also known as monkey nuts) are not nuts at all, but part of the bean family, or Legumes, but they grow in a similar way to potatoes with the nuts forming under the surface amongst the roots. Confused? - you're not alone, so are they!

Growing them is really easy and lots of fun. Go to a health food shop and buy a monkey nut (a peanut with the shell on). Carefully peel away the shell to reveal the nut, and plant it in a wide pot about an inch under the surface. Pop it in a warm place, on a windowsill or in a green house, water well but allow good drainage.

The plant will grow, and flower, and little runners come back off the plant down to the soil surface again, where they burrow down and on the end of each one a new peanut will grow. It takes about 6 months, and when the bush looks to be dieing back and goes yellow, then the nuts are ready to harvest.

Tuesday, 3 May 2011

Lemonade and Ginger Beer

I’m back on BBC Radio Devon again this afternoon between 16.30 & 17.00, chatting to the wonderful Shep and Jo, this time about traditional lemonade and ginger beer.

There’s nothing quite as refreshing as homemade drinks. They cost pennies, they’re natural without any additives or preservatives so they’re better for you, and they’re so simple and quick to make:

Traditional Lemonade

Juice of 5-6 lemons
3 tbsp granulated sugar

Put 1½ litres/2½ pints of water in a 2-litre/3½-pint bottle and add the lemon juice. Carefully tip in the sugar, then secure the lid and shake vigorously. Top up with water to the neck and shake again. Adjust the sugar and lemon to taste, if necessary. Chill and drink or pour over ice.

Ginger Beer/Ginger Ale

½lb fresh ginger
4oz Demerara sugar

Take the ginger and zap it in a food processor or grate finely. Place 2lts of water into a pan and add the ginger. Bring to the boil and simmer for 2 minutes. Transfer to a bowl, cover and leave for 24 hours. Strain into a clean drinks bottle and add 4oz Demerara sugar. Shake vigorously to dissolve the sugar. Adjust the sugar to taste, if necessary. Chill and serve or pour over ice.

For the alcoholic version with a fizzy kick:
Take the ginger and zap it in a food processor or grate finely. Place 2lts of water into a pan and add the ginger. Bring to the boil and simmer for 2 minutes. Transfer to a bowl and cool to blood heat. Add yeast and sugar and stir. Store somewhere warm, adding a teaspoon of sugar and mixing everyday for a week. Strain into a clean drinks bottle with a screw-top lid and top up with water. Warning – this is VERY fizzy! Store outside (in case it explodes!) for 2-3 weeks and open with care. Chill and serve or pour over ice.

Wednesday, 27 April 2011

Cappuccino milk for the lambs

And this week’s favourite animals are… (drum roll please)… The orphan lambs!

Yep, the orphans have arrived. Three very noisy, very pretty, very noisy, two day old girl lambs. Noisy girl lambs. Little orphan Annie’s (were there any girls in Fagin’s gang in Oliver? Other than Nancy, but she was more to do with Bill Sykes—

—There’s a lovely true story about that. At the time Charles Dickens was writing Oliver Twist he had a friend who was working at the Houses of Parliament as an artist. Anyway a squabble broke out between the artist and one of the MPs over a woman, and the MP got the artist sacked. When the artist relayed this to Dickens, Dickens said he would immortalise the scoundrel by naming a nasty character after him in the latest book he was writing. The MP’s name was Bill Sykes.)

Noisy orphan lambs…

The danger with bottle feeding lambs five times a day is it could send a man off balance for good. They’re far too cute, and the urge to talk in baby speak whilst leaning over them with both hands on knees, screeching “Iccle baby lamber-lambers!” is always there. A lesser man than me might succumb, and certainly all the females.

No, leave all that silly stuff to the girls. Silly stuff. Never catch me doing it. Of course I do have to speak to them, but I do it in a manly way, matter of fact, “Here is your breakfast, please do not slurp.”

Breakfast is a manic headlong rush. The lambs are in the stable next to the goats. I have to dash past the lambs into the goats, get Amber up onto the milking platform and milk her into a bucket. I have a jug and three bottles ready, and I milk her in three separate stages because the milk froths on top like a cappuccino and each bottle has to be the same. Besides, it’s how the lambs like it.

All the while there is utter bedlam from the lambs next door.

Now for the tricky bit.

I’ve a rack in their stable set at the right height from which the lambs feed. All I have to do is fix the bottles in there without trapping a lambs head, or leg, or ear in the bar that secures the bottles in place. Once the bottles are in place, then the bundle can begin.

They all scrum for the same bottle. I’m pulling lambs off and poking their mouths at a spare bottles, and they look like they’re going to go for it… and then they charge back so they can all fight over the same one again.

Eventually I get them all plugged in.

They are little sucking machines, and don’t stop for boring things like breath. Their tails wag, their little tongues poke out from beneath the teat and their tummies swell like a balloon being blown up.

The goats, now milked and free to wander out and about for the day, come over to investigate, and nudge them a bit with their nose. The lambs pay them no attention. The geese go by, the chickens pop in, the dog nips in and out and the sheep stand outside and stare. The lambs ignore the lot of them.

Breakfast is a very serious business you know.

When they’re done, they spend a pleasant minute head butting me affectionately on the leg, before cuddling up together in a corner where the sun pools in the mornings.

That’s how we do breakfast. And in a few hours, we’ll do the same again for lunch. And then the same again in the afternoon. In total, it’s five times a day.

Wednesday, 6 April 2011

One Year On

A year ago this week my first book came out. I can say first because I've just signed a contract to write a second *jumping up and down like Lewis Hamilton on the podium, and looking pathetically happy!*. A lot has changed in that year. I feel like I've learnt so much, and i think I've changed a lot as a person too. Certainly all those years of wondering and worrying if it's worth pursuing the dream of getting published have been worth it, and just that in itself has a huge impact. The thing is, when you sign a contract to write a first book, from that second on you're fumbling in the dark. There's no president. The writing process, putting the manuscript together, send it off, the publicity, promotions, it's all new and you're just doing your best moment by moment. It's pretty scary because if you muck it up, that's it baby, you've blown your chance and there's no way back. I loved writing the Self Sufficiency Bible, but now i know a little more, I'm going to love writing this next one a whole lot more. The first chapter is already written (that's what the publisher bought), so I've eleven more to write, and i can't wait to get started. I feel like... you know the night before you start a new job, when you're anxious and worried, but excited at the same time? Well that's how i feel right now. I'll have a bath on Sunday night, iron some clothes, and on Monday morning, I'll start. At least i know the coffee will be okay.

Monday, 28 March 2011

Keeping cool and awake!

I had never put everyone together in a field before. Never had the need. Until now.

I spent a day making the chicken field as safe as I possibly could, removing anything that wasn’t nailed down. By the time I’d finished it looked rather smart, certainly neater than it had in years.

First thing the following morning I took the horses Georgie and Alfie, the goats, the sheep, the chickens, ducks, geese, my dog, and of his own volition probably because he felt he’d be missing out otherwise, Niko the cat, and put them all in the one field together.

I’d kind of expected them to check each other out, to argue and generally misbehave, but what I hadn’t expected was how loud they’d be. It sounded like an orchestra tuning up, with loads of independent and unconnected sounds battling to be heard above the rest.

The geese screeched, the horses neighed through their noses, the cockerels crowed, the goats yelled, the ducks whacked, my dog barked, the cat fled and the sheep went for a lay down. And walking through the middle of them all was me, shushing.

Quite what I thought I was doing I have no idea. They didn’t pay me any attention anyway. But I’d become determined in my shushing. I was the boss of the field, I was in control. They should respect my shushing.

So I started yelling it, shushing at the top of my lungs. They didn’t go quiet, they just saw me a competition and got louder. Well two can play at that game. Just as we reached our crescendo, two trucks bumped down the path, parked up and disgorged men armed with chainsaws.

We all fell quiet and I leaned against a gate post, a vision of cool. If I’d had a piece of straw, I’d have chewed on it.

Several of the hedges around some of the other fields had sprouted trees big enough to threaten the electricity cable that ran above them, and they needed cutting back. These were the guys to take care of it. Four chainsaws started in unison – I could hardly hear the RAF jet flying overhead.

In our field we all kind of looked at each other, and with a collective understanding, thought no, we can’t compete with that noise. The ducks and geese wandered off to perform their morning ablutions in the stream, the horses found their hay, the goats went in search of something they shouldn’t eat, my dog found something smelly to roll in, and the chickens went off to lay an egg each.

The only one without anything to do was me. So I went and sat down. I knew I should be doing things, there was plenty to keep me busy. But somehow it’s hard to get motivated when there are others around you working. I kept telling myself that my little smallholding was only big enough for so much hard work, and that these guys were using it all up. There was no room left for anymore. So I sat there, sipping coffee from a flask and reading.

It was quite nice actually.

By midmorning I knew I was getting dangerously close to feeling sleepy. I’d done nothing more energetic than some enthusiastic shushing, but my eyes were feeling heavy and I couldn’t stop yawning.

By sheer force of will, I managed to stay awake until all the hedges were neatly trimmed, the chainsaws put away and the guys had left. Then I slumped down in some hay and fell fast asleep, not waking up until a chicken walked across my face.

Saturday, 12 March 2011

Pandora - a warrior on her way to heaven

In certain cultures, when someone important dies they tip back their heads and scream at the sky, not in grief, but in warning to the heavens that a warrior is on their way into their midst.

Late last night, I had to have one of my horses put to sleep.

I’d been in London at a meeting with a book publisher and caught the lunchtime train out of Paddington. The train was empty and fast, and even including a change at Exeter, I was still back in Barnstaple by four thirty.

Hungry and tired, I drove the twenty miles home as quick as I could. There’s nothing like reaching home after a stressy day, and even though it hadn’t been long since I’d seen my dog, he greeted me like I’d been away for months.

I heard the quad bike pull up outside and hoped Debbie would greet me just as enthusiastically. She did, but not in the way I’d thought.

“Pandora’s down!” Debbie yelled, even before she’d opened the door, the words pouring out so fast I could hardly catch them. “I thought she was laying down in the field but she wasn’t. She couldn’t get up. I got her up in the end and moved her away from the others into another field. But she went down again, and now I can’t get her back up!”

Still in my suit I threw on a coat, jumped into a pair of wellys and said, “Get help. Phone the vets. I’ll meet you down there,” as I ran out the door.

I found Pandy tangled against the fence almost upside down. She looked like a different horse, tucked-up and skinny – how can a horse suddenly look so skinny and frail? – and pasted head to food in thick mud.

Pandora came to us two years ago on loan as a companion for Georgie. Last week I introduced Alfie to them so they were a trio and they settled down into a comfortable routine. Georgie fell instantly in love with Alfie, and Pandy just let them get on with it. Pandy is around 30 years old.

With a friend we managed to get Pandy away from the fence, on her feet and smothered her in rugs to keep her warm. The vet arrived soon after.

The vet was wonderful, fussing and talking to her as he made his examination. There were a few problems and they were all related to old age. Still, never say never, he gave her some pain relief and left us for a couple of hours to see how she’d respond.

It was late. It was dark. It was cold and it was only fair the friends who’d rallied round went home. I was really grateful for their support.

So I stood with Pandy and talked to her, kept her alert and stopped her from going down. She even ate a little hay.

When the vet came back, it was clear the pain relief was wearing off and she’d deteriorated. It was just her time. She was old and tired and it was just her time. Earlier that day she’d eaten breakfast, was perky and happy and half a day later… If you’re going to go, and all that.

She slipped away just before ten with me and the vet talking to her, Dex my dog beside us, and an owl hooting in the distance.

I didn’t tip my head back and scream at the sky because I’m British and we don’t do that, but just the same, I want to warn the heavens that a warrior is on her way into their midst, and this warrior, this perky, brave little warrior, is called Pandora. Rest in peace baby girl.

Saturday, 26 February 2011

Having Issues with the Disco

It was spitting with rain, but after a while it stopped doing that and started raining properly. I pulled into the verge and began setting the Land Rover for bad weather, which involved hanging a bucket from the rear view mirror to catch some of the rain that leaked inside the car, and replacing the fuse for the windscreen wipers that had developed a habit of switching themselves on whenever they felt like it.

Then I set off again. Very slowly. The suspension had given up behaving itself and gone flop. Not all of it, the front was still okay, but the bum of the car was now only about an inch off the ground so driving it felt like I was doing a wheelie.

Pootling along at 15 miles an hour, I couldn’t help thinking evil thoughts about Auto-Slaughter, and GBH; Grievous Banger Harm. It was all I could do to stop myself from pulling over, grabbing a branch and giving the thing a Basil Fawlty thrashing, or driving a stake through its heart.

Vampire, that’s what it was. It sucked blood. Some cars are nice, and some are just downright nasty, and this one was wicked to the core. The radio hadn’t worked since the day we got it, the heated seat would only work on the hottest days of summer and was so pleased with itself it would ignore all attempts to turn it off, and the electric windows would only go down, not up.

Fill it up with diesel and you empty Kuwait.

I pootled on.

The windscreen had cracked in the snow, a big split from one side to the other. Vampire car—where was the heart of a car anyway? The engine? Probably. That’s where I’d drive the stake. Hammer it in, all the way in, in the… the… well under the bonnet in the big metaly bit. I’m not great with mechanics.

Didn’t Stephen King write about a possessed car? Christine, I think it was called. My lump of Land Rover certainly wouldn’t have a girl’s name. There was nothing pretty about this Disco.

I pootled on.

At one point I had a string of cars and vans and lorries behind me. Along a straight bit I hugged the side and let them all pass, ignoring all the irritated hand gestures.

The thing is I need a big 4x4. I need something that will go off road and onto my land, something that will tow the animals about. I guess as much as the Land Rover hates me, I hadn’t exactly been kind to it. It hadn’t had an easy life.

Still, I felt no sympathy.

It’s amazing how bouncy it gets without suspension. Hit a pebble any bigger than a marble and the whole thing shudders as though it’s driving over its own private earthquake. But worse, much, much worse, is when it hits a pot-hole.

I hit a pot-hole just at the moment a Police car overtook me. I’m pretty sure it’s not an offence to drive a knackered car, albeit a legal one, slowly to a garage, but it’s still a worry. They went past slowly and I tried hard to look relaxed, like I do this every day. Then two things happened simultaneously, I lifted my hand in friendly acknowledgement, and hit a pot-hole.

I rattled about that much I could have lost fillings. The Police continued up the road, probably too busy laughing to bother pulling me over.

Cursing the vampire car, I pootled on.

Making the garage in record slow time, I pulled in.

“Well, I’m not certain what’s wrong with it,” I stammered, unable to meet the mechanic’s eye, “but I don’t think it’s serious. Just needs a bit of TLC, and it’s such a good car, never lets me down.”

Friday, 11 February 2011

The General is home!

I threw down the tailgate and announced, “Give it up and go nuts everyone, the General is back!” The General ignored me and so did all the rest of the pigs. He made his way out of the trailer and stepped into his old pen for the first time in more than a month, sniffed the air and ignoring the pigs and food in the middle set off on a reccy around the perimeter fencing.

Meanwhile I’d gone from a fine rendition of, The General’s Back in Town by Thin Lizzy to Robbie Williams Let Me Entertain You, mashing it up with some Wurzles I’ve Got a Brand New Combine Harvester. I was pleased to see him back if no one else was. I wanted them all to go mad but pigs can be very conservative at times. Unlike me.

Having lost my glasses the week before and now using an old pair with an old prescription that severely limited my eyesight, I was confident nobody was around to see me acting a fool, working on the ancient rule of if I can’t see them, they can’t see me.

Just as I reached the chorus, fifty stone of handsomeness sauntered along the last few feet of the perimeter and stopped in front of me. Truth is, I’d really missed him. He’s my mate and I’m his. While he was away I’d missed not being able to talk to him, not having someone with whom I could share how I was feeling and gossip about what was going on.

I guess we all need a confident and I felt comfortable with the General as mine. I stopped singing and larking about and went quiet. For ages we just stood next to each other. I put my hand on his shoulder and leant against him and he leant back. Then he wandered off.

He walked over to the group. It was dinnertime and they were tucking into pig nuts and barging one another about, which is normal. I try and limit competition for food by spreading it as wide as I can, but even so they’ll still congregate and argue over the same bit even though they’re surrounded by goodies.

The General didn’t bother eating. He just bumped into all of the pigs one by one in a kind of greeting, the way we might shake hands or hug.

Bump: Hey, General, you’re back!

Bump: Good to see you man, what’s happening?

Bump: Do you mind, I’m trying to eat my dinn—Oh, it’s you! How you doing General?

Pigs only have seven audible sounds with which they communicate, and they’re reserved for the big emotions, fear, food, sex, etc. Behind that, all the subtlety of conversation is conducted in body language. Pigs are masters of body language. Of course it’s all interpretation, but when you watch them communicate amongst themselves it’s laugh out loud funny.

I don’t know if he was seeking out Whinny, whom before he went off was his special girlfriend, or if she was seeking out him. But they found themselves together. She turned her back on him and he nudged her bum. She ignored him. He nudged harder. She still ignored him. When he went to walk off, she turned and charged and bit him on the shoulder. Hard.

He immediately went into full love seduction mode and she went, oh no, no, no, no, no! And bit him again. Then she started squealing and running away while looking back over her shoulder at him, and he lumbered after her. We were all pleased to see him home.

Tuesday, 1 February 2011

Shep & Jo BBC Radio Devon

How is it possible to love doing something that makes you so nervous?

I’ve been lucky enough to get a regular spot on the radio talking about self sufficiency and giving fun tips. Yesterday was my first show.

I was on at five past four in the afternoon, so I started prepping for it about 10 hours earlier. I sussed out what I wanted to say and then paced the length of a marathon up and down my lounge as I rehearsed and rehearsed it. I desperately wanted it to come across as fun and interesting and witty, and I sounded great… right up until I went live.

The produce phoned me up and put me through to Shep and Jo, the presenters. We had a quick chat while some music was playing, and then they introduced me.

It’s like your brain splits in two. One half is concentrating on what you’re saying while the other half is kind of commentating, saying things like, ‘you’re live on the radio man, don’t mess this up… Oh! What did you go and say that for!... Don’t sound nervous, don’t sound nervous, DON’T SOUND NERVOUS! Ow, you’re sounding nervous…’

It’s really weird.

Shep and Jo are just so nice and so good at what they do. You don’t realise how clever and how much work goes into making the show sound so effortless and smooth until you’re part of it and get a tiny glimpse behind the scenes. I know with the writing, which is more of what I’m used to, to make it sound easy is actually really hard, and they do it brilliantly.

So next time I’m on will be the 1st March. I loved being on yesterday, really loved it and I can’t wait to do it again, and next time I won’t be so nervous!

Shep and Jo are on every weekday afternoon on BBC Radio Devon 103.4fm / 95.7fm and dab. Even if you don’t live in Devon, give them a listen.

I’m on the BBC iplayer for the next few days at

Right, this media tart is off to muck out some pig poo. It’s a charmed life I lead.

Wednesday, 26 January 2011


I am listening to the most amazing autobiography by Keith Richards from the Rolling Stones. That man should not be alive; the things he's done! That's one wild, amazing man, and what i love about the book is it's so honest and frank, sure he's had some great times, lots of great times in fact, but he's been through hell too.

The book is an audio book, unabridged and read by Johnny Depp, this other guy who sounds like Keith Richards, and Richards himself. It's a great, great book.

I've started listening to a lot of unabridged books recently, and it's made a big difference to me mostly i guess because I'm out working on the farm a lot. I've got this old MP3 player and i download a book and it keeps me going. I'd be lost without it, to the point that I've become a champion for Audible, which is the audio book arm of Amazon.

As a champion i get to offer friends and people who know me a free audio book which you can't get through their regular site. Here's the link

If you can remember a time as a kid, walking to school and day-dreaming about buying a guitar and starting a band and getting a gig and touring and getting laid and having a wild time, then get Life by Keith Richards, because he did it for all the rest of us who went on and got boring jobs.

If that doesn't appeal, then i think there are something like 50,000 other titles to choose from - if you find a good one, please let me know.

Wednesday, 19 January 2011

Meanwhile, back at the ranch…

Okay, to bring you up to speed with the story of the year so far…

Well, I kind of held off pitching articles out to magazines because lots of people fix their New Year resolution to becoming a writer, and editors are bombarded with article ideas in early January. So I held off for the first week. Since then I’ve pitched a few ideas and been commissioned to write three different pieces for three different magazines, so that’s okay.

I was on Radio 4 last weekend. It was a piece I recorded before Christmas for Open Country. I was bloody terrified, as you can hear at the beginning – or so I’m told, because I can’t listen to it, no way.

Here’s the link:

However, on the back of doing that, I pitched to BBC Radio Devon for a regular spot on their drive-time show to talk about self sufficiency and money saving tips and ideas, and only got it. So now I’m going to be on the Shep and Jo show on the first of every month.

I’m currently stressing over two book pitches out with publishers. Serious finger crossing time!

I know this is just a fleeting overview of things so far, but combine them with the farm and animal work and it’s been a busy start and things don’t look like tailing off.