Saturday, 29 December 2012

Just a catch-up

… and, I’m back…

Sorry for the absence, I know it’s been awhile. Sometimes building this mad lifestyle just takes everything I’ve got. It’s not even how busy it gets, which it does, it gets crazy busy, but it’s all the rest of it, the struggling to keep my profile high enough so things happen.

That’s the key, if you were interested, in how to write for a living, keep your profile high enough so things happen.

And while I’m doing that, I’ve become more self sufficient than I ever was before.

That’s good. At least it feels good.

I’ve found some really fun self sufficient things lately that I’ll share with you in the next few weeks. Fun things, and a lot of funny stuff with the animals. But not now. Not this blog post. This blog post is just me chatting about how things have been since we last spoke.

This is catching up.

Okay, in less time than it takes to watch a single advert, here’s what’s happened: I lost my newspaper column – new editor, new ideas; I now write for lots more magazines instead; I bought three more pigs, some quail and gunny fowl; I have a new puppy great dane, Solomon
I received a copy of my new book from the publishers and nearly wet myself with excitement (it’s an advanced reader copy – the book itself isn’t out until June 2013)

I learnt how to make tomato ketchup and LOVE IT! (recipe to follow – you’ve got to try it, it’s brilliant); I got a mobile phone so taking photographs shouldn’t be the problem it used to be; the Great British Bakeoff inspired me, along with half the country, to bake more and now I make things most days, again recipes and details to follow; we had our best year ever for running courses and met some amazing people; I’ve become obsessed with listening to podcasts while doing loads of work on the land.

There’s loads more, but I’ll fill you in on that as we go.

Oh, there’s lots of new radio work too, both for the BBC and a great commercial station The Voice. More on that later, too.

2013 looks like it’s going to be really exciting, there’s even some stuff going on that I can’t tell you about yet, but trust me, it’s blow-your-socks-off amazing.

Anyway, I hope you had a wonderful Christmas, and I hope you have a happy, healthy, fun filled New Year and 2013.

Will post again in a few days.

Sunday, 29 July 2012

Pitching to Simon & Schuster

Well, it's certainly been an interesting week.

I went to London, and not just any old part of London, but the offices of the publisher Simon & Schuster.

My publisher, Watkins Publishing, invited me up to present my book to the Simon & Schuster sales team.

The book, Pigs in Clover, is now written, accepted, edited, proofed and ready to go - though publication date is not until June 2012.

I have been to the offices of Watkins publishing before, but that was way back when they very first took me on, and they didn't really know me, so i was ushered from the street through the front door and shoved into the first empty office they could find, which happened to be the first door in. I didn't get to see any of the real fun stuff.

With Simon & Schuster is was completely different.

I left home at 5 in the morning - well i didn't want to be late! Got a train to Paddington, a tube to Kings Cross and was there, drumming my fingers at 10. The meeting was 11.45. I had a suit on and carried a laptop case that looked the part but actually only contained a packed lunch. With a long time to kill, I strolled around and bit by bit edged up towards the offices on Gray's Inn Road.

The building is modern and very smart. I'd walked slowly, but was still early and kind of hung about outside, and tried hard to shove the nerves that were building away. Then i went in.

Okay, so I'm guessing my mental image of a publishing house isn't that dissimilar to everyone else’s; open plan offices with people hunched over desks piled so high with paperwork that the person could hardly be seen, and piles, lots and lots of piles of what looked like manuscripts (slush piles?), teetering columns of books and stacks of cardboard boxes so you couldn't walk more than two paces in a straight line in any direction. 

That's what i think a publishing house should look like - and that's exactly what it did look like.  It was brilliant!

I had to sit on my hands in the open reception area to stop myself from rummaging through all the incredible books everywhere!

After a while i was called in.

The conference room was made from frosted glass with a table inside large enough to fit 50 people around it. Mine was a cameo appearance in a larger sales meeting, so i was wheeled in to do my presentation and fifteen minutes later was back on the street outside, my head spinning.

So that's it. Book has been pitched to the sales team. I really, really hope they liked it.

Time, as they say, will tell.

EDIT: Oops, that should have read 'publication date not until June 2013'.

Thursday, 14 June 2012

Day one of a new enclosure

This is day one (actually, hour one) of pigs having been moved into a new enclosure in the woods.  Check out the New Girl - she's the very pretty kune-kune (who doesn't like a woman with tusks?).

The enclosure is more than 3,000 square metres in size, and is utter luxury for pigs, bless 'em!

I need to thank the Environment Agency for their help, advice, support and for supplying the fencing materials that made this new area possible - it's the first of four new areas in the woods.  If you have read bad things about the Environment Agency, rethink your ideas, and if you need advice and support, contact them. 

So this is it, a three minute video of pigs in woods.  Sorry about the poor quality, the sun was shining and we're not used to that on Exmoor - oh, and look out for the twelve visitors halfway through.

Wednesday, 2 May 2012

The fastest, easiest loaf of bread in the world

We've all been there: a friend phones you up and says, "come round, I'll put the kettle on," or "I'll open a bottle of wine..." and we quite happily trundle round, BUT, if that same person said, "come round, I've just put a homemade loaf of bread in the oven," we'd be on out toes and running round there faster than you can say, "I'll bring the marmite!"

Making bread is simple.

This is the stripped down, self sufficient way to make a great tasting (and smelling) loaf of bread.

20 minutes work
1 hour to prove
20 minutes baking

400mls warm water
650g bread flour
1pk dry yeast (1.5oz fresh yeast)
desert spoon sugar
Teaspoon salt

In a small-ish mixing jug, add tot he warm water the yeast and sugar.  Stir and leave for 10 minutes.

Meanwhile, in a large mixing bowl, add the salt and flour.

Pour the yeast solution into the flour and combine.

Tip out onto a lightly floured surface, and knead for 10 minutes.

Place kneaded dough onto a lightly oiled baking tray, or into a bread tin.

Leave for an hour somewhere warm to rise (double in size).

Bake for about 20 minutes at 175 degrees (tap bottom - if it sounds hollow, it's ready, if not, put back for a further 5 minutes and repeat.)

That's it!  That's all there is to it!  So, so simple.

Come on, make a loaf of bread this afternoon, it will cheer you up immensely.

Tuesday, 3 April 2012

Homemade chocolate easter eggs

How great is it to make a homemade Easter egg? And they're so easy! Okay, you might get yourself and the kitchen covered in chocolate, but as Shep said today on their Shep and Jo show (if you haven't heard the Shep and Jo show on BBC Radio Devon, where have you been...!?), when they very kindly allowed me on again this afternoon, you are just going to have to lick it all off!

Right, eyes down for homemade Easter eggs...

This is how to make an Easter egg using the shell of a real egg as the mold.

So, first you need an egg. You can get eggs in all different colours:

Dark brown

And different sizes:


Now, empty the egg, and you do this by taking a needle and digging away the the pointy end of the egg until you have a hole about the diameter of a pencil. When you have done that, take a cocktail stick (or anything similar) and dig about inside the egg, kind of mulching the contents so when you tip the egg up, the insides fall out - you can of course tease it out with the cocktail stick.

So now you have an empty shell.

Now run it under a hot tap so it fills with water, and empty it out. Do this several times until the water runs clear.

Now you need to sterilise the egg shell, so pop it into a pre heated oven at 180 for at least 10 mins.

That's your mold!

Now you have choices (choices are good!) for the fillings.

Option one:

Simple, melt a bar of chocolate and pipe it into the egg shell using either a piping bag or something like a sandwich bag with the corner cut. When the egg shell is full, place it in the fridge to chill overnight. When it comes out it will, fairly obviously, be a hard, solid chocolate egg. if you very carefully peel away the shell, you can decorate the egg or leave it plain.

Option two:

This is for a soft chocolate fill, truffle chocolate (also known as a ganache). Truffle chocolate is easy to make, this is how:

275g/10oz chocolate
175mls/6floz double cream
25g/1oz butter

Melt the chocolate, add the double cream and butter and stir until thoroughly mixed. That's it!

Fill the egg with the same method as option one, and chill in the fridge.

Decorating the shell or not is up to you, but serve in an egg cup at room temperature and eat as you might a boiled egg by chopping off the top and dipping in with a spoon, of course watching for any egg shell especially for children.

Happy Easter everyone!

Wednesday, 21 March 2012

London Suits to Welly Boots

I'm doing a talk!

Ilfracombe library, Saturday 14th at 2.00pm.

There will tea, coffee and homemade cake, and me talking about stumbling from London life into Devon self sufficiency, hooligan pigs and rogue chickens. It'll be lively, spiky and full of fun.

For tickets call 01271 862 388.

Please come or it'll just be me!

Thursday, 1 March 2012

Growing in a small space

Thanks to the ever wonderful Shep and Jo (not the mention Lidia the producer), I'm on BBC Radio Devon this afternoon at 3.30, oh yes, self sufficiency Simon is back on the air!

Okay, so all veg growers suffer with one common complaint, space - or more to the point, lack of space. But there are things you can do to expand your growing area, and one of which is growing upwards, sort of high rise growing.

Tyres are great for growing potatoes and provide a micro-climate in which the plants can thrive.

Sit a couple of car tyres one on top of the other and fill them with a good, rich composted soil.

Press 4 chitted potato plants about 10cm/4in into the soil and water after planting.

When the green shoots start peeking through, add another tyre and again fill with soil. You can continue this process for as many as 4 or 5 tyres, adding more soil each time.

Note: more than 6 or 7 high and it can be difficult to keep the plants well watered.

When you want to harvest the potatoes, take the tyres off one by one and you should be rewarded with a bountiful crop in each section.

If you can, do listen live to the Shep and Jo show, they're great and I, well, do my best.

Wednesday, 8 February 2012

Hen nights (and days)

Two chickens have gone rogue. They’ve turned their backs on the batch, shook a tail feather at the flock, set their combs at a jaunty angle and did the walky-flappy thing away because it’s very difficult to march with any dignity when you’re a chicken. They left chicken-opolis with its safe collection of houses, friends and family, and headed for a life where crime is the only way to survive.

Street life for chickens is rough. Actually, let me rephrase that; Street life for chickens is rough—ly akin to a five star gastronomic adventure. They’re loving it! They’ve never had so much fun. Who’d have thought stealing food could make you so fat and happy? Well maybe there’s a reason for that, and maybe I’ve sussed it out.

It starts each day just after lunchtime when I begin by mucking out the first stable and lay a fresh straw bed before moving onto the next. While I’m in the second stable, they move behind me into the first.

Now I know it’s just two chickens in there scratching about between the straw for wheat, but I honestly wonder if their little legs are bionic the way they flick the bed about. By the time I get to chase them out, the horse’s bed looks like a giant doughnut with a massive hole in the middle.

I go off to fill hay nets feeling like I’m in some out of season panto with a crowd yelling, “They’re behind you!” I know they’re behind me! They’re doing the same to the second stable as they did to the first!

For me it’s annoying, for them it’s an appetiser.

Stables remade and doors securely closed, I move on and feed the sheep. I pour nuts and stand back to watch all the white woolly heads buried in the trough… along with the two chickens. The sheep even make room for them!

But you know what it’s like, you have something to eat and you really want a drink. Water’s okay, but there’s got to be something better. And there is. Milk. Honestly I milk the goat, turn my back and the chickens are in the pale drinking it.

Okay, so appetiser done, main course done, nice drink of fresh warm milk done… right, what’s for pudding?

Pig nuts. In case you’re unaware, pig nuts come in sturdy plastic sacks. Nice big strong bags, just the job. In fact they’re so strong it can be a struggle to open them, unless of course you’re a chicken.

I place the sack on the back of the quad bike and go off to collect the rest of the bits and pieces I need. When I return they are standing on the bag (which for a start if the height of bad manners, who ever heard of walking about on the dinner table?), dipping their little beaks into a hole they’ve made and scoffing.

We’re all aware of the obesity issues in this country, and you could argue that these chickens are on the frontline of that in as much as they themselves are food producers – as egg layers. Shouldn’t they be looking after themselves a little more? Do they really need two starters, a huge main course, a large fattening drink and as much pudding as they can cram?

I want to catch them and put them in prison – a large house with a run known as the Love Shack because that’s where the cockerels go when I want to control who their wife-of-right-now is. I figure if I can keep them in for a week or so, it might break this cycle of crime and slim them down a bit. Only I can’t catch them. They’re at large (very large). Fugitives from justice. It’s like living with a poultry Thelma and Louise.

Thursday, 12 January 2012

The good, the bad, and the Alfie

I had left bringing the horses in at night for as long as possible for a couple of reasons, first the field in which they spent their time was quite sheltered and they were happy, and second… second, was Alfie.

But with the wet weather coming in and the high winds it felt the right time to start stabling them at night. I dug out a head collar and made my way to the gate. I could see Alfie at the other end of the field, his rug twisted and untucked, his knees muddy, his mane scruffy and sticking out at odd angles on his head.

“Just William,” I mumbled, “I’ve ended up with an equine Just William.”

He turned – he couldn’t have heard me, there was no way he could have heard me, but he turned as though he had and spotting me galloped over, careful to find the biggest puddle of mud to run through on the way. The mud splashed up everywhere, covering his belly and his legs in thick oozing yuck.

“Oh Alfie,” I said as he dashed up to me and went to rub his head affectionately on my arm but misjudged and put so much effort into it he sent me flying.

Oh Alfie. I slipped the head collar over his nose and stepped back when he got so excited he started bounding up and down on the spot, which is quite a feat for a tinkers pony.

“Calm down, wooo, calm down boy.” I stroked his neck and watched his eyes come back from helter-skelter to nearly normal, and the bounding up and down slowed to a bopping, then a mooching, and finally his front stood still with just the hint of a bum wiggle at the back. We can handle a bum wiggle.

“That’s a boy,” I said, still stoking him, still claming him. Then I opened the gate and lead him through.

The second we made it out of the field he went crazy, ‘…yeah yeah, dad dad, yeah, come on, where are we going? Yeah, come on, wherever it is, let’s go there fast! Wow, I love going… anywhere…

“William—I mean, Alfie, will you calm down, please.”

This was going to be a nightmare.

We made our way to the stable door with him prancing about like a Spanish stallion.

‘…yeah, woooo, I love jumping about, woooo…’


I took a deep breath, and marched him confidently into the stable.

He stopped prancing. He walked in, and stood there. Quiet. Well behaved. With good manors. Nicely.

I looked at him.

He looked back at me.

I scratched my head.

He nibbled some hay.

I tied him to a ring on the wall and undid his outdoor rug, all the time expecting him to explode in such a confined space, but he couldn’t have been better behaved if he was stuffed. I moved around touching and talking to him so he knew were I was all the time, and groomed some of the mud off – to remove it all would have involved walking him through a petrol station carwash. I threw on a fleece indoor rug and buckled it up. Not a murmur.

Early the next morning I went down not knowing what to expect, but he was still calm, still relaxed, standing on a straw bed that hardly looked slept on. I couldn’t work out why my naughty horse had turned nice, other than the fact that he loved being inside and was trying hard to be good – I didn’t even know he was capable!

I swapped rugs, put on a head collar, opened the stable door and the moment he was outside he went, ‘…wooo, we’re out again, yeah, dad, let’s PAR-TY!’