Wednesday 18 July 2012

How we came to be in Wales (5) - To Thine Own Self Be True

"To thine own self be true" is a saying I came across many years ago and it seemed such an apt one to me.  I've already mentioned, that reading Monica Edwards' Punchbowl Farm books "programmed" me for life with regards to the sort of house I wanted to live in - and ideally, the sort of life I would like to lead.

Other country books also influenced me.  I read all of Derek Tangye's books about life at Minack in Cornwall, where he and his wife Jeannie forsook their high-flying lives and lived very basically in a tiny rented cottage with small cliff-top fields where they grew early daffodils and flowers, kept donkeys and wrote memorably of their cats.  How I longed to emulate them.

In the 1975, The Good Life was first shown on British television (reruns are still being shown on Sky and yes, I still watch them, even though I know them off by heart!)  It gripped me - and thousands of others - with a wave of enthusiasm for stepping off the hamster wheel of life and living that way although it was another 15 years before I got the chance to even try it.  The following year John Seymour's Complete Book of Self-Sufficiency appeared on the bookshelves and has been in my possession ever since.  I was by no means a gardener, fair weather or otherwise, and was living in a flat in central Southampton then, but I had the dreams, even though to my then-husband I was an alien creature . . .  No wonder we divorced.

I continued to buy any cookery books which had "country" or "farmhouse" in the title.  I still do . . .

In the late 1970s I pounced on a copy of Elizabeth West's "Hovel in the Hills" where she told of moving to a tiny "Hafod" in North Wales and their struggle to live off the land.  It was followed by "Garden in the Hills" and "Kitchen in the Hills", although I have to say the latter gives recipes which show how close to the bread line they were living.  Frugality at its limits I think.  Once again, I read them again and again and they are still on my bookshelves.

In the 1980s I moved to Dorset and met my husband.  I listened avidly to Jeanine McMullen''s "A Small Country Living" every Saturday on Radio 4, and bought all her books and read them over and over.  I found myself looking speculatively at goats in the village, and wishing I could learn to milk.  (Sadly, the goat dream never came to fruition.)  Sadly, she died in February 2010, aged 74, still living in her beloved cottage near to Llyn-y-Fan-Fach.

Just a few of my earlier cook books which I refer to regularly.  Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall's "River Cottage" programmes, beliefs about animal-welfare and  publications have always inspired me.

Over the years I have always believed in the same things, trodden the same path, occasionally wavered - baking bread regularly when the children were smaller was a bit hit and miss and based on hours in the day, and pretty well abandoned completely between 1996 and 1999 when I was doing my Archaeology degree - but I have always cooked from scratch, baked my own cakes, mainly made my own bread, grown my own soft fruit and some vegetables (more in earlier years than now), made wine, jam, chutney, preserves etc.  That is "me".  What you see is what you get.  I don't have hidden agendas and I am too honest for my own good and not very good at saying no, which means I get taken advantage of sometimes, but hey-ho, that's life.

Thereby, you have some of the reasoning behind "why we moved to Wales."  I knew from the beginning that total Self-sufficiency was beyond me, as I am the gardener here - my husband is not interested one JOT - and he has the sensible head on him (my heart usually rules my head!)  But I am practical, and self-reliant - we both are - and the life-style we chose to lead has suited us both.  It has been, truly, a Good Life that we have led, one way and another.


  1. I wrote down some authors and titles from your post here, and will look for the Sky rerun too. You have found the right place and way to live, I can see that. I love nature and country scenes too, but live in a smallish city in California with a large yard, and lots of wild critters visit.

  2. I have enjoyed these posts immensely. I too loved the Minack books, the Elizabeth West books and own a copy of Complete Book of Self-Sufficiency.
    It was nice to get to know you better. I hope soon we will be reading about the next phase of life in your new home.

  3. Your bookshelf, interests and reasons resonate with me - I did, read and dreamed much the same way!

    Except I was brought up from 6 -16 on a smallholding with horses, pigs, chickens, sheep and a prolific veg and fruit garden, so I had less to learn when I finally got my own version.

    Really interesting series of posts Jennie - loved reading them :-)

  4. Lovely read BB. I feel the same about country living. I lived in towns during my working life but coming back to the country in 1987 was like coming home and I never regret it for one minute.

  5. I am glad you are all enjoying reading this little saga. I am getting so much pleasure from writing it - it's just flowing and I am full of ideas for the next page, and the next!

    I am so fortunate that we live in such a beautiful area (I must not take it for granted), and in peace and tranquility, and that I have been able to live my dream. OK, perhaps sometimes it's gone pear-shaped, for for a reason, I am sure . . .

    Terra - I hope that you will thoroughly enjoy the books when you find them. I look on them as old friends.

    Kath - Hah! I have given quite a bit of the "real me" away now, haven't I? I am a dreamer as well as a practical person. I am lucky to have a husband with great common sense to dampen my over-enthusiasm at times!

    CW - I didn't realise you had grown up on a smallholding, so no wonder you own one now and run it so efficiently. You would get a shock if you saw my veg plot this year. Deary me . . . slugs 100, Jennie nil!

    Weaver - I agree with you totally. Wherever we may have grown up, we know where we really belong. At the minute though, I'm just a few degrees to high above the West I want to be in!

  6. I had the Wind in the Ash Tree books--don't know where they are at the moment--we've bought and read similar titles about cooking, preserving and country lifestyle. I was brought up in New England farming country. Although both sets of grandparents were farmers, neither of my parents was interested in taking on that lifestyle. I had the urge to garden, living other than frugally was seldom a choice, my dream was to be a country farmwife. I learned many of my most practical skills from my late M-I-L--canning and gardening among them. Except in the cruelest hot weather or in the upheavals of moving house, I've made our bread and all other baked good. It is a satisfying way of life.

  7. Another excellent installment this, the 5th!

    I adored the show you mentioned (The Good Life ~ tho here in the states it was titled Good Neighbors). Never missed an episode and as you say, know most by heart :-)

    I've noted several of your treasured book titles to seek out. Some of my oldest 'farm-living-how-to' books are those from the 70's Foxfire Series. Well worn and much loved even now.

    I've oft thought of adding goats too - tho I just read tonite of a woman whose goats slipped their fence and chewed/dined on her laundry right off her lines! So perhaps you and I are better off than we know remaining thus far sans goats, lol

    Thanks for another lovely read (and thanks too for your reply to my comment and your warm welcome)


  8. I'm really enjoying this series of blogs by you. Can't wait for each day's installment, you should write a book about it,

  9. LOVE your blog !!....and I own almost all the books pictured here..haha! Great minds! I love self sufficiency / smallholding/ permaculture....and came to settle in rural East Lincs just over 13 years ago. Here is my blog please feel free to take a peek ....or link to it..I shall add your blog to my links page :-) Kindest regards Naomi xx

  10. BB, found this post whilst looking for Hovel In The Hills. I too had books which inspired me including Susan Hill's The Magic Apple Tree along with the Good Life and the TV production of A Woman of Substance, funnily enough, if you remember the shop scene where Emma is surrounded by homemade pickles, cakes ete. which made me want to make jam and preserves. I know there are other things which inspired me and about 2 years ago or so all I could dream about was having an Aga - got a Rayburn now - and feeding my chooks in my wellies and apron - check! Will have to buy the John Weymour book, have been meaning to since before we moved and will look at the other four posts in this series. Where exatly in West Wales do you live? I know you visited Dawn and Dawn visited me so you may be closer than I think.x

  11. Have ordered the John Seymour book and hope to have it by Saturday.x

  12. The book has arrived and I am really enjoying it.

  13. The John Syemour is nothing short of a classic, inspiring and essential reference. We too listened avidly to Jeanine's radio show every week when living not far off from her, on hills above Crickhowell, where we ran rare-breed pigs; sheep; Anglo Nubes, ducks and hens etc. She, too, was an inspiration. Sadly, however, we never met though I did once - by chance - find her home. She would still have been there in occupation and I now regret not having called in to thank her for the pleasure of her vicarious company, if nothing else.