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.