I don’t know why we called her Squinty Celia. Well, her name was Celia, so that was one part of it. She was a bit squinty too, so that’ll explain the other bit. She also had a limp, but that wasn’t as pronounced as her squint, so it never came up in the moniker department. Squinty Celia worked at the Town Hall. I don’t know what her job title was or what she actually did. She might have told me once but I probably wasn’t listening. She was seemingly in charge of chucking away all the old shit, because she always had some old shit she wanted to get rid of.
Squinty Celia was a bit of a loner, but I always made time for a quick chat (even if I didn’t pay too much attention to what was said) or bought her a pint. I don’t know if she normally drank pints of bitter, but it was what I’d get her and she never seemed to return anything but an empty glass.
A few of the lads took the piss, asking whether I was intent on shagging a squinty lass, but the truth was Squinty Celia often would offer me first pickings over the old shit she was disposing of from the Town Hall. Don’t get me wrong, I wasn’t involved in clandestine rag and bone activities; I just have always had an inherent fear that I’ll pass up something useful and later regret it.
I’m not a hoarder or anything weird like that. I don’t have piles of shoe boxes filled with old combs, thimbles, bent screws and pieces of string. That would be socially unacceptable. However, I do find myself acquiring things that I don’t need or want (at the time). Deep down inside I suddenly get a feeling that the shit I’m gathering will be useful at some indiscriminate point in the future.
It’s like a sixth sense, an inner Steptoe if you like. I don’t think about it, I don’t give it any thought, I don’t even know I’m doing it. One moment I’ll be walking to the pub, and suddenly I’ll say to a random stranger, ‘What are you doing with that?’ They’ll look at me as if I’m a deranged fool who’s enquiring about a pile of old shit, and explain that they’re throwing it away, of course. Next thing I know I’m hauling it away, the panic at potentially missing out on a valuable resource ebbing away as I take each step closer to getting it home.
Okay, it sounds like fucking lunacy, and to some degree it might be. It’s just the way I’m wired.
So, what made me think of Squinty Celia this fine spring day? Lambs. That’s what! I was chatting to Farmer Giles about his lambs when the subject of eating came up. I enquired about well aged mutton and he explained he had a few Yoes that were knocking on a bit and would be off to slaughter soon. After a brief negotiation I bought one. He then went back to his work. At the time he was clearing a pile of old hay that was sodden wet, adulterated with sheep piss and pooh, and worth nothing.
Before I knew it I was asking, ‘What are you going to do with that?’
So I ended up with a huge pile of what we in the Idiot Gardening fraternity like to call Sheep Piss Hay! I piled it in a corner and let it start to stink a bit. Then what did I do? I think you know already, don’t you? I planted my onions in it. These are no ordinary onions. These are the onions that I started off last year, then ignored because I was too busy, then let die. Well, I collected them all up and chucked them into the Sheep Piss Hay.
What happened next? They started to grow again. It’s a miracle, like Miracle Gro (which doesn’t perform miracles at all, actually, but they’re allowed to call it that for some reason) but it really works.
Sheep Piss Hay. You won’t find Monty Don or the Titchmarsh pushing this shit!
When considering brewing, one potential waste of time has to be getting a large volume of wort to a rolling boil. Personally I use (make that ‘used’) an electric boiler. This had the added arse-ache of occasionally cutting out because the sugars would bake onto the element, making the thing think it had overheated. It also required a fairly lengthy clean process to ensure the element was sparkling to prevent cut-outs.
The electric boiler also had a limited capacity. This resulted in it being run at almost full volume, which caused the occasional boil-over. The outcome was a waste of time, as I’d have to stand over the thing watching for excessive foaming while the wort came up to temperature. It added around 45 minutes to the day, and those were minutes when I couldn’t do much else (unless I wanted to clean up a puddle of sticky shit).
After much consideration I decided to keep the boiler for strike water and change the boil vessel to a SS BrewTech shiny stainless steel kettle. I opted for the 56 litre version, allowing for plenty of headspace, even with 10 gallon batches. I then had to decide how to fire it up, with the choice of either a butane burner or an induction hob. As the former requires either plenty of ventilation or working outside, there was only ever going to be one winner!
I opted for the Buffalo 3kW induction hob for a few reasons. Firstly, it’s the most powerful one I could find that can be used with a standard 240V AC socket. Secondly, I have a heavy duty mincer and a vacuum packer from Buffalo, and whilst they’re ‘no frills’ as far as features go, they both work well. Thirdly, I purchased it from Nisbets and waited for a favourable discount day to purchase. The standard price is around £190 including VAT, but I managed to get one delivered for a penny under £80!
The hob works well, getting 5 gallon batches to a rolling boil in around 20 minutes. I also don’t have to stand over it as the excess volume of the kettle means the wort would have to detonate to come over the top! Because it’s induction it doesn’t get hot (aside from heat transferred via the kettle base) and is simple to clean. It bears the weight of the kettle and 10 gallons without any issues. It does have a marked ‘zone’ which a pot should sit within. The kettle is way bigger and hangs over the edges, but that doesn’t affect performance.
The power is variable too, so if you don’t want to use the full 3kW (maybe for small batches or to knock up a bacon sandwich on brew days) you can back off the power. Aside from a small fan, it’s silent too.
There are a couple of things to be aware of. Firstly, after two hours it will switch off. It’s a safety feature and while there will be a way of getting around it, I’ve never had a session where it has switched itself off. If it does, you just switch it off and back on again. The other thing is that it requires a ‘soft start’. I think this is a thing with all induction hobs. Basically, it needs to be switched off when power is applied, then turned on. If you’re thinking about turning it on with a timer, you’ll probably kill it.
I like it and often check the current prices to see if I can pick up a few more at a low cost.
How do I rate it? I reckon it’s worth a 9 out of 10.
So, here’s the thing: I like big raised beds. The idea of making massive fuck-off sized raised beds first came about at Idiot Towers, before the move to FAoI. It happened as a total misunderstanding. Someone suggested building raised beds instead of digging out ground roots. I don’t know why, but in my mind’s eye at the very second this was mentioned I saw a bed that was approximately 0.7 metres high, a couple of metres long and a metre in depth. So I built it, and then discovered that filling it took up a lot of soil and compost.
Last year at FAoI the growing season was pretty crap. I managed to get a handful of small squash, a few heads of corn and that was it. Admittedly there was a lot of other stuff happening, such as making the house habitable. However, I vowed that in 2017 I would get my mojo back.
So, how’s that working out for me? Well, I’m running a bit late! That said, I did dig out a diary from 2014 – one of my most productive years – and I didn’t sow bugger all until mid-April then. As such, I’m not too fussed. I have planted gooseberries, raspberries and rhubarb, so hopefully next year will see a fruit mountain starting to form.
The initial plan was to plant into the ground here, as I have a lot of ground to cover. The reality is that clearing a small space showed how futile such an approach might be. Within weeks the wilderness was closing in on my cleared patch and the sandy soil lacked anything good, but had an abundance of weed seeds. As an almost automatic reaction, I reverted to the fuck-off sized raised bed.
The first in a series of beds comes in at 4.8 metres by 1.6 metres, with a depth of 0.75 metres. Carol Vorderman might beg to differ, but I make that around 5.4 cubic metres. Filling it was a bitch. I lined the base with heavy duty cardboard and then added a generous layer of sheep-piss soaked straw that Farmer Giles was going to dump in the ditch. The rest is compost. Obviously I haven’t yet managed to produce compost myself, so I ended up having to buy it in.
Here’s an interesting point: I figured buying bulk bags would be the cheapest route, but after scavenging around various nurseries for offers, I managed to fill it at a price of around £35.00 per cubic metre. Part of that was due to obtaining a pallet of sacks for £60.00.
The bed currently houses the main direct sowings for 2017: parsnips, carrots, turnips, beetroot, chard and some salad leaves. It’s a fairly basic selection, but as more beds are built the range will increase. I just needed to make certain that I got something in!
I’ve cleared an area for sweetcorn, squash and artichokes, and once the seeds are up they’ll be transferred across, leaving the greenhouse free for tomatoes. I also need to cobble together a beanage as a matter of urgency.
Oh, and there’s still a shitload of work to be done on the house, plus woodstores to build, new plumbing in the brewery and the rum-cured bacon stock is getting low…
It’s not long to go until we’ve been the owners for FAoI for exactly one year. How time flies when you have a list of jobs as long as your longest arm. When we arrived here it was amid an ocean of optimism. The land was great, the outbuildings added promise, and the location was top notch. The downside? The house was tired, dull, beige to the very limit of total beigeness. Therefore it took some degree of promises from my good self for Mrs IG to accept the choice.
There were other houses in a better state of decoration, but the land and outbuilding situation of FAoI was not equalled. Mrs IG saw 5-6 acres at these other places and a ramshackle stable or barn and figured that was good enough for me. However, I wanted land with character and FAoI had that in spades. I wanted a selection of usable building and FAoI had those too. Mrs IG, however, saw interiors that were not beige, kitchens and bathrooms that were not from the 1960s and water that was hot.
So, the bulk of year one was spent focusing on the interior. The ancient kitchen and pokey dining room have been transformed from a 1960s sea of dark wood and misery to a bright and open kitchen dining room hybrid type affair. The old people’s home style hallway has been modernised. Multifunctional modern fitted bedroom furniture has gone in. The fake external shutters have been removed. The terrible 1960s artificial electric fire and surround has been ditched for a woodburner, and the hot water debacle has been sorted with the installation of a combination boiler set-up (despite the so-called expert from British Gas who lied through his teeth to try and con us into buying an inferior but far more costly solution insisting such an option was impossible).
There was also a period of adjustment. I had to understand a bit about FAoI. There was wildlife, woods, water, lawns, fields and an orchard. I ended up trying to do a thousand things and getting none of them right (or finished). I managed to grow a few sweetcorn and that was about it. My globe artichokes went in too late to flower, the squash went in too late to ripen, and the onions just went dormant. On the plus side, I ended up with 50 gallons of pear and apple juice!
The plan for 2017 includes replacing both bathrooms, putting in a porch/boot room type affair, and getting the veg beds sorted. The original idea was to locate these in the back field, but now the most likely location seems to be the defunct wild flower meadow. It’s defunct because I inadvertently mowed over it when we first arrived and that seems to have screwed up its balance. Anyway, it wasn’t really wild; the previous owner, Mr and Mrs Beige, ‘created’it.
In my idiocy I have reverted to type and opted for raised beds. One thing I realised last year was that if you’re surrounded by open fields, all manner of seeds and shit blow around, and keeping a bed clear is a lot of back-breaking work. Being a lazy sod with a dodgy back, I found myself hankering after the simplicity of fuck-off big raised beds, so a timber order is imminent.
Also, it’s amazing how much space is liberated when you attack it with the right tools. For my sins, I have been using a combination of an old John Deere garden tractor thing and a Pasquali two-wheeled tractor. The latter is like a rabid satan-fuelled motherlover and chews its way through anything (including two-year old trees as I found out by accident – no almonds for us any time soon).
The goal is to be ready for the last of the frosts; whether that happens or instead I get sidetracked by building an Argentinian grill remains to be seen!
The end of 2016 saw a flurry of activity at FAoI as I finally got my arse into gear and addressed the ever growing mountain of apples and pears. The original plan was to split them and produce cider and perry, but as is typical of plans around here, it soon crashed and burned! Instead of cider and perry we have ciderry or perrider! I prefer the latter as it sounds like pariah, which would have been a good name for the drink had I not already opted for one!
While the idea of having proper cider and perry might sound good in theory, it did mean that I’d have to split the fruits and manage two lots of pressing and fermentation. As i was already well behind schedule I deemed perrider to be the experiment needed to retain the idiot approach.
I had apples and pears. I had fermentation vessels. I had yeast. All that was required was turning the fruits into must (that’s what proper people making cider and perry call juice; I’m fucked if I know why they don’t just call it juice, but they don’t). There are two processes in must extraction: scratting and pressing. Scratting is basically milling the fruit into a pulp so it’s more giving in the juice department, and pressing is pressing. It’s easy, that last bit.
Time is a fickle mistress, so I had time to either make a scratter or a press, but not both. The idea of scratting is to break down the fruit. I was aware that freezing and thawing tears the cellular structure of fruit because of the expansion when freezing and the secondary and greater expansion when thawing, and a quick search of the interweb identified that a freeze/thaw cycle would indeed enhance must extraction.
So I built a press. It’s simple in design. It’s a wooden frame held together with threaded rod, with a wide base unit which allows a collection vessel to be placed under the workings on the press. A sliding wooden piston sort of thing and a collection of spacing blocks (they’re really just off-cuts of wood) are used to apply pressure from a five tonne bottle jack.
The frame has a piece of cold steel plate attached to the top to spread the load from the jack. If you don’t do this the wood will deform under high pressure loads and might crack.
Once the apples have been frozen and thawed, they are cut in half and dumped into muslin bags. The bags are than placed between pressure plates (these are simply LDPE cutting boards) and the whole shotting match gets jacked up (so to speak). The juice then falls into the collection vessel (an old stainless steel catering gastronorm with a hole cut into it) which in turn fills the fermenter.
A word of caution to anyone attempting using a gastronorm (or for that matter any other stainless steel collection vessel): with a round hole cut in the vessel, escaping liquids will, when slow flowing, create rivulets across the base of the pan and drip everywhere. It’s fucking messy. The cure is simple! Take a bolster chisel (don’t use a sharp one) and place it on the lower edge of the hole. A swift twat or two with a lump hammer will create a crease that serves as a spout. This prevents liquid from flowing back on the external surface. It’s proper science, you motherlovers!
For those brew-minded, I varied the yeasts for each fermenter; as it’s the first year of FAoI Perrider I wanted to try a few options. The following have been used: Generic Champagne yeast; Safale S-04; Safale S-04 plus Brettanomyces Bruxellensis Trois; Wyeast 4766 (Cider); Mango Jack M02; Mango Jack M02 plus Brettanomyces Bruxellensis Trois; Yeast Bay Brettanomyces Melange.
The plan is to age the Perrider until the apple and pear trees blossom in Spring, when it will be bottled and kegged. The eagle-eyed will have spotted a Gruffalo on one of the fermenters. This is not an essential bit of kit, but serves to remind me which one in a line of fermenters holds the oldest still fermenting brew.
Having looked over the evidence provided by the thermal imaging surveillance, I now know my enemy in the Great Orchard War! Let battle commence…
The video contains a reference to the Baby Jesus. Other fictional deities are available. The value of faith can go down as well as up. Always take professional advice before committing to a full-time lifestyle based around the teachings of a blonde-haired blue-eyed white man with a flowing beard born of a virgin birth in the Middle East. Unicorns do not exist. Nor do mermaids. Nor does Father Christmas.
One of the attractions of FAoI was a small but seemingly productive orchard area. The plan was simple; plant a few cider apple and perry pear trees to extend it, spend the summer building a scratter and press, and come autumn I’d be making cider from the existing trees until the new ones added to the bounty. Sounds pretty straightforward, eh? Well, that’s not how things panned out. I’m guessing you already knew that.
As the first batch of windfalls hit the ground, I hadn’t planted any new trees, and to be honest I hadn’t built a scratter or a press either. In fact, I’d managed to read half a book about cider making and that was that. Not wanting to waste the fruit I went on a well known auction website and acquired a second hand chest freezer. I was already aware that the freeze/thaw cycle ruptures the cellular structure in fruit, so I knew that freezing the apples and pears hard and then thawing them would eliminate the need for a scratter this year. It would also buy me the time to finish work in the brewery and build a press.
As I did the morning rounds of the orchard collecting windfalls, I noticed a number of apples and pears – mostly pears in fact – that had been partially eaten. They had teeth marks and some were significantly devoured. Something was eating my pears. Now, I’m not about to get all snotty over the odd piece of fruit, but this was on a scale akin to a debauched medieval feast, and that meant only one thing: war!
We considered the various options. First our thoughts turned to squirrels, only because I’ve seen a few loitering in the orchard. I really hoped it was the tree rats as they only appear on the odd occasion, and I really fancy a squirrel and pickled walnut stew. However, I knew that the elusive squirrels weren’t nocturnal, and the feeding sessions only happened at night. It was wishful thinking to be truthful.
Next suspect was Farmer Giles next door! Maybe he was crawling through the hedge at night and snuffling up my windfalls. The idea of him rolling around under the trees in his underpants, howling at the moon and scoffing my fruit did make us smile, but also was unlikely. Badgers also crossed our mind.
The truth was that we didn’t really want to think about the most obvious pear goobler: rats. The orchard is next to where Gilesy keeps his hens. Chicken feed brings in rats, and if he’d put in some extra protection those hungry rats would be looking for food elsewhere, even apples and pears would be a treat for them.
At the back of my mind I saw sleepless nights out in the cold, picking off the rat population one by one with some hollow points. Okay, the odd night ratting is good fun, but when it comes to holding back the tide of hungry vermin on a daily basis, it can become a chore. There was only one thing for it. I had to know my enemy. (By that I mean I had to find out what was eating my pears, not that I had to introduce myself and ask one of their daughters to a dance.)
I often awaken during the night. It’s the by-product of being so caring. I worry about world peace and the plight of orphans and the habitat of the lesser spotted twat. My first attempt at identifying my foe was leaning out of the bedroom window in the middle of the night with a fuck-off bright torch. This taught me nothing more than that Mrs IG doesn’t care much for me crashing around late at night trying to spot vermin. I needed a better plan.
In the immortal words of Barry Gibb, we have the technology! I resorted to that device most beloved of policemen chasing criminals in a helicopter (that’s the policemen being in the helicopter chasing criminals on the ground, not criminals in a helicopter obviously): thermal imaging. I am dedicated to finding out what goes on in the orchard at night…
Happy New Year! Welcome to 2017.
Oi, don’t run off to check how long you’ve been sleeping. I know it’s still 2016, but at FAoI 2016 has been pronounced dead. Time of death? 31 October 2016. Cause of death? Ineptitude and unrealistic expectations. Yep, it all sounds a bit idiotic, but what did you expect, self sufficiency at the drop of a hat? C’mon, we’ve come so far together; don’t start expecting things to work out well just yet.
So, after moving to FAoI in mid February of this year, I had somehow expected to unpack in a few days, prepare a few dozen vegetable beds, raise a polytunnel or two, fit out the brewery, convert an outbuilding into an office, extend the orchard, build a smokehouse, become proficient in hunting and be living off the land by midsummer’s day. All this while continuing to work and exploring the delights of rural Lincolnshire.
Firstly, it took around two months to unpack and work out where things should go. Having spoken to many people who admitted still having unopened boxes in their lofts or garages from a move many years previous, I was determined to make sure we emptied all the boxes, and we did. It took around 60 days, a mere 58 more than I had planned. In truth, there are still things in the wrong places. For example, there’s a knife block and a Magimix in the Den, various tools in the wardrobe of the guest bedroom, a Dyson (other shit vacuum cleaners are available) in the porch and a spare kitchen extractor fan behind the living room door.
The chaos has been further compounded by items from rooms being moved to other rooms in order to allow basic works to be carried out. I did decide that in order to minimise the impact, work would only be carried out on one room at a time. True to my word work has been simultaneously commenced in the kitchen, living room, den, three of the four bedrooms, the hallway, the utility room, the external office and the brewery.
Another plan that fell at the first fence was the idea of extending the orchard. One of my very first tasks once the broadband was connected was to order some Dabinet apple trees for cider production. Sadly, they were out of stock everywhere I looked. It seems that popular trees must be ordered in early September for delivery in early January. Pitching up in late February with a wish-list isn’t how things are done apparently. So you’d probably think I was on the ball enough to order the Dabinets for early next year? Think again. Anyway, I’ve decided I’d probably prefer Kingston Black!
The existing orchard has fruited, so there’s cider on the go. You’d think so, eh? Well, there isn’t! I didn’t have time to build a scrater and a press, so instead I’ve been piling the windfalls into a freezer. The act of freezing and thawing will break up the cellular structure thus eliminating the need for scrating before pressing. I have one chest freezer filled with whole fruit, and have just bought another via eBay to take the rest of the crop. My thinking is this: you can never have too many freezers!
So, on to the growing. Here’s the thing. I forgot what a load of faff preparing ground for successful growing was. The land was rough pasture, so I just cut it back hard, chucked down an area of fairly fresh manure and sowed some sweet corn, onions, squash and globe artichokes. They grew, as did weeds from the soil, wind-blown weeds from the fields next door, seeds from the various undergrowth surrounding the area and assorted other shit. The rabbits, squirrels, pigeons, crows, foxes, badgers and assorted other wildlife didn’t eat the weeds. They ate my stuff, which all planted a bit late anyway. The result was I ended up with a handful of half-formed corn cobs, a few miniature squash and some globe artichokes which didn’t produce heads. As a result I am going back to my roots and putting in raised beds! Polytunnels will follow…
I also learned that if you drive over a wild orchid meadow in a ride-on lawn tractor, they don’t grow back. To be fair, I didn’t know it was a wild orchid meadow, not until Farmer Giles’ wife said, ‘Oh, you’ve mowed down the wild orchid meadow’.
The brewery did produce a few brews including a very good IPA and a Saison flavoured with nettle tips. However, when the old kitchen units were ripped out they made their way into the brewery, but didn’t get fitted (yet). A number of other things ended up in there too, and beer production shuddered to a halt as the place became a dumping ground. So close, and yet so far!
The outbuilding that was changed into an office was insulated, had a new floor fitted, had power and telephony added and the interior was clad. I also purchased the stripwood to hide the joins and rough bits. I haven’t put that up yet. The place will also be the recipient of the good quality but much hated beige carpets from the house. Eventually. Presently they are rolled up in various rooms, creating a much loved trip-hazard!
With the nights drawing and a perceivable nip in the air, I have to admit that 2016 was – and continues to be – a year of transition. We’re getting there, slowly. In 2017 there will be no excuses. Okay, there might be a few, but with a little luck and a fair wind behind us, there might actually be some successes.
So, Happy New Year! At FAoI, 2017 starts today!
Two. That’s the answer. Of course, I’m not LBJ, and this post is about mole trapping and not the slaughter or innocents, but I’m sure you get the drift. If you understand the reference to LBJ, then you’ll be aware that many years ago, before Mama Cass died in the same hotel room as a half-eaten ham sandwich that ironically had nothing whatsoever to do with her demise despite the urban myth, there was a war on the other side of the world. After that war, no one tidied up, and the remaining bomb craters, rock piles, heaps of wreckage and dead plains which still survive today are somewhat reminiscent of our lawn. Hence the need for mole trapping.
When I say our lawn, I means Mrs IG’s lawn. Before you start questioning why there is a lawn at FAoI, let me explain. Between the brewery to the North and the Orchard in the South, and betwixt the house on the East and the treeline of the woods in the West is a grass area of roughly one acre. It’s neat, and was relatively well maintained by the previous owners. From the patio and conservatory, you look out over this grass area. Mrs IG declared it her lawn, and as she only has that and 95 per cent of the house, I figured it was fair exchange for all the outbuildings, the wood and the back field.
Anyway, the ‘lawn’ was an area of beauty and relative neatness … until the moles moved in. Neither of us have ever had any dealings with moles in the past, so the first thing we did was hit the interweb looking for a quick fix. Marshmallows don’t work; we tried that. Rat poison doesn’t work; we tried that. Moth balls don’t work, because you can’t buy the old fashioned ones, but if they did they wouldn’t work anyway. Flooding the tunnels doesn’t work; we tried that.
Nothing worked, and every day the number of mole hills rose. They we taking over and turning the lawn into a battlefield. In desperation I went for mole traps, the scissor types. It wasn’t that I thought they were better than tunnel traps; it was just what I could get quickest. They’re old ones, and generally seem to be functional and up to the task of mole trapping.
One thing you’ll notice about trying to learn mole trapping is this: every interweb self-proclaimed expert decrees that there is only one way to trap moles. They insist that their method alone will work. They’ll tell you how many moles they catch and how quickly they catch them as evidence of the credibility of their methodology. But here’s the thing. They all use totally different methods, and warn that any deviation from their mole trapping masterplan will lead to failure.
I started off following the instructions of the most convincing of the snake oil salesmen, and got nowhere. I switched allegiance to the next most convincing, and got nowhere. I went with a bloke that had a photo of moles hanging from his underpants and got nowhere. I even went with the process of Terry ‘The Mole Nemesis’ McBallbag (or something like that). Nada. Nothing. Not a single mole.
I decided to take the course required to buy and use Aluminium Phosphide. Even at £225 and a day of my life it seemed cheap. However, I couldn’t just wait for the course to come around, so I sat down with a beer and looked at every bit of advice, and tried to work out which parts were snake oil and which made sense. Then using all the parts that made sense I stuck a few traps out, and caught two moles.
So, what did I do? First I cleared away all the mole hills. This meant that any appearing were on active tunnels. Once they appeared I worked around them, probing the ground around a foot from the hill with a hide pole (any pointed long stick-like thing will do) until I felt the ‘give’ that told me a tunnel was beneath. I then cut out a section of turf around 3 x 3 inches with a trowel and felt inside to determine if it was indeed a tunnel, and which direction in went in. If it wasn’t an obvious tunnel I moved on.
Once I knew it was a tunnel, I scoped out any loose earth and used a club hammer head to compact the ground under where the trap would be located. Then I dropped in the trap and once in position I checked it would freely trigger quickly by lightly squeezing the handles. Once done (and reset), I carefully replaced the sob and covered the area with a flower pot. To keep light out, I piled spoil from the molehill around the edge where it sat on the ground and over the drainage holes.
Knowing that moles are solitary but will take over empty tunnels if they find them, I popped the dead ones back into their holes and covered them up. I figured if the tunnels still smelled a bit moley, others might not move in. That’s the rational reason. In my head I was really thinking, ‘This’ll let the mole fuckers know what happened here’.
War is hell.
When I was a mere lad, our next-door neighbour was Mrs Broad. She was unremarkable. Well, there were a few things that I remember vividly. One was that her husband was a baldy-head man. Another was that her dog, Quest, stunk of stale piss. Another was that she has a beard that would put Brian Blessed to shame. However, the thing I remember most was that she has a plum tree, and every autumn it was heavy with juicy plums.
Mrs Broad also had a niece or granddaughter or … well, she was some kind of a female relative child. Her name was Sharon, and at times she would visit and play in Mrs Broad’s back garden. I didn’t like Sharon. In fact, no one liked Sharon. She was a freckle-faced lump of a thing with a voice like a baboon screeching while defecating matted coconut husk impregnated with rusted wire. Worst of all, she was a ginger.
As the summer days shortened and Autumn prepared to take over our lives, the tree would produce a seemingly never-ending bounty of plums. From the very moment they were soft enough to bite into, I’d be nipping over the fence and filling my pockets with them. Green and tart, yellowy and bitter, light red and sweet or purple and spilling with nectar-like juice, I didn’t care. I loved the plums. I’d gorge on them until I could shit through the eye of a needle.
At that age, mortality wasn’t a great issue, but I feared for the death of Mrs Broad. No doubt lumpy Sharon would move in once the bearded lady was buried, and she’d be a bit more observant. If I wanted to sustain a good supply of plums, I’d have to cosy up with the ginger one. It didn’t bear thinking about.
Anyway, Mrs Broad didn’t die (well, she did or she’d be around 130 today), I didn’t have to let Sharon have her way with me in exchange for plums, and I moved away. In the interim years, I haven’t really been bothered about plums. Until now, that is.
The Five Acres of Idiocy has three plum trees, and they’re currently heavy with fruit. They’re at a variety of stages: green and tart, yellow and bitter, light red and sweet. They haven’t made it to the purple and juicy stage yet. Here’s the thing – I’m back on the horse! I can’t walk by a tree without picking one, regardless of its stage of maturity. I’ve gone plum crazy. My arse isn’t thanking me for it.
Interestingly we have three trees that all seem different. One produces light green plums that yellow. These have sweet flesh and skin and are delightful to eat. We have one that produces darker green fruit that lighten, then develop a red blush. These have juicy sweet flesh but a sharp tannin-heavy skin. The third produces smaller darker green fruit with turn red, but generally all seem to have skin blemishes. They’re sweet but the skin isn’t that appealing.
Plans are for plum chutney, plum wine (probably with the scabby tree’s fruit), plum tarts and if there’s enough left, a couple of gallons of plum jerkum.
Interestingly, we also have three damson trees. The fruit are dark purple, almost black, and soft and juicy. I know that damsons are supposed to be tart and puckeringly sour, but these are sweet and delicious. I’m trying not to eat them, however, because I want to make someone a bottle of damson gin (oi oi sis!).
So there you go, plums. Thousands of them!
Christmas Eve. It’s the day before Christmas Day. The day before. Think about that.
All Hallows Eve (or Halloween if you’re a fat kid looking for free sugar). It’s the day before All Hallows Day. The day before. Remember that.
The Eve of Destruction. Barry McGuire unloaded his prophetic dirge about the world destroying itself in 1965. That was 51 years ago. We’re still waiting. Apparently, the Eve of Destruction breaks the norm when it comes to Eves, in that it’s not a day before, but some non-specific amount of years.
Barry’s whinging protest pop ditty warned against man’s appetite for war and called for a united human race (apart from those in Red China, eh Barry? Fuck them, because you don’t like Commies, do you?). Anyway, I’m calling the whole Eve of Destruction thing as bullshit. Sorry Barry, but you were wrong, and that’s that. You cannot have a 51 year (and counting) Eve. Barry McGuire, false prophet, no, I don’t believe were are on the eve of destruction.
What’s the time? No, it’s not Chico time. It’s time to find another false prophet. In 1947 the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists revealed the Doomsday Clock. It allegedly showed the countdown to nuclear oblivion. To highlight the advancement of the nuclear age, it was set at 7 minutes to midnight. At midnight, the party was due to start. Now, even if you’re basing dates on theory rather than the realisation of the nuclear age, the start point is around 1933.
So, in 14 years the clock sped around to 7 minutes to midnight. Since 1947, it should have been around the dial a fair few times. That means oblivion has already happened … but it hasn’t. I’m calling bullshit on the Doomday Clock, and I reckon the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists should wind the fucker up, because it’s clearly running slow. Sorry science blokes, but you’re a bunch of false prophets.
Who else should be on the list? Well, we could add anyone who worked in the IT sector 20 years ago. They ‘prophesised’ that computers, the advanced marvel of the modern age, the processing miracles that could out-think even the smartest humans, would be bollocksed when the calendar went from 1999 to 2000. Apparently, these advanced machines which could carry out calculations into the trillions and beyond couldn’t process that 2000 came after 1999. The myth (it was a lie, actually, designed to suck money from the pockets of the gullible) was that programmers had ‘forgotten’ to write calendars in computers that went past the 1900s, because they thought the machines might not have lasted that long. The old code was then used until someone realised it was too late.
Of course, the idea that someone sat there and typed in all the dates is a load of old bollocks. A simple algorithm was used which was always going to carry on regardless. The IT industry, meanwhile, mercilessly bullshitted until they’d scammed everyone they could. Then 2000 came and went. Nothing happened. Old IT blokes are nothing but a bunch of false prophets.
Who else is there? Well, there’s me.
‘What the fuck?’ I hear you exclaim. ‘How can this be? You are, after all, a teller of truths!’
Well, it’s nice of you to think so, and in a way you’re right, because I am now telling you the truth. I prophesised something that didn’t happen. In reality, it was never going to happen. Not a chance. Indeed, the eve of destruction turning into actual destruction, the doomsday clock running out and the Millennium bug eating civilisation were more likely to happen than what I foresaw.
When I first arrived at the Five Acres of Idiocy I prophesised that come summer the land would be awash with fruit and vegetables. Why wouldn’t it be? It was February and life was about to become a bowl of cherries (well, maybe not as our cherry tree is a flowering cherry so produces no fruit, but you know what I mean). I sourced manure, I planned a space, and then…
Every day there seems to be a new job that needs doing. I don’t remember it being like this at the old place. There’s house renovations, septic tank traumas, water heating conundrums, overhead power line bedlam, fisticuffs with energy suppliers, truck repairs, tree felling concerns, crashed machinery, toad relocations and a whole host of other crap to deal with.
We’ve had a procession of builders, electricians, plumbers, shit pipe experts, architects, liars (that’s British Gas, naturally) and general ne’er-do-wells traipsing through, all taking money for various tasks badly done. Well, British Gas didn’t get any money because I threw the bastard out. He told me I was passive aggressive. As he ran away I shouted after him, ‘Fuck you; I’m aggressive aggressive!’
So, I planted some corn, squash, artichokes and onions, albeit too late. I’m holding our for an Indian summer. Is that it, I hear you ask. Yes, that’s it. Would you feel like plating some cabbage after having to try and shove a garden fork up a builder’s rectum? Thought not!
I have learned something, though, and am already looking for winter’s new cider apple trees. And I’ve got to build a wood store. And have a log burner fitted. And get the new kitchen installed. And rebuild the bathroom. And finish the brewery. I mean, for chuff’s sake, I haven’t even had the banjo out of its case since I got here.
And you tell me, over and over and over again my friend, that you don’t believe we’re on the eve of destruction…
Piss off Barry!
Plans are being planned, work is starting, the Idiot Brewery is open for business.
Well, when I say open, I mean I opened the door, looked inside, muttered ‘oh, for fuck’s sake’, shifted some shit to one side and dragged in my brewing equipment. It’s open, as in I’ve been inside the four walls and have messed with malts and hops, some yeast was added, and fermentation took place. So it’s open.
When I say for business, I mean the business of brewing beer (and cider when the harvest is in from the orchard). I do not, neither now or in the future, have any intention of doing business in the brewery. It is a place of fun, not a place of work. How could business take place when a shambolic bloke is walking around muttering ‘fuck’ whilst spilling hot wort on his boots?
The Idiot Brewery is a bit like Lorraine Kelly’s growler; it’s not a beauty but it’ll get the job done. Of an early morning, there’s often a buzzard perched atop it. The brewery, that is, not Lorraine Kelly’s growler. I did play with the idea of calling it the Buzzard Brewery for around three seconds, but decided that made it sound like some craft beer wankfest where chocca-mocha porter is made alongside organic glutten-free brown ale with a hint of cucumber minge.
In it’s bare naked state, the Idiot Brewery comes with power, water and a sink. Thanks to a kitchen refit at the Idiot House, I shall be adding another double sink, a bunch of cupboards with worktops and an extractor fan to draw steam into the outside world. My host of beer fridges made the journey with me, and these are being transformed into temperature-controlled fermentation chambers.
More immediate intentions are the creation of storage areas, some sort of gravity-based structure, some shiny shit, a picture of Lorraine Kelly and a radio.
The building internal measurements are 11 x 3.7 metres, so there’s space to set up a few experimental areas. While the production will mostly be centred on beer, there are plans for cider and perry (I’ll address the orchard and its plans in another post) and some wine for Mrs IG.
Progress will undoubtedly be as slow as a slow child trying to open a door marked ‘pull’, but I’ll try and remember to log the various developments as I go along.
Here at FAoI, it’s been a veritable orgy of sex and violence. Indeed, the sex and violence has reached such a crescendo that I often wake up early, trying to cover my ears from the sounds of rape and molestation that are echoing all around. At night as the evening becomes dark, I try to ignore the screams of violated females and the roaring testosterone-fuelled challenges of the males.
It is, quite frankly, obscene.
I’m put in mind of the old joke relating to the more Southern states of the US of A.
‘There’s gonna be a party; a lot of fighting and a lot of fucking.’
‘Really? Who’s gonna be there?’
‘Just you and me.’
So, who has been doing all the fighting and all the fucking? The pheasants; that’s who! It’s time to breed, and the shyness of the cocks has all but disappeared. The hens, however, are moving like greased lightning. From around an hour before sunrise, the cocks are marching around the place, flapping their wings and screaming their ‘come and get it ladies’ noise. They only desist in that when another cock comes close, and then it all kicks off.
Now, if you’ve never heard a pheasant cock with his scrotum boiling with love juice, you’re a lucky person. It sounds like someone trying to cut through a sheet of rusty metal with a blunt chainsaw. It’s certainly not the type of noise that would have many females giving you a ‘come hither’ look, even back in the day at the Tottenham Royale when it was the last dance.
Interestingly, the pheasant hens don’t seem to respond. If anything, they lay low which means the cocks keep on sounding off. If a female does happen by, more by luck than by judgement, she’s chased, dragged to the ground and banged something rotten. As soon as the ordeal is over she’d better be off because another one of them will be by, squawking and flapping his wings and getting his todger out.
They say that nature is red in tooth and claw. They forget to mentions the pheasant’s helmets too.
All of this has caused some debate, not only at FAoI but also in the neighbouring farm. Old Gilsey next door has admitted that he couldn’t hit a barn door from five paces with a 12 bore. His wife likes the pheasants and feeds them. She doesn’t want them shot, on the basis that they get shot everywhere else in the area so it’s nice for them to have one place they can just relax (and rape and fight). Me? Come October they’re just dinner.
Now, after a tea drinking session with old Gilsey’s wife, Mrs IG has decided that she doesn’t want me to shoot the pheasants either. This is the same woman who didn’t want me to shoot the rabbits, but happily ate their liver for breakfast. The other day she pointed out a rabbit to me and said, ‘Shoot that, will you, otherwise I’ve got to drive to the shops’. Admittedly the shops are 10 miles away, but even so they’re not the words of one who claims to be a caring person.
I’ve set her a challenge. If she finds me a source of fresh pheasant at a reasonable price come the autumn, I might hold back. If not, when the season starts, it’s time for retribution.
Back when I was a lad, there was an expectation that you’d leave school, put on a pair of long trousers, go to work, get married, settle down and mow your lawn every Sunday. Growing up wasn’t optional. It was compulsory. There were certain rituals you had to undertake which marked you out as an adult. Failing to undergo these rituals marked you out as an outsider, a freak, a renegade, a general ne’erdowell.
If I’d have told the Father that I was going to take a gap year, he’d have kicked the shit out of me. If I’d suggested I was going off somewhere to ‘find myself’, he’d have kicked the shit out of me. If I’d suggested that I was going to piss around a bit and see where the world took me, he’d have kicked the shit out of me. If I’d have said I was going to grow a beard, he’d have kicked the shit out of me. If I suggested painting a house anything other than Magnolia, he’d have kicked the shit out of me.
Painting your house Magnolia was a sign you had grown up, as was mowing the lawn every Sunday, buying a Tweed jacket, polishing your shoes, wearing a tie to the pub and not trying to put your hand up the jumper of Doreen, the fishmonger’s daughter. This was the way it was at the time. Punk rock was bubbling under, the Cold War was in full swing, and Magnolia paint sold by the shedload.
I didn’t like Magnolia paint, and had no intention of painting any house with it. I also had no intention of mowing any lawns, wearing Tweed, polishing shoes or putting on a tie to go out drinking. As for Doreen, she had something up her jumper that made you want to never grow up.
Now, what the bloody hell has all this got to do with trees? I’ll tell you. Here at the Five Acres of Idiocy (apparently it’s nearer to six acres, but I’ve already done the logo thing and can’t be arsed to change it) we have a lot of trees. At the last count (and with some reliance on the former owners who logged this type of shit) we have 45 types of trees. That includes some generalisation, of course. For example, I’m counting Apple as one kind of tree, rather than singling out the cultivars. The reason for this is simple; I don’t really know what we’ve got yet, as they’re all dormant.
What I have decided to do is to work my way through the various trees, documenting them and trying to find out a good use for them. Some are simple. Pear, for example, give me pears for making Perry and for eating, and smoking wood. Oak gives me smoking wood and trees big enough to build a tree house cocktail bar in. Others need further investigation.
When I discovered I had two Magnolias, my first reaction was to cut them down. This was purely based on the fact that I bloody hate houses painted Magnolia. Also, I’ve never heard of Magnolia beer, or Magnolia wine, or even Magnolia sauce for pork snacks. A quick interweb search revealed that most people have Magnolias because they look pretty. Well, looking pretty counts for very little in the FAoI.
So, what do I know about Magnolias? Well, they blossom pretty early, and the blossoms are the same colour as Magnolia paint. Odd that, eh? The trees pre-date the evolution of bees, so the blossoms are designed to allow germination by beetles. Apparently it can be used for stress relief, probably by venting your frustrations on it with an axe! It can be beneficial for suffers of constipation, and also can aid weight loss, presumably by unblocking your arse and letting you have a bloody good shit. Some people use the buds directly on their gums to help with tooth ache. Then they shit themselves on the way to the dentist.
Having learned all this, I said to Mrs IG, ‘I’m going to chop that bastard down.’
‘No’ she replied, ‘I want to keep it.’
Sensing she was constipated, I asked why.
‘It’s pretty’ she said.
So, what’s been happening on the Five Acres of Idiocy? Let me tell you. I’ll keep it short and sweet. It will be, literally, succinct. You won’t get dragged in to a detailed and analytic monologue about the day to day rituals involved in idiot smallholding and various horticultural practices. Fear not that you’ll miss Coronation Enders or some other long running televisual feast of inanity. No, we shall not tarry. The wind will be at our backs and we’ll make swift progress. Full steam ahead. After all, you’re busy people and time is money and money is the root of all evil and evil ain’t nothing but live spelled backwards. So let’s live a little. Little and Large; they were a pair of twats, weren’t they?
Where were we?
Oh yes, brevity is the important issue here. Indeed, my middle name shall be haste. I used to go to school with someone whose middle name really was Haste. Terry Haste McGinley. He had a limp and a scar shaped like a knob on his left cheek. He stuttered, and when he did so he became so frustrated that he wet himself. Anything bright or shiny made him twitch, and if you showed him a ball of cotton wool he literally shat where he stood. Funnily enough, having a middle name like Haste wasn’t the worst of his problems.
However, I digress.
I won’t hold you up, I appreciate that you want to be on your way. Some people can be so inconsiderate when it comes to the value of peoples time. After all, it’s your life ebbing away. Each second is a second you’ll never have again. You one second closer to death, and nothing … NOTHING … will get you that time back. That why I, me, the Idiot, certainly won’t waste any more of your time. You can call me fat, you can call me daft, you can even call me Terry, but one thing you can’t call me is a waster of time.
What? Oh yes, so what has been happening at the Five Acres of Idiocy? Well, the unpacking is done, and some general repairs have been made, and we’ve bought a new bed, and all the vehicles have been fixed, and we’ve found the right day to put the bins out, and we’ve even talked to Farmer Giles and his mates. But what of all things ‘smallholderish’? What has been planted? What charcuterie is under way? Any brews happening? How goes the woodland management?
I’ll tell you what has been happening at the Five Acres of Idiocy. I’ll tell you in as simple way as I can. Quckly. Simply. Without procrastination. What has been happening at the Five Acres of Idiocy?
Oh wait … I had some horse shit delivered…
I knew I was starting again, but I didn’t realise just how again I would be starting.
Yes, I know I said I’d do this last week, but as with any new project, time gets eaten up by so many things. So, here’s a brief tour of the five acres of idiocy.
Starting in the North corner, we have Broken Bridge. Admittedly, when we first moved in it was called Bridge. It won’t take four people jumping around and trying to push each other off. The brooks is only a few inches deep, but it was funny. No, really, it was. It has something of a cool name, and a crap story. Broken Bridge. So what? I like the name…
From Broken Bridge you travel down the brook to the falls. Yes, it’s not Niagra or Victoria, or even impressive, but unless you have a waterfall that isn’t from a garden centre, you can suck this one!
The brook, which follows the boundary, then passes behind an old stable block, which is in the process of being converted into the Idiot Brewery and Charcuterie Kitchen. Currently it’s filled with crap, but I will knock it into order in the next few months. I intend to build a fire pit and smoke house. It also has a large greenhouse on the other side that’s reassuringly normal … so far.
From the Brewery you head past the East side … of the woods. Yeah, it’s the ‘hood alright! East side massive … whatever that means.
On the other side of the darkness (well, dullness), as is obvious by the brighter daylight in the distance, is the bit I intend to make a horticultural paradise, once I’ve found ways to hold back the tide of rabbits, badgers, deer and foxes! Fox pie?
I can be a bit messy, because if I look back towards the house, I see this, which means anyone in the house sees fuck all …
Rounding out towards the west side, there’s a track down the far boundary with a few breaks, such as this one which is crying out for the introduction of a pond. It will provide irrigation, plus passing duck and geese can have a rest. The best bit is that any nosy fuckers for the planning department can’t see it…
And then you round back, heading from the South, through the woods and the hanged lady tree…
… towards what Mrs IG calls the lawn and insists remains unmolested by my idiocy. Time will tell.
On the far edge of the lawn is a small orchard, which I will be expanding. Last time I looked, we had a visitor…
So, there you go: a quick whizz around my new plot.
It’s going to be hard, it’s going to be interesting, but most of all, it’s going to be fucking insane.
Welcome to the five acres of idiocy!
From the minute we exchanged on the property move debacle until the last cloud of fumes spewed from the lorry as it headed North, we were frantically stuffing things into boxes. Whilst that might sound like a panicked car crash of irrational activity, it was actually planned with military precision. Boxes were carefully labelled indicating the room from which the items were taken, the room to which they should be delivered, and other annotations highlighted the contents of the box, the fragility of the items and the urgency with which they would be needed. Or something like that…
When the packing started we attacked the first room, and working methodically we had boxed up all contents and disassembled furniture within two hours. We therefore enjoyed a brief burst of self congratulation. We were a seamless packing machine, a slick and well oiled machine that was made to pack. Packing was, we decided, a veritable piece of piss. We became smug. No, not smug, but SMUG.
With each passing day, the smugness receded. The seamless packing machine began to fray at the edges. The oil didn’t seem to lubricate as well as it had at first. Packing increasingly became a veritable pain in the arse. Chaos began to visit on increasingly regular occasions. The plan was crumbling. At times it seemed that the more time we spent putting stuff in boxes, the more crap was littered around the house unboxed.
It seemed the more we tried to strongarm some order into the packing process, the more it all became unravelled before our very eyes. Then, before we knew it, the lorry arrived. As they cleared the rooms, we continued packing in an ever increasing space. Luckily the move was scheduled over three days, so with 95 per cent of the stuff on the van, we had one final evening of boxing. In the morning they returned, collected the bed, the pots and pans we’d used the night before and the last few bits. Then they set off, and anything that was left went into the pick-up.
Then as we set about a final clean-up, I checked my phone to find a whole bunch of missed calls. The solicitors, it seemed, had shit the bed and being up early decided to complete in a prompt fashion. By 9.30am it was all over, the messages indicated. I checked the time. It was 10.45am. We’d spent the last hour and a bit in a house that wasn’t legally ours. I declared it was rude to clean up someone else’s house without their permission, so we left.
Four hours driving, plus a half hour in a lay-by on the A46 eating a steak baguette later, we stepped over the threshold in Lincolnshire. We had one hour to absorb the previous owner’s collection of bad-taste 1970s decorations before the lorry pulled up outside. The started unloading the boxes; boxes with destinations clearly marked, with contents listed, the organised boxes designed to make the move so simple. They stopped at around 7.30pm and settled down in their lorry with a case of beer I had provided. We went to bed early and slept the sleep of people who know that everything is perfectly organised.
The next morning I belted out a sausage, bacon, egg, beans and toast combo for the removal lads and they unloaded the full complement of chattels by 11am. Then they were gone. We were alone in the new place. I looked out the window and there, slightly foggy and damp looking, lay five acres of idiocy!
So, what did I do? Did I mark out the orchard extension? Did I put the brewery in order? Did I cure some bacon? Did I mark out the veg plots? Did I stalk the critters in the woods? Did I dam the brook to create irrigation ponds? Did I drive around on the mini tractor? Did I buggery. I unpacked.
Well, we’ve been here 12 days now. We’re still unpacking. Nothing is in the right boxes. Nothing is where it should be. There are still things we haven’t found. None of the annotations bear any semblance to reality. The labels are a crock of shite. There’s underwear in the tool boxes, tools in the kitchen boxes, pots and pans in the bedroom boxes and slug pullets in the food boxes. I haven’t seen my phone charger since we arrived, and I can smell fish from the box marked ‘Books’. What went wrong? I’ll tell you: nothing. This is how it is.
I have vowed to empty every last bastarding box by Friday. Then, maybe then, I’ll show you all around a bit!
‘Have you heard about the Idiot Gardener?’
‘No! What’s happened?’
‘Well, he’s got a couple of acres … and his bollocks are a bit painful too!’
Do you want to know how long I’ve waited to make that joke? Over a year. That’s right; it’s taken more than 12 months but we have finally exchanged on Idiot Acres and in two and a bit weeks I shall be wandering around the five acre plot muttering, ‘What in the name of fuck have I done?’ So it’s goodbye to suburban Surrey and hello to rural North Lincolnshire.
Considering that until November 2009 I had spent my entire life hating gardens, gardeners and gardening, the decision to purchase a house with five acres did have some shaking their over-sized heads and muttering, ‘he won’t do it’, but in true testament to the depth of my idiocy, I have.
Since making the decision to do it and actually doing it, some 14 months have passed. Admittedly, a good six months were wasted as I recovered from my shoulder operation, but our initial buyers who decided to end their relationship a few days before exchanging and a second buyer who was as slippery as a greased eel added to the delay!
Long-time readers will now be waiting to find out whether we went for Smallholding A or Smallholding B. Well, the answer is ‘neither’! Smallholding A turned out to be infested with planning issues, and Smallholding B – nice as it was – just didn’t feel good. Well, it felt good until we actually offered on it, then I had an impending sense of doom, a bit like when Louise Brockbank told me all fannys looked like that! A few early issues where the vendor failed to provide information to meet agreed schedules gave us a reason to walk away, and we were back to square one!
We had seen one place that we’d rejected. The land was fantastic, and the five acres offered a large open growing area, a small orchard, multiple outbuildings, woodland and a brook. The house, however, was as ‘vanilla’ as you could get. It was owned by a very nice but ultimately boring old couple, and they had decorated it to reflect the dullest parts of their personalities.
The large hallway was painted beige. The carpet was beige. Indeed, every room in the house is beige, as is every carpet. The hallway beige carpet covered an old parquet floor. They explained that they weren’t wooden floor people; they were beige carpet people.
The hallway had no pictures on the walls, no nice furniture, no touches of individuality at all. We spent the first 20 minutes of the viewing standing in the hall, listening to them tell us how much they liked the hall. I don’t know what Mrs IG thought, but after a few minutes I found myself thinking about monkeys.
Mr and Mrs Monotony told us every detail, and I do mean every last detail, of the day they drove to Lincolnshire to view the house, walked in and fell in love with the hall. We had mentally crossed it off our list before we’d seen any other rooms.
When Smallholding A and Smallholding B were off the table, the land and outbuildings at the Vanilla House haunted me. Mrs IG, however, hated the blandness of the house and I couldn’t argue with that. However, the issue was a bunch of dull rooms which, when empty, are ultimately just like other empty rooms. I set out to show Mrs IG how we could make the Vanilla House a cornucopia of delights.
Luckily for me, whilst Mrs IG has experience of my idiocy, she’s also seen the fruits on my labours in terms of the kitchen, bathroom and general decor of our current abode. The plans revealed how we could use the blank canvas to create our own vision. The house was structurally sound. It just needed a new kitchen, new bathrooms and a rework.
So, what have we got for our money?
Well, there’s a house. Mrs IG insisted on that much. It has rooms and floors and walls and a roof and all the typical house shit!
The five acres is roughly split in two by the woods. The woods represent a natural larder. They are alive with rabbits, pigeons, squirrels and pheasant. There is also an adundance of funghi, including a regular crop of huge puffballs. I intend to introduce some other mushrooms in an idiotic attempt at fungus cultivation. I will also be adding a pond to persuade passing ducks and geese to rest for a while!
The open land on the far side of the woods will include a number of vegetable beds, along with a polytunnel or two. The Bordeaux-style irrigation system I intend to implement will be fed from the brook that cuts across the field.
There will also be wild(ish) herb beds. During our visits to the area house hunting I developed a taste for Lincolnshire sausages and subsequently am going to need a good supply of sage. I’m informed that it grows well in the area, and the protection of the woods makes the land relatively frost-free, or so I am informed!
On the house side of the woods is a small orchard and fruit tree area. This will be extend to include a number of cider apple and perry pear trees. Unfortunately I fear that the mild winter will mean I’ll struggle to find any still dormant in late February of this year, but I’m keeping my fingers crossed. Other fruits will be used for sloe gin, damson gin and general wines. I will also cultivate a nettle patch. No, I’m not buying into the whole ‘superfood’ bullshit. I will be using them for a Saision beer.
Talking of beer, there is a converted stable block. This will become the Idiot Brewery and Charcuterie kitchen. Outside will be the Idiot smokehouse and fire pit. There is another large outbuilding which houses an array of machinery, negotiated as a part of the sale.
Currently Idiot Towers is being dismantled and packed into boxes. I don’t know how two people can have acquired so much shit in the past 17 years. When we moved in here we got everything in a Luton van. Now I think we’re going to fill a few articulated lorries. Most of it is shoes, and they’re not mine.
So, a new avenue of idiocy opens up, and I’m off, following it like a greyhound. By that I mean I’m heading down it somewhat quickly, not sitting in the corner of the room licking my balls. Although…
Well, what do you know? It’s 2016 and looking back, 2015 was a bit of a shitter. No, let me rephrase that. Describing it as a shitter might give the impression that it was bad. It wasn’t bad, nor was it good. It was simply a bit unremarkable.
Previous years had a lot more going for them. Some were even positively heady. However, I had an inkling that 2015 would be a bit less exciting when, on 30 December 2014, I had my shoulder operation. The advice from a nurse with a face like a bag of spanners was that a full recovery might take a year or more. Of course, I didn’t believe her. What did she know about my magical ability to heal quickly?
Anyway, old Spannerface was right. Well, she was rightish. By April I could lift my arm without screaming like a bitch, although trying to do anything with it afterwards did result in some screaming and tears. I underwent a course of intensive physiotherapist, and by mid May I could roll a ball up a wall. Happy fucking days!
By the time I has enough strength in my arm to even lift a shovel, we were the wrong side of midsummer and the days were getting shorter. I planted a few salad leaves and some beetroot in the garden, and that was it! The field never even got a look in. In truth, I didn’t even go there once in 2015. At first I was worried that I’d just get stuck in and bollocks up my shoulder. Then I was ashamed of the mess I knew I’d find.
During the recovery I spent a lot of time looking at things on the Internet. No, not nudey wank stuff, but houses with land stuff. Mrs IG professed a hankering to return to the bleak and cold North, and being reliant on her to cut up my food meant I was powerless to resist.
Idiot Towers went up for sale, and I seemed to spend whole chunks of time learning how many arseholes there are who’ll bullshit mercilessly to try and sell you a smallholding! I also found out that conveyancing solicitors are overpaid!
Still, we got to the exchange phase, and just as the pen hovered over the dotted line, our buyers decided that they didn’t really love each other and split up. Fuckers! So Idiot Towers went back on the market, the Smallholding A versus Smallholding B debate from earlier in 2015 became a moot point, and the who.e merry-go-rond started up again. Things are on-going in that department, but until something solid happens it remains a bit unremarkable!
Then … well, 2015 ended. That was it, a whole year doing fuck all. I grew a few salad leaves and a dozen beetroot. I brewed nothing, initially due to the shoulder and then due to preparing for the failed move. I scratched myself and wandered around the house sighing. I grew older.
So, what will 2016 bring? I’m buggered if I know.
I was standing at the bottom on a long marble staircase, and at the top was a pulsing blue light. From within the glow I heard a voice, high pitched and tremulous.
‘Come’ it urged, ‘come into the light’.
‘Is that you, God?’ I asked.
‘No’ weebled the voice. ‘I’m better than God. It is I, the ghost of Barry Gibb.’
‘I didn’t know you’d snuffed it, Barry,’ I replied. ‘I thought you was the last one and that you’d go one for ever.’
‘I died many years ago’ said the voice, ‘but no one really noticed. Anyway, are you coming into the fucking light or not?’
I went. I had nothing better to do.
Barry was seated on a marble throne, He was wearing a velour jumpsuit and smoking a cigar. He looked a bit like Jimmy Saville, if I was being honest. I didn’t mention that to him.
He beckoned me closer and held out his hand. In it was a key. He smiled and hummed ‘Staying Alive’.
I thought, ‘This is it, the key to my new house, my smallholding dream,’ and snatched at it.
A bell started to ring. Over and over again. I turned over. I was in bed and my phone was ringing. It was the estate agent.
‘Bad news, Idiot,’ he cried, ‘your buyers have pulled out. They’re splitting up.’
I sat up in bed. Was this still the dream? Where was Barry? What did this all mean? I’ll tell you: it meant I was fucked!
Well folks, yes, I have been quiet recently because I didn’t want to jinx the purchase of Idiot Acres. A fat lot of good that did me! We were ready to exchange. Contracts had been signed, paperwork transferred between solicitors, it was D-Day minus two! Then the spineless twats who were buying from us split up. Wankers.
That’s the problem with young people today; they just don’t have the guts to put effort into a loveless relationship. They could have stayed together and over years of heartbreak could have grown to view each other with mutual disdain. It’s not much to ask.
So here we are, three months down the line and a fair few thousand quid worse off. It’s time to dust ourselves off, think positively and get back on the horse. I’m sure there were people on that day who had worse news, so we should be glad ours was just a shattered dream and a waste of money.
Once more unto the breach, dear friends, once more!