Sunday, 27 February 2011

With the date of our move getting ever closer, and the smallholding course over and done with, the next thing on the agenda is my chainsaw course. The start date arrives and after a few derogatory comments from my dearest friends (who needs enemies eh?) off i go with my rucksack, books and a packed lunch, for my first day at school for a very long time. The venue a local aggricultural college, not too far away so ideal. I arrive and make my way to the reception area and meet the other two people who are on the course, the instructor arrives and we head down to the classroom. Brief introductions and off we go.
First on the course plan is the risk assessment, Ive done thousands of these, when running the football courses, so that all seems well and good, not too much different, apart from the saftey equipment, which is only to be expected, mind you though, the helmet, ear protectors and trousers and boots would have probably helped to protect me from more than half of the children I taught football.
After lunch we eventually get our hands on the chainsaw, not allowed to start them yet though, general maintainance and checks before we can do that. So chain off, bar off, clutch cover off, check the bearings, check the clutch plates and springs, and then start to put everything back together, checking all parts for wear and tear, all the reasons for damage are caused by either, poor maintainance or quite simply they wear out, either way, you replace them before an accident happens. The stupidity of the operator, poor maintainance and failing to ensure safe working proceedures equals accident, and when using a chainsaw the accident is very rarely minor.
With fifteen minutes of the day left, safety wear on, prestart checks completed, and we are allowed our first attempt at starting the chainsaw, decompression button in, full choke, and a pull of the starter cord, a cough and splutter, turn to half choke, decompression button in a pull on the starter again, and the  beast fires into life, a blip of the throttle to take the choke off and then a run through of the precutting checks, saw off and then home time BOOOOOOO!!  didn't even get chance to make a cut, but at least I didn't end up with any  myself.
Day 2: we start by stripping the saws down again, to see what we have remembered, all the time being asked questions about the proceedure, and the health and safety side of things, and then shown a couple of extra things, like how to remove and clean the air filter and check then spark plug, once everythings back together, we head outside all the usual checks and then the first demonstration of how to crosscut wood. The rest of the day is spent learning all the different types of cuts, how to take tension out of the wood, and how to bore holes to make joints. the end of the day is fast approaching, so back into the class room, a refresher of the day, and we are given the time for our tests.
Having read through the course work a fair few times, and having been tested by Janice, I head off to take the test in a fairly confident but nervous mood, a couple of hours later, all done and dusted, and my certificate gained, brilliant another step closer, and another day closer to our move, the next major thing will be the move unless we can find so more courses, who knows?

Monday, 10 January 2011

A new year a new life

Well here we go a new year and a new way of life beckons.
We've ran our business for the last 6 years, sports coaches working in schools doing P.E. and running after school courses aimed at getting kids into, and enjoying sport.
Then in their infinite wisdom the government go and do a u-turn, forget the problem of obesity in children and the teachings of how to lead a healthy life-style, we're now going to cut all the funding schools receive for P.E. Guess what happens next...................
.....................Business down the swannie, the past 6 years gone! all the toil, all the heart ache, everything gone, ended up living in a caravan, trying our best to keep a business afloat, that we thought, was doing good in the community.
So what to do now?
Sat having a few drinks 1 night with a dear friend, nattering about life in general it's suggested to us
 " why don't you try and find a job that takes in your hobbies and uses the experience that you've gained in your working career "
"there's jobs where you can get accommodation as part of the salary, have you considered that?"
Well to be honest we hadn't even heard of this, let alone considered it, so the search begins, a little research into where to find these jobs and off we go.
Month after month of applying and endless travelling up and down the country for interviews only to get the same answers and replies
" sorry even though you've got the experience in the public sector, we are looking for someone who's had more experience in the private sector"
Then, a phone call, followed by numerous emails and more calls, then a trip to Scotland, the date
01/11/10 Janice's birthday, had to be an omen.
Standing mouth open, taking in the gorgeous views and the remoteness of the area, we find ourselves falling in love with what is in front of us, then..............
...... bump!!! down to earth, sort your head out, you've got an interview to go through.
We leave a couple of hours later and drive back to York, the conversation dominated by what we have just seen, the words being used WOW and WOW, the scale and beauty of the area beyond compare and that's saying something, (me being brought up in and around Whitby and the North Yorkshire moors)
So, a week goes by and still we hear nothing, then,
a phone call, "we would like to offer Janice and you the position if you are still interested?"
STILL INTERESTED!!!!!! that has to be the understatement of the century, we'd spoken about nothing else for the whole week, so we accept the position and it all begins................

Well I suppose at this point I should tell you a little bit about the job description,
housekeeper / gardener handyman
all sounds relatively simple, then.......the people who we are going to work for, drop the bombshell,
 " we are really interested in becoming self-sufficient, growing our own fruit and veg, keeping chickens a few pigs and possibly bees, also we want to provide our own power, wind and water turbines, solar power and underground heat source"
A dream comes true.
Exactly what we want, never going to be able to live the dream for ourselves, by ourselves, so doing it for someone else and with someone else is the perfect way to go.
So, we're into January now and the excitement is growing, our new employers are keeping in touch and we're bouncing ideas off each other about whats going to happen. A chainsaw course for me and a smallholding course for us both in the pipeline,cant wait, going to learn how best to manage and make use of the land, plus the basics of keeping chickens and pigs etc.

So, February the 4th. arrives and we're all packed and ready to head to Devon, for our small holding course. The weather is awful, high winds and heavy rain, but we head off looking forward to the weekend ahead of us, 3 1/2hrs later we've done 44 miles, stuck on the A1 for 2 1/2hrs, bloody wagon blown over, so a 5 1/2hr journey takes us over 8 1/2hrs. We arrive at the bed and breakfast with just one thing on my mind, "I need a drink", so we dump the bags and head up the road to the local pub, a couple of pints, and the biggest portion of chips I've seen for a while, and all is well again, back to the B&B and its time for bed. knackered Zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz.
Saturday morning arrives and we go down for breakfast mmmmmmmmmmm gorgeous, all locally sourced produce bought from farmers, forget your supermarkets, taste is natural, not mass produced.
Then, into the car, 5 minutes later, we turn up at the farm where the course is being ran.
Introductions to the other people who are attending, and a short session of what I would call ice breaking, why we're here? what we want from the course? etc etc.
The course begins with the legal side of things, the requirements and do's and dont's from the point of view of the law, animal movement licenses, tagging, and, when, and why, you need to do, what you need to do.
We are then introduced to the tool kit, all the bits of gear we're going to need for the day to day chores, hammers, nails, fencing bits n bobs, and so on and so forth, the boys toys, chain saws and strimmers etc. as the noise of rumbling stomachs becomes ever more noticeable, the decision to call it a morning is taken and we head to the farmhouse for lunch.
At lunch we all sit and talk about how we want our lives to pan out, WOW!!, how peoples lives differ, not only in our goals but what we can actually do, our aims are similar, but, the means in which they are going to be achieved are totally different.
In the afternoon we are led into a barn, a dozen sheep in a fairly large pen confront us, then the education begins, how to reduce the size of the pen gradually, compacting the sheep, into a small pen so that they can be easily caught, then the demonstration of how to restrain a sheep, for medication, foot trimming and preparation for slaughter. Then "right guy's that's how you do it, have a go, who's first?" Well not been one to shy a challenge I have a go, step into the pen, select my sheep and done !wow, sheep restrained, not easy, but, not hard, a good demonstration helped. I must admit that as the other members of the course have their go , all mobile phones are out, videoing, the joke goes round of waiting for the next £250 coming from a well know show of calamity clips, but all goes well without slip, trip or fall, or ending up with a sheep sat on you, and everyone is pleased with their own personal performance.
We then have a wonder around the farm and it's explained to us about the different kinds of housing, for different kinds of animals, their water and feed requirements, and a little about different breeds. The day finishes with cream teas and Q & A session, we're given the choice of turning up early in the morning, to help let the animals that are housed in sheds and barns out, and feed and check on the permanent outside residents, and off we go, a shower and shave are definitely required.
We get up at 06:30 and wonder around for a while at the B&B, excitement and enthusiasm overtaking the common sense side of things (we didn't book breakfast till 07:30) another fantastic breakfast and we're all fueled up for the day, heading off to the farm the topic of conversation, wondering what we've got in store for the day ahead, again enthusiasm taking over from time management, we arrive half an hour early so we sit in the car and wait, rather impatiently if I'm to be honest. Everyone else turns up in dribs and drabs, and the day begins. The animals food is all measured out, quantities and food types are explained, and then it is placed in their particular pens, along with fresh water, and then, those that are kept inside overnight are let out.

Berkshire pigs
A well needed cuppa, and another Q&A session, then we're back to the nitty gritty. Basic health care the topic, a day to day medicine stock list, and, how to spot when things may be starting to go wrong with your livestock, prevention being the best cure, and alertness being the key.
After a short break the next part of the course is introduced, hedging and fencing, the best way to make use of what you've got available, and the advantages and shortfalls of the different types of fencing available. The advantages of having a secure perimeter, and moveable inner fencing soon becomes apparent, so things can always be relocated without worrying whether your livestock is going to end up somewhere it shouldn't be.
The cry of "LUNCH" comes from the farmhouse, good grief where's the morning gone? a beautiful game pie with veggies and homemade cider on the menu (bloody hell, I need a lye down STUFFED). No chance of that happening though.
The afternoon topic is introduced as, Choosing livestock, options of whether to buy or breed are explained, along with the sourcing options,and what makes one animal better than an other.
A walk around the farm is next on the agenda where it is explained to us the importance of creating habitats for wildlife and how the wildlife can benefit or hinder you, what a set up, areas set aside for all sorts, ancient woodland fenced off to encourage wild orchids, otter holts built, and, bird boxes all over, to encourage all different varieties to move in, would of really loved to have done the course later in the year to view it all in its full glory, but hey ho our time scale is limited and everything has to done sooner rather than later.
Arriving back at the farmhouse, we are given a short demonstration of the best ways to store and horde the produce that you've grown/reared once its been harvested, Then another cuppa and apple and Cinnamon sponge served with thick cream ( I really do think I'm going to pop). A Q&A session follows, about the weekend and finally we all say our goodbyes and head off back to the life we are planning for.
A fantastic weekend.
Both Janice and myself found the course really informative and the information given very useful, its taken a while to digest all the information given, and will probably take another few months if not years to process it all in our minds. We found everything very well presented and not overloading, which it could have very easily become, with the amount of information been given, and the timescale for it to be delivered.
With regards to the course we found it in a google search for smallholding courses, and due to the time scale, and our future location, it became a need for us to find something sooner rather than later, however, my decision would not alter at all, and I WOULD and WILL highly recomend it to anyone interested. The only thing I would change, would be the time of year we attended, we both would have loved to see the farm in all its summer glory, especially the wooded areas, with the orchids in bloom.
Torwen and Torddu Welsh Mountain sheep
Debbie gave us a link for a gentleman in Scotland,who breeds, rare breeds. We will be persuing that when we move up there, the information on rare breeds was fantastic, we both didn't really consider that you could preserve a species by eating it, but, now we are actively looking at getting our new employers interested in rare breeds, for both food, and breeding stock, whether we succeed in this, or not, I'm not sure, but we will keep you informed of our progress. Any one interested in this type of thing, whether just for the purposes of research, or, because you are changing your lifestyle can find more information at
both Debbie and Andrew are fantastic, no question, however stupid you may think it sounds, is to them.