Summary and vision

Do you enjoy the cut and thrust of business life? I was OK at faking it but I’m much happier out of it. You are blessed with a partner who is smart. Do everything you can to support her and maybe she’ll let you retire early, while you can still cycle. Worked for me!

We don’t own the Sydney house, now. We sold that, which cleared our mortgage on the Adelaide house, then we sold that and we’re living, carefully, on the proceeds. We had a bit in our retirement fund that was planned to top us up in a couple of years (I’m 56). Almost all in Apple shares, by gum. We put our money where our mouths were and the Gods have smiled.

The beneficiary of our comfortableness has been Warland Farm, so I’ll give you a brief idea of what we’re doing here:
• fenced in most of our twenty acres and planted 15,000 native trees to replace long-lost woodland and to establish firewood coppices (this will also prevent erosion and help reduce flooding in towns downstream).
• established a couple of acres of meadow, orchard and forest garden to feed us (no animals but we might have to eat the squirrels, deer, rabbits, pigeons etc that invade)
• learnt all about bee-keeping and established an apiary (Monica’s new passion, as well as clog dancing).
• set in train plans and permissions to convert the big barn to an apartment and a bunkhouse; and to build another barn to put all the crap out of the big barn into.
• established a semi-pro joinery using no equipment younger than myself; plus a smithy that’s just waiting for its forge to be built.
• ranked up a list of minor building projects including a bakery, brewery, pottery, green wood workshop, japanese bath house (in the woods).
• moving towards conversion from oil-fired heating and cooking and grid electricity to solar power and firewood.
• adopted the canal and cycle path that pass by the meadow and started to improve those.

All of the motive power for these projects comes from porage. The land is too steep for tractors and independence is our style, so we’ve learnt to be efficient with scythe, maul, twibil, side axe, froe, boy and banker: a wondrous collection of odd tools and the ancient crafts they serve. We’ve learnt about timber framing, fencing, woodwork, metalwork, ecological building design, forestry, permaculture, green wood work. This year’s courses include basket-weaving (we are planting Osier), lime mortars and dry-stone walling. The last of these will be based here, perhaps the first of Warland Farm’s rebirth as a centre of culture and craft. Our visions is for all of the skills, from clogging to coppicing to blacksmithing to have a life here and for the farm to once again be an example of a valued centre of hamlet life. I imagine each of the crafts folk gathering in the yard or barn, after their day’s efforts, to eat from the bakery oven and drink the brewery’s tipple, inspiring each other’s skills and sharing folk music and dance. The bunkhouse will have a small performance space and a tiny green room. The barn walls will display art and craft and local history.

Monica is also taking care of her aged parents, in Manchester, and we both have big families to keep in touch with. Tasks we side-stepped by living in Australia. In September, I cycled the Gloucester, Kennet & Avon and Grand Union Canal tow paths over two weeks, staying with friends and relatives every night. It was a great way to check in with a good proportion of the folk we left behind; this lot have all fallen under London’s gravitational pull. Sustrans were one of the first recipients of Lottery funding—£23 million—which they used to set up a national cycle route network. It was a shock, when I returned, to see that there are now more miles of cycle routes than I’ll live to ride along. Just before we left, we were inaugural riders on Sustrans’ first, hand-weeded railway track: about ten miles between Bristol and Bath. I revisited that, too, on the expedition and the trees now meet over the path and it’s hard to see out to the farmland it crosses.

The first year we mowed the meadow, I learnt to carry a huge pile of hay on my back using just a piece of string, looking like a walking haystack. Monica was heard to exclaim, ‘I’m living in a f…ing Breugel!’. Turns out she wasn’t wrong. When we lived in Bristol, before travelling to Australia, we had ‘Hunters in the Snow’ on our chimney-breast, looking at it every day. Dunno where that print went and hadn’t thought about it until it snowed recently. Looking out of the window, I recognised the arrangement of elements in our view that is almost identical to one of my favourite and most familiar artworks. How weird is that? My subconscious must have registered it when I first viewed the place. I’ve managed to convince a few old Warlandians that it was actually painted here; one refuses to believe I was pulling her leg even though her house, on the left, is Victorian. Sorry for the pants picture; now that I’ve registered the coincidence, I’ll get crafting to create a better photo. And I’ll have to leave those trees standing!

I had set aside some dough for a treat, to build a Caterham Seven kit car, but I’ve discovered I’m not that guy any more so I blew it on camera kit: Canon, mainly, but with the desktop bits, too. I really missed my cameras since they were swiped from Edward Street and I hope to get back to taking some photos. This is quite a handsome area, with nicely moody weather so, insh’Allah, I’ll find the inspiration to take the time to get out with the kit. Maybe I’ll shove some up on t’Interweb some time, too. I took a quick look at yours: nice use of colour and grads. Much ‘shopping? I get pretty confused by Photoshop now, all those non-destructive layers, which is sad considering I was once an expert. 

Was out at a concert last night—African Cora and mixed Reggae—great fun in a small venue. When I realised that the place was almost identical in size to my proposed barn venue, I spent most of my time checking out the lighting, acoustics, bar location etc. Kind of fun.

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