Thursday, 16 August 2012


Malcolm has just ordered a mountain bike and lycra from Amazon. Looks like we're definitely staying!

An agricultural show

Charlotte's Web is my only point of reference for an agricultural show. I didn't realise they still take place. And with such sincerity!

Our village is blessed with an annual stonker of a show. It's beautifully sited on windswept fields, with views across to Pendle Hill (which reminds me - I haven't even mentioned the anniversary of the witch trials...) and it's a hive of farmyard activity mixed with bouncy castles and the odd community tent.

You've probably been there done that, but indulge me for a moment as I expose my ignorance and take you into the poultry marquee.

The sides are stacked high with prize-winning birds. Look for the red rosettes and you can see who's won 1st prize. Then look closer in a vain attempt to determine why. "Superb crest," I find myself saying. "Luxurious feathers..."

More challenging is the table of egg specimens. Plates of blue eggs, grey eggs, dark brown, light brown... alongside plates of cracked open eggs! Here my powers of discernment fail me.

I'm strangely relieved the next day when a friend mentions that her dad once won with eggs bought from Asda. (Shhhh, don't tell the judges.)

Olympic bubble

We've arranged a house swap for a week over the Olympics! A Lancashire farm for a Hackney terrace. Magic. 

We're the only people we know who actually got Olympic tickets first time round, then we carelessly move away from London and rent out our house. Doh.

Fortunately, some friends agree to guinea pig sit and brave the boggy moors while we borrow their scooters and indulge in a bit of park and pavement life.

It's awesome. From the pink volunteers' welcome at Kings Cross station, through the smartened up and relatively empty London streets, to a vibrant Olympic Park and a treasure trove of medals.

Not a good time to consolidate plans to stay up north.

Then again, returning to blissful sunshine, Agricultural Shows, riverside capers, biking with Bradley Wiggins... we're definitely seeing the best of both worlds.

The Olympic bubble will burst and the Lancashire rain will return. And us? Well we've decided to take the path less travelled by, at least for a little bit longer.

Saturday, 14 July 2012

Wine tasting and cattle grids

We haven't been on many nights out since our move. And they've all ended in a drive back home with at least one of us sober.

So I positively leap at an invitation to a wine tasting with some mums from school. Only nearer the event do I consider the logistics. Quick google: the last bus for the pretty village with the wine bar leaves at 15:10. I briefly consider cycling then reluctantly conclude that I'll be needing a taxi.

Sensing my dire need for a girls' night out, my husband kindly offers to drop me off. (This means the kids have to come along for the ride. They look very bemused at mummy dressing up for once. "You can't go like that!" Rosa caringly advises, when I'm still wearing combat trousers with five minutes to go.)

The wine tasting is extremely tasty, without a spittoon in sight.

We share a taxi home and, funnily enough, I'm the last person to be dropped off. The taxi reaches the top end of the village and I don't dare ask the driver to navigate our long, pot-holed lane. Instead I walk through the semi-darkness, aware of sheep looming on either side and the wind off the moors. Its a far cry from shifty shadows and 24/7 traffic on London streets.

I can't remember crossing a cattle grid tipsy before. Suddenly the thought of crossing two fills me with pure joy. I skip up the farm track, a ridiculous grin on my face, grateful that I didn't choose heels and safe in the knowledge that the sheep won't tell.

Wednesday, 11 July 2012


There's a hedgehog in the road on the way to school today. I don't think I've ever seen a real live hedgehog before. Joe certainly hasn't. We stop the car and walk over to it. I ignorantly expect it to run away but instead it slowly tightens into a ball.

There's probably a whole prickle of hedgehogs in London, but seeing one up close in the countryside gets me thinking about our impending dilemma: should we stay or should we return?

Our year is nearly up. We've thrown ourselves into it, established an enjoyable rural life, experienced the other extreme and seen up close its pros and cons. Now my husband's project and our excuse for being here is coming to an end. So do we find other excuses to stay?

I feel like that hedgehog. Faced with uncertainty, I'd like to just curl up in a ball and see what happens. Think we'd better move one way or the other though, before the next car comes round the corner.

(In case you're worried, I gently moved the hedgehog to the side of the road with my foot. It wasn't there on our return journey.)  

Wednesday, 13 June 2012

Coming to a canal near you

I miss having my parents nearby.

It's not that they were nearby when we lived in London, but then none of my friends had family nearby so we all just mucked in together. Here, everyone seems to have relatives down the road, including ourselves.

But they're not my parents.

That's why the last two weeks - when Mum and Dad chugged up North on their narrow boat and moored in various beauty spots along the Leeds-Liverpool canal - have been such bliss.

We've popped in for morning coffee or tea and cake after school. We've had day trips through tunnels and locks and swing bridges. We've explored the cotton wharfs in Burnley and the tea rooms at Gargrave. Rosa's stayed the night, on best behaviour, and Joe's had regularly doses of terrorising the dog and playing chess on Mum's iPad.

We've waved them off now, on their long trip back South. Of course, it's infinitely quicker by car, even with the caravan in tow, but it's not got the same novelty value. I think everyone should have grandparents nearby on a narrow boat.

Euros, please

What to do on a dry afternoon in half-term before a cheeky long weekend in France? Walk into the village to collect some holiday reading and some Euros, of course.

The fifteen-minute amble takes more like half an hour when there are sheep pooing (which still fascinates the kids), bunnies hopping out of the way and 4x4s roaring past.

Only 10 minutes before the library shuts and we're stopped by Rosa's Rainbows leader. She wants to show us her newly-hatched chicks. A fluffy cuddle later and we just manage to get our books out. (The library's only open two afternoons a week but within that time there's a half hour tea break, naturally...)

Then we cross the road to collect our Euros. Hooray for village post offices that have avoided the cull. Loaded with blue notes, we trek back up the lane and through the fields. Sheep still pooing, cattle grids always a good challenge, stiles and gates our alternative climbing frames and 'St Tropez tomorrow, darling' the least likely thing in the world.

Monday, 21 May 2012

Walk to school week

This week is officially 'Walk to school week' at Rosa's school. Great. I love the idea.

I didn't love it so much in London when it was a twice-daily event that involved dragging two reluctant children the length of three streets, up a flight of concrete steps, through an estate and across a busy road - especially when one child wasn't even attending the school, didn't see why he should be dragged there too, refused to be strapped in a buggy anymore and ended up being carried against his will. And that's all before it started raining.

But now that we've landed ourselves in a rural idyll that requires a car journey to school I look back fondly on our more environmentally-friendly days of city living and yes the ironies continue to confound me.

Solution (at least the temporary one so that I can get a sticker from Rosa's class teacher): to cycle. It's too far and dangerous and hilly for Rosa to ride her own bike so I've dusted off my kid's bike seat (a nifty one that goes at the front), found our IKEA family high visibility jackets and volunteered to be a two-wheeled taxi service. (Crucially, Malcolm is working from home, so I can leave Joe with him - phew.)

Rosa and I set off with high spirits, plenty of time and total ignorance of the outside temperature. The wind is howling through the valley, the sun has yet to break through the clouds and poor Rosa is a shivering windbreak, her frozen fists clenched around the handlebars.

Through sheer determination, we make it with time to spare and receive a faint round of applause from the mums in the playground. No sticker mind you. And I still have to cycle home to relieve Malcolm of child number two.

The forecast is better for tomorrow. Perhaps we'll try it again. Might even take a picnic breakfast this time...

Thursday, 26 April 2012

Not so rural

Much of my blog has been about the rural side of rural life, since that's what's so different and refreshing and challenging to a Londoner. What I haven't really mentioned is the community and infrastructure and 'urban' possibilities. So, to set the record straight, here's a snapshot of the other side of rural life as we know it.

The local village has its own library. OK, so it's only open on Tuesday and Friday afternoons but, once you remember that, there's a decent supply of books on tap. It also has its own Brownies and Rainbows groups that my daughter is loving (they held newborn lambs last week and made snail runs the week before). The village's first wool festival - Yarnival - took place last month, and the Jubilee Parade, Scarecrow Competition and Agricultural Show are all yet to come.

Parking for the school run is a nightmare. Many people drive and the school's on a steep, narrow lane, so you either get there early or late or look for alternatives...

The pub car park is one alternative, although the pub has recently re-opened so it's really for customers only. The upside is that there's now a place to go for coffee before pick-up and it has a roaring log fire. Needing to go for coffee in order to justify the parking space is perhaps taking it a bit too far though.

There are a couple of great parks a short drive away, although driving through the countryside to reach a park feels counter-intuitive, when I'm used to parks being the green lungs of the city. They do provide the best opportunity for little kids to ride their bikes though, since pavements are infrequent and uneven.

The local town has three theatres. How this is sustainable I'm not quite sure but Paul Daniels and the Moscow Ballet have been here in the last year, and the Pendle Production of The Sound of Music brought tears to my eyes (for all the right reasons).

The local Sainsbury's is the most pleasant supermarket experience I've had in a long time. Spacious, well-stocked, uncrowded - hopefully this doesn't mean it's struggling and going to close soon.

Job opportunities may not be so wide-ranging, but there are many people taking the initiative to combine what they enjoy/are good at with family life, e.g. a freelance photographer, a lady who runs her own dance school (and has a pink 4x4 to match), husband and wife teams running a hairdresser's, a car showroom, a windows and conservatories business...

Perhaps you'll think I'm stating the obvious, but these things weren't obvious to me before we moved, and they all contribute to the perennial city versus countryside conundrum.

Saturday, 21 April 2012

Geocaching and mole bashing

We've just discovered geocaching: using GPS and a few cryptic clues to uncover treasure boxes hidden all over the place. Surely this is the ultimate walk incentive.

Today we decide to break the kids in gently with a couple of drive-bys. Our day is already pretty random, watching a children's theatre show in a working auction market. The kids love it and the parents are in awe of anyone who can sustain such a camped up performance. At 11.30am. Sober.

The short-cut home takes us over the moor. We park by a cattle grid and hold high the sacred iphone as it counts down the number of metres to our destination. Frantic searching reveals a plastic tube in the hollow of a tree trunk. We open our 'treasure' to reveal a scroll of names, a little plastic jewel and a fridge magnet. We solemnly add our names to the list and try to explain to the kids that it's the adventure and discovery that counts, not the actual treasure at the end.

Back at the farm we discover a different form of treasure hunting. Dozens of dead moles are laid out on wire netting. I inquire what they're going to be used for. Having discovered that people locally still abandon black kittens because they might be associated with witchcraft, I am very open minded.

Turns out the mole catcher has been. He sets traps in the fields then comes back to collect his victims. It's a lucrative business - £5 a mole. In this case, the actual treasure is crucial. The mole catcher must produce the goods as proof... and then leave them with the landowner to ensure he doesn't charge for the same mole twice.

Tuesday, 27 March 2012

The elusive chocolate chick

This freakishly good weather has even graced the Lancashire hills. With friends due round for lunch and a stroll, we're set up for a perfect Sunday. They bring wine for us and three chocolate chicks for the kids, which I quickly designate as walk incentives.

The initial steep farm track isn't the problem, it's the long gentle incline across the sheep field where the kids tend to go on strike. While we're admiring the views across the valley, they're already slumping behind. Chasing shadows is our friend's genius invention and gets us two thirds of the way. My idea to pretend a trough is a pirate ship has entertainment value, but also hampers progress.

It's time to talk chocolate chicks. They can only be found on high moorland and I'm giving my daughter the job of hiding them for the younger boys. Well that makes her scamper ahead in no time.

My son needs a different incentive. Romans. Hundreds of them. Up ahead. He glugs down his magic potion (I'm not allowed any because I fell into it when I was a baby) and we brandish out broken twig swords. Charge, bosh, biff, nearly up the hill.

The moors stretch out under a clear blue sky, but we have no time to stand and stare. Rosa's hidden the chicks and the hunt is on. Joe finds the first two in record time - one for him and one for his mate.

Now there's only one left and it remains stubbornly elusive. Four adults and three children search low and lower in the thick moorland grass. Try as she might, Rosa hasn't a clue where she hid the bright yellow foil-coated chick. She's understandably (and quite amusingly) pissed off.

Our walk incentive has seriously backfired. Now it's a lesson in sharing. Two between three. Sticky chocolate faces and fingers. A mini sugar high. Quick - let's get home before it wears off.

Friday, 23 March 2012

Things I like about Spring

Putting the washing out on the line. It never seems to dry but there's something about clean sheets billowing in the wind. Or maybe it's just the novelty of no rain.

Ducks in the garden. They waddle by, as if they own the place. To be fair, they've probably been in residence longer than we have, even if they are second-homers.

LAMBS. I actually feel quite privileged to be their neighbours and watch their infancy up close. At first it's obvious whose lamb is whose. The newborns nuzzle and stay close to mum. Then they begin to stretch their invisible umbilical cord only to be tugged back by a maternal bleat. "Baa baa" is far from accurate. It's more like a "Blerrghhh". Then mum begins to relax and suddenly six lambs are all frolicking together, while the mums just eat grass. I know the feeling (sort of).

It's lighter later. We even took Chicken Boat Mark 2 out for an
evening sail.

Curlews. Or rather being vaguely aware of different birds arriving en masse and deludedly deducing that this must be the centre of the universe.

Fresh eggs from the landlady. I think this has something to do with Spring, but perhaps more to do with her buying new chickens because the others weren't laying.

Sunday, 11 March 2012

The chicken boat

After roast chicken for Sunday lunch, Malcolm suggests a paper boat race down the stream. Creative, aesthetically pleasing, an excuse to get the kids out of the house... and ultimately a soggy flop.

It's the rapids' fault. One whoosh of water over the bows and an origami masterpiece is doomed. Even the long sticks we are allocated for legitimate boat assistance can't refloat a sodden, dissolving lump of wood pulp.

Almost reluctantly Malcolm reveals the reserve contender in his race armada. The roast chicken's plastic packaging. It has depth, it has a bow and a stern and, crucially, it's waterproof. Meanders? No problem. Rapids? Pretty good. Plunge pools? Nothing a flip with a stick can't solve. Tunnels? Best not to risk them.

The aborted race has now turned into operation Get Chicken Boat Down Stream, with purpose and determination. The kids would gaily carry on until we reach the sea, but luckily we reach a barrier at the end of the sheep field instead, and the chicken boat is retrieved for another idle Sunday.

Friday, 24 February 2012


The first lambs have appeared in the field by our house!

Admittedly, they were born a few months ago care of artificially-inseminated ewes and have been sheltering from sub-zero temperatures in the poly-tunnel barn across the farmyard. But they're our first sign of spring and the relief is palpable.

It's been quite a long winter.

Ok, so it's been nothing compared to last year, as the locals keep reminding me, but last year we were in a snug newly-built terrace in a pollution-heated city. This year I'm listening concurrently to rain ricocheting off the windows and news of "droughts in the South East of..." - double take - yes the newsreader really did say "England".

Then today the temperature creeps into double figures. We venture into the conservatory without needing five layers and the rain (temporarily) isn't battering on the plastic roof and we remember why we fell in love with this house in the first place.

City break

There isn't much hesitation when my husband asks what I'd like to do for the February half-term.
"A city break!"
"Lisbon?" he suggests. "Dubrovnik?"
Slight hesitation at the temptation of warmth, then quick resolve. "London."

We arrange to stay with good friends a stone's throw from our rented-out house. It's an opportunity to see a few more friends, catch a bit of culture and pound those pavements I'd longed to leave.

A trip to the ever-popular Natural History Museum in the middle of half-term isn't my brightest idea, and the buses and tube are still the buses and tube, but a change is as good as a rest, as they say. And I'm beginning to appreciate a side-effect of living so far away...

Overnight stays!

So long as we can persuade people to trek up north, or put us up down south, we get the added bonus of long wine-filled evenings when the kids are asleep, and breakfast in pyjamas with mates. Anyone fancy a visit?

Monday, 6 February 2012

Hooray for cricket

It's one of those days. Our tenants in London inform us their boiler's broken, our kitchen ceiling has an ominous leak, the car's playing up and we're nearly out of coal. A thick, cold fog envelopes our house and the kids get ratty.

Thank goodness my husband is working from home and thank Test Match Special for cricket. From the sunny climes of Dubai, via our invaluable internet radio, we hear the reassuring tones of England losing another test match and take a deep, calming breath.

Joe shows us how bowlers hold the ball: two fingers and a thumb pointing forward. "It's the sign for triceratops," he informs us.

Our landlady comes round and stabs our ceiling with a BBQ skewer, lancing the puddle of leaked water. She assures us that the plumber will fix it tomorrow. We arrange for a British Gas engineer to visit our tenants, book a coal delivery and send the car to the garage.

At some point, the sun manages to break out. We go outside to check the snowman and knock down some snow castles, and realise that the fog hasn't lifted - it's sunk... and we're now above it, looking across a shrouded valley to the next hillside.

I make a snowball to throw at Joe.
"Wait a minute," he says, and pops inside to get his cricket bat.
So I bowl snowballs at him, and I'm not sure what's more joyful: the snowball exploding on the upturned bucket stumps or Joe obliterating it with a straight drive.

Sunday, 5 February 2012

Sledging update

Rosa: It's quite fun actually.
Joe: I like falling in the snow best.

Most awesome are the icicles. Freezing rain has lashed onto any walls, fences, sheep or vegetation in its path. We remove whole sheets of glass-like ice from stones and posts, and unhoop icy cylinders from twigs and thick blades of grass. The icicles are still hanging on the sheep though.

Sunday, 29 January 2012

PLEASE can we go sledging?

SNOW! A Friday afternoon flurry. Enough for a white carpet, followed by a clear-skied freezing night. Perfect ingredients for a Saturday morning of sledging.

Finally the kids are wearing enough layers, albeit of inappropriate clothes (Rosa doesn't do trousers at the moment and Joe insists on wearing his all-in-one furry Thomas pyjamas). We head out the yard, over the cattle grid, up the sheep field and launch the sledge - first with me and Rosa, then with me and Joe.

Brilliant run. Nobody falls off. No sheep are injured. I run back up the hill to where Malcolm is patiently awaiting his turn, only to realise the kids aren't following. In fact, there's a definite air of mutiny. We have an uphill/downhill stand off. Then Rosa and Joe appear to come to an agreement. They're going home without us.

We watch in disbelief: beautiful sunshine glistening on the snow-kissed fields, our very own sledge run, and our children clambering over the cattle grid to get back home as quickly as possible.

Who needs kids anyway.
"Bags I sledge down the hill!"
"No, it's MY turn."

Wednesday, 25 January 2012

Jog in the fog

I'm beginning to get jogging, at least in this area.

We're surrounded by natural beauty and inclement weather.
Walking the moors has less appeal when it's cold, grey, drizzly and extremely boggy. Jogging along roads and farm tracks has the following advantages:
- it warms you up
- you don't need to put on five layers
- you're back home by the fire more quickly (and before it goes out)
- you feel entitled to that honey waffle with your mug of tea.

Of course there are also hurdles to overcome, namely:
- leaving the warmth of home in the first place
- braving the yard with the territorial sheepdogs
- feeling physically unfit and panting lots 
- getting past the hissing geese
- puddle hopping and mud skirting
- trying not to mind what passing drivers think.

I guess it's a case of matter over mind. Don't think, just do, breathe deeply, count the sheep and feel smug in the shower afterwards.

Friday, 20 January 2012

Sheep have caesareans too

It's bizarre how we can live on a farm in complete ignorance of farming. That's why I like talking to Farmer John.

The other night, while we were sleeping peacefully, he was across the yard snatching a few hours' kip in his car, waiting for one of the sheep's labour to progress. The early batch of lambs are top pedigree, artificially inseminated. One ewe needed a caesarean - an hour-and-a-half round trip to the vet's. Mum and baby are both doing well.

Are there any warning signs we should look out for in the lambing season? Apparently not. Farmer John has everything under control. The sheep are numbered in due date order and John's sideline in sonograms means he knows exactly what each sheep is expecting. Those carrying one lamb fend for themselves up on the hills. Those carrying two are lower down, with a heap of sugar beet. And those in the field next to us are carrying three or four. They get extra helpings.

I'm striving to share my newfound knowledge with my family. As the sheep obstruct the school run, I explain that they have baby lambs growing in their tummies. This leads to interesting questions such as "How do they come out?" and "Where are the Daddies?"

Meanwhile, Joe's been learning about babies at playgroup as well.
"When we were babies we drank milk from your boobies," he tells me. "It's called grassfed."

Sunday, 15 January 2012

Frozen Planet

The pale winter sun is struggling to melt the frosted grass. Wooden gates and stone walls are fringed with crystals. And, in the kids' eyes at least, the iced-up puddles are in desperate need of being broken. Trowel and stick in hand, they set about a bit of natural destruction.

Last night we snuggled under a duvet on the sofa, watching the Spring episode of David Attenborough's Frozen Planet. Today we're recreating it in the farmyard: watching the meltwater trickle under the sheets of ice, building penguins' nests out of little stones and, of course, breaking up the frozen troughs to make threatening icebergs.

The BBC blurb warns that Frozen Planet 'may be the last chance to witness these great wildernesses before they change forever.' I fear that's true of childhood too.

Monday, 9 January 2012

Why Joe doesn't want to go back to London

1) I don't want London, I want grass.
2) I want our new car.
(Actually it's a very old car - even has a tape deck - but don't tell Joe)

Friday, 6 January 2012

Table tennis

It's pretty cold in our farmhouse, as the wind whips sleet and hail against our windows. Not that I'm complaining. I can do layers, keep the hot plates open on the Aga, rig up a rug across the open doorway into the sitting room. Then there's the central heating. We've finally accepted that we cannot live on Aga and fire alone and have decided to TURN IT ON.

But there are still times when the chill sets in. Like this morning. The kids are at school and playgroup and Malcolm and I are working from home at the kitchen table. A couple of coffees later and our thick fleeces are struggling to keep out the cold.

Thank goodness the kids were given a junior ping-pong table for Christmas. It fits nicely in our sitting room. A couple of stonker rallies later and we're ready for another hour's work.

Sunday, 1 January 2012

Coming home?

We spend a very merry Christmas in Somerset with my parents. The kids are old enough now to make Christmas special and enable us to recreate the Christmas of our childhood, complete with being yanked out of bed at 11pm on Christmas Eve to see Dad (now Grandpa) preside over Midnight Mass in the local village church.

"Will Grandpa come back with us?" whispers Joe after the service.
I assure him he will.
"Will he put his clothes on first?"

On our return to Lancashire we take a detour via Sheffield for the funeral of Joy Hope, an inspiring 101-year-old and close family friend. We're a bit early and it's too wet for the park so we pop into Sainsbury's to kill some time. The post-Christmas toy/chocolate/clothes sale are a materialistic argument waiting to happen, so we steer the kids down the vegetable aisle instead. The only pretext I can come up with is buying a carrot for the guinea pigs (waiting patiently in the car). Funny looks at the check-out are a small price to pay for happy children who are allowed to hand over 20p, share the change, and give half a carrot each to Holly and Nutella.

Joy gets a good send off at her church. We sit precariously near the front and there's a tense moment during the address when the penny drops for Joe and he asks in a stage whisper, "Has Joy died?"
But all is soon forgotten over sausage rolls and cheese straws.

We continue our journey to Lancashire in the dark and I wonder what it will feel like returning to our rented farmhouse. Will it feel like coming home?

Well, no. Not immediately.

Then we pile into the house, open the post, light a fire and suddenly we are home. Rosa's happily telling a barbie story, Joe's happily transferred to bed, the guinea pigs are happily coo-ing in fresh sawdust.

And Malcolm and I? I guess we're happily here and happily us and curious as to what 2012 will bring.