Home & Shop Companion #0032
letter from a small corner of far away
Dear Lynn, dear Everyone,
As I was cycling the five miles back from visiting my mum on Friday, [on my wife’s bike with a battery and motor which helps my left knee, especially on the hill] I came across a neighbour out with his pony and exercise cart. Now retired, he goes out every day, driving down to the canal where the pony can graze the wide verge between the road and the water. As I slowed down, we exchanged a few words, and as I continued homeward, I mused on the pleasures of slow muscle-powered transportation.
The lanes around here are narrow and winding, scarcely wide enough for two vehicles to pass carefully, with high hedges and trees which obscure much of a view ahead, all of which exerts a civilising influence on motorists. Not surprisingly, the area is popular with recreational cyclists, though the fast ones wearing lycra tend to stay on the wider faster roads, their faces glued to the tarmac. But when I am on a bicycle, I want to sit up tall, to see where I am, to spot the buzzard perched on the top of a telegraph post and see what is happening in the fields.
For appreciating your surroundings, a horse is even better, and twenty years ago it was always me who was out with a horse. Back then I rented land during the growing season, so for exercise in winter I had to either turn Molly out in the tiny paddock at the end of the garden if the ground was dry or frozen, or put on harness and drive her on the road. So from being two years old, she was driven five or six days a week, not necessarily for very long each time, but more than enough to make it a consistent and comfortable activity. If there was someone out walking, we would often stop and have a chat. Since I work on my own, I enjoy the social interaction, and it was also a good excuse for Molly to learn to stand contentedly. This became such a regular occurrence that whenever we encountered anyone Molly would stop without me asking, unless I urged her onwards, an example of how we train our horses in everything we do, often unintentionally and sometimes unhelpfully.
In stark contrast to these slow local days, earlier this week I did a long journey in the car, the first time since early March. In normal times this is a regular part of my life, because the instruments I make need to be seen and played, but only now are musicians starting to meet and play together again. Although I enjoy the interaction with musicians, I don’t like the long car journeys on fast and congested roads, but that is the price I pay for living where I do. But there is also a wider cost, witnessed by the small amount of money that has gone on petrol these last months; in fact during the first fourteen weeks of the pandemic I drove only 250 miles, and eighty of them were to collect equine medication. For those weeks at least, if you figure in the gains from our solar panels during the clear bright days of April and May, our carbon footprint was getting nearer to a sustainable level.
For my second part of my journey this week I drove into the organised chaos of the northern outskirts of London , driving through what were once villages, with mature trees and winding roads dating back to that time before they were swallowed up into the great conurbation a hundred years ago, and where, if you wanted to buy a house today, you would have to sell your farm. On the street where I got out of the car, a young man with a long beard, short sleeves and an enthusiastic demeanour, was pushing a small child in a buggy, deep in conversation with his four or five year old daughter walking alongside, as they walked back from the local shops. On a warm September afternoon, this part of the city was a pleasant place to be, but heading homeward past utilitarian warehouses, unkempt car parks, onto the bigger ill-mannered roads, past dilapidated and dirty buildings and onto the motorway, I couldn’t avoid reflecting on how much effort it takes to keep these big cities functioning, where for every pleasant cared-for street there is a similar area consigned to neglect and ugliness.
Nearing home three hours later, I got out of the car at the field, breathing in the freshness of the cooling evening air, to check on the horses and give Molly her evening feed. Although I don’t drive the car to the field very often, they must recognise the sound, as both horses lifted their heads and pricked up their ears. After a long and tiring day, a big smile spread across my face; home at last!
Since then, I have had a few steady days. In the workshop I have been making a new front door to replace the one that is rotting all too quickly, and in the field, I put Lucy in the sledge and have spread composted manure on the ground for next year’s potatoes. Once done, I lightly incorporated the manure with the cultivator, knocking out numerous small grass seedlings which have germinated in the last ten days. Whether there will be enough time to get another weed strike before sowing a rye and vetch cover crop, I am not sure. Traditionally, the 20th October was seen as the ideal time to sow winter wheat, but since I am not growing a crop for harvesting, an earlier sowing will grow away more quickly and lock in any available nutrients, providing a better soil covering over winter. Whilst I had the sledge in the area, I also loaded up the onions, which have been lying on top of the soil for a week or so and brought them home. After sorting out any damaged ones for immediate use, the rest are now on the staging in the greenhouse to further dry out, so they will keep until early next summer.
And that, such as it is, is the news from here.
William Castle is a violin maker, farmer & SFJ contributor who lives in Shropshire, England.