4TH - 16TH. MAY 2005

A fortnight full of work, pleasure and surpises. It's been good.

The Sunday before last I was clearing some waste area for a new compost heap when I saw a family the other side of the stinging nettles.
It turns out that 'Dad' used to live in Ashford and 'Mum' is a regular visitor to the web site. They were down here visiting relatives and popped down the lane to have a peep.
Luckily it was one of my few Sundays at home. It was also lucky they found me actually doing some work !
In fact it was the first couple of days I'd had off for weeks and it was catch up time consisting of more sowing (much of my first sowings of veggies came to nothing due to the weather I think), more digging, clearing the strawberries, cleaning the big greenhouse, cleaning the hen house and I don't know what else.

Anyway, it was an absolute pleasure to meet them, Abigail and Michael introduced themselves to the chickens and the chickens were pleased to have company. A very fine experience indeed.

The next really nice thing to happen is a colleague at work gave me his old car ! With only half the mileage of my old Nissan, 4 years younger and very clean, it was a bargain for the 12 eggs I gave him. Well actually I haven't yet as the chickens are a little quiet at the moment.

Sometimes I certainly land on my feet, but am surrounded by many nice people who are truly nice to know.

A fine cricket match against Hampshire took place but ended in a draw with Kent just hanging on at the end. I don't know who writes the scripts for some of our games, but whoever it is must have shares in Valium !
It meant entertaining Australias Shane Warne which was nice. He scored his first ever first class cricket 100, so all in all, the game hit the headlines and attracted many autograph hunters.

So I've re-sown carrots, beetroots and lettuce and hope this weather of rain, sunshine and late frosts will shortly come to an end. During the cricket match they were playing in only 9 degrees !
Besides that, the garden is looking pretty good at the moment. Certainly there are no problems with various salad plants growing in the greenhouses.
Last year we had tomato blight and have our fingers firmly crossed that we've done enough cleaning to prevent it happening again.
There is nothing worse than to see your produce really racing along and suddenly stopping half way.

Next week I'm in a Hotel for 6 days at Tunbridge Wells for cricket. It's my favourite venue outside of Canterbury. The ground is surrounded with Rhodedendrun bushes which, with luck, should just about be blooming when we are there.
Not only that but the Local Council look after us well and nothing is enough trouble for them. In the evenings I have a stroll around the old town and enjoy a jaunt along the Pantiles.
Leo comes up on the Friday evening through til Sunday.
It's a good break and a joy to see so many spectators who always come.

I've noticed today that I have a broody hen. This can be quite a pain and you have to watch that they get outside the hen house or they're sitting on the eggs the whole time.
Retreiving the eggs usually meets with a peck or two.
The only other thing to do is to put the hen in an open single pen and shut her in all day so she gets over it, but I prefer that nature takes it's course. This can go on for a good 3 / 4 weeks sometimes, especially at this time of the year.

So, all good positive stuff going on down the lane. What does the next fortnight bring ?!

18th. April - 4th. May 2005

Sun and rain seems the order for the last two weeks and the garden, especially the grass, has gone into overdrive. I've found myself trudging the lawn mower around twice in only 6 days.
Someone told me that this part of Kent is at least two weeks behind London for greenery, obviously to do with the late snow we had. Nature is on catch up.

Something's eaten all my baby spring onions. By the way the cats are hanging around the vegetable patch I can only think it's mice or voles etc. I've promised them an extra sachet of Sainsburys Cat food if they clear them for me, but my requests seem to go on stoney ground and they just turn over on the sofa and go back to sleep.

Other than that, everything is springing up; broad beans, tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers, onions etc. I have to strim over the old bonfire area for the Squash to go into. They seem to thrive on terrible soil so, without wishing summer away, I look forward to roasted squash soup in the Autumn.

On the cricket scene, Kent have started the season quite well but results hard to come by because of the weather.
I've just finished a long run of work. Last week I worked 6 days of 13 hours a day and was somewhat pleased for a rest. However, I had another two day job to do and got that done as well. Since 22nd. March, I've had three days at home !

2005 is not proving to be a lucky one so far down in Southampton. First Thomas developing rhumatoid artiritis, then a week ago getting the chicken pox.
Emily, who has been suffering with bad excema for a few months, also developed chicken pox and the combination of the two infected her skin and she ended up in hospital last week.
Leo and myself popped down at the weekend for semi 'Thomas sitting' and 'assistance' . Not the best of times to visit, but great to be there and help as much as we are able.
One day we'll have a virus free weekend there !
Poor kids, enough is enough I think and for Vicky who adores them and is such a brilliant mother. Plus I mustn't forget Cyril who adores them all.

It is, when these 'emergancies' hit us, that the reason for downshifting becomes more real. I read an article which explained that through a survey, the largest of people downshifting did it for more quality time with their families and have more control on their time.
Certainly, it would have been hard to pop down to Southampton as much as I have this year had I been in full time salaried employment. The only materialistic downer is the work you may lose because of that. But that should all be taken care of in the plan of things so to speak.
You can lose say three days work and wonder how you're going to make ends meet. But fate, if there is such a thing, seems to allow for certain things and I'm still here to tell the story at least.
A good example is after I spent a lot of time away in January, extra work suddenly became available at the Cricket Club. I had no idea this was to happen, but it solved the problem.

During the summer months I'm trying to put together a DVD of pages out of the web site, plus a few extras. As a forerunner to this, I have done a 30 minute DVD of events during late winter and early Spring, plus the 3 minute clip from the Meridian TV programme I was in last October, a short piece on battery hens and the epic 5 minute version of 'The Great Escape'.
If you would like to buy a copy at £5, it is being sold exclusively through my friends at acountrylife.com. For the page featuring the DVD, please click here .
Don't expect an education, but you can see maybe what 'new life' is to me through the eyes of a downshifter.

So, back to reality and a good clean of the chicken shed. For the first time on Sunday I got 11 eggs from 11 chickens ! Who said that ex-battery hens are no good !
Maybe it's because they know they are stars of stage and screen now !

5th - 18th. April 2005

Oh dear, I'm going to struggle for things to say - 13 days at the Cricket Club since my last entry with one day off !
I'm back to work tomorrow until next Tuesday, then a 3 day decorating job for a valuable customer of mine. After that I have about 20 more windows to paint at the big house opposite; all sash and haven't seen a paint brush for about 15 years !

The pro's are that there's money going into the Bank (this may cause an decrease in the national lending rate, so beware) and I haven't a lot of time to spend it !
The cons are I have to do the gardening either in the dark or at 6 am and the bones are grinding !

It is odd how the body and mind work though. Today I'm off and gladly going about the business of cleaning the windows, doing some strimming and clearing out the shed.
In winter I find self motivation a huge problem, have a list and do nothing. Yet in Spring and Summer I'm virtually up for anything and chase myself around.

The Cricketers have a new Exercise Bike in the Dressing Room and it has a Pulse rate 'thingy' on it. You attach it to your ear (I thought they were winding me up first of all). I 'cycled' 3 miles the other day at 15mph and only had a pulse rate of 90. Either I'm incredibly fit or I'm already dead and this is my after life !!

On Wednesday, Thursday and Friday we were playing a friendly against Cardiff University and only got 4 hours play out of the 3 days ! Although enabling me to do a few other bits for the Club, it means that as soon as the Umpires call it a day, the players have a game of touch rugby and I end up going home at exactly the same time as if they'd played !
Most days I've been out of the house for 13 hours.

I woke up in the night on Saturday and heard the foxes about. Now is the time where you inspect your defences around the chicken house and pen. I've added some of that plastic 'road work' type fencing around the perimeter fence, hanging down the side and ensured all the jagged chicken wire around the top is jagged.
The hen house itself seems fairly secure, but I've though that before and been met with the quietness as I've walked up the garden.
Foxey doesn't give up easily and if there's the slightest loophole - he'll find it.

I've nothing against foxes. In fact I think they're beautiful creatures, but I don't think that so much when I fing 8 or so dead chickens at 7am in the morning !
Precaution is the major key word and at this time of the year, even more so.

My neighbours are moving to France shortly and are giving me yet another greenhouse. This will make three; two 8' x 6' and one 12' x 8'.
Maybe it's time to invest in a good heater and grow through the winter.
We ate the last of last years runner beans yesterday but still have sprouts, tomatoes, broad beans and onions stored. I'd say we've been 80% self sufficient, so not bad I think.

Other than that, the slugs are back, so it's out with the two year old soot and surround the beds. But not all 'returnees' are unwanted. How nice it is to see the busy bees humming round the flowers, frogs in the bath (the garden one that is). Watching nature to a background music of bird song, lawn mowers and cricket balls is about as perfect as it can be, for me anyway !

22nd.March - 5th. April 2005

My cunning plan for protecting the cats from using the newly dug vegetable patch as a luxury toilet has come to fruition. A few broken bread containers from a Skip has solved it (see left) !
So hopefully my 110 onions will get a free run and provide plentiful provision for chutney making at the end of summer.
The other main ingredients are also under way. Tomatoes are growing on the south facing window shelf (even this meant building an extra shelf because the cats would knock them over), cucumbers are sown, as are a few peppers etc.

My second early potatoes are on the north facing window sill chitting away happily. I've also sown some spring onions, beetroot and lettuce.

The annoying thing is I'm hardly ever at home when the time comes to eat everything as I'm being amply fed at the Cricket Club !

The chickens are enjoying pre-season training. All the left overs from the kitchen duly arrive in my little room and I sort out what they would like before getting thrown away. They are somewhat partial to jacket potatoes, rice, bacon sandwiches and the occasional bit of fruit cake !
Before the 'purists' say I shouldn't be feeding them with this - it's the fourth season now and I haven't had a chicken die of food poisoning yet, I haven't either and if they don't think something's right for them, they won't eat it anyway. And as for the eggs.....no problems there !

It's good to get the cricket season under way again, although it is harder work than previously due to some extra bits and bobs of work coming my way. With that plus some other work for the Club after I get home, I'm becoming 'Mr Kent himself' I think !!
But I do enjoy it so, I love the buzz of competition, meeting so many people from all walks of life and being with some of the greatest players around.

To cap it all I was really pleased that one of the Kent Team is thinking of having some chickens shortly and asked my opinion. It appears he has also seen the 'River Cottage' series !

There's a short piece about me on the Kent Web Site - go to 'Latest News' on www.kentccc.com and look for 'Dressing Room (and Attendant) wakes up'.

Last weekend Leo and myself went to Southampton and although I only had six virus's to select from my Grandchildren, I was only allowed one and have yet another cold. I'm almost buying the throat tablets before I go down there so they're ready for me on my return !

I'm now on a stint of working non-stop until the 27th.April. The only two days I have off cricket are being spent doing a decorating job for someone. So no peace for the wicked and I'm plodding along.
My classic start to the season began with a beautiful pick up and throw back to the wicket keeper on the first day. I successfully pulled something in the shoulder and suitably reminded I am not 27 years old still.

Oh what joy ! It's that time of the year which is over run with pleasurable things to do, but not enough time to do them in.
Never mind, May is a little easier and I can hopefully get those 'I'll do that next week' jobs done, the garden will start being productive and start eating some omelettes and fresh salad.

8th - 22nd March 2005

Panic has crept into Bramley Cottage. With all the snow I didn't think much about the garden and last Saturday, when the temperature was 18 degrees !, I looked up my calendars from previous years and saw the things I was sowing at that time.
This at least gave me a plan for the rest of the weekend and Leo, who was here, had to persevere Dad digging, tidying, cleaning and general preparation.
We did at least get out for a couple of hours albeit to buy some seeds and potatoes.

Somehow I managed to get it all done and the soil is all ready for sowing quite a lot over Easter.

I'm now Monday - Fridays plus a few weekends at cricket til early May, so Easter is about the only time I have spare for three weeks.
I finished working in the Office yesterday and have now moved down into the Dressing Rooms. Quite a difference !
The players start training at the ground on Thursday and I'm quite excited about it. I have seen most of them over the past few weeks, but there's nothing like seeing them 'where they should be'.

The first few days of pre-season training entails the issuing of new kits and this keeps me somewhat busy. But, loads of empty plastic bags, pins and boxes to bring home which I shall find some use for.
I shall be doing some work in the Office still. I believe this to be web site work and getting match day scorecards and programmes going. It would seem a busy summer is coming.

Strange that, outside of family, my two favourite things - garden farming and cricket happen in exactly the same 6 / 7 months of the year. I need the winter to get myself back to some form of normality, if that's possible !

The chickens are still doing me proud with 5 to 7 eggs a day. I am wary that the fox is about and will soon be having extra mouths to feed. Always a problem time of the year.
I spent some of the weekend hours strengthening up the defences. The problem is the chicken wire I used to put above the corrugated iron fencing is the wire I was using to put over the newly sown seeds.
Although the chickens themselves won't be out and about, the two cats see this time as 'Dad' building a lovely lose soiled No.2's toilet !
So I have 4 days to devise a cunning plan.

I tell you, there's a few rats about ! See the movie clip on the left. It's a bit like a McDonalds Drive Thru ! They've formed little one way lanes accross the grass. I'm sure there's one the other side of the fence taking orders.

I fixed up a combined DVD / Video player for a neighbour the other day and they kindly gave me their old VHS Player. Nothing wrong with it, stereo etc. In fact they only used it a couple of times because they lost the zapper.
This will enable me to put a lot of my old VHS stuff onto DVD without having to unplug half of downstairs. So good news and a good saving on cost.

I've been filming quite a lot lately with my video camera and am making a kind of try out DVD of Down the Lane.
In the summer, between everything else, I hope to produce a DVD as a 'movie version' of the web site, which I shall become a millionaire overnight (that means in my dreams !).

So, Spring has sprung and another summer to look forward to. A combination of leather against willow, trowel against soil and clucks from the henhouse. It's looking good !

Going back to look at the future

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