Newsletter December 2010

Season’s greetings and best wishes for 2011!


Look Back

Here’s a little retrospective on 2010 at LSF. It’s been a good year. If you have been here, even briefly, you will know that. Throughout the year, events, courses, and workshops have all generated the kind of surprise, energy, action,

and delight that remind us that life really is for learning, people, and pleasure, a feeling we try to foster at Lower Shaw Farm! This makes our work worthwhile, and we are thankful.

Weather

Snow, falling snow on snow, at the beginning of the year, and the end, made the farm look splendid, pure, blanketed, snow white, and gave us all a fillip. Our outdoor Christmas tree looked happier and sparklier than ever in the snow. Downside of the Arctic weather was low temperatures, frozen pipes, and then burst ones. Thankfully, one farm-friendly ex-resident is a plumber!

Animals

In January, on what had been a perfectly normal day, Max, the farm dog, died, suddenly. During the morning, he’d watched wwoofers with wheel barrows working in the yard. In the afternoon, he went, with his walk-mates, for a favourite walk and run round the lake. At supper, he lingered near the table, as we ate crumble and sausages. His eyes were fixed on the latter. He got half one. Then he was given his own official evening dog meal. He ate a bit of it. Mid-evening, he started to stagger about. His tail went down, his nose was dry, and the light had gone out of his eyes. We guided him to his bed where he sank down and curled up, without complaint. We rang a neighbour, an experienced canine keeper. She said that his condition sounded serious and, even though it was after nine on a Sunday night, recommended we call a vet. We did, and took him in. The vet confirmed that his condition was grave. She spoke of possible causes, most likely embolism (arterial blood clot) or poison, or lesions. We hoisted him onto an operating table and the vet attached wires to his chest, a clip to his tongue, and put a tube down his throat. She did what she could but within the hour, Max was dead. And we were sad. We brought his body back to LSF and buried him deep in the bottom garden, between wish tree and hedge. - There are greater sorrows in the world than the death of a dog, we know, but this was ours, then.

Max had arrived at the farm ten years earlier as a one-year old ‘rescue dog’, something of a nervous wreck. Apparently, he’d had a rough puppyhood, bait to a pit-bull, and teased a lot. However, within a year or two, under the farm’s notorious tough love regime, he got over most of the adverse effects of his early traumas and settled in well. We miss Max, our farm-friendly complicated dog, but are thankful for his life and the life he brought to Lower Shaw Farm.

The poultry have been the subject of much discussion this past year, chiefly for two reasons: their great numbers and their low egg production. This is why. A couple of years ago, a nearby husband and wife split up. They decided to keep their children but get rid of their animals, including what they thought was a little golden hen. Since our main poultry keeper is a sucker for golden chicken nuggets, we took ‘her’ in. Within weeks of happy free ranging at LSF, the petite yellow pullet had turned into a giant golden cockerel, a Buff Orpington no less, a breed whose females are famed for broodiness. He got called Mr Bling and proved very popular with the best layers in the farm’s feathered flock. In cocky fashion, he mated frequently and freely. Soon, the farm was overrun with chicks. Within a few months, we had lots of lovely golden Mr Bling look- alikes, who’d lay very few eggs but were perpetually broody. The hen house became crowded. The food would not go round.

Only the mites that infested the flock were getting enough to eat. They thrived in crowded coops and arks. - Something drastic had to be done; and it was. We ate as many cockerels as we could and took the rest, plus a dozen Bling-related hens, to market. Next, we asked Lawrence, our farm-friendly sparky to set up lights and timer in the hen house, to fool the remaining hens into thinking that days were long and nights short, that they were living in a perpetual spring and summer time, and should really be laying more eggs. It worked! They do. All is well again. Man has ruled over beast and breeding. Poultry productivity is restored. We have a winter egg mountain!

Other feathered friends, but ones who would not let man rule them in any way, have had a good time here too. Last spring, for the first time in years, a pair of swallows returned to LSF. They were a great joy to us, as they swooped in and out of the woodshed, and, on their second attempt, produced three swallettes. En famille, they would sit on the wire, twittering, occasionally taking to the skies, skimming over rooftops, flying in great sweeping arcs round the farm, and always looking down on us. We certainly looked up to them, with their grace and beauty, so at home in the sky, on the wing. They are now far away, somewhere warm, while we are still here, fighting the cold. – Robins too, in their own territorial way, decided that LSF was right for them. One robin redbreast made regular forays into the Centre dining room, looking for crumbs, on table and floor.

During the Music Weekend, he came in for the cabaret finale, perched on a chair, cocked his head to one side, and looked as if he approved the sounds being made.

The trio of pigs, who fight over food but sleep snuggled up together, are still a strange attraction and, in terms of size, are going in different directions. Two are getting bigger by the day, while old Piggy Wiggy, though still eating like a pig, appears to be shrinking. He’s also developing strange habits, like twitching his back leg while eating; and generally moving in mysterious ways. - The sheep are still sheep-like, but one, Lou, has strayed, to a nearby farm, to meet a ram, and make a lamb. What will spring bring?

People

Near the end of the year, longest- term wwoofers ever and friendliest of co-workers, Claire and Melissa, loaded their belongings into Jake’s big white van and headed to a new home in Swindon. Melissa has a job at a local school and study with the OU, while Claire remains committed to helping people find physical health and well-being at the Next Gen gym. Thankfully, neither of them has forgotten the cycle routes that lead back to LSF and both are often on their bikes and regulars here for work, pleasure, and friendship.

Other key people who help keep LSF up and running include cool cook Josie, and wonderful wwoofers and helpers, who, in 2010, came here by the score. To a woman and a man, whether weekend, week-long, or long-term, they were all terrific. In other  words, with these words, we thank you dear wwoofer, volunteer, and helper. Though we know and recall you all, we cannot, for reasons of space, list your names here, but, at the risk of embarrassing him, we’d like to mention one serial wwoofer and fabulous farm friend who encapsulates the full spirit of wwoof that you all bring to LSF, namely Sergio from Spain. If ever there was a willing worker taking a worldwide opportunity at an organic farm, this special senor is he. If he and you all are able to maintain this spirit, LSF will continue to thrive for year s to come. Thank you.

Of long-term full-time residents, part- time and home-bred ones, Andrea, Matt, Rosa, Jacob, and Anna, remain well, in rude health, and up to all sort of sensible, silly, and life-affirming activities. The first looks well on hard work, gardening, yoga, and walking holidays; the second, on some work, a little Literature, lots of play, trips to Paraguay, and writing (see www.paraguay200.com); the third, on blooming sole trading (see www.rosabloom.com) parties, inventive work, and travel; the third, on defying gravity, partying, slackline walking and woodstoves; and the fourth, on intellectual rigour, parties, running, and emergencies (see www.redcross.org.uk). We all spent Christmas together and had one of the best snowy walks ever.

On Boxing Day, as the sun was setting, something amazing happened, high up between the giant poplar trees in the bottom garden. Jake, went sky- walking!

He had stretched a slack-line from one tree to another. Height, 40 feet. Length, 70 feet. He’d spent the day doing it, seriously, meticulously. Then, he walked across it. So as not to distract him, we crouched indoors by the sink in the Dairy, watching through the window, our hearts in our mouths. It was terrifying, brilliant, and beautiful. Something you expect faraway French professionals to do between skyscrapers in distant cities but not your own son between giant poplar trees in your back garden. Half way across, well clear of the trees, there was Jake, high, high up on the slack-line, silhouetted against the evening sky, focused and alone. We held our breath. Step by step, he made his way, swaying slightly, this way and that, arms raised to keep balance, so high up, step by step, till he reached the other tree. - He'd made it! And we'd endured it: three minutes of parental panic, exhilaration, and pride. (Yes, in case he fell, he had safety rope and harness.)

If you want to know more about residents and any other LSF- linked people, like erstwhile wwoofer and LitFest helper Manuela, who has given birth to baby boy Jakob, simply come here in 2011 and ask questions…

Events

These have been various, multitudinous, and, mostly, marvellous. The splendid improvements to the Hayloft have resulted in its constant use, especially for yoga and massage. Crafts, cooking, and Cafe (Wednesday and Writing) events have proved very popular; and the staples we love, in Spring, Summer, and Autumn have been so good they almost defy description, here. - New courses and uses of LSF have included an English Language Summer School, which, in terms of language, learning, and human contact, was rock an’ roll; the locally-inspired Inspire Project, for self-improvement and making changes; a conference for Natural England, which focused on green sustainability; a children’s centre Family Weekend, with campfire, treasure hunt, and football; and the Girl Diva group, whose activities included pizza-making, graffiti, and boxing.

Mysteries

There are things in life that we do not understand, either forever, or at least for a while. An instance of the latter occurred in mid- summer. Daily, in the mornings, we’d come down to find things re-arranged in the back porch. During the night, items of dirty washing, gloves, and mats, had been dragged, across the floor, into the yard, and towards the garden. Clearly, there was a Dragging Creature at work. As the dragging increased in frequency and volume, we speculated. Was it a feral cat? Was it a big badger? Was it a wild and dangerous puma? The more the creature dragged and the longer we were unable to discover what it was, the more our imagination got to work. One thing became obvious. We were clearly dealing with a Dragging MONSTER. Serious action needed to be taken. In an attempt to discover its identity, all residents and short-term wwoofers were enlisted, for night-watch duty. The following instructions were issued to night shift monster-watchers.

a) More than one person can sign up per shift.

b) Shifts can be 1 or 2 hours. Please indicate your choice.

c) All watchers must stay in the house.

d) From 11.59pm, yard and veranda are out of bounds.

e) Watching locations are Larder and Dairy, both via windows.

f) Watchers sighting ‘monster/creature’ may choose to observe it, photograph it, and/or, if it’s very big and they need help, wake other house-mates.

g) Watchers falling asleep on duty may not be treated kindly by other housemates, and are unlikely to go to heaven.

For one night, we watched, almost till daybreak, and then, falling asleep, went to bed. While we slept, the knowing monster came and did his dragging. So, the next night, we set up both watchers and, thanks to neighbours Rossi, a video camera too. There was a storm, and power cut, the video switched off, and once again, the dragging monster dragged undetected. – Now desperate but undaunted, we set it up again and were third time lucky! Next day, the recording was there for all to see: happily dragging to his heart’s content was one big, brave, brown, and furry fox!

Plans

Negotiations continue well, if slowly, to secure a long-term lease and future for Lower Shaw Farm. We are optimistic about a solution being found in 2011. One key step in this direction has already been taken. LSF is now a Cooperative for the Benefit of the Community. This is great news and means that we will soon be able to invite friends and supporters from near and far to become shareholders. Watch this space!

Peroration

One resident was recently asked, by the editor of a local magazine, about his thoughts on happiness, in life and in Swindon. This was his response.

Are you happy?

Following Prime Minister David Cameron’s call for a measure of how happy we in Britain are, Matt Holland, co-worker at Lower Shaw Farm, reflects on what happiness is.

Happiness is a hot commodity. It’s like love. We all want it. And when we get it, we want to hang on to it.

But how? Self-help books try to tell us and when they fail, pop songs offer syrupy solace. Paul McKenna has written a book called ‘I Can Make You Happy!’; Helen Shapiro loved ‘walking back to happiness’; Ken Dodd reckoned it the greatest gift that he possessed; and, in escapist or mystical mood, Bobby McFerrin crooned a cappella ‘Don’t Worry, Be Happy!’ But happiness is a tricky business. It’s elusive. We can’t put our finger on it. Maybe it’s a state of mind. Some people have it naturally, whatever their material circumstances; others chase and cultivate it, like a pursuit of excitement; and others still, notwithstanding wealth, health, or poverty, simply cannot find it, do not have it, and maybe never will.

Now, the government wants to get in on the happiness act. It wants to measure our well-being, not by spreadsheets and the gross domestic product but by our feelings. Happiness, they reckon, is hot.

Our political leaders now side with Socrates, the ancient Greek philosopher, who, as well as saying that the unexamined life is not worth living, reckoned that happiness is a necessary feeling for good citizenship. But he also said that happiness does not come from commercial gain.

Well, he may be right, but only up to a point. Most of us like a roof over our head, at least one square meal a day, and a penny or two in our pocket, all of which will only come from some sort of commercial gain. In other words, in order to be happy, we need money, or cash in kind.

In this respect, how are we doing? Have you got what you want? Are you a good citizen? Are you happy?

What is it that brings you happiness? Good health or simply being alive? A smile from your baby, or loved one? A trip to the shops or a night on the town? Membership of your drama, music, reading, bowls, darts, writing, croquet, film, dance, or art group? A workout at the gym or a meal out with friends? Or is happiness for you something more touchy-feely, private, and intimate?

Whatever it is, is happiness happening for you? Has the government got anything to do with it? Can you measure your happiness, now? How? When the happiness questionnaire arrives, what will you say? Be prepared!

I am, and will say things like this. My lot is - and has been - pretty happy. It’s included a childhood spent partly with noble savages, a few broken bones, learning things in theory and practice from knowing teachers, doing lots of odd jobs rather than one ordinary job, being thrown through a car windscreen, reading brilliant books, having asthma, running a marathon in under four hours, experiencing the early and untimely death of a baby daughter and a big brother, playing a tennis match on Court 19 in SW19, being beaten and robbed at gun point, enjoying relatively good health, and finding long-term work that fulfils, and also family and friends.

But full-on happiness has never been my expectation. More important have been two key things. First, an alertness and responsiveness to whatever happens, happy or sad; and second, having something to look forward to. The result: feeling a perpetual sense of gratitude, well being, and aliveness. In other words, more to be thankful for than to complain about. How about you?

End

We hope that we will see you in 2011, to join us in the search for happiness, at Lower Shaw Farm. That would make us happy, and be something to look forward to.

Till then, keep warm, well, and in touch!