Newsletter December 2011

Season’s greetings and best wishes for 2012!


This little look back on life at LSF in 2011 is likely to have that retrospective round-robin feel of many a letter at this time of year. It’s a tradition that some people like and others mock.

This newsletter may have things in it that matter to us but may not matter to you. But, for the sake of balance, it may have things in it that matter to you but not to us. If it has things in it that matter to both, us and you, that would make everyone happy, wouldn’t it?

Also, it is unlikely to contain anything negative, nasty, or downbeat. Not even with irony. Sorry. It’s been a ridiculously good year. We count our blessings.


When placed in the great scheme of all things wonderful and amazing, such as the discovery of the Higgs boson particle, close-ups of polar bears giving birth under the snow (in a zoo) or achieving parkrun personal bests, not a lot has happened here this year… except for the following.

Mid-November, after half a decade of delicate, protracted, and complex negotiations with our landlords, Swindon Borough Council, and with only hours to spare before the last one expired, a new, bound, and laminated 25-YEAR LEASE was settled, signed, and sealed. What a moment it was! Champers was uncorked and joy was unconfined. Share it with us now (only joy left-:)) and for the next 25 years! See this Swindonlink article.

A week later, we received a buff envelope containing the result of a surprise visit and close inspection from a white-smocked, rubber-gloved, hair-hooded Health & Hygiene Inspector, who’d walked in on us on one of our busiest days in October. The letter in the envelope brought good news. We had been awarded 5 stars, maximum points, with an invitation to join Swindon’s Elite Scores on Doors caterers!

More joy and chilled beverages.

Events & Courses

These have been largely splendid and though mostly with familiar names, such as Yoga & Massage Weekend, Activities Week, Craft Weekend, Music & Singing, Wild Food & Flowers, Cookery School, Circus Skills, and Working Weekend, they have been full of surprises.

For example, April’s working weekend not only saw masses of spring jobs done, including a new poly- tunnel erected, where many hands made polythene tight and right, but also had South American harpists, storytellers, and a feast of good things international and cultural. We worked hard all day and played gently most of the night and felt the more fabulous for it.

In May, the Swindon Festival of Literature not only gave us the usual fascinating fortnight of trial and tribulation but also brought a marvellous mix of fairly interesting authors and phenomenal fun-loving helpers to the breakfast and supper table.

Meals were marvellous, conversation flowed, as did drink, and honest chat about daily events rendered feedback forms redundant. Writers and workers, mashing it together, is the kind of mix that makes some things wonderful, others worthwhile, and the rest, bearable. (Oops. Sorry. Hard to stick with wall to wall niceness.)

But the numerous local groups and events were un- ironically perfect. So many and such variety. As one group left, another would arrive. It was hard to keep the welcome blackboard up to date. But we love them. Here, as scrawled in the LSF diary, is a random selection of local people, groups, and events we welcomed in 2011. Wednesday Cafe; Mum’s the Word (mother writers); Children’s Activities Day; Scratch Choir; Nickie’s Thai Massage; Swindon Feminist Network: Health Walkers; Writers’ Cafe; Animals Asia; Journaling Workshop; Art of Living; Little Acorns Playgroup; Family Gardening Day; Elena’s Breastmates; Artswords Reading Group; Buddhists; Young Writers; Garry’s Yoga; Knitting Circle; Open Gardens; Ruth’s Parents’ Support; Raziya’s Yoga; BlueGate Poets; and Wootton Bassett School.

Organisations, from near and far, hosting mini conferences and running training days also came to LSF in some number. One squad, linked to the RHS, did not confine their training to power point presentation and endless talk. They got out and got the wonderful dirt of the happy gardener under their fingernails. Another group of adult trainees (not allowed to say who) spent much of their ‘training’ time in the play barn, mostly on the rope swing. What did they learn? Maybe, how to swing.

People 1

You will see that in the intro to our programme we declare that, at LSF, today’s stranger is tomorrow’s friend. Well, over the years, we have also discovered that today’s stranger is tomorrow’s workmate. So, friend AND workmate. What more could you ask!

In 2011 we have had some amazing strangers-turned- friends-and-workmates pass this way. The list is long, since almost every wwoofer, of whom dozens have come down our pot-holed drive, is just such a person. But, if most of you wwoofers won’t mind not being mentioned, we’d like to name two, who both stayed for a little longer than most and embodied the wonders and wonderfulness of willing workers, strangers, and friends.

In March, one fine man called Cormac came to us across the sea from Ireland. He very quickly got the hang of things here: saw the endless possibilities for poetry, connecting, kindness, construction, and creating order out of apparent chaos. (As many of you know, the outwardly ramshackle appearance of LSF masks an almost military inner order. -:))

Cormac quickly got to grips with poly-tunnel doors, wild woodshed, even wilder workshop (in both cases, a lot of throwing out was called for; ‘Another skip!’ he’d say, ‘Another skip!’) and, his biggest engineering job, the cesspit soak-away, a collapsed network of trenches that had been created in the early ‘80s by a curly-haired bearded young idealist and a succession of willing wwoofers, who had been seduced by his sweet words about the salacious secrets awaiting them on the dark side of the cesspit. Now, you may like to know, that, thanks to Cormac’s groundwork skills and work with wwoofers, we have a soak-away supreme, including perforated piping, rubble beds, inspection hatches and all, which means that the various waste liquids and solids you deposit on your visits here, have a smooth and almost scent-free journey through the orchard and to the final destination of all things excremental.

In July, a seemingly-shy young woman from southern Spain found her way to our door. Suleika’s youthful appearance, gentle manner, and all-round modesty masked an inner spark, dynamism, and altruistic sensitivity that daily took our breath away. Willing or what, in terms of quotidian practical matters of consequence, so-called ordinary stuff that just has to be done, this young woman was a help beyond expectations. Ever-quick to spot what needed doing, Suleika was often ahead of us, on the case, at it, and looking to all needs in exemplary fashion. Ever-cheerful too, this was the kind of help and light that anyone would like in their life. LSF certainly did!

And from nearby we have many local helpers too. Among these, teenage Jessica, has been a boon in the kitchen and now knows the animals too; while Petronella, stranded a long way from her home in Zimbabwe, seems very at home helping out in our garden. There have been so many other helpers and wwoofers, like you, you, and you, wonderful willing, kind, and interesting, who cannot, for reasons of space, all be named here. Sorry. But we think of you and thank you, all. (And, of course, you are in our little book! :-))

People 2

As to home-bred and some-time resident people, here are snippets. Rosa continues to experience the blossoms and burdens of Rosa Bloom, her design and clothing accessories business. Her year is divided largely between Bali, for supplies, sea, sand, and surf, and the UK’s best summer Festivals, for sales, sunshine, sleepless nights, and stress. Jacob, aka Jake the Juggler,drives his van wherever people will pay him to do his entertaining gravity-defying stuff. This year, on a beach in Dorset, after a succession of competitive rounds, he was crowned UK Slackline Champion.

Anna has hit London, as Programme Support Officer in the international division of the British Red Cross. When not co-ordinating emergency recovery units, she organises the rest of her time well to include regular fast parkruns and half a marathon too. Andrea, despite minding, making, and managing most of what matters at LSF, managed a cycling trip to Vietnam.

And Matt, her able helpmate, also flew over the ocean, ostensibly on an international culture quest but ended up mostly horse-riding, writing, and swimming in sub- tropical Paraguay.

Claire and Melissa, though no longer farm residents, live in town and, as regular cyclists, often pedal this way, to help with Health Walks, Wednesday Cafe, and parkrun retrospectives. And Josie is a frequent weekend resident, spending most time in our 5-star kitchen, the place not only for good cooking but also hot conversation. If you want to know more about LSF, life, and the best of Radio 4, the kitchen’s the place to be.

In August, we had surprise visits from a number of fine women of mature age. They were delightful and delighted when we welcomed them to look round, outside and in the house. And we became very excited too! Why? Because these fine women were born at LSF, and lived here, in the 1930s and ‘40s! Yes, just imagine it, three little babies born in the office; nine little children hiding under the stairs when the air raid sirens sounded; and a family pig being cured in the room beside the LSF larder. If you want to know more about the visit from the wonderful Webbs, see the Link Magazine website.

Animals & Garden

Three pigs and three sheep have, for the most part, had a very good year.

By mid-summer, it was becoming clear that 12-year old Piggy Wiggy was struggling to enjoy life. Arthritis in his back legs made getting up tricky and walking difficult. Also, though eating fairly well, he was getting thinner by the day. It was odd, to see a pig all skin and bone. Also, he had more than one abscess and, in places, his back was red and raw. Though retaining a certain porcine vigour, such as interest in food and a lovely grunt, he looked a sorry sight. -- Our local vet, who knew him well, felt his time had come. And so it was, on a fine morning in June, at home in his sunny yard, that Piggy Wiggy’s life slipped away. Nearby, a thrush gathered mud and straw for her nest, and life went on.

The two remaining Kuni Kuni pigs are anything but slipping away. They are big, fat, bright, and strong. With their snouts, they can unearth anything. Put down breeze blocks to stop them damaging the gate, and they simply nose up the blocks and toss them aside, just like that. Stake down stock fencing to stop them getting out, and they bend the sprung steel wire, just like that. And when they escape, one goes one way and the other, the other. Trying to herd them back in is a waste of time. Food, of course, is the thing that works.

One sheep had a lamb. Its fleece was black as coal, and everywhere its mother went, the lamb was sure to go, except for one day, after a long and lovely summer of grazing happily all over LSF and getting very fat. Mummy sheep went to graze in the green paddock but the lamb was put in a van and taken to the place where animals’ lives are cut short and their bodies are cut up into freezer-size pieces.

We were sad and sorry but thankful too.

The two-legged free-range feathered animals have had their best year yet. Under regulated lights and with a new feeding hopper, they have produced eggs all year round, and, when allowed, the odd brood of chicks and ducklings too. For example, on the shortest day of the year, a broody Black Rock hatched three ducklings. See this Swindon Advertiser article.

Thanks to the weather being kind and helpers good, most garden produce has been plentiful this year but apples have been top of the crops. Late October, we had a fantastic Apple Day, with two hand presses on the go and the yard full of apple action. From near and far, people brought their apples, in boxes, wheelbarrows, and even a 4 x 4 full; and took away bottles galore of fresh juice. For the following few days, the pigs and sheep gorged on mounds of apple peel, pith, pomace, and pulp.


Now that we have a long lease and are a Co-op, plans can be made for LSF’s long-term future and well-being. Once we have caught our breath from this last busy but wonderful year, we shall be setting plans in motion, in the New Year. Look out for notices from us.

We welcome your ideas!

Like this one. Writer David entered a competition at the Festival of Literature. Staying overnight at LSF, he and his good friend Jean noticed our mucky dried up pond and said, ‘Would you like a new one? We’ll make it!’ And they did, enlisting the help of willing workers, concrete lining, terraces, paving, fountain, and all. Frogs and water lilies are going to love it, as we already do.

Last Words

As 2011 draws to a close, we have just enjoyed one of the best ever Carols by Candlelight. The driveway and yard were all a-twinkle with candles and lights and the old cowshed was hung with ivy and lit by candlelight. Scores of people of all ages, live music, a fabulous shadow play, and cartloads of carols lifted the spirits and made 10th of December a night to remember.

And a day to remember was LSF’s first ever festive season work’s outing. Andrea led a couple of cars full of happy Cafe workers for a hearty meal at nearby Abbey Home Farm. They came back full, content, and smiling.

We hope that you too will come smiling to Lower Shaw Farm. We look forward to welcoming you in 2012!