Newsletter Winter 2007 – 2008

Happy 2008!

TomatoesWhat are the most memorable words you have spoken, heard, written, or read during the last twelve months? If we tell you some of ours, will you tell or send us some of yours, please? Happiness rarely comes when we look for it. Sometimes it comes when we have been useful, to others. Are you in touch with your inner tortoise? The window on the world is covered by newspapers. She wrote from the rich turbulence of her quiet and sheltered life. To wwoof leads to wonder.

Right, now a look back to the largely non-literary events of 2007. Here, our year started with Simon (worldofrhythm) and his friends having a SOUNDBATH in the Hayloft. With tamboura, gong, and singing bowls, they created a wonderful waterfall of sound, that took you into yourself, and others, not out, and filled the farm with a happy-new-year sound-glow. Even in the deep of new-year’s night, the hens on their roosts gently clucked their approval and Max the nervous rescue dog liked it more than fireworks.

Here’s hoping that you too had a good 2007 and are now keen to notch another year on your stick of life.

And many thanks for having been part of our 2007, whether as course participant, willing worker, or kind correspondent. Whatever your link with LSF, it’s the connection, use, and support that gives the farm its continuity and worth, and augurs well for its future.

Apparently, some of you liked the mysterious soundbite x-tracts from our diary of ’06, so here are some from our little red ‘07 Oxfam diary.

JANUARY: Fire alarm; Clare’s wedding: Rachel hair; incubator on for duck eggs; Jake & Kit acoustic night; massage; N’s birth; J’s funeral; Elena for lunch (sic); Derek & Susan for supper (sic); Holocaust Memorial Day.

FEBRUARY: frosty & bright; snow overnight; Claire’s birth; 60 children coming; risk assessment; frogspawn in polytunnel!; PB arrives; asbestos survey.

MARCH: Josie for lunch (sic); N willow demo; no yoga; collect Sara-J from station; SFL prog launch!; get baby-changing table; children’s cookery; Little Pinetrees visit; Elena’s party; Gayle helping; BBC coming 10ish; Fairtrade coffee morning.

APRIL: Oxfam Youth Board meeting; new LSF sign unveiled; sheep treated for fly; airport by 5am; visit by Wilts Deputy Lieutnt on behalf of HM’s Lord Ch re Queen’s do; eco bash.

MAY: Max shampoos at Satisfidos; SFL starts; B&B for Annamation; H Marks B&B; five poets B&B; student shadowing; Maxim’s sermon.

JUNE: Westlea school; Emma’s spinning demo; J & A’s birth; Storysack Day; book train to Cologne.

JULY: Red Rope walk; to London for tea – ‘with’ the Queen; Josie’s birth; teenage mothers; M’s birth.

AUGUST: Loic arrives; Ruth to do little people; J’s party.

SEPTEMBER: Ragged Hedge Fair = LSF staff outing!; M & A to Paraguay; Wed Café begins; fire alarm test; Jellytots; Minnesota Twins play live; film crew?; BBC Radio Swindon visit.

OCTOBER: S S Choir eve; Knitting Club eve; Ben for supper (sic); MOT.

NOVEMBER: Gavin & Rod visit; blood-giving; carpet-cleaning; M & C to Paris; Compost Awareness; Welcome Family – cancelled.

DECEMBER: willow wreaths; carols by candlelight; Early Intervention Team training; M hospital; A dentist; Christmas & New Year break.

Here is some more of our news, fleshed out, and in titled chapters.

Chapter 1 – events. All one-day, weekend, and week-long events went well and were memorable for different reasons.

On the February Walking Weekend round Avebury, the path was flooded and walkers had to find an alternative route. On the Easter Activities Day, the Easter Bunny got trapped in the front porch and was in danger of a severe mauling by chasing children. On the litfest Climate Change Day, it rained non-stop and a point was made. Summer Activities included some great impromptu sessions: maths with Melissa; philosophy at five with Maxim; an alfresco musical performance called The Jumping Mouse; Fairy Wings making with Mary; croquet at a real croquet club; and the daily reading of How I live Now by Meg Rossof.

Monthly Working Weekends, for which Mary, Peter, and Derek get last years’ star prize for regular attendance, were a joy, even though on one, we cut up Martin’s scaffolding planks and used them to make flower troughs. The Juggling Weekend included a beautifully bizarre performance by the Great Geordini and round the fire in the yard, a brilliant musical session with a Paraguayan harpist.

At Autumn Activities, the yard positively glowed with gorgeously-carved pumpkins and the teenagers baked a fabulous chocolate cake. Also in autumn, we hosted a lively WWOOF AGM. Brains were buzzing, new plans were made and laid. Good talk flowed, and a little wine too. - A new weekend event, Knitting and Spinning, was a great success, filling the Centre with mounds of colourful wool, with people carding away to their heart’s content. Carols by Candlelight, including mulled wine, a shadow play, and lots of raised voices together, brought the year of events to an end with feelings of gratitude and joy.

Chapter 2 – new activities. A key new activity and unqualified success, a brilliant idea that came to Andrea one day following the publicity about possible ‘housing development’ and the farm’s future, has been the Wednesday Café, a weekly one-day event during which the farm is open to all-comers.

This is the way it works. All day Tuesday, resident cooks are in the farmhouse kitchen baking and making, cakes, soups, and other goodies. On Wednesday morning, the woodstove is lit, safety checks are made, the welcome sign goes up, the Centre is opened, the picnic tables are out, play areas are prepared for children, and we are ready to rock. The day includes a garden walk and animal-feeding session. Lovely people come, in droves: mothers and fathers, babies and bigger children who are not or not yet at school, office workers, and many others too. A real mix of people who have the good sense to make time in their day to come and enjoy a little time with others down on this farm. It really is a glorious example of a community coming together, people meeting and greeting one another, for pleasure, to share ideas, news, make plans, and make friends.

Similarly good connections are made at a weekly Yoga sessions led by Claire and a monthly Knitting Circle set up by Melissa.

And connection, communication, and creativity also take place at the monthly Writers’ Café, which is attracting poets and prose writers from all over town and county. It produces a monthly e-mag called Writers’ Expresso [PDF file].

Chapter 3 – latest on ‘development’ plans. Since the idea of ‘housing development’ on the site of LSF was proposed in 2006, and the subsequent public outcry occurred, it was agreed, at full Council meeting, that development should only take place alongside the aim to “retain the farm’s activities”. With this in mind, negotiations, between landlords and owners Swindon Borough Council and tenants and trustees Lower Shaw Farm Association, have been taking place.

Progress has been slow. Good work clearly takes time. Late in 2007, an external consultants’ report, commissioned by the Council and titled Draft Development Brief, was presented. It concluded that, owing to restrictions close to a listed building, archaeological remains on site, and other factors, development was not possible to the front and to either side of the farmhouse. The only area deemed possible for housing development was the area that currently comprises the Centre, the Playbarn, the Warehouse, the Woodshed, the Pleasure Garden, and the Farmyard. In other words, the very heart of the farm and centre of its activities. To soften the blow of this proposal, a kindly planning officer suggested a solution: to construct a purpose-built community hall in the bottom garden where, he said, the farm’s activities could be continued.

But, as you might imagine, we were not happy. Oh no. In fact, as far as the LSF team is concerned, and anyone else who has been here and really knows what happens here, the location of the yard and outbuildings is key to the well-being of LSF and is certainly not the area where any kind of housing development should take place. So, we objected, in no uncertain terms, pointing out that were this central area to be bulldozed and filled with new housing, it would spell the end of Lower Shaw Farm as we know it.

To their credit, the Council officials, honouring the motion passed by all parties in Full Council Chamber, “to retain the farm‘s activities”, took note and another on-site visit was arranged.

This visit took place on a windy morning in mid November and as we walked round the farm and reached a point in the bottom garden under the old apple tree, and stood under its branches, and, as it happens, with our feet firmly planted inside a fungi fairy ring, a senior Member looked at a senior Officer and said, ‘You know, I am beginning to see things in a new light.’, and got the reply, ‘Yes, I can see this place has a certain magic.’

The result is that, following further talks, it has now been agreed to look at uses of the farm “in a new light”. This makes sense, and is good news.

A series of meetings, explorations, and reports are now due to be set in motion and we hope that the outcome of these will lead to good things for LSF and for Swindon.

There is a real opportunity here, we think, for the Council to work with the Trustees to make Lower Shaw Farm an even more popular, sustainable, eco-friendly, and welcoming project than it already is, for Swindon, the UK, and – why not? – the wider world! – There’s much work to be done but we already dare hope that, in one small way, here, 2008 will be a happy new year!

Chapter 4 – farm changes and improvements. Did you notice the new sign? It was made by ex-resident Martin and planted by new resident Paul, who throughout the last year has been turning his master craftsman hands and those of wwoofing helpmates, to key maintenance jobs. For example, the Hayloft balcony, now beautifully rebuilt, was re-opened with champagne and flowers during Summer Activities Week.

We now also have a new waterproof transparent back porch roof; two new rain water storage tanks and a polytunnel self-watering system; new playhouse; health & safety-ready kitchen; beautifully re-floorboarded front room; and re-plastered walls and bookshelves in the woodstove corner. But we still have spiderwebs and leaks in the Warehouse!

Chapter 5 – animal residents. Dare we say it? No flock of poultry in Wiltshire, England, or the World, could be finer, more beautiful, or happier. There they are, on the front paddock, happily housed in their south-facing straw-floored abodes, with tiered roosts for those who want them; and everywhere they go round the farm, there are pecking places and dust bowls aplenty. And they are even allowed to be seasonal layers (no commercial culling here!) assorted breeds, different genders, young and old, all mixed in together. They preen and they peck, explore and explete, even caress and cavort, just as they like. They also get talked to, by humans: affectionate words from children, inquisitive ones from veg box collectors, and sometimes even big words in little poems, at dawn or dusk, from their caring sharing poultry person.

For those of you who want devilish detail rather than protracted poultry praise, here it is. In the beaked and toed two-legged department, we have 22 hens and two cockerels, including Maran, Wells Summer, Buff Rock, Warren Hybrid, Light Sussex cross, one giant Buff Orpington, and variations on all these. Of those with bills and webbed feet, we have 12 ducks and 5 drakes, which are Indian Runner and Khaki Campbell crosses; plus a pair of stately Muscovies.

For a few brief weeks in summer, three of these feathered friends, a mother Maran and ‘her’ two baby ducklings, became celebrities, in the local, regional, and national press, including page 15 of The Sun! They even made a trip, by limo, to the London studios of GMTV, to appear with well-meaning but duck-ignorant garrulous people called Britten and Schofield on live daytime TV! ‘Cluck cluck, cheep cheep!’ they exclaimed. Then, after making appropriate poultry deposits, they said, ‘We are celebrities. Get us out of here!’

Other less-celebrated but equally-loved LSF livestock include three sheep, who, thanks to daily care and cuddles from their two kindly resident shepherdesses, are quiet as lambs and great with visitors. Once we had six sheep but the other three made compulsory sacrifices of themselves, for which we are grateful, to stock up the freezer and provide fleecy floormats.

Piggy Wiggy, a tusked and tremendous eater, remains both ‘beautiful’ and useless in his own inimitable way. Living the life of Riley, alternately eating, sleeping, and wallowing, with no threat of having to fill a freezer or be fleeced, he may be even happier than the hens!

Also happily hopping about the farm is a tame ‘wild’ rabbit, who joins the poultry for mealtimes. There are also a couple of cool cats, and a canine creature called Max, who is extremely lovely, loyal, and dog-like but needs special understanding. Oh, and at night times, we also a have a visiting Tawny Owl; and mornings, a pair of woodpeckers. Other resident and visiting birds are numerous but countless, as are other forms of more grounded but nevertheless LSF-loving wildlife.

Chapter 6 – human life. Hums. Now we are five, and that’s only for breakfast in the Dairy. Actually, on site, on a fairly permanent basis, we are six, who go by the names of Andrea, Claire, Jacob, Matt, Melissa, and Paul. And then there is Josie, whom we are not quite sure how to classify, except to say that if it were not for her bursts of short-term residency, many of us and you would go undernourished.

Though different in gender, age, background, interest, aptitude, and daily routines, we, the current residents, are remarkably well-adapted to living and working together. A bit like a nice street gang, even though not always exactly together, daily, we just about know where we are in relation to one another. We are, generally, kind, caring, and on the look out for one another. If one of us is in trouble, another will be there. At breakfast, Claire passes Matt the Marmite at just the right moment; at almost any time, Paul and Melissa know how to introduce a joke when it’s needed; and Andrea’s timing with new batches of bread is unrivalled.

We also do things on our own, independent of the farm and one another. Melissa is a maths wizard and not only tutors and studies it but has also been seen doing sums for pleasure! Claire, who once sprinted for the West of England, has a part-time job as personal fitness trainer at a brand spanking new glitzy gym place. Some days she races back on her bike to teach Yoga in the Hayloft. She and Melissa are the farm’s chief Max-walkers. Paul does not generally walk the dog but has been known to walk round B & Q, twice in one day. His serious sense of humour, which has been known to make a grown man cry, often surfaces at just the wrong moment, and succeeds all the more for doing so.

Andrea, who still sprints for LSF, is into rather a lot of things, that include the house, the garden, the swimming pool, the kitchen, the office, the Yoga mat, the other matt, and steadfast motherhood. Between all this, she fitted in a little 12-day Coast to Coast walk across England. Jacob, a sort of on-site traveller, effectively has three homes here, two of them on wheels. His big yellow van, which houses juggling equipment shelves, bunk beds, cooking stove and all, is crucial to his peripatetic lifestyle, which sees him take his performances and workshops to everything from schools to weddings.

Matt is a strange character who, despite his age and experience, still seems unable to distinguish between work and play. For example, he expects to get as much pleasure from a policy strategy meeting as he does from a topspin backhand down the line, and, when that is not the case, is child-like in his disappointment. In an attempt to understand this strange confusion, he throws himself into both work and play, especially if it’s literature-related, at all hours of the day; and also goes off to Paraguay once a year to start little projects there, just in case there are not enough here.

Fire circleTwo ex and now occasional residents are LSF offspring Rosa and Anna; the former coming our way from darkest Herefordshire where, she says, she works with fairies; and the latter, from the spirey city of Oxford, where, she says, she works with good minds. Actually, Rosa has womanned a prize-winning stall at big festivals; and Anna was the winner of an arts competition at Oriel College with her fire poi routine. When they appear here, they both bring the beauty of youth, new ideas, and new faces with them.

Chapter 7 – outings. Now and again, farm residents are allowed out. In July, Matt was invited to tea with the Queen, in the gardens of Buckingham Palace. Andrea and Rosa, in posh frocks and hats, came along too, and in the queue for cucumber sandwiches, they networked with two Yorkshire charity workers, one translator of Sanskrit, and a handsome navy officer, who was being honoured for selling Britain’s worn out battleships to third world countries. Her Majesty wore beige and was not seen speaking to Camilla.

In September, Andrea went with her 83-year old father Hans and 22-year old daughter Rosa to Vienna to enjoy culture and one another’s company. In November, Claire and Melissa had a weekend in Paris doing much the same.

Chapter 8 – ending. We do hope that our new programme, in full colour, on recycled paper, using vegetable-based inks, with its groovy choice of events; and the above bits of gossip and the prospect of getting more, and telling us yours, will all serve to entice you to come to Lower Shaw Farm in 2008. We hope so.

Till we meet and greet again, keep well!