Currently reading: The New Complete Book of Self-Sufficiency

Currently reading John Seymour

Regular readers will know of the intention / dream of the Wolves in London household to eventually sell our London pad and move to a big old house in the country.

A house where we will keep a flock of chickens for eggs, a couple of cows for milk, some alpacas for wool (yup, that is also one of the essentials, you know), some micropigs because, well, why would you not?, and a couple of dogs for company.

We’ll have a huge veg patch and an orchard and some fruit cages and probably some very beautiful ancient greenhouses, full of tomatoes and aubergines.

Our days will be spent in a blissful haze of tending our herds and rearing our crops (or should that be the other way round?) and wearing our chunky, home-knitted alpaca jumpers.

This plan has been on the cards for a few years now, always for some point in the as-yet-undefined-but-probably-quite-near future. But a few events over Christmas made the dream seem a little bit closer to a reality.

Firstly, we found the perfect house for sale in the country.

It’s an old 16th Century farmhouse, surrounded by an acre of gardens (veg beds, greenhouses and espaliered fruit trees already in situ) with the possibility of renting the surrounding nine acres of farmland from the adjacent farm, is close to a lovely market town and is even in the catchment area of a great primary school.

We found it a mere week after deciding that we were absolutely definitely going to stay in London for three more years and stop house-hunting in the country. It’s also really quite a bit over our budget.

So, I’m not quite sure how it will all pan out, but after two years of off-and-on house-hunting, this is the first place we’ve seen that has everything we were looking for and which also had such a great feel that I could really imagine living there.

We’re going for a second viewing at the weekend. I’ll keep you posted!

Secondly, and possibly even more excitingly, we bought the boys three chickens for their Christmas present. (And a very fox-proof chicken hutch and run, the not-terribly-photogenic but very practical Eglu.)

I’ll save up all the chicken chat for a dedicated chicken post, once we’ve plucked up the courage to let the chickens out in the real garden for a bit of free range living and I’ve had a chance to photograph them away from their plastic house…

But the combination of these two events has seen a spark reignited in my self-sufficiency dreams and led me back to the wonderful Complete book of self-sufficiency by John Seymour.

It was a present from a perceptive friend a few years back (a friend who has similar life ambitions, and from whom I got all my chicken purchasing advice in the run-up to Christmas) and I’ve found myself dipping into it over and again in the past couple of years.

The book was first published in the 1970s and the title really says it all; it’s a complete guide to becoming entirely self-sufficient –as the strapline says, “for realists and dreamers.” (Ha, that always makes me chuckle, I love the awareness that lots of people, just like me, will just read the book dreaming of the lifestyle…)

It covers everything from the basics, like veg gardening and chickens, to keeping bees for honey, sheep-shearing, how to salt pig meat, how to spin wool and even which crops to grow to make your own oil.

My favourite bit of the book is a section with pictures that maps out how you might plan your land if you had an urban garden, an allotment, an acre or five acres.

Bee hives rest in perimeters of London gardens, lovely farmhouses sit in the middle of well-tended fields of crops, and the odd animal wanders across their (perfectly green) fields. It is the stuff of every wannabe Good Life dreamer and I can spend hours staring at the pages and debating about whether or not I would keep a cow in half an (imaginary) acre or give it to some pigs and goats instead.

How useful all the theory in the book would prove were we to actually go ahead and live the life, I’m not entirely sure. I’m pretty certain that there are all sorts of things with raising animals (and certainly with growing veg) that you can only learn by actually doing it.

But until then, reading the book and daydreaming about all our future plans is one of my favourite way to pass some time on a January day with the sun peering through the window.

Tell me, what are you reading at the moment?

PS If you read my recent New Year’s post you will see that, hurrah, I have already gone ahead and taken my first self-portrait! My plan is to share a post like this once a month, accompanied by a pic, and also to join in with Laura’s monthly #theyearinbooks chat, which I have been meaning to get more involved in for yonks now. Anyway, a monthly shot of me reading a book in my reading chair is my intention for 2016, so we’ll see how that goes. This was about the only usable photo from a batch of around 15 – I really need to buy a remote switch for my camera, because I had to get up after every photo, check what I’d taken and press the timer button on my camera again. It took quite a long time!

Grow, forage, cook: the smallholding dream, in books

The start of a new year never fails to prompt my (already fairly impressive) desire to dream endlessly about new ways to live my life.

The current frontrunner in future plans, sitting pretty in pole position for a good few years now, is the dream of having a little smallholding somewhere in the countryside.

We’d have a kitchen garden, some chickens, a herd of alpacas, goats, woodland, a few pigs, ideally a little stream somewhere on the land with a watermill. We’d aim for self-sufficiency (but not beat ourselves up too much when we head off to a grocers because the veg ran out…)

It’s grow, forage, cook writ large, if you will.

Goats and fields: this my friends, is the dream…

I’m not the first, I know, to feel increasingly disillusioned with the whole capitalist / consumerist urban lifestyle we live. A quaint farm and entirely homegrown vegetables seems a pleasing antidote to the rat race. (Whether the reality would live up to my expectation is yet to be seen…)

At any rate, I’ve been reading up a lot on smallholding and self-sufficiency recently and thought I might recommend any books I’ve found particularly interesting.

I was originally planning on putting lots into this one post, but I’ve written so much about my first book (because I flipping love it!) that I’ll be back in a week or two with some more. So, first up:

How to be free by Tom Hodgkinson

I’m not one for hyperbole (wry understatement being more my modus operandi) but I can’t help but proclaim: this book changed my life!

Encompassing far more than mere dreams of self-sufficiency or smallholdings, this book discusses how to escape the omnipresent anxiety caused my modern day living, or, as the author quotes William Blake, the “mind forg’d manacles” of existence.

In essence: ways to get off the consumerist rat race and live for yourself again. (The answers, incidentally, are all pretty pleasing: cycle more, drink with friends, laugh, stop buying so much shit and don’t work in tedious boring jobs.)

The author’s politics are certainly more extreme than mine, but I am completely won over by this book, thanks largely to the intelligence and wit with which Hodgkinson (editor of the The Idler puts forward his (sometimes rather radical) ideas.

But it’s the philosophy at the heart of the book that really spoke out to me: don’t get stuck on an endless hamster wheel of trying to achieve what seems important (progressing up the career ladder, rushing to fit hundreds of things into your day, working all hours to feed your beast of a mortgage…) Instead, reassess what you need and what you want in your life and simply step away from all the other nonsense and focus on the small, important things instead (family, friends, being creative, drinking and eating well…)

Don’t start a revolution; just live in a more community-minded way, with some land to tend and a ukulele to play.

Honestly, as a way of life, I can’t think of a much more appealing proposition.