How did we get to July already? It feels like I blinked at the start of lockdown and now we are here!
As I write, with my morning coffee steaming next to me and the drizzle coming down outside, I really don’t know where to start in telling you about what has been happening here at Yellow Door Cottage, I think I’m going to have to do it in chapters…..
So…chapter 1: It’s good to share
Lockdown life here has been full on – cooking for the honesty shop and ushering in new animal and vegetable life. I can’t even say that I haven’t seen anyone as this place has been a hive of activity with deliveries, orders and collections at the honesty shop. We are lucky that we live in a beautiful open space and that all of this can been done at a safe distance, but there are some jobs that just can’t be done while maintaining social distancing and animal welfare will always come first here. Right back at the start, my good friend and I spent an afternoon in close quarters ‘dagging’ the lambs (cutting off the poo-encrusted wool around their tails) and I had to visit neighbours to check on the rams grazing their land. As a group we talked in depth about the fact that we were ‘breaking the rules’ but we all agreed that it just had to be done to keep the stock safe and well – the risks of not doing the work was far greater than the risk of just getting on with it. In retrospect, a social bubble of support was created here long before the government had coined the term and I wonder how many other farms and rural communities worked in the same way?
During the last three months, we have had to adapt and overcome on many things. Stan worked hard to build a commercial kitchen quickly using things that we and friends had available – apart from the fact that I’m still using a washing up bowl and hot water urn as we can’t get a sink, you’d think that everything was made under normal conditions.
There have been lows and highs – the setting up of the shop created a monster that I felt beholden to and I burnt myself out. Again, a chat within the social bubble and ideas were born and a rhythm that I could maintain was found. I’m surprised at how many firsts I’ve had – the things that I have cooked (without any disasters… yet!) have amazed me, but my favourite high has to be the clotted cream. This came about as on VE day I struggled to buy enough for the huge amount of cream teas that had been ordered. I panicked and all I could think of was making my own. As it turned out, Mole Valley Farmers came up trumps on the cream but I’d already started to make the calls!
The farm team at Brymore School (where I work as a reader and scribe during exam season) agreed to let me have some milk, so not being one to miss an opportunity, I rolled out of bed early the following Monday morning and headed for the parlour. It had been over 30 years since I’d last stepped foot in a dairy and I’d certainly never been tall enough to do anything other than cleaning up. But Mr Kingston reminded me of the drill and I was soon wiping udders, opening gates and putting on suction cups. The milk from the only Jersey cow, Dani, was deposited into one of my massive saucepans and I headed home.
While I was growing up, my Godfather had a dairy farm, and due to the milk quotas of the ‘80s, there was always a pan on the hob making clotted cream. How hard could it be? A quick internet search on how long to scald the milk and I’d be away I thought as I drove home. Oh how wrong could I be! All of the recipes wittered on about leaving the milk in a warming oven overnight….that certainly wasn’t what I remembered. So, I did the only thing I could do, I phoned Auntie Joan to ask her how to do it.
Auntie Joan is one of the most amazing people I know, she is in her 90s and has worked hard on the farm almost every day of her life. She’s as sharp as a knife and to this day, she still keeps a diary of the things that happen each day and she has so many old sayings that just make you think about what you’re doing and why you do it that way. Anyway, she gave me crystal clear instructions and violà, my first clotted cream was declared a success by the lady herself! Fist pumps and celebratory dancing took place in the yard outside her kitchen window much to her amusement!
This made me wonder…I’m happy to tackle most tasks after a quick ‘Google’ (other search engines are available) but what would I have done had Auntie Joan not been at the end of the phone? I’m sure that I would’ve got there eventually, but I suspect that I would have beaten myself up for wasting milk along the way and actually, would the success have been as sweet without the ‘man from delmonte’-style thumbs up from this little, full of smiles old lady?
Thankfully, I’ll never know. For now, I’m just so grateful that I have such wisdom and experience in my life – not just Auntie Joan – Dad and his friend John are forever teaching me about our vintage machinery. Another friend Paul teaches me something new about butchery every time I see him and there are many more. I’ve known all of these people for as long as I can remember and, for as along as I can remember, they have had the patience to teach me things and the fondness to be proud when I have learnt them. It is only now I am a little older that I realise what a great gift sharing is, I love showing kids and adults how to look after the animals and know first-hand how much taking an interest in what people are doing means to them. While search engines and video channels all have their place in sharing knowledge, I just can’t help but think that it’s the personal interaction that benefits us and our mental well-being the most. I dare you, go and learn something new from someone you know, I promise it will be good for both of you.