Friday 18 May
Tom W, my “media advisor” who encouraged me to contact the Guardian about writing the piece about our hike last year), said there weren’t any pics of me on this blog which was entirely the point but I concede that you might want to see Guantanamo Kate in action so this is me the farm last week.
This morning I woke up in the beige womb that is my late 80s
decor’d van, a soft glow through the multi-pastel coloured curtains from the dull morning outside. I had been staying in Ann and Simon Spencer’s very lovely and comfortable home just north of Llanfyllin in mid-Wales this week but I do love getting back to the van. My world is at my fingertips when tucked up in the Fridge and I am sleeping better in the van than the many other beds that I’m sampling as I visit my way round the country. They’ve all been wonderful beds, it’s just, you know I’m getting on, and familiarity in the comfort department is quite a big deal.
It’s been lovely visiting folk round and about. I’m seeing some old friends but also folk that I love but wouldn’t have made it to see in normal circumstances (London centric, job etc.) so it’s a delight to be in Sheffield this weekend with the lovely Molly and Fred and their very special clan.
I am struggling a little with the highs and lows of spending time with friends and their families. It can make me sad about boats I may have missed while I’m also warmed by their laughter, rhythms and tensions. I know the grass isn’t greener and life can be tough for all, but there’s something about being part of a team that appeals. Something about not being batsman, fielder and bowler all on my own. [NB that’s the first ever cricket metaphor I’ve ever used].
So, chronologically, I left London on 9 May after some quality R&R with my brother’s family and headed to see Susie in Stroud. Most folk want a poke around the van but Susie and Simon and their 3 children spent 6 months in a caravan last year while their house was being rebuilt so they had no romantic illusions about van life. In the spirit of the trip – exchanging labour for board and lodging – I built them a cold frame, or rather due to a lack of nails I left them a cold frame puzzle to assemble.
Susie introduced me to award winning cheese maker Jonathan Crump and his family. His cheese is the only Single and Double Gloucester cheese in the world made purely from the milk of Gloucester Cattle. I’d love to learn some more about cheese making, my experience is limited to working with Mattias and his goats in Chile, so I may go back and visit later in the summer. Some freshly hatched goslings and chicks too.
A slow long wind up-country to the beautiful but rather neglected Llandrindod Wells to stay with Rosie and Jim who are working hard to lure the people to Llandod. A stunning Victorian spa town that’s seen better days, but you can get a 6 bedroom house for under £200k. Apparently anti-Tesco campaigners use LW as an example of what a large slightly out of centre supermarket can do to the heart of a town.
Then on Sat 12 May I arrived at Rhoslan, the Spencer small holding, to help out with the amazingly productive and intensely farmed acre of vegetables. They manage to be self sufficient in veg most of the year with a productive orchard and livestock too. Simon has spent almost 40 years digging muck into the solid Powys clay to create incredibly fertile soil.
He’s devised techniques and structures to really support and nurture the crops which are abundant. Such as portable cold frames with double glazed panels over final planting positions to pea cages to protect and support. May / June is supposed to be the hungry gap but Simon has early turnips, peas flowering, tomatoes setting, overwintered cabbages and spinach, abundant salad, emerging asparagus, 6 foot bean plants already podding, early cauliflowers, the end of the purple sprouting broccoli… plus a freezer and larder full of borlotti, tomatoes, meat etc. from last year.
The perfect van pet discussion was revisited, new suggestion; a tarantula… Weirdly a rat doesn’t seem a terrible idea except for the potential smelliness. Ann solved the problem by presenting me with Dewi the Dashboard Dragon who is in charge of van security and heating now.
The nature of blogging is confounding me a little. The relationship with the audience, the presentation of me / my reality as the version I want digested by the world (I think I’m laying things pretty bare…), the responsibility I have to my hosts and friends I meet along the way. It’s curious and I’m conscious that it’s a developing relationship between me and this blog. I’m also conscious of not wanting this to be a string of disjointed thoughts, musings and ramblings but often what I want to record are those little curious moments / incidents that make me smile. Such as when I left my phone on and got a bit confused as to whether the low drone was my phone buzzing on silent or a cow mooing a field away – strangely similar sounds…