What are you going to do with this one wild and precious life?

Friday 18 May

chive flowers

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

the curtains

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.

goslings hatched on 16 MayThis veg doesn’t look organic, it’s huge. I learned loads from Simon.

Simon and his Jalo plough

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…

P.S. completed my first 1000 miles on the way to Stroud.

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About Kate Fenhalls

This may or may not be my 41 year old gap year. Yesterday (2/4/12) may or may not have been my last ever day working in an office. Who knows, let's see what happens...
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9 Responses to What are you going to do with this one wild and precious life?

  1. susanpoozan says:

    Wow, 1000 miles so soon, you must have been out and about more than I realised. I am glad that you are reconnecting with friends up and down the country even if their way of life might make you feel you are missing something.

    Simon must have been a very good mentor. Good luck with the next tranche of your adventure.

  2. Good question, Kate. I’ve been pondering this one for perhaps too long. Meanwhile, really enjoying the insights into your life journey. I’ve got a van pet for you – Charlie – the cat who thinks he’s a human and chats a lot! Take care

  3. Pol says:

    Yes blogging definitely a strange one, tried it myself and didn’t manage to figure out a way of writing that suited me. But I have to say, yours is feeling very much like a private audience with Kate Fenhalls rather than a general travel blog (of which there are millions) so I am definitely enjoying that part of it. I hope the sun is reaching you and bringing a welcome break to the cold grey wetness so far. No baby yet, but reaching whale-like proportions so heading for acupuncture on monday if nothing has happened! lots of love to you xxx

  4. Tom Whitemore says:

    I agree with Pol, I find the private audience with Kate F more engaging and involving than general travel blog stuff. Have you read John Steinbeck’s “Travels with Charley” ? I’ve got a copy I could post to you. Email me an address where I can send it to…?

    p.s I feel honoured to be named in your blog xx
    p.p.s I want more photos

  5. Mr Whitemore – on your advice you have a new and quite confessional blog online (Snakes and Ladders). Will have a ponder of what most useful postal address would be, thank you for offering the book, very kind. How’s the new job? xx

    • Tom Whitemore says:

      Will try and make it to your Eastern Curvey thingy and give you the book in person. Job is great!!!
      I

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