polo trace golf Suffolk and Essex Lifestyle News
KLUTZY townie visits rural smallholding on a wet morning and discovers he’s brought only one wellie. (Well, son’s boots are also in the bag . . . 10 sizes too small.)
I might put that in my talk, smiles smallholder Peter Webb, who’s developed a useful sideline nothing too big, mind in after dinner speeches and entertaining presentations to WIs, Rotary clubs and the like.
Mind you, it could be worse for someone like me who’s a wuss with needles and eager to give them a wide berth. I could have arrived at the same time as district nurses intent on administering anti flu jabs. As the keepers of more than 50 poultry, the Webbs are registered with the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs. Defra arranged for all poultry keepers to be given the injections by primary care trusts.
The aim is to stop them getting ordinary human ‘flu, explains Peter. If they did, and also had the misfortune to catch bird ‘flu from infected poultry, there’s a risk the two viruses could mix and create a hybrid that could spread rapidly among the human population.
Peter’s feeling the effects of his jab, but isn’t moaning. Far from it. There’s so much criticism about Defra, but it has done a good job, he says. At the grass roots level it’s working.
I’m really here, in slightly muddy shoes, to learn about Peter’s interest in restoring old farm wagons a hobby that comes into its own on rainy days like these, when time spent in the workshop is much more productive than taking a tractor out on the field and inadvertently carving ruts into the earth.
But it’s impossible not to set that in the context of the couple’s chosen lifestyle. The Webbs have been self sufficiency devotees for about 35 years. They lived in a nice road in Rochford, near Southend, and their garden was dug over: Beanpoles in the front garden and geese in the back. Then we had the allotments, just like Tom Good and we had the rich neighbours!
They hankered after something more; and the dream came true about 14 years ago when they spent every last penny on a property with land: a former mink farm near Tiptree that had lain derelict for years. The business had collapsed after animal rights protesters set the mammals free one night.
Today, it’s a neat and productive smallholding of six and a half acres. There are Jacob sheep and geese, bantam chickens, guinea fowl, peahens and turkeys. A load of pigs has just gone. There are 60 fruit trees and, in the past, they’ve grown straw for thatching.
Peter, a former health and safety inspector, has no regrets. I’ve never been so poor financially; I’ve never been so contented. We earn just enough money now to survive and we’re contented in our lifestyle. I used to think that the more money you had, the happier you were, but it’s not true, actually. As long as you’ve got enough . . .
Today, satisfaction is measured by things like getting your first goose egg.
In his former existence and at one time he was a general manager with 200 staff there was a lot of pressure; a lot of legal issues, like witness statements. It was a job I enjoyed initially, but the rules and regulations . . . especially since we joined Europe, so many have come quickly. And so many conflict. It got to stage where you could never switch off.
Fifty nine now, he was in his mid 40s when he and Mary opted to make the break.
This place cost us every penny we had. Every penny. We had to sell every possession we had. When we moved here, our friends came over and saw the dereliction. Nothing had happened here for eight years. I got 1,
000 sheets of asbestos off the mink sheds. There were four sheds, each 100 yards long.
Our friends just said to us ‘What the hell have you done?’ You think ‘Crikey. I’ve not got a penny in the bank and we’ve got this dump . . .’ But it was a goal; something we wanted to do. A dream.
We came here because we wanted to live the life fully. And it is a way of life. It’s seven days a week; 365 days a year.
The year before last, at 11pm and with rain threatening, there were 500 bales of hay to transport from the field and into storage. They couldn’t wait. It was really tiring and my hands wouldn’t straighten out for a week ‘cos I’m getting old, laughs Peter.
We haven’t had a holiday for about 13 years now, but what we do is go to the country shows: about 14 a year the Tendring Show, the Suffolk Show, Barleylands (the Essex Country Show, at Billericay) and we take a wagon with us, says Peter.
Again, he’s not complaining. I know one thing: you only live once.
My father died at 72. He was in hospital a perfectly fit, healthy man in every other way, but he had a heart attack. He was lying there, and he never had the strength to get out of bed; and he said ‘I wish I’d done this. I wish I’d done that; and when I get out of the hospital I’m going to do that.’
I knew he was never going to come out. I said to Mary ‘Look; we’ve got to do what we want to do, while we can, because I don’t want to be lying in a hospital bed, in years to come, wishing I’d done this.
He recognises he’s been lucky to have a wife who shares his dream. A stage whisper: She’s a brick. Don’t tell her!
There’s no household computer to go wrong. Been there. Mary will do the accounts in a little book: money coming in in one column; money going out in another. Simple.
Their workhorse and social transport is a G reg Land Rover, and their most modern tractor dates from 1980. Luckily their son is a mechanic with the skills to keep the vehicles running. And, in any case, Peter and Mary are not the type to dream of lying on a Spanish beach; they prefer to keep busy.
The farmers that surround me here, in many ways they’re envious. They might have just paid 150,000 for a combine and they’re driving it and it’s air conditioned and has sat nav and everything and I’m in my 50 year old Ferguson tractor, in the open air, turning my hay. They can see how it used to be.
They’re in their combine, thinking about yield: the price of corn on the world market, exchange rates . . . and I’m thinking ‘Is it going to rain? Is that a sparrow?’ Farmers now have to be serious businessmen.
As he points out the three bird boxes now in place around the smallholding, which have already hosted barn owls and kestrels, it’s clear Peter feels he made the right choices.
His latest box took a whole day to make, but I enjoyed every minute of it. There was nobody looking over me, saying ‘Can you do it quicker? When you’ve done that, what else are you going to do?’
I enjoyed every minute of making it, every minute of putting it up there, and if we get some owls in it I’ll be over the moon. That’s what I mean by contentment. We’ve got this limited time on earth,
and you only get one chance.