A Very Small Holding

The Elliffs journey into the good life


A very merry christmas

To avoid all the work involved in preparing a Christmas Day meal we opted to have our family lunch at the local public house.

At the end of the week we attended the funeral for Katie’s step-grandfather, while my parents shielded our children from this somber event.

We received the updated plans for our proposed extension. They were now ready to be submitted to pre-planning where they would be reviewed by the council for their acceptability.

My father helped me add a gutter to the shed to collect rainwater in a water butt. He also helped move the remaining storage boxes from the garage to the workshop.


A very tidy workshop

It was the week before Christmas and we were preparing for our first winter in the village. We had the chimney swept to clear a birds nest, thoroughly cleaned out the chicken run and topped up the compost heap before sealing it for the winter.

My parents made another visit to our home in time for our scheduled Christmas Day lunch at the pub. My father immediately found more work to do, adding an extra plug socket to the workshop and moving the strip lights away from our new shelving units. I had the shelving installed so that we could empty the garage of the remaining unopened storage boxes.


A very trim hedge

We had made enquiries to find out who cut the hedges around the field. The previous owner said that a local chap trimmed the hedges in exchange for a small donation. Various names had been mentioned by the villagers we questioned, but no-one had a definitive answer.

On our return home we passed a hedge cutter parked outside one of the village pubs. I interrupted a conversation between two farmers and asked if the tractor and it’s driver were available for hire. The surly farmer grunted an affirmative.

A few hours later he pulled up outside our house and applied a short back and sides to our hedgerow. He was unable to cut the hedge on the road opposite due to the unhelpful parking of our neighbours.

A note exchanged hands in recompense for his work. In our parting words I discovered that the farmer was the person that had previously been employed by our predecessors. I was not sure we would be using his services again due to our stilted conversations and his reluctance to provide any contact details.

Three adverse events occurred this week with different rates of severity. Katie was bedridden with an illness for several days and Katie’s step-grandfather passed away after a short illness. In-between these events I had my first car accident since the age of seventeen. It was only a minor incident; oversteer on a tight corner at low speed spinning the car around and sliding into the kerb. The rear alloy wheel was dented, but the visible damage was minor.


A very working week

The first frost colours the landscape

The first frost colours the landscape

Following our short vacation I went back to work, attempting to make up for the previous month’s parental leave.

The first frosts of winter had arrived and the warmth of the house was very appealing. My temporary office was on the first floor and provided a panoramic view of the whitened landscape.


A very uneventful time

Sophia meets her cousins for the first time

Sophia meets her cousins for the first time

Due to Sophia’s arrival we had taken time away from our little smallholding to establish a new routine. A second child required both parents full attention; managing the demands of a new born and those of an unruly toddler. It would be some time before we were able to share any more uninterrupted peaceful hours on our allotment.

We took our first trip south to visit my parents and present our new daughter to my extended family. Our neighbours feed and watered the chickens while we had a short holiday away from the house.

Although the needs of our daughters remained we were able to relax for a few days in the company of my parents, without the additional need to clean the house, cook four meals and shop for groceries.


A very strong wind

The weeks following Sophia’s birth had not been kind.

Our dependence on our car was becoming apparent now that it was showing signs of unreliability. Our quiet rural location had many benefits, but the lack of facilities was telling for a young fragile family. Although the car had only developed one major fault and ingested a bad batch of diesel our trust had taken a knock.

The dent in our bank balance took another pounding when a freak gust of wind managed to blow open the metal coal bunker situated on the driveway. The concrete block holding down the broken lid down was thrown back into our neighbour’s driveway. It made a neat dent on the wing of their car. We had never used the coal bunker, it had been inherited from the previous occupants.

The saying that bad luck arrives in threes was proved accurate when our washing machine developed a terminal fault. For a toddler, two adults and a new born this was one of the most important appliances in the house. Therefore a third hefty chunk of money was handed over to acquire a new washing machine and a tumble dryer.

The front elevation of our house and the proposed side extension

The front elevation of our house and the proposed side extension

In contrast to these adverse events our architect delivered draft plans for our proposed home extension. She had provided drawings for three alternate arrangements and many improvements on our original brief. We were excited by the prospect of realising our dream home and both agreed on the grand design that would be developed in full.


A very tied tongue

Sophia asleep in her Moses basket

Sophia asleep in her Moses basket

The first week with our new arrival had its challenges.

With impeccable timing our car developed its first faults after two trouble free years motoring. Notorious for poorly designed electric circuits the computer packed up when it was invaded by a little rainwater.

We realised the chimney was in need of repair with the smell of smoke seeping into the bedroom. Christmas huddled around a natural log fire would have to wait another year.

And Baby Sophia needed a little maintenance too. A quick trip to a specialist to cut her tongue tie allowed her to feed naturally, a resource not available to her older sister. This was one of the fringe benefits of moving near to a city.


A very baby girl

Katie was due to have a caesarean section on the 8th of November, but only if the baby failed to make an appearance before that date. In preparation we had booked my parents to stay with us this week to look after Matilda while we were at the hospital.

The log store at the bottom of the garden complete with drying logs.

The log store at the bottom of the garden complete with drying logs.

To pass the time before the big day my father and I made ourselves busy outside. We used the corrugated sheets I had acquired the previous week to make a roof for our new log store at the side of the workshop. The sides were open to the elements allowing the wind to help dry out the logs we were to store there. We also constructed an extension to the short allotment bed, doubling its size, and removed the old duck house fence to open up the bottom of the garden.

We had an early start on our second daughter’s birth day. She had failed to find an exit, and seemed content inside her mother’s womb. We arrived at the hospital before most people had left for work. Due to Katie’s body’s aversion to pregnancy we were lucky enough to be first on the appointment list and there were no emergency caesareans blocking our way.

It was an unusual situation compared to a regular birth. We walked in to the operating theatre and an hour later we were presented with our new baby girl. There were no dramas during the operation, unlike at Matilda’s birth, which was premature, required an emergency caesarean section and a week in hospital. Sophia was born at 10:20am and weighted a healthy 7lb 3oz.

Sophia was born four months after we moved on 8th November 2012 weighting 7lb and 3oz

Sophia was born four months after we moved on 8th November 2012 weighting 7lb and 3oz

It was unfortunate that Katie’s birthday fell on the day after Sophia’s birth. She was forced to spend her 30th birthday in a hospital bed convalescing and was discharged the following day.

Sophia’s first day at home was not one we would wish to relive. Matilda had been small and weak when she was born, unable to regulate her body temperature, but after a week in hospital she was fighting fit. Her early days were relatively calm. Our found confidence was shattered when Sophia stopped breathing just a few hours after her discharge from hospital.

She had just fed in the early evening and was laid down to sleep. As her head touched the blanket she was quite sick and her little body could not cope. We were later to learn that her involuntary sickness was caused by reflux, which is a common problem in the first few months of life, especially for weaker babies. I picked Sophia up and she quickly began to turn blue. Katie immediately called for an ambulance and took Sophia from me.

The emergency call handler talked Katie through an assessment process while the ambulance made its way to our home. Sophia started to gasp for breath in fits and starts, slowly turning from blue to a healthier colour.

My mother waved down the ambulance, which she had timed at seven minutes, and escorted the paramedic into the house. He took over treating Sophia, who by this time had recovered her breath.

The paramedic completed his examination and explained that Sophia’s body reacted automatically to shut her airways to prevent vomit from entering her lungs. She was perfectly fit and healthy. The incident, although traumatic for us, was within the realms of normal.

The shock of this unexpected event made Katie and I very nervous, shattering the confidence we had gained during Matilda’s early days. We decided that we would take turns to sleep that night, each of us having a four hour shift to watch Sophia while she slept.

It would take several days for our anxiety levels to recede to a point where we were both happy to sleep while Sophia slept.


A very large shed

The smallholder we had commissioned to build our shed returned this week to construct the outbuilding. He and his two colleagues had built and painted sections of the building back at his farm. This made assembly far easier, but the task still required three days hard graft from his labourers. The shed was built using a timber frame and plywood sheets, with corrugated metal sheets on the roof. It was a very solid structure.

The completed shed with a door at each end and shutters covering an window opening

The completed shed with a door at each end and sliding shutters covering the window in the middle

While delivering one of several trays of tea to the workmen I discussed other requirements that we had with the smallholder. As a result of our negotiations he later delivered thirty planks of wood for our allotment beds and a dozen corrugated metal sheets for a log store. I also mentioned that we would be adding a water butt to the shed, to collect rainwater that ran from the roof. Five pounds secured two large plastic barrels. The first barrel I would attach to guttering that I had ready to install, and the second I would use to drown weeds that could then be added to the compost heap.


A very encouraging visit

Our family car returned with a new computer to control the electrics, which on a Rover 75 were constantly failing. We had lived with partial central locking for more than a year.

Katie and I went for a drive around the local area the next afternoon to send our daughter to sleep. On the journey we discovered a local abattoir that we could use when we eventually acquired pigs. We also visited a supplier of topsoil and turf. The soil was organic and screened for use on allotments and gardens. They also produced bark suitable for the base of our play area in the back garden. Our final stop was at an agricultural merchants who sold a variety of timber products, animal housing, fencing and tools. Each supplier was within a few miles of our smallholding and would prove very useful.

The base of our new shed lying on breeze blocks and the existing paving

The base of our new shed lying on breeze blocks and the existing paving

A smallholder that we had befriended last month arrived to position the base for our new outbuilding beside the allotment. The large shed would be raised on to concrete blocks to avoid damp rising and vermin entering the building. The floor consisted of six eight foot plywood sheets. He would return the following week to construct the shed on-site with the assistance of two local handymen.

With my first two compost bins complete I began harvesting the nettles that grew in the grass verges beside the croft. Nettles were an ideal raw material for compost heaps, containing the perfect ingredients to produce quality compost. Incidentally they are also a pigs favourite food.

The first compost bin was now half full with green and brown waste. The second bin I decided to fill with wood pulp that the stump grinder had produced when the trees had been felled. I was not yet sure how this material would be used, perhaps as a fire-starter when it had dried out or as tree mulch. Every waste product had its uses and avoided an unnecessary trip to a recycling centre or landfill.

To create more space in the allotment we moved the logs from our felled trees to the back of the workshop. The workshop, which had originally been designed to house greyhounds, had an external enclosure for them to exercise. This was being converted into a log store. It had the correct attributes; wire mesh walls to protect the wood axes from our children, a wooden frame to hold up a roof and air flow to dry out the logs.

Autumn was well underway and the abundance of trees had covered our gardens in a patchwork of leaves. Not wanting to waste another free resource I made a small leaf bin using fence wire wrapped in a cyclinder and staked to the ground. We began collecting leaves and filling the simple container. In a year or more the leaves would root down and become a leaf mulch, to suppress weeds and heat the soil, helping the bacteria to create nutrients.