Rustic Guest – Lorna Sixsmith

Rustic Guest – Lorna Sixsmith

I’m delighted to have Lorna Sixsmith as a guest in my Farmhouse Kitchen this week and, as we both married farmers, I think we’ll find plenty to talk about.

Lorna lives and farms in Ireland and she’s published three books about her farming life: Would you Marry a Farmer? How to be a Perfect Farm Wife and An Ideal Farm Husband (hmm, I really must get that last one for the other half.)

The kettle’s just boiled, so I’ll hand you over to Lorna, and she’ll tell you about the ‘hoppity dance’…


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I think farmers and writers are quite similar really. People in both careers tend to like spending time alone, enjoying the peace and quiet, are resilient and often have a dog as their best friend. Therefore, being a farmer and a writer means that all of the above applies to me – doublefold!
Brian and I returned to dairy farming in Ireland in 2002 after spending 12 years in England, most of which was spent living and working in Salisbury: Brian as a scientist and I as a teacher. I’m not sure if it was the time spent away from farming that helps me to see the humour but it’s certainly the “if I don’t laugh, I’ll cry” moments that inspire stories for my books.
Just like how you, Sam, gain inspiration from your surroundings for your rustic romance books, I do the same but my books are nonfiction, with a tongue-in-cheek look at what life is like on the farm complete with tips on how to survive it. Wives will discover “how to wear an apron and wellies with flair” and men will find out how best to introduce a new girlfriend to the farm and how to ensure his mother will approve. They are best described, I suppose, as useful tips with plenty of tongue-in-cheek humour.
My first book was inspired by a session of sorting Friesian calves into two batches: males and females. I was standing in the gateway with the job of turning back any male calves and letting female calves through while Brian tried to send female calves my way. It was impossible for me to see between their legs to tell the sex so I was reliant on vague instructions like “The BLACK ONE – quick, the BLACK one”. Now, did that mean that I was to stop the black one or let it through? All three of the calves coming towards me were black and white. I couldn’t tell that the one he meant was slightly blacker on the other side, the side that my beloved could see. My limbs ended up doing an involuntary “hoppity dance”.3(a) hoppity danceMy body didn’t know whether to stay in the gateway, run after the “wrong one” that had got through or try to skulk off.
That evening I wrote a blog post entitled “Advice to those considering marrying a farmer ” and within a relatively short time, it had 60,000 views which inspired the idea for a book. But would people read it? They were interested in my blog post but would they pay for a book? The only way to find out was to run a crowdfunding campaign asking people to pre-order. It was successful and within another three months Would You Marry A Farmer? was published. That was November 2013.
Two more books followed: In How to be a Perfect Farm Wife I give others the benefit of learning from my mistakes and also share tips on how to CHEAT and convince others you’re perfect. An Ideal Farm Husband shows him how to cope when he discovers his new wife isn’t telepathic, amongst many other things.
Farming is one of those occupations where things don’t always go to plan. Yes, we have the “if I don’t laugh, I’ll cry” moments more often than we care to admit. If I can help even one person to have a better day, it’s great news to me. One of the best compliments I’ve received was from a farmer saying my books were the best money he ever spent. His wife was city born and bred. Whenever he made any of the “mistakes” outlined in my book, she knew it was typical farmer behaviour. Rather than arguing, they both laughed!


If you want to hear more from Lorna visit her blog the Irish Farmerette or find her on Facebook and Twitter.

And if you are actually thinking of marrying a farmer I suggest that you read these first!

Lorna Sixsmith and 3 books

Building the Dream – builders on site!

Building the Dream – builders on site!

I thought you might like to share the adventure as The Farmer and I embark on our ‘big build’ and attempt to morph this…

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The Chaff House ~ built circa 1910

into this…

The Chaff House Drawing
The Chaff House ~ built circa 20?? (I’m not jinxing it with a year)

It’s a lovely old barn on our farm, and we hope to preserve some of its character and history as we turn it into our home.

To bring you up to speed, here are the stages we’ve been through so far:

  • Architects drawings (twice, because we changed everything.)
  • Planning permission (twice… because we changed the architect’s drawings.)
  • Enthusiastic tree felling (see earlier post: Plain Barny)
  • Barn clearing
  • (To be fair, The Farmer takes the lion’s share of the credit for this transformation. I was busy…)

    … making pretty models on 3D Architect.)

    (It’s addictive, I tell you. Like real life Sims! You can even add wind chimes (ffs!) I’ve moved every interior wall (several times) and suffered a mild panic attack when I set the bed down in the master bedroom (calm restored when I remembered that I was working in an American programme and adjusted the bed to UK dimensions. American beds are ginormous, apparently.)

But the playing is over now. WE’VE GOT REAL LIFE BUILDERS ON SITE!

We’ve gathered the perfect team, with more years of experience between them than even that ol’ barn has seen. DB, DS and DK (*Dodgy Back, Dodgy Shoulder and Dodgy Knees) are currently tearing down the old feather-edged boards, and OF (*Ornery Farmer) is excavating foundations to see if they’re deep enough (fingers crossed).

(*To be fair, I’m the one with a ceramic hip, and the farmer might be less ornery if I stopped moving walls.)

I’ve supplied tea, biscuits and ibuprofen, now I’m writing a blog post. It’s what I do best, for the moment (and it’s keeping me from the dangers of Architect 3D with the potential risk of forking out for a third set of drawings).

Let the adventure begin.

Any suggestions where I might hang those wind chimes, guys?

Plain Barny

Plain Barny

We live a jammy, comfortable life in a lovely home with running water, central heating and his&hers studies. (We’ve been wed 32 years, and farmed side by side for all of them, but we’ve yet to achieve the heady compatibility of shared office space.)

Our kids grew up in this house, pets and sagas have come and gone. The rooms wear the tale of our lives like a favoured sweatshirt; baggy and washed-out with age. There’s a simile there which suits us rather well these days too. We turn a blind eye to the peeling wallpaper, the leaky roof and the scuff marks. The house has become an old friend and her quirks are easy to tolerate.

But the indolence of our mid-life comfort is about to be shaken. We’re downsizing, into a barn, which currently looks like this…

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THE EN SUITE (!)

Our barn hasn’t got running water, central heating or sewers, but I am reassured that these vital amenities are included in the plans. As are his&hers offices (to avoid the alternative – his&hers houses – which would be altogether more costly). There are also a lot of indecipherable ciphers on our drawings, which I’m desperately trying to interpret.

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PRAY TELL – WHAT FIENDISH LANGUAGE IS THIS?

I’m sure it will all be fine. The Farmer has chopped down some trees (a knee-jerk reaction to stress), we’ve got artisan mates primed to start work and I’m mugging up on Celotex and feather-edged boarding (whilst surreptitiously pinning pretty pictures to Pintrest).

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LEYLANDII  (NOT REAL TREES)

And I’m learning a lot. Primarily, I’ve learnt that my notions are more romantic than my budget. Is there such a thing as a dream editor, to keep things realistic?

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£70K FOR WINDOWS? YOU’RE HAVING A LAUGH.

We may have to reconsider the pretty windows, but we will have windows of some sort… I think. There will be hilarity (hysteria), cock-up and heated discussion (argument) aplenty before we get this job done. I fully accept that my comfortable, baggy-sweatshirt existence is about to be disrupted.

Bring on the sequined crop-top, I’m (almost) ready.

 

A Tale of Two Dogs (Episode 4) Don’t read while eating your supper…

A Tale of Two Dogs (Episode 4) Don’t read while eating your supper…

Oh, the gore!

The terriers followed the farmer into the grain barn. It was always one of their favourite places. There’s a tunnel which runs through the middle of the barn, and at the end of that tunnel, a massive, industrial fan. The job of the fan is to blow air up through slats in the wooden floor, to dry the tonnes of grain which (we hope) are heaped upon it after harvest.

So, quite a meaty fan then. This fan means business. It also comes into use when we’re cleaning the barns pre-harvest – blowing mice out of the channels which run beneath the floorboards. It blasts those poor little mites up and into the air! Great sport, I’m sure you can imagine, for two little pest-control terriers. The sound of that fan firing up was a siren call to work for them. Heads up, and they were off.

Now, I quite like mice. I can’t say the same about rats, but mice are pretty with their cute little faces and twitchy whiskers. I console myself with the thought that the mice who live beneath our barn have a pretty jammy life; making their nests and rearing their pups in the warm and dry, with more prime feed-wheat than they could ever eat dropping through the ceiling.

The ones the terriers catch get a swift and efficient end to their lives too. Not for them the slow decline of poisoning or the panic of being trapped. You’ll know this if you’ve ever watched a terrier working. One shake is all it takes. A toss of dead mouse over the shoulder, and on to the next (although Nutty Meg was inclined to hover behind Russ and eat the dead ones that he threw back).

The dogs would return home knackered and proud. But, on one occasion, Russ didn’t come back at all. The Farmer went to find him, and I knew something was wrong from the tone of the Farmer’s voice when he carried Russ into the farmhouse. The poor little man was in a terrible state (the dog, not the Farmer, although he wasn’t doing so well either). The blood and froth spraying from Russ’s face propelled us all into the truck for an emergency trip to the vets.

He’d followed the Farmer into that tunnel, and when the door was shut behind him he’d tried to find another way out. When an industrial fan spins at several thousand rpm it gives the illusion of disappearing into thin air, and Russ tried to jump through it. The thought still makes me wince.

We thought he was a goner, but no. He lost about 4 mm off the end of his nose, and I spent three weeks delicately inserting a cotton bud into each of his nostrils (several times a day) and rotating it to stop them closing up.

The things we do for love, eh. He was right as rain in a few short weeks, but forever stumpy faced.

A Tale of Two Dogs, espisode 1 (Game is Right)

A Tale of Two Dogs, espisode 1 (Game is Right)

The Kennel Club standard describes Border Terriers as ‘active and game’ and ‘essentially a working terrier, capable of following a horse.’

Game is right.

My little big man (Russ) arrived in our life in 1998, and he was game from day one: Tripping over my heels as I trudged to the stables, ready and willing to grapple with a 17 hand horse that didn’t want to share its breakfast. Plucky little chap, it was love at first sight. I was smitten, and I basked in the satisfaction of being his leader, protector and mistress.

For a few precious weeks, until puberty struck and he underwent a werewolf-like transformation, morphing almost overnight from mild-mannered pup to canine rebel commando.

Never nasty, nary a growl or a grumble at any human, but Lord have mercy on the rest of the animal kingdom. If it moved he wanted to kill it, and if he couldn’t do that his job was to tell us it was there, outside the window. He could tell us all night if need be. The word ‘dogged’ could have been coined for my little big man.

But I must be game too, because in 1999 I went back and bought his half-sister.

Nutty Meg spent her first night with us suspended over the wooden rail between the legs of a kitchen chair. I would like to stress that this was very much her choice, not mine. I wondered what the hell I’d bought into the house, and employed every method of persuasion that I had in my arsenal. None of them worked. The puppy bed and hot water bottle were rejected in favour of a wooden hammock.

Nutty Meg trembled a lot, a combination of attitude and several neuroses. Little big man found her existence beyond annoying, but he took it well. The mildest of profanities when she hung off his ears and attacked him in his bed. He told her off once, when she got over-frenzied playing tug-of-war with Youngest Daughter’s sock. That was the first and last time she listened to him. Or to anyone, come to that.

Nutty Meg wasn’t scared of any living thing, but she was phobic of crossing the kitchen floor, hated water but laid down in muddy puddles. She took on the farm truck (and lived to tell the tale), slept with the cat and washed little big man’s ears. Wouldn’t eat her food, but was ferocious if anyone tried to remove it. Would rather be carried than go for a walk, but could outrun a gazelle (if need be).

And I can confirm that Border Terriers are capable of following a horse… If they want to, and if the horse is going the way they’re intending to go.

A neurotic lap-dog/feral bitch and a canine rebel commando.

Two Border Terriers, about to gang up, and the adventure only just starting. Tune in next time for A Tale of Two Dogs, episode 2 (Partners in Crime)

Swallows, migration and ploughing serendipities, all on a Saturday morning

Swallows, migration and ploughing serendipities, all on a Saturday morning

Swallows circling the tractor and plough – dozens of them. We wonder, are they playing, or harvesting the flying insects which are put up from the stubble.

There’s a lot more like that, but my editing skills are worse than my filming skills and I had my finger over much of it.

It looks like a game, they swoop dangerously close to the tractor, as if surfing the thermals rising off of the engine, and dive across the plough to come around again. Maybe this is fitness training for the arduous journey ahead of them. Migrating birds, with hundreds of dangerous miles to cover. Topical at the moment. I wish all who embark on such fearful travels could be offered Godspeed and safe arrivals.

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Here’s what the RSPB  says about their journey:

By early September, most swallows are preparing to migrate. They flutter about restlessly, and often gather on telegraph wires. Most leave the UK during September, with early broods of youngsters being the first to go. But a few stragglers may hang around into October. 

The return journey to Africa takes about six weeks. Swallows from different parts of Europe fly to different destinations. Ours end up in the very south. They travel down through western France and eastern Spain into Morocco, before crossing the Sahara Desert and the Congo rainforest – finally reaching South Africa and Namibia.

Swallows migrate during daylight, flying quite low and covering about 320 km (200 miles) each day. At night they roost in huge flocks in reed-beds at traditional stopover spots. Since swallows feed entirely on flying insects, they don’t need to fatten up before leaving, but can snap up their food along the way. Nonetheless, many die of starvation. If they survive, they can live for up to sixteen years.

Hard to believe that a small bird can conquer such an endeavour.

We unearthed a horseshoe too.

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Every year the plough turns up interesting treasures, but this one intrigued us because it is round. Remedial shoeing for a horse which once pulled a plough? Or possibly more recent, it looks small for a heavy horse (5 1/4 inches across). Like many of our finds, it throws up more questions than answers.

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It must be autumn.