Monkey Chicken’s example was followed to the letter this autumn, with a Very Big Party to begin the season. I have never attempted anything so chaotic before, and have my friend Rachel to blame for her encouragement of the mad idea of a camping party. Approximately 30 adults and children came to camp in my garden for the weekend – although a few of them opted for a bedroom instead – and even more came to join us for a barbecue on Saturday lunchtime. With hot, sunny weather – no sign of autumn – live chamber music in the background for at least half the weekend, and Winnie becoming officially the Luckiest Pigeon in Suffolk by having a piece of music written especially for her by Rachel, I couldn’t have hoped for a more special start to my new decade… We were even serenaded by tawny owls after dark.
After some more partying in Cornwall (solo coast path walking) and Venice (with two friends), I was happy to get back home to the countryside and my animals and garden with its autumn leaves. Four days in Venice, even without flooding, was plenty, astounding though it was.
It has been a soggy autumn, but I don’t mind. When I left for Cornwall, I was worried that the main pond was about to dry out completely, for the first time that I could remember. The moat and front pond had long been dry. When I returned ten days later, the picture was already very different. Since then, every time I go in the garden, I inspect the water level.
‘Not bad!’…. ‘Definitely improving!’… ‘But still another foot to go!’
I am hopeful that by spring I might have full ponds for the first time in two or three years.
Garden and house jobs have been progressing slowly amongst a smattering of B&B guests. Concerts have been going strong, and the chickens have been moulting. There have been a couple of sad losses: Peanut the degu and Lou the chinchilla. Poor Leia is on her own again less than a year after Solo’s loss: chinchillas seem to be remarkably sensitive to illness considering they can live up to twenty years. I have discovered that Ilo is officially Too Tall for a pygmy goat (which I already knew, really), but Felicity has no such doubts about her identity. They have both become round and fluffy again to keep themselves warm during winter, and Cheeky Chicken has been making up for the absence of her friend, Monkey, by getting into enough mischief for both of them. Believe it or not, I have acquired no more chickens since the start of the season.
My favourite recent guest-related anecdote involves a Belgian family who came to stay at Crossways Farm. When driving back from a day out, they were passing through Hitcham village, and saw a sign for ‘Handmade Rocking Horses’ outside someone’s house. The man who lives there, Derek, used to do gardening for my father, and it was his wife who made the rocking horses; however, this sign had been up for decades, and I wasn’t entirely convinced she still made them. Liesbeth and her family pulled into the driveway, and got out of the car to ring the bell. Before they reached the house, a man came round to the drive looking flustered and not very pleased to see them.
‘What are you doing here? What do you want?’
‘We saw the sign saying rocking horses and we wanted to ask about them,’ Liesbeth replied.
‘Oh, we don’t make those any more,’ he replied. ‘We just leave the sign there so delivery drivers can find our house.’
Well, there was no doubt they were in Hitcham. And there is no doubt Hitcham is not geared up for tourism, and is not used to, or tolerant of, newcomers or visitors from beyond a five mile radius. It strikes me as a similar phenomenon as locals who use Mowles’ garage – which used to be at the end of my road, until 23 years ago – as a landmark when giving directions. There isn’t still a sign there saying Mowles’ garage, I hasten to add.
I laughed. A lot. And then apologised profusely on behalf of my village.
My favourite ‘home’ moments – and photos – of the season are these two below: mushrooms growing on the shed roof, and Winnie decorating my dresser.
Wishing you all a Happy Christmas and New Year!