The Creepy Coupe/ Shear Terror

We bought an entire smallholding of birds as a job lot. The man wanted them sold together, and his price was good, as most of them were rare breeds.

So this was how we got our new cockerel “Count Orloff” and Mrs Orloff, the eponymous Orloffs. Sweet natured, mumbling, speckled hens, they fitted right in without so much as a fight. Weird. And we got The Hamburglar and his three ladies- shy, tiny, very good at flying golden Hamburg hens. Then five green Cayuga ducks , two pure, others a speckled mixture but with the breeds black feet and eyes; and six jolly quacking white Aylesbury ducks, with their randy drake, Barry White (see what I did there? I’m at the end of pier all season, folks)

And three pied, blue eyed Twente geese we didn’t really want- including the gander, Sid Vicious (yes, he is). But geese are good guard animals, and lay lovely light tasting (yet Jurassic Park sized) eggs great for baking with. Sid amuses us- his aggression is totally unwarranted and extra, and we laugh at the way he hisses then walks away, still looking at you, until his head is right back on itself so he can regard you with his beedy blue eyes. Nutter.

The man also threw in three duck/ hen houses, that saved us a lot of money. I had to transport them all home in my trailer in two trips; the trip with the housing was hairy as we negotiated the Lincolnshire wolds; it was stacked as high as the Creepy Coupe from Wacky races.  I lost half the duck house roof on trip one; I hope nobody got clobbered…

Before I left Government social work, I had a strange parting gift. Another social worker had hand reared three lambs with a neighbour, but the neighbour wasn’t interested any more- could I take them?

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And so we got three more sheep for free- Lulu the ewe, and Minty and Ramsey the (neutered) rams- making our little flock six in total (joining Baa- bara, Phoebe and Lovechops) Bottle fed sheep are something else- by turns affectionate yet pushy, bold but wary, eager for company and yet independent. Its very strange to see sheep develop personalities- I wasn’t convinced they really had any. Its because they are slaughtered so young, and are raised almost without any human contact that we feel they are virtually fleshy insects. When you raise them as pets, its like you crack a code that wasn’t meant to be broken. They are friendly, but a bit gruff!

But personalities they have, that emerge the more you interact with them. Ramsey loves exploring, and Lulu loves her neck rubbed but will take her own sweet time doing anything- and doesn’t follow the herd. Lulu is the first to work out whether the bowl you are holding out to get them to move is empty or full- or full of anything she wants. If it isn’t, she will run in the opposite direction to the others.

Within days of having them we had all our sheep sheared- what a nightmare. Our sheep were tame but it still took the shearer hours, and a later trip to A and E when an escaping ewe dragged him literally down the garden path. I’d love to see how flocks of 500 are dealt with! It was something I was considering doing myself, but not any longer, as I would like to retain whats left of my dignity, unbroken nose, and remaining will to live. The shearer was actually the young son of the local shearer, who was booked out to 3000AD and wouldn’t touch just six sheep, when he deals in the hundreds. Heres some before and after photos (with our gorge Godchildren) …..

Because the sheep are so tame, they are especially useful as a therapeutic aid to children. So we aren’t going to eat them, or any animal on Shabbafarm. We aren’t vegetarians yet though.

In other cool news, our first born and bred chick was hatched! He/ she is unsexed, and lives with his mother and foster mother (basically two hens were broody, and devoted to him when he/she was born, so we let them stay with baby) We call the little person Charlie, and it is very cute!

Sadly D isn’t interested in the  livestock (the prime reason for having them) so we got him another dog…..will talk about that next time!

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Judge Minty/ Zero Mostel

When I was 9, I was a massive fan of dystopian sci fi comic, 2000AD. While most of my friends were opting for “Dennis the Menace” in the Beano, I preferred Judge Dredd. For those who don’t know, Dredd is an absurd, neo- con merciless macho uber cop, who shoots first, and never asks questions. Because the whole thing is so camp and absurd, it isn’t so awful. Well, possibly for 9 year olds it is. Liberal parents and all that.

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Judge Dredd had an aged contemporary, called Judge Minty. You can read a little about him here. Minty’s analogy sort of works regarding current events. Plus I have an insane ram called Minty, who likes to eat my trousers.

I like analogies because they can convey a lot more in a sentence than a book can. Plus I can ramble about stuff that is important to me, and not to you.

Long story short, I have left statutory (local Government) social work to make some kind of business of Shabbafarm, using social work skills and values- that is, the original social work skills and values I remember from so long ago. Like Minty, I found my compassion and “job age” was making me ineffective in what has become social work now- though I’m not necessarily obsolete. So much more to do beyond my desk, and tub of bad chocolate.

So I have, like Judge Minty, done the “long walk” -leaving behind so many teams and great colleagues. I may have become tired of what social work has become, and from managing my home life parallel to it, which was often worse than what I dealt with in child protection. Straight up. But I never tired from having some great managers and team buddies. I find myself wandering around my house, looking at all the various team photos and leaving cards I never can throw away. We did so much heavy stuff together. Its more than a job.

I will get more specific about what my wife and I (and some very cool other people) are doing with Shabbafarm on here soon- watch this space.

All that- the stress building up to leaving , and the fallout arising from leaving, have kept me from blogging. In the free time I have had, I realised I didn’t have very much to say that was either positive, or very well written. Or both. And I’m always processing all the stuff I have written about in previous posts. My son comes home very weekend, and on the whole its getting more and more positive. However, the ways I need to change overwhelm me. I was zoning out as a way of not dwelling on it. I spent so much time on my gaming console I’m likely to sell it and never go back.

The work needed on the smallholding ahead deserves a separate post. In lieu of my sizeable income missing, my wife has virtually gone full time in her midwifery- but there is a shelf life on her doing that. I often joke that she comes back from shift looking like a zombie nurse from the Walking Dead. It really encourages her.

I need to get a part time job, so at least we cover livestock feed.  I’m pretty much looking for what Amitai Etzioni calls a “McJob”. Currently I’m gunning for a zero hours contract coffee shop job at the moment.

But do you know what? Wouldn’t change it for the world. Transition is painful, and worth it.

I want to leave on a funny note. My last team were awesome, and at a great final curry, they gave me this “life story” book (see highlight photos) I keep it in a special place and re-read the comments. I didn’t cry when I got it, but I do now!

Tune in next time!

 

Third Uncle/ Christmas Islands

Sorry for the delay in new blogs! The build up to Christmas was pretty intense, and tasks on Shabbafarm -and work life-went into meltdown.

We had the best ever Christmas since the children came- not least because it was the only Christmas my wife and I and all the children spent longer than a few hours in each others company. Over the years we learnt that Christmas became too emotionally loaded for the children, and we had to separate only hours after opening presents as D became more and more high/violent/ twitchy. So I used to scoop him up, and drive around the Milton Keynes area blasting punk music, and walking him and the dog in the lonely wild places. I learnt every corner of Aspley Woods, including where all the buried cars and burnt out mopeds were.

This was also the deal over the New Years period. Things hit their grimmest around 2013 New Years Eve, where I sat with in some empty Kebab Shop with him, my wife and Mimi and her friend up north, our family trip cancelled due to the continued meltdowns. Why go anywhere nice like Cumbria when the whole time will be spent Policing, managing, stressing? Might as well stay in Milton Keynes…..in, erm…a Kebab shop.

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I guess the fact we could be together as a big family (both Grandmas, Uncle, and our big girl Char Char dragged up from the big city) is a measure of how far D has come. He sat and played with his toys, and we were amazed to see him build some simple Lego models. We had a functional Christmas lunch, with no flying food, stabbings or Russian oil rig language.

By Boxing day he was starting to struggle with feelings. I suppose around not living with us, his meditations on his sister being with us and not him…..Because he can’t name them, the feelings build up into physical leaks. He smashed up a chest of draws, and only talking him down stopped worse. On the last day before his return to residential school I ended up having to restrain him, because he had stolen the car keys (with the expensive electronic fob) and loosing the ability drive the vehicle would be beyond disastrous. I had to snatch them quickly, which sent him postal. In retrospect, I should have let him chuck them over the hedge. Its only a car. Its stuff.

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As he thrashed on the floor, spitting in my face, he was shouting “I hope you die of cancer!” and other parental bonding greatest hits. We hadn’t been here in years.

Mystically, I was reminded of the old Brian Eno song “Third Uncle”

“There are scenes
There are blues
There are boots
There are shoes
There are Turks
There are fools
They’re in lockers
They’re in schools
There was you
Then there was you”

Scenes. Blues? I could be Captain Mogadon at times. Footwear, kicking out. Fools on both side of this parenting. Locked up things in lockers, Young Turks with clever ideas making us feel useless. Residential schools. I love how it ends, though. There was you. My boy. This whole farm is for the children, and we will see a breakthrough in all this. I’m holding on to it being the best family Christmas ever.

 

Proper Job/ Work of Human Hands

We have committed to doing smallholding properly- really learning about the animal’s needs and best care, and learning to do jobs on our own, rather than buy in specialists. And that takes time. Industrial tracts of time. But one thing I have found- and I hope the kids get this- is that making, repairing and doing things with your hands is healing. It soothes. You feel good when you come in from the land.

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The smallholding kind of tells you what job needs doing- and when. For instance,  the chickens started getting into next doors garden, which is bad news for her manicured lawn, because they poo everywhere and some of their poo’s are as big as the eggs they aren’t laying yet. Our dog Moby was also getting out, and he has no road sense. In fact were pretty sure he had a near death experience, because a passing pedestrian told us he was outside the gate, barking like a nutter, and now he cringes around the roadside with little eyes, which mean he’s guilty or scared.

So we had to fence the winter thinned hedge. In the summer it was a thick lush barrier, but now it is 70% gaps. Fencing costs a bomb, even second hand, but we got a bargain from this old guy who was selling some semi rotten panels on behalf of his son (which is a bit strange and complex, come to think about it) Anyway we got them cheap, and I had to borrow his trailer to get them home. Then he sold me his trailer and we got another real bargain.

We had to wedge the fence panels in the hedge trees, and for now its held up my garden poles and part of the new barrier is made up of bits of old shelving and even an old sand tray, which looks rubbish and makes me dribble. It looks like some hillbillies built it after an atomic incident. But we have decided it has to hold until we can do it properly, to the standard of the main boundary fence and gate. It does the job. And our free range chickens are contained.

Let me tell you, chickens are amazing. Some of my best friends are chickens. We have three sub colonies- Audrey the Light Sussex mother hen and her 17 mixed breed hooligans, then Mrs Puff, Patchy and Sandy the three Warren hybrids, and then the three surviving hand reared hybrids- Custard the Sussex Ranger (a known psycho), and RePecca and Lollipop the…whatever they are. Brown theme. Nervous. These latter three have a shallow gene pool, if you ask me. But we love them.

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Audrey’s brood have become pretty big- and its time to split them. There also appear to be few cockerels amongst them, but we aren’t quite sure who is who, as nobody is crowing yet, and they’re all naturally big as well, because they have Brahma blood in them. We just bought them a new coop, that arrived via our trailer last week. We will sex them when the identifying tags (I somehow bought from China on Ebay) arrive. Probably on my 50th birthday. We will be giving our cockerels away for free, so contact me if you want ’em.

Things are slowly falling into place- sometimes too slow, but tangible nonetheless. As we adapt, and read the signs. We have a freedom to innovate and solve problems our way; the land is ours and its a canvas we can paint on without fear. We don’t have a boss to impress; we aren’t creating a product; there’s no time pressure.

And its nice to plan, to slowly assemble the bits we need to address a new job- like we have to MOT the sheep soon. It has suddenly become the right time, because two of them are tame enough to hand feed and they follow us and call to us now in the mornings and evenings. We need to check their teeth, their hooves, and their bottoms for problems and disease, and damage from too much poo getting caught around the bum area. Naturally, I can’t wait for that job.

We have bought the foot trimming tools, and the foot spray. Now we just need a day with three adults so we can corral them, and one of us wrestle them into this strange sitting position where they go limp and let it happen.

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Treasure/ Baboons

We love cats, but had decided to not have any at Shabbafarm. The road is insane outside the main gate (yes parents, that would be the eerily deserted road with tumbleweeds blowing down it when we viewed the house road, just to be clear), and even though the cats will have 250,000,000 cubic miles of farmland to explore out back, you just know they are going to crap across the road. And play chicken with 70mph Slovakian truck drivers ramped off their skull on Red Bull and Costa shots.

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And then came Treasure.

We rescued one of the two feral kittens on our land. My wife found them hunting on the paddock, and when she approached, one was too weak to move further. It had a bad case of cat flu, and was spent, but its sibling was too fast and got away.

What do you do? Im a great believer that if an animal survives through adversity, it deserves to live. I lived in Botswana as a child, and we found our ex neighbours cat Henry (whose owners had returned to he USA) lying on our tin roof, with a dislocated pelvis. It had decided to fight a baboon- never a great idea- and the baboon must have thrown it into the air, and Henry must have landed badly on our roof. Henry had survived the blazing heat for days by crawling to the gutter and licking the dew off the mulch. When we located him by his weak cries, we took him to the vet, who wanted to euthanise him. We said no. Henry went on to have a happy life, but walked like John Wayne after that.

Our captured kitten is now doing well, after some meds and check up by the vet. We were told by the nurse she was about five weeks old and female, so we called her Treasure (after one of the chicks that didn’t make it)

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Just been back to the vet, and I have been told she’s more like eight or nine weeks, and she is a he. He said “Who told you it was a she- the nurse?” Awkward workplace LOL. I suppose Treasure can be a unisex name, as long as he doesn’t hang around gyms and cage fighting clubs.

Re: the feral sibling, I’ve only seen it once since, about two weeks ago, and it was living in an old rabbit warren. The mother hasn’t been seen in ages. Im guessing the mother is dead, or has abandoned them; as winter rolls on, I doubt the feral sibling will survive (if it isn’t already dead) Now is the last window to act. I borrowed a humane cat rap from the vet, and baited it with cat food.

Then I bumped into my neighbour. She said that there are millions of feral cats around here, and they congregate at the cottage up the road- where the Feral Cat Feeding Lady lives.

But of course. Every hamlet, village, town and city has one.

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You know-its fine, but these things feral cats need to be spayed and neutered. I’m paying vets bills and hiring more hardware than “The Lost World; Jurassic Park 2”, and then you hear somebody has opened a homeless feline theme park up the road. I would be doing more than flipping feeding them. Isn’t that slightly…insane? Like, loads of cats boiling through your Rhododendrons, hissing and defecating and stuff, and she doesn’t think “There is rather a lot of them. And little helpless kittens as well….my oh my“. I suppose she didn’t see “The Mad Death” in the 1980’s…..

I hope it doesn’t fall to me to be the resident cat trapper and testicle snipper. I came here to do touchy feely cuddly animals, but its dawning on me that things might get gory and practical soon. The trap idea got me thinking- what if we catch more than cats? Foxes? I actually like foxes, and in another life I was a Hunt Saboteur. But they can’t live here, with my chickens. If I catch a fox I shall probably drive to a forest miles away and release it, or maybe somewhere nearer, like a UKIP office.

Rabbits? Well they are all over my laaaand and, when the crops are planted, will become Public Enemy Number One. I shall probably kill and eat them. Rats will be killed on sight. Not sure about what to do with Badgers, or Mink etc. It all has to be done, but not sure what it teaches the children, especially children with big feelings that sometimes turn violent.

Answers on a postcard.

Weeds/ For Want of a Nail

We are fighting a total war with nature. Nettles and dock are my nemesis, and nothing makes me happier than beating, smashing, ripping and then burning the evil things.

It’s a job you have to be resigned to, but we are spending days on another job at the moment, moving and sorting an abandoned compost area- weeds and roots to dry and burn, rubbish to the dump, and good soil (after sifting) to a Rhino sack to use on the vegetable beds when they are ready. Its knackering.

The solution for each set of jobs and problems on a farm is livestock. Each breed of animal, let lose on the land in turn, is able to do specific labour saving chores another type of animal can’t. So cows eat grass with their tongue by ripping, sheep follow and nibble, goats prefer overhanging tree branches and wasteground, and pigs are the ultimate rotavators- they root around with their snouts until the land is ploughed, and fertilised by their droppings. I want to let lose the pigs on the weeds and all the crop areas taken back by nature. Within a month it will be like the Somme, and fertilised, and think how much Fallout 4 I could have played by then. And that will teach the nettles a lesson they’ll never forget.

However, we cant afford pigs yet (because they need an ark, and other stuff like a portable electric fence, and it’s too much) so we are committed to clearing areas by hand. Soon we are going to hire a rotavator, if we can’t buy a cheap second hand one (which costs what hiring one twice would cost) But this all rips my knitting, because the the cost of this is a frustrating false economy,  when such money could go towards an old tractor with bigger and better implements you operate from the seat, so you don’t spend days walking around holding the small of your back, like a weird fat bloke with….erm…a bad back.

I have found the perfect tractor, by the way- a Ransomes MG40, a tiny but powerful crawler often used in vineyards, that would be ideal for the kids to operate (yes, under supervision) because it has no steering wheel, only levers – like a tank- remember the push and pull and sensory stuff I talked about? The MG40 can do most of what other tractors can do, including pulling a topper (uber lawnmower) and ploughs etc. Plus it rocks. I used to dream about driving one around my land in a rainstorm, wrapped up in a waterproof coat.

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The lack of the right tools compounds the fact we haven’t got the time we need to sort the smallholding out as quickly as we would like. Until it is sorted, its a mess. It makes me dribble, because I hate messy farms- you know the type with 12 rusty tractors out front, and fifty abandoned greenhouses full of trees out the back? I don’t want a smallholding like that.

The kids doing things on the farm is central but we can’t expect too much focus (D has ADHD) and if both are home (which is nearly every weekend) we can’t leave them to their own devices, so you get pulled off the job, and have to run down the paddock hooting, shedding gloves and boots and hand tools and twine to stop D trying to feed the chickens Red Bull soaked chewing gum, or something. Because, of course, some of the “help” you get from kids is about as helpful as getting on the wrong plane, and finding yourself in Botswana, when you have a business meeting in New York. Even my dog was unhelpful today. The one raised bed we had cleared- the only ready to plant raised bed Shabbafarm owns- he had decided to desecrate by burying his stupid hamburger toy, and then grinning at me.

Never work with children or animals.

 

The Constant Gardener/ Mudhouse Mansion

We were mindful that some of the principles of having a smallholding (as a therapeutic tool for traumatised adopted children) was about how routines and movements could soothe stress. Pushing and pulling, swinging and spinning, seeing and smell, taste, touch and hearing are the essence of why animals and crops are important. People aren’t always aware they crave these sensations, but they are often driven subconsciously to seek these experiences out.

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Its interesting how D has already started to use these at the farm, now he comes most weekends. We bought a cheap, old school push lawn mower to keep the paths and tracks down, given our Flymo flex won’t stretch very far, and our land is a long 3 acre finger. Soon as he saw it, D loved the mower and spent hours pushing it around. We laughed to ourselves, and referred to him as the “Constant Gardener” because he was still doing it in the dark! He used to do this pushing thing as soon as he started walking, often shoving a large toy truck literally miles through woods and fields on our frequent walks. He would be very intersted in the wheels as he did this. It has reminded us of all the above, and we want to develop this principle by finding other things he can push or pull. I have even thought about lending scrum machine from the local rugby club.

Sensory, hands on experiences are also vital. We had always planned a “mud bath”  and so got on with making a basic one the other day. As usual with us, time and planning were limited and what we prepared was smaller and less intentional than we wanted, but it was a start, and also an experiment.  The children love water and mud, and we have always encouraged this. I have blogged before that our children were the only children who went into the woods in wetsuits, which spooked a number of dog walkers, but “wisdom is proved right by her children”. So we let them loose with the hosepipe and one of our overgrown raised beds.

The kids got stuck in, but we let them use some of Mimi’s “Bratz” and “Monster High” dolls in the mud bath, which was a bad decision as the play turned ghoulish about burying the dolls and hurting them (which is sometimes a reoccurring theme in their free play- bad endings, no rescue, etc) Its like they go into sensory overload. That can happen with all good sensory experiences. Its really frustrating, because you end up monitoring a living souffle kind of thing. Too soon to stop? Too long? Careful or it will collapse! Gaaah!! I was aware how tense I was the whole time, thinking of how I would get them into the shower without making the house look like it had been hit by a Tsunami, and how I would control any over excited situation, and how I didn’t want get wet or dirty. I know I have to be ready to get stuck in and dirty, and theres a disconnect. Im processing this as well.

But hey, you can tweak all your plans and experiments, can’t you? Next time there will be no dolls, and I hope the mud bath will be bigger, deeper and more immersive. Im also going to remove the hosepipe, because that becomes another distraction that can end in tears, as D loved the power of having something he often chose to squirt at Mimi.  It sort of ended like a Chinese student protest in Singapore. On acid.

 

Home At Last/ The Once-Ler

We’re in!

This was 6 weeks ago, but everything went light speed from there, and we didn’t have internet until a couple of weeks ago. Trying to blog from an iPhone requires microscopes and nano-technology with my sausage fingers….plus I went to America for two weeks with step daughter, which deserves its own blog entry some day!

We secured a new property by M (my wife) working full time for a season. The knock on is enormous in regards to time she is away from home, and how this affects the kids, but we had to do something or we were stuck in me being in B and B and us being separated indefinitely. The last entries prior to this kind of show the desperation. M starts a new job in a local hospital next month, so will be home more.

Needless to say, our new home is a dream house, with  a plot of land kissing 3 acres.

The house itself is a “cybercottage”- a farriers house and workshop built sometime in the 1800’s, but so modernised and reclad it looks sort of 1930’s. You can only tell its an old house by the inglenook fireplace, that exposes the brick and this ancient wooden beam, and the upstairs windows that are so low you have to shuffle on your knees to spy on your neighbours. We love it. We can’t believe were here, I sometimes feel I’m squatting.

One of the first tasks we had is to register as a small holding to gain your “County Parish Holding” (CPH) number. When that came through I was suddenly a “farmer”- a strange moment!

I am now registered to have sheep, goats and pigs (you don’t need to register chickens unless you have over 50) From that you get your flock number, and the paperwork begins….

Alongside the mantle of having animals comes a mindfulness about how you want to roll as smallholders. I knew a farmer who dealt only in rare breeds, as a reaction to farmers who have abandoned the older UK breeds and gone for new breeds and hybrids. Crudely put, rare breeds are breeds of livestock of ancient heritage, that have become more and more scarce due to business reasons. They are hardy and smaller than newer breeds, and thus yield less meat. Some also tend to have only one lamb when breeding, whereas new breeds tend to have twins and triplets, thus exponentially increasing yield and profit over their fiscal life.

Perhaps those old breeds being left behind is wise, given farmers rely entirely on their livestock to make a living (and I don’t) But the chicken breeding business can be far more sinister, with intensive battery breeding locking birds on top of each other in tiny spaces, so they become distressed and fight and loose their feathers. Some keepers even go so far as debeaking -which is evil.

We hate where all this mentally is coming from. I don’t want to be the Once-Ler.

Im totally committed to spacious, free range animal husbandry. But due to the cost of animal delivery, and the fact I don’t own an animal trailer yet (and thus can’t get to many the rare breeds, which tend to live in Wales or Scotland) I’m going to practice on the newer breeds and hybrids until I find my feet. A manager at work has a pretty developed small holding and she sold me our first three sheep, Texel and Suffolk crosses. 

The sheep were bought partly to embed our smallholder commitment, and partly to keep the grass down (we don’t have a lawn tractor, and I would prefer to avoid the financial outlay) So we got 3 shearling ewes.

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Our 3 hens came out of “foster care” immediately and loved their new home and their first true free range experience. They started giving us two eggs a day, so one of them is a non layer- but we have made a commitment that short of dire illness, and maybe finding we have too many cockerels, all chickens will live cull free. They are meant to be therapeutic for the kids, and egg layers, not Sunday dinner.

We needed more chickens. We wanted hand reared chickens, to encourage tameness (we want our children to handle chilled out birds) and it so happened the same manager at work had a broody hen. Me and Mimi had the joy of seeing the chicks pretty much being born, and a day or so later the manager said it would be good to take the chicks as she was worried the hen was a poor mother, abandoning them while she went off to feed.

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But that statement was recalled when it was found “mother” hen had hatched 18 chicks- many clearly not her own offspring (or same species, my initial thoughts!)-  and stashed some in logs, whilst taking others out in small groups to feed around the garden. So in order to go with natures vibe, we took all 18 chicks and mother hen, who was already named Audrey! We haven’t sexed the young chickens yet. I’m hoping somehow we only have one cockerel, which we shall keep. He’s going to be called Mr Tumble.

Because there was some delay in getting the baby chicks from the manager (the first attempt ended in disaster, as Audrey went nuts, told the chicks to hide in the trees, and we couldn’t catch her!) I bought four chicks from a local dealer to be hand reared. Whilst full of spirit, one (called Custard) is clinically insane and wants to fight everybody, and the other three look like they may have been born in Chernobyl. The stench of having them indoors during the cold weather is immense, and now they have caught a virus. We are treating them with an endless water medicine, which I especially enjoy in the winter dark at silly o clock before 8 hours of child protection.

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But Mimi has come alive with it. Every day she goes up to cuddle the various chickens and feed the sheep (ignoring Custards flying headbutts and foul language) and seeing your anxious child talking to the animals, calm and peaceful, makes us know we have made the right decision.

Nearly killed us getting here.

 

 

 

Changes/ Sleeping Beauty

Its been emotional.

Three weeks ago, we pulled the plug on the purchase of the intended site of Shabba Farm. The vendors were withholding vital information they ambushed us with, at the last minute. It included being solely responsible for a mile long access road- you might as well write a blank cheque for that. Lawyers from all over the free world would be queuing to make their exhaust pipe fall off on the Congo style track, and charge yours truly.

Human nature never ceases to amaze me. Its back on the market, 20K higher, ready for the next victim. We discussed some kind of legal redress, but frankly, we have bigger fish to fry.

This has left us severely out of pocket- and sent me into an angry depression I have only tentatively emerged from. My wife didn’t approve any of the draft posts I wrote on here, as they were so bleak The Sisters of Mercy wanted them as lyrics for their new album.

At the point the sale died, I had already started my new job locally, and switched from working for the Local Authority to being an agency social worker. Anybody who knows social work may well conclude this is the sanest thing to do when trying out a new local authority, in case your new boss is a white collar sociopath (had one or two over the years)

Being on twice the salary doesn’t hurt, either.

Or so I thought.

We presumed that our original mortgage offer was good for the next property. It wasn’t. On checking next steps with this, we realised that me going agency precluded me from any mortgage offer, including from my own bank, with whom I have been with over 25 years and with whom I have never defaulted on any loan or product. Who knew?

We were in a world of pain. There were suddenly few options and we were staring in to the abyss. I was – am- in a bed and breakfast, reading John Grisham novels Sunday to Tuesday, and coming home like some awkward space traveller and reintroducing myself to my wife and child. With even less immediate possibility of taking D home for regular chunks, and doing all we have explained on this blog.

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We don’t want to rent locally and wait. The thought of shelling out a massive deposit we will never see again, to rent some average suburban “let me poop on your dream of land and animals” scenario, and being tied into it for 6 months (if Im lucky enough to find one that will take our beloved dog, Moby) is unthinkable.

One option was for me to quickly join the new local authority immediately, and drop half my agency salary – our main way of buying the animals and their feed. It seemed- seems- excruciating  and offensive to do this on the basis of some mortgage analyst who thought “agency worker” meant I drove vans for NightFreight during my summer holidays. My new boss and team are lovely. But let’s see how it rolls after I take my first case into court, shall we?

So, another option was for my wife to get a mortgage on her current salary alone and add this to our equity from our house sale in the saving account to buy somewhere. The thing was, this would be a small mortgage and it didn’t really buy us much more than the third option.

Which was what we did. We put in an accepted offer, in cash on an abandoned plant nursery with 2.2 acres. It looks like something off the Walking Dead.

It needed 2.2 acres of fencing  we will need to do ourselves, and the abandoned commercial greenhouses were literally full of what looks like the hedge barrier from Sleeping Beauty.

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The main structures were two old workshops with planning permission to convert to a three bedroom house.

And, inexplicably, there was an old boat on its side in one of the meadows.

We hoped to be in within four weeks, pending search results.

Notice the past tense.

We moved on the property very quickly as similar- and better- properties were flying off the shelf in days, before we could drive to view them together. But when we did some more digging over the weekend about the place (thanks to my brother in law and step brother) we found the full set of documents related to the planning application online. We were concerned that the site had no access to drains- which we thought was implied when it mentions connection to water, and the workshops had asbestos roofs- expensive to remove. Those factors, when added to the overall costs of developing the site, unfortunately make purchase untenable now- just installing a could take would be around 8K, and when you add in asbestos removal, buying a second hand static caravan, the build and the fending, it makes it all a bad investment.

So new plan. Watch this space……

 

 

The Ourang Medan/ Agree

Did you feel, even if something never existed, it makes sense?

That it should exist- and you believe in it?

Do you like films about secret good intentions being defeated, wrongly explained, and evidence of them removed for damage limitation reasons? Where the hero persists, through terrible self doubt, when he or she could actually be Captain Ahab as much as Batman?

Our children should never have been placed together.

But that doesn’t mean they shouldn’t be together. Welcome to one of the biggest paradoxes going. I’m not sure it has a name. But many adopters live it daily.

It is true that some children shouldn’t be together, by the way. Knowing the difference is the trick. Do you push on, into destruction, and lose everything like the monomaniacal Ahab- or fight for truth, at a staggering cost?

The SS Ourang Medan is a ghost ship story. Whether it existed- and its lethal cargo of confiscated nerve agents being carried incognito- isn’t the issue. The issue is the Americans granting citizenship to the scientists of Japans  infamous Unit 731 without trying them for war crimes- for their own nefarious ends in nerve gas development. The ghost ship story works as a primer, a conversation starter. I find fairy tale and myth useful in telling adoption, because that is actually what we take part in when we sign the paperwork.

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Okay, weird example. But do you get the analogy?

You see, I don’t think our private battles, failures, weaknesses and perseverance were meaningless. I often see films as a good way of telling this kind of stuff. Think “High Noon”. Think “Electra Glide in Blue” and “Days of Glory“.

What makes thinking clearly about making the right call so hard is the flak we go through.

There are many voices in the flak, who want us to make agreement with them. Some agreements are fatal. Our identity, our destiny, and our hope be destroyed by making wrong agreements.

Some professionals, professional reports and friends say things that attack our identity as carers’ for our amazing children- we, the people who know our children better than anybody else.

Words are said- over a coffee, in print, by email- that attack our very lifeblood and sacred core.

Confusion, bald and graceless half truths, and statements that wither our resolve are made. In the pain, you get tempted to make agreements with darkness. But our fears- and with those, our destruction- are only empowered by us making agreement with them.

We have to agree with them in order to unleash their carnage.

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You can unpick this by “reverse engineering” the story from another film, “The Verdict“. Aside from being a cracking movie, it raises so many ethical questions it is taught as an ethics piece at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga (see link).

The hero- or anti hero, depending on your view- is a washed up lawyer, Frank Galvin.

Galvin takes on a medical malpractice case, and in doing so incurs the wrath and spite of the legal, medical and religious power bases (I will call them “the voices” here). It gets very personal, as every foul in the book is thrown at him. (You’re really going to have to watch the film to get the maximum out of the following)

The voices’ first strategy. Accusation. “You rebel, trouble maker” and then the fear comes in- “We’re telling/Going to show you up”

However, Galvin’s case initially goes very well and very fast.

New tactic. Mockery. The best presentation of the case is dismissed by the judge and the defence.

The mockery doesn’t have to be overt. To many adopters, it can be along the lines of “Who are you? You’re just those failed, frightened stupid little people who don’t know your children or their prognosis  and you keep messing up- and you have got this wrong, how can you possibly succeed in your hopes and dreams? Just look at the enormity of the barriers and lack of resources/ whatever” -or words to that effect. The people closest to us often do this the most, as Galvin finds out with his new girlfriend.

Ever heard something like that?

 

The voices work best in fear.

But Galvin came up with new resolve and strategies. Now the opposition is getting really angry, and very frightened.

New strategy- let’s talk. Let’s have a nice coffee, and be rational. This happens just at the point you are nearly in victory, or at least have a settled vision for the future and a resolve. The voices are usually persistent in this- they will keep trying to sow seeds of doubt.

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Never have a coffee with the voices. Don’t let negative people and statements into your “inner courts”

Have you ever thought- Am I too focused? Am I a Pollyanna? Is the wisdom of the social worker, support worker, teacher, CAMHS worker, professional report writer, you name it, better than what I instinctively know?

For us and the smallholding vision it was “Don’t be silly mate. Come on, you cant wire a plug. You hate gardening. You’re not disciplined enough. You will end up punching the goats because you are irritable. Look, why not accept D is going you be in an institution forever. You can have a nice career, and go and buy him an ice cream now and again”

 

We made agreements for years. It perpetrated a stalemate, and because none of the agreements offered hope, things got really, really bad.

So after years of saying how hard everything was, and telling people how little hope there was, and acting desperately, we decided that we were going to break our agreements with gloom.

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We have decided to aggressively and prophetically step out and sell and change everything to win the best environment and future for our children- this smallholding dream we are calling “Shabba Farm” (Prophetically means doing something that predicts, or creates the future in some way. Interestingly, we actually got a prophecy along the way as well!)

We don’t believe in fate, as in the sense of “fatalism” . We make our own fate. I believe in a positive destiny and I want to say to all of you in the adoption journey- and especially people stuck in a hideous episode that never seems to resolve or improve- FIGHT!

To this end, mediate on the words of General Creighton Abrams-“They’ve got us surrounded again, the poor bastards.”