Last week, I drove to Ipswich to be on Radio Suffolk. I was asked to be the ‘sofa guest’ on Lesley Dolphin’s afternoon show. This isn’t something I would ordinarily agree to do, but these aren’t ordinary times. These are times when farming and its step-child, farm diversification, are business and the farmer who is reluctant to be a promoter and show off his holiday cottages/wedding venue/cooking school/conference centre or, in my case, farmer’s market, vineyard, restaurant and shop will be having a gloomy meeting with the bank before you can say ‘sell a field’.
Actually, I like talking about the mysterious relationship between the farmer and his fields. The deterrent for me is always Getting There. Despite leaving an hour earlier than Google Map’s ‘predicted length of journey 35 minutes’ and three printout pages of maps and instructions, I got lost. Late and lost is my idea of absolute hell, surpassed only by late, lost and a voice on the radio saying ‘I’m waiting for my guest today, Carla Carlisle’. In the end, I was only half an hour late, but ‘air time’, even in local radio, is a more serious measure of time.
Still, I tried not hem and haw too much and Lesley is a pro, relaxed and chatty as she discreetly glanced at her crib sheet, which I’d filled in earlier, with ‘born’, ‘schooldays’ and ‘hobbies’. I left the space after ‘hobbies’ blank. There is something about the word that makes me squirm. Things I enjoy doing-reading, cooking, listening to the radio, sitting in a canoe with my dog-are part of my life. I don’t think of them as hobbies. Then, I began to think that perhaps a hobby is something you spend a lot of time and money-on that doesn’t produce any income. Suddenly, the list grew like a tree.
The cattle, for instance. My small herd of Red Polls is an adornment to the landscape, but there’s no way I could fiddle the accounts to show that they’re economic. In part, this is down to my lack of skills in animal husbandry. The bull who spent three months here last winter was a big, sweet-smelling fellow, but, 10 months later, we only had one stillbirth and one live birth to show for his visit.
The herd already has a few members who will never earn their keep. Angelica, the calf whose life I saved against great odds is now full-grown, but the size of a six month old. She also has a mild personality disorder that the cow vet suggests might be the first case of Asperger’s she’s seen in Red Polls. Then, there’s her mother, Norah, age 18, whose child-bearing (read profit-making) days are over, but who is guaranteed a home on the range for life. Calm as a clam and big as a Range Rover, she loves a nice head massage, adds dignity to the herd-most of whom are her daughters-and is an asset to the tender-hearted, non-profit organisation we call a farm.
Next are Onze and Douze, brother and sister Shetland sheep whose mother died the day they were born. They grew up with Angelica, so the three of them are a family and live in the meadow next to the house, a field away from the rest of the flock. Douze is due to lamb this spring, so she could be called productive, but Onze is simply a gentle member of the family. I’ve promised him a good life that will never end in rosemary and garlic.
Finally, there are my fowl. My Norfolk Black turkeys have eclipsed the chickens in my affections. Their prehistoric faces, their curiosity, their jolie-laide looks, have turned me into a pseudo-vegetarian, unable to eat anything that eats out of my hand. As for the peacocks-all 16 of them-I love them, but their numbers are causing concern in our new head gardener and impatience in my husband. In Christian art, the peacock appears as a symbol of immortality and the incorruptible soul. Nowhere do they seem to produce a profit. All the same, for marital peace, I need to find homes for four young pairs. Readers not averse to the word ‘hobby’ should get in touch.