Not long after we started the weekly farmers’ market here on the farm, my friend Valerie came for the weekend. She loaded her car with sourdough bread, Norfolk ewe cheeses, unpasteurised Jersey cream, a leg of lamb, a case of Wyken wine. Afterwards, we sat in the cafe with papers and lattes. ‘Incredible. You’ve organised your life so you need never leave Wyken.’ Then, gazing at my hair, matted down by my beret, she added: ‘Have you thought of turning the bull pen into a hairdressers?’
In fact, I now go to the butcher’s shop in the village for my hair cuts. Roy Ransome was a wonderful butcher whose cuts of beef were as legendary as his knowledge of jazz. A month after he retired, he died of a heart attack and, for several years, his empty shop was a symbol of our loss. Then his daughter, Amanda, opened for business. Now it’s called The Cutting Room and it’s as warm and friendly and full of local gossip as it was in her father’s day. The temptation to draw in, to live a life of self-sufficiency, to turn Wyken into
a little house on the prairie, stirs deep in me. I’m not a girl who wants emeralds, I tell my husband, I want a generator.
I don’t hanker after nights at the opera: nothing thrills me more than evening seminars on wood fuels and biomass systems. Although the Blairs fly off to Miami for their fun, I’m happiest standing in the rain watching the reservoir fill up with water. Which brings me to my new hero, the late President Gerald Ford. For years, he was fixed in my narrow mind for three things: his pardon of Nixon, the phrase ‘he can’t walk and chew gum at the same time’ and his gutsy, remarkable wife
But there was another side to Ford that, had I been more alert, would have endeared him to me utterly. He was a True Believer in the cause of self-sufficiency in oil and energy. The 1973 Arab oil embargo was the shock that made him determined to free America from its vulnerability to foreign oil, to use his presidency to break his country’s addiction to oil. In his 1975 State of the Union speech, he explained how it could be done: ‘Within the next 10 years, my program envisions 200 major nuclear-power plants; 250 major new coal mines; 150 major coal-fired power plants; 30 major new oil refineries; 20 major new synthetic fuel plants; the insulation of 18 million homes; the manufacturing and sale of millions of new automobiles, trucks and buses that use much less fuel.’
It wasn’t just talk with Ford. He pushed through the Energy Policy Conservation Act of 1975, made huge investments in alternative-energy research and energy-conservation programs, and created the Petroleum Reserve for emergencies. He aimed for zero oil imports by 1985. Now the US imports 14 million barrels a day, the polar ice caps are melting and polar bears are the mortal icons of our stupidity.
In saner moments, I know that self-sufficiency on a Suffolk farm doesn’t amount to a hill of barley. I can’t build a fence high enough to keep out the effects of global warming, the thunder of war. Even writing this in the dim light of low-energy bulbs will not change the world. But when Putin shuts off the Russian gas line that supplies 40% of the gas to continental Europe and the British Government predicts that by 2020 up to 90% of our gas could be imported and Russia is the most obvious source, I hanker after a political leader whose greatest passion is his country’s self-sufficiency. Meanwhile I’m chopping my own wood.
This article first appeared in Country Life magazine on July 7, 2005.