was one of my favourite shows growing up. For those who don’t know, it’s an oft-repeated British sitcom from the 70s about this middle class couple who choose to pack in their jobs and become self sufficient in their own home. I had a notion that the model of who I could become was a hybrid of the wife, Barbara, who embodied my love of mucking in and fetish for dungarees with a hint of Margo, the high and mighty neighbour with the plummy voice and fantastic frocks. This notion was reignited ten-odd years ago when a friend and I were driving through some sheep, directed in our slow progression by an over-eager farmer giving far too many directions. “Do go away you silly little man” I muttered, and my friend turned, laughed and called me Margo.
So, having always had this model somewhere in my head it is quite funny to find myself closer than ever to living it. We are poor, worryingly poor right now, but somehow middle class enough to make our own foccacia, turn scraps into exotic bakes and forage for missing ingredients in the paths round the peninsula. My partner wears fantastic jumpers and sews his own shoes and makes ingenious contraptions from spare bits of wood and metal. I find “isn’t it marvellous” glee, born in the privilege of not having had to do manual labour before I met Richard, in fetching our daily water, hitting bits of metal and donning a paint spattered jumpsuit to oil the mast.
As for self sufficiency, that has yet to come. Chard has been reading Sailing the Farm, written in the 70s or 80s by a hippie boat dweller who lives a low-tech, low-impact sustainable existence. Though his ecology is from another time (he sells tropical fish to aquariums and uses woods which are now considered unsustainable), his tips are incredible. One day we hope to adopt some of his home-drying, sprouting and growing techniques, and are already tempted by cooking our rice and porridge overnight in thermos flasks. The author also divulges why beans make you fart – apparently the enzymes destroyed by cooking make people less able to digest them.
In the spirit of eating from our environment I gutted my first fish yesterday. I was vegetarian from the age of five until a few years ago, and I still don’t eat much meat (or any yet this year), but I do feel like I should be able to prepare a fish once I’ve caught it. Rich, who usually does this job, accompanied me down to the chilly pontoon with a knife and a bag of freshly caught herring and pollock, gifts from a fisherman whose boat he’s helped repair. First he dismembered one, then I did the next. Having put my thumb in to gouge out the last of its vital organs and tossed them onto the mud I turned to Chard. “This is the most brutal thing I’ve ever done” I said, my mouth turned dramatically downwards like the one on the fish whose head I was removing. Then I looked back at the mud of guts and started to cry. Sorry fish. Rich marvelled at this shock to my system – he was raised with a hunter father, without an animal rights enthusiast like my mother. I finished the job and resolved to be battle-hardened enough not to weep next time.
Painting the aft cabin has seemed so pointless and boring lately that I’ve performed any tasks with a small amount of resentment, finding distractions in anything I can from cooking to running errands. It had to change. Who needs a painted bastard aft cabin when there are hulls to be fixed and rigging to be made? So last night Rich and I made a super-list, the big list of everything that needs to be done before we can go out of this damned shed and back on the water. Did I mention that it’s big? It’s BIG. I sorted the jobs into categories and numbered them according to what tasks need completing before or after others – the deck seating needs to be designed while Rich’s half built push pit is still on, which then needs taking off before the deck is painted, after which it will need to be returned before the rigging is done – that sort of thing. In total we have 7 numbers, 7 groups of jobs, and we’re on 1 which consists largely of Rich doing the engine and me doing the rudder. Rich has a tendency to obsess about one job (recently the push pit) without really considering what happens when, but this list is a new grip on that – a set of synchronised, step-by-step holy commandments.
So it is out of the aft cabin and in to the workshop with me, where I can put some of my newly learned rig serving skills to use when I’m not playing with the big stuff. The air has warmed a little this week making running less asthmatic and the shed less daunting. Today while Chard was at work I didn’t get a lot of time for boat stuff, but felt immense satisfaction in unbolting the rusty lower fitting from the rudder (only gently dropping an adjustable spanner on my nose in the process) and bashing it this way and that with an enormous sledgehammer until it came off. To perform such heavy handed and destructive work without consulting or being supervised by he who knows best has given just the right injection of mischievous Barbara glee to my day. It is, quite often, a very good life.