17th. Feb - 1st. Mar 2006

Although it's cold enough to make a brass monkey be very worried, you can almost hear the seeds shouting 'get me out of hear' from their container in the Larder.
The weather, in true British fashion, has reaped havoc over us in the past two weeks. First freezing temperatures, then solid rain for 3 days returning to freezing temperatures with rain and a horrible northerly airflow.
The photo on the left is at the top of the Lane last Monday morning !

Luckily my work has all been indoors and I've decorated a hall, stairs and landing, continued work over the Lane plus spent my day in Hampstead doing someone elses snagging for them.
The journey to Hampstead was only marred by the three and a quarter hours it took me to drive the 67 miles. This is also not very nice when age brings about more routine calls of nature and you're stuck solid in the middle lane with no hard shoulder !

At home we said goodbye to the old faithful friend - a good old fashioned chain pull WC and had a low level all nice and white one put in.
So, with one day spare in my busy schedule, I thought 'one room, 5 feet by 3 feet, no problem, do that in afew hours.
It took me thirteen hours. I never knew you could get into so many body positions painting one toilet !
At least it was done frugaly with a mixture of left over paint and a hastily installed border.

The chickens remain splendid in their laying and one day this week they achieved 9 eggs. I have my doubts here - I reckon they're secretly importing them from another back garden chicken keeper a couple of lanes up !
One thing which did, seriously, worry me was I found 'an escapee' roaming around the back door on Monday.
Worrying in so much as it's nearly Garden time and I don't want to come home to topless seedlings in 4 weeks. The problem is hanging around to find out where she got out - you can hide for hours and as soon as you look the other way, she's over the top !

Chickens are a source of great enjoyment, watching them can be quite theraputic. You see all their individual characteristics and realise that underneath the sometimes laughable shield, theirs a lot of comedians !
The Avian Flu situation appears to be getting more to the fore. I have written a 'page of thoughts' about it (click link on left).
I believe the messeage is don't not have chickens, just be aware of a few things. The media is in overdrive and all the time there isn't a situation where people are killing each other or an overweight celebrety was found in a park pretending to be Napolean playing football, this is going to be the big story for quite a time. Nothing like 'we're all going to die a 'orrible death folks'.
One things for certain - the chickens aren't to blame.

I would also like to point out I was nowhere in the Tonbridge area driving a white van last week ! Phew, I wonder if they stopped to think 'do you think we've stolen a bit too much and it could possibly draw a bit of attention' when there's about 50 TV Crews on every farm gate in Kent !! Makes my £200 debt seem a bit silly really !

It's now only 3 weeks til I return to my job at Kent County Cricket Club for the summer.
It'll be good to see all the players again - I don't care if they've all got golden tans from southern hemisphere sun traps - someones got to stay behing in good old blighty to show a bit of enthusiasm, spoken with only a slight seeth !

Until then I have still some work to do here and there. Hopefully the frosts will ease for a few days enabling me to further dig the garden and get some more compost in.
Next Wednesday will be my birthday and I hope to pop down to Southampton for a couple of days (obviously taking a trailer in which to bring back all the presents) but workload / bank balance may prevent this.
At least I can confirm that life indeed is a challenge!

3rd - 17th. February 2006

Albeit a very busy two weeks, lots more positive stuff happening and I feel an upsurgance in spirits as we approach Spring.

The chickens have gone egg crazy and, although not the purpose, I'm back in pocket with egg sales. They're averaging 6 / 7 evry day at present.
I can't put my finger on it. We've had a very dry three weeks. The first two of those were freezing and now very mild.
I must admit that the chickens look fatter than a month ago, so something's tickled their fancy.

At the moment, following two days of well needed rain, the pen is like a skating rink to get accross in the mornings. I got a 6.8 for Artistic Merit on Tuesday following my triple loop. The rats scored me down a bit as the skid pushed the mud over their well designed hole.

You can see on the left that the broad beans I sowed in November are coming along nice, as are the lettuces I thought I'd give a go at in the unheated greenhouse.
The next job is to mix the chicken wastage in the other compost and give it a good stir and a couple of weeks rest. It's important not to overdo the chicken poo in compost. It's about the richest of all composts and needs to be diluted right down.
Not doing this will bring the seeds up in double quick time, race a few inches towards the heavens and burn themselves out. I have a sneaky feeling I may have overdone it last year when most of my carrots and beetroots came to nothing..

I'm continuing my busy work schedule and in the last three weeks have worked for 3 different people. I've fully decorated three rooms, smartened up two others, painted garage doors, stained two flights of open plan staircases and helped with some furniture removal.
Next week sees me fully occupied including a day in Hampstead (London) for a 'paint a bit here and there' day.

In the evenings I've been working on two new web projects and generally giving 'Down the Lane' a bit of a tidy up.
Suddenly, the cricket will come out of the blue, so I want things to be pretty well up to scratch before I go into 'summer looking reasonably healthy and a few shillings in my pocket' mode.

Inbetween I'm squeezing a family meet up in London on Saturday, a wedding next Friday and on Saturday Leo and me are invited to the Gillingham v Scunthorpe football match by the infamous Jamie Reid of Radio Kent with his dazzling commentary including his trademark saying, 'cool as a cucumber'.

I'll be totally honest and say that four weeks ago I was about as low as could be, especially financially. But as I said then 'As long as there's a light in the tunnel and it's not getting smaller', you'll make it.
I think the International Trade Deficit was finely balanced on the state of my Bank Account for about three weeks, 'Oh, happy are the poor.....' !!
Every winter since I downshifted has been difficult, but without a doubt this has been the worse one. I can't emphasise more that it's not always dreamfilled bliss. It certainly is a lot of the time, but boy are there some moments inbetween !
You just keep plodding along with a smile on your face and think of cunning plans to put yourself back on track (legal of course !).

A good frugal tip is 'don't allow yourself the time to spend your money' I think.

So, in three weeks time I shall be 58 and in 6 weeks time it will be Spring. These two things of course mean absolutely nothing, but I'm finding it really difficult to fill up the remainder of this space !

Many thanks to the people who have already donated and received the Down the Lane DVD. I haven't had any feedback so I assume they are either OK or suitably hanging in the vegetable patch to scare away the pigeons !

Finally, a countrylife.com have just started a weekly half hour radio show. This features interviews with smallholders and of the like, plus you may even hear a frugal tip from 'Mr. Thrifty' a man very close to my heart !     Bye for now.

Going back to look at the future