Moving from the city to the country to live the smallholding dream is not always all it’s cracked up to be – especially for the less obsessed partner of the Foodie in the family. Telling it like it is, Good Life Wife watches Foodie bring home the bacon.
Modern mid-life man has dreams. He has fantasies. For some it is still the perfect car but for an increasing number it’s the perfect porker – they lust over Readers’ Piglets rather than Meno-Porsche Monthly. My other half, Foodie, is a confirmed porco-phile and shows absolutely no enthusiasm for cars until we move from central London to deep Dorset at which point he develops a sudden, late-entry need to motor.
For a right-on town boy a disregard for cars can be a minor badge of honour, but as a newcomer to farming country, he fears it could further mark him down as a strange blow-in. I resist the leverage this might give me as designated family driver (excellent) and life change companion (ambivalent). This resolve is nearly broken when we visit our building site home-to-be and then stay at the nearby B and B.
It is a bleak mid-November. The unfamiliar, penetrating fug of dairy cows comes from the barns and when we stand inside the old farmhouse the horizontal rain unnervingly still hits us in the face – along with the realisation that ‘requires total modernisation’ is no longer the footnote on an estate agent’s particulars but the headline for the most stressful and expensive chapter of our relationship.
I scuttle back to our cosy, dry ensuite hoping to cheer us up with a charming booklet about the local area featuring black and white photographs of past farming life, but the chilly grip of fearful doubt takes hold again when I come to a section of traditional sayings such as ‘a woman, a dog, a walnut tree, the more you beat ‘em the better they be’. Lovely. At that point I quite fancy rolling it up and lightly beating Foodie over the head. The only relief of tension I have that evening is an embittered, stifled guffaw when there is a gentle tap at the door from our thoughtful host bringing him back copies of 4 X 4 Magazine. Pah! But the next day I drive and cry steadily, blinking in synch with the hire car windscreen wipers, all three hours back East along the A303.
Two winters later we’ve moved into our new home, have a pair of muddy his ‘n’ hers bangers and are agreed that we can’t cope with introducing more than a couple of animals a year – starting with Promised Dog (just to test out that handy beating theory). Besides, the children are quickly so free-ranging they are positively feral and my mum refuses to continue negotiating pavements in the local town with them until they join Promised Dog at its puppy class. The trainer is entirely canine-obsessed and only Promised Dog is addressed by name. I am referred to as ‘Mum’ and endure humiliations such as crouching behind a large, dusty Cheese Plant at one end of the village hall cheerily calling PD on command, only to be reprimanded for my lack of oomph. ‘More enthusiasm Mum! She doesn’t look very interested down this end!’
We may not be ready for live pigs but Foodie soon gets his hands on half a dead one and a day’s use of the meat room in the local smallholding co-operative’s processing barn. He’s as a happy as a pig in … I can’t stop picturing the bloody scene to a Reservoir Dogs soundtrack of ‘Stuck in the Middle with You’ and have to suppress exploring the implications of making my life with a man who enjoys recreational butchery.
He returns scarily exhilarated with an enormous array of cuts and sausages from Nature’s most generous beast and the next day sets about finishing a big batch of marmalade. My agenda is to plant a Quince tree and a Crab Apple with a view to get Foodie making jewel-bright amber and garnet jellies to have with cheese and meat. The days are short so I’m cross when he calls from inside for help – and it better not be with the marmalade.
We have not yet got to the end of a controversial supply that has lasted us and our toast-fiend mothers two years. Several towers of jars that were made as I packed up our old house, pregnant and with ‘assistance’ from a three year old and a toddler. I had looked Foodie in the eyes as our beloved old home was sold and said we’ve got a month to leave we must spend every single spare minute on this… he set off to Borough Market returning with a ‘proper bargain’. Thirty kilos of half-price organic Seville oranges. He made so much marmalade it actually had to be factored into the Dorset removal and storage costs.
But it’s mercifully not the marmalade. Foodie hands me the heaviest pan in the kitchen with its handle tied tight with string and that then attached to a large, cloth-covered bundle in his arms. He starts tearing up the narrow back stairs to the attic, pulling me with him. Past the Christmas decorations spiky with still-green pine needles to open a rusty metal hatch on the rear wall into which he tenderly inserts mystery package, counter-weighting it up top with my pan. He’s smoking bacon down our chimney. As you do.
Five days later he fishes out the surreal meaty anchor and we have the best rashers ever. They taste pure and sweet without the chemical tang of preservatives and are great with a bit of dark glossy marmalade on the side (in my teens I thought combining the two the height of culinary cool).
Ultimately I like my mate’s objects of desire to be real, for sharing and edible.