Monthly Archives: February 2016

These things are sent to try us

We’ve been applying for a grant from a pot of European money. This one is for the farm to extend the kitchen because schools are increasingly bringing between 60 and 90 pupils instead of the 30 that they used to. Nothing we say seems to be able to stop them. I suspect that it’s because of transport costs and that they are increasingly seeing us a cheap choice for an end of term trip.

That means we have to crowd the kitchen and rush things to get everyone through. I’m often to be found giving directions over my shoulder whilst washing the baking trays from the previous session.

When the farm decided to throw more energy into the kitchen (after six months of deciding to expand, deciding to close down, becoming a juice bar, becoming a greasy spoon etc.. – there is zero logic or leadership in the process) we decided it may be a good idea to expand the kitchen.

If we are able to meet 60% of the costs the fund will contribute the other 40% if we can meet certain criteria. The farm is able to provide the 60% (paid back as a higher annual rent) and together we can meet the criteria, so Julia has spent the last month preparing an outline. It’s been back and forth a few times and it’s about finished now, but it’s taken around twenty hours to do, and she’s not being paid for it.

At this point you start muttering that it’s a lot of work for something that isn’t part of our core business.

Imagine how much more muttering there would be if we were to get a note telling us that things had been postponed until the results of the referendum are known.

Actually, I don’t need to imagine, because that’s what happened last week. There has been a lot of muttering from my dear wife, and if any members of the cabinet are found dead in suspicious circumstances I may have to give a false alibi.

So that’s annoyance number one.

Annoyance number two is that we’ve just been told by one of the carers who brings someone here that their organisation has just had a funding cut from the council. This is initially going to mean a pay cut for everyone of between 2% and 4%. They are then going to reassess all their clients under a new set of selection criteria. Whether this is to select new clients more stringently or to get rid of some of the existing ones we aren’t yet sure.

As I say, these things are sent to try us.

The next post will be more cheerful ūüėČ

Funding – reality strikes back

When we set up the project the theory was that it was going to pay for itself because clients would pay from their personal budgets (which were just being introduced) and we would have a company that funded itself from fees and produce sales.

Things didn’t quite develop as we intended. The council still seems to control the budgets and they have cut many of our clients back until one of them is now paying only half the daily rate we started with.

We weren’t expecting to make a fortune but we were expecting to take a small wage out of it. We don’t, and that’s why we have several other part-time jobs to make ends meet. ¬†However, this is about funding, not about me moaning about housekeeping.

When we started, other projects couldn’t believe what we were doing, or that we were viable. I suppose that’s what happens when you grow up in an era where people throw money at you. Soon, though, we noticed a change, as people were coming to talk to us about how we did it. Don’t get me wrong – there are other people out there who cover their costs without grants, but they are few and far between.

Unfortunately we can’t advise people how to do it because they can’t replicate what we have, such as a modest lifestyle, a small house with no mortgage and a willingness to work for less than minimum wage.

The only advice we could give, apart from lowering costs and expectations, and becoming a charity as you can access more funds that way. With so much competition for funding most people with money to give away will only give to registered charities. We are a Community Interest Company (Quercus Community CIC, according to our full title) and have never followed my advice.

Many local groups have gone this route over the years, though it’s still relying on grants rather than earning your own money. We have applied for grants now and then but are generally turned down. I know it’s nothing personal because it was much the same when I was involved in fund-raising for junior sports clubs. We once wanted new shirts for a junior rugby team – it eventually took over six months, including grants from three sources, four days of bag-packing in supermarkets and some nifty sponsorship deals. If you don’t have a good brand and a good sob story it’s a long, hard slog to raise funds.

I’ve just been reading a report from the NCVO on the current funding of charities – small charities have more erratic funding due to fewer income streams, the emphasis is shifting to income generation from grants and legacies are a neglected form of fund-raising – are three key points, though not unexpected.

In one way it’s good to be vindicated about income generation, but in others it’s a bit of a worry. As for the legacies, I’ve known about the benefits of legacies for years (from a sport-related training course believe it or not) but I don’t think we have a big enough pool of people to mention it to. It’s a delicate subject unless you can blanket a large membership with a reminder about it. With just a few elderly people about the place we’re more likely to be vilified as a modern Burke and Hare.

 

Too lazy to work: too scared to steal

I’m beginning to regret my new routine. It’s all very well saying I’m going to take Fridays off because it’s the only time we get a full day to ourselves and we need to spend time together, but (and sorry, ¬†I know I’ve said this before) I have to be pretty nimble to avoid ending up with Friday as a housekeeping day.

I’ve been avoiding a bag of bedding for the last few months. I have enough laundry to do, without taking on this third bulging bag. Additionally, it seems to devour other items in the drier so you end up with a duvet cover full of assorted shirts and the folding process always seems to provoke offers of help. I don’t mind nodding to people in the laundry but full scale conversation whilst fishing underpants out of a duvet cover is a step too far.

Anyway, knowing that she had her heart set on laundry, I rose early, whispered that she should treat herself to a lie in on her day off ¬†and attempted to sneak out with an abridged version of the laundry and a book. Not that I’m well-adapted to “sneaking” or any other sort of clandestine movement.

After 26 and a bit years of marriage she has developed an extraordinary sense of telling that I am about to do something sneaky, even when she’s asleep. I nearly used the word “snoring” there but “asleep” seems more tactful, particularly as she reads the blog.

Next time I won’t pause to check library opening hours and buy two new belts from Jacamo on the computer, I will just get the stuff into the car and make off into the cold, grey dawn.

It has to be said that there is an advantage to her way of doing laundry. I normally launch a hit-and-run operation, with the wash and wear programme followed by throwing it into a drier. Using more laundry and the bigger machines gives you thirty or forty minutes where you can stroll down to the cafe to eat freshly prepared bacon cobs and drink large mugs of tea.

After that we looked at staff training. That’s me, as things stand at the moment. JUlia is management. I am staff. Did you know that people pay up to ¬£300 a day to go to a conference and listen to people talk?

We are also expected to pay ¬£100 a day just to go on council courses on safeguarding vulnerable people – these are compulsory and must be undertaken on a regular basis to ensure (a) that you keep up to date and (b) keep paying the council money. I believe this is what was referred to as a “protection racket” in the 60s but is now known as “continuing personal development”

We’re in the wrong business. Now that my legs are giving trouble bank robbery isn’t an options but training looks like a good thing to be in. It’s not quite as lucrative but it’s morally (slightly) superior and you don’t run the risk of being locked up for ten years in the company of people called Nobby and Crusher.

Unfortunately, as Julia pointed out, my specialist skills of sarcasm, being rude to customers and making soup aren’t going to get us very far in the world of corporate training.

BY that time I had to go to have my annual leg check up (it’s been a medical sort of week). ¬†I still have two legs, they both have five toes. and my beleaguered circulatory system is still pumping blood all the way down. Good to know.

 

 

The Year Ahead

I had my annual check-up today, but that couldn’t dampen my good mood at missing the forecast “arctic blast” and driving to the appointment in lovely sunshine. It’s a ¬†once a year thing, the GP practice seems to like doing it, and it amuses me to see them try so hard to avoid using the word “fat”. For despite modern words and modern concepts of patient dignity the truthful, accurate and short description of me is “fat”.

I have turned down the offer of swimming as therapy because I’ve seen what happens when people like me go swimming.

I have however, accepted the offer of being weighed regularly and being given vouchers to join a slimmers’ organisation – I forget which one but can feel my body bunching up ready for flight at the mere mention of the idea. Sometimes you just have to recognise the inevitable. If I wish to live and irritate my wife until I am in my eighties I am going to have to change my ways.

In many ways this belongs on the other blog (www.sherwooddays.com) but I’m telling you here because it leads on to other things.

Due to the unexpected excellence of the weather, and the desire for a nice cooked breakfast after a discussion of my weight, we went out for brunch. I think using a two meal strategy and eating beans, tomatoes and mushrooms is a sufficiently healthy start to my new weight-loss programme.

The best bit was the planning session. We have a number of half-formed plans but nothing definite on paper yet. Released from the tyranny of meetings and the need to involve idiots we now have several pages of notes relating to schools, education, the Open Farm Sunday school days, a poetry competition, salt dough work, a grant application, getting men in sheds to build us a display, Flintham Ploughing Match education tent and (as they say) much, much more.

The advantage of our system (Julia talks, I write) is that it cuts down on discussion and saves time. If anything goes wrong it also means the blame sessions are simpler as it’s all her fault.

The disadvantage, of course, is that she’s now given me a list of jobs to do. A long list.

 

 

A puppy comes to visit…

We had a visitor this morning, looking considerably larger and less puppyish than she did a couple of weeks ago. After that it was all doomed to be an anti-climax.

The sick ewe died (we think it was twin lamb disease), despite us dosing her with the appropriate drench. The worst thing about twin lamb disease is that I always feel it is avoidable.

We had home-made Leek and Potato soup (with the leeks being home grown, as you could probably guess from the clumps of soil on the roots), but it was a bit glutinous. I remember seeing something about the problem before when I started making soup but can’t recall what the cause was. All I can find now is that the potatoes were over-worked (and you shouldn’t use a blender) or that I used the wrong (high starch) potatoes. Neither of these seem to be what I remember from the previous time, which I though was something to do with ratios.

I always use the cheapest potatoes in the shop, I always use a hand blender, and I don’t usually have a problem. Maybe it’s the way the soup-maker works. Does anyone have any ideas?

Blue tits are using the nest box by the centre entrance, but as my wife pointed out, they did that last year and the year before – they just like to torment us.

Things picked up a bit towards the end of the day when we cleaned the store cupboard (which we had been putting off for months) and one of the group baked chocolate chip cookies. A fresh warm biscuit for afternoon break was just what we needed.

 

 

 

Me – sleeping, moaning and changing things

I didn’t sleep well when we were away. Hot room, strange bed, hen party down the corridor…

However, I seem to have missed the last half hour, have a set of red marks on my face from the keyboard and have just had to edit the opening line of this post, which originally read “ro ro ro ro” for the first five and a half lines (I’ve edited it because it lost some of its novelty value after the first inch).

From this I deduce that I’ve got over my difficulty sleeping.

We’ve solved the mystery of the phantom gardeners – it was a local volunteer aided and abetted (not the first time they’ve heard a legal phrase) by the Community Payback Team. If you aren’t familiar with such teams they are the modern equivalent of the chain gang but without chains. Or a work ethic. I’m convinced that the ones who do come to work and rehabilitate themselves would have done anyway, and the ones who don’t want to work aren’t going to benefit from a day in the countryside wrecking a garden. It always seems to me that the difference between the two groups is the family support they get. Anyone can get into trouble – it’s something that can happen when you’re young (and I am making no claims or confessions here), but a supportive family is a big help when lining your life up again.

The volunteer in question has a record of despoiling the garden when left unsupervised and¬†last time the Community Payback Team had a go with power tools they took the tops off all our fig tree cuttings and strimmed the leaves off a bed of leeks. There’s no difference in the result, but it’s a little easier to accept the results of ineptitude rather than malice.

Anyway, as a result of that I’ve come to a decision about blogging. This is supposed to be a blog about our group, though it’s a bit difficult, due to safeguarding legislation. I am therefore going to stop moaning on this one and only talk about the group, growing, sustainability and that sort of stuff. We will be making a few changes after talking to the parents of the group and you will be seeing more of them.

I am, however, not going to give up moaning entirely and intend restarting an old blog for moaning, travel and other things I do. I’m just going over to look at it now. It’s Sherwood Days at sherwooddays.com if you want to potter along and have a look.

I can’t see myself ever blogging 365 days in a year, or doubling my daily word count so we will have to see how it goes. Hope to see some of you over there.

 

 

Back to “Normal”

Looks like we’re back to normal.

That, as you may know from previous posts, is not an entirely good thing. “Normal” for the farm is a relative concept, and not at all like the “normal” that you may encounter in everyday life.

We came back to find we had an email containing all sorts of random decisions about the kitchen/cafe and followed up by arriving on the farm to find that there was a large pile of leeks and parsley outside the back door of the centre.

Worse still, the keyhole beds have been dismantled. The bricks from one have disappeared and the tyres from the other were all piled up neatly. We’re not sure what happened to the 20 strawberry plants that were planted inside the tyres but previous experience suggests they will be in the compost. We’ve rebuilt one bed, but can find no trace of the missing bricks.

That’s what happens when he gets time to think (and I use that term loosely). ¬†Though I hate to cause offence (you know how tactful I am) if you were to fancy a swim in the average farming family gene pool I imagine you’d have to be content with a paddle.

In addition we had the Mystery of the Disappearing Letter and the Case of the Hidden Bird Seed.

The former was easily solved once I’d spent 10 minutes searching.

“The person we are looking for,” I remarked sagely to my assistant between pulls on an imaginary Meerschaum, “is of medium height, slight build and pale complexion. She speaks with a slight Nottinghamshire accent, does not smoke and is in the grip of a cleaning compulsion.”

“How can you deduce all that from just looking at your desk?” asked my awestruck assistant.

I smiled condescendingly and tapped the side of my nose.

However, when you know there’s only one person around here in the grip of Compulsive Cleaning Disorder it’s easy enough to connect a missing letter to a major suspect. After a quick phone call we had a confession and the letter within ten minutes.

The hidden birdseed, which had been tucked under my desk, was found under a curtain under my desk, lest the sight of it merely pushed out of sight should upset a passing client. Don’t even ask why they make me have a curtain under the desk…

Finally we moved on to the third perplexing case of the day – The Mixed Ear Tag Mystery. Sheep need two identifying ear tags, one yellow one with a chip and one other. The other one is not chipped, and may not be yellow. It must, however, bear a matching number. Now, the mystery of this was twofold. How did they manage to get 160 tags muddled up so none of them were in pairs, and how did we get landed with the job of sorting them out?

 

I think I have a glimmer of an idea of how to manage some of this random activity. In years to come all those people who have previously oohed and aahed over Management by Walking About, Quality Circles and the Pursuit of Excellence (plus my favourite – The Boiling Frog) will talk in terms of awed reverence of my contribution to management science – Management by Nailing Things to Your Desk.

 

Not quite a Grand Tour

Sunday was a bit of a rush because there we a number of things to fit in, including shopping. Due to a late start and roadworks we didn’t quite manage all we intended.

The intention had been to breakfast before nine and get off early. In the end we didn’t have breakfast until after ten, but this was supposed to be a holiday it didn’t matter. If you’re going to rush breakfast you may as well stay at home.

We selected the “All you can eat Continental Breakfast” for ¬£2.99 and turned down the offer of drinks at near enough the same price. After two substantial breakfasts in previous days, and eating out in the evenings with family , we wanted something lighter. Cheap is also good at times.

The man sitting on the next table had the unlimited cooked breakfast – sausage, bacon, mushroom, hash browns, beans, chips, black pudding, tomato and eggs – and then poured tomato ketchup all over it. It was piled so high it looked like you might need oxygen to get to the top, and with all that cholesterol it’s likely that oxygen administered via a mask will figure somewhere in his future.

Note on etiquette: The author of this blog does not condone the use of tomato ketchup before midday, and even then only on chips. It should not be used on breakfasts, and never on bacon, whatever the time. 

So, for ¬£2.99 I had shredded wheat, banana, toast, muffins, butter and marmalade. There were other cereals, other fresh fruit, tinned fruit, things I didn’t recognise (maybe granola?), yoghurt, crumpets, margarine and jam available.

The problem with the system is that you have to do a lot of self-service, including doing your own toast by feeding it through a toaster. You had to do it twice, once to warm it and once to actually brown it. As you can imagine, that could cause some hold-ups, particularity when someone is there doing all the toast for a table of six.

Once that was finished, we got on with the trip. I wanted a picture of Nelson’s column¬†in Lowestoft. It was originally built at a time when this part of the coast was undeveloped, but over the years it has been surrounded by an incongruous collection of commercial buildings. It’s an interesting thing – but not as interesting as the story of its first keeper – which is detailed here.

Coming back from that we managed to get a picture of the old Victorian gasometer.

A detour to Gorleston produced the picture of the onshore lighthouse and the notice that looks like what you would expect if Banksy did a dog fouling notice.

After that we set off for Dunwich – stopping for toilets in Southwold on the way (Yes, I’m getting older!). We didn’t have time to go round Southwold as we had plans for Dunwich, followed by a visit to the St George’s Distillery. The pictures show beach huts and the pier at Southwold and the beach at Dunwich – with Southwold in the north and the Sizewell nuclear power stations to the south.

In the end we got to Dunwich, but had to leave before the museum opened (2-4 pm if you are interested) to get to the distillery. We ended up stuck in roadworks on the way, so by the time we had shopped our day was ended.

That’s the problem with trying to rush round – you miss out on doing things in order to do something else and then find you can’t do that either. Next time we go away we’ll have to make sure that we plan better.

 

 

 

 

 

 

A day in the sun

As we’re away for a few days I’m converting to travelogue mode for a few days.

It’s been a pleasant day today, with the sun being bright and warm as we drove through Cambridgeshire. By the time we reached Suffolk it was genuine shirt sleeve weather.

We’d started later than I intended but the A1 was relatively uncluttered and we made good progress until we passed Peterborough and took the A14. By the time we reached Huntingdon the traffic was already slow, and things really took ¬†a turn for the worse a short while later, as the queue slowed to a crawl and several white vans flung themselves into my path in order to overtake a funeral cort√®ge.

I hadn’t really planned where to break the journey but decided on Thetford – I haven’t been there since the late 70s/early 80s and thought, after looking it up on the web, that it merited another visit. The earlier visits, to see a friend who moved there for work, seemed to revolve around spartan pubs and grim takeaways.

It has changed over the years,  they are building an ambitious new complex by the river, and the town generally looks brighter. Some of the pubs have been painted and a few new food types have crept in (chilli dogs and Lebanese) Рbut I managed to avoid the temptation to test any of them out.

It’s a struggle for small towns these days so it’s good to see some optimism and an absence of empty shops.

The charity shops have multiplied over the years, as they have everywhere, and there’s a Polish grocer and a Bureau de Change, which I’ve seen before but not in a town so small. It’s not the first time there’s been an infusion of foreign culture into Thetford. The Vikings gave the town a tough time in the 900s and 10,000 Londoners arrived from the 1950s onwards. I don’t want to offend either Scandinavians or Londoners, but I’m not sure which I’d rather have.

Thetford has three museums, we tried to visit the Dads Army Museum but it isn’t open until next Saturday. Poor planning on my part. Jones’s lorry is exhibited in another museum in town and there is a J. Jones butcher in town – offering Walmington sausages and chilli dogs. What with one thing and another (including looking in charity shops and taking pictures of the Tom Paine statue and St Mary the Less we ran out of time.

In case you were wondering, as I did, why the Tom Paine statue is gilded, it is because Napoleon said that every city in the universe should have a golden statue of him.

 

 

 

Step away from the email!

“You’re never alone with a Strand.” as the advert said.

I tend to find the same with email, as last night proved. After a day of jobs and errands we sat down to eat and watch Death in Paradise. It was a relaxing end to the day.

That was before Julia decided to check her emails. When someone from the farm goes on holiday I make sure that I don’t disturb their time away with emails and work-related discussions. When I’m away I tend to ignore emails, to the point that when we last went away I made sure that we didn’t take computers and went to a B&B that didn’t have wireless.

Not everyone takes that attitude, and Julia fell into the the trap of opening an email from the farm last night. I won’t go into detail, because I’ll then be falling into the same trap myself, but it was something that, once known, needed action.

Me? I didn’t open the email. ¬†It’s about something that should have been done last year, and it should have been done by someone else.

In short, it’s not my problem. I’m not going to ignore it, but I’m not going to squander a few precious days off by dealing with it now.

“Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof” – Matthew 6:34

In this case, “the day” is the day that I return to work.