Aged 9 I remember sitting in my dad’s shed, in our council estate back garden, in SE London. I was silently watching and listening for the birds to start singing. It was 6 am in the morning. Peering through a dusty, cobwebbed shed window, surrounded by Dad’s work tools and his equipment for melting down scrap lead to make fishing weights….. I waited, hoping the birds didn’t suspect I was there. My notebook, cheap plastic toy binoculars and bird spotters guide close to hand. I was happy.
I have always felt at home in the countryside.
I remember watching a family of house sparrows setting up nests in a hole in our house wall. Their journeys back and forth to gather nesting materials thrilled me and the sound of chicks just a few weeks later, calling for a feed, was almost more than my young mind could bare!
I remember begging dad to put up a bird nest box on the end of the garage roof to allow other birds to nest in our garden and he promptly constructed something the size of a large dolls house with a huge entrance hole in it, painted it black and hung it on the gable end of the garage roof. That huge monster of a nest box never got any birds nesting inside ..not ever haha. The proportions were all wrong of course, so it failed to interest any of the birds we had in our garden. But I knew Dad had meant well. He had listened to me.
I also remember taking a tape recorder with us on holiday when we went camping or caravanning, in order to record the morning bird song in the various fields that we camped in (Yes that is how ancient I am, tape recorders were still in use in my day). I remember climbing trees and peering into hedges to peek inside bird nests. There seemed so many more nests back then. I can still smell the privet flowers and see those tiny speckled eggs. Some things stay with you forever.
I remember devouring the information in my Hamlyn Children’s Animal World Encyclopedia, reading it over and over, page by page, until I knew all the content off by heart. I still have that book now, all these years later. It smells of my childhood.
I remember collecting some Common Lizards from some land behind my house and setting up a vivarium in my bedroom, in an old metal framed, bow fronted fish-tank that my Grand-dad had given to me and these lizards bred and bred! Clear, tiny soft jelly-like eggs with tiny dark grey/ black fully formed lizards inside.They would wiggle and hatch out in my hand! I use to go out and gather tiny white slugs and small insects to feed them all.. and I ended up releasing hundreds of them onto the waste land where I had first found the parents. I must add that this was long before I realised that you shouldn’t take animals from the wild.
I remember listening to The Belstone Fox, a story/music LP record given to me one year for Christmas by our beloved neighbour Frank. I remember it moving me and making me cry.
I remember my first horse-riding lesson and the smell and feel of the horses and the earthy, rustic atmosphere at the stable yard and how it made me feel content and happy. I felt like I belonged. I still love the smell of hoof oil, saddle soap and sticky molassed chaff, even now.
As I grew older I managed to get a job volunteering in an animal sanctuary, a place called Foal Farm, in Biggin Hill, Kent where I looked after all manner of animals: goats, dogs, cats and horses. This wonderful place is still going strong even now, all these years later. I was just 11yrs old when I helped out here.
Later I went on to help at a local riding stables, Five Oaks Equestrian Centre, in Surrey. I was young and fairly inexperienced but determined to spend time outdoors and with animals. I worked really hard at that stable yard, every weekend, in exchange for a few free rides..but to be honest I just loved being around the horses and ponies, grooming them, talking to them. It wasn’t all about the riding, not for me.
When I was aged 15 my parents managed to somehow scrape together enough money to buy a pony (An 8 yr old dark bay mare called Misty Star) for myself and my sisters to share… and that was the true catalyst for the life I ended up living. My lifelong love of not only horses, but the countryside, wildlife and nature, has been the common thread that has bound my somewhat messed up life together. Horses were my escape from the concrete boundaries that enveloped me as a child , from the bullying I endured in school, from the pressure to conform and fit in. For that I am ever grateful.
Misty Star aged 30
The beginning of my story may well be set in South East London. Living on a deprived council estate, born to a poor family (but rich in love) ….. but it is a far cry from the rural life I ended up leading here in East Lincolnshire.
My mother has always been a confident, quirky woman. She won’t mind me calling her quirky 🙂 She was certainly not one for conforming and fitting in and so standing out from the crowd held no fear for her at all. She is an animal lover too with a particular love of horses. She gave us so many opportunities to have animals in our life when we were children. It was my mum who took in dogs and cats and injured birds. It was Mum who would randomly decide to get another animal. I loved it! We had puppies and kittens and finches and gerbils and rabbits and tortoises and even…….goats!
One weekend we were all taken to a livestock market in Sevenoaks and before long mum had seen a young white goat that was wedged in a tiny cage and that was being bid on by a few restaurant owners. Needless to say we came home with that goat in the back of my Dad’s car! Her name was Jaffa ( she had an orange tag in her ear) and she lived in the garage, converted into a goat shed with hay racks and deep straw bed, in our back garden on a council estate in SE London. My mother would take her out on a lead every day to graze and meet people… she would run across the park calling her name.. ….and the goat would follow her, just like a dog. Back then there were no regulations to prevent you from walking your goats. Things have since changed .
One of Mum’s goats. Willow and her kid Saffron.
At this time I was a teenage girl, studying in a local school and I was known as “The Goat Woman’s” daughter. Most teenagers would have cringed at the nickname ……but I loved it!
I loved how my mum didn’t care what others thought and how she loved, cared for and looked after that goat.
A few years passed and by this time I was married and had given birth to my first son Ben. I was a young mum. He was born just before my 20th birthday.
My parents decided to sell their ex council house just before Ben was born. They wanted to move to a more rural area of Surrey and so they bought a tiny smallholding of their own in a lovely village called Smallfield. Here they could keep their own horses and goats on their very own land . Oh how I wished that move had happened when I was younger and still living at home!
But even though I was married and had a home of my own, almost every weekend was spent at my Mum and Dad’s place. It was a fantastic home and it was soon full of goats and horses and geese and hens and turkeys and more……My kinda heaven!
My eldest son Ben, aged 3 ( He is almost 26 yrs old now ) with his and his brother’s and cousin’s shared pony, Tam Tam, at my mother and father’s smallholding x
Things progressed, another baby was born and by the time my two sons were 13 and 8, my then husband and I found a lovely smallholding of our own. It was called Nirvana! A pretty farmhouse with stables and outbuildings and extra rented land directly behind the property. A dream come true for me!
My son Josh in our hay barn
However life threw in a few problems, I had a breakdown and eventually the marriage ended.
A sign outside my old smallholding.
My old smallholding.
I ended up living in a caravan in my parents garden, along with our third child, a daughter.
My dream had ended. I was lost. No home, no money, no belongings. Emotionally I was a total wreck. But things happen for a reason. It took time but I picked myself up, after making a complete hash of trying to find Mr Right and finally realising that he doesn’t exist, I started a new life on my own.
Two house moves later and I find myself here…..
…and so the story goes full circle.. I am still living in the countryside. I don’t own my own proper smallholding any more, since my divorce meant that my marital home had to be sold, but I do keep goats, hens, quail, geese and ponies.
Some of my animals
I rent some land and live in a really tiny cottage with my daughter. A very quiet and simple country life. No TV, no car, no gadgets, no tumble drier, dishwasher or smartphone. Just an old laptop, gifted to me by a friend and that allows me to write and work online and earn money and it also allows my daughter to access educational resources online.
I grow vegetables, fruit and herbs as well as flowers for the bees and butterflies I love so much and I gather fresh laid eggs each morning. I milk goats and drive my ponies. I make cultured foods. I keep bees. My daughter rides her pony and plays with the dogs and cats here, just like I used to as a child.
My daughter riding Crystal
I have found my way again. I am home.
All three of my children have experienced this life. Be it here with me or when I was married and had my lovely country home with my husband. They may not choose to follow this way of life themselves but at least they have had the opportunity to live it.
For me there is no other way. I am working towards my dream, which is to one day live in a low impact off grid home in some woodland, with a meadow for my grazing animals, a garden for my vegetables and flowers for the bees, to create a habitat for wildlife ……a sanctuary……. A haven for me and my family.
May all your dreams come true too xxx
Oh and here is a video of my new goat kids and their mum Tansy 🙂