In Britain there has long been an idealised vision of freedom framed by a common three word phrase and much loved TV sitcom of the same name from the 1970’s…The Good Life.
My Father sometimes privately expressed a regret that he hadn’t realised what seemed to be his life’s dream of owning a croft. The croft is a uniquely Scottish type of small subsistence farm found around the coast of the north and west of the country. The crofters who worked these scraps of rough ground had typically been thrown off their original tenanted farms inland by powerful landlords who wanted to replace them with sheep, which were more profitable. They lived harsh lives by the coast, trying to scratch a living from the poor soil and liberating fish from treacherous waters using only their ingenuity and courage.
In moving to a farm, adopting 2 donkeys, raising 3 orphan lambs as pets and keeping some chickens and a sheep dog, maybe I’ve created a more realistic version of the good life my Father dreamed of. The donkeys have an easy life, they have no particular purpose, the sheep will never be eaten and the chickens are only expected to be here and provide the odd egg from time to time. The non layers don’t suffer the farmer’s wife’s axe on Sunday morning but continue into their dotage and are honoured with a quasi religious burial ceremony complete with grave stone by my young daughters.
We are living a chocolate box version of subsistence farming; the chicken food costs more than shop bought free range eggs and we are only 23 minutes away from a 24 hour Tesco.
We love it all the same and rather than trying to live my father’s dream, we are just doing what feels good to us and it seems to be acceptable and even enjoyable for the kids. When it snows here, it really snows and we all go out and sledge in it. Occasionally the snow will isolate us from the outside world completely for days…well it would if we didn’t have an old 4 wheel drive Jeep in reserve!
All of this is bringing me to the point of this post which is that we only need to be authentic in our own eyes…there’s no need to break your back to prove anything to anybody.
I’m a big fan of Chris Stewart’s books about his experiences of subsistence farming in Andalucia. There are 4 books in the trilogy (I know…Chris’s words not mine) the first and most famous of which is called Driving Over Lemons. In one of the later books, Chris relates the tale of neighbours, or maybe it was readers, asking why he isn’t keeping bees and harvesting his own honey, to which he says something along the lines of:
“Why? I’m not here for a life of drudgery, I need some time to myself”, a concept alien to the other farmers in the valley.
And in that brief statement, there is a brilliant nugget of truth. Maybe if Driving Over Lemons hadn’t been so successful, he would have been keeping bees, but now Chris has a nice situation where the success of his books means he doesn’t need to pretend to be a subsistence farmer. He can live in the perfect situation for him and his family and enjoy it.
In our quest for our idealised version of freedom, we shouldn’t cast out the trappings of enjoyment just to be more authentic in someone else’s eyes. Instead we should go with our guts and live the version of the dream we dream of. I think Chris even has 2 solar panels now…extravagant bastard!
By writing, teaching occasionally, blogging for people who inhabit parts of my previous work life and being prepared to turn my hand to anything I want to try, I can make space to enjoy the good bits of my chosen situation without committing to a 24 hour slog to satisfy someone else’s dream.
You need be authentic only to yourself!
Chris Stewart’s 4 book trilogy below:
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photo thanks to http://nos.twnsnd.co/