Where there’s muck there’s a manual

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Hopefully, you have survived Chrimbo intact if you are reading this. You have side-stepped botulism by turkey, body-swerved soggy sprouts and are waiting to see if you are now officially deemed obese – eating three tins of Quality Street in quick succession after the kids are in bed always seems like a good idea at the time, though.

Pilates/Zumba/gym instructors only have another week or so to wait before those new members are banging down their doors.

So, was Santa good to you? Like most wannabe smallholders, I have received my fair share of practical items this Christmas, two pairs of welly socks and a brand new pair of muck boots among the haul.

My last pair were purple, which I thought were quite racy and the sort of thing one could even wear into town with a nice frock on a Saturday night. Very flash.

But this pair, courtesy of Gamford, are pink. The Young Mistress, a connoisseur of pink wellies, loves them. Mostly because she has seen very few pairs of adult pink wellies about, and was, I think, fearful that when she grew up she would have to wear boring green or blue ones. Like most grown-ups do.

My Father-in-Law, let’s call him Don Franco, has given me a very useful present this year, smallholding-wise – The Smallholding Manual, published by Haynes.

No, it doesn’t tell you how to take a chicken apart and rebuild it. It talks you through smallholding, right from the germ of the idea to the full-on lifestyle. A great beginners’ book and a must for all wannabes.

Written by Liz Shankland, who is close to smallholding royalty (she holds smallholding courses at Kate Humble’s farm in Wales, and is probably on first-name terms with Adam Henson, the poster boy of farming/smallholding), it has lots of lovely colour pics of tractors and fence-posts to ogle at.

It doesn’t just show chickens and pigs frolicking in the sun in a Disney-style. It shows actual mud. In quite large piles in places. Smallholding porn.

It starts by asking those questions we should all ask ourselves, and answer honestly, before we embark on a shopping spree that ends with us sharing our tiny urban yard with five turkeys, a dozen chickens, a goat and two pigs. Firstly: “Is everyone happy to move to the countryside?” This is very important. If you are the only person in your family who likes fresh air and pig muck, then smallholding is a non-starter.

“Do you really want to be a landowner?” Are you crazy? Of course I do, who wouldn’t? Vast acreage, woodland, coppice, lakes, trout streams with fishing rights, grouse moors, estate farms, a stately pile, minions... ahem. Back to reality. Yes, just a couple of acres will do. My needs are modest.

“Could you give up life’s little comforts?” Erm, how little? Missing the odd lie-in and having to wear wellies when you go outside instead of nice suede boots? Or having no running water in the house and having to nip out to a shed to use a composting loo? That might put a few folk off.

Personally, I am already ‘slumming it’ technologically. I do not have a telly as flat as Keira Knightly’s chest and as wide as a cinema screen as I do not have a wall long enough or straight enough to put one on. I cannot record and play ‘catch-up’ TV. If I miss a proramme, I get over it. I do not own an iPad, I own a four-year-old Toshiba laptop now reaching full capacity as it crawls along despite super-fast broadband. We already have the animals, mud, and home-make everything. It’s a small step from here to a field with a cob house and a composting loo in it.

And when I get a composting loo I will sit proudly on it, reading my Haynes manual. Sorted.

Happy New Year to all my readers (Jill H, Tracy B, Yvette S and Gamford, plus the lady in Yetholm who lives near Sally, who I only just found out about).

Take it easy with the pea-pod Burgundy and I’ll see you in 2014.