The structure which currently acts as our tool shed is my Mum and Dad’s old tent. As befitting my parents, who were seasoned campers, it is made of sturdy canvas built to withstand the elements. But it is also old, and the elements where we are have tested it to the limits. So after a particularly blowy night we awoke to find it had caved in at the front and had a large L-shaped rip along the seams.
‘We could buy a shed,’ I said hopefully. But such profligacy has been consigned to the past – we have embraced a ‘make-do-and-mend’ style philosophy, that also, it would appear, applied to broken tents. Thankfuly, I have a make-do-and-mend sort of mother – who tipped up one afternoon with a reel of stout thread and a needle and set to sewing up the rip. The tear itself is about 15cm long in both directions – but the canvas is so thick that it is hard going and even my Mum was happy to call it a day with just half of one of the four necessary seams done.
So I have taken over the mantle of stitching up the tent, a job I hated the idea of, and I have found the whole business exceedingly satisfying. It is, of course, not without its frustrations. Primary of which is the weather. The tent has to be dry in order to be stitched and so far it has been a rare day that hasn’t found our field being pelted with rain. But the main problem is the sheer difficulty of stitching the fabric. The needle has to be pushed in vigourously and dangerously with a hard object. At first, I was using a bit of Lego for this before investing in a thimble, which is less unwieldy but more prone to slipping and impaling my hand on the end of the needle. Then the needle has to be gripped with a pair of pliers to be pulled through the canvas.
This is as much of a pfaff as it sounds – and takes ages – it is still unfinished. But while standing out on a chilly early autumn afternoon sewing up a tent may not sound like a whole lot of fun, I find it hugely satisfying. I’ve tried to analyse why, and I can only surmise that it engenders a strong sense of self reliance. This is an interesting concept, because self reliance underpins much of what we are trying to do at Charwood Farm in terms of being ‘off grid’ and aiming for zero inputs. Maybe the basic need underlying our motivation to create the farm comes from wanting to be more in command of our lives and less at the mercy of forces we can’t control.
But that said, complete self sufficiency is Gully’s utopia, not mine. I am certainly not planning to spend the rest of my life free of bananas … or mussels … or those little bottles of perfume they sell in mixed cases at Christmas …or rioja … or cinnamon whirls … or …