mumsnetBack along, my family and I swapped a house for a three-acre field in Devon and a leaky caravan where we lived off-grid for two years. Sadly, we failed to get the planning permission we needed to stay. We are now back within four walls, with a proper loo and everything in a cottage in Dartmoor. So this is now a blog about living ethically amid a fabulous landscape with our home educated kids while we adjust to being 'normal' - for a while... and what we plan to do with our land next

Wednesday, 31 October 2012

Careering off track

'Why don't you wear the brown dress that looks like a carpet? '

I hadn't, hitherto, been aware that I owned such an item of apparel, but thanks to Matty's intervention I certainly wouldn't be wearing it again.

I don't often fret about dresses, it's a rare day I vacate my jeans and wellies but this was an extra special occasion because I was scrubbing up for my leaving party from the Observer newspaper.

I have worked at the Observer for 12 years. Some people see work as a necessary evil, but I loved my job and I liked working with clever witty people – so I was lucky. Sadly, however, the newspaper industry is shrinking rapidly. People are buying fewer newspapers and have instead migrated online to read for free what they once were happy to part with 80p-odd for. The result is a massive contraction in national newspaper circulations – and regional newspapers are in an even worse situation, but don't get me started – that's a whole other blog.

I, therefore, along with my colleagues, was offered a financial incentive to leave my job and the offer was useful enough and the long-term future of newspapers risky enough to take their shilling and run.

And run I did. There is a tradition among newspaper offices that a sub-editor of reasonable regard and long standing service is 'banged out'. This stems back in the midsts of time, when compositors banged on the chases - the metal frames that held the type - when an apprenticeship was completed. This later transferred to banging out sub-editors whom they didn't hold in abject contempt. This was high praise – compositors held nearly everyone in abject contempt.

Anyway, it is a tradition that has continued albeit now people bang rulers and thump desks. It is extremely moving and has brought me to tears whenever anyone else has left. I had been dreading the moment when it would be my turn.

So I took it at a sprint. I was escorted out to the clatter and thumps by a venerable and much-loved colleague. Jo has worked on every paper in Fleet Street over the course of the odd decade or few. She is the Kevin Bacon of the newspaper world. The theory is that any actor can be linked to Kevin Bacon in six steps or less. Jo is the print press equivalent, although in her case the maximum degree of separation must be more like three.

I tearfully made my way to the pub, where I got completely trolleyed - again. And that was the end of all that. 

I feel a little odd, post Observer. Like I have lost some essential part of me, which is I guess what comes of letting go of a career that culminated in working for the newspaper I decided I wanted to work for when I was in my mid teens. But the future looks interesting – and I have very happy memories.

And these have a tangible form too. I have a medal for services to sub-editing drawn by the paper's brilliant business cartoonist Dave Simonds. I also have my very own front page - another newspaper tradition where the front page is adapted to catalogue the foibles and fallibility of the person leaving. Mine was suitably offensive and extremely amusing and I am still so bowled over with it that I have reproduced an extract below to finish off, courtesy of my former colleague and good friend, Ed Latham.

Inventor of caravan chic (possibly)

Mother, writer, headteacher, knitting champion... everyone knows Karen Luckhurst, author of the celebrated Charwood Farm series. So Ellle Decor was thrilled to get an invite to her stunning home in Devon. Would it really be like the books? 

We needn’t have worried: from the moment we arrived, Karen made us welcome in that inimitable Charwood Farm style: ‘Sorry, you can’t drive in at the moment because the car’s broken down and is blocking the gate! But if you get in the wheelbarrow, I’ll try to keep you clear of the dog.’ 

Settling down in the cosy confines of the classic Elddis Crusader  that makes up the core of the farmhouse, we couldn’t wait to talk interiors.

Elle Decor: Karen, you mix palettes, styles and periods to stunning effect in the caravan. What’s your secret?

Karen: I always feel that eclecticism is nothing to be scared of. Here, for example, the dynamic wriggling of the mosquito larvae in my glass of water create a shimmering counterpoint to the couch grass on the roof of the kebab trailer.

Elle Decor: I love what you’ve done here with the Lego on the floor. Fantastic granularity.

Karen (laughing): Thanks! It’s kind of ‘objet trouvé’ - I just came across it like that after getting back from work one evening, but I think it really works in that space.

Elle Decor: And I understand you’re launching your own line of homewares?

Karen: Yes, I wanted something that captured the timeless simplicity of rural living with a modern edge. Our new Bucket™ toilet, for example, comes in a range of pastel colours and, with a built-in handle, is very easy to empty when full.

Elle Decor: Charwood Farm isn’t just a house - it’s a veritable compound. For example, this wooded space here, with the flat stone in the centre and a couple of other stones placed nearby, is slightly set apart from the rest of the home, isn’t it? Can you tell us a little about what you were trying to achieve – were you inspired by Japanese gardens?

Karen: Oh no, this is where we beat the heads in of rodents that have been too badly wounded by the cats to survive in the wild. Generally, the cats enjoy toying with them until they’re beyond endurance and physically incapable of escape, and then just leave them, so that can create a tricky little domestic problem in the bedroom. 

Elle Decor: And the light in the atrium here is stunning. It’s so airy!

Karen: Yes, that’s because the roof’s blown off.

Sunday, 14 October 2012

Saturation point

'How's your week been,' asked a colleague.

'Wet,' I replied.

What my reply lacked in articulacy, it made up for in accuracy, because this week Devon has been nothing if not wet.

It rained steadily all week, in a normal sort of way, then on Thursday it sloshed down. This was bad timing, for Thursday is the day I have to collect my daughter from school and traverse 15 miles of country roads in order to chauffeur her to various dance classes in Exeter.

It did occur to me – as I drove slowly along thin strips of visible tarmac flanked by vast, lapping puddles, along already narrow lanes – that the best thing to do would be to collect her and go home, but that seemed a bit wuss-ish.

So we picked her up and set off to ballet along the back roads. The going soon turned rough – after heavy-duty puddles for about a mile we turned a corner to find an entire lane was flooded, the road resembling a small river. The water was clearly not too deep, but since it was brown and swirling it was impossible to tell how much not too deep it was.

I pulled over and tried to decide whether to brave it. After a while a lone car swished through from the opposite direction. The driver, a breezy woman with a cigarette dangling from her lips, wound down her window. 'You thinking of going through?' she asked brightly. I nodded. 'Yeah, there's loads of this,' she said nodding at the floodwater. She paused and glanced reflectively at her dashboard 'I've conked out again,' she said cheerfully, 'Good luck!'

I hadn't found this exchange particularly reassuring. My boys were even less so. 'We are so going to die,' said Matty happily as we set off through the water. He and Sam leaned out of the window to get a better view as we headed through the flood and shouted gleefully as brown spray hit them in the face. 'This is awesome,' they yelled 'we're gonna die'.

We didn't die, and more remarkably the car didn't conk out, which had been my chief fear – certain death falling further down the list, somewhere behind landing in a ditch.

Such adventures continued for about five miles. Each new stretch of floodwater proving to be as stressful an experience as the last.

Just as I felt I could relax a little, I came across a stretch of lane where large chunks of the bank had fallen onto the road, mud and debris everywhere and tree roots alarmingly exposed. This sent my anxiety levels soaring, and I heard my daughter begin to moan. 'Yes!' chorused the boys joyfully.

We made it through and arrived late and shaken at dance class. There I met a lady who lives in a village on an alternative route home. 'I'm thinking of going back your way,' I said. 'I wouldn't,' she replied. 'I've just seen a car floating.'

So we returned the way we came, only this time in the dark.

Zena attends a school that takes the Church of England part of its name very seriously. She has, in a short space of time, become well acquainted with a number of songs of a spiritual nature. As we inched cautiously through the puddles in the dark she struck up with Jesus is my Saviour. We hit the first flood. 'Awesome!' yelled the boys, 'Love him more and more' carolled Zena, while the windscreen wipers squeaked and the rain continued to fall.

By the time we got back to our village we had ploughed our way, in more than one sense, through He's Got the Whole World in His Hands, and Kumbaya.

It was cold back at the field and still raining, but I have rarely been so pleased to get out of the car.