The Inspiration for Fox Halt Farm
THE ELUSIVE BUTTERFLY OF HAPPINESS:
Turning fifty is key to a happy, content and comfortable life. I remember that article; all about how you shouldn’t be down if you’re fifty today – you are entering the ‘True Age of Happiness’. It explained how researchers had found that fifty year olds may have paid off their mortgages, got their children off their hands and may even be grandparents. It talked of more time to spend with loved ones and friends, of a bit of spare cash to spend on holidays and hobbies rather than working solely to pay bills.
‘Twaddle’ I thought; actually I didn’t use that word, I used another more forceful expression because I will hit fifty this year and, like many of my similarly aged friends, I am not in this situation at all.
This morning, was pretty typical, I got in to my twenty-two year old LandRover, from the passenger side, because the driver’s door locked shut two weeks ago and my husband who works every minute he can, has not had time to fix it yet. Then, the old, rusty, leaky, noisy vehicle wont start because I forgot about ‘a work around,’ that I am using until there is some cash to fix it properly. I forgot the clever ‘work around,’ because I was staring at the stunning bright red early morning sun as it lifted up in the sky. So beautiful.
I chugged the dramatic five miles to work trying to keep my eyes on the road instead of looking over the thick hedges at the striking, and always different, Dartmoor hills. Hoping that my fairly trusty chariot wouldn’t let me down again, like it has a couple of times over the past few weeks, when I lost my power steering and my power assisted brakes because the dodgy key has decided I am stealing my own vehicle and put me into limp home mode.
I wave at three familiar cars coming in the other direction and their occupants all wave back at me smiling. I pass a couple of my customer’s homes. I see my cousin’s sheep in the usual field. I get my weekly, twenty pounds worth of, diesel from another cousin’s garage; one of those few privately owned family garages still left. I see the usual girl there and we have a chat and a catch up.
I struggle back into my vehicle, and then in two minutes, I am back out again because I have reached the pretty village post office. The kind lady I see there every week, looks worn out from all the things she is helping with in the village as usual.
To the doctors next, to pick up my husband’s, monthly prescription for depression. A depression that anyone who knows him wouldn’t believe afflicts him because my wonderful husband is always the ‘life and soul’ But depression does afflict this always smiling man, and if you ask him, he will tell you that it does, and also about his two nervous breakdowns and how he battles on. He won’t hide his depression, he won’t let anyone else suffer who could be helped by talking about what has become a taboo subject in our society. If he can help one person then he will; that’s the man my husband is. My husband has discovered that the best way to make himself feel better is helping other people. He loves fixing stuff. It is his passion. It is also probably his downfall because the phone is always ringing and all sorts of things are left on our doorstep waiting for repair. Everyone knows that whatever they leave will be fixed. Yesterday, Sunday, my husband sorted out four different things for four different people, and please don’t think that because he works so hard, and he is so clever, that he is rolling in dosh. He is not, because most of the things he does are favours, again, that is just the way he is.
I travelled five miles to work this morning, to a friend’s house, someone I have known for thirty years, who I met when I was at a London university studying for my degree, and I clean for him on a Monday morning. The thing is I chose this life and I have never been happier:
We struggle to pay the rent, we have no pension, no savings, no security and we work all the time but, after those minor considerations, we have each other, our friends, our family and we live in a community where we feel we belong.
We never imagined, after all these years of working hard, we would be in such a financial black hole, where our business plan is doing the lottery each week hoping lady luck will call. If we did win the lottery, I am sure that the money would disappear anyway, helping others because that is what we like to do. We count our blessings everyday, and I know we always will.
It was certainly never my mother’s intention for me to be like I am today. This is similar to the financial situation she was in when our family farm was sold. My mother hoped that university and a career would save me from the same struggle and heartbreak.
I don’t despair, however, instead I see how lucky I am. As far as I am concerned, I have it all,. Okay, it would be nice to think we didn’t have to work all the time but we are content with our lot, we see the miracle in each other and in the things and the people around us. We both appreciate every single day.
In 1990, when I started work in the property department of a Bank situated in the centre of the City district of London, I had more money than I knew what to do with. I spent my salary one month and it was replenished the next. An easy and comfortable life of socialising, holidaying, fun and purchasing things. I spent seven, or eight, years spending money like water without a second thought but then the niggling began, ‘The what the hell am I doing this for?’ ‘Would it matter if I didn’t turn up tomorrow?’ ‘What value do I have, or give?’ Niggling questions that gnawed away every time I got out of my nice new car and parked it in my allocated space.
Eventually, I left my cushy job and took the radical step of becoming a climbing instructor. I found a job as a centre assistant at the prestigious training centre in North Wales. The job provided a place to stay, food and training in return for me doing all the run of the mill jobs around the centre, like kitchen help, cleaner, receptionist and stores assistant. After eighteen months of pure enjoyment amongst passionate and driven people, I left the centre with lots of outdoor qualifications ready to take on the world. For the first time in years, I headed towards home and nearly back to Devon. I found work in Somerset. The pay wasn’t brilliant but I still had savings and all seemed fine. I worked more hours than I care to think about but I had never felt so rewarded. What I was doing really mattered, especially my work with the young people from care homes or excluded from school. I saw children shine in the outdoor world who would never shine in the conventional world of academia.
Working ridiculous hours allowed me to take weeks off at a time to explore the world and this was why everything changed for me again. A wave changed my life forever. The tsunami in Thailand on Boxing Day 2004 put everything in a new light. I couldn’t understand why I survived. I needed a reason. Why was I so lucky? I learnt a sudden and lasting appreciation of loved-ones and every second of my life.
A chain of events in quick succession after this led me to find myself completely wiped out financially. Not through my bad management but through me trusting and believing, and being lied to and let down. This was the lowest part of my life. A time where I contemplated killing myself. Something that I find hard to believe I seriously considered because before I had never understood how anyone could be that selfish. Surely, there is always someone to talk to? Surely, you would see how such a terrible act would devastate your family and your friends? I had felt so lucky to have been spared from the tsunami and determined to find out why I had been allowed to live, yet, at this time, all I could think about was chucking myself off a cliff.
That is when the miracle of my husband came into my life. He made me laugh again. He showed me that I could trust and love people again. He gave me back my joy of living.
I came home to Devon at last, and returned to the community where I grew up There is a blood-bond here. A familiarity. I know my neighbours, and they know me. I belong here.
Today, I work most of the year as a gardener for just a few lovely customers, many of whom have lost their cherished other halves. In the winter months, I am trying a new venture of blacksmithing, creating beautiful organic inspired things for gardens, like bird feeders and garden arches. I have a massive sense of fulfilment now, knowing that I can bring a little bit of joy into other people’s lives. I think discovering how low you can get has allowed me to empathise with people, I can see there emptiness and sorrow. I think now this is why I was spared on Boxing Day 2004. An answer at last.
I was never christened as a baby, my mother took the view that if I wanted a faith then I should find one for myself, so in 2005 I chose to be christened but although I tried, I don’t think a conventional God was for me. I could not relate to a ceremonised religion. Since then, I have found a sense of something bigger than my understanding, a life force that just hangs around that I have to tune into it. I have been tuned into that force a couple of times lately; once, last May, when it was my husband’s fiftieth birthday, and I witnessed the love that everyone has for my darling man, and more recently, in the inspiration that I suddenly found to write a book based on my life so far. Not autobiographical because that was not what came to me.
This book has lots of things that have happened to me in it but the events are all muddled up and what I have written is more about trying to recognise feelings and understand the searching for the elusive happiness we all seek. I can’t say I wrote this book because it is more that I dreamt it. It came to me one night and it wouldn’t go away.
I have cried my heart out while I have been typing, and I realise now that I had never properly come to terms with my father dying. I believed, before I started writing, and remembering growing up, that I had my fabulous father’s sudden death all sussed, and I thought my late father just spent his time looking over my shoulder watching me. I know now that I had a lot more grieving to do, and I needed to remember the incredible man he was and the things he did. I needed to cry over other losses too and properly recognise the precious people and the extraordinary moments which have moulded my forty-nine year old life so far. I have always thought you just get on with life and live for the day but I see now that we all have to take time to reflect and wonder at the past times too. We all need that and writing this book has given me that to me.
Happiness I think, is recognising every gift. I have my wonderful husband, friends and family and the awe inspiring butterfly in my customer’s garden.