Lyn Alderson

Copywriter, Journalist, Blogger


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My defective season….

A winter scene on our Shropshire farm

A winter scene at our Shropshire farm

The weather may still be relatively mild, but the light is fading fast, and I find myself dogged by that familiar grey spectre, Seasonal Affective Disorder.

While I am managing to rise at a semi-respectable hour of 7.30am, it’s a little bit late for a farmer’s wife and self-employed professional, and directly reflects my sluggish winter metabolism.

The SAD syndrome kicks in every year when the clocks go back, and my heart takes a nosedive into my boots, much like Tom Daly making an Olympic gold medal attempt. This unwelcome seasonal change has now become 100 per cent predictable.

Cravings of a couch potato

As winter sets in, I develop a craving for lots of carbs and feel sorely tempted to live as a couch potato. Apparently this is a biological condition related to falling levels of light which affect the brain’s neurotransmitters, reducing the feel good chemicals.

Floss the Sheepdog has a new vocation

Floss the Sheepdog has a new vocation

My SAD is not as bad as some people’s SAD and I am glad! I can fight it by getting outside for a daily walk when the light is at its brightest. I am accompanied by my trusty personal trainer, Floss the Sheepdog. Floss has been given this new title since her semi-retirement from farm life when Pete sold the sheep a couple of years ago. Getting outside on the farm is the best antidote to SAD I know.

State of the art gymnasium

Years ago I was forced to exercise indoors, in a state-of-the-art gym across the road from my office at the Stourbridge News. Three times a week, ultra-fit, lycra-clad ladies kept me working flat out on the treadmill and cross training equipment, in an effort to avoid middle aged spread and dinner lady arms. (Apologies to any dinner ladies reading this; I am sure your arms look just fine and you ought to sue the Oxford Dictionary for unfair discrimination!) Anyway, enough of this empty talk. My personal trainer is here, and she wants to give me a woof time! She will round me up and put me through my paces, and she won’t let me paws for breath…..

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Goodbye sweet summer….

 I'm enjoying autumn's rich palette and getting my bed socks out ready for winter

I’m enjoying autumn’s rich palette and getting my bed socks out ready for winter!

Today I am remembering a former life….

A warm house was as simple as flicking a switch.

Gas-fired central heating warmed up my little box of a home at express speed. Bed socks were for old grannies and scarves were for outside use only. My house got so warm it was like Bermuda as we stripped off to T-shirts in the middle of January.

I admit, it was a bit of a shock every morning to face the hostile environment of my driveway. I had to arm myself with a scraper and attack the ice on my windscreen before I went to work, but unless it snowed and the roads were blocked, winter was a relatively mild inconvenience.

In modern urban life, we are always one step removed from the primitive cycle of the changing seasons. My life here on the farm couldn’t be more different.

Retro kitchen and open fires

We have an original Aga from the 1930s which keeps the kitchen nice and warm, but the rest of the house depends on a labour-intensive wood-burning boiler. We use wood from fallen branches on the farm and pile the logs on by hand every hour or two. Remembering to do it before the boiler goes out is an art in itself! And sub-zero weather is more than a mild blip, it means major headaches for Pete when water supplies to the animals freeze up.

lanternsRESIZED.jpegBut still, there nothing like a night cuddling up together in front of an open fire watching a good film. When the boiler is going and we light the log burner in the living room as well, it can match any central heating system in the world. And the fact that it’s hard earned makes it even more luxurious!

Embracing change

Yes my life has changed. Some of the things I used to take for granted are appreciated far more, and I have so much beauty in my life. I love the stunning landscape here on the farm; beautiful open vistas for mile upon mile, with Shropshire’s famous hills on the horizon.

Goodbye Indian summer 2014; hello windy and wet mornings, glorious autumnal landscapes and wear-your-bedsocks nights!


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Reflections of a combine widow….

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I decided to do a couple of Google searches the other day. First I typed in “what is a cricket widow?” and Google immediately responded with “a woman who sees her husband so infrequently during cricket season (because he is always at a match) that she is effectively a widow”.

I tried my next question: “What is a combine widow?” but Google was completely baffled.

I think I will have to write a Wikipedia page to set the record straight. After all, this is a phenomenon that afflicts many farmer’s wives and it’s surprising that there’s no reference to it in cyberspace. Although it’s also strangely comforting that there is some human activity which remains beyond the reach of the behemoth search engines.

So for the benefit of Google, Yahoo and Bing, here are some tips for your little web crawlers to digest…..

You wake up and go to bed alone

You suspect you’re a combine widow when you wake up and go to sleep alone in a king sized bed, and listen all day to the distant drone of harvesting machinery. Your suspicions are confirmed when you occasionally see a bristly face which has considerably overstepped the mark from designer stubble and now needs a government health warning as it strongly resembles a porcupine’s backside.

You leave plates of food for the mystery man who might occasionally materialise to consume them, but you usually blink and miss his rare visits to the house. You can see he’s been in the bathroom late at night by the dusty ring he leaves behind in the bathtub and is too tired to clean up. His clothes are covered in dust almost as thick as the aftermath of a volcanic eruption or an African sandstorm.

Elusive figure

For the combine widow, Hubby becomes an elusive and mystical figure for a few weeks, rather like Father Christmas as he is only around in the dead of night.

But let’s look at it from the farmer’s point of view for a moment. Unlike Father Christmas, who flies through the sky and is universally welcomed by the public, Shropshire Farmer sometimes has to tackle the A49 on his combine harvester, where motorists display varying reactions to his presence.

Some give him the thumbs up, appreciative of his efforts to feed the great British nation, while others gesticulate rudely, with an impatient one or two fingered “salute”. Poor Shropshire Farmer. He is only doing what farmers have to do…..


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The power tool of expressive writing: How keeping a journal can make you happier, healthier and more productive

Something pretty amazing happened to me about 10 years ago, which I’d like to briefly share with you.

I’d been through a divorce three years earlier, and was getting back on my feet, but I missed having someone special in my life.

One day I went to visit a friend who was another self-employed businesswoman, and she was keen that we went through a written exercise together. Anna wanted us both (separately) to write down a vision for our life as we would like it to be in five years’ time.

A vision for the future

pretty journal.jpeg“Write it in the present tense”, she urged me. “Just imagine a scenario of how you want your life to be, and write it down as if it’s happening, as if you’re living it”

So I said a prayer, closed my eyes and thought for a moment. Then I wrote about sitting outside, having lunch with my husband, in the garden of our country house. I was really happy with this man, who absolutely adored me, and we were having lunch with my children (who are both in their twenties). The vision also spoke of business matters, but I won’t go into that.

The incredible thing is, I joined a dating agency six months later, and met my husband Pete, who is a farmer! Now when I wrote my vision down, I was living in Kidderminster, in the town (and I’d always lived in urban areas- never in a rural setting). It was almost comical, as I’d written something about “My husband has been successful in his field”. (God has a sense of humour!)

At home in the country

So within a very short time, my vision started to materialise. I now live in a lovely old farmhouse in beautiful Shropshire, with a man I truly love- and I’m so grateful for this blessing in my life.

So why am I telling you this? Because there’s POWER in writing stuff down. It focuses your mind and helps you to find your direction in life. And writing is a process that can help to heal the past. This has been verified by psychologists in more than 300 academic studies over the past 30 years.

I’ve now written an e-book as an introduction to expressive writing techniques and it’s only 48 pages long- so if you’d like to know more about the benefits of journaling, you can get an overview of the subject in 90 minutes or less.

To find out more about my e-book, The Write Therapy:  How Keeping a Journal Can Make You Happier, Healthier and More Productive (and read a short sample), click here

 

 

 

 


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Call the shrink- it’s farming-related OCD!

How many times can one man watch the weather forecast, Townie Wife mumbled under her breath, as Shropshire Farmer’s glazed eyes focused once again on the flat screen, mesmerised by talk of high and low pressure, the jet stream and ex-hurricane Cristobal.

A couple of weeks ago, my husband was as happy as a lark, enthroned on his combine harvester. He returned home in the evenings itching all over from barley awns, but was content to soak in a nice bath glowing with the virtue of a day well spent bringing in the harvest.

Field of barley

Beautiful barley, just waiting to be harvested

Then the weather broke and with it Shropshire Farmer’s sunny disposition.

Psychological disorder

The amiable man I know and love was replaced with an edgy, morbid, grumpy old chap. He became a victim of that peculiar farming-related Obsessive Compulsive Disorder which now keeps him glued to weather forecasts during the day and tossing and turning in bed at night. The symptoms of OCD are quite plain.

The weather forecast has improved over the past couple of days. Townie Wife is hopeful of a spontaneous cure for this psychological disorder which besets farmers during the harvest. However, the anxiety hasn’t lifted yet. Not until Pete sees that heavenly ball radiating in a cloudless sky will the smile return to his normally jovial face. The only hat I saw today was not on the sun, but on Pete’s head as the weather remained fairly dull. Not great conditions for drying the corn and so no combining-yet again. Maybe I should play ‘I’ve Got a Brand New Combine Harvester’ to cheer Pete up? If it works I could patent Wurzel Therapy and make a fortune.

Staying positive

Although the sky has been grey, the air has turned blue several times over the past week. But I have high hopes for a return to normality next week. And besides, I refuse to let the weather get me down. I am delighted with my own achievements during the past few weeks. I’ve written an e-book, formatted it myself, and uploaded it to the Amazon Kindle Store. It’s the first of several- or that’s the plan. And I hope for my own little ‘harvest’ in due course, humble though it may be.

(Look out for my next blog which explains all about my e-book, coming shortly).

 

 


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Ruminants and reflections

Townie Wife was amused by Countryfile last Sunday, when three Londoners visited Adam Henson’s farm in the Cotswolds to get a taste of farm life.

Young Annabelle Spranklen was worried that a shock from an electric fence might turn her hair grey, and preferred the size of chickens to cattle- something I can definitely relate to.

Annabelle also felt a bit weird about having dirty hands- which was something I had to get over too. Once you’ve got into the messy business of lambing for a few weeks, however, you get desensitised to that “ikky” feeling.

At least I didn’t tiptoe around the cow pats in pink flowery wellies on my first visit to the farm- I strode boldly ahead in my new shock-absorbing green Aigle boots (in for a penny, in for a pound) and never veered to the right or the left. I’d had a tip-off from a friend in the country (thanks John H).

Beligerent bulls

Enjoying family life again- our Charolais stock bull

Enjoying family life again- our Charolais stock bull

Things have been pretty quiet here lately, except when our two breeding bulls managed to end up in the same field (one of them did an SAS-style raid on a fence). A scrap ensued and Pete had to rescue the older bull, who was worn out from all of his recent conquests and came off worse. Male pride dented, the beaten bull refused to look any of us in the eye for days, and hung his head in shame. His reaction was almost human, and we felt really sorry for him and gave him some TLC. One of the cows helped, by licking his face, which Pete reckons was quite unusual. As you can see from the above picture, the mountainous Charolais is back to normal now and enjoying life with his “family”.

Prayer for Gaza and Northern Iraq

I’ll end this post with another pic (taken here at the house a few days ago) showing a rainbow after a storm. Rainbows are a symbol of hope, and while uploading my photos I couldn’t help thinking of, and praying for, the desperate families in Gaza and Northern Iraq. Images of extreme suffering have been etched on my mind for the past fortnight, in stark contrast to the peace and beauty of my own surroundings. I have no answers, only a million questions.

This rainbow made me think of Gaza

This rainbow made me think of Gaza


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Mrs Superman? More of an English Rose really…..

Welsh mountainsheepRESIZEDTownie Wife went to the Royal Welsh Show last week and remembered an interesting fact.

People with poor hygiene always stand next to a massive fan so that their personal odours can waft around a stifling marquee as the temperature soars towards 30 degrees.

So when I had beat a hasty exit from one of the hospitality tents I went to stand in front of a cooling spray which I think was intended for the show animals but which was proving to be the most popular feature of the whole show. People were queuing up sheepishly to stand in the wonderful air-conditioned mist.I went in front of a large but very smiley lady in a St John’s Ambulance uniform, who looked at the gadget producing the magical cooling spray, and quipped: “My bottom would just fit in there nicely”.

Fantastic floral feats

It was time to visit the flower show after getting my body temperature down by a degree, and I managed to spend a few minutes admiring the beautiful blooms, and taking pictures. I love to draw and paint flowers- or at least I used to, in the days when I had spare time and knew nothing about farmers.

lily pic RESIZED.jpegWhat I didn’t realise as I emerged from the flower tent and felt the merciless sun beating down on my exposed shoulders, was that Shropshire’s answer to Superman(who doesn’t feel the heat like normal human beings) was planning to make a big day of it. As hubby dropped the bombshell we would be staying until 9pm (having arrived at 10am) and bombed off to critically evaluate the pedigree stock, I felt my feet swell uncomfortably in the heat and my strength drain away like Mrs Superman under the influence of kryptonite.

I should have known better really. Shropshire Farmer has about ten times the sticking power of Townie Wife when the elements come into play. Generations of farming genes have given him resilience and stamina out of all proportion to his frame. Our neighbour Cherry was with us, and although she has Townie roots, she seems to have plenty of resilience to the sizzling weather too.

Cream tea eases the pain

I managed to negotiate with Pete and Cherry for a cream tea with real clotted cream and a table in the shade outside the National Trust café, and for an interval felt almost human again. I did make it into the sheds to see the cattle, but was disappointed that there were no cute little Dexter cattle to take home in my pocket. Oh well, maybe I’ll have better luck next time.

I wish I was as brave as this young pedigree cattle farmer (but then I wouldn't have time to write, would I?)

I wish I was as brave as this young pedigree cattle farmer (but then I wouldn’t have time to write, would I?)


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Phew, the Posh Potties did the job!

marquee.jpegWe ran the whole gamut of emotions here in the farmhouse last week, as we prepared for my daughter’s wedding reception here on the farm. Even in this big rambling house, we were packed out with guests staying over for this joyous celebration.

Thankfully everything went well. Our popular local lady vicar presided over a beautiful and personal ceremony in the village, and when the bride and groom were pronounced husband and wife a loud cheer went up from the balcony full of young Londoners and Aberystwyth University alumni. It was such a boisterous cheer accompanied with loud clapping that I fancied the old church shook from the shockingly large sound waves, but thankfully our good-natured priest did not bat an eyelid. The three year-old flower girl was impeccably behaved, and the youngest member of the congregation, a four month old baby boy, slept peacefully through the proceedings.

wedding sign.jpegMercy Mission

As soon as we had posed for the photos, Shropshire Farmer shot off on a mercy mission to check on the posh toilets, which to our horror had failed to work properly the night before. Townie Wife kept her fingers crossed that 115 guests would not be forced to walk through the farmhouse kitchen to spend a penny. It would have been an unseemly contrast between the immaculately decorated and neatly arranged marquee, and our personal quarters, which looked like the aftermath of a nuclear explosion. Thankfully, the Posh Potties performed their duties, and we were spared the shame of public humiliation.

Blot on the landscape

I did notice a tiny flaw in the landscape as I looked out of the marquee windows, while tucking into the wedding breakfast. It was our king-sized duvet, which I had forgotten to take off the washing line; but it was far enough away to blend unnoticed into the stunning scenery.

At midnight there was another mildly worrying moment, when two of the aforementioned alumni stripped down to their boxers and donned black bin bags on the dance floor. Townie Wife was worried that some of the older generation might frown upon such silliness, but instead of shaking their heads in disapproval, the grandmas hit the dance floor too.

 

 

 

 

 


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My hairy little friends

Do you hate spiders? I used to dislike them a lot more before I moved into our big, rambling farmhouse.

Years ago I would go on to red alert when a spider appeared. I wasn’t a full-blown arachnophobe, but I felt uneasy. If they were really big, hairy, black specimens then I couldn’t deal with them myself and would petition a braver soul to evict them from my vicinity.

picture by Brian Fagan

picture by Brian Fagan

Now I hardly bat an eyelid at even the biggest granddaddy spider. Okay, I wouldn’t like it to crawl all over my naked body, and I’m not volunteering for I’m a Celebrity, but I feel a lot braver than before.

It’s what psychologists call exposure therapy. Most people have to pay for this, or access it through the NHS, but I get it free on the farm. There are so many spiders here, I’m actually a bit bored with them. Bring on the tarantula- that might get me screaming!

Harmless inhabitants

Frankly, there are probably hundreds of spiders living in our house- they certainly seem intent on building Web City 24-7- but I see them as part of the furniture now.

Farmhouse living room, spider free

No signs of spiders in our living room today…but they’re in here somewhere!

And actually, they are quiet little creatures which bother nobody. Not like the raucous murder of crows which descended on the farm a week ago. There were literally hundreds of crows flying overhead all day long, making enough noise to wake the dead, and drowning out the sweet sound of our other native birds.

Scarey Man on the job

So we set up a Scarey Man. No, not my husband!!! He couldn’t scare a fly, he’s far too nice. For all the townies reading this, a Scarey Man is an inflatable scarecrow, which leaps up in the air every 20 minutes or so. It’s hilarious, but the crows think it’s the Devil Incarnate.

And just to see them off properly, so they don’t eat the corn we are feeding to our cattle, we also have another pest control device, a rope banger which has helped to disperse them with its loud explosions.

I’ve also been reading that crows dislike loud music. Mmm, I have an uncontrollable urge to play Meatloaf’s Bat Out of Hell.


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Lord Sugar takes a break

There was cause for minor celebration on the farm this week; we have almost finished calving. And this year my husband has not encountered any  hormonally crazed cows (no clever comments please!).

Thankfully this calving season has been relatively peaceful; only one animal has been excessively moody. Two more births are expected, and then we can all breathe a sigh of relief.

A pleasant escape from the farm

We even managed to take a few days off to visit Snowdonia last week. Townie Wife enjoyed the change of scenery and took lots of photographs, while Lord Sugar (Pete takes three teaspoons of sugar in his tea) left the board room (cow sheds) behind and relaxed.

The poor overworked man dropped down from top gear to bottom gear, and spent hours asleep on the beach at beautiful Aberdyfi, waking up at intervals to consume ice creams and at least one shamelessly indulgent Knickerbocker Glory.

It was a pleasant and short-lived escape from the daily pressures of farm life. I came back to reality this morning when I went to my slimming class in Ludlow and found I’d gained an extra pound. Quick, back to the Frylight and low fat yoghurts- couch potato farmers’ wives are not allowed!

Lovely Aberdyfi- a great place for a break

Lovely Dovey- a great place for a relaxing break away from the farm

ice cream shop Aberdyfi

The path to the ice cream shop from the beach was a well travelled route