Tales from the Farm – Lessons Learned
“TV’s favourite gardener”, Monty Don, inspires Jez Rose, a frustrated behaviourist and amateur gardener, to grow a new life, as detailed in Tales from the Farm. Monty Don’s book inspired Jez to buy a farm in the countryside, create his own garden and write about the joy, obsession and mud.
It’s been 6 months since Mrs Jez and I moved into the farm and its also been a while since I last blogged with tales from the farm. That’s partly because every time it looks like we’re about to turn a corner and things are sorted and calming down, we face another major obstacle, or we discover yet another major thing that is broken.
The latest challenge, which is, frankly, putting it lightly, was to discover that our bore hole is leaking. A lot. The inspection chamber was completely full of water, which masked the gushing sound that comes about when you empty the chamber with buckets (very quickly as it fills up again so quickly). It’s a tragic waste of water, so we got right on the case to get it repaired. It’s not a simple job; the main valve will need to be closed off and it looks very rusted and unstable but assuming it does the job and shuts the water off, the outlets to the outside tap and house will need to be disconnected and the giant head valve will then need to be unbolted, replaced and everything reconnected again.
As so much has happened since I last blogged, I thought I’d spare you literally pages of updates – the barn is now complete and we’ve held our very first course in it already, so I’ll take plenty of photos and upload those because from bare concrete to landscaped car park, barn, magnolia courtyard and vegetable garden it is quite a transformation!
So, amidst the water treatment system being installed, the digger breaking the sewage pipe, the leaking bore hole, the endless ordering of equipment and supplies, meeting and working with completely incompetent tradesmen, maintaining the land for our Soil Association accreditation process and ripping out a shower room to make way for new toilets, I’ve learned more than a few lessons about work, life, nature and the human spirit. On several occasions I’ve felt like a man on the edge; my emotional strength has been tested to the absolute max when day after day yet more goes wrong and costs for essential works spiral out of control.
One of the maxims I repeat from my book is: “did anyone die?” because that really is the worst that can happen. Our misery, pain and the negativity we find ourselves in is of course subjective, however, in terms of finding balance and putting things into perspective, asking myself the question: “did anyone die?” has worked very well for me to every morning keep on, even if it is with a pained smile. So, rather than me droaning on about the myriad challenges, I thought I’d take the opportunity to share with you these Lessons Learnt 6 Months On…
- Patience really isn’t a virtue: it’s a lovely concept but when you’re pushed to the extreme, being patient doesn’t help because it feels and appears like you’re not advancing; like you’re not helping to fix the problem, just waiting. In turn that only fuels the feeling of frustration and hopelessness. I’ve taken to a much more proactive approach of being realistic but advancing towards a solution quicker.
- Tomorrow is another day: time really is a healer and at some point when things aren’t going right for you, you simply have to say: “enough is enough” and put everything to one side until the next day when you’re rested and can approach things with a restored mindset. On several occasions when I couldn’t see things getting any better, as people delivered bad news after bad news, and the day’s events had completely overwhelmed me, the next day things just didn’t seem quite as bad. Sleep, rest for your mind and time for the dust to settle really did help pull us through. I remember when the building inspector told us that, despite reassurances to the contrary, the new barn would require foundations and that in turn required hire of a digger, another two days of labour and almost £3,000 worth of concrete, I took the dogs for a walk to get away from things. It was a long walk but it really helped to turn away from it all and get some respite.
- Look after number 1: with sleep, our brain rests, our body rests and in turn our spirit restores. Without sleep, we make less calculated decisions, become irritable and unsettled and our stress levels increase. Trying to juggle schedules, manage the mother of all to-do lists (which was more like a “to do book”), liaise with multiple contractors, work through challenges and solutions, juggle cashflow and financial concerns all on top of the everyday jobs and tasks, results in the feeling that you need to keep going because there isn’t enough time to not keep going. It’s too easy to keep on working late into the night, entirely neglecting the fact that we are human: rest is essential as water, food and air in order for us to live, let alone function properly. Everything has an end point and with humans the end point, the breaking point, is normally ill health. We simply can’t do EVERYTHING, so, something has to give. I asked myself one simple question when the to-do list had more things on it than there were hours remaining to achieve them: “what would happen if this didn’t get done today? Would anyone die? Would it get done the next day?” Inevitably, almost everything could wait until the next day. Even right up until the very first course that we ran in the barn, when the barn wasn’t complete, as I wanted and intended it to be. Things may be delayed and you might get an ear full from someone, but life still moves on and the world still spins and on reflection you understand that nothing is more important than your health.
- Preparation is pointless: I remember doing disaster management and major incident training while I was in the NHS. The takeaway message after a whole day planning what we would do in scenario A and scenario B, C, D, E and every other variation imaginable, was that whatever you plan on doing; however you intend to manage a perceived threat or problem, perhaps somewhat ironically given the amount of time dedicated to the training, absolutely nothing can truly prepare you – there are far too many variables. However, what the training does do is to coach a solution-orientated mindset. You become good at triaging situations: what’s essential? What can wait? What looks essential but in reality isn’t? That’s a skill I see many people lack: they intend to do something, get to it and the circumstances don’t allow it, so they are stopped in their tracks. I’ve stumbled across a lot of standing around and chatting during the renovations here at the farm. People have wasted so much time talking about what’s gone wrong, focusing on the obvious and unpicking it in minute detail, replaying it again and again, rather than accepting that they can’t continue the way they intended and to instead spend valuable time on finding a solution. When we had our bathroom re-fitted by the most incompetent people I have ever had the misfortunate to meet in my entire life,the shower tray hadn’t arrived, which was what they intended to install on day one. So they left half a day early. As a result, their 5 day schedule turned into 9 gruelling days because everything got put back while they wasted time complaining about all the things that weren’t going right… and somewhat ironically completely ruined the bathroom, resulting in us having to get an emergency plumber to make some urgent repairs and another plumber to make significant changes to correct the terrible job they’d done.
Nature is magic: no matter what has happened during the day; no mater how stressful, upsetting, challenging or expensive (most things have been all of those, especially the last bit), watching the sun set each evening, the flowers develop through Spring and the birds sharing our garden with us, not to mention breathing the fresh air with the sweet, floral scent of oilseed rape, never ceases to be restorative. Of course, the challenges still exist but I suspect because of the stress-relieving properties of nature, one feels somehow less affected by the day’s stresses. Taking the time to watch the birds (and we have many – over 30 different species from Yellow Hammers to Blue Tits and from Barn Owls to Woodpeckers), or the sunset also forces you to stop; there’s an almost magical stillness that you are afforded by spending time within nature and the positive affect it has on wellbeing has been felt and embraced by everyone here at the farm. Everything else is still and calm – and those two properties are extremely impactful on our state of mind.
- Most people don’t care: now, perhaps I am a little impatient and perhaps I’m also a little demanding in my search for things to be ‘right’ (I accepted many years ago that perfectionism was an unrealistic goal and decided to become a ‘rightist’ instead), which means that I can have exceptionally high standards at times, however, still a surprising amount of people working to help us to renovate the farm seem to really not care. They don’t see or seem to understand the importance of the finer details. A surprisingly large amount of people I’ve met have a very “that’ll do” attitude. Not necessarily intentionally careless because when I’ve pointed things out, they’ve realised and understood that it needs to be correct. However, that demonstrates quite clearly how they were not thinking through and consciously, cognitively aware of the impact of their actions – the consequences of their actions. It might be that tradesmen don’t clean up after themselves, or they use something of yours without asking and break it, or they make a decision to do something without checking, which impacts other things and have to then undo what they did.
Monty Don makes it all look so easy when you flick through the glossy pages of his books – they’ve been somewhat biblical to us in helping us to plan, design, create and plant the gardens here. They’ve taught us how to care for the lawn properly, which plants to plant and where, the importance of paths and structure in gardens and how to use planting to create unique spaces. In the last 6 months, hundreds of hours have gone into planning and creating the farm that now exists. It feels very young and very new: most of the plants are only this Spring beginning to grow.
Our journey is still ongoing; we’ve a few more obstacles to conquer but we’re finally in a position that we can welcome you to join us on some of the amazing courses were running this summer and into the autumn, whether it be with your business, or simply for pleasure. Click here to check them out.
Jez Rose is a behaviourist, broadcaster and Faculty Lead for The Good Life Project; a research project evidencing the impact of nature on health, behaviour and wellbeing. Ambassadors include broadcasters Kate Humble and the Soil Association. For free brain tricks and behaviour fixes visit www.thebehaviourexpert.com