A barrow full of broad beans ready for the freezer!
Like most of the country I was saddened to read of the death of Richard Briars this week. I watched ‘The Good Life’ not just with amusement but with a certain amount of empathy in the mid 1970’s because we were already living the life - or at least trying to! The Good Life aired from 1975 to 1978 but two years earlier than that my husband and I had bought our country cottage with a small amount of land and were trying our hand at - not self sufficiency (as we were both working) - but at least partially living off the land. Complete self sufficiency as the influential John Seymour stated in his popular book needs at least an acre and five acres for a family if you are going to keep a cow and other livestock. Along with our cats and a brief encounter with a dog, we only kept ducks and chickens, but we grew all our own vegetables and picked fruit from our trees, made jam and wine and even made hay - when the sun shone!
As it happened our neighbours who had escaped the London life to retire to the country were also ‘into’ self sufficiency and they kept rabbits - not as pets but for their meat. Trying to put aside any squeamishness, we swopped our eggs and sometimes vegetables for ‘bunny burgers.’ We watched with amusement as the Goods dug up their lawns to turn them into vegetable plots. We had done the same! Only a small handkerchief patch of grass edged with daffodils escaped at the front of the cottage, but even the chickens wandered there. We grew curly kale and cabbages, carrots, cauliflower, broad beans, potatoes, parsnips and marrows and according to the season we grew salad vegetables in abundance. Some vegetables we stored or froze and rarely did we need to visit a greengrocer. We got to know our enemies, of which there were many - greenfly and blackfly, carrotfly and aphids, pigeons and foxes, slugs and snails and dealt with them appropriately - apart from the fox who always outwitted us!
Of course just as the Goods had found in ‘The Good Life’ there were still bills to pay - rates, electricity, coal and all the other usual household bills. Chris, my husband worked as an Ordnance Surveyor and I worked as a draughtswoman for the local electricity board so we had money to pay for our bills and we were of course only partially living the dream of living off the land. We would have loved to have lived the life to the full but the conveyor belt of life seemed
to have other plans for us but I have nothing but admiration for those who did or still do manage to do so. As we sat by the Rayburn in our kitchen we watched Tom and Barbara’s antics usually with amusement and in agreement. Sometimes as old hands (as we then thought) we knew better, but usually we thought it hilarious that their script sometimes mirrored our own life. By the time the series finally ended in 1978 we had just sold our cottage and moved on to other things. The repeats continue to this day of course and are as watchable as when they were first shown. The programme gave self sufficiency and gardening a boost and by 1977 over 8,000 additional members had joined the National Allotment Society.
I look back to that period in our lives with great affection and I wrote about some aspects of our ‘good life’ in ‘The Ramblings of a Twenty Five Inch Man’ (the extraordinary exploits of an Ordnance Surveyor). If you would like to read about Houdini our amazing escaping chicken, McDuck the duckling we took camping to Scotland and lots of other hilarious tales then
take look at