Read books – but don’t always believe them
Posted on: 31st July 2015
We read plenty of books offering advice, including Farming Ladder by George Henderson, The Fat of the Land and Self-sufficiency by John Seymour and his wife, and other similar volumes. While these books did contain much that was useful, they were by no means infallible and in some cases, what they recommended was simply impracticable for our situation. I have no doubt that these authors were writing in good faith but what our experience illustrates is that circumstances in which people work are simply so variable, and there are so many different factors involved, that what works in one situation may be useless in another.
It would have saved us much disappointment if the writers had prefaced their words with ‘in the circumstances within my personal experience…’ So it is hard-won experience that really counts. When my book now called A Little Piece of England was first published in 1979, it was called A Bucket of Nuts and a Herring Net. The title came from an episode described in the book, where we used an improvised method to round up sheep that had escaped. It was unorthodox – and hardly perfect – but it helped.
Of course, the uniqueness of each individual situation does not mean that we can learn nothing from those who have been through similar circumstances. On the contrary, we learned quite a bit from old books and even more from simply experimenting with old equipment and machinery. As we did more and more things for ourselves, we became more and more interested in how our forebears had run their day to day lives.
It is alarming to think how quickly knowledge can be lost to a community. We often found ourselves ‘discovering’ things that would have been common knowledge less than a hundred years previously. I hope that the current interest in self-sufficient living and the modern smallholding communities that the internet has enabled will help to stop knowledge being lost and will enable more people to learn traditional farming techniques.