How we came to This . . . .

Well. Here at last is the promised blog, designed with the intent of keeping interested parties up to date with our new-life agricultural endeavours, and of reminding people that Dreams can and do Come True.

How this particular dream came about in the first place is actually not at all clear. The basic notion that ‘there must be more to life than this’ (that probably occurs to most of us at some time in our busy, stress-ridden working lives), somehow turned into a fairly hazy plan of action. We decided we wanted to live a simpler life, closer to, and more in tune with nature. We wanted to spend our time engaged in activity that felt good, and resulted in outcomes that were clear, and under our own control. In short, we wanted to find more joy in life.

The whole llama idea as a specific way of realising that vague dream just somehow seemed to grow on its own.

I remember a particularly dull day in the office when, internet-browsing properties for sale in Wales, I came across a country house with a few acres of land for sale. The property description mentioned that it had previously been used as a llama farm, and, recalling an article I had read in a Sunday supplement many years previously about the therapeutic benefits of walking with llamas, I jokingly exclaimed that I might pack in work, sell my house and move to Wales to become a llama farmer. Much discussion followed about llamas, along with more internet searching to find a picture of a llama to show a work colleague who wasn’t sure what they looked like. The picture ended up stuck on the wall next to my desk, and from then on became the representation of that dream-like Other Life, to which I might one day escape.

Now there’s a funny thing that happens when you keep looking at pictures for a long time. Gradually over the weeks and months of looking at that picture whenever I felt the need to imagine being somewhere else, it started to feel as though it was only a matter of time before the llama farm became a reality. The office joking resulted in more internet browsing, and the more I read about llamas, the more it seemed like having some would be a Good Thing to Do.

By the time Simon had formulated a financial plan (i.e. worked out how we could live on nothing till he got his pension in 2011), and confidently handed in his notice in October 2006, he had also been bitten by the llama bug, and was beginning to incorporate them into his mental picture of his Dream Smallholding, along with the chickens and pigs. The plan was something along the lines of: a) sell our French holiday home and use proceeds to buy a bigger house with land in a cheaper area, and b) renovate and sell our English house, to provide money to live on.

Now the other thing that I’ve realised about Making Dreams Come True is that it is important to focus on What Really Matters, and not get carried away by the craving for perfection which gets us stuck in the endless cycle of always wanting something a little more, a little better. Our plans for a better, simpler life got a little side-tracked as we mentally and physically travelled the length and breadth of England and France looking for the perfect house in the perfect location with the perfect land at the perfect price. Until, sitting on the terrasse of our holiday home in Roquetaillade one lovely evening in October, contemplating its possible sale to someone who had visited that afternoon, we suddenly realised that we didn’t need somewhere bigger and better to make us happy. The only thing missing was that we needed some land for some animals. So we decided to take our French house off the market, be content with what we had, and let the Universe take care of our Dreams.

Now some cynical people, who have never appreciated the strange and bountiful way in which the Universe conspires to make wishes come true, might have said that we would be stupid to sit and wait for someone to knock on the door and offer us some land. Which, however, is pretty much what happened next.

Having decided to take the house off the market, we were packing the car for the return trip to England the following morning, when our neighbour, Nadine, rushed over to ask if it was true that we were selling the house and moving out of the village (well, at least I think that’s what she said, but it was in very fast French with a strong southern accent so I only got the gist of it before Simon stepped in to translate). When Simon explained that we had intended to move because we needed some land for some animals, she said that her ex-husband had some fields we could rent.

Now the story from that point is full of ups and downs, which is only what you’d expect from life. Another thing I’ve noticed though, is that you can never be absolutely sure about what constitutes an up or a down. In retrospect, the apparent downs often turn out to have been a Good Thing, even though we didn’t think so at the time. Like when we returned to the village some weeks later, having visited a llama farm in the Auvergne and ordered 6 llamas on the strength of the belief that we had some fields to rent, only to be told by our neighbour that the fields were no longer available because someone else had sown wheat in them.

Feeling somewhat distraught at the mental image of our llama dream crashing and burning, we clearly managed to communicate our disappointment to Nadine, who said that she had some land we could use (for free) if we could clear it. She had used it for horses 15 years ago, but it was now completely overgrown. At first sight it seemed an impossible task, but we said we’d have a look, and the next day she sent her son Gilles (who speaks English), to show it to us.

It was during this guided tour around the impenetrable boundaries of her field that the Cloud showed us its silver lining. Gilles explained to us that, even though his father could not now rent us any land, he would be willing to sell it, although it would not be available for use until the wheat sown on it had been harvested in June. We of course jumped at the chance of actually buying the land, rather than just renting it. The situation just left us with the slight problem of where we would put the llamas in the meantime, until the land became available.

Which is how we came to be clearing his mother’s overgrown field.

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