Brought back to earth by life in the slow lane

In the Sticks
Click to follow
The Independent Culture
IF WE had bought Bridgit the house cow along with the two lorry loads of dismantled greenhouse we could almost have stopped visiting the supermarket. With Bridgit's milk we could have made cheese and yoghurt, and, in time, we would be filling the freezer with Bridgit's offspring, as she would be bound to catch the eye of next-door-but-one's bull, a prize Devon red. With the produce from the greenhouse, the vegetable garden and the remaining chooks we could become self-sufficient from January to April.

The trouble with self-sufficiency is that it's a full-time occupation. After rising at six to milk the cow for something to put in your roasted dandelion coffee and spending the day mud-wrestling with recalcitrant vegetables, there are no opportunities left to earn cold cash. Sadly, no matter how forward-thinking the financial community may have to become in the next recession, my bank manager is never going to accept two sacks of pink fir apples in lieu of a nine hundred quid monthly mortgage payment.

On lovely shiny green days in May that makes me very sad. I have to stay indoors or even go to a town to work and pay the mortgage. But at about this time of year I shudder with relief that the only time I have to go out in the horizontal rain is when the dogs need emptying.

Not having the time to milk, brew, bake, dig, sow, plough, ferment, preserve and pick means that instead of most of those I have to do just one thing - drive. I get in the car and go to the shops 10 miles away to buy all the things that real earth mommas can more or less wrest from their own flesh (except of course for Liposome anti wrinkle cream and active protein hair conditioner). But over the last week even doing that one thing has become impossible because I have bought a new car. This is an enormously significant act of independence because, in all my life, I have never bought a car on my own. For most of the time since car ownership became financially possible I was attached to a husband with opinions on cars that ran somewhat beyond colour. So choosing a car was a gig I never got.

This time I didn't even consult my boyfriend as I am now a free and independent being who has to decide things for herself. So I bought a nice cream car for pounds 375 because it was the only make I can spot - a Saab - and the doors made a nice solid noise when you slammed them. However, in this context the word "new" is a little inappropriate, as the car in question first hit the road in the year I took my A-levels, the glorious, unforgettable summer of 1976.

The woman who sold it to me said that the Saab had started first time every time for four years. After a fortnight I began to wonder if I'd misheard her: had she said that the car started every fourth time she tried it? Or had she started it just four times every year?

Finally this week it gave up altogether. I turned the key and it made a little genteel coughing sound and then fell silent. It didn't matter that I couldn't make it to the supermarket; we still had a pint of milk and three tins of sardines in tomato sauce, so starvation wasn't going to be an issue just yet. But with no car I can't get Buster and Bunny to school, at least not without taking a two-hour chunk from the beginning and end of the day to do the round trip of walking to school and home again. With tractor drivers plugged into their Walkmans and their fantasies of Le Mans, bicycling is not an option if I want my kids to live to see their GCSEs. So I swallowed my independence and borrowed Doug's van, which, of course, starts every time, first time, for real.

But that wasn't to be the end of my humiliations. I got back from school in the van, ready to set off for the car auction with the old "marital car": this is a triumph of modern electronics that costs me five hundred quid every time a headlight bulb needs changing. It is, more to the point, worth four-and-a-quarter months of mortgage payments - especially since Offa hit it with his big truck, with the result that it got a new front, shiny enough for Jeremy Clarkson to eat his breakfast off it.

"It won't start," said Doug. "Don't like the wet, these Mediterranean cars. D'you want me to fix it?"


"I've got the Saab going by the way. Plugs were too tight."

"Oh. Of course. Hah!" I thought plugs were for baths and sinks.

"So shall I fix it then?"

What could I say, apart from yes please? I mean, with four months of mortgage under my belt I could find the time to wrestle some sustenance from the mud and grow my own underwear from back copies of Country Living.