Hello and welcome to the latest blog from The Olivia Rose Diaries on December 4th 2022.
I have something a little different for you this week. We have arrived back at Le Shack and I am pleased to report that all is well. I have written a chapter about our homecoming for my new book, which won’t be finished until next year, but I thought I would share this chapter with you – a sneak preview of what is to come.
‘Credit where credit is due,’ I said as I hoovered up a pile of mouse droppings from the food cupboard. ‘Mice are very good at what they do.’
‘If by that you mean eating everything that crosses their path and then poo-ing on it, then I suppose you’re right.’ Michael held up a roll of bin liners, now consisting more of holes than plastic. ‘I don’t think it’s anything to be particularly proud of.’
I’ve always had a soft spot for mice. It doesn’t extend to allowing them access to our food, but there is something appealing about them despite the damage they do. I admire their diligence and determination. Before we left back in April I had removed anything that I thought would attract the mice, leaving only a few tinned foods and jars in the store cupboard. However I had missed a carton of tomato passata, which was now an empty husk of its former self, a hole nibbled in the bottom of it and the contents presumably consumed as it drained out. A bar of soap by the kitchen sink had disappeared completely, but they had gifted us a large pile of droppings in the soap dish in exchange. There is nothing good to be said about mouse poo other than that it acts as a clear sign of where they have been.
It was mid-day in late November and we had just arrived back at Le Shack after an absence of eight months. We had braced ourselves for a leaking roof or having to get the shears out to hack our way through the wilderness to the front door but, apart from the mice visitation, all seemed to be fine. For most people returning to their home after time away, it is a simple matter to flick on a light switch and turn on the central heating. As we live off-grid it’s not quite so simple for us. The first job is to check the voltage on the batteries and, assuming that they haven’t completely drained themselves down on a whim while we’ve been away, re-connect them to the system. The second job is to re-connect the battery in the generator, fill it up with fresh fuel and then run it for a while to top the batteries up to full. By this stage we now have power and so we can flick the light switches with the best of them. The third, and final element, is to bring the solar panels out of the cabin, where we store them for safe-keeping while we are away, prop them up on their stand in the field and connect them into the system. It was a grey and drizzly afternoon when we arrived, but we were expecting sunshine in the morning and so they would be in place and ready to capture our free power supply by lunchtime, which is when the winter sun crests the ridge and floods the field with light.
It took a matter of minutes to bring in some logs and kindling and get the wood burner going and a few more to plug the gas cannister into the camping stove so that we had heat and something to cook on. We obtain our water from the mains, so that was easy, a simple matter of turning a stop cock. Last but not least, was the composting loo.
‘Why is the loo always my job?’ I grabbed the broom, ready to do battle with the spider population lurking in the rafters of our outside loo-with-a view.
‘Probably because that sort of thing is women’s work?’ suggested Michael, who likes to live dangerously every now and then.
For peace of mind when visiting the loo a thorough de-cobwebbing of the area is essential. The spiders have long coveted this particular space and I don’t blame them for it as it is a pleasing building. It was used by the previous owner as a summer kitchen and must have been a relatively recent addition as both the roof tiles and the sturdy timbers still look new. Whenever people move into a new home they like to re-do everything that was done before in order to make it feel like their own space, and we are no different. We left the sink and outside tap where they were, although we have never really used this outdoor kitchen in the way it was intended as the cats who came with the property made it clear from the day we moved in that this was their domain. It is one of their favourite places, offering a cool, shady spot in summer, perfect for a full-body stretch across the drainer for maximum relief or to curl up in the sink bowl itself if a more cosy bed is required. There are some battles that you know you will never win, particularly with cats, however we had staked our own claim to the other half of the kitchen. We built a partition wall to section off our new loo area and constructed a wooden frame to support the loo seat, fitting it with a removable front which allowed us to slide a bucket in and out below it.
When we are not there to disturb them the spiders weave their webs in the cavity underneath the seat, as well as overhead in the roof timbers, but after five minutes of vigorous work with the broom it all looked far more inviting. I had cleaned and stacked our bins under the sink before we left, so all that was needed was to remove a dead mouse that had climbed in and not been able to get out again, (not the most glamorous of deaths), slide the bucket under the seat and sprinkle a scoop of shavings into the bottom of it. The loo was now ready for business. We had installed a roller blind for privacy, but we’ve never used it as it blocks a fine view up the hill when one is seated. We live in a field in the middle of nowhere and there are no footpaths across our land. The only person who might trespass would be one of the hunt, and my view is that if they want to come where they are not welcome and therefore have to endure the sight of a woman sitting on her own loo in her own field then so be it. It will probably upset them more than it does me.
By the evening the cabin was clean, warm and most things had been packed away. I sat in front of the fire and let my eyes wander round the room. A selection of Michael’s framed drawings hung above the sink. They were some of his early sketches, drawn when we were under lockdown: a woodpecker and a kestrel, a wild boar and a squirrel. There was a small bookshelf by my side of the bed, built by Michael from off-cuts, and my newest books had been neatly slotted into the last available space. We had closed the curtains against the blackness of the night and they always drew my eye. They were full length, an intricate and striking patchwork, hand-sewn and given as a gift by Michael’s mother and each time I looked at them I would see a different pattern.
Each winter when we return to Le Shack I worry a little that the magic might fade. I wonder if the fact that we are now spending so much time house-sitting, often in large properties with all modern conveniences, might make it hard to be content in this simple, humble abode or that the off-grid nature of our life here might become onerous, too much of a challenge. I question whether you can really call a place home when you spend so little time in it. Now that we are not forced to stay here under a lockdown regime we have been able to travel as we always wanted to, but it means that, for the whole of 2022, we will have been here for slightly less than three months.
As I sat in front of the fire on our first night back I knew that the magic was as strong as it had ever been and, even though we have not spent a great deal of time here this year, there is no doubt that this is home. Olivia Rose is also our home and I don’t feel the need to place one above the other, but just to accept that they are different, both precious in their own ways. Part of the reason that we are content here is because we have our own things around us, but equally important are the gifts from those we hold dear, thoughtful touches that bring our family close despite the distance and help to make the cabin a warm and welcoming space. The simplicity of the life here is without doubt challenging at times but it is a challenge we relish and enjoy and would hate to give up.
However, the appeal of this place is more than just what we can see, or hear or touch. It has a spirit of its own, offering an oasis of calm in a manic world. Each autumn the leaves fall and each spring the trees grow green yet again and there is a sense of continuity, a stability, an assumption that this wild, beautiful and natural environment will endure. We individual humans come and go and the odds are that our time is running out, but the land is everlasting, even though the climate may cause it to change in form. In a world which seems inherently unstable at the moment on so many fronts, this solid and steady presence is a comfort.
And that’s the end of the excerpt – I hope you enjoyed it. I know I will get questions about the cats and so the update is that Spot is fine, looking very fat actually, and has taken up full-time residence down at the organic farm a few minutes away. I popped down to pick up my veggie box on Friday, went over to say hello and she turned her back on me and stalked off. We have been spurned. It’s a shame but at least she is being well looked after. We haven’t seen Blackie either as she is still with the neighbours. Given we are here so rarely, I can hardly blame them for leaving.
We are here until the middle of December so more news next week. Hope all is well with you.