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28 November 1997



Now, we want to order our turkey. Therell be four of us, well two-and-a-half really, you know what teenage girls are like and Mother never eats very much. We only really like the white meat and were going to my sisters for Boxing Day, what would you suggest?".

A sparrow with an over-inflated ego, or two chicken breasts and a pizza. Thats what Id like to say, in reality I offer to save the very smallest turkey just for them, but dont tell anyone else because I wouldnt normally do this. That smallest turkey must get sold a dozen times during November. I can never understand all this worrying about turkey fricassee for weeks after Christmas, we always have a monster bird, more like an ostrich than a turkey, but by Dec 27, just when I fancy cold meat and bubble & squeak, theres only ever a pile of bones left on the plate.

However, this year could be an exception, its beginning to look as though we could be eating turkey until Easter, orders are rather slow in coming in. What we need is an alarmist report in a few of the national papers about an impending turkey shortage and then Ill be able to start sleeping again at night. I think I might start faxing out a few bogus press releases.

A strange phenomenon has crept over the farm in the past few weeks. Piles of logs are appearing neatly stacked by the back door, clear surfaces are materialising in the kitchen and the ironing is disappearing like magic. Undoubtedly this is related to seasonal expectations in some quarters and will cease instantly after a certain date. Probably just as well, I can no longer find any of the school notices that I meant to read when I had a quiet moment, and piles of washed and ironed clothing are being lobbed through bedroom doors, and then left on the floor to be trampled on for a few days before being returned to the washing basket, still neatly folded but now decidedly grubby. Magic like this used to be available for the price of a handful of beans or an old brass lamp, I suspect that inflation will have raised the stakes so that only the latest Hanson CD or a designer sports top will satisfy this fairy godmother or father.

As you can all imagine I tend to spend this time of year twiddling my thumbs and wondering with what I can fill the long hours of the day. So, with the invaluable assistance of a close friend, Ive started producing a few Christmas puddings to add to the display in the shop. On the days when were closed the shop is now full of buckets of fruit marinating in brandy and the traditional stirring of the pudding requires a paddle rather than a wooden spoon. Word of our latest venture is spreading fast, I even had one customer excitedly place an order for a pudding, "like the ones youre supplying to Harrods", well maybe not this year, but who knows. In the meantime I wonder if I could interest them in a few, surplus to requirement, traditional farm turkeys?

Christmas is in the air in the Box household and the children are stacking up Brownie points by being particularly helpful round the house.

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31 October 1997



FIVE lumpy bin liners, including one very odd smelling one, an over-flowing linen basket and a ricked ankle from falling off the Lego mountain. Yes, Ive just got round to mucking out the boys bedroom after ignoring it all summer – no doubt just in time for them to return it to its natural state over half-term.

Then comes the problem – do I leave it untouched by human hand until after Christmas, and risk Father Christmas getting so bogged down that he doesnt reappear until after Easter, or repeat the exercise in December and run out of time to pluck the turkeys. Who says housework doesnt stretch the mind?

While Ive been fighting through the undergrowth indoors the remarkably un-autumnal weather has been the cause of havoc in Pets Corner. Two of the bantams have produced a vast collection of eggs that they have been determinedly sitting in tandem, and after several expectant weeks have managed to produce from their communal hatchery – one microscopic chick. No bigger than a cotton wool ball, he has still managed to cause chaos with the ensuing custody battle.

The children have quickly discovered that a few crumbs from the bottom of their sandwich boxes will instantly send the two feuding mothers into competing flurries of calling and scratching, each desperate to prove that only she could be deemed a fit mother. Every morsel is gathered up and presented to the cocky youngster. He has consequently grown at such a rate of knots that I might have to contemplate an alternative version of the Judgement of Solomon and add him to whats on offer for the customers at Christmas.

However, two mothers per child could catch on. It would certainly cut down on the time spent grovelling under beds for fossilised socks.

I had promised myself that I wouldnt moan about Those In Power, ie MAFF, government, local councils, etc, this month, but I really cant resist this choice little morsel of officialdom gone mad. Another half a tree from MAFF has landed on our doorstep this week entitled – Beef Labelling Regulations. A tome worthy in its principles but somewhat lacking in practicality. Having spent several hours alternately chortling, swearing and sighing, I think it runs something like this: Although I personally, deliver all our calves, help tend to their daily needs for the next two years, assist in gathering their fodder, organise their slaughter, and ultimately convert them into bite-sized chunks for sale in our farm shop, it will shortly be illegal for me to divulge any of this information to my customers unless I have previously had it verified by an approved third party – which I will have to pay for – and then approved by MAFF.

If I want to stick a label on a joint of topside saying "grass-fed" or "well hung" that would also have to be verified and approved at my expense. This task is going to be made even more tricky by the fact that MAFF has, as yet, not appointed any approved third parties.

In fact, I suspect that this is really a backdoor Final Solution for the BSE crisis – you cant sell beef unless all information offered has been verified by a third party, but there arent any third parties, so you cant sell beef, therefore no one needs to worry about BSE any more – simple. I think Ill go back to sorting the Lego from the Meccano; its more restful.

Ellen with sons William and George: Their room is a challenge but less harrowing than beef labelling regulations.

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29 August 1997




Thats better.

If youre wondering what all that was about, just pass this column to any working mum with school-age children. She will nod sagely, shed a little tear, and get back to performing her 15 tasks at once.

Its not that I dont enjoy having the children home from school, in fact quite the opposite. Its bliss to be released from the regimentation of the school runs, and not to have to spend the first 45min of each day searching under beds for lost PE kit, reading books and essential elements of homework that have to be in today.

Im not expected to produce the ingredients for an `original but nutritious pizza with five minutes notice: "I told you last week Mum that it was going to be Design Your Own Lunch Day in Food Technology."

When I was at school designing was another form of art, and technology meant something to do with wires that only the boys did. Anything to do with food was called cookery. It may have been simplistic, but at least there was no danger of being sent to school with a tin of watercolours and a pair of pliers, instead of 8oz of self-raising and 2 eggs.

Its been lovely to spend the occasional day out with the children, to see them getting browner with every day – even if on certain weeks that was probably due to rust not tan – and to discover what they can do this summer that they couldnt last year. George (7) can swim with both feet nearly off the ground.

William (12) has taught his ferret, Bramble, who was only a baby last summer, to run around in the hedgerows, swim in the ditches, chase wildly through the undergrowth, and, on the odd occasion, frighten a passing rabbit to death.

Rosie (11) has perfected the art of painting her fingernails and toenails in a dazzling rainbow of colours, changing them daily as the mood takes her and spending the rest of the time admiring them while trying to persuade me that I really should do mine yellow and blue because thats so cool at the moment.

The real drawback to school holidays is that there is never any quiet time in the house. Not a major problem in the scale of potential farming headaches I admit, but for me those few child-free hours a day are when I get my thinking and planning and organising done. Telephone calls can be made, lists produced, columns written. Small tasks but essential and only possible in peace and quiet.

Now every morning is heralded by three sets of demands, all different, all at once: "Can I have Johnny to play? His mum wont mind. She goes out to work so you can go and get him, give him lunch and tea and take him back."

"My bike/quad/skateboard is broken and it has to be mended now or life isnt worth living."

"Im bored. Theres absolutely nothing to do – can I have £5 and go shopping?"

Running the shop while clearing up the breakfast things and hanging out the washing seems quite a doddle by comparison.

On the farming front, apart from the usual round of silage/hay/straw/silage, the summer has mainly consisted of looking at sheeps bottoms.

Despite every chemical spray and powder available, the hot, wet weather has turned them all into nouvelle cuisine for flies and John and I have had to spend many back-breaking hours inspecting and treating ovine nether ends.

William has been very good at giving a hand with these sorts of jobs. George insists on dragging his friends along to watch the finer arts of the farmer, whether they want to or not, and Rosie probably doesnt even realise that we have sheep.

Still, theres only 143 hours and 37 minutes to go before its back to packed lunches, reading books – and peace and quiet.

Ellen Box

George (7) and William (12) have different attitudes to the sheep. While William will lend a hand, George prefers to use them to shock his friends.

Rosie (11) has become an authority on nail varnish and how to be cool.

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27 September 1996



THE children are all back at school, the barns are bulging with hay, straw and silage, and clouds of swallows are wheeling around our roof every morning, so I think that the summer must be nearly over.

Weve also had our first two inquiries for turkeys, so Christmas cant be far away!

For the last few weeks of the holidays we have had two young American cousins staying, and the cultural differences between us have been causing endless amusement. Its all too easy to assume that Americans are really English people with an accent, but theyre not, theyre a totally different race and happen to know a few words of English. Apparently orange squash and Birds custard have yet to be invented in America, knives are used only in preparing food, not for eating it, and walking is only undertaken in extreme


After they had spent their first 24 hours glued to the telly (another quaint English word), we felt that some serious Old Country education was called for and they were duly kitted out with spare wellies and sent out into the big wide, farming world.

Escapee lambs were rounded up with much American whooping and hollering. They didnt want to go too close in case they got bitten. Calves were considered cute but far too smelly to touch and day-old turkeys were unpacked only after wed guaranteed that they wouldnt peck!

Katie (12) was fascinated to discover that we still used clothes pegs. Her grandmother had told her about them but shed never actually seen one in use. Guess who got the task of hanging out the washing for the next two weeks? Her grandmother would have been proud of me.

Kerri (also 12) appeared to be joined at the hip to her hand-held electronic games console. I even found her hiding behind a tree having a quick "blip" when we were meant to checking the cows. Late that night the game cartridge disappeared, magically reappearing in her suitcase on the day of departure.

Rosie (10) gave the

game away: "I told you Mum had taken them," she said.

I was going to pretend that the dog had got them.

However, they thoroughly enjoyed outings to the local pubs, food they could recognise, ie anything and fries, in suitably quaint surroundings. A visit to a stately home was considered "neat" and every roundabout we encountered caused gales of laughter. I still havent worked out why. Two train trips, one to London and on fe to Paris, completed their European tour and left me exhausted.

BSE update: Our suckler herd is growing daily as more and more of our heifers are sprouting adult teeth. Unfortunately there is an equal number of steers also becoming unusable.

Despite having a farm full of prime beef animals we are in serious danger of running out of suitable animals to supply the shop. We are in the crazy situation of having to slaughter under-finished animals because we cant be sure when theyll develop adult incisors, while were still feeding superb specimens that will end up in the skip.

The world has gone mad. In desperation I have written to Douglas Hogg at the Ministry of Agriculture, our own MP Nicholas Baker, and the NFU County chairman John Hoskins, in the hope that they can explain the reasoning behind the 30-month scheme and suggest how we are going to keep our customers satisfied. To date I havent had a reply – is there anyone out there listening?

Ellen Box

George and cousin Katie from the USA.

Ellen faces a frustrating situation:A shortage of best quality finished beef for farm shop customers as prime stock cut teeth far too early.

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