Dolls house proved ideal mini-store

29 January 1999




Dolls house proved ideal mini-store

WE LIVE in a close-knit little village where the farm is at a crossroads (in more ways than one). There is a pub, tea rooms and church, but the shop now stands closed.

For 36 years we have lived here and brought up four children, going from manager to tenant and now owners of a 56.7ha (140-acre) farm with moorland rights. We have sheep, beef and people.

Last night while David was at another "crisis in the industry" meeting, I sat by the fire reminiscing with one of the first locals we met. He had been the local farrier, but also ran a trekking business, bought and sold horses, could weld and had a few pigs, owning the travelling boar.

In that generation the wives took in paying guests, scalded cream and sold it crusted and tasty in jam jars at the market stall, along with posies of violets and primroses, plucked fowls, rabbits and game. All gone now; farms divided, diversified, lives ruled, all sanitised and safe. Or has it really gone? We are a resourceful lot, us wives.

Sometimes I think that all I have left is a sense of optimism for life and a realisation of opportunities available, denied to others in financial crisis. Our ways of making ends meet wouldnt stand critical analysis. Questions like: "How much do you charge for your labour?" are a joke. As is: "Why dont you work full-time outside the home?" Farmers wives are a vital part of the work force, perhaps not needed full-time but essential for filling in the gaps. And I guess few farmers or their wives pay themselves.

On a table at our gate is a dolls house, originally part of daughter Katies imaginative play. For years it was set aside until one day I realised its potential for diversification. I have the perfect point of sale.

Its a basic sort of dwelling, with painted on windows and roses, and a pitched roof, but it takes two dozen free range eggs and a jar with change, and all manner of people come and buy.

Its fun and nostalgic and puts food on our table.

People like life as it used to be, saying it reminds them of unlocked front doors. Others are shocked that, "we leave money lying around – eggs there for the taking". Some photograph the scene and go off chuckling. It has become a map reference: "Camping? turn left by the dolls house."

We have disappointments, but no more than Tesco, I suspect. Some take "free" range too literally, others may open boxes and pick the six best.

Occasionally flowers, home made charcoal or potted plants, squeeze on to the table. I take potential and demand seriously.

Im a realist, the customer is right; we deliver the goods, better and tastier. Our firewood should cost twice what we charge. Of course it would be easier just to dump the load at the customers gate but would they go elsewhere next time? Anyway, I like the chat and the quality of life.

The farmhouse is my other point of sale. Regulations make b&b increasingly difficult but the asset is there. The large house with two staircases lends itself to self catering.

So like every generation I guess we wont go down without a struggle. Cream may be out, but weve found a lot of four-leaved clovers: "Buy some luck, lady?"

We cant show them our badgers but we can mow a field and paint "Camping" on the gate. And, of course, like most wives I work in the "real world" too.

Maggie Powell


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