Tuesday, 29 September 2015

Law of the Farm Number 14: “A cottage with a leaky roof is still a cottage.”

(10 February 2015)

We had friends around at the farm last night for a braai. It was really nice to be able to share the joy of the farm with people that are close to us. Hlubi and I have been talking so much about the farm, so it is useful that our friends have been able to see first-hand how beautiful the place is and how daunting the project is that we have taken on. Hlubi set up the cottage beautifully with the long table decked in a lovely white table cloth, flowers and crystal cut glasses. I prepared chicken, lamb and boerewors on the fire outside. We had plenty of fine wine and good conversation. It was really nice. All of this is spite of the fact that work on the old cottage is far from complete.
Friends - February 2015

A lot has been done in the past months, but it still has a lot of work needing done. The cottage I speak of is the one we found on the farm when we got there. In fact the old cottage was probably one of the more appealing features of the land. It really is quite hard to say how old it is, but the land was first surveyed in 1816, when the farm Goedmoedsfontein was granted to a Dutch settler, Johannes Kok. Oral history that has come to my ears, says that the little cottage where we had supper last night was the original farm house for the entire farm, which over the years has been slowly subdivided off to the point where the cottage now sits on 10 hectares of the original farm which would have been hundreds of hectares. It is quite likely that the first parts of the cottage would have been built in the first years after the Kok’s arrived there in 1816. What is clear to me from the bricks and other building materials that the house has been added onto continuously for the last 200 years or so? When we first came to the property, the cottage was in a process of collapse. A chain of events had set in where the corrugated iron roof had become rusted and leaky allowing water to rain in on the walls. The wall being made up of unfired bricks began to melt and dissolve, causing the roof to further collapse thus letting in even more water to melt the walls. Actually unfired bricks can stand for a very long time, as long as they are kept dry, but when they are exposed to water, the process of deterioration can be very rapid.
The cottage was on the verge of collapse when we found it

The crisis was so urgent that I began, even before taking transfer of the property, to rip off the old rusted corrugated Iron sheets and replace them with new ones keeping the walls from crumbling and saving Kok’s cottage from sure destruction. The work on the cottage over the last few months has moved slowly to install a new floor and replace and repair the old windows. We have also got electricity and water working, by collecting rainwater from the roof via rain tanks and electricity from the sun via photovoltaic panels. But even now, this morning if you stand in certain spots in the house you will feel the rain drops coming through. The roof has still not received its flashing against the gable ends. (Partly because the builder I paid to do this ran away with the flashing and the money that I paid him to install it) what will my friends think of me if they see the rain falling in though my broken roof”.  I have seen in my life that the trick is not to try to stop these thoughts, but just rather to become aware that they are running through my head. In this way I am able to engage with the small minded part of my sub conscious that generates these thoughts of inadequacy and to be able to consciously say “hang on a second. That’s a lot of bullshit! This cottage is perfectly OK for a dinner party with friends”  or “This 1983 Mazda 323 is perfectly Ok to get me from A to B”. or “This hairy, spotty overweight husband is perfectly OK to receive my love and caring” So law of the farm number 14: “A cottage with a leaky roof is still a cottage”, is not about making do with what we have. It’s about celebrating what we have. It’s about really enjoying what we have and releasing ourselves from the poisoned policeman of our sub-conscious fears of inadequacy.  Law of the farm number 14 is about the present.  It’s about the great joy I can experience today with what the things I already have and with the people who are in my life.

But in spite of its incompleteness and its imperfection we have been able to sleep thee some nights, we have been able to use it to store our equipment. We have been able to use it to rest from the weather when we are working there over weekends and holidays. And even, last night, we were able to have a very nice dinner party there. I love that spirit. I love that attitude and I can see how this spirit is very different to the kind of thinking that has become a widespread disease of our time. The disease of “fake it till you make it” and “Keeping up with the Kardashains”. The kind of disease that causes young people to rather walk the streets in the rain than be seen driving in a 1983 Mazda 323. The kind of disease that causes men and women of all ages to stay lonely and celibate rather than be seen in public with a partner that is pimply or too fat or too thin or too bald or too hairy. It is the kind of disease that causes husbands to think that their wives are no longer good enough for them to invest their love and attention in. It’s the kind of disease the causes wives to constantly work to “improve” their husbands. It’s a disease that sees us never satisfied with what we have. Always imagining a future, just around the corner where things will be better, things will be acceptable, things will measure up to some standard that we always find very difficult to express. I am sure there are those who will explain that this feeling of dis-contentedness is the result of some conspiracy on the part of the huge marketing machine that is our modern economy.  Always trying to sell us next year’s fashion, better houses, faster cars and more exotic vacations. It could be a conspiracy. Who knows? The important thing I think rather is for me to become conscious of the secret thoughts that are racing through my own head. The thought that says “

Sunday, 13 September 2015

Law of the Farm Number 12: “The Porcupine does not consider digging up bulbs as work”

Of course I don’t know what goes through the porcupine’s mind when it digs up the bulbs of our arum lilies. In fact I don’t even know for sure that it’s is a porcupine that is destroying these beautiful plants with their distinctive white cone shaped flowers with the bright yellow poker protruding from the centre. I am assuming it is a porcupine because when I post pictures of the damage on Facebook, my clever friends tell me that it is only a porcupine that makes that kind of damage and that porcupines absolutely love arum lilies. I was actually secretly holding out for the hope that we had bush pigs on the farm. That would be exciting. Perhaps we have porcupines and bush pigs? It’s very hard to say because these animals move around in the dead of night and are very shy. But whether it is a porcupine or bush pig destroying my prized plants, I strongly suspect, that when they are digging the deep holes in the soil required to access the tasty bulbs, that they do not for a second think that they are “working” in the way that you and I may think we are working when we report to the office and begin to wade through our inbox or finish the report or sit through the meeting or return phone calls. When I see pigs digging for roots or rolling for the mud they look to me as if though they are having a huge party. In fact many clever farmers have now taken to sprinkling a few kernels on grain into massive compost heaps that need to be turned. The pigs go crazy having a great time turning over the mountains of compost at the cost to the farmer of a few handfuls of grain.

But you and I have been conditioned differently. It’s not that we are afraid to exert ourselves mentally or physically. We are quite happy to exert ourselves on the soccer pitch to the point where our legs burn and we spit blood. We are quite happy to put our brains to the test playing scrabble or Grand Theft Auto. We have come to buy into the idea that these are “leisure time” activities and that it would be crazy to build up a sweat (or a headache) doing any productive work outside of office hours or school hours. Well, call me crazy, but I love to do physical work. I love the feeling of using my muscles, my arms and my legs. I love the rhythm of thinking and doing. I love the feeling of physical exhaustion in the evening.  I love the supper time retelling of the achievements of the day and I love the deep satisfied sleep that follows it. (I especially remember the very satisfying time working with my late father on his wooden house in the forest)

 It seems strange to me therefore, that I have put so much time and effort in my life to ensure that I don’t have to do any physical work at all. My twelve years of schooling in maths, literature, history and science required no “doing”, no lifting or pushing. It did though; prepare me for another five years of study at University which would eventually deliver to me the degrees I required to become an Architect and be guaranteed of never having to push a wheel barrow, thrust a spade into the ground or cut firewood.

On leaving University, life as a young professional was clear, nobody ever handed out a rulebook, but the understanding was that we must put in time at the office to earn our money, but if we put in too much time we will break down, so we must take some of that money to buy “leisure”. That leisure must not involve doing anything productive or meaningful.  We may choose from a vast array on mindless sporting or cultural pursuits. We may participate or spectate. If the mindlessness of the leisure becomes unbearable, we may numb ourselves with alcohol, sugar or nicotine. This is just how it is.

I can see how in the headlong rush to get to the ‘top of my game” I have moved further and further in my career, away from actually doing any work. Like lifting a pencil, to sketch a chimney detail or calculating the fall and cover of a drainage installation. All of that is “outsourced”, because that is the law of competition and the law of competition says that, if I am an expert at running an architectural practice, I can’t be “wasting” my time actually being an Architect. I must spend my time delegating, checking what others have done, motivating, admonishing, fighting with debtors, apologising to creditors because that’s what we do when we get to the top of our game.

Does any of this ring true for you in your life? Perhaps, what each of us needs to do is sit back and look at the route we have walked to get where we are in our careers. Each of us needs to get down and do the dirty work of thinking through how we have been conditioned to look down on anyone doing physical work. Even in our homes, when we can’t resist the instinct to get our hands in the soil that we are married to, we make every attempt to dress up our gardening activities as “leisure”. We call gardening a “hobby”; we don’t call it “work”. When we can absolutely not resist the instinct to grow fruit and vegetables, a productive pursuit, we hide these away in the back yard.

So, what I am doing in my life about my dysfunctional relationship with work? I suppose, I am slowly beginning to participate, wherever I can, in actually doing stuff. I am also looking for family traditions and practices that involve real work, even if it just taking the time to cook the mother’s day meal.  Some families in our region are fortunate to belong to a tradition where work is still honoured. If you drive through the streets of New Brighton or NU 7, on any given Saturday you will find clan groups participating in “Imisibenzi” (literally translated as “works”). These traditional functions mark a range of special occasions, but what is interesting, is that everybody attending the function works. From the slaughtering of the beast, to the processing of the meat to the brewing of the beer and the peeling of the carrots. Hosts and guests work together. Honouring tradition and honouring the idea of work and how it is in fact not separate from leisure. To a lesser degree, but not entirely dissimilar, on any given Sunday in the suburban backyards of Summerstrand and Sherwood we find  family groups around the braai, spicing the meat, turning it on the flames. The hosts and the guests working together, some in the kitchen with the potato salad and toasted sandwiches and others outside with the chops and the wors. These are important traditions to hold onto, where the tendency is toward the American situation where 43% of all meals are no longer prepared at home and where work is generally regarded as something you sell in exchange for cash.
So more and more I come to see that any activity that helps me understand that work is not separate from leisure and that work is more than just a commodity for sale, is where I want to be spending my time.

Because this separation of work and leisure, is not of the natural order, it’s certainly not way of the farm, in fact it contradicts the law of the farm which states that:  “The Porcupine does not consider digging up bulbs as work”