Tuesday, 15 March 2016

Learning how little I know

Since we made the decision to embark on a new way of life, I have been reading. Voraciously reading, watching back to back homesteading and smallholding videos on YouTube and asking questions, lots and lots of questions. I wanted to have a pretty good idea of what we were letting ourselves in for. And to a greater or lesser extent I felt prepared for what was to come.

We've bought a small, very small smallholding, in fact it's a tinyholding, but the principles are the same and the needs of the soil the same, any animals we keep will need the same care. We plan to grow enough fruit and vegetables to meet most of our needs and to have poultry for eggs and later on meat.

So I've read and read and researched and learnt. I have some gardening experience having grown most of our vegetables in the past, so I was comfortable in my ability to feed us this way. What I didn't expect to learn was how careful I need to be in the way I phrase the questions I ask. And then to ask for clarification and confirmation of the answers.

So what has brought on my ponderings this morning? Well, there have been a few times recently when I have been talking to someone and come away thinking that I know what was meant during the conversation, only to discover soon afterwards that both Mr J and I had misunderstood the meaning of what was said. If it was only me who misunderstood, I would put it down to brain fog caused by having a bad day with my thyroid or adrenals, but when it's both of us well, there's probably a communication issue.
For example, on Saturday I contacted the breeder of our new ducks to ask if a couple were still available having seen an advert a month or two ago. We exchanged a few texts and we agreed to go and see the ducks (with a view to bringing them home with us) yesterday afternoon. She told us that she had a pair and that they were laying well and we were looking forward to eggs aplenty. At this point, we should have asked 'are they both laying well?' but we didn't, we both took the 'they' in her sentence to mean both of them.

Now, I am a total sucker for animals (well, most of them) and there was no way we were leaving there without a couple of Aylesburys in tow (no not in tow, in the brand spanking new dog travel crate we'd just bought for the safe moving of birds). I would have happily taken a few geese with us too, but that's for another day. Anyway, the breeder kindly rounded up the ducks and brought them over to us and put them in the sturdy crate. At a quick glance over they looked healthy and happy and had obviously spent most of their days up to now waddling around, free ranging over their entire farmyard. Happy ducks with good looking shape, bills, webbing and feathers. That is, happy looking duck and drake. It doesn't matter, in fact I am quietly delighted to have a drake too, it means the potential for ducklings and that would be fabulous (Christmas dinner springs to mind), but surely 'they are laying well' implies two females? This error in understanding is our fault, I am not criticising the breeder in any way, in fact, she has been really helpful. So our lesson from yesterday is to double check what is meant by 'I have a pair' or 'they are laying well'. I've contacted the seller today to let her know that the birds are settled in well and that we've had an egg this morning and that we'd like a couple more females a bit later in the year.
There have been other conversations too, where I have misunderstood what was being said, with Mr J, friends, colleagues, doctors, solicitors and folks from all walks of life. Mr J and I still sometimes misunderstand each other, but I think he's probably learnt to clarify things with and for me as any confusion between the two of us happens less often nowadays. I've always thought of myself as reasonably articulate, of being able to hold a sensible conversation when needed and to be able to juggle some complex ideas. The impact of my illness last year has hit me in different ways, one of which is the level of mental agility that I had. I know that I can't deal with the complexity of task that I used to (hence not working in my old field of work until my brain is back to firing on all cylinders again), but misunderstanding simple conversation is a different thing altogether. It seems to me that this is just about not having the correct vocabulary. In my example with the ducks, it's about me not realising that 'a pair' means one male and one female, when I had been looking to buy a couple of ducks - meaning two ducks, two girlie egg-laying ducks.

Every new job or career means learning a new language, a new set of jargon and new nuances of speech and it seems smallholding is no different. So here I am, back at 'Vocabulary 101' rediscovering just how much I have to learn.

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