The Cottage Smallholder

stumbling self sufficiency in a small space

Ducks and the passing of years

Photo: Pond

Photo: Pond

“Are you really 56?” Danny looked up from the article in Woman and Home (who are doing a feature on homemade treats in the August 2010 issue).
“Of course I am. You are 3 years younger. I bet that I’m the oldest woman in that feature.”
He scanned the page.
“Yes you are.”

It’s strange but as the youngest child in my family I always feel young. I was quite surprised when the boy in SpecSavers asked me if I was over 60 – as they had a special promotion for that age group. He looked horrified when I replied.
“That’s a shame as unfortunately I’m not over 60. Let’s look at the other options.”

The only time that I was invited to a hen party was when I was 50. Needless to say I was the oldest person there. But I loved it.

I certainly didn’t feel 56/96 last night when I went up to The Chicken Lady’s house to shut the menagerie in for the night. The duck house seemed strangely quiet. TCL is not a politician so her duck house is far better than the one pin pointed in the recent expenses review – built by S the duck house is capacious and housed in a shady hollow. I peered into the eerie emptiness with a torch. The flock had vanished.

Had they been eaten by a fox? There were no feathers or sign of a struggle. They must have been stolen.

Crestfallen I stumped off to lock up the chickens and then I spotted the ducks having a wonderful party in the paddock that backs onto the garden. Quacking and bobbing about in the late evening sunshine. How on earth was I going to get them back into their house?

I tried calling and waving. Hopeless. They fleetingly turned their heads and continued to bob about at a distance. So, feeling aged 25, I leapt over the fence and ran towards them. In an instant they fell into line and I herded them easily across the paddock, through the garden and into their pen. They quacked all the way as they waddled quickly back.

I carefully examined their pen for escape routes and discovered that in the morning I hadn’t adjusted their prop up gate quite right. They had found a gap just big enough to squeeze through. At this time of year there are foxes and cubs in the fields. Vixens with a hungry brood take no prisoners.

I am lucky. The ducks were fine and I don’t feel 56 (or 106 or even 6). In my 20’s and 30’s I wasted so much time trying to be what I thought I should be. Since then I given up on that and as each year passes I feel more alive and rounded. I don’t welcome the wrinkles but they are a great swap for the prospect of exciting discoveries that seem to bounce out easily with the passing of years.

I am not yet wearing purple but in this superb poem by Jenny James, I can see traces of our future. I have a red hat and Danny has the boxes. And some are already filled.

When I am an old woman I shall wear purple
With a red hat which doesn’t go, and doesn’t suit me.
And I shall spend my pension on brandy and summer gloves
And satin sandals, and say we’ve no money for butter.
I shall sit down on the pavement when I’m tired
And gobble up samples in shops and press alarm bells
And run my stick along the public railings
And make up for the sobriety of my youth.
I shall go out in my slippers in the rain
And pick flowers in other people’s gardens
And learn to spit.

You can wear terrible shirts and grow more fat
And eat three pounds of sausages at a go
Or only bread and pickle for a week
And hoard pens and pencils and beermats and things in boxes.

But now we must have clothes that keep us dry
And pay our rent and not swear in the street
And set a good example for the children.
We must have friends to dinner and read the papers.

But maybe I ought to practice a little now?
So people who know me are not too shocked and surprised
When suddenly I am old, and start to wear purple.

Jenny Joseph

  Leave a reply


  1. veronica

    Thanks Danny, I haven’t visited the forum for ages so had missed this. hmm, and I didn’t know till now that I could subscribe to British mags online instead of treating myself on visits!

  2. I loved your post. I am 45 and am enjoying that change – becoming who I really am and not whom I was/am expected to be. 🙂

  3. Danny

    Veronica, maybe you don’t have to go to those lenghths. Check out this post in the forum

  4. veronica

    Did I get that right? You are featured in W&H? Yay Fiona! Must try and get someone to send me a copy.

  5. Aha! Finally my brainful of useless trivia comes in handy! The ladies in red hats are members of the Red Hat Society, which has chapters around the world although mainly in the USA – they usually take part in the New Year’s Day parade in London.

    To join, you have to be over a certain age – either 50 or 60, can’t remember which. If you see ladies in pink hats and lilac coats, they’re too young to be full members!

  6. So funny. I love that poem – we had it read at my Mother’s funeral. It seemed highly appropriate for her particular personality. I normally hate cliches, but….. life’s too short to fa**y about, isn’t it.

  7. Marion

    I will shortly reach the ripe old age of 70 and can say that none of that poem applies to me …. yet.
    I’m not quite sure if I should be glad or should worry! Lovely article. Thank you.

  8. Sourajit

    Hi Fiona & Danny,

    I am Sourajit from India. You blog has been a constant source of joy and inspiration during the last 3 years. I peep into this site everyday to see if something new has been added. Danny’s visit to Bangalore and your trials with Indian spices & flavors have been delightfully read. The peaceful yet exciting life you lead with your cooking, pets, ducks, chicken, garden, pond and the gate stand is fascinating. Through your site me & my wife live the life we dream of living someday.

    Wishing you health and happiness and all the very best!

  9. Joanna

    One of my children despairs of me already and thinks I am a hippy – too young for that, honest! The other two just take it for granted I will do crazy things, like move to Latvia.

    Is this where the ladies in red hats come from? I saw some ladies in a café in America dressed in purple and red and wondered what it is all about.

  10. Paula

    The only problem with making up for the sobriety of one’s youth when, um, older, is that then they lock you up for having lost your marbles.

    I say don’t wait- make up for sobriety now!

    Glad you found all the ducks and that they were okay.

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