The Cottage Smallholder

stumbling self sufficiency in a small space


broken shelves“This bread looks mouldy. Or is it just dusted with flour?”
Danny held the slice under the light.
“It’s definitely mould.”

We had some sliced bread in the barn freezer so I pulled on my wellies and went out.

I knew that something was wrong when I tried to open the door. There was a scraping sound of glass on concrete. The way to the freezer was barred.

I shot back to the kitchen.
“Danny, come quickly. The shelving unit has collapsed. Most of the demi johns were on the top shelf. My dark brown one is smashed. It contained our best wine, the ultra-gluggable blackberry.”
We’d waited three years for this to mature.

The sturdy 12′ x 6′ shelves had been built for me in the late seventies by my boyfriend. He had used enough screws to hold up the Menai Bridge. The shelves have moved with me since then. The cottage was too small to accommodate them so John Coe rootled in his boot for a screwdriver and put them up in the barn. They were never as they had been.
“There’s no need to use all these screws,” he assured me, as he set the shelves haphazardly on the wall. “I will screw the main body to the wall and secure the ends with wire.”

The unusual edifice has stood gallantly for sixteen years. The top and bottom shelves swapped around, the side supports standing at rakish angles. In its prime, it was a bookshelf to be proud of. In the barn it became the ultimate glory hole. Having left books far behind, it accommodated a vast range of things from paint cans to boxes marked ˜Special. Do not chuck.’

During its last few years it held the demijohns of home made wine and the fruit liqueurs.

Despite the loss, we could only laugh.

“What was the last thing that you put on the shelves?”
“I think that it was the three bottles of currant vodka that I made this week.”
These are almost as special as the blackberry wine. They were made with black, white and red currants from our garden. No chance of picking any more fruit until next summer.

At work I made a plan. The old shelves had to go. If one of us had been in the barn when they collapsed we could have been badly hurt. We needed to clear the barn of broken glass, take the smashed shelves to the dump and replace them with a row of smaller shelving units. These will be bolted to the walls.

Danny dragged the old shelves out of the barn as the dislodged bottles smashed around him. We sifted through the wreckage and found things that have been lost for years. Quite a few bottles of my aunt’s homemade wine miraculously survived. Luckily a lot of demi johns have been waiting patiently in the cottage to be transfered to bottles but the superb blackberry, greengage and rosehip wine is lying in a great wine and paint slick on the barn floor.

Supper was forgotten as I sifted through the glass and burst paint cans for evidence of the currant vodkas. Wonderful wafts of a sweet smelling solution wafted over me. A bottle of Comfort fabric conditioner that I’d put on the top shelf last night had smashed in the avalanche. Was this the final straw that broke the shelves’ back?

Finally hunger drew me back to the kitchen and I discovered that I had stashed the currant vodkas under a chair in the kitchen. Danny held them aloft like maracas and shook them. Beautiful berries and leaves floating in tinted vodka.

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  1. Fiona Nevile

    Hello Magic Cochin

    When I saw the devastation, I remembered your words!

    Bizarrely it was too traumatic for tears.

    Thanks so much for the tip about the shelves. I will check them out.

    Hi KJ

    We were so lucky that we were not in the barn when the avalanche happened. The shelves lined a narrow walkway!

    Hello Pamela

    Good point.

    I™m a magpie and D is the reverse. It™s a question of space with us now. We™ve run out so things need to be sorted.

    Hi Kate(uk)

    I™m still sifting through the rubble!

    Hi Louisa

    The new shelves will be ultra sturdy! It™s maddening as we are so busy ATM but the shelves had become a great place to slash everything. So a good sort out is well timed (ish).

    Hi Amalee

    I sort of hoped that you might see this post!

    You are spot on, it would be great to chuck out the rammel but I might need the spray on snow aerosol (cica 1960) and the Chinese fansif I can locate them) in a heat wave…

    Hi Veronica

    The blackberry wines has been mourned all week but hopefully we™ll be sipping some in 2011!

  2. Veronica

    ohhhh! How awful — thank goodness you saved your currant vodka! I’d have been so upset if that had happened to me.

  3. amalee issa

    Fiona, now is the time to clear all that rammel. Throw it all away, don’t replace any of it, and then get hammered! Traumatic, I know, but ultimately you will have a lovely empty barn waiting to be filled with your paintings. And a outrageous hangover!

    Amalee the Virgo

  4. Louisa

    Oh Fiona, I would have been devastated over the wine. I know how I felt when all the jame I made went mouldy. I hope the new shelves are good and sturdy, and you still have the vodka to look forward to. xxx

  5. Kate(uk)

    Oh no! I think I would have wept too- but the thought that no-one got squidged is cheering-and clear outs are jolly cathartic,especially when you know you can celebrate finishing the clear-out with fruit vodka.

  6. Pamela

    You have to laugh Fiona because, as you said, the whole lot could have collapsed on you or Danny but it didn’t. This is a sign to have a big clear out. I have decided that next time I move (which might be happening in the not too distant future, if a few things serendipitously fall into place), in addition to having another big clear out, I am going to put dates on things I simply must keep and if I don’t use them after a given amount of time I am going to let them go. I may have to have range of different time frames though.

  7. On no Fiona. TRAGEDY!! You are much braver than me. I would have cried.

  8. magic cochin

    Now Fiona, what did I say on July 15th?
    “Your shelves must be groaning with bottles of fruit liqueurs!”

    Serriously – I’d be in tears if it happened to me – all that investment of effort and time! And the lovely jars too.

    I know you’re pretty handy with DIY, but if you need a quick, easy and cheap solution, there are some really sturdy plastic shelving units available in the DIY stores. Cliff bought some the other week and let me use one set in the greenhouse. The rest are constructed into a tower of shelves in the garage for all our ‘don’t chuck’ stuff.

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