Wassail and weeds foil wannabe Tolstoy

22nd December 2006 at 00:00
Jennifer Baker is a teacher and writer

Winter is drawing in on our island paradise and on our market garden. At last, I have time to do what I love best: sit at my computer and not worry about the weeds growing over the vegetables as I indulge myself in the luxury of writing.

When we first opted out and "downsized", I fondly thought that I would be writing the new War and Peace. It's taken three years for me to realise that War and Peace is going to have to stay in the pipeline just a bit longer, while I get on with the process of living. Even the occasional article for The TESS is neglected during the summer.

Many of those still at the interactive whiteboard-face tell me how lucky I am living here, and they're right. As I write this, dawn is just breaking and I can see the prawn fisherman setting off in his big blue boat to inspect his creels. I am dressed in an old jumper and torn jeans.

Our work is dictated by the seasons - not just in our market garden, but also educationally. From March to October, it's frenzied. The garden takes up all our time. We do our normal bi-weekly delivery of vegetables round the island to the locals, but we also have many tourists who arrive from far-flung places to spend a couple of weeks in holiday cottages - and are ecstatic when they realise that, here, they can get their vegetables straight from the ground. One parent even asked if he could dig up his own potatoes to demonstrate to his three-year-old where they came from.

Exam marking also kicks in about this time, starting with the international baccalaureate in late spring and continuing till mid-summer with other boards. I usually start that at about 6.30am, then work outside from 10am onwards. As it hardly gets dark at all in summer in this part of the world, we tend to work till 8pm or 9pm.

It is also about May and June that teachers start to flop with exhaustion and I get more than usual requests for supply work. Last summer, I got the job of organising sports day for the 13 children in the island school. The points system that I devised was, and I say this modestly, a mathematical miracle that would have made Fermat green with envy.

Then December arrives and everything stops. But the winter social life exhausts us as much as the summer labours. The nights are long and, because there is no pub or hotel, people tend to entertain in their own homes, and there are some great ceilidhs in the hall (there is no 24-hour taxi service, so it is fortunate that there is no police station either).

Last week, I was out every night. It'll need to stop though. War and Peace has still to be written, and winter will be over before I know it.

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