Archive for the 'Nuffield' Category

An attempt at resuming normal service

Avid fans will notice I’ve haven’t been hangin’ around here much lately. I’ve been lacking a bit in the creative-writing inspiration front so I thought it was best to steer clear until my writer’s block disappeared.

I’ve not been completely lazy in my absence though – my blogging time has been filled with Nuffield report writing. I’m now the proud parent of a 10,000 word report which I’m sure will fascinate, excite and enthrall the tens of people I envisage will read the whole thing.

I actually enjoyed going backthrough my notes and reminding myself of all the things over the past year, so I hope at least a few people will take the time to flick through it to see what I got up to – even if it is only to look at the pretty photos.

Documents

Chapters 1 - 7 of my report

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Naked ambition

I have a confession to make.

If you were at the Farmers Club lunch in London yesterday listening to me speak, in my head you were starkers. Yep, that’s right – completely nakey. Even the tablecloth didn’t spare your blushes.

Imagining your audience is naked is one of those age-old tips that’s always bandied about whenever you mention that you don’t like speaking in public. In theory it’s meant to make you feel like everyone in the room is more vulnerable than you.
public speaking

But in practice it turned out I started worrying about why everyone else was naked while I’d turned up in a dress.

Had I inadvertently turned up at a naturists’ convention? Were they judging me for not being a brave exhibitionist like they were? Did the man by the window really have a birthmark in the shape of Bart Simpson on his chest (really, my imagination is far too active).

I’d been invited along to a South East Nuffield group lunch to give a talk about my Nuffield travels. My brief was to be “funny and entertaining, like on your blog”. I didn’t dare try to explain that while I sometimes manage to be amusing in print, in real life that certainly isn’t the case.

It probably didn’t help that I’d expected a group of five or ten people sat in comfy arm chairs while I told a funny story about the day I thought I’d been kidnapped. Instead it was a formal affair with about thirty people sat around a fancy table staring expectantly at a wonky slideshow screen.

Weirdly, I was actually looking forward to speaking until I stood up in front of them. I even felt calm as I opened my PowerPoint presentation and started to speak. But for some reason my voice came out in a shaky, wobbly, squeaking noise.

It was at that point I fell apart.

“Why is my voice doing that?” the little voice in my head said. “Does that squeaking mean I’m actually nervous?

“Well I can’t be nervous, otherwise I’d be shaking uncontrollably. Oh, look, my hand is shaking.

“Oh no, now my throat’s gone all tight. Oh, it’s okay though, someone’s bringing me a glass of water. But why’s he naked? Argh! A naked man’s bringing me water! Those ice cubes are far to close to his….”

With all this going on in my head, it’s no wonder I barely managed to get any words out of my mouth, let alone tell a story or come to any meaningful conclusions about four months of study.

I have no doubt the group of people I was speaking to were as confused as I was about what was going on. “Why is that shaking girl trying to compare farming to an emu?” they were probably thinking. Don’t worry guys, I was thinking that too.

emu

I have seven months before I have to give my main Nuffield presentation in front of several hundred people in Lincolnshire, so my ambition is to have a few more trial runs to get better at speaking out loud.

Unless I’m the one who turns up naked next time – then perhaps people won’t notice my shaky voice…

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The cast (and a thank you)

I’ve gone on about how great it’s been to visit my Nuffield friends, but special mention has to be made to the families who’ve not only put up with a random English girl turning up on their doorstep, but made me feel incredibly welcome.

Aside from giving up their beds, doing my washing, and cooking for me, they’ve been responsible for teaching me how to ride a quad bike, introducing me to hunstman spiders (thanks, Hugh and George), and teaching me how to dance like a ballerina.

The Nuffield kids
I’d like to think that by playing with New Holland tractors, reading with a British accent, dancing to Miley and being covered in My Little Ponies, that I’ve made lots of little friends along the way too.

A special mention has to go to 18-month-old Allie for being the only person in three months to get my name right. My Farmers Weekly chums will attest to how much I love being mistakenly called Carolyn…

I’ve also made a few four-legged friends on my travels too.

The Nuffield Pets
The offer still stands to give Chelsea a home – I reckon she’d love Vauxhall. I could probably find a home for Sam too – my freezer’s pretty empty right now…

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The end is nigh

So this is it.

After three countries, 101 days, 41 different towns and cities, seven changes in time zone and more than 100 blog posts, I’m on my way home.

I’ve met some amazing people along the way, visited incredible farms and businesses, and seen some amazing scenery.

I’ve nearly been kidnapped, driven around a Grand Prix track, been eaten by fish, and got my own back by catching my own.

I’ve been run into, dined on kangaroo, been mistakenly married-off and baked in a bikini on Christmas day.

The end

I’ve also seen some huge extremes in weather and seen first-hand the start of one of the biggest disasters in recent Australian history. To say it’s been a bit crazy is a huge understatement.

I’m not sure I was able to say the same for India, but I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t a bit sad to be leaving Australia. As much as Mr Poultry World rubbishes the place, I’ve really loved it.

Going back to chilly England and back to FW Towers is going to be really tough (as is having my Tim Tam supply cut off), but I’m looking forward to having access to more than four pairs of shoes and no longer living out of a suitcase. And seeing friends and family, I s’pose.

I hope those of you who’ve bothered reading this as I’ve gone along haven’t been too bored, or confused by my sense of humour. A big thank you to those who have commented, emailed or got in touch on Twitter – it’s been great to have your company along the way.

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Today was officially a holiday, ok?

I’m in a weird lull between Christmas and New Year where I can’t crack on with Nuffield stuff as offices are closed and farming types are all off BBQ-ing hunks of meat with their families or desperately trying to get the rest of their crops in between showers.

Having grappled with my Nuffield guilt, I decided to just give up and embrace my touristy side with a day in Sydney city centre.

sydney
It’s actually a much nicer place when you’re not speed-walking or dragging luggage through it.

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Well, that was different

It’s weird enough waking up to Christmas morning when your friends back home are in the midst of their drunken Christmas eve celebrations.

It’s even weirder to open the curtain to find Christmas morning is a balmy 27 degrees and the sun’s blazing in a completely blue sky.

But what totally threw me was the fact that it was business as usual on Bondi Beach.

Bondi

The cafes were open. The restaurants and bars were open. The florist’s, bakers and news agents’ were open. Heck, even the McDonalds was open.

And they weren’t just selling stuff to us Christmas orphans – locals were out buying lattes, having not-so-festive toasted sandwiches for lunch and drinking beer on the sea-front before hopping down to the beach for some sunning and surfing.

The run-up to Christmas in Australia has been a massively understated affair, and today hasn’t really been any different. The fact it was so chilled-out and relaxed made it feel like any other Saturday rather than a special occasion, which was great for any impending feelings of homesickeryness.

Princess and me

Of course, it helped that I got to spend the day with my Nuffield partner-in-crime, Princess. It may have been make-shift, but there was no better way to get through so much champagne, rum and festive chocolate than with my fellow lobster. Hmmm, toasty legs… x

(PS – Santa obviously realised it was too hot to bring me a Christmas jumper, hence the t-shirt. Much better than a hungry caterpillar).

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Getting stuck into bee-keeping

I don’t know whether all guests get this treatment or whether it was just reserved for me, but I was greeted today by a Nuffield chum armed with a roll of duct tape and a pair of rubber gloves.

It’s not as weird as it sounds. Or not quite, anyway.

I’ve driven just a few kilometres from Keith to Tintinara, a titchy town home to Ben Hooper, his lovely wife Jo and his bee-keeping business.

As soon as I arrived Hoops had a snazzy bee-keeping suit and superb-fitting size-10 boots waiting for me to be taped into – all precautions against being stung by anyone of the hundreds of thousands of bees which reside in the hives he owns.

I was sorely tempted to see if I could get a suit of my own to take home, given how good I looked in it:

Me the bee-keeper

Hoops has his own apiary business, but he operates alongisde his dad, who has had his own bee-keeping enterprise for more than 20 years, to split the costs.

Between them they have about 1300 hives, which they drop off at farms around Tintinara so the bees can pollinate the crops. The Hoopers then visit once the sites every ten days or so with their mobile honey-collecting unit.

They take frames from each of the hives, brush off the bees, uncap the wax seal on the honeycomb and put them in a special machine that spins them for seven minutes. The spinning forces all of the honey out of the honeycomb and into waiting tanks, which they load up on a lorry and send to their buyer in Queensland where it is blended and then exported or distributed around Australia.

It’s peak honey season at the moment, with most of the bees’ work being done from August/September until the start of the year. It means Hoops and his dad have the luxury of only really working in the field for a few months of the year – the rest of the time is spent painting hives in Hoops’ favourite shade of pink and constructing New Zealand-made frames….

Bees

…Oh, and buying duct-tape to see just how gullible your guests will be.

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A floody good time in Keith

Bearing in mind the amount of rain I’ve seen in Australia so far, it’s hard to get my head around the idea that the land is not usually so green and irrigation systems are vital to crop production.

The farm I’m currently staying on is owned by Brendan Smart, a Nuffield scholar from a few years back. He bought 2000 acres of farmland in Keith about 30 years ago and has since then built it up to an incredibly profitable 13,000acre enterprise, producing sheep, barley, wheat, oats and lucerne seed (which is exported to the US and Middle East).

Without a pretty extensive flood irrigation system though, this land would be nowhere near as productive as it is. To me, the soil looks as though it’s in the fallout zone of a nuclear explosion – just look at the profile:

Dodgy soil

That’s six inches of sand on top of clay on top of rock. Nice, eh? Every paddock is full of giant lumps of stone too, meaning special equipment is needed to cope with the rough terrain.

Because of the sandy soil water drains away fairly quickly, so a rather snazzy watering system has been set up to ensure the lucerne doesn’t dry out. Each field is separated into four or five blocks which have small banks built around them. Each block is completely flooded using metered water pumped from groundwater supplies, with the flow maintained thanks to these sensors, which can work out when the water reaches the end of the block.  Here’s Ian, Brendan’s irrigation and spraying manager, in demonstration mode:

Irrigation

The process can take up to eight hours for each block and needs to be repeated every couple of weeks over the summer, so it’s a pretty big job. Ian says some people struggle with the idea of so much water being used to produce a crop which is exported, but due to the soil structure the majority of the water returns straight back to the water table, meaning its almost a system of water recycling.

As well as an irrigation system I’d never seen before, the farm also has a kind of pet I’d never seen either. Meet Basil:

Basil and me

Apparently I didn’t scream as much as Peckie when I saw him…

A big thank you to Ian and Nicola for a fab couple of days and for making me feel so welcome. It’s been great to make two new friends, hopefully we won’t have seen the last of each other…

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Ta-ra t’Raj

So my sojourn to India has come to an end. I’m currently writing this sat at a bus stop outside Mumbai airport – I’ve arrived a tad too early for my flight and the man with the machine gun at the door won’t let me into the terminal.

I have mixed feelings about my time here. I completely agree with the Indian tourist board’s slogan about the country being ‘incredible’. The history, the buildings, the people and the culture have all been fascinating to see and to attempt to get immersed in. Having said that, the people, the culture, the history and the poverty have also been incredibly frustrating, upsetting and often downright despairing.

I’m proud of myself for coming here and proving the helpful people back home who predicted I’d sustain some kind of horrific accident/illness wrong. I’d even go as far as to say I’d come back – but definitely not by myself, and I’d probably go to the more picturesque bits around Rajasthan rather than the middle-of-nowhere farming villages.

Anyway, I know a few of my other Nuffield chums are thinking about coming here, so to help prepare them for the experience ahead, I’ve come up with a few tips to survive a stay in the sub-continent:

1. Toilets tend to come in two categories. A hole in the floor, or a bit of scrub behind a bush next to the road. Actually, most people dont even bother trying to find a bush to hide behind. The world is their urinal.

In some of the smarter places, you might be lucky enough to find an actual toilet, which look something like this (you’ll just have to imagine the aroma coming from them):

Delightful Indian toilets
Toilet roll isn’t really used here, instead you are helpfully provided with a shower head, a bucket and a jug.

My tip? Well if you can’t get by without drinking anything all day, or trying to make yourself sweat so much that you never need to use the loo, I’d recommend always carrying an emergency face mask and a bottle of very strong alcohol (both for cleansing and for knocking back to try to remove the memory of the experience).

2. One for the ladies, perhaps.

In Indian culture, the done thing is to eat with your right hand (your left one is used for unspeakable business). You are given a fork at mealtimes, but hosts tend to prefer it – or rather, it provides them with some amusement – if you have a bash at eating as they do, sans cutlery.

I have two tips here. Firstly, until you get the knack of scooping up soupy curries with thin bits of bread, wear dark colours. Spillages are common.

Secondly, tumeric is used in most dishes, meaning your finger nails end up being dyed a delightful shade of yellow. Unless you want to look like a 20-a-day smoker, I’d recommend wearing nail varnish to cover it. Bourjois’ So Laque in ‘Rose Vamp’ should do the trick.

Nail varnish
3. Be prepared to eat some weird stuff.

I love spicy food. I’ve actually got by okay eating curries for breakfast, dinner and dinner (I’m from the Midlands, we eat dinner twice a day).

The problem arises when hotels attempt to cater for western diets. I didn’t have the heart to say anything when a proud waiter presented me with a breakfast of dry spaghetti and chips. I had to draw the line when he brought over a pot of jam to go with it though.

Armed with these pieces of information, I reckon Helen and Mike, or indeed anyone thinking of coming here, will be a-okay.

If I ever get into the terminal, I’m heading on to Singapore tonight for a few days of chillin’ before I fly to Australia to wrestle with crocodiles, run away from massive spiders and encounter other dangerous stuff (i.e. Aussie Nuffield chums).

Speaking of dangerous things, I’m off to try and get past the man with the gun. Catch you later.

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I’m in Delhi and I’m fine. I think.

There’s a yak in the alley outside my window. I’d lean out to take a photo but I’m not sure the glass will stay in the frame if I jolt it. You’ll just have to believe me, it’s there.

If this was the weirdest element of my day, I’d be quite happy, but I have to say I think this has been on of the scariest and strangest 12 hours ever.

Having arrived in Delhi at 6am, I managed to get myself from the airport to the hotel (no mean feat given the taxi driver’s attempts at maneuvering around rickshaws and barely held-together buses). A quick change and armed with my map and camera, I thought I’d head out for a walk around Delhi’s main touristy bits. After all, the map reckons, my hotel is less than half a mile for all the exciting sightseeing destinations the city has to offer.

Yeah, right.

Three hours later I had been given so many different directions from the ‘helpful’ locals that I had no bloomin’ clue where I was. A less-helpful chap had run off with the only decent map I had which showed where my hotel was, while no one else had ever heard of it, or the road it’s on. I was trying not to get panicky, but it’s hard when you’re fighting for pavement space with wild dogs and red-bummed monkeys and then nearly getting run over by drivers who have even more questionable roadsense than I do.

Luckily, I got directed to my fourth tourist information of the day, where I found Irfan, a travel guide who hailed from Chelsea, gave me a cup of chai tea and helped me get a grip. I’d been worried that having an iPhone and Google maps at my fingertips had turned me into an imbecile who couldnt read maps, but Irfan, my new bestest India-based friend, told me that street maps of Delhi are ‘conceptual’ rather than based on actual roads. Handy, eh?

Anyway, good ol’ Irfan bundled me off in my very own chaffuear-driven car, so I’ve spent a slightly more enjoyable afternoon being whisked around Delhi’s touristy hotspots.

delhi

I’ve still been shaking constantly because of the scary drivers (apparently there’s only 10% of the normal traffic on the road because the government’s banned people from driving during the Commonwealth Games. Eeek), the amount of attention I’ve been getting and the fact my hotel is apparently in a district rife with drugs (I’m moving tomorrow), but it was a bit less terrifying than being utterly lost.

See, I’m fine. Definitely. Definitely fine….

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