THE NATURAL CHILDHOOD TRIP TO PADDINGTON FARM, near the town of Glastonbury came at just the right time for me and my daughter, who I refer to affectionately to as: BlakMadge™ [long story].
I needed to de-stress and get away from my hectic technology-heavy existence, and she needed to experience the great outdoors, and get to grips with a world where real animals weren’t; cartoon, bug-eye’d, pink, or spoke English with an American accent. As far as I could see, taking this trip was gonna be win-win.
For some reason, I thought Paddington Farm was going to be a short journey; fifteen or twenty minutes max! This might have had something to do with the fact that we were travelling from it’s name-sake: Paddington Station, not be confused with Paddington Bear. Ms. Elisa, the trip organiser, who runs Sankofa to Nature, fb group, didn’t tell me that the farm was actually located a bazillion miles away, somewhere on the other side of the Gamma Quadrant, in a galaxy far far away, and that we would be strapped-in, wearing spacesuits, and travelling for what seemed like an eternity…
What I thought was going to be a fifteen-minute-jaunt, turned into a trip taking THREE WHOLE HOURS out of my life! Woy! Three hours might not seem like much to some people, but as a person who works for self from home, JetBlakInk™, my idea of travelling, is going from the bed room, to my work-room, the Skylab downstairs.
My daughter and I, along with a group of other families who we subsequently joined up with at Paddington train Station, finally reached Glastonbury, tired and beat up from the loooong, hard train journey over the hills and gullies of the South West peninsula. Actually, it was quite beautiful, and I spent most of the train and bus-ride taking pictures out the window to pass the time.
Then, we embarked on a loooong walk, which was about a country mile, wearily dragging our wheelie-trollies and hand luggage up an old steep, narrow, one-track lane [thank god it weren’t cobblestones]. This turned out to be the only way in, and the only way out of the middle-of-nowhere; which is what the signpost should have said, and is the best way I can think of to describe the location of Paddington Farm.
All of this extra-greenery spelt “Adventure” to the children. Their excited bright faces, and the unmistakeable raised pitched tones of happiness, was laid bare for all to see in the quickness of their pace up that steep narrow-gauge lane. This was a world waiting to be explored, and some of us old-timers, me included, was slowing the progress because we couldn’t keep up.
Ironically, just as this was the moment the children began to bond with each other in their excitement, this was also where I began to bond with some of the other parents, who were also showing similar such signs of age, tiredness, and depleted energy. I asked one mum if she needed help with her pushchair; she smiled a beautiful smile and nodded. By offering to help with a pushchair, man may initially appear chivalrous, in reality, sometimes man just needed something to lean on! You gets me though?… [Win-Win methinks!]
The gradient was steep, but soon evened out. I felt it best to conceal from the children, and everyone else, the fact that I was panting; quite hard too. Gaps opened up between those who raced forward and led from the front, and left us older ones, the holders back, way at the back. Soon the excited children were tiny dots way up in the distance, which forced me as a parent to trust those virtual strangers up front with my little girl.
What really helped me to take my mind off worrying about her safety, was the fact that I was now talking to Eywa, the mum whose pushchair I was helping to push up the gradient. She has a very calming soothing voice, which was very effective; that voice in combination with the beautiful landscape which we were now passing through worked wonders. The scenery reminded me of a trip to Jamaica a few year back, where I had spent a some weeks in the beautiful interior, the hills of Clarendon, a place called Silent Hill where my mother came from.
That Jamaica trip is where I realised that I was afraid of heights, which was quite shocking, as when I was a child, I always loved climbing into high places. Something must happen to you as you get older, that changes one’s perspective on things. I realise as I get older, my love of nature has increased greatly, and I now see beauty in things and people I hardly used to notice at all. Landscapes, skyscapes, and this beautiful line of trees on the horizon, that ended up having me literally transfixed for the entire length of my stay, while at this remote but striking countryside.
Eventually, and after walking what seemed like miles through these amazing open-spaces, witnessing great examples of English countryside with real animals, [and not a bug-eye’d creature in sight] we reached the promised land; our destination: Paddington Farm. HORAAAAY!…
It was a big country house, with multiple sleeping quarters, and a large front room with a real fireplace and a REAL FIRE BLAZING AS WE LOOKED ON! Due to mental fatigue, this scene took a few moments to properly register!… When it did register, me being from Brixton, I was slightly concerned seeing a fire raging in the middle of a house, and no one running or screaming or anything.
On the other hand, the children were not fazed; they just kicked off their shoes and headed straight for the fire! My jaw literally fell open as I slowly and simultaneously looked to Ms Elisa and some of the other parents for confirmation of shock on their faces, or verbalisation of shock from their mouths, or some other kind of reaction that I could identify with and get fully behind… Strangely, no such reaction ever came from anyone; the other parents didn’t even bat an eyelid!
What I had failed to realise, was that these parents or children, weren’t like the sort of parents or children I’m used to; I’m used to children who were rigid and stuck to routines and rules like Superglue. These children here, were more like Neo in the movie: Matrix, they openly displayed a level of freeness, they were more “off-grid” if you like… It was very real, and it took some getting used to.
I recalled that all the way long on our trip from London, the parents kept jokingly referring to themselves and children as: “feral”. Initially appearing (to my eyes anyway) mostly as middle-class homeschool families, they had found that that was how mainstream would mis-label them. However, they didn’t seem to take offence at this mis-labelling, but instead flipped it, and kind of adopted the word as their mantra. So now anytime anyone of them acted in any way strange, the rest of them would say: “It’s cos your feral” and they’d all fall about laughing. So here we were finally at Paddington Farm, in a room with an open fire, and a group of children going, er, feral!…
My mind was aching through exhaustion, but before I could think of anything to say, because, even my daughter BlakMadge™ who was in the midst of the excited children heading for the fire, looked like she was about to go THE MOST FERAL OF ALL!… Ms. Elisa piped up: Right! Who’s cooking tonight?…
Huh?… Wha?… We have to do cooking?…[Shock Horror] I’d kind of assumed there’d be a hot steaming bowl of Welcome-City-Slicker Broth or something, waiting for us when we arrived at the farm… A big tub of hot soapy water, filled with incense for us to bathe our sore feet in, or something, and a comely maiden to wrap us in warm towels [Ahem]… Instead, there was Nada! We had to do cooking!
I turned around to see if anyone would be stupid enough to volunteer to Ms Elisa’s request; I mean, who would volunteer for cooking duty after such a long and tiring trip!… Now I don’t know if what happened next was because I’m Black, [Just saying, or asking] or, maybe and more likely because I was the only man on the trip… but everyone at that point seemed to be staring directly at me!… Yikes! OK!…
Selected by extra-sensory female mental persuasion; I marched straight to the kitchen, and I hadn’t even unpacked! “Come on iCha, this must be the feral way!” I thought to myself trying to psyche myself up for what had to be done, as I searched through the strange country-bumpkin pantry to see what ingredients lay behind the various rustic-esque cupboards.
We were on a farm, so there were loads of vegetables, and most of the families staying on the trip were vegans, so I couldn’t really go wrong. Onions, sweet potatoes, carrots, peppers, asparagus, garlic… I made up the menu as I went along. Then Alison, another of the nice parents, backed off her jacket, rolled up her sleeves and stepped up to assist the I… Gwaaanmyooot!… Alison helped me greatly with the electric hob which I’m not used to, and also she helped finding stuff in the various cupboards as she seemed to know her way around; I give Thanks for her [and her son is sooooo cute].
I have to admit, It was kind of a baptism of fire, and if you know anything about me, I do like a challenge, which is why I guess I accepted being selected by extra-sensory female means. Anyway, this was an emergency; little as well as big mouths needed to be fed; pronto! In that kitchen and in that moment, bonds were made, which may well stand the tests of time, we’ll have to wait and see. That kitchen was definitely the central hub of bonding and activity for the whole of my stay, which eventually lasted for four days.
After getting shown our rooms, (I had my own room) unpacking, and finally getting to rest briefly, we all sat down to dinner around a large wooden farmhouse table with that beautiful open fire as a backdrop. The vegetables me and Alison had flung together, turned out to be, dare I say, quite tasty!… No one refused to eat, people actually called for seconds.
Ms. Elisa managed to sort out where everyone was going to sleep with little or no fuss; and None of the feral children managed to burn themselves, cut themselves or even worse, burn the place down playing by the open fire. Things were a bit hectic at times, but it was our first night on Paddington Farm, and the children were super excited; the adults were super tired, so It’s allowed. Roll-on day two…
[Sankofa to Nature offers a wide range of Natural Educational Outdoor activities, programs, sessions & workshops as well as interventions in outdoor spaces]