Helen Leggatt In Canterbury, New Zealand: Style on a lifestyle block?

I got told off last week...by a chicken. I'd had a particularly late night and hadn't climbed out from under the bed blankets until 10 a.m. My ears tuned in to the new day and were greeted by a cacophony of squawks and cackles, which had me rushing out in my crazy frog pyjamas and flowery gumboots to silence them with grain and pellets.

It's only taken my three Plymouth Barred Rock hens six months to train me. In that time, I've gone from haphazard feeding to a strict routine for fear of being held ransom by an egg-laying strike, an all-out free-range assault on the precious veggie patch, or, as in this case, an ear-splitting verbal assault. I was now at one with my girls.

Unfortunately, ambition got the better of me.

I decided I wanted more eggs. That meant more chooks, as they call chickens here. The three gals were getting on a bit, and I decided to get in a couple of younger models. After all, I was an expert now; how hard could it be to introduce a couple more?

A local farmer friend sold me a couple of wee, shy pullets. I popped them in the chook house and secured the gate. After rustling up the other three gals, I ushered them in and secured the area. I stood back and waited for World War III to commence. Silence. No feathers flew. No beaks clashed. A successful introduction; this poultry lark was easy!

As I turned to leave, I spied out of the corner of my eye the two new girls darting off into the undergrowth. Damn. No wonder it had gone so smoothly. They'd escaped. I decided they couldn't be too hard to catch.

Two hours, three facial mudpacks, and an asthma attack later, I had succeeded in scaring the pullets under some very dense undergrowth in the sheep paddock. On all fours, and assuming a reassuring Attenborough whisper, I bribed the skittish pair toward me with a handful of tomatoes. Slowly, they edged forward, and I knew we were all becoming pals.

As I came within range of a tackle, I heard a stomp and a grunt from behind me. Gulp. I was in the sheep paddock. The sheep paddock that contained a ram. A ram that hated me. The same ram that chased me over a fence a few months before and who obviously had a photographic memory for backsides.

I hastily joined the chooks in their prickly hideout, deciding it was nice and safe there. They are there to this day. I was only there a few hours.

Ahh, the mud, joys, and pain of life on a lifestyle block.

Who on earth coined the term "lifestyle block"? Here in New Zealand, it is a few acres or more on which the inhabitants live and perhaps own a few sheep, goats, chickens, and the odd alpaca. It's a halfway mark between the smell and tractors of a fully working farm and a hobby zoo. And where exactly is the lifestyle in a lifestyle block? More to the point, where's the style? The first thing to go was my stylish wardrobe! Gone are the kitten heels, replaced by gumboots and clogs. Gone is the hairdo, smothered by a woolly hat. Gone is the complexion, ruddy and rough.

The soil has manicured my nails and the rain has frizzed my hair. I can't tell if I have blackheads or if I forgot to wipe my hands after shovelling the coal. My eyebrows are being cultivated to keep the rain out of my eyes, and sheep keep looking jealously at the fleece growing below my knees.

Blisters that were once a sign of a night spent boogying in stilettos are now found on my hands and are testimony to the hours spent knelt over veggie beds, trowel in hand. Broken nails get torn off by teeth -- no rushing to find an emery board.

These days, retail therapy means a trip to the feed barn, musing over styles of wheelbarrow, or paying the physiotherapist's bill.

But, one day, something marvelous happened.

A bright, white designer light of hope emanated from the local village high street. It dazzled passersby and beamed its message of hope across the local farming community and its grubby-nailed inhabitants.

The beauty salon had arrived.

Like an anorexic finally finding my appetite, I drooled over the price list. No care for just how long a French manicure would hold up while scraping chicken poop from laying boxes. No embarrassment as the therapist opted for sheep shears to begin the leg wax. Oblivion reigned as three months of coal dust and dry skin were sloughed from my face.

Bliss in the Boonies.

Once the animals are fed, the plants are pruned, the veggies mulched, and the grass is mown, it's nice to have a little pamper and to remind ourselves that we, too, need to nurture ourselves and try to keep a modicum of style in our rural lives.


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