Someone asked the other day if this was our first autumn in this house, and I had to pause for a minute to think. Of course it is, because we only moved at the end of February, but it feels so familiar somehow, yet new at the same time.
I spend so much more time outside here than I ever did before. When we lived in the city, I went outside if I was going somewhere, or for a walk or a run or a bike ride, and I sat in the tiny garden if it was warm, but on cold, damp, foggy days I didn't spend much time outside if I could help it.
Here it's different.
My days start when I let the chickens out. On the days I drive to the office, I open the hen house door before I leave at 6am, and because it's still dark they just make gentle little chicken noises and stay warm and cosy inside.
When I'm working at home, or at the weekend, I let them out before I have my own breakfast, which means I often end up outside at 7.30am in my wellies and fluffy dressing gown, being thankful that there is no road past our house (there is a public footpath though, which I must remember when the weather starts to improve).
Autumn is the season of mist, it seems. Very often in the morning it's foggy, and we can barely see the end of our drive, let alone across the fields. I've grown accustomed to driving to work slowly, carefully, following the edge of the road until suddenly the fog breaks and I can see again.
We don't let the chickens out when it's foggy. Maybe we're paranoid, but the local farmer tells us the fox often strikes in the fog and I'm not taking any chances. So they stay in their run until it lifts.
I'd love it if my chicken run looked like something out of Country Living magazine, but it doesn't. It's strong, and tall, and (hopefully) fox proof. They have a cosy house with nest boxes and a perch, and clean water, constant access to food, and now they have an outdoor shelter to protect them from rain and wind. Each day I try to find something to entertain them - a fork full of compost, or an armful of leaves, or a pile of hay for them to scratch around in. Mostly they roam free for a few hours in the afternoon, and if I'm here and not working, I roam out there with them.
Having the chickens pottering about encourages me to get out and potter about too, even if the weather's not great. In the last couple of weeks I've been turning the compost, and using the finished (or nearly finished) pile as mulch in the area I'm going to use as an edible windbreak.
The chickens like to help, and are a complete nuisance. Whatever we're doing, they're there, under our feet, wanting to know what's going on. They wait until I have a fork full of compost (seemingly trying to get skewered in the process), and then stand on the fork and flick the compost off. At one point I had to shut them back in their run just so I could get something useful done.
It doesn't matter what dangerous implement I have (pitchfork, shovel, scythe) they seem determined to stand in the way of it.
But mostly we get on fine, and they rootle around in the leaves while I shift wheelbarrows of mulch, fix walls, and do a bit of light weeding.
I do love being outside, and I love having an excuse to be outside. There's always something to do here, whatever the weather. I draw the line at pottering in the pouring rain (so do the chickens), but otherwise an extra layer and a woolly hat makes everything cheerful.
At the minute my pottering is mostly restricted to weekends, as my work schedule has me driving to the city every day (which was NOT part of the plan when we moved here, but never mind). I leave in the dark, and mostly arrive home in the dark too. So at the weekend I make sure both me and the chickens are outside for as much time as possible, even if I am just sitting in their run having a nice cup of tea.
I don't often get to the seaside these days. We're surrounded by beautiful countryside here, and anyway, we've not had a proper trip anywhere else since we moved.
But last week I found myself in Brighton for work, with a sea view from my hotel window.
There wasn't much time for wandering, although I could hear the sea from my bed, and I confess I did miss one session of the conference to sit in my room and listen to the waves.
The conference itself was in a rather grand hotel, also on the seafront but we were in windowless rooms all week. But on the last day, before I caught the train home, I sneaked out to sit on the beach for a while.
We're planning a proper holiday next year - our first fortnight away for about four years. We're not sure where we're going yet, but I'm certain it will be near the sea.
I still spend a lot of my time in the city. There's not much I can do about that in the short term (although it will be a bit different next year at least). Mostly I drive in, stay in the office, then drive home again, but occasionally I meet a friend for lunch and remember to go somewhere cheery.
Last week a friend and I met in the botanical gardens. We both live rurally, and don't see each other very often these days, so it was lovely to have a catch up. We had lunch in the cafe and it was warm enough to sit outside in just a t shirt (I can't imagine ever being that warm again at the minute).
The gardens were splendid in the autumn colours.
I really should make an effort to get out of the office more often. The temptation is always to finish my work as quickly as possible and head home, but I need to remember how beautiful the city can be sometimes too.
The chickens are now happily ensconced in their new run.
It's not quite finished, and still needs a roof, but I was fed up of them being inside the stable block, so while Peter was away and I had visitors to help me, we nailed some mesh around the top to discourage acrobatic foxes and herded the chickens to their new home.
It's extremely solid, and built mostly from recycled wood and mesh we had lying around. The walls are eight foot high, and there is mesh dug into the ground all the way round so I hope it will be safe (fingers crossed). We moved their house in here too, so they have somewhere warm and dry to sleep at night, and since these pictures were taken we've added some corrugated iron for shelter during the day until we get the roof on.
We did have to add some extra impromptu shelter during the storm that ripped down the greenhouse - not exactly picturesque but it kept them relatively cosy during a day of wild winds.
We're settling into a nice routine. I let them out of their house first thing in the morning, do a very quick clean out of their coop, and top up food and water. During the week I then leave for work, and either Peter will let them out of the run in the afternoon for an hour, or I'll let them out for an hour later if I get home before dark (which probably won't happen now until after Christmas sadly). At the weekend, I usually let them out of their run in the morning, and they maraud around the garden pecking things and generally getting in the way.
Sometimes they come running when I whistle. Sometimes they don't, but they often respond to the clang of the feed tin lid. After they've been out for an hour or so, they often start to congregate near the run again, so I take the opportunity to give them some corn as a treat and shut them back in.
Three of them tend to hang around together, and never go far, but Hermione is a wanderer. She's likely to be the first to get eaten if there's a sneaky fox around. I've had to retrieve her from the top of the drive, and from half way across a field. I can't be cross at her though - it's less than two months since she went outside for the first time and there's a lot to take in.
Sometimes, to tempt them back in, I sit inside the coop myself. It often works - they associate me with treats, and will come and peck at my fingers and sit on my legs until I oblige. I talk to them, and imagine they know their names (although I know they don't really, and are just responding to food).
It's only been eight weeks, but I can't imagine a life without chickens now (although I would appreciate a lie in occasionally). We've got our first night away coming up soon, and while we'll be gone for less than 24 hours, and while I know they'll be safe in their run, and cosy in their house even if the door isn't shut, I can't help but worry a bit. We're already making plans for chicken sitters if we go on holiday next year.
Might have to make sure the visitors know where the treats are kept though.
Sit down and make yourself comfortable. I'm Jenni, and I write here about our new foray into country living, which includes growing food, knitting, baking, wandering around the fields, and seeing which local cafe serves the best cake.