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Picnics and castles in the air
Susanne Austin follows her hopes and dreams and encourages
you to explore yours
Last month we ended our scrumptious journey of locally grown and prepared produce in the meadow of Berkeley Castle, with thoughts of our daring to dream a midsummer’s night’s dream. And what better a time to dream than during the month of July, a month that is simply bursting with vitality. Unique and individual farm shops, pick-your-own and produce stalls at your local farmers’ market are full to brimming with fresh nutritious offerings such as broccoli, spinach, beans, peas, courgettes, juicy ripe berries and ruby red cherries. Minds set on spending time in the great outdoors, we turn our thoughts to those of preparing the most sensational of picnics filled with English wine and ale, Godsells and Abbey Gold cheese, homemade quiche and freshly baked bread, or any number of your own favourite local delicacies! There is magic in the air and the tantalising aroma coming from our picnic hamper is almost too much to bear. So what is so special about our picnic? Well, it was on receipt of a message from Sandra Ashenford, chief writer of Oxfordshire Life that I was asked to jot down a few lines outlining my idea of the perfect picnic for a feature she was writing for the magazine. It didn’t take a moment to set the scene! By the river dressed in a flowing dress, bare footed so that I could feel the grass between my toes, surrounded by those I adore, locals and visitors alike, and it goes without saying a traditional willow basket full to brimming with delicious homemade and locally produced produce. So what of your perfect picnic? I encourage you to give it some thought as you may be amazed by what you come up with! Picnic prepared and packed for the off
before ‘we dare to dream’, lets look to the meaning of this powerful word as described in The Concise English Dictionary….. ‘Dream: thoughts and images that pass through the mind of a sleeping person; a visionary idea; something beautiful or enticing; a castle in the air; to conceive as possible’. Looking over history there have been many famous dreamers, whose dreams, words and actions have not only effected and shaped their own lives, but those of many others. Over the years I have written about many dreams turned reality, courageous, moving and inspiring stories, from farmers turning their milk into ice cream, to people moving from the city to take on, and keep open a local post office and cheese maker Joe Schneider moving from America to the Cotswolds to make award-winning cheese for Daylesford Creamery and Farm Shop.
So what of your dream? As for many they remain just that, whilst others find there to be a calling so strong that they are destined to pursue them. So are dreams just a whim? Sometimes they are, yet others are serious
extensions of who we really are. We all have times in our lives when we put our responsibilities first, or circumstances have led us to our shelving our dream for another day. So what happens when the path ahead is clear and the calling becomes undeniably strong? The answer is that we must follow those dreams. This month, over a picnic, I would like to share mine in the hope this may help you to identify yours. Having recently moved, I enter a new period in my life and it was whilst doing so that I was posed with the question, ‘If I were your fairy godmother, what would you really like to do?’ Well there is a question and one I now put to you!
Back to Sandra Ashenford, as it was around about this time last year that Sandra got me tuned in to these thoughts in a very serious way during an interview featured in the September issue of Oxfordshire Life. As we chatted over a cup of tea and overflowing plate of homemade Cotswold biscuits, I warbled away about my love of writing and cooking, my desire to have my own cookery school, the joy I feel when inspiring others, my love of the countryside and people, and my desire to become self sufficient -‘to live off the land’. I recently reread the article and was moved by what it said in a far greater way than when first voiced and written. “While some people make a living in the countryside, Susanne Austin has made it her life. Whether she is speaking at a conference on rural issues, demonstrating her cookery skills with local produce at a show or writing her Cotswold Food and Drink column, Susanne is relentless in her role as ‘an advocate for the prosperity of rural England, its producers and their produce. “I have always loved the countryside and all that it produces,” explained Susanne. “I look at it as a larder – a provider of nourishment in both the physical and spiritual sense – and, of course, as a place of great enjoyment.” I was moved to a greater extent this time round as at the time it was written I was caring for my mother who had been diagnosed with a brain tumour, so as you would imagine I was not thinking of myself. My mother on the other hand was, and told me before she died that this was to be my new beginning and that when she had gone I was to pursue my dreams with great gusto. Covering the circumstances at hand, Sandra ended her article with my saying, “My priority and privilege is to care for my dear mother and friend, once this honour has been fulfilled, I would like to find ‘my home’ in pastures new! I’d like to settle down and create a haven where people can truly be themselves – a natural, wholesome, grounded place. I feel now is the right time for me to follow my path and nurture my roots.” It has only been a few weeks since I reread and
  digested the words again and again and the more I did the more conscious I became that this is now where I would like to be. Many have said to me ‘dream on’, that times have changed – ‘your idyllic world no longer exists’, a regular chant as they believe rubbery mass-produced cheese and supermarkets to rule ok! How fortunate we are in retaining our traditions, community and individuality in the Cotswolds as elsewhere many hanker for the good life, yet do little to secure its existence. Multiples sneering in the tabloid press, simply revelling in saying; ‘it is not us that close the small shops and damage communities, our customers vote with their feet, it is they not we that do the damage!’
I am told it is difficult to achieve, what many of us consider to be the norm, yet I know this life to exist because it exists in you and it exists in me. I receive e-mails in response to my work from all over the world, people who believe me to have an important role to play in securing production of local produce and ensuring the continuation of our traditions and community spirit. So I came up with an idea! Grasping the thought ‘if you don’t ask you don’t get’ and believing the answers to all our questions to lay right before us, I felt it time to share my dream as someone may be able to help me bring it to pass and in doing so realise their own. Having spent a good part of the past five years office bound supporting, lobbying and campaigning for the countryside, I now no longer wish to sit on committees or attend a myriad of conferences and simply talk about what needs to be done, I need to be back on the land in a place where I can live it and share it with others. Host speaking events, serve the best local produce, teach people to cook and offer an atmosphere conducive to the way we believe the world to be, write my articles and complete my book! There is good reason to be telling you all this, as, as with all recipes we need ‘all’ of the ingredients. I have the capability, others who wish to work alongside me and those who would like to visit, so all that is needed is the place. Some people may see this as an obstacle to fulfilling my dream, not I, as if something is to be, there are no obstacles, a lesson learned only last week as I was to learn that should I have shared my dream a little sooner it would have been possible for a supporter of mine to have helped with a property he had just given away. These things do happen!! Just as I know this to be right to share my dream I wholeheartedly support you in recognising and fulfilling your s and encourage you to do as I have done, to push out those boundaries and make it happen. Likewise, should you be able to assist me in doing the same, know I am waiting to hear from you.
First featured in Cotswold Life Magazine July 05
Copyright © Susanne Austin 2005/6