Sometimes you just have to go with your gut reaction.
In the sixties I was working on the board of a large company based in London and living with my young family in a commuter town. The convenience of our home for my work - just a five minute walk from the station - was at first appealing, but this lifestyle increasingly came to grate on us. My wife, Ann, and I had both grown up in the countryside and we had begun to feel 'hemmed in'. When we saw our children begin to take an interest in country pursuits like fishing and farming, we decided to think about moving.
A journey that affected us profoundly
It wasn't long until we found a house with a magnificent view over the Wealds of Kent and Sussex. We visited as a family on a beautiful spring day and despite the obvious uncertainties involved, we decided that we had to go for it. Why not?
That decision took us on a journey which affected all of us profoundly, and in ways we could not possibly have predicted. Over some ten years, we eventually came to make ourselves self-sufficient in milk, meat, eggs, vegetables and some fruit. I wanted to preserve the memory of that journey, and the changes it effected in us. So that's why I decided to write my account of it - 'A Little Piece of England'. I worked on the book in the winter of 1977 - mainly in the space of about six weeks, at the kitchen table between the hours of 12 and 2 am.
My experience of building a smallholding reinforced my belief of the importance of the land and having a connection with nature. I wrote in the foreword to the book that "I have long believed that the 'health' of a nation is better and its communities and its cultures stronger, the more it cleaves and values the land that it lives on". I continue to hold this belief strongly. Indeed, it was partly this that led me to later become one of the founders of the Countryside Alliance - an organisation that provides a voice for those living in the countryside.
Stepping into the unknown
The book and the smallholding it described were very different projects - but they were also similar in some ways. Both were rewarding, and both were to some extent steps in to the unknown. In their own ways, they were both 'creative'. I was not an experienced smallholder or an established author when I started them - but I decided to try them anyway.
It is now 35 years since the original publication of 'A Little Piece of England' (then called 'A Bucket of Nuts and a Herring Net'). Since then I have taken on various other projects. My latest is JJ Books. We've published several books so far and have plans for more. My work at JJ Books has confirmed another of my strong beliefs - that once our basic material needs have been satisfied, the best road to satisfaction is creative self-expression.
Doing things for yourself
I am glad to see that today, many people find, as my family did on our smallholding, that growing your own food is a very satisfying and creative way to live. In the town of Todmorden in Yorkshire, for example, the 'Incredible Edible' project has encouraged a revolution in community food production, growing food in public spaces around the city. They started with herb gardens, and by growing vegetables around buildings like a doctor's surgery and the police station. They've now planted several orchards, and they don't want to stop there. As you can see in the TED talk given by Pam Warhurst, the organisers believe that food is a language that cuts across generations. They believe in the revolutionary power of small acts. While the effects in Todmorden have been especially striking, there are many projects with a similar attitude - in the UK and beyond.
To understand this, you just need to look at an organisation like Kitchen Gardeners International - a community of 30,000 people in over 100 countries, who are all growing some of their own food.
What does this kind of thing have such a broad appeal? Personally, I think that a large part of it's about doing things for yourself - and not being told what to do by professional politicians. That's certainly how I felt in the seventies. But of course, growing food is far from the only way you can be creative. I believe that everyone has the potential to be creative in some way - it is certainly not the preserve of a privileged few. Of course, you might not know all the answers when you start - but isn't that the point? So if you have always wanted to start a 'creative' project but never got round to it, I have a question for you: why not?