Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Living the dream on the revived Darling Buds Farm in the idyllic Kent countryside

Classic Car enthusiasts and anyone who enjoys a fun day out will be in heaven at The Darling Buds Classic Car Show in Kent on Sunday July 5, 2015.

The gates open at 10am with more than 900 classic cars and a vast array of stalls and a fun fair for the children.

The Classic Car show, organised by the Rover P5 Alive Club, is in its 20th year at the idyllic Darling Buds Farm where the famous Darling Buds of May TV series was filmed.

This year`s attractions include Pop Larkin`s yellow Rolls Royce, the Woodchurch Morris Men, a Supercar display, a falconry display, Kent Fire and Rescue demonstrations, a vintage fair, arts and crafts, local produce, a range of scrumptious food venues and well-stocked bar.

This is one of Kent’s most popular annual attractions, not to be missed! And there is plenty of parking!

 Simon's Dream becomes a Reality 

When the heart-warming show, The Darling Buds of May was screened from 1991 to 1993 it was the most popular TV series in Britain and acclaimed internationally. Since then the box set has sold millions. Produced by Yorkshire Television for ITV, the show, with its stellar cast, was based on the novel written by H. E. Bates in 1958 and its sequels. The phrase ‘darling buds of May” comes from Shakespeare’s Sonnet 18.   

Simon Coulson, at the age of 20, sat transfixed by the TV in his granny’s cosy living room, after a hearty roast dinner, and fell in love with the mesmerising beauty of sultry teenage Catherine Zeta-Jones and the idyllic rural lifestyle glorified in Darling Buds of May. In fact the charming show set in beautiful Kent in the optimistic era of the 1950s captivated not just Simon but the whole of Britain and viewers around the world.

Now at 44, Simon, as proud owner of the Darling Buds Farm, is a man who is truly living his dream. At the start of 2013 he bought the run-down Larkin farmhouse and derelict historic buildings set on 35 acres of prime countryside for a flat one million pounds.

And two years, spending another cool million, he has restored and renovated the sprawling property into magnificent holiday accommodation for escapees from the pressures of the daily grind whom long to embrace the romance and nostalgia of the Darling Buds of May and the homespun values of the loveable Larkin family.

Crews of specialist workmen have restored and modernised the original Oast House and cart lodge to immaculate, luxurious standards. The spacious 300- year-old barn conversion with original Tudor timber beams is spectacular. There’s even a traditional village hall. And the ramshackle farmhouse, featured in the TV show, is being lovingly transformed with funky retro furnishings.

The impressive buildings are surrounded by lush fields, tranquil duck ponds and a tinkling stream, pretty apple and cherry orchards, groves of ancient oak trees and woodlands bursting with spring bluebells and wildlife and yes, if you are lucky, you can hear the amorous singing of nightingales!

Simon lives in this little slice of heaven with his three bouncy border collies and his six-year-old son shares all the fun of the farm with his dynamic dad at weekends.

How did all this happen? Simon recalls what ignited his passion. “Well firstly there was of course the stunning character of Mariette played by Catherine Zeta-Jones in her first role before becoming a Hollywood star, and then there was the character of Charley, who was like me really, a bespectacled office worker trapped in a soul destroyed job, who experiences an awakening and transformation.

“I was living a frantic lifestyle, commuting to London, spending four hours on trains to and from the office every day and working overtime and weekends and I longed to jump off the treadmill. Charley’s journey from a wage slave to a magical, carefree life in the country planted seeds in my imagination.”

Having landed a respectable job with a major company straight out of high school, Simon, as a dedicated and hard-working employee, was quickly promoted to Customer Service Manager responsible for 120 staff and implementing systems.

Seduced by promotions, pay rises and perks such as a company car, private health cover, pension plan, bonuses and shares, he felt “trapped by golden handcuffs” for 14 years.

Recognising his talent and upper management potential, the company sponsored Simon to do an MBA. But armed with his business qualifications, Simon, at 32, was ready to break free into a new career as a creative entrepreneur. 

Parallel to his corporate life, Simon was a musician playing keyboards in a rock band. It was driving home, elated from a Coldplay concert in Brighton, he had a stroke of genius to create a tribute band called Coolplay.

“We went from being a pub band, getting a hundred quid playing to 70 people to suddenly getting paid two thousand quid to play for 2000 people backed by famous bands as support acts!”

And in 2003, he “foolishly or bravely” gave a friend £4500, the last of his redundancy money, to invest in property in Bulgaria, hoping his investment would yield £20,000 when Bulgaria joined the EU. When his sceptical friends started asking questions, he decided to write an e-book on ‘How to Invest in Bulgaria’.

Before long he had created a publishing empire from his spare room, hiring a team of writers to churn out How to Invest in property in Croatia, Slovakia, Slovenia, Florida, Turkey … 34 countries in total.  

“When I ran out of countries, I thought ‘What else can I do?’ and I discovered that when you find a market where people are hungry for information, you can make money so I looked at other subjects. 

“I saw that a lot of people were being made redundant and looking to start a business so I developed ‘How to Start A Business’ e-books. A friend was starting a cleaning business so I wrote about how to set up and run your own cleaning business. Another friend was a schoolteacher who worked around the world so I did a guide on How to Become an International School Teacher. Another friend ran a home secretarial service. I produced guides for start-ups and also hobbies and interests such as a DVD training course in yoga.”

Simon made his first million in 18 months selling more than 150 information products online from his website and having a ball playing in his band.

“And I was jumping on planes to America to attend seminars to learn about the Next Big Thing in internet marketing and discovered the concept of membership sites and started a website offering independent reviews of franchises and business opportunities for subscription fees. This was hugely successful, turning over £2000 a day.

“I went on to sell physical products such as air conditioning systems from a website. I then became a licensed online gambling operator for fundraising for sports clubs. I’ve had to continually reinvent myself and learn as I go!”

But there was more astronomical success to come as an acclaimed public speaker telling his rags to riches story with thousands of people in lavish venues around the world. He shared the O2 Arena stage with famous speakers such as Anthony Robbins and Bill Clinton.

By the age of 40, he’d generated more than £12 million from his online businesses and was living his boyhood dreams of buying himself a Porsche and Ferrari - that he now admits was “vanity over sanity!” - and hanging out with his hero Sir Richard Branson and other elite guests on his private tropical island, cruising the ocean in his luxury yacht. 

“I was just an average guy who made a leap of faith and left a job I hated and started a bedroom business and made millions!” Today he operates eight companies including an international internet business school.

And now this “average guy” with the Midas touch is all set to make more magic! Simon has a grand vision for the Darling Buds Farm over the years ahead. He sees the gruelling restoration work as a “labour of love and a lasting legacy”.

He hopes that guests of his beautiful accommodation will boost the local economy by visiting pubs and restaurants and tourist attractions in the picturesque district.

He will continue the popular Classic Car show held annually in July, now in its 20th year, with Pop Larkin’s canary yellow Rolls Royce as an irresistible draw card for Darling Buds fans and car enthusiasts.

In 2015 the peaceful farm will host retreats for songwriters, artists, entrepreneurs and health and fitness lovers. And in the future he hopes to host an array of tasteful functions, romantic weddings and fun-filled events.

Simon will fill the glorious green fields with glossy horses and adorable farm animals to delight children and adults. He plans to develop the orchards, strawberry fields and vegetable and flower gardens and protect the precious pockets of woodlands.

With so much open land, he envisages offering ‘glamping’ in comfortable shepherd’s huts and imagines that ramblers will be in their element exploring the nature trails topped off with a luscious Ma Larkin-style cream tea! 

And in May 2016, to mark the 25th anniversary of the Darling Buds of May phenomenon, Simon hopes to entice the stars, Catherine Zeta Jones, David Jason, Pam Ferris and Philip Franks to join legions of fans in a grand celebration down on the farm, complete with Ma’s Larkin hearty food, warmth and hospitality and spectacular fireworks. As Pop would say, just “perfick”.     

Growing Myself Up

I want to grow up. In my 50s I’ve decided to finally become an adult! This sounds ridiculous but being fully adult despite the number of years we’ve clocked is harder than we realise.

That’s because we keep regressing to Adapted Child and morphing into Critical Parent. And these states are not just generic concepts but specific ways of thinking, feeling and behaving hardwired into the brain in childhood.

I’ve been studying Transactional Analysis (TA) at the Wealden Psychology Institute in East Sussex and what a revelation! I thought it would be fun to learn this system. I didn’t realise it would be so challenging to dig deep and gain awareness of parts of me I don’t like!

TA is a theory of personality developed by Canadian psychiatrist Eric Berne in the heady sixties, which is still flourishing today around the world.

This insightful Jewish doctor, who grew up in the poor, migrant district of Montreal, developed a model of the psyche that marked a radical departure from the pioneering work of revered father of psychoanalysis, Sigmund Freud.

While Freud’s famous ‘Superego, Ego and Id’ are theoretical, abstract concepts, Berne’s Parent, Adult and Child ego-states are very real mental states we enter based on our own unique childhood experience.

According to Berne’s ‘PAC’ structural model, the Critical or Controlling Parent (CP) contains the thoughts, feelings and behaviours we have absorbed from parents and parent-figures growing up (and continuing throughout life).

There’s lots of positive, useful content in your CP like how to cross the road, using nice table manners and keeping your room tidy but there is also some nasty stuff too; your parents’ narrow beliefs and harsh admonitions like “Do as you’re told”; “Keep quiet” and “Work Hard” “Don’t Cry” and memories of your parents’ behaviour at their worst.

I discovered a domineering, aggressive, self-righteous ‘Dad’ in me who comes out in arguments with my husband. Your CP usually makes an appearance when you feel threatened and defensive to protect your vulnerable Child.

Berne’s Adapted Child is an ego-state containing the thoughts, feelings and behaviours of the way you were growing up trying to adapt and follow the rules of your family. The AC also has a rebellious side!      

You can access your AC by doing a visualisation and remembering how you were as a child at different ages.

I remember desperately trying to please and be liked, being obedient at home and clever at school; Teacher’s Pet, first with my hand up to answer questions and win approval.

At times in my childhood I also felt disconnected, isolated and unloved, ignored, unimportant and helpless and I can go into these intense Child feelings when triggered.   

In an Adult ego-state I am functioning in present time using the full powers of my intellect and skills to engage with the here and now, feeling calm with moderate emotional responses appropriate to the current situation.

At first glance the PAC model might seem simplistic but as I study more I discover it‘s as complex as a set of Russian dolls. The CP contains the PAC of your parents, that contain the PAC of their parents going back generations. Likewise your AC contains a PAC.

In fact the Parent ego-state of your Adapted Child can be a potent force in your psyche responsible for bizarre and destructive behaviour. The Child’s distorted thinking can be both magical and punitive; giving yourself magical powers such as ‘I can use my charms/looks/sex to get what I want’ while  
the negative part of the Child’s Parent might believe you deserve to be punished, which explains self-sabotaging, masochistic behaviour.

Psychologists have developed Berne’s theories in the last 50 years. The Functional TA Model includes two other ego modes: the Nurturing Parent  (NP) and the Free Child (FC).

The Nurturing Parent is the kind, caring, understanding, empathic and compassionate part of the psyche that nurtures yourself and others.

In my view, NP is a combination of the innate biological maternal/paternal instinct, role modelling on the loving acts of our parents, triggered when we become parents ourselves toped up by what we consciously learn in adulthood. For example it’s possible to learn how to Active Listen and cultivate empathy and compassion throughout life.

The Free Child is the uninhibited part of the child that lives in the moment, with all senses firing, is creative, spontaneous, playful and full of joy in being alive.

I remember riding my bicycle really fast with the wind in my face, feeling euphoric at the sight of spring daffodils, singing at the top of my voice and playing silly games with giggly friends on the front lawn when the grown-ups were not around.

So now at this mature age, with this new awareness, I want to strengthen my Adult, Nurturing Parent and Free Child and minimise time spent in Adapted Child and Critical Parent.

The constant shifting between ego-states and ego-modes usually happens unconsciously, out of our awareness. By bringing the psychological dance into awareness, we can manage our internal states and behaviour leading to autonomy and freedom from the past.

PAC mastery gives me power to be the person I want to be, a grown-up with the capacity to be mature, strong and capable, kind and compassionate, playful and full of joy.