With exam season around again, one is not supposed to be reading anything not on the course list. Or that at least is the plan.

Last evening I somehow – I have a chronic disease called ‘dalliance’, one of the symptoms of this severely mutant germ is amnesia about trivial matters like the origin of excuses – got hold of Dirty Chick: Adventures of an Unlikely Farmer, read it through from cover to cover and went to sleep contented, at 3 in the morning.

My examiner will not appreciate if beestings pudding, alpaca spit and amorous duck make their entry into the answer script, and you will be squarely to blame, Antonia Murphy. Why do you write the way you do?! And why, do you live such an interesting life? This is one helluva dirty chick! I was told long ago by an ex-boyfriend, ‘may you live in interesting times’ is allegedly a Chinese curse. Not too many people can make a joke out of it; Antonia can, several risqué ones.

I seem to have a nose for girls that love their boats, lead a life astray from us gulping-for-air landed whales, and then write like chuckle bombs about their shenanigans. First there was Sarah Henshaw’s boat venture, who I found in mid-air, and now Antonia Murphy’s conversion to farm lass, discovered in the throes of exam angst.

A good book, they say (I don’t know who says so, I do, and that’s enough) rescues your soul. When I read of daring personalities out there leading tremendously gutsy lives, it stirs up my lazy innards. Towards redemption, possibly? For anyone who can’t imagine what the big deal about farming is, go raise a chick or two…and keep them alive, mind you. Or, read Dirty Chick: Adventures of an Unlikely Farmer first.

Take my word for it, for an urbanite from another continent, nay another hemisphere altogether, to settle among New Zealand farmlands and find her bearings hasn’t been easy. To be mother to two energetic human kids, and several equally bouncy ones from diverse non-human species that insist on jumping fences, flying out of cages, killing each other and chasing and spitting on you for your troubles is not a post I am filling in a hurry. Hell, I can’t identify an edible berry from a poison weed to save my life.

When was the last time any of us has woken every other hour through the night, to tend to curdling milk? Or discovered that home brewed alcohol can get you drunk without killing you with hangovers? Cheese and wine making were two very delectable activities she stumbled into in the process of rooting in the soil. The rest of it was a long trial and error, veering into misadventures and cutting one’s losses.

Dirty Chick: Adventures of an Unlikely Farmer is a modern day ‘back to Eden’ tale of an urban Californian sailing an ocean to find her base in Whangarei – I had to look it up in a map – least prepared for the gruesome reality which hit her rose-tinted glasses about ‘lifestyle’ farming. Antonia bares all in disarming honesty, and is refreshingly self-deprecating in recounting her (mis)adventures.

What emerges is also a story of human decency, courtesy and kindness. In the darkest moments, it is the strangers she chose to settle amongst who rallied around and supported like good friends do. As much through the laugh out loud moments in the narrative, as the earnest moments of her son’s illness and the sudden death of a new friend, Antonia manages to piece together all that’s good about life. Despite everything she encounters, she does not lose her wicked wit, not for long. And that is what makes her story so wholesome and enjoyable.