A New Season – A New Perspective

I’m sitting here at quarter past nine on a Saturday morning wondering whether I ought to be going out for a run, making a start on my freelance work this morning, tidying the house or perhaps tidying the back doorstep for the milkman (as of last Monday, we now have organic milk via our local dairy). Nothing fun on the list, you’ll notice. Because that’s my life at the moment, a never-ending list of Boring But Necessary Things to Do. I’m so busy all the time. I’ve never been like this in my life before, and I’m not sure how it happened. I used to be so lazy in comparison, but now I feel like in between office work, freelance work, conference planning, website building, house chores and looking after my animals, if I’m not *doing* something, I’m wasting valuable time in which I could be doing something useful and productive. It’s so strange, like some sort of hyperactivity. I’m finding it so hard to just stop and take time out, I literally feel as if I don’t have time for it.

In my last post – which was weeks ago – I was moaning about my clutter claustrophobia. You’ll probably be quite surprised to read that rather than sit on my backside mulling it over and feeling cross, I actually did something about it. We were due to go camping on during my 10 days of “holiday” from work, but as luck would have it, it decided to basically piss it down all week whilst the remnants of hurricane Irene passed over the British Isles. So not exactly the best camping weather.

Suffice to say, we didn’t go. I had to do something constructive before I went back to work, so I cracked on with the decluttering. Proactive, you see. My ethos was (and is) that I’ll be stuck in the house more often than not during the forthcoming winter, so I want it to at least be a less irritating experience. I must have spent about 5 straight days just turning out stuff – university stuff, school stuff, non-identifiable stuff, old clothes, boxes of things like cassettes and blurry photographs of someone’s left nostril, empty boxes “just in case” we needed them, old calendars… the rubbish you keep because… well, I couldn’t say why I kept most of it to be honest. Memories, I suppose. So what I hadn’t looked at or needed in 12 months (save a few precious bits and pieces) were dutifully bagged up between the charity shop and our kerb-side recycling, and as little as possible went into general household waste for the tip. Our local tidy tip is pretty good on the recycling front, so all in all, I’d say most of it has gone for recycling.

So things are looking a bit more ship-shape inside. The Smallest Smallholding house is still falling down around our ears, but the piles that I weave around are slowly dissipating, and my goodness does it feel good. It’s surprising how much of a positive effect a good decluttering session can have. It makes me feel so much more normal and, dare I say it, relaxed. I installed a new bookcase in the bedroom to house my countless piles of books and I was such a happy bunny the day we put it together, because it means that I have space to manoeuvre when I open the door now. And it looks neat! NEAT! And it’s so much easier to keep clean and tidy.

Gosh. When did I become such a domestic type? I think I must be growing up. At last.

So yes. We’ve tackled the bedrooms and my office room (the spare smallest bedroom) is now half-done. Next up I think is the utility room, which is a whole other project in itself. Because Rich is possibly much more self sufficient than I am when it comes to practical skills, he has tools to do things. Lots of them. And since our shed fell apart and we haven’t got the funds together to replace it yet, we’re housing a lot of DIY/Gardening stuff amongst the detritus of utility room inhabitants like laundry things, bulbs, WD40, spare screws and wotnots. Yes, wotnots. British Gas want to service our boiler, but I’m not letting them in until it’s sorted out. So that’s probably another fortnight’s worth of work, plus we need to tile the floor because this will be the fourth or fifth winter that we’ve had a bare concrete floor throughout the kitchen and utility room. Bare concrete + draughty house = freezing.

So as the house as been holding so much of my attention, you can imagine what a state the Smallest Smallholding is in. Weedy doesn’t even begin to cover it. My last concerted effort to do something productive out there involved picking up some windfall crab apples so we could mow around the veg plots, under the fruit trees and in the non-functional side of the plot. I’ve also half-heartedly pulled a few weeds before they turn to seed, but other than that… nothing. Zip. Nada. I just haven’t got the time in between work and the house, and I’m not getting myself in a stress about it. There’s just no point. In a way, my lack of attention hasn’t been all bad because in the work-in-progress that is the Mediterranean area, a swathe of larkspur, poppies, accidental giant sunflowers and a few other wild flowers had self-sown themselves and sprung to life. The bees have been so busy in that little wild patch, so much so that even if I had had the time I would have left it anyway, because I can see amongst the green shrubbery of Suburbia here there’s not a else for pollen-loving insects to enjoy this Autumn. I’m planning on collecting the Larkspur seeds because they looked stunning, and they obviously thrive in sandy soil down there, and next year will make a beautiful, colourful early autumn addition to my “planting scheme”. Sometimes nature just knows best, and you have to go with it. I think this is definitely one of those times when she’s given me a massive helping hand, and I’ll be sure to take her up on her advice.

But back to my veg plots. Things seem to be taking care of the themselves. I’ve been harvesting carrot tops because they’re free food for the bunnies. But because I’ve been pulling out the tops, the roots haven’t grown very big. So no carrots this year – but at least we’ve saved a fair amount on bunny food. The kale and spinach is, as you probably know, so adept at looking after itself and my Polka raspberries from Victoriana Nursery Gardens have fruited so successfully again this year. Inside the greenhouse, I’ve hit a snag with the strawbale growing of my squash mix. Despite leaving plenty of ventilation, the large squash leaves obviously need lots of fresh air because they’ve gone quite mildewy and wilted. They’re still taking over the greenhouse to the extent that I can literally just get one foot in the door, but they’re nowhere near as healthy as my outside grown varieties last year. PLUS – and this is a lesson learned this year – I don’t think they pollinate very well in the greenhouse either, because there’s definitely less fruit than my outdoor squashes last year. I don’t think we’ll be getting any 8lb beasts this time around. But there you are – you live and learn. I’ll definitely be giving the straw bales a go outside next year, because the plants obviously like them, and the few that are growing over the bricked path and the straw bales in the greenhouse are rot-free and looking OK. We shall see on closer inspection just how well they’ve fared.

I think once the decluttering is done on the house, I will definitely be turning my attentions to my Smallest Smallholding, which is due for its own kind of decluttering. I guess what I’m ultimately looking for (as is everybody else), are veg and flowers that are low-maintenance and productive. Can you believe it’s taken me almost 5 years to come to that heady conclusion? I’ve finally realised that as a real person with probably more ‘spare time’ outside of the office than most, I still can’t handle a (relatively) small plot and part-time vegetable growing. I’ve finally stopped beating myself up about it. So after the house has been put in order for the winter, it’s something I’ll be turning my attentions to – because I want to carry on with this stab at semi self-sufficiency and slot it into my life properly, and prove that it can be done.

May Day Bank Holiday Ramblings

I sat down at my laptop a couple of weeks ago and thrashed out a blog post – it wasn’t very inspired, more like a list of everything that’s going down (or growing up) in my greenhouse. I wouldn’t want to read it, and I couldn’t see any reason why anybody else might, so it has sat unpublished whilst I work out what I wanted to say next.

Every day I seem to have a long list of things to do – some days I manage it, and sometimes it goes out of the window. For instance, yesterday, instead of turning out my books and clothes (I’m having some major “I NEED TO SORT OUT MY LIFE” moments, which translate into gargantuan spring cleans) we decided to ditch everything and head out to Cambridge for the day. We don’t live too far away, and with the extraordinarily handy Madingley Road Park and Ride, for all intents and purposes it’s so easy to get into the town centre. You see, I have a new love affair with Cambridge. I feel at home there. Rich said in some ways it reminds him of Edinburgh, and I agree. It’s almost as if the place lives and breathes history – there’s always a sense of what was living alongside what is and what will be. I’ve now decided that I’d like to live closer to Cambridge, before I make my big move to the coast. One day.

But back to my little plot, my little bit of England, and things are all going a bit higgledy-piggledy, as I knew they would by now. With the burst of summer that was thrown at us a fortnight ago, everything surged ahead, ignorant of nature’s summery false start. In the greenhouse the peppers and chillis are growing slowly and diligently, and I have high hopes for strong plants that will fruit abundantly this year. Likewise the kale and cabbages are doing well, perhaps because I am much more attentive this year, and they’re not being fried alive in the Smallest Smallholding Valley of Death, aka the conservatory. The greenhouse staging has somehow forced me into a routine of care, as I no longer forget to water my seedlings and visit them at least twice a day to find out how they’re getting on. Funny how a piece of furniture can have such a positive effect.

The woodland strawberries were sown weeks ago but are yet to show any signs of life; I fear I may have bought a duff packet. The leeks are also growing with purpose, looking strong and sturdy, yet I can’t help but brush my hands over the tops of them, and let the tips tickle my palms. There’s something very relaxing and almost hypnotic about standing in your greenhouse, and sweeping your hand over your tray of leek seedlings. I thoroughly recommend it. In the words of Mrs Doyle “go ooonnnnnn”.

Of course the grass and weeds are surging ahead at an unforgivable rate; at least, unforgiving to me as our lawn mower has packed up and at present, I’m forced to borrow my mother’s electric mower with a blade measuring just 30cm in diameter. Not only does juggling the extension lead and mower lead require great skill, but mowing takes half a day and makes me cross. We’re getting to that time of year where I begin to feel bad tempered towards my Smallest Smallholding; it teases me, refusing to be tamed and reminding me exactly how insignificant I am when it comes to me vs. the forces of nature. I blame the bindweed. It’s a bad influence. But armed with my spade, and a lot of (blood) sweat (and tears) and determination, and possibly a book on permaculture, I shall one day conquer it. Ha!

Actually, things have been getting out of hand a lot earlier than usual this year. No doubt hundreds of bloggers across the country have noted the early arrival of spring/summer, and here it is no different. The bluebells and wild garlic have already filled my local woodland, at least two or three weeks earlier than ‘normal’ – whatever ‘normal’ is these days. The honeysuckle and clematis montana are already out in force and over a fortnight ago our first blackbird fledglings were out on their own.

So strange.

But then, the past month or so I have been feeling strange. Very, very occasionally I’ll have this feeling that my life is changing by small, almost imperceptible degrees. It’s hard to explain, but it’s a definite feeling of life moving on, or up, or sideways – just changing. Maybe it’s growing up, I don’t know. Sometimes it feels right and sometimes it leaves me feeling as if I never have enough time and I’m always behind it – I’m not moving fast enough with it and it’s leaving me behind. In fact, lately I’ve been feeling as though I’ve been wading through a quagmire and not making much progress at all – things are on hold, I’m never changing or moving and I’m going to be stuck where I am – financially, emotionally and socially – for the rest of my life.

Hence the massive spring cleans. It’s like getting read of my past’s detritus – those bits I cling on to and won’t let go because somehow I’m scared I’ll forget what it was like to be a slightly oddball teenager with passions and imagination and high hopes for the future. But in reality that translates to holding onto old clothes, scuffed up panpipes, oil burners, books that I will never, ever read again… as if I will never be that interesting or imaginative ever again if I let these things go. And living in a house that resembles a building site is like living some sort of lifestyle purgatory. I can’t stand that feeling. In a way it drives me to do more, achieve more, get something – anything – finished. My book would be a good starting place. Oh I know what you’re thinking… oh yes, another ‘would be’ novelist, nice dream, fat chance. But writing and being a writer is the only thing I’ve ever really wanted to ‘do’ or ‘be’, and as acting looking a less and less likely option for me, writing is something that I think will satisfy all the different parts of me. Gardening, growing veg, loving wildlife and attempting to live self-sufficiency is part of my lifestyle, what makes me happy. It all mixes in together. Writing is something that I want to do for a living. About time I made more of an effort! And stop making excuses and found the time.

Happy May Day.

Remember, you can keep up with my daily thoughts, ramblings and more pictures at the Smallest Smallholding Facebook Page.

The Clocks Go Back, My Life Stays Still

I don’t know what’s wrong with me at the moment, so I’m going to blame it on November. It’s strange, I just feel all out of kilter, and my brain refuses to acknowledge that 5pm is actually 5pm. ‘It’s too dark,’ it says, ‘its actually 6pm’. So at the moment I’m still an hour ahead of myself. Literally. I look at the clock and say ‘7pm? Actually it’s 8pm and I should have dinner already’. This time adjustment just is not working for me this year.

I think underneath the surface there’s more going on. I keep weeping at television programmes and have moments where I just feel really upset about things. But generally, aside from these moments, I feel ok. I’m so busy that it keeps me on an even keel, I think. It limits my capacity to think about what’s really bothering me. I didn’t think about it too deeply until a couple of days ago. I was watching a television programme (OK, I admit, it was Cowboy Builders) where they went back a year later to see how the ‘victims’ were getting on. it got me thinking about where I am now and where I was a year ago.

A year ago I was pretty miserable in my job, and fighting to see a way out of feeling that way. Although my contract had changed for the better, it was a marginal change and my spirits were still low. My confidence was ebbing away and I not a happy bunny. I said as much to Rich, and his reply actually surprised me. ‘Yeah, but you seem to get a lot angrier these days’. And I do. My temper is shorter and more furious than it used to be and I’m sure it’s down to feeling pressured and frustrated.

I feel this way a lot. For several reasons. The first reason I won’t go into detail, but all I will say is that I feel utterly helpless about my parent’s situation. My Dad is 55 and is struggling to find work, having been out of work now for 4 years. The graphic design industry is horribly ageist – I know this for a FACT – and the jobs are competitive at the best of times. My parents have been battling for years to get back on an even keel and standing by and not being able to help is pretty harrowing. I do what I can to lend support, but it upsets me a lot that I don’t have the financial power to step in and sort things out. I know that’s not my job, but I would do anything to provide for them the way they provided for me when I was growing up.

Secondly, and related to the above, my finances have been stressing me a lot. I do have a reasonable income, but I just don’t have anything in reserve and things keep happening that suck any money I have put aside away – the car, the animals, the house, the dentist… all normal but bloody expensive things. We have little in the way of unnecessary gadgets or luxuries like Sky TV. So I literally live month to month on what I have, and it’s always ALWAYS that I get through (most of the time) by the skin of my teeth. We have a very old car that has thus far been pretty reliable, but should the worst happen – and inevitably it will – I just don’t know how I’ll raise the funds to buy a new (old) car. I need it for work and there’s no prospect of car sharing. It stresses me and just makes me feel like I’m stuck and I can’t move on. Which brings me to number three.

I would like to start a family at some point, whenever Rich and I get around to getting married. But with things the way they are, how on earth are we to do that? I know children don’t have to be expensive if you’re a bit frugally minded, but really, there is extra expense and so the prospect seems unlikely at this time. It’s so sad that it has to feel a bit like a business decision. I want to move forward in my career, I want to build some security, but I want to have children – I can’t see a way of achieving all three in such a short timescale.

So I think the frustration, the pressure and the anger comes from this perpetual feeling of being stuck and needing to move forward, but a complete inability to do so. Yes, I am in a much better position than I was a year ago – I like my job, I work hours that stop me being a complete cripple and I have more energy and time to trying to be a bit more self sufficient. But the pressure and the feeling that I, and my family, are stuck in a rut that we really need to get out of, is always there. Always. I just don’t know what to do – work harder, I suppose?

Although to be fair, I tend to work almost every day at the moment on something. The last few nights I was working at work and then on my own stuff when I get home. I was knackered by Wednesday evening. I haven’t been sleeping very well either (bad neck, bad shoulder, crap pillows) which just adds to this whole feeling of ‘ARGH FFS!’. That twisted, edgy feeling that preceded years of feeling in the doldrums is creeping back, although I’m much more able to find ways to get on top of it. I still get moments where I think I’m utter crap and I have failed in many ways. But they come and go.

I don’t know. I just feel so tired from struggling to keep my head above water. I know I’m lucky in so many ways – I have many many good things in my life, and ultimately, every night I’m able to go to sleep in a nice, safe, warm bed after a nice, filling meal. That’s more than a lot of people have.

I guess I need to just keep my head down and deal with it. It’s life. Just got to keep on working hard and hope that one day, it’ll work itself out.