Regrets, I’ve had a few…

No vegetables here!

A view across Bedfordshire earlier this month - (my Smallest Smallholding can't be seen)

A few weeks on since I found out that my regular work would be coming to an end, and here I am, out on my own in the “wilderness” of full time freelance work. It’s been really tough. Especially since we found out that our RSPCA rescue bunny Ozzy needs some major dental work. Which will cost hundreds. But what are you going to do? He’s worth it.

I’ve been hibernating away in the house, completely and utterly ignoring my Smallest Smallholding and only venturing out when the birds need feeding. And they’ve been getting through a LOT of food. The bitter cold and snow must have been tough and I cannot fathom where they would have found adequate food when other people’s gardens are so barren. Sometimes I wish more people took an interest and would try to feed the birds more often, and take the onus away from me. Not that I don’t enjoy seeing such a huge variety of birds on a daily basis – it makes it so much more *alive* out there.

But since my work and impending vet trips and finances have been greedily occupying so much of my time and my thoughts, little else has managed to penetrate my crowded brain. So it’s no surprise to learn that I’ve not got the potatoes chitting, not got the garlic on the go, and the vegetable beds remain empty and unfertilised. There is so much to do, and my determination is wavering at best, but I’m getting there. I’m trying to establish a routine whereby I get up, work intensely and then get a few other jobs done. And I include going out for a piece of cake as a “job”, thanks very much. The problem is, if you’ve never done it before, let me tell you that working from home (and for yourself) is really hard. There are so many temptations and distractions, especially when you need to be online. Technically, I should be working right now but I thought it was about time that I drummed out a blog post, updating you all on the “nothing interesting” that is my life at the moment. I also need to take a lot of breaks, because my back, ribs, shoulder and neck are being stubborn and fighting me all the time.

I haven’t forgotten about my last post and my ‘pipe dream’. I’m still mulling it over but I have to be a realist because finances are and will always be a huge issue. I’m not saying it’s an impossible venture but I’m also very aware of the obstacles facing me, and I do not stake all my life’s ambitions on something that may never happen. I would very much like it to happen but I have to have several contingency plans, where I can be content and not full of “what ifs” and regrets. Because I already have those. Are you sitting comfortably? Then I’ll begin.

When I was 17, I went for an interview at Brasenose College at Oxford University to read English. I was up against independent and public-school types, pretty much all of which had studied Chaucer at length, whilst I had studied one stanza of Chaucer when I was 13. And yes, the interview covered a great deal of Chaucer. I did not impress. But they must have seem some merit because I was presented with the opportunity to re-interview at Lincoln College, Oxford. I declined. Why? Because I had Art A-Level (what a mistake and waste of time that was) coursework to finish and hand in the following week, because my teachers were pressuring me and would not “share” my time (“Your Theatre Studies rehearsals are important!” “Your Theatre Studies rehearsals are interfering with your English Literature studies!” “Your other subjects have to take a back seat, Art requires a lot of dedication!” yada yada yada), because I didn’t like a lot of the people I met at the interview (although some were lovely), because I was told that “this is what you’re studying for” (erm, no? I was studying to get my qualifications, not for Oxford), and because I hated the food in the dining hall. I was dog-tired of education, I was bitter and I wasn’t sure I’d fit in.

Looking back, I think I made a huge mistake, because now I will never know if Lincoln would have offered me something more and whether I would have made it. I might have felt more at home, I might have studied some fantastic subjects at a world-class university, and I might have gone into the world as an Oxford graduate. I might not be stuck in the dull, suburban town that I grew up in. I might not be fighting for every penny that I earn. I might not be embarrassed to tell people about my degree from the local university that hasn’t got the best reputation (and rightly so, in my experience).

But the thing is, you make your own bed and you have to lie in it. I was too young, too tired and not in the right place to make that kind of decision back then. I pretty much gave up going to school by the end, as everybody wanted a piece of me and I was “expected” to excel. I did well – three As and a C. BUT – there are people that I know that achieved average grades, and because of their determination, their work ethic and their propensity for networking, and their passion for their job – they’re doing really well.

And so the summary of my rambling is this: you can have all the qualifications and good grades in the world, but you still have to work hard to keep achieving, you still need to be focused and determined, and the chances are you’ll get there. And I stopped doing that when I left school.It was easy – study hard, get good grades. That was my goal. Now? I don’t know. I do know that if you give me a project that I love, and I’ll excel. I’ll work hard. I’ll be determined. I’ll push myself.

And so the problem is working out what I love, and making it into a viable career.

When I was at school, I swore blind that I’d never be a ‘desk jockey’. In my adult life, I tried it out of necessity and it a) crippled me (I’m really not built for desk work, ask my physio and osteopath) and b) sucked out my soul. When I was really young, I was convinced that I was going to change the world – I had dreams of rescuing animals, “saving” the environment, like some Boudicean vegetarian ultra-hip Greenpeace warrior in Stella McCartney (either that, or an author, an actor or singer, or why not all three?). I was either a raving narcissist, a fantasist, or just a bit quirky. And I hadn’t grasped the concept of “making a living” and “paying bills”, either.

Trouble is, in my mind I haven’t grown up much and I still want to achieve most of those things. I think I can accept that I’ll never be a professional singer, though. That’s fine. But the rest? Yes please.


How about you? What did you want to be when you were young? How does it compare now? Have you given up on those dreams?


I’m bringing this post to you from a very wet and very grey Bedfordshire – not untypical for this time of year, but somehow I find the lack of ground frosts, snow and sleet this year a bit unnerving. There are lots of weeds in my garden that I rely on the cold weather to kill off (at ground level, at least), and it’s looking farrrrr too green out there for my liking. Feburary has been slated as the month to watch for the snow-type affairs, and my local Tesco (mehh, blehh, yuck!) is holding out by continuing to sell snow shovels and sledges in a prominent position by the store entrance. I don’t know if it’s going to happen. It’s too mild. It’s unsettling.

… And that word continues to dominate my life at the moment. Unsettling. Disconcerted. Yeah – that, kind of vibe.

I was going to put up a post earlier this month, emanating positivity and hope about the year ahead (and the fact that the world WILL see 2013 in tact), and listing my usual New Year’s Resolutions. But I just couldn’t bring myself to do it, because I just can’t quite decide what I’m doing or where I’m at. January has been like a limbo for me, and that feeling has resonated throughout the month and was amplified last week when I received The Call. The result of The Call was that my long-standing freelance arrangement with regular work in an office has abruptly come to an end. I wasn’t under contract as such. And I had an inkling it was coming, but my unofficial “redundancy” (because let’s be clear, it was not ME they didn’t need anymore, but my position as a copywriter) has left me reeling a bit. Aside from the friends I made, the regular social-work interaction that keeps me sane and a basic salary that I could rely on, my safety net has been taken away. I don’t blame anyone, but there’s still that underlying feeling of rejection. “It’s just business,” I think to myself. But after almost two years I can’t help but feel a little bit shit about it. At the moment I’m writing down things a lot on paper, trying to formulate ideas, and trying not to feel too bitter about things. I’ve bought purple hair dye because I feel as though I need to rebel a bit. Against what, I don’t know. I think I’m just feeling a bit belligerent in the face of redundancy.

But I guess all I can do is think about the opportunities. I am back to being 100% flexible with my time. I am entirely responsible for my input and output again. I suppose I am entirely self-sufficient again, and I cannot afford to rest on my laurels. I have lots of upcoming work over the next 2-3 months but beyond that is a dull haze and that’s the slightly scary part. So I have to take action NOW. I have to seriously weigh up my options and consider whether I want to continue putting in so much time at the laptop, or whether my other freelance work can sit alongside a new “career” or work path. Is there any way I can start afresh, do something with my hands, employ my slightly dodgy artistic or less-dodgy literary skills, my veggie culinary skills, my passion for animals (not a vet, not a veterinary nurse)? At least I have the veg patches to keep costs down this year, if need be.

My dream is to open up a sustainable complex – say, a converted barn or similar – that serves ethical food, that houses art projects, green projects, little shops and artisan workspaces. A place that helps to bring something exciting to the local community and offers something practical but fun for visitors. Maybe a food and herb garden for selling fresh produce or supplying the on-site eatery, too. Somewhere entirely original and inspiring.

But without any kind of start-up capital to speak of, it’s a complete pipe-dream.

It always comes down to money.

So what do I do? How do I do it?

Answers on a post card/in the comments section, please.

I Have Mostly Been Helping Hens this Christmas (by proxy)

It’s Christmas Eve and it’s probably been about six weeks since I last blogged… and so I find myself suddenly wishing you all a Merry Christmas! Again!

I’ve literally been so busy that I haven’t even put the Christmas Tree or any decorations up. It’s Christmas Eve! This is unheard of! I might do it later. I might.

So here I am, sitting here with a stupid dribbling cold, but otherwise still alive and well, and still functioning (remember last year when I caught proper badass ‘flu and couldn’t function for over two weeks independently???). All I can say is that my lack of blogging has arisen due to a number of bona fide reasons. These are namely; Family Stuff (not my story to tell), Health (mine and others), work, and let’s be honest, probably just plain laziness too. I’ve been informally disconnected from my Smallest Smallholding and generally the outside world since late Autumn, not focusing at all on anything remotely vegetable or mineral-related since I sorted out my last veggie harvest. So unless you count feeding the birds who have been arriving in droves to feast Chez Moi, there has not been an awful lot to tell that’s of any real interest to anyone, or that I am able to share on a public platform. Wow, that’s so annoying isn’t it – it’s like saying “there’s actually been some quite major stuff happening, but I won’t tell you!”. Sorry. It’s just… it’s other people’s business too.

All I will say is, it has been a big challenge, there has been a lot of anxiety but I think things will turn out alright. That’s until the Hadron Collider creates a big black hole and sucks us all in it on December 21st of next year when the Mayan calendar stops. Ho, ho, ho. Just kidding!

Illustration Copyright Kat Whelan 2011

But despite what you might be thinking, I have actually been incredibly busy over the past few weeks, and I have most definitely not been wallowing in a bog of my own pity. Good grief, no. In fact, one of the many things I’ve been working on is a little project called the Hen Rehoming Hub. It can be found at and my idea was to create an easy to use tool that maps and details hen rehoming organisations’ locations, and the dates and locations of their upcoming rescues. The website was put together by a friend of mine who is more than a bit nifty with code and computery things, but it’s still in development and we’re still finding organisations to add to the site.

I did contact BHWT (British Hen Welfare Trust) HQ to ask if their nationwide coordinators would like to be involved, but they politely declined on the basis that they “… have a policy of only promoting our re-homing dates through our own channels, where we can ensure the re-homing initiative is part of the complete message we are delivering”. To be honest, I don’t really understand it as I would have thought that there’s no better consumer education than seeing for yourself the state of battery hens when they’re first rehomed – and the more hens that are rehomed the more exposure factoring farming gets – but hey ho. I’m more than happy to help support and create exposure for all the other smaller organisations that work really hard to educate consumers and find homes for these hens, and I still recognise that the BHWT do good work. I’ve done it for no other reason that to make finding ex-battery hens for pet-only homes easy, and helping as many girls evade the slaughterman as possible.

So what’s left to do this year? I can safely say that with my cold, my upcoming birthday and some work to finish in between Christmas and My Birthday (AKA New Year’s Eve), I won’t be doing anything Smallest Smallholding-related. I’ve long since given up beating myself up about it and I’ll tackle it a bit later in the New Year when my impending mad rush of Big Freelance Work Projects and Mum’s big upcoming operation (not my story to tell!!!!!) are over. I’ve come to realise that self-sufficiency is as much about making a living that allows you to live independently, as it is about being frugal and doing things yourself with the limited impact you desire. Within the next couple of weeks I also have my tax return to do, one of the worst aspects of being self-employed when you can’t really afford an accountant. I just need to focus on debt reduction in the first bit of 2012. Not easy when our car is threatening to stop working, the cats need their teeth doing and for the first time in ten years (I’m not lying!) we were considering going away on a proper holiday to celebrate my 30th birthday… but we’ll worry about that after I’ve turned 29!

So although there’s not been many Smallest Smallholding tales to tell, I wish all my readers a Merry Christmas, and here’s to a happy and peaceful 2012 – let’s make it the Year of the Chicken!