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.

The best antidote to a grey January afternoon

Well one of my resolutions was to post more on my blog. I’m sorry I haven’t kept up as much as I intended – I managed to break my laptop. And with Rich working morning, noon and night, it’s nigh on impossible to boot him off so I can write.

But here I am.

Ahhh Fridays. I do like Fridays. Now that I’m in the throes of my four-day working week, Fridays are MY day. You know, when the rest of the world isn’t off work. I rise late, I write, I write some more and catch up on getting all those little jobs out of the way; bottlebank, money bank, library, tidying… Today I’m planning on starting another letter. I’ll plonk myself down at some point during the afternoon and scribble away, no doubt accompanied by the background noise of a terrible 70s film on Film4.

My Smallest Smallholding is… well. Hmm. Green and weedy is the most diplomatic way of describing it. Or perhaps ‘slumbering’. Yes, I like that word. After the snow melted it was like an eye-popping explosion of GREEN. Everywhere was bellowing GREEN! GREEN AND BROWN! GREEEEEEEEEEEEEEEN! The snow also uncovered all the messy bits – the unkempt piles of leaves, twigs, weeds, unpruned shrubbery, wonky veg plot borders etc etc. Whilst the snow laid, at least it looked relatively neat. Ah well. Such is nature. I have a lot of work to do this spring.

My local garden centre does a brilliant deal on seeds at this time of year – 50% off, with many “buy two get one free” offers to. So I am planning on heading over there with an extremely limited budget and starting to thumb through the racks. I’m definitely going for squashes again this year. Although last year’s produce was rubbish, at least I managed to get the plant to actually fruit. So this year, who knows. We may produce something edible – it has been known!

I’m not going for potatoes this year. I call my small bit of England ‘The Smallest Smallholding’ for good reason, and potatoes take up a lot of space. OK, maybe I’ll relent and grow a row or two of Charlottes. They’re fantastic when they’re freshly dug. In fact, I doubt whether Rich will allow me NOT to grow them. But as far as maincrop goes, I can easily buy a big sack from the local farmer for around a fiver.

I asked Rich whether he’d eat strawberries, if I grew them. His response? “Depends if they have maggots in them”. Let me remind you that this year, Rich is 30. Yes, really.

And apart from my staple crop of sunflowers (seeds for the birds), onions and garlic, I’m not entirely sure what I’m going to do. I think I’ll decide when I get infront of the seed racks.  I have a feeling that this year, anything goes.

Weight: 11stone 6lbs

Return from Edinburgh

I’m back from Edinburgh!

It was great. Lots of walking. Rich had quite a few blisters. I managed just the one.

We spent the vast majority of our time perusing the old town. And eating. And walking. We stayed at the 5 star Balmoral Hotel (just the one night), where Rich ate one of the best breakfasts he’s ever had. Ever. His scrambled eggs were free range.

‘Twas good. Not being one for eggs, bacon, sausages et al I opted for scottish potato cakes (hash browns) and beans, followed by croissants, and a selection of mini danish pastries. Welllllll, we’d done SO much walking I felt as though I deserved it.

You see, the day before I’d satisfied a longing to stop off at the birthplace of Harry Potter – the Elephant House cafe. The back room has looks out on the castle, and we sat with our iced fruit smoothies gazing at the view.

During the day, we saw all the sites; Holyrood, Edinburgh’s Disgrace, the castle, royal mile, the parks… being unashamed tourists went on a couple of sightseeing tours atop a bus, walked through the many streets, wynds and closes, took pictures, ate food, got hot, ate and drank more and had an alfresco dinner of pizza and garlic bread on a wobbly table on the cobblestones of Bella Italia on Northbridge.

So it’s fair to say that we arrived home on Friday evening tired and aching. In Edinburgh we’d had temperatures in the high twenties; at home it’d broken thirty degrees. And my vegetables and plants hadn’t been watered for two nights running. They looked a bit worse for wear.

However, a weekend of a bit more TLC seems to have done the trick. I’ve been pretty bad over the last few weeks, leaving them to fend for themselves mostly, sporadically watering and weeding when I had the time or the inclination. I haven’t even got my butternut squash plants out of their small pots – I’m a bad, bad person! I need to get them in this week if there’s any chance of them growing to a decent size. It’ll be a pleasant surprise if they manage to produce any fruit. Bah. I’m trying!

But I’ve got two (well – one and a half) days off work left, then it’s three days’ work before the weekend again. So effectively that gives me time to put a bit of work in here. I already got down to the allotment with Mum yesterday (where we were discussing the reality of the situation – was I really able to keep it on now that I’m working full-time and have everything at home to contend with?), and intend to go down again before I go back to work on Wednesday. At the very least, we came home with a trug absolutely chock full with red and white onions, potatoes and some small but tasty Early Nantes carrot thinnings.

I also need to weed my onions at home. They’re looking OK – not huge, but at least they’re consistently medium at the moment. I’ll give them some time. Carrots are doing OK. But they won’t be ready for a good 6 weeks or so. Potatoes – I’ve got Charlotte potatoes coming out of my EARS. I might bag a few up and sell them from the garden gate. Earned me some spare change last year.

I think work might calm down for a while now we’ve got this big project out of the way. It’s just been madness for the past three weeks or so. It’s made me feel a bit… tied down. Like I want to escape it all, especially when I went to London in 35C for a meeting. I just don’t know if I belong in that kind of life. I mean, I like writing. But I love writing about things I really care about. I know in this climate I am more than lucky to have landed a stable (contracted) job. And it doesn’t have to be forever. And it’s not a bad job. And it’s helping me get back on my feet.

But it’s not my passion. That is what I’m struggling with a bit at the moment.