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.

With Spring in my Step

Last night I sat swathed in my dressing gown, slouched across the sofa, having just had a long and relaxing bath. I’d been soaking my aching muscles in the hot, lavender-scented water after a long, satisfying day of Being Productive.

Since I went back to work after Christmas, I feel like I’ve been trying to catch up on myself. Usually I like to make the most of my weekends. But for some reason I felt inclined to laze around, or have bursts of doing ‘something’ – anything to feel as though I hadn’t just slobbed about. I felt like I just needed to rest, and it was as if I’d given myself permission to lie in, and wander around in my pyjamas for most of the day.

Not yesterday though. After getting my hair (and feeling so much better for it), I came home and flew around the house being a Domestic Goddess, sucking up the ten tonnes of fluff that had accumulated since the vacuum cleaner’s last outing, and generally getting all the shitty jobs (quite literally, in some cases) like cleaning the cat trays out and changing the bins out of the way. I did it all in a mad whirlwind of speed and skill because I Just Wanted To Get Outside.

It was milder than it had felt in weeks. The watery sun was throwing a welcoming warmth – warmth! – onto my skin. It felt good. I plonked each of the rabbits outside to ‘free range’ under my supervision whilst I got all of my tools out of the shed. And methodically, therapeutically and satisfyingly, I worked through my veg plots, turning the crumbly soil over, extracting the weeds, cutting the edges straight. I wasn’t aware of how long it took me, only of the fact that it was something I’d been aching to do for a long time.  Bobbin Robin sat in the hedge, eyeing me as I worked, piping his faint melody every once in a while, obviously impatient for me to move onto the next task.

And so I did. Next job – my mini woodland garden.

It’s tiny. It’s literally a small patch under the damson and apple trees that, in summer, is in shade for most of the day until the late afternoon when the sinking sun lights it up in a blaze of glory. In spring, when the fruit trees are budding, it gets a fair amount of sunlight and stays relatively moist, so is perfect for planting woodland plants.

But last year I neglected it somewhat, allowing the grass, bindweed and nettles to take over. With my wild daffodils and crocuses starting to poke through already, I had work carefully. It was a nice change from the more heavy-handed vegetable patch work. Almost like a different discipline. I cleared space around my emerging forget-me-nots, the wild primos

e, the oxalis and something else that I planted last year, but can’t remember the name of, or what it looks like exactly. We’ll find out soon enough.

As the afternoon sun sank quickly, the temperature rapidly dropped and I herded my rabbits back inside. I felt so satisfied – my veg plots just need some nutrition and I’m ready to go. I do still need to get some proper edging to stop the grass continually creeping in, and so I can also build the plots up with lots of gorgeously rich, crumbly home-made compost and leafmould. But it’s another step forward. At the moment I have time to do this. It’s so incredibly important to me.

After a quick cuppa and stop-off at Mum and Dad’s, I fired up the steamer and set about stripping more wallpaper off our dining room walls. I only have one wall left to do, and the ceiling, and we’re ready to start prepping the room properly for re-decoration. Steps forward. Good.

I should explain. For the past few years I’ve been embarrassed about the state of our home and my Smallest Smallholding. I haven’t felt as though I can have friends around. I’ve felt quite isolated because of it.  I don’t allow anyone outside of the family through the door. We hide from the electricity meter man because we just don’t want anyone to witness what we live in day-to-day. The house is a half-baked renovation job, and the Smallest Smallholding has, for the past couple of years, been out of control.

But I want my friends to visit, and to be able to stay over. I want to welcome people into my home. I want to have friends and family over on warm summer’s evenings. So this year, I’m sure as hell going to try and get closer to being able to do that. Sharing my Smallest Smallholding, getting people encouraged, involved, excited about what I do – that, for me, would be an achievement.

Oh, and incidentally, I have a new job. It’s an exciting prospect. Things are going to be changing, for the better, I think. But more about that next time… I’ll write soon… stay tuned…

Weight: 11 stones 5lb (oops)