With a list of jobs as long as my arm…

Feckin’ grey weather. I can’t stand it. It’s bleak and dull and sucks the life and colour out of everything. BOO. I’m over it. I’ve had enough of jumpers, and wearing three pairs of socks. I don’t feel snuggly and warm and certainly not festive at all. I’m fed up of having to wrap up in a million layers before I step foot out of the door. I feel frumpy, pale and uninteresting. I’m craving some sunshine and warmth. I am so very, very ready for spring.

I’m not in the best of moods this evening It’s Monday evening, it’s coming up to 10pm and I think I’m going to go to bed in a bit. I’m so tired and grumpy. Thanks to my crappy shoulder and neck, I didn’t sleep well at all last night, despite the fact that I’ve been like a whirling dervish for the past four or five days.

It was Dad’s birthday at the weekend so I had a good excuse to poke around the shops, and I ended up buying myself some Stella McCartney (half price, reduced, but no less scrumptious) perfume. Sod it – I haven’t done anything like that in ages, and… well, believe it or not I am a girl, and I do enjoy it on the very, very rare occasion when I get to be a bit overindulgent. When you think about it, it’s all a bit silly. I could have spent that money on something else far more practical, or charitable. But in a way, I don’t mind investing in Stella. She has good ethics. I trust her. (The only downside was that the perfume had a stupid amount of needless packaging that went straight into the recycling bin).

Anyway. Enough about my (pretty) smelliness.

I could tell you all about the insanely boring jobs that I got up to. I could, but I won’t – lucky you! No, I’m going to tell you all about the one job that I did that I was pretty damned proud of. Actually, thinking about it, I should be ASHAMED. You’ll see why.

Inspired by the likes of Soilman’s ‘The compost heap from hell’ and Manor Stables Veg Plot’s ‘Welcome to my messy shed<' posts, I thought I would outdo everyone and attack the festering pit that is (well, was) my greenhouse. Are you ready for this? Have a look. See what 12 months of being a vacant, abused dumping ground did to my greenhouse:

I think I could take first prize in this particular contest.

But I spent a good few hours on Sunday afternoon attacking, weeding, yanking several hundred yards of ‘underground cabelling’ (evil nettles, bindweed,  and more bindweed) out, digging, raking, rubbishing, and re-organising my disorganisation, until I was left, in the dying last few minutes of sunlight, with this:

I mean, I’m nowhere near finished. I have to re-lay the floor, lay the floor properly outside the greenhouse, dig up all the underground cabelling around the perimeter of the greenhouse, clean all the pots and trays, wash down the glass, replace two missing panes, and GET THE BLOODY GREENHOUSE STAGING BUILT.

But, still – a vast improvement, non?

We also managed to finish putting the wooden borders around the big veg plot too:

Now all I  need to do is find a few tonnes of manure and soil to fill it all in with. Mum has some numbers for local stables, who are more than happy for us to cart away their poo. Good-o!

So, although I’m bored with the weather, fed up with the cold, positively sick of the damp and drearyness, I’m forcing myself to keep going. I have a list of jobs to complete as long as both my arms and legs put together. I know, that come spring and summer, I am going to be incredibly busy, both with my Smallest Smallholding, my house, and my work. Sometimes it gets all a bit overwhelming and I feel like I’m getting nowhere fast. But I have to stay focused on the job that I have chosen to do, and just get on with it. Hopefully all this chipping away will start to pay off.

So I just need to keep up the momentum and get as much done now, whilst I can, whilst nature is slumbering.

Or is it? Despite appearances, it seems spring may well be just around the corner…

Weight: 11 stones 2lbs (must have been Dad’s birthday cake… and that pizza… oops).

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)

An explosion of August-ness

I have to say, summer is not my favourite time of year. Yes, there’s colour and sunshine and spectacular thunderstorms, but somehow it’s all a bit green and mad. I think, what it comes down to, is that in summer, I feel grumpy that I can’t be outside when I want to (for now, work, and I’m rubbish in the heat), and, more to the point, it’s at this time of year that I feel everything has completely overtaken me and I just can’t keep up.

The Smallest Smallholding in August is a riot. Bindweed, thistles, rampant brambles (which are currently producing big fat juicy crops of berries, so they’re not ALL bad), grass, grass and more grass are all growing, exploding or tangling around my years. Weeds have taken over the borders, the veg plots are doing well but looking nothing short of chaotic, and I just tend to close my eyes and pretend it’s not happening.

Of course I love the busy-ness of the bees hard at work, ladybirds beetling around, the haphazard blurs as butterflies follow an erratic flight path from buddleia to buddleia. Blackbirds hopping across the fence, hidden finches tinkling in the trees and rotund woodpigeons ambling around the lawn.

But the simple fact is that at this time of year, I feel like I can’t cope with this much space. Not with work. Actually,  not even when I was freelancing. I haven’t found a way to make it work when I’m so pressed for time, and with less inclination than I’ve had in the past.

To be honest, it just makes me feel more and more like I’m slipping away from my quest for the Good Life. I find myself thinking, ‘if I really wanted it, I’d be working harder’. Of course, I love the idea of it, but in practice, am I made for it? Can I really do it? I don’t know.

I’ve decided to hand over the responsibility of the allotment to Mum. I just don’t have the time to be down there, and feeling responsible for it all the time (even though it was always our allotment) has left me feeling like I’ve got this medium-sized albatross hanging around my neck. It was different when I took it on; I was freelancing, the recession wasn’t really here so work was fairly abundant and I didn’t know that little over a year later I’d be back in full-time work.

I just wonder how I’ll feel in a few months’ time when the evenings draw in, and I wake in the dark and make my homeward-bound journey in the dark too. I wonder how much I’ll be craving sitting outside with the countless fat bumble bees, butterflies, wishing I was weeding away. I’ll have forgotten about pesky wasps, annoying flies and headaches from being too hot, being woken up at stupid o’clock because that’s just when sunrise is, and the relentless screaming of overexcited children during the summer holidays.

What I’m really looking forward to is Autumn. I think Autumn is my favourite season; when you get that very, very slight chill on the air, but the sun is still fairly warm and golden in the evenings. My favourite curcubits and root vegetables come into season in Autumn, it’s when I can revel in glorious soups and stews, stodgy crumbles and custard. Then there’s the frosty mornings, the riot of colour as the leaves turn, collecting firewood in anticipation of evenings spent infront of a crackling fire. The feeling that the rush and business of summer is over, and that it’s time to sit back and relax a little, and join the birds and mice in foraging, and stuffing your face in preparation for winter.