I’m Busy

Yes, as usual, I’m busy. And I don’t think it is just a case of Parkinson’s First Law which states that work expands to fill the time available!

Since Steve Jones of Chapter 39 in Newtown, Powys challenged me to think about, and plan for, the year 2050 I have been doing so. And one of the results is a decision to have the chalet in the garden, originally built as consulting rooms for our Counselling business, refurbished as somewhere someone could live rent free in return for helping me in the garden and woods. Time was John and I would have done the work between us but he is dead and I am older so I have employed a builder to do the work that I feel unable to do. But he still needs me to make decisions, source things like the small woodburner that will heat the place and to pay the bills. And I am doing the jobs I can manage like decorating and building the carcasses for the kitchen units. It all takes time.

Because I am doing so much thinking and designing (the chalet is only the start although probably the most expensive  item on my list of changes) it seemed only sensible to get some credit for it and in the process have someone else to look at and comment on the plans. Therefore I have signed up for the Diploma in Permaculture Design which is a self directed course of study in which I have to submit 10 designs for land, house, lifestyle or whatever. I get the support of a tutor to guide me so that I meet the criteria for standard of work. Unfortunately there is no fixed time scale so I can prevaricate to my hearts content! And all those ideas, thoughts, musings have to be transferred from my head to paper in a form which makes sense to someone else. I must be mad! Why do I do these things to myself?!

Now in my dreams all that work would result in a house so easy to manage that I could drift round in dolled up to the nines, nearly tens, whilst the ghost of my mother beamed approvingly. I should explain that the greatest compliment she could pay another housewife (always a wife in those days – men did manly things not housework) was ‘You could eat your dinner off her floors’. Even as a child I wondered how she would react if that was put to the test! And my garden would look like those the National Trust runs – thriving plants, no weeds, tidy paths… Meanwhile my woodshed would be bursting with neatly stacked logs from the acre that was coppiced each year, my car would be valeted after every journey and my outgoings would be minimal because of my reduced energy and water bills, the volume of garden produce and my general thriftiness. Undobtedly only in my dreams!

In the real world 2 dogs and 3 cats help me trail in mud. They rub dirt on the soft furnishings as they pass and leave hairs everywhere. I am convinced that old spiders use this place as cobweb building boot camp for the youngsters and it is ideal for the purpose being old, wonky and full of nooks and crannies. In the garden it is jungle warfare and the jungle always wins. I clear, mulch, plant and before I can get back to the beginning the weeds have gone mad. I have couch grass, nettles, brambles, bindweed, rosebay willowherb and himalayan balsam in abundance and some of the banks between terraces are so steep that working on them is well nigh impossible.

I have given up writing ‘TO DO’ lists – they are too depressing. Partly that is because jobs like housework or gardening tend not to have defined finishing points – however much I have done I could do more or do it again. Instead I write lists of what I have done and often it is quite a lot.

One of my favourite definitions of stress is that it occurs in work when demand outstrips capability. Both those things are ultimately a choice for me. I have no boss telling me what I must accomplish by the end of the day, week or year. I decide what I want to get done and what, realistically, I might be able to manage. I can choose whether or not to give myself a hard time if I fail. And I can choose to say ‘I can’t do that. I don’t have the skill, knowledge, experience..’ or to say ‘I can’t do that YET but I could learn’. It is true that as I get older I tire more quickly and I have less brute strength than I used to. But I also know more, have more experience of doing things or watching others do them, and am more willing to ask for help or advice. One of the advantages of grey hair and wrinkles and going deaf is that people feel good about helping me.

So, yes, I am busy. At the moment I am particularly busy. And, you know what? I am loving it because I CAN be busy and it certainly beats being bored and reduced to watching daytime TV! Next time I grumble about how hectic life is you can remind me of that!

Advertisements

What a Weekend!

My last post was about what counted as ‘work’ – especially for people like me who are supposedly retired but who expend just as much energy as ever being productive. Whereas most people in paid employment breathe a sigh of relief when Friday afternoon comes round and they can have a weekend ‘off’, for me, quite often, the weekends are the busiest part of the week and the sigh comes on Monday morning! Last weekend was a case in point.

On Saturday there was a workday at Dyfed Permculture Farm Trust which is one of the groups I support so off I went. But not by the direct route! I had arranged with my friend Martin, who re-furbishes old tools and sells them through the Eco shop in Cardigan, to buy some new bowsaw blades. As he staffs the shop on Saturday morning that was the best time to collect them. Another quick stop in Newcastle Emlyn was needed to buy cream and yoghurt to go with the apple and mincemeat crumble I had made as my contribution to lunch so I finally arrived just before everyone else stopped for a tea break.

The job for the day was to put everything back into the barn kitchen after it had been given a massive make-over. The barn is used by Phil and Michelle to store the hay they make by hand and various bits of equipment. And like most sheds and barns it also becomes the home of lots of ‘might come in useful’ things that are given to the Trust. It is available as a venue to hire for courses and events, and people camping in the fields use it too. The kitchen had been kitted out over the years with a motley collection of old furniture, pans, crockery and cutlery plus an elderly but still functional gas stove. And over the years ‘stuff’ had accumulated. As far as I know no-one ever suffered any ill-effects from eating in there and most of what I ate was prepared off-site and brought to be shared but let’s just say I decided not to take a ‘before’ photo!

The new kitchen – almost tidied!

Last year we all agreed that it was time to do something about it and we asked Matt Douglas, who has lived at and around the Trust land on and off over the years so is well known to us, to strip out the old furniture and build us a new kitchen in the space. Matt is an artist who supplements his income by doing jobs like the kitchen in return for somewhere to live,  plus some pay if he works more than part time. He had already done a great job for us on a caravan which leaked and needed upgrading. One workday last autumn we emptied all the cupboards and sent loads of junk to the re-cycling centre so that he could start work. Then, using mostly a collection of old doors we had been given and other salvaged timber he made a partition to close off the kitchen from the rest of the barn and designed and built us new kitchen cupboards and worktops in the space. He was amazingly creative in finding ways to make something out of stuff that had mainly been destined for skips! I should perhaps explain that Phil’s Dad was a womble before anyone had heard of wombles! He collects materials that other people are throwing away, brings them to the Trust and spends his visits using them to help Phil and Michelle.

A new volunteer, Lindy, offered to wash up the crockery, pans and cutlery before it went away and it took most of the day! We re-homed almost everything and sent the rest to the recycling centre – we must have been even more ruthless this time! We also dug under the hay stack to find an old rayburn that we had been given and moved it roughly into place in the kitchen ready for it to be renovated and installed.

In the gardens

Sunday involved a trip to the National Botanic Gardens of Wales with the Carmarthenshire Permaculture group to hear about the next phase of their ‘Growing the Future’ project. Phase 1 was about encouraging more people to grow their own food and there is still work happening with schools on that front plus a demonstration garden run by Peter and Alison who administrate the permaculture group. Phase 2 is work identifying the best ways to attract and provide for, pollinators in gardens. Three PhD students are running experiments and hope to produce a wildflower seed mix tailored to Wales. Because Peter is also very interested in local history he told us about another ambitious project in the Gardens to restore as much of the landscape to how it was when the estate was bought by a wealthy gentleman in the Regency period and laid out as parkland with seven lakes, most of which had been lost.

The Growing the future garden

I left there after another delicious shared lunch because it was also Hen Galan, Old New Year’s Day and the traditional time for Rob, Jeni and I to wassail our apple trees. Rob S who has come to live in the cabin and I went over to Llanfach and we blessed the trees there with toast soaked in cider, recited a traditional rhyme then banged pans with wooden spoons to scare away the evil spirits. Then it was back here to bless my trees. As well as an orchard right at the top of my land, there are other trees scattered around as I try to establish where they do best, so we just did the one on the drive as a representative. Then it was indoors to eat the supper I had prepared, drink cider and wine and generally have a lovely evening in good company. No photos because it was too dark outside!

A really enjoyable and interesting weekend spending time with old friends and making new ones. But a quiet Monday was very welcome!

Apple and mincemeat and crumble

This recipe for mincemeat came from ‘the crafty cook’ who had a slot on Classic fm years ago – so long ago the weights are imperial!  It contains no fat, is easy to make and can be used straight away or stored. I have made it most years since. I layered it in the crumble I made with apples I had bottled from Marie’s orchard.

Mincemeat

2lb eating apples grated

1lb sultanas

1lb raisins

8oz currants

8oz mixed peel

4oz soft brown sugar

grated rind and juice 1 orange

1/2 teaspn allspice

1/2 teaspn nutmeg

1/2 teaspn cinnamon

1/2 pt cloudy apple juice

Mix everything together in a big pan and simmer for 1/2 hour. Meanwhile sterilise and warm some jars. Pot the mincemeat and screw on the lids.

Crumble topping (the cheat’s way)

by weight – I used 3oz for each part because it was a big dish but any spare keeps in the fridge for a week or two or in the freezer for ages so if you make too much do not worry – you have some for another day

2 parts plain flour

1 part semolina

1 part porridge oats

1 part demerera sugar

1 part butter

Melt the butter and combine well with everything else.

Put a layer of apples in an ovenproof dish, spoon a layer of mincemeat on top then put a layer of crumble over that. Bake for about 30 mins at 180 – 200 deg until nicely brown on top and everything is hot and cooked through. Exact timing depends on the size of your dish!

Am I working?

I have had another of those ‘several things coming together to make me think’ times. Whilst Mrs Snail and I were indulging in lunch at Studio 3 we somehow got onto the topic of retirement. I officially retired just over 8 years ago when I got my State pension and John and I decided to claim our small (in my case minuscule!) private ones as well. In terms of transitions it was barely a ripple. I had been John’s full time carer for a few years so day-to-day life didn’t change at all. The big difference was that my state pension was several times bigger than the carers allowance I had been getting and with the private pensions as well we could stop quailing at the sight of envelopes with windows in!

IMG_0097

A rag rug made from re-cycled fabric

Then another friend, Jasmine Dale, sent me a piece she had written for the online magazine ‘Dark Mountain’ asking me to give her feedback on the final draft before she submitted it. In order to read it in the context in which it would be published I found the site for Dark Mountain and read the ‘about’ page  and a couple of published articles – including one about work (find it here) which argued that our conventional definition which limits ‘work’ to ‘paid employment’ is too narrow and excludes voluntary, caring, intellectual or emotional work thereby discriminating against women, the disabled and the unemployed / retired. This resonated strongly with me because at present my daughter works as a Learning Support Assistant in a primary school where she spends half her time working one-to-one with children with serious long term difficulties (an 8 year old who consistently self-harms, an autistic 10 year old….) and is therefore regularly on the receiving end of physical or emotional abuse. The other half she works with children individually  or in small groups to provide support through difficult situations such as family trauma, being a young carer.. For this she is paid, once unpaid preparation time and buying bits of equipment herself are taken into account,  barely above the minimum wage. My son is a software developer managing technical projects for IT companies. In his present job the worst that can happen if he makes a mistake is that some executive’s G & T will not be waiting for him in the executive lounge at the airport during his stopover. For this he is paid monopoly money. Luckily all three of us are very well aware of how ludicrous this discrepancy is and the true value of the work each of them does.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
seedling trees found weeded out of the garden plus others grown from pips grown on for re-planting

Then I listened to a podcast of ‘Thinking Allowed : Work – what is it good for?’ (BBC radio 4 broadcast on 2nd January 2019) It covered a lot of ground but 3 things stood out for me:

Firstly that until the 1800’s the distinction between work and leisure was much less clear for most people. Work was done in or around the home and those elements which generated cash were much less distinct from those which sustained the household. It was only with the enclosures and the Industrial revolution that ‘work’ came to be seen as what was done for money outside the home whilst work inside the home was not ‘real work’.

Cooking, preserving and baking

Secondly that whilst there are benefits which accrue for having a job – pay, structure to the day, something to do, socialising with colleagues – there are, in many cases, downsides and even harm from the insecurities of temporary or zero-hours contracts, the abuse and isolation which targets can produce and the de-humanising effect of constant surveillance.

studying

And thirdly that in our culture idleness is demonised even though this is when we reflect, daydream or simply recuperate.

gardening

And me? Well for most of my adult life I did work I enjoyed in teams which were very mutually supportive and whilst the pay was not great it was enough for my needs. Just as changes in management made it less rewarding in the non-financial sense, John’s health deteriorated and my hearing began to fail so I had no trouble deciding to leave. Do I work now? Is doing the Diploma in Permaculture design work? Is learning Welsh? I could quite legitimately describe myself as ‘part-time student’. Is gardening and cutting firewood work? Is volunteering work? I am as active physically, mentally and in my communities as I ever was – the difference is that I am now paid by the government whether I do these things or not. An argument for a universal basic income?

friends, family and community

What I still find difficult is to be idle! The protestant work ethic runs deep. Plus there are so many things I enjoy doing and others I would like to try. I really will have to live to over 100!

I would love to hear what you think of as ‘work’, whether you enjoy it, whether you are looking forward to or dreading retiring, have retired and are enjoying it or hating it and if any of the ideas in this post resonate with you/

PS I couldn’t think of pictures to illustrate most of these ideas so have used ones of ‘work’ I do!

 

2018 Goes out with a bang, 2019 comes in with a splutter!

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
Dom and Beccy moving in

Some of you will remember that from summer 2017 I spent a year getting the cabin in the garden renovated so that it could be lived in all year round. Last October Dom, who had just finished his degree in film, and who knew of me through his Great aunt, a good friend of mine, moved in to live there rent free in return for helping me in the garden and woods two days a week. Unfortunately he quickly realised that it was too remote for him especially with limited broadband and no mobile signal, and left again.

I put the word out to friends and the Permaculture networks that I was looking for someone else and sure enough several people got in touch. They all loved the cabin and surroundings but for each of them there was an insurmountable practical problem. Then the last one to turn it down asked if he could pass my phone number to a friend who wanted to move back to the area. He did and this time it all worked out. So a few days later Rob moved in and to my delight immediately started to make it into a home for himself.

The cabin with Rob’s windchimes, pots of plants and garden furniture outside.

Strangely, although we have lived in the same area we know very few people in common although there are ‘friends of friends’ connections. It soon became apparent that Rob loves tidying or, as he puts it un-muddling muddles! – and as I am very good at muddling this could work out well! One of the first jobs we tackled together was to tidy the workshop so he could put his lathe in there and he was very good at sorting the wood stacks out and getting everything to fit more neatly.

Neatly stacked wood and Rob setting up his lathe and tools

The following week I met my friend Jan aka Mrs Snail of ‘The Snail of Happiness’ (find her blog here) for lunch at Studio 3 in Cardigan. It only opened at the start of December with a gallery, small shop of handmade craft items, workshop space and cafe but even so we got the last available table. We enjoyed a lovely meal and long catch-up (although they were busy no-one was hurrying us – in fact whilst I went to the counter to order more tea for us both a waitress came to clear our plates and stayed chatting!) The timetable of workshops for the week was on a blackboard and we both saw several we fancied so it was no surprise when Jan’s husband gave her a day on bookmaking in March for her birthday and she suggested I go too.

Later that week I met up with Martin, who built the deck for me, and his partner Gill at Crowes, another cafe in town which was new to me – excellent coffee and the food, all organic and vegetarian, looked good too. Then it was lunch on the Saturday before Christmas at the home of some lovely friends, Dom’s Great aunt and her husband. My son, being Muslim, does not celebrate Christmas but as it is a day when no-one is working he cooks a huge roast dinner for his family, now 7 strong with the foster children, and his brother-in-laws’s family who live down the road plus anyone else they know will be glad of the company. My daughter was in Exmouth at her Father-in-law’s as it was the first Christmas since her Mother-in-law died. I was happy to spend the day alone but my lovely friends Jeni and Rob who I see often and live nearby gave such a warm invitation that I joined them for roast goose from their own flock.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
Jeni and Rob’s lovely old cob cottage on their smallholding

img_20190106_145618693Then Carrie arrived on the 27th to spend some time with me. I had taken the Christmas decorations out of the loft and decided that I needed better shelving in there but could not decide whether to buy racking or find the studs in the walls and put up homemade shelves. She had bought some fairly cheap plastic shelving for her own home and been surprised how sturdy it was. We went online, bought it and cleared everything out of the loft. It was delivered next day so we put it together and put everything back. I could not believe how much more space there was! It helped that I put a very old DVD recorder to go to the recycling center, found 3 old laptops and asked Hassan to remove the hard drives, check them for photos I might want to keep and destroy them, and there were 2 boxes of books put there so I could retrieve them if I found I needed to –  but as that was 2 years ago they are en route to the charity shops!

Thanks to all the help there is space to start a new compost heap, filled beds ready for planting in a greenhouse, a pergola for the vine and the hedge is complete.

Hassan and Sean arrived the next day in time for Marie and Rose’s, now annual, visit to help in the garden on the Sunday. You can read about their efforts last year ( A Day of Visitors). Sean was too full of cold to do anything but huddle on the sofa with a supply of tissues but Marie and Rose emptied two compost bins and filled up the beds in one of the greenhouses,  Carrie and Rob cut up a huge pile of brash into kindling and Carrie also kept us supplied with tea and coffee. Hassan went in the workshop and prepared timbers for a pergola on the toolshed and I took some panes of glass out of the walls between the greenhouses to improve airflow. My daughter-in-law Narju had made a big vegan curry and sent it with her menfolk, Carrie boiled rice to go with it and Rose had brought apple tarts for pudding – a feast. After lunch we all carried some of the wood for the pergola up the hill and Rob helped Hassan to put it together with the rest of us holding things in place as needed. Marie and Rose planted seedling trees where there were gaps in a hedge I had planted on the edge of the veg patch using seedlings I had weeded out and saved in pots. Carrie and I finished the last bits of brash and then we all had tea and cake. I am always surprised how much gets done when a few of us work together and how much fun it is.

On New Year’s Day Hassan took Sean, now feeling better, back to Swansea and drove Carrie home before finally getting back to his own family late evening. Unfortunately they left Sean’s cold behind and I spent a couple of days unable to do much apart from cough and sneeze! I suspect that after such a busy, if enjoyable, couple of weeks my body was telling me to stop. I am still coughing sometimes but feeling fine and rested so on with 2019!

A Merry Start to Christmas

Those of you who have been following this blog for  while will remember that over the summer Chris, Matt and their family who run C & M organics started holding markets on Saturday mornings. They were a way of providing a space for new food producers in the area to sell their wares and meet potential customers even if they had not reached a size where it was sensible to obtain proper ‘Organic’ status. If you missed the post you can read about it here

When Autumn came around there was less to sell and the market stopped but a collective decision was made to hold a Christmas one with craftspeople invited to join in as well. So last Saturday two marquees were in place on the yard, heaters on full blast, Christmas music on low, a table set with activities to keep children amused, two pigmy goats for us all to coo over, plenty of food and drink to consume and lots of beautiful things to buy. I think we were all wondering what the turnout would be like. Weekends in December are always busy for people with visiting and being visited, general preparations and, of course, lots of special events. To make matters worse the weather forecast was awful and it rained hard all morning. But  in fact within an hour of the start things were beginning to buzz and by lunchtime the marquees were heaving, the car park was full and people were leaving their cars in lay-bys and walking the rest of the way. Everyone was smiling, chatting, eating, drinking mulled wine (or a non-alcoholic version), spending and having a great time. There was an amazing feeling of a community having formed and come together to celebrate – whether the Winter Solstice, Christmas or just the turning of the year people wanted to meet and mark it in the company of their  local friends.

Three days later in the Welsh class two people who are very involved in their local areas were saying that one of the problems they face is the lack of young people. In villages where the majority of the residents are elderly it is hard to find anyone with the energy to organise events or to do jobs like maintaining the  public spaces. It made me realise how many young people and families were at the market and what a difference they make to the collective energy level. And one of the factors attracting them is that there is a growing group of One Planet Developements (read more here)  – Lammas ( read about the eco-village here here) came first and others have come to use the policy but where they can access the support of others on the same path. A number of us who are older, particularly Chris and Matt,  have welcomed them and supported them in whatever ways we can and between us something very special has happened. What a privilege to be part of it!

Bamboo

Many years ago my husband took a fancy to having some bamboo in the garden. In his quest for self-reliance it seemed a good idea to grow his own canes and maybe some bamboo shoots to eat too? He mentioned this idea to a local couple who told him they needed to move a clump of bamboo which was ‘in the wrong place’ and he could dig up a few pieces if he liked. So off we went, spades and forks in hand, to get some free plants. What was not to like?

We should have turned round when we saw the clump. Having cut it back to the ground our neighbours had tried to dig it up and failed so had built a bonfire on top of it. And still it was putting up new shoots! Undeterred John managed to prise up 3 shoots with tiny bits of root on them, all the while assuring me that he would keep them well in check and wouldn’t they look good as a screen between the drive and the path to the veg patch? I let myself be persuaded.

Back home he put out three old tyres on the bank then dug planting holes with a crowbar (The terracing had not long been finished so they were going into compacted stone), added compost and plants and waited to see how they fared. All three took but the poor conditions gave them a slow start so we were lulled into a false sense of security. Just as John became too ill to do much in the garden they got going properly and started to take over the whole bank – as a limbering up exercise for their ultimate goal of world domination. By the time he died they were popping up all over the place – through the  potentilla, under the bird cherry and giving the crab apple a really hard time.

So every year I have to spend a day cutting them down to size. At least the tyres give me an edge to work to! Even quite small stems are too tough and too bendy for the scythe and they quickly blunt it so each one has to be cut to ground level with secateurs or loppers, a tedious job and hard on the knees and back. Last year I cut everything off one root and that has slowed its height but not its spread! And every scrap has to be disposed of carefully. Even the smallest root will take (hence our original success) and where I dumped the bits in a hedge one year there is now another clump – luckily where it is competing with trees, out of the way in a wild section, and I can ignore it!

And those bamboo shoots for a stirfry? I spoke to someone who grew bamboo for that purpose and was told that whilst they are technically edible we should have chosen a named variety developed for eating. He also said that I would really need to mark them as they emerge and cut them on the correct day. There are easier ways to fill my belly and I grow a big enough range of edibles not to need them for variety.

I do keep the taller, stronger pieces as garden canes. Once I have peeled off the sheathes where the side shoots develop, a job I can do under cover, I put them in the roofs and eaves of the greenhouses to dry out. The tops, side shoots, small canes and the sheathes all dry out on the floor of the lean-to greenhouse which is concrete so they cannot root. Once they are dry I will break them up for kindling – as you can see they will light a fair few fires!

There are some other good points in their favour. They do make a good screen and I love their elegant shape and rustling sound. They are such thugs that even brambles don’t grow through their roots and the bindweed has so far declined to try. Of the three the bamboo are the by far the most decorative so they can stay. For now.

 

Beam me up, Kevin!

If you have been following this blog for a while you may remember that over the summer I was without an internet connection for several weeks. It transpired that a fault with the line was repaired but the engineer forgot to reset something in the exchange, then the exchange connection failed but BT Openreach insisted it must be my router (for those of you not from the UK we have a weird system here as a result of the sell off of utilities by the government in the 80’s. The phone network was sold to BT who hived off the lines and exchanges to a subsidiary they named Openreach. They allow a number of telecoms providers to use the system but faults have to be repaired by Openreach engineer. As you can imagine this results in all sorts of problems with Openreach taking the default position that all faults are due to the provider or the householder.) The phone co-op sent me a new router, blissfully unaware that, by chance, it was a faulty one! By the time it was all sorted out I was on first name terms with everyone in their Tech support team !

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI was lucky enough to have good friends Jeni and Rob who generously allowed me to drive over every day and use their connection to collect emails and do anything like on-line banking which required a secure private connection. I was also able to get online at the Cardigan and Carmarthen libraries, and in breaks during the Welsh class since Cardigan castle has a public wi-fi network.

However I have trained everyone to use email rather than the phone as my hearing makes phone calls hard work so being without a connection at home was a pain. My amazing son donned his shining armour, mounted his charger and came to the rescue! He is a software developer so knew about the alternatives to a landline connection.

Plan A was to use a mobile signal. I knew that to make a mobile call I had to climb up to the top of the garden and although visitors sometimes get a signal on their phones on whichever network they use it is only occasional.  But maybe if I had a small mast on top of the house or one of the buildings in the garden…? He had also discovered that the Welsh Government had a scheme whereby households with a poor landline connection which was not scheduled to be upgraded, and no mobile signal could get a grant to enable them to put in a mast or satellite dish. We filled in the forms and commissioned a survey. But despite the maps showing I should get a decent data signal all the chap could find was a weak voice one right at the top of my land and no data signal anywhere. Everyone else in the valley can get a connection but I am right at the bottom and in the shadow of the hills.

That left a satellite system and he assured us that as I had previously been able to get TV through a satellite I would be OK. I would have to pay £45 to top up the grant but that was about the same as changing provider and opting for a new, factory set, router which seemed reasonable. The monthly charge is comparable with the landline. We sent a new quote to the government and waited for them to decide if I qualified. It took them a few weeks of thinking but they concluded that I did and a couple of weeks after receiving the approval letter a lovely man called Kevin came and put up a dish, lined it up with the satellite, installed a modem and got me connected. He even connected an extra piece my son, Hassan, had bought to give me wi-fi as well as an ethernet connection, made sure that my laptop and iPad had connected properly and checked that the speed was as needed for the grant before he left.

Screenshot (1)So now I get 12 Mb/sec instead of 2 or 3 on a good day as as I used to. Using it for Skype is a bit odd since there is a slight lag whilst the speech goes out into space and back again – I will have to start using 2-way radio protocol and saying ‘over’ when I have finished speaking! But overall it is faster, more reliable and involves no more wrangling with Openreach ever! Well until the landline for the phone goes wrong!

Thank you Hassan, Richard at Bentley Walker and Kevin for beaming me up.

Starting in the middle

In order to write up my various projects for my Permaculture Diploma I have been going back through my books to remind myself of the structures and principles. And something has struck me. Although it is not explicit, there is an assumption that the site is essentially bare. The same seems to be true for most Permaculture Design Courses. Given the origins of Permaculture this is perhaps not surprising and I suspect that current teachers and writers, understandably pick up the assumption and, because it is not explicit, do not notice it so carry it on. But it has consequences.

blogOPD1Firstly it explains why so many people who have done a course feel impelled to go and buy a field! I say impelled because some of them may have perfectly satisfactory lives in a town somewhere but ‘How to use Permaculture to improve your life in an office job and a three bed terraced house in Anytown’ doesn’t seem quite right.

Others, of course, did the course precisely because they want to move to the country and earn a living from a piece of land. For them One Planet Developement planning policy is a way to get a home and smallholding with very little capital and Permaculture is the ideal design system to make it work. Read more about OPD here The downside is that existing smallholdings are often bought up by larger farms and the house sold off with just a smallish garden to retirees or as a second home. Or they become hobby farms or somewhere to keep the ponies for the children. One working smallholding is replaced by one somewhere else plus an incoming household which further changes the demographics and the income profile of the community. Does it matter? I cannot be sure but my instinct tells me that it does.

I have to say I envy OPD people for being able to start from scratch. We moved here before that policy was in place and in order to have a house that did not have near neighbours but did have a large garden we had to buy an existing one. We had thought very carefully and made a list of things we wanted – this house was the best we could get. We were free to replace the rotten windows and to reconfigure the inside but the outside had to remain essentially the same. Would we have designed a house to this footprint? NO!! Originally two cottages it is long and thin which means it has a large surface area for the volume and that makes it expensive to heat. Would we have built a different design on that footprint? YES!! For example although the windows are larger than the original ones would have been, probably due to building regulations when it was renovated from derelict in the 70’s, they are smaller than we would have chosen given that the house faces due South and could get better solar gain. Would we have built on the same spot? Yes. Which brings me to my second thought about permaculture as taught and written about. The lack of emphasis given to ‘futureproofing’ (I say that with the benefit of hindsight – it never occurred to us at the time as I will explain!)

We bought a house set back into a steep slope, south facing, with a fairly level garden a few feet below it next to the stream and a steep bank between.  Once the large self sown trees had been cleared from the garden we had a clear space to work with. So whilst in the house we were constrained by what was already there, the garden was the blank canvas we preferred. It provided a nice view from the windows and, once we had arranged a path to drop gently down across the slope it was easy to move loads up or down.  Then we had the chance to buy more land behind the house and beyond it. It was so steep we had it terraced but it was another blank canvas. Except that the position of the house was fixed. Since it took 2 years to get the terracing done we had plenty of time to think about what went where but it boiled down to ‘least worst’ options. If the veg patch was by the stream that meant we did not have the sitting area in the nicest place. Whilst the renovations were ongoing the workshop needed to be at house level so the veg ended up on the higher terrace. I curse that decision every time I push a bag of compost up the hill!

And now that the house is finished and John has died, the workshop is only used occasionally but to knock it down, make a veg patch there then build a new workshop higher up seems too much work for the gain. It would, though help with water collection. I can collect huge amounts of rainwater from the roofs of the house and the sheds but need most higher up where there are only the greenhouses and a small shed to collect from. We designed for two fit people in their 40’s both with part time jobs and part time on the holding; Now I am nearing 70, retired but not wanting to work full time on the land and looking at how I can adapt this place to suit me when I am 100.  That is what my Diploma is about. But I often think rather ruefully that ‘If I was going there I wouldn’t start from here’! Why is there nowhere to buy hindsight?