Lessons from Lockdown

When our children were babies my husband worked for a while as an Audit Assistant with the local Council. It was a small Council and Audit got various jobs that didn’t really belong to any department or took up slack when other departments were unusually busy. One day he was asked to review the insurance for all the Council vehicles before it was renewed. ‘Just think of the worst accident you can imagine and make sure we would be OK’ was the instruction from his boss. His scenario involved a bin lorry, failed brakes, a steep hill between busy shops and with the Council Offices at the bottom.

More importantly it made him think about our lives. What could go wrong? What would the consequences be? Did we have the ‘insurance’ to cope? From then on he was known for his ‘belt, braces and a bit of baler twine just in case’ approach. That seemingly trivial task at work became a foundation stone for our lives. We didn’t become fearful or paranoid, just determined to think about our resilience and try always to have plan ‘B’.

Soft fruit gives a lot of yield for little effort

We agreed that we would try to accumulate useful practical skills going as far back down the process as possible and to do so using only the most basic equipment. I knew how to sew but learned how to mend, do patchwork using recycled fabric, sew by hand as well as machine, relearned how to knit and crochet, then to spin and to dye using natural ingredients (I am not very good at either but know enough that I could become competent). John added DIY and building to his ‘O’level woodwork then did a weekend course in blacksmithing. We learned to garden and to cook with what was available rather than starting with a recipe and buying the ingredients. Foraging increased the range of foodstuffs we could use. Preserving kept summer foods for winter use. We kept poultry and pigs for meat and eggs.

The spinning wheel I have been lent and the workshop

I hope I am not giving the impression that I live (or have lived) some buccolic idyll of self sufficiency. Complete self sufficiency is a myth. It is also part of the ‘I’m all right Jack’ bunker mentality of the survivalists. I happily accept gifts from neighbours, shop from local farms and buy staples like flour and sugar from the supermarket. I enjoy eating bananas and lemons that will not grow in the UK. I heat my home predominantly with electricity and since heat is needed mainly when the sun is not shining I need the National grid to take surplus power when I have it and sell me some when I need it. I use more than I generate so I am dependent on other suppliers particularly over winter. I prefer to use hand tools but am realistic about the efficiency of powered ones. And so on.

Allowing kales to self seed looks messy but gives me an early crop for no work. Small ones for salad and big ones to cook.

The last few weeks has been the first big test of that resilience for a long time. I have coped pretty well. Not pefectly so there are things I need to think about but on the whole well enough. I am of course lucky to be retired – my income is not dependent on me being able to work. I don’t have young children to care for and school or entertain. Having a mortgage free home in the country with a large garden has been a great blessing and is partly down to luck and partly to hard work and choices. Food in the garden, hedgerows to forage in, preserves and a well stocked freezer mean I have had plenty to eat and gardening, crafting, dogs and a home to look after have given me plenty to do.

Workdays and permaculture groups have made me lots of friends

Getting to know my neighbours, building a wider community by joining in things and volunteering means I have had plenty of offers of help with things like shopping and lots of electronic contact with others. My washing machine stopped working with a smell of hot rubber and some expensive noises just after lockdown started. I could have ordered a new one online for home delivery but I suspect it can be repaired and I know a very competent man who will come and look at it – but not at the moment. My neighbour has been doing my washing each week since and has been pleased to help me since she was becoming embarassed about asking me to drive her children to clubs when she had two of them needing to go in opposite directions at the same time. Of course I have missed being able to go out and meet friends for coffee, walks on the beach, visitors coming here, workdays… but I haven’t been lonely or felt vulnerable.

So where could I do better? I didn’t have enough pet food to see me through even the original 3 week lockdown. I buy dog and cat food in sacks from the farmers co-op but in future I need to have an unopened sack of each as well as the one I am using. That means I also need to make sure there is space for them in the new utility room. I can adjust my diet to suit what is growing but it is harder to do that for the animals! I also went to the vets and got some more of the pain relief medicine Orchid needs. I was a bit over cautious there as the bottle will finally run out tomorrow but even so I need to keep a better supply in future.

C&M have closed the trust shop but between 10am and 2pm Thursday, Friday and Saturday they are open to take orders called through the window. They put everything requested together in a box which is put outside the door for the customer to pick up.

I have been going to C&M for fresh fruit and veg, butter and cheese. I decided a few years ago that potatoes, onions and carrots were not worth growing. Potatoes because I always miss some when I dig them up and get ‘volunteers’ the next year which outcompete the things I am trying to grow, onions because they came out the same size as the sets that went in and carrots because the local carrot root flies get them all. This year I have been able to get some manure to improve my veg patch and am planting lots of leeks instead of onions. I had intended growing some potatoes in pots which I could empty completely when I harvested them but missed the seed potatoes. Butter and cheese I can start keeping in the freezer. So I just need to tweak my growing and storing. On the other hand by shopping there I have been supporting a local business – a balance to be struck.

preserves have been a boon

The other thing I have needed to buy is milk. I have been thinking about that gap for a while and had a go at milking a goat at a friend’s place a while back. Going back into livestock isn’t something to do on a whim or for an unusual event but I do need to have another think.

Of course if this goes on for much longer I will run out of other things, there will be other breakages and breakdowns. My hair needs cutting and since I had it cut short I no longer have slides and clips to keep it out of my eyes. A dental appointment has been postponed. A former neighbour died and I was unable to go to the funeral – it should have been a ‘standing room only’ affair but must have been very small instead – not a fitting send-off for a very popular and respected man.

Sometime fairly soon lockdown will be eased if not lifted and I will be very glad. I will enjoy a trip into Cardigan to have a coffee, meet friends, go to the library, buy some more knitting yarn and restock at the supermarket. I will get my hair cut, my tooth filled and my washing machine repaired. But I owe a huge debt of gratitude to that imaginary bin lorry!

20 thoughts on “Lessons from Lockdown

  1. nanacathy2 May 4, 2020 / 8:17 am

    Aboout thirty years ago we moved to a village in Oxfordshire, and much to my surprise we were snowed in the first Winter one weekend, three sons and a cat and no food as we usually shopped once a week. As a Yorkshire person who was well used to very heavy snow and snow ploughs I was totally throw when no snow ploughs appeared. We were stuck. Long story short, we bought a large chest freezer, and since then I have always carried a couple of weeks food in reserve. certainly helped when the panic buying happened here in March. Amazing how we learn these life lessons.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Going Batty in Wales May 4, 2020 / 9:30 am

      We got snowed in very soon after we moved here too. That time it was quite brief but a couple of times it has been weeks before we have been able to get out – our lane is too small for the Council to plough. It was certainly another factor in me keeping large stocks of food all the time!


  2. DawnGillDesigns May 4, 2020 / 9:56 am

    I grow my carrots in a raised bed, and find that deters the worst of the flies


    • Going Batty in Wales May 4, 2020 / 10:00 am

      I have tried that – first in not very high ones and then in tubs almost 3 feet high. I am not sure if it is because I am on such a steep slope so the little devils can launch from uphill and fly level but they always got them! I also tried interplanting with garlic, onions and leeks to no avail. Then I discovered my friend Phil has given up on them for the same reason and if he can’t grow them then I feel justified in giving up too.

      Liked by 1 person

      • DawnGillDesigns May 4, 2020 / 10:31 am

        lol, absolutely! We’ve used double height deck boards, (the bed is 2.4 x 1.2m) so they now have to go up and over. It’s quite flat though, so they don’t have the advantage of a higher runway, of course it could be that English ones aren’t as persistent or acrobatic as Welsh!!

        Liked by 1 person

      • Going Batty in Wales May 5, 2020 / 10:22 am

        I suspect they pole-vault! Phil says they like sandy soil and dry windy conditions – I have clay and lots of rain plus I am very sheltered. If they were a high value crop I might persist but I can buy very nice ones quite cheaply from C&M so that is what I do.

        Liked by 1 person

  3. tialys May 4, 2020 / 10:28 am

    A very interesting read, thank you.
    I’m wondering how long the wait will be to get a hairdressing appointment as most of the women in the land will probably be on the phone as soon as possible.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Going Batty in Wales May 5, 2020 / 10:19 am

      When the salon phoned me to say they were closing and my scheduled appointment was cancelled they offered to phone me when they open again. I don’t suppose I will get an appointment straight away especially if they have to limit numbers in the room. I may have to take a pair of scissors to my fringe myself or I won’t be able to see past it soon!


  4. Helen May 4, 2020 / 10:49 am

    It made me smile when you gave your rationale for not growing potatoes, carrots and onions. I’ve not had carrot fly because carrots don’t even grow, like you onions tend to stay the same size as the sets and I didn’t have enough space for a reasonable amount of potatoes.

    Anyway, I love the story of how your husband was introduced to the idea of being prepared and what you both did about it.

    I’m glad you have a neighbour who is doing your washing. With the best will in the world, hand washing is a lot of hard work!


    • Going Batty in Wales May 5, 2020 / 10:24 am

      Hand washing is indeed hard work. The worst thing is not being able to spin things so they drip everywhere and take ages to dry!


      • Helen May 5, 2020 / 11:14 am

        I was rubbed the skin off my thumb from wringing clothes out!

        Liked by 1 person

      • Going Batty in Wales May 6, 2020 / 10:24 am


        Liked by 1 person

  5. Laurie Graves May 4, 2020 / 2:17 pm

    Such a good post! Nuanced and thoughtful. As you noted, complete self-sufficiency is a myth. But we can all become more resilient, more capable of handling difficult situations. And this is one heck of a difficult situation. Unfortunately, in my country, all too many people are having ugly meltdowns. Makes the bad situation worse. Anyway, I took great comfort in what you wrote. Many thanks! Stay well, be safe!


    • Going Batty in Wales May 5, 2020 / 10:30 am

      Thank you Laurie. We can all do more to be prepared for things that go wrong but lots of people prefer not to look at possible problems. Mental resilience is another thing we can build but any of us can get overwhelmed if problems come in packs. You stay safe too.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Laurie Graves May 5, 2020 / 2:21 pm

        Yes. And I think that even when things have gone terribly wrong, the way they have now, there is great comfort in knowing you have prepared the best you can.


  6. June Lorraine Roberts May 4, 2020 / 3:12 pm

    So enjoyed your post! Your hard work has paid off for you in many ways and you reap the benefits. 🙂


    • Going Batty in Wales May 5, 2020 / 10:32 am

      Thank you! There have been some lucky breaks to help me (and some unlucky ones too – life has not all been hunky dorey!) but I am very glad I was prepared.

      Liked by 1 person

  7. onesmallstitch May 13, 2020 / 8:30 pm

    what a wonderful post, I’ve read it 3 times and am amazed at how well you are prepared, not just for this ugly “moment” in time but life in general. I lived on 2 different sail boats for 7 years with a husband and 2 kids. Part of the time we sailed offshore. First to Calf., Mexico and across to Hawaii and then down the coast, through the Panama Canal, spent a year cruising the Caribean and then back up the coast to B.C. I learned how to store food for long periods of time, bake bread in a pressure cooker and feed 4 on a gimbled stove while hanging on for dear life. It is amazing what humans can learn to do when they have to. Stay safe and well and keep doing what you do so well. Hugs.


    • Going Batty in Wales May 14, 2020 / 10:07 am

      WOW! Thank you so much Jean!
      That must have been quite some adventure you had. Years ago we bought a 27 foot sea going catamaran but we never sailed very far. It did teach me how much I can live without if I have to and, like you, how to manage for quite long periods without shopping.
      Now I really wih even more that we could meet – you must have wonderful stories to tell.
      Keep safe and huigs to you too.

      Liked by 1 person

      • onesmallstitch May 14, 2020 / 3:23 pm

        Sue – I too think we would enjoy meeting in person but at least we have the internet. 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

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