Moving imto 2023

For some time now I have felt to be at a point of stasis, of transition. Not that I have been still; life has been full and busy. But of fidgeting on the spot, restless but unsure which direction to take next. I know the feeling well. And I know that there is no point rushing, trying to forge ahead down a new path which will probably prove to be the wrong one and result in an undignified U-turn. So I have waited, not patiently, for the direction to reveal itself.

This Christmas has been unusual. There was the long cold spell when for over a week I was confined by the ice to the house and garden. But the weather was glorious – cold, but sunny and clear, invigorating. Just as it was ending my son, daughter and her new partner came to stay for the weekend. The ice was melting by day, the rain was pouring down, and the nights were chilly enough to make the thaw slow. We stayed indoors and stoked the fire. They left and I dashed around re-stocking with food, and delivering a few local gifts and cards. Today is Day 3 of the Official Holiday as we have an extra day to compensate for Christmas Day being a Sunday. 3 Days of solitude (by choice – I had plenty of invitations to join others for Christmas lunch), walking the dogs and sitting by the fire. 3 Days of eating (especially chocolate), drinking (including more gin than I really should), reading, knitting, listening to podcasts and watching TV on catch-up and, most especially, reflection. And I think the way ahead is beginning to become clearer; plans and ideas beginning to coalesce. More of which in a future post.

Two books have been really helpful in this process.

In order of reading the first is ‘Hagitude’ by Sharon Blackie. It’s sub-title is ‘Re-imagining the second half of life’. Her thesis is that, culturally, we post-menopausal women are supposed to grow old gracefully, fading gradually into decrepitude and death, when what we should be doing is growing into elderhood and power and she shares myths and legends suggesting how that might manifest itself. Sharon uses different imagery but it brought to mind memories from way back.

Many, many years ago, when my children were toddling, I was warden of some sheltered flats for the elderly. I found an image came into my head of my residents as trees which had shed their leaves, revealing their underlying structure and shape. Some were graceful and elegant, some had been bent by the wind so that they were hunched and stunted, some had a tall and disciplined shape, others had much looser arrangements of branches. I reckon I have lost most of my leaves now. The leaves being the social constructs of acceptable behaviour to which we conform. They soften our edges, obscure our less nice bits, make us nicer to know, if less knowable. I am much less likely now to say ‘Yes’ when I really want to say ‘No’ though I hope I still (mostly) do it nicely and politely. I have always been a disappointment to the purveyors of beauty products. My wrinkles are free to sag at will, my hair is tabby – white bits, grey bits, brown bits – and I see no reason to dye it, my one concession to ‘looking nice’ being, since I had my long hair cut short for practicality, a good hair cut regularly. Now, it seems, life is encouraging me to prune away a few branches and allow some new one to grow. Another transition, metamorphosis. What will be revealed?

The second book is ‘The Salt Path’ by Raynor Winn. I picked up her sequel ‘The Wild Silence’ in the library as one of my random choices and immediately I had read it requested this one. In one week her husband was told he had an incurable neuro-degeneratiuve disease and their home, which was also their business, was reposessed. As two adults with no dependents they were low priority for a Council house, they didn’t want to sofa surf knowing they would soon be intrusive to, and resented by, their hosts however old the firendship, so they set off to walk the South West Coast Path wild camping all the way, giving themselves time and space to find a way forward. I still have a couple of chapters to read and then I need to digest what it means. I am not sure why it was so important I read this book right now but know that it was. Maybe something about letting the last few leaves go? Being willing to embrace the radical?

It looks as though 2023 will be an interesting one for me. Some endings, some beginnings. (And before anyone panics neither a literal long distance walk nor wild camping are in prospect!) I hope you will all keep me company on the journey.


Lights Out

I buy my Electricity from Octopus Energy, a firm which is committed to selling only renewable power. I mentioned in a previous post that here in the UK prices for most things are rising sharply, especially for electricity and petrol. I gather Gas is going up too but I don’t use that. So I am trying to be careful and cut my spending where I can. Therefore when I had an email from Octopus setting out a challenge to reduce my bill I was interested. They pointed out that a big reason for the increase in their prices was the global rise in gas prices. Obviously as a renewables company they don’t use gas but the National Grid have to have old gas fired power stations on stand-by for times when everyone switches appliances on at the same time – times such as early evening when workers get home, the heating goes on, the lights and TV are switched on and they make a cuppa and start to prepare a meal. Renewables can’t be controlled in the same way as the old power stations and so far battery / storage technology is not able to save the power generated on a sunny or windy day and release it when it is most needed. If those peaks of demand could be evened out it would be much more feasible to look to a totally renewable future.

So an experiment is underway. If I signed up for the challenge I would be given a series of 2 hour slots when I was asked to reduce my consumption from my average by a certain percentage. If I succeeded the power I did use would be free. This is all possible because I have a smart meter which apparently sends a reading to them every half hour. They could calculate my average use during the time slot and then set a target. Plus they could know if I had met it. It sounded like a good plan. I checked that Laura was up for it too – although she lives independently in the cabin her electricity comes through my meter so if she turned everything on while I was trying to cut usage it wouldn’t work – and she was.

The first slot was a week last Thursday. Unfortunately I forgot to turn the heating off before going out! I came home an hour in and immediately shut it down. I knew that Laura had left only her fridge/freezer connected so I expected the smart meter display to go green. It stayed orange! No appliances were on so where was it going? How was I still using almost 1Kwh? That was 19p per hour spent! I turned off all the lights and checked everywhere. My laptop and phone were on charge but they were full so presumably taking nothing or very very little. The router and its relays? No idea but I will find out. And then I realised – I have 2 bulkhead lights in the carport which are fitted with daylight sensing bulbs but no switch. That was deliberate so that no-one had to remember to switch them on and I had assumed they took very little power – but they were unnecessary. Another light in a tiny hallway between the kitchen, stairs and my workroom was also on all the time. I switched off the main switch on the consumer unit for the house thinking that the freezer and fridge would be fine for the remaining 45 minutes and sat doing stuff on my laptop (on battery) by candlelight! I have now had an email to say I missed the target of 40% reduction by 1%! Which means that next time I should succeed. And I had learned something.

The next morning I took the bulbs out of the unswitched lights and strung up fairy lights instead. They are on switched sockets so I only use them when I need them, they take almost no power, and whilst they are not as bright as the old bulbs they are good enough to see my way across the space. I am not sure how much these changes will save me but now I am on a mission to check EVERYTHING with a power supply! Obviously the big user is my heating but if you read my previous post (if you missed it you can find it here you will know I am onto that.

This Friday I was given another slot. I switched the heating off a quarter of an hour before it began and went round every socket switching off everything I could. I got down to 1 – 2 pence per hour! In the process I discovered that I had never disconnected the router on the satellite internet system because it is under my bed! One small saving for the planet – one bigger saving for this woman! I tried switching on a few things to see how much difference they made. The mobile router and its relays take about 2p per hour – not much but left on 24 /7 it is £175 a year. I feel I have to have the internet on in the day but it is no big deal to switch them off at night when I go to bed and fire it up again in the morning. Those experiments mean I used about 10 pence worth of power in the 2 hours – good news for Octopus who will give it to me free. Obviously I could play a game and use, say 58% of my average thus getting them to pay for as much as I can but someone must have pointed that out because now they are offering a choice – get what I do use free or get paid for what I DON’T use. On the basis of Friday that would pay me well.

Of course all this does is displace my electricity demand to a different time. In the morning I had done a load of laundry, baked bread and a cake, made a batch of soup and vacuumed the bedroom carpet – all well before the challenge started. The heating had been on and the house was warm so losing it for 2 hours was no big deal. At 6:35 I switched it on again and the smart meter went red as it recharged the tanks and pumped water round the radiators. But this is an experiment to see what is possible. Maybe there will be differential pricing in the future with one tariff when demand is low and another when it is high. Lindy’s house still has an ‘Economy 7’ meter with cheaper fuel after 7pm. So she only cooks anything which needs a long simmer or bake, or runs her washing machine and dishwasher in the evenings. She assures me that having got used to it she manages fine. The stew she cooked one night is quickly reheated in the microwave the following day when she wants to eat it. She is also using her woodstove more for long slow cooking – which I will be able to do too when mine arrives.

Octopus do have a special tariff which tracks the wholesale price of electricity every half hour. At times it is free or, even better, you get paid to use it! The downside is that at others it is much dearer than the normal price. I can choose to use appliances when it is cheap but the heating would be more tricky to control so finely so until that is sorted I will stay as I am.

In a funny kind of way I am enjoying investigating all this and although ‘1p per hour’ sounds very little it all mounts up so I will keep chipping away at the bills. It is an interesting challenge – How low can I get it?

A Sad Walk Down Memory Lane

A couple of weeks ago I had a message from the daughter of some old friends to say that her father had died. When my late husband was a vicar in Exeter in the late 80’s her mother, Margaret, was officially his secretary but actually much more like a PA . She also became a youth leader and Churchwarden so we saw a lot of her and relied on her organisational skills a great deal. Peter was quieter, less outgoing, but a brilliant drummer so he was recruited to play during services and keep us all in time when we sang. My other memory of him was of the two of us helping the treasurer count the collection when most other people had gone home but some clearing up was still going on.

St Marks Church Pinhoe Rd Exeter

John’s early days in the Parish had been plagued by the interference of the previous vicar who had retired, but still lived locally and visited some of the congregation regularly, expressing his (negative) opinions of the changes John was making. We decided that when we left we would cut ourselves off completely and give whoever came next a clear run. It was horrible to do, especially when John was diagnosed with cancer 2 years later, but we knew it was the right thing and stuck to it. Bless them, our friends in the church agreed it was for the best and never tried to involve us even though we were only a few miles away whilst our children finished at the FE college.

So almost 30 years after we left the Parish I found myself going back for the first time to attend Peter’s funeral last Monday. I knew that to do the journey there and back with the service in between was too much for one day so I booked into a hotel near the city centre for the Sunday night.

Lesson number one – the Internet made that a doddle! I could get information on all the possible choices, decide which I thought would suit me best and book it, moving only my eyes and fingers! Moments later a confirmatory email pinged into my inbox with the option to book a taxi or hire car. I had already established that travelling by train, which I would have preferred, was not an option – only one service on a Sunday and I know from experience that on Sunday evenings there are often engineering works with delays and replacement buses and that the bad weather might also close lines.

The next problem was the dogs. My son had offered to come and look after them but once the date was set realised he was unable to help. My lovely friend Lindy stepped into the breach and came to stay, even offering to stay over on the Monday night so that I had no deadline to get back.

Lesson number 2 – I have amazing family and friends who take great care of me. I am so grateful.

So off I set after lunch on Sunday with mixed feelings. It was an adventure, a challenge because of all unfamiliar things (a long drive, navigating a city which would have changed so I would not know my way but there would be some flashes of ‘Oh that’s where I am’, a hotel stay) apprehension about the impact of going back, and sadness at the loss of a friend.

I planned to use the old bridge over the Severn and stop at the Service area on the English end to have a short pit-stop. The old Bridge was closed because of the strong winds. Then I discovered that I was being diverted onto the M 49, a road of which I had never heard but which cuts the corner off the join between the M4 (South Wales to London) and M5 (North West England to Cornwall).

Lesson number 3 – Thank goodness for Satnav! I was driving straight into the setting sun and therefore couldn’t read the signs over the lanes but it knew where I should go.

I made it to Exeter just as it was getting dark and was directed down a narrow back street to a block of flats. I had put in the postcode I had copied from the internet (and probably made a mistake with one of the digits) not the name of the Hotel. I reprogrammed Satnav and spent half an hour in nose to tail traffic before reaching the right place.

Lesson number 4 – computers are only as good as the information you give them!

As I was checking in I was asked to complete a short registration form which included the question ‘In the event of an emergency evacuation would you need help to leave the hotel?’. I answered yes and explained to the lovely young man on the desk that I was perfectly mobile but might not hear the alarm when asleep without my hearing aids. He promptly transferred me to an accessible room and offered me a vibrating pad, plugged into the fire alarm system, to go under my pillow. He then showed me to the room and plugged the pad in for me assuring me that if the alarm went off someone would come and make sure I was aware of it.

Lesson number 5 – Whatever impression the news gives there are a lot of very nice people out there.

Exeter city center

In the morning, leaving my car at the hotel, I walked into the city. The old, listed buildings were still there and I began to recognise the street layout but the shops had been shuffled! It felt very odd – the same but different. I went into Boots to buy a nail file because I had broken a nail and my toiletry bag was in the car. They had NO staffed tills – and when I asked about one the girl looked at me as if I was mad then offered, reluctantly, to help me use the self-service one. Later, leaving the car park I found the pay station wanted me to scan a QR code and pay with my phone. It offered me the chance to pay with a credit card (no chance of using cash!) but kept losing the plot when I tried. Eventually I asked for help again at the reception desk and it was cheerfully given (see Lesson 5) and no it wasn’t me being past it – it played up for her too!

Lesson number 6 – I am way behind the times – and happy to stay there!

Then it was off to the Church which had changed – new chairs, a carpet, the coffee and creche areas rearranged and upgraded – but from the impression I got, not as much as it should have done in 30 years. I know I am a change junkie but both the city and the church seemed to be in a rut – tinkering but unable or unwilling to be as radical as we need to be to rise to the challenges coming down the track. I also noticed how few people were wearing masks in shops. It was as if the pandemic had gone away. Here in Wales masks are still a legal requirement in indoor public spaces and to me that is only sense.

If all that seems critical and grumpy let me assure you that meeting up with people who remembered me and welcomed me with huge smiles was brilliant. At the wake I sat with some of the old crowd and they obviously remembered me and John with fondness. The service had been taken by John’s successor, now retired, as the present vicar was on Maternity leave and it was lovely to meet him and his wife.

Lesson number 7 – A vicar on Maternity leave – Hallelujah! – the Church of England is staggering into the modern world and St Marks is in the vanguard. Something of what John did stuck!

Starcross with the mainline railway from London to cornwall running along the sea wall.

Having driven so far and explored some of Memory Lane I decided to finish the job and walked past the old Vicarage, sold off when we left, and then went to Starcross, a dormitory village on the Exe Estuary, where we moved whilst our children finished their schooling. A walk along the river’s edge was just what I needed before the long drive home. The nearer I got to Wales the more my spirits lifted and when I turned off the dual carriageway 10 miles from home I breathed a sigh of relief. Two waggy tales greeted me as I walked in and a night in my own bed was bliss.

Lesson number 8 – I loved my life in Exeter, have some wonderful memories of our time there and very few regrets, and now I love my life here. It was good to visit but it is no longer where I belong. Now if you will forgive me I have to go – there are tomatoes to pick and bottle.

PS. All images are from Google images – it takes better photos than I do! Plus all that navigating tired my phone out!

Who know’s?

I came across a post on Facebook recently – sorry I can’t remember where it originated or who posted it so I can’t acknowledge it properly. The gist was that when we read about, or watch a film about, someone travelling back in time the essential feature is that a small thing they change back then makes a big difference to the present when they return. On the other hand we all tell ourselves that the small things we do now are irrelevant to solving the big issues.

Maybe not every small action does make a big difference but how can we know which ones will and which one’s wont?

Today I went to a meet-up at the home of a couple who are members of one of the Permaculture groups I belong to. I chatted to P who was widowed suddenly a couple of years ago and who told me shortly afterwards that she looked to me as a source of strength because I had been widowed some time before and had made a new life for myself. I never saw myself in that light before. Now I offer other bereaved people support and empathy more consciously. Today she told me she is moving house and how sad she will be to ‘leave S behind’ but also excited at a fresh start.

The I spoke to L, a psychotherapist and yoga teacher about her experience of doing both those roles on Zoom during the pandemic. To C a former Climate scientist, now smallholder, about the strengths and limitations of climate modelling and the book his wife (another, still practicing, climate scientist) is writing on the subject. To a couple who recently moved to Wales and are now planting a garden and converting an outbuilding so they can work from home more. I was able to point them in the direction of resources they may find useful and invited them to come and see my garden in the hope that they can learn from some of my mistakes as well as my successes. To B who I met at Coppicewood College when he was a student and I was a regular volunteer and who is planting trees on his site which produce nuts and fruit. He has been thinking about a business making fruit syrups and I suggested he consider fruit vinegars – I will send him the recipe. And to the hosts who I know listened to me a while back talking about rewriting my will and setting up Lasting Powers of Attorney, took some of the ideas and used them. There were others I would have loved to chat with but time ran out.

Part of our hosts’ garden

When I came home I read a post from Jean who blogs as ‘one small stitch’ ( in which she wondered if her making and mending made any difference when the challenges of Climate Change are so huge. I imagine we all wonder that at times. Should we be doing more? if so what?

But Jean’s posts, like those of all the bloggers I follow, inspire me in so many ways. To make things and mend things, to think about the World and see it through different eyes, to go on learning and trying new things, to recognise the kindness and generosity of human beings to each other.

I have no idea which, if any, of those encounters I had today will change the world in the slightest. I have no idea if any of you reading this will find it useful or encouraging. I will never be a powerful politician or run a global company (for which may the world be truly thankful – I am not cut out for either role). I will go on doing what I CAN do – making the small changes I am capable of, making and mending, gardening and wooding, reading and writing, reaching out to others through blogging and meeting and offering them the help and support I can. I may be a ‘daft old bat’ but we are all connected, each of you to me and through me to the people I spoke to today, and in our various communities and conversations, urging each other on, our combined small acts might, just might, change the future.

Ker-ching! A Penny drops!

There were some lovely comments on my last post about the blanket I was making to use up those little balls of wool that every knitter accumulates. The ‘granny squares’ are not all the same size necessitating strips and stripes and extra rounds to make them fit together and the colours are multiple and varied – yet the effect is cheerful and lively and most of you loved it as do I. Why?

Looking around my home and at the assorted handmade blankets in my cupboard I realised that the pieces I like best are the scrappy ones – the patchworks (usually fairly random) and the multicoloured. Partly this is because they will fit in with any colour scheme, adding both pattern and a hit of colour to the space. So in that sense they are very practical – change the decor? No problem!

Musing during a dog walk (as you do!) two memories from childhood came into my head.

The first concerned my childhood heroine; the woman I wanted to be like when I grew up. My Mum’s eldest, and much older, sister Aunty Nan. Nan and her husband Francis were childless (not by choice – as she said ‘In our day if it didn’t happen it didn’t happen and there was nothing you could do about it’) which meant that she had not given up work to raise her family. By the time I was old enough to remember them they were both lecturers at Alsager Teacher Training College near Newcastle-under-Lyme and lived in half a very long Nissen hut on the campus left over from World War 2. Francis headed up Rural Studies and Nan taught Craft. I found Francis slightly intimidating and when we visited he and my Dad would talk bees which they both kept. Nan would always find something crafty for me to do so that she and Mum could cook and talk. Later they bought 3 adjoining building plots where a new estate was being developed and had a bungalow built. Nan was furious that the architect would only talk to Francis even though she was the more artistic and better at design! She was even sidelined during the discussion of the kitchen! It was a beautiful home, very up to date in its furnishings and, of course, with Francis being an expert gardener, set in a fabulous garden. But what I really loved was their very early VW Dormobile.

Francis’s passion for bees meant he was not content with keeping a few hives of honey bees. He was really a thwarted academic and one of his good friends was Alan Gemmell (If you are old enough and live in the UK you may remember Professor Alan Gemmell of Keele University from Gardener’s Question Time. Prof’s passion was potatoes). So every summer he and Nan would spend the long vacation travelling Europe so he could collect wild bees and identify them. He had a cabinet of shallow drawers in his study with serried ranks of bees filed according to their latin name.

To make these expeditions easier, especially when he had exhausted Western Europe and started exploring behind the Iron Curtain, they got the Dormobile. To me it was a playhouse on wheels! And in it were blankets made by Nan on those journeys. She would take a pair of double pointed knitting needles – the short ones used for socks – and odd balls of wool so that she had some knitting to do in the evenings or while she was sitting in a field somewhere half watching Francis stalk his prey. Squares were easy to carry around or store in the van. Some were plain but lots were stripey or half and half. Sometimes the wool was thinner than she would have liked so she would use 2 colours together making a tweedy effect. Those blankets were part of the magic of the van for me. So very different from the contents of her house or of any of the other houses I knew.

The second memory was of a couple whose names I cannot remember but they were members of the Manchester and District Beekeepers Association, of which my Dad was Treasurer. The Association met once a month for most of the year. In the winter they rented a room somewhere for an evening and had ‘talks’ about bees and related subjects. But in the summer there were ‘Apiary visits’. One member would host the rest for an afternoon wherever they kept their bees. One of the more experienced members, often my father, would go through the hives explaining what they were doing, what they were looking for and why. If the bees needed extra space or a super full of honey needed to be taken away then that would be done. So winter was for theory and summer for practical. And on Apiary visits families were invited along too. There were a couple of single women who kept bees, a couple who did it jointly but most of the keepers were men. So the families consisted of wives and a few children who would sit around on deckchairs as far away from the hives as possible and chat. Everyone would take a picnic tea and once the hives were safely put back together again the beekeepers would join us and the host (or more usually the host’s wife!) would make cups of tea. It was a nice way to spend a summer afternoon and most of the gardens were delightful.

My Dad when he was young with his bees

The couple I am thinking of hosted a visit every year but not in their garden – I never knew where they lived in winter. Every summer they would decamp to a field where he kept his bees and where they had 2 old railway wagons. One was where he stored all his bee equipment and extracted his honey – a dim space which I always tried to get into at some point to enjoy its scent of wood, wax and honey. The other was where they lived with two single beds arranged in an L shape at the end furthest from the door, each covered with a multicoloured, home made blanket, a small table and 2 hard chairs and a rudimentary kitchen with a camping stove. Outside was a compost toilet and another table with a washing up bowl on it and a tap on a post behind it. The field was on a hill and there was an amazing view over the valley. I knew of no-one else who lived like that – it was like being in a story!

One huge granny square!

I suppose that from those 2 experiences I came to associate blankets like the one I am working on with a simple life, being unconventional, having adventures but also with being cosy and self-sufficient. No wonder I like them so much – by making them I am constructing my very own magic carpet of the imagination, opening up possibilities of adventures and new ways of living!

New Year, Renewed Me, New Projects

I really enjoyed my Christmas break!

It was obvious back in the Autumn that it was going to be a strange one and that any plans might be scuppered at short notice by restrictions being imposed or lifted.

My son, being Muslim, doesn’t celebrate Christmas and, as Head of Triage in the IT department of a multinational company, had volunteered to be ‘on call’ on Christmas Day and Boxing Day in case a computer glitsch stopped the cash flowing. That meant he couldn’t come to see me – my broadband is not good enough! I knew I was welcome to go there and that he always cooks a huge meal for the extended family. However my daughter-in-law is terrified of dogs which makes visiting complicated.

My daughter was planning how to spend the first Christmas in her new home with her 2 teenage kids and since her husband believes me to be the source of most of his woes, ‘putting her up to it’ and misses no opportunity to tell the kids how evil I am and that it is my fault the family has broken, it seemed wisest that I not be in the mix this year.

Being on my own for the festive period held no fears for me. The infection that proved the last straw for John began on a Christmas Day and he died early the following January. The next year I decided not to inflict my misery on anyone else and refused all offers to join others. Since then I have mostly stayed home alone though I have sometimes accepted invitations to lunch with local friends. There was a debate about whether I would go to my daughter’s on Boxing Day when her 2 would be at their Dad’s and maybe we would drive over to my son’s. In the end the Welsh lockdown and then the English one kept us all apart.

However I had formed a plan! I did the bulk of my shopping, including for food, booze and chocolate, early. I promised myself a ‘staycation’ from Christmas Eve until the 4th of January when everyone would be back at work. During that time I would only do essential housework and no gardening. I got plenty of books from the library and bought some from charity shops. I also made a list of projects I wanted to at least start but kept not making time for.

Just after Boxing Day I got the weirdest sensation – that I had shrunk! A quick check showed that physically I was the same height as always and if anything slightly wider – well booze and chocolate do that to you! But I felt the same size as my Aunty Megan who was 5 feet nothing and skinny with it. It took a few days to work out that I had lost confidence in trying new things or ‘having a go’. It wasn’t my body which had shrunk but my sense of self. I think that all the restrictions have meant that my world has shrunk and whilst I have been busy in the garden and house it has been maintaining what is already there rather than doing new things. Partly I think it was feeling that if I started something and it went wrong it would be harder to get someone to help me put it right. In addition I haven’t been on a course to learn a new skill for ages so there was nothing new to practice having been shown how to do it once.

That seemed to explain the projects which had stalled when I got to a tricky bit or one requiring decisions as well as the ones I never started. I get lots of inspiration from reading all your posts, my head is full of ideas but can I actually do them?

In one of those nudges the Universe sends my way from time to time one of the non-fiction books I had got for my holiday reading was ‘Women Who Run with the Wolves’ by Clarissa Pinkola Estes recommended to me by my new tenant, Laura. It isn’t an easy read – she is a storyteller and Jungian psychoanalyst of Mexican birth but raised by Hungarian foster parents in the USA. The slightly odd English mixed with bits of analytic theory are – um – interesting! But I have found what she has to say very interesting and enlightening. Particularly the chapter on why we procrastinate!

I am still trying to determine which of my 4 legged companions chewed the cover! Lucky it is my own copy!

A ‘good talking to’ was required so I went and did some yoga stretches to pull myself up straight instead of being rather crumpled and then gave myself one.

I recognised that on my break I had taken the time and trouble to cook nice meals and that I had previously rather got into the habit of leaving it to the last minute to decide what to eat so that it had to be quick and easy. So I started to cook my main meal at lunchtime. I am usually indoors in the mornings so I can combine cooking with another job whereas in the afternoon I am often in the garden and don’t want to bother taking my boots off and coming in to start a meal. I also browsed my cook books and recipe file noting things I hadn’t made for a long time. Food is now a lot more interesting!

I also reviewed all the stalled projects and realised that most could be finished quite quickly if I just stopped faffing about and dithering. One big one which has been going on for over a year, partly because of shops not being open, will be another post but I finished making a pair of slippers for my daughter (yet to be posted as the roads have been icy) and turned some granny squares into a cushion cover. Another lot of squares are mostly edged and I have worked out the placement but have run out of the yarn I am using for edging and joining so no more can be done until the market reopens.

I now feel back to my normal size (with a little extra for self-indulgencies!) and having ‘cleared the decks’ am ready to start on new creative projects. My next post will be scrap-happy which will be presents I made but I hope to be able to regale you with more new things soon.

Little Things

Last time I posted I was feeling rather glum as I had been limiting myself to essential trips and then Wales went into National Lockdown just as I would have been able to go out again! At least ours was only two and a half weeks whereas England has just started a four week one. I can go out on Tuesday! And I will – I have an appointment to have my hair cut and plan to do some other errands whilst in town.

After writing that last post I decided I needed to get things in perspective. I am not ill, frightened or hungry. I have plenty of friends and can email or message them. So I took myself off to one of my favourite spots for a good talking to! It is in the woods I rent from my neighbour. There is a small clearing next to the stream and on the hill above it a huge Oak tree which most have been part of a hedge once upon a time as there is a noticeable bank running down the hill to the stream – an old field boundary. The stream chatters away as it rushes to the sea and the tree stands majestic and solid. Both have seen it all before; pestilence, famines, wars (I am told that the Home Guard trained by shooting across the stream into the hillside opposite during World War 2) as well as good things like the farms thriving, children playing, lovers meeting. I tell them my worries and grumbles and I can almost hear them telling me to stop whingeing!

But (isn’t there always a but!) the path from my garden into the woods had become overgrown with brambles so I had to take a pair of secateurs with me and cut them back. As I did so I uncovered a tiny nest – I assume a wren’s. Two tiny birds did all that work to build a home and raise their chicks. They don’t care who wins the American election, who gets Covid 19, whether I am happy or sad. They just get on with their lives and do what their instincts tell them.

The cup is just 2.5 inches (6.5cm) across and beautifully woven

I realised that I needed to stop fretting about things I can’t change and focus on the little things that bring me joy. So as well as that nest…

I finished a jumper for the collection at Studio 3. This is plainer than I usually do and to the pattern they provide. That makes 5 I have done for them to different designs. I have enough yarn in my stash for at least one more which I will try to get done before the end of the year. A group of refugees have recently been moved to a disused army base not far from here causing quite a lot of controversy – some protesters unhappy with the decision especially as it all happened suddenly with very little consultation, and some people organising to try to help and support them. What must it be like to be dumped in the middle of nowhere with hardly any resources in the middle of lockdown? I know my jumpers will go to a different group but if knitting helps people worse off than me I will knit!

A couple of days ago I found this little fellow in the car port. I have seen newts in the garden before but it is nice to know they are still around. Once I had taken the photograph I moved him to a safer spot. I know there is a lot more wildlife here than I know about – they keep well hidden. What a priviledge to share my space with so many other creatures.

I was weeding the bank next to the deck and found these dahlias. They were facing away from the house and as I hadn’t staked them were hanging down below behind their pot. They have taken a battering in the wind and rain but add a splash of colour to the kitchen table. I have never succeeded with dahlias before but will definitely grow them next year to brighten up the Autumn (and next year I will stake them!)

I also came across what, at first sight, looked to be a HUGE toad but turned out to be my son’s drone. Over a year ago he was here and playing with it (He’s moved on from the radio controlled car he had as a child!) and it got caught in the big Ash tree next to the deck. We tried all sorts of things to get it down but to no avail. It must have eventually blown down and landed under some self-seeded raspberry canes where it hid. Finding it reminded me of spending time with him, his 3 small foster children and my daughter, who took the opportunity of lift to come with them. That brought a big grin to my face!

What is making you smile at the moment?

On and on and on

Today, at 6pm, Wales goes into another lockdown until November 9th. It will be slightly different from the first one in March / April because apart from the half-term holiday week schools will stay open at least for some year groups and there is no limit on the amount of time we can spend in public spaces exercising. However meeting friends inside or out is forbidden and only essential shops will stay open. The idea is to slow the virus transmission before it gets out of hand and to have the same rules across the whole country for clarity. It makes sense even though where I live is one of the safest parts of the UK. Although I live in Carmarthenshire which locked down one of its bigger urban areas, Llanelli, a while back I am right on the edge of the county and within easy walking distance or both Ceredigion and Pembrokeshire which have amongst the lowest levels of infection anywhere.

Today is also the day when I can be virtually certain I did not bring Covid-19 back from my daughter’s. She lives in a medium risk area, works in a school, my granddaughter goes to a different school and my grandson works in a restaurant. I decided that when I got home the sensible thing would be to keep myself to myself for a while. I have done essential shopping and banking but only dropped cakes off at the workday I should have been to.

I should have been helping build walls for the roundhouse

Before I went to my daughter’s you may remember that I had visited my lovely neighbour for a cup of tea (which turned into a glass of wine!) only to discover later that her Dad, who had visited a day or two before me, had tested positive for Covid. I therefore isolated myself to ensure that if I had picked it up from her I didn’t pass it on. So apart from the 5 days of my trip to England I have already been in self imposed lockdown for 4 weeks! The novelty is definitely wearing off!

I had several treats lined up for the next two weeks – a Permaculture group meeting at a smallholding I have wanted to visit for ages, a lunch out and walk on the beach with friends and a haircut. All postponed.

Poppit sands where we were planning a walk

It isn’t that I have nothing to do. There is always work to be done inside or out. On Monday I collected the library books I had requested as they had been waiting for pick up for ages and I knew another lockdown was coming. Handing in one bag through the door and being given another whilst wearing a mask hardly seemed like a big danger to either me or the librarian! So I have books to read and there are plenty of crafting materials on hand.

But I have to admit that none of it makes me eager to get up in the mornings and the grey damp weather isn’t helping. Tomorrow night we revert to GMT from British Summer Time, putting the clocks back an hour which always confuses my body and upsets the dogs. It also signals that winter is just around the corner with its short dark days. I want to hibernate!

If any of you spot some energy, enthusiasm, mojo – call it what you will – going spare please pick it up and send it to me. I could do with some!

Plan Z and counting

When I had finished writing my last post on Monday I decided to go and visit a friend who lives just up the hill. The friend who did my washing when my machine broke down at the start of lockdown and who got her student daughter to do my shopping for me. She and her husband had taken a much needed short break and gone away – if they stay something goes wrong on the farm and he goes back to work to fix it. Whilst they were gone her Dad stayed in the house to supervise her teenage kids. We had a cup of tea and caught up on news.

On Wednesday her Dad was told he had tested positive for Covid 19 and so my friend and her family should self-isolate. The chances that it was passed to her AND that she passed it to me are very small (we sat 2m apart) but I decided that the responsible thing to do was to stay away from everyone. So instead of being at my daughter’s admiring her new home and catching up with her and her children I am here.

As it happened, when I got the news there were 2 men replacing the wooden outside doors in my house with uPVC ones – not a very sustainable choice but I was sick of draughts and high heating costs! I decamped to the bedroom to keep well out of their way for the 2 days the job took and emerged only when they had retreated to their van to eat their lunch, made a sandwich and took it back upstairs. I was able to walk the dogs and to come downstairs in the evening once they had gone home but it showed me how horrid it must have been to be cooped up in a small flat for the 3 weeks of full lockdown. I did finish some sewing projects though!

A pair of slippers based on espadrille soles – they are not quite right but I can improve. 2 small fish from a pattern by Ann Wood Handmade. Some granny squares for a blanket.

So why is this post called plan Z? Well a friend of my daughter asked a colleague of hers for some information my daughter needed and outlined what had been happening for her over the summer. His response was to ask if she was writing a soap opera script! He didn’t know that my son’s brother in law had almost died of Covid, that Rob (who lived in the cabin in the garden in return for helping me in the garden and woods) left suddenly leaving me with no help over the summer, that Laura moved in to replace him a month ago (she is delightful and a great help), that Matt came to fit out the utility room because it was work he could do without needing to be indoors and he needed to earn, that now I need to self-isolate…..And each of those has resulted in me revising my plans.

Some of you may have noticed that I have said very little about the Diploma in Permaculture Design I embarked on a couple of years ago. That is because I have given up, another change of plan. I intended to design ways to stay alive, well, active and living here into advanced old age and write up the designs as my portfolio. I really enjoyed doing the thinking and planning. The last stage of implementation is to turn the old garage and its loft space into habitable rooms including a shower room, all with wheelchair accessibility in mind just in case I need one and that is well underway. Meanwhile they will be additional bedrooms when family visit. I am really pleased with the results of it all. Lockdown was a good test of the strategies I had put in place to increase my resilience and I survived very well. However the writing up nearly drove me nuts. It took ages and each tutor I spoke too had their own pet ideas about how it should be laid out. I could have spent a lot of time cutting and pasting and editing, dotting every ‘i’ and crossing every ‘t’ but decided that the things it would enable me to do were too few to justify the work. One of my tasks over winter when hopefully life will be less fraught, is to decide what, if anything, I do next. Somehow I doubt if I will be bored! Plan Z+1 coming to a blog post near you soon!

A calculated risk

Several areas in Wales are now in local lockdown, the nearest being Llanelli (pronounced chlanechli with a soft ch like in loch) which is about 35 miles away and in the same county. It is the first time a local lockdown has not been across a whole local authority area and it would be no surprise if it was extended even though this very rural area has very few cases. Most of the restrictions are in the more urban areas so about two thirds of the population are affected even though they cover much less of the land area.

The latest moves to halt the spread of the virus coincided with a management meeting at Dyfed Permacultire Farm Trust where we discussed requests to hold some events in our partly built roundhouse. Being unfinished it has a roof to keep the rain off but no walls so counts as an outdoor space! Today I went to the dentist to have a broken filling replaced – a treatment scheduled for the first week of full lockdown at the end of March. All these things coming together made me realise that throughout this pandemic I have been making my own risk assessments of potential activities.

Some time ago I listened to a radio podcast which mentioned that ALAMA (the Association of Local Authority Medical Advisors) had produced a way of assessing an individuals risk of being severely affected by Covid 19. The idea seems to be that a local authority can work out which employees are high risk and should be asked to work from home and who is low risk so can reasonably be expected to get the bus to work and sit in the office. Out of interest I looked at the website ( It seems I am at moderate risk despite being 70, because I am female, white anglo saxon and in good health. So it seems I don’t need to be ultra cautious.

However moderate is not low! Then another podcast mentioned the work of a scientist who believes that the improvement in survival rates is not wholly explained by improved expertise in treating those who fall ill. He noticed a close correlation with the rising temperatures in spring and summer. He works mainly on some obscure chemical in the mucus which our lungs produce all the time to catch bugs and pollutants and which is swept up to the throat and down into the stomach where the acids kill all the nasties. This system works best in damp air. So in winter when we all huddle in centrally heated homes and offices where the air is usually very dry it is less effective. Come the warmer weather we open windows, go outside more and the mucus works better. Unusually the Covid-19 virus is not killed by stomach acid (which had me wondering how effective all these alcohol gels are but that is another issue) and that , he thinks, is why some people have a sort of gastric flu not the classic cough. Luckily that version is much less likely to kill you. Not being able to breathe is the really dangerous effect. He suggested drying washing in the bedroom, opening windows and going outside as often as possible. Since none of those can be monetised he is not expecting any funding for clinical trials to test his ideas any time soon! On the other hand they are all things I do anyway so it seems that if I do get infected I may stand a slightly improved chance of surviving.

The new unfinished roundhouse at Dyfed Permaculture Farm Trust. We are now finding its unfinished state very useful!

Ideally of course I should try not to get infected in the first place. Which means limiting my contact with other people and especially with other people who have, themselves, contact with a lot of people. Most of the time I am here on my own. The friends and neighbours I meet are just as isolated as I am so unlikely to infect me but we meet outside whenever possible. The meetings I need to go to are held out of doors in the unfinished roundhouse pictured above. The hairdresser I go to is scrupulously careful and the dentist this morning was in full PPE. The library quarantines books between each loan and I have to request my selection online then get an appointment to drop off my returns and collect my new books through an open door. I have, though, decided that I will not shop in the supermarkets. At the cost of losing some choice of products I can get everything I need in local shops which are generally quieter and where so far social distancing has been carefully maintained. I am also using Amazon for household items which might involve me going to several shops before finding what I am looking for.

Probably my greatest regular risk is working with Laura who lives in the cabin in the garden rent free in return for helping me in the garden. When we work together we are outside or in a very large and well ventilated shed and mostly more than 2 metres apart. Since Laura works in a care setting she is in contact with quite a few people but part of her role is to educate the students in her care about the need to observe the pandemic rules. Overall she seems a relatively small risk and the benefit of her help is considerable.

Next weekend I will go to visit my daughter. The first visit since she left her husband and moved into her own home. She lives in a large town in England and works in a school. It will be the biggest risk I have taken in 6 months! Well worth it to see her and her new place. I will just have to balance it by being extra careful when I get back – not just for my sake but so that if I have picked up Covid-19 I keep it to myself and don’t spread it around.

How are you managing the risks at present? I would love to hear how you are making your assessments and anything you have found useful. It seems we are nowhere near the end of this pandemic so all help gratefully received!