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’.

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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!

A lot of lemons

My neighbour Beccy sent a message ‘Can you use up some lemons?’ Expecting 3 or 4 I said yes – and got half a carrier bag of them! It seems another neighbour had bought a whole box intending to do something creative with the children whilst the schools are shut. But she was widowed earlier this year and wasn’t able to summon up the energy to actually do it. Beccy was chatting to her in the garden, heard this tale and rescued the fruit some of which was beginning to go mouldy. She ditched the worst ones but still had more than she could use up so gave me half.

Luckily another neighbour had just given me some duck eggs and I missed the seville oranges in January so was low on marmalade. I made a batch of hummus and a lemon drizzle cake (of which not much remains for some reason) then used a kilo to make some marmalade. The last 4 made lemon cheese. It is a recipe of my mother’s which I suspect was a wartme one. It has less butter than proper lemon curd but tastes just as nice.

Lemon drizzle cake

6oz softened butter
6oz castor sugar
2 large eggs
1 1/2 oz ground almonds
4 1/2 oz self raising flour
grated zest and juice 1 lemon
2 – 3 tablespoons milk

Juice of 2 lemons

Cream the butter and sugar with the lemon zest, add the beaten eggs a little at a time then the lemon juice, fold in the flour, add the milk to give a dropping consistency. Bake in a lined 2lb loaf tin for 40 – 50 mins at 170 deg.

About 10 minutes before the cake is done put the drizzle ingredients in a small pan and heat gently to dissolve the sugar.

When the cake comes out of the oven prick it all over with a skewer and pour the hot drizzle over it. Leave to cool in the tine.

LEMON CHEESE

Grated rind and juice of 2 lemons
8oz sugar
2 eggs beaten
good knob of butter

Put the rind, juice and sugar in a pan and heat slowly stirring frequently until the sugar is dissolved and the mixture hot. Beat the eggs in a bowl or jug. Pour the hot liquid SLOWLY onto the eggs whisking all the time (think mayonnaise but not quite as slow!) Return the mixture to the pan and heat slowly still stirring all the time until it thickens. Remove from the heat and stir in the butter. Pot into sterilised jars and seal at once.

Blessings # 26 – Z is for zero

Zero is the Johnny-come-lately of the number world. If you are a farmer counting your sheep or cows and can’t see any you are too panicked because they have all strayed to wory about how to write down ‘none’! It was merchants and beuraucrats who had to devise it. Originally you would have written a hundred and three as 1 3 with a space for ‘no tens’. But unless you were very carful it could easily look like 13. It is why we give small children squared paper for arithmetic (and sometimes I think I should have some too!) So people started drawing a space and 0 was born. giving 103 which is much clearer.

During my Maths degree I would look at a problem set for homework, get as far as I could from the beginning and get stuck; work back from the end and get stuck; then go to bed. By morning I usually had a line of the equation which was not obviously connected but by setting it as a ‘waypoint’ I would be able to find the whole solution. Then when my children were babies we had cork tiles throughout the ground floor of our tiny Victoran terraced cottage. If I was worrying about something I would get down on my hands and knees and polish them. John would come in and slip and slither to the back door then say ‘OK so what was the problem and what is the answer?’! I don’t have Maths problems now or cork tiles but the principle remains.

In X is for Xmas and other festivals (read it here if you missed it) I explained that I value having points in the year when I stop and step out of the routine to take stock, celebrate and have fun.

In the same way I need to do that during the day. As Rose would say ‘And breathe!’ But I find it incredibly hard to do nothing. My mind races with lists and reminders; I get up muttering ‘Ill just…’ I have tried to learn to meditate and I am getting better but it certainly doesn’t come naturally! Instead I need things which keep my body and the moment by moment part of my brain active so that the deeper parts can get on with processing what has been going on and fiddle around looking for solutions.

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First thing in the morning I make myself a cup of tea using the kettle by my bed and sit enjoying the warmth of the duvet, the comfort of my pillows and allow myself to think about the day ahead. At that stage I can do it without the length of the ‘to do’ list snapping at my heels because I have all day to do it in (and I always fantasise that I will be able to do far more than I ever actually can) and none of the interruptions and unexpecteds have happened yet.

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My walk with the dogs is when bigger problems or decisions get their chance. Yes, I am noticing the scenery around me paying attention to what the dogs are doing but they are on their leads so I don’t have to watch them really closely. Just putting one foot in front of the other is enough to create ‘mulling’ space.

In the evenings I knit, sew or crochet. Often I listen to a radio podcast but sometmes I get to the end of the evening and realise that I haven’t played anything. Of course that is sometimes because I need to count stitches or keep looking at the pattern but sometimes all I have done is rows and rows of stocking stitch or a flower of hexies. That rhythmic movement really works for me!

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Pushing for solutions leaves me frustrated, adds to the feelings of panic, has me going round in ever decreasing circles. Stopping and putting it to the back of my mind allows me to be creative and if I can be patient the solution will reveal itself. If I can then let it simmer a bit longer before DOING anything an even better one may emerge.

So I need lots of zeros in my life – defined and contained spaces to stop me getting muddled.

Well, there it is 26 posts in 26 days. Thank you to all those of you who have stuck with me and those who have joined. A special thanks to those of you who have taken the trouble to comment – I have really enjoyed reading them. Normal sporadic service will now be resumed but I hope you will continue to keep me company.

Sue

Blessings # 25 – Y is for Yoga

I had been toying with the idea of taking up some kind of gentle exercise for years but was always too busy and then, when John became more frail, I had time but could only learn by watching a video (which back then was a tape in a machine). That didn’t work for me so I gave up. After he died and I was looking for ways to get out and meet people I decided to see if I could find either a Yoga or Tai Chi class locally and searched online. It was September and I knew that going out after dark when it was also cold would challenge my commitment. There was no Tai Chi group which was in a suitable place at a time I felt able to manage but there was an afternoon Yoga class in Cardigan so I went along.

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The Small Wold Theater in Cardigan where that class was held

I enjoyed the moving and stretching but was disappointed that none of the group spoke to each other. We arrived, rolled out our mats, did what the teacher told us, rolled up our mats and left. Then after about a year the teacher had to take a break for a term as she had several family members needing extra help. I mentioned it to someone I volunteered with who suggested I go to the class she was in which met in an evening. It was summer time so I thought it would not be too bad going out later and it would tide me over.

That was how I met Rose Thorn. (No Mr and Mrs Thorn did not lack imagination – the whole name was made up as a stage name which stuck) The group still wasn’t chatty but I knew 2 other people there so it felt more friendly. And Rose was a revelation. Yoga wasn’t about contorting myself into strange shapes. It was all about exploring what my body could and couldn’t do without fussing too much about its limitations. It was about noticing how I stood, moved, breathed. Then gently inmproving my posture, flexibility and balance through the postures. I knew that I had knock knees but found I also had flat feet. That I walked with my feet at 45 degrees (all those models posing on the catwalk and dress patterns with the model’s toes prettily pointed to show off the skirt had had an effect). Neither of those things were helped by weak ankles. Years of wearing high heels all the time had given me squashed toes and very short hamstrings. Oh, and I rounded my shoulders and stuck my head forward when I walked. Not that Rose said much – she just let me discover all these things through trying to follow her instructions. ‘Stand with your feet parallel to the edges of the mat’ was one of the first and most often used and it is hard to do when you usually waddle like a duck!

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Trying to take a selfie in the mirror whilst standing on one leg in tree pose does not encourage good posture!

I started to go to the Saturday morning sessions she runs from time to time at the home she shares with her partner Marie and which Marie runs as a vegetarian guest house. 3 hours of yoga followed by lunch which Marie cooks and where we all chat and get to know each other. Bit by bit this lovely couple became my friends.

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Over the Rainbow Vegetarian Guest House which is home to Marie and Rose

So now my posture has improved, my better balance means I am less likely to fall and my awareness of how I move makes it easier to avoid aching muscles when I work in the garden.

Blessings # 24 – X is for Xmas and other festivals

My Mum gave up her work as a teache rof Domestic Science when she got married – she had to because in the aftermath of World War 2 only single women or widows could work as teachers. The idea was that the men returning from the army needed the jobs. Which man would want, or be qualified, to teach domestic science is a moot point!

She never had a job outside the home again. Whilst I was small she had no fridge, no washing machine, no vacuum cleaner and no-one had a freezer. Milk was delivered to the doorstep by a milkman with a horse drawn cart but she must have had to go shopping most days to get fresh food and because everything had to be carried home in bags. With washing to do by hand, cleaning everywhere with lots of elbow grease and me to look after she must have been busy.

But by the time I was a teenager, and not a very messy one, things were different. She still shopped locally – there was a small parade of shops at each end of the road so about a quarter of a mile from home – and carried her purchases home so couldn’t do the kind of weekly shop most of us do now in a supermarket. But she had a full set of time-saving appliances and our house was a modest ‘between the wars’ 3 bedroom semi so fairly easy to manage. For reasons I have never been able to fathom she refused to join any of the social groups such as the Women’s Institute or Mother’s Union even though there were neighbours who would have enjoyed her company there. When I was in my mid teens she started going to an evening class in cake decorating each week but never seemed to make friends with any of the other students or talk about them at home.

Luckily for her housework has expansionist tendencies! However much you have done there is always something more you can find to do. So that and knitting endless jumpers for all the children in the extended family and neighbours filled her time.

Gardening is a bit like housework outdoors. There is always more I could do.

I therefore really appreciate having marker points in the year which encourage me to stop, notice the way the seasons are changing, reflect on what I have achieved and look forward to the next bit. It is why my friends Jeni and Rob and I have been trying to mark the 8 old festivals that marked the solstices, equinoxes and the 4 cross quarter days. Midwinter is especially rich. There is Yule at the solstice, then Christmas and here in Wales, Hen Galan, the old New Year’s day in mid January. Before leap years were included the calender got more and more out of synch with nature until one year it was brought back in line. In some parts of Wales they continued to celebrate New Year according to the old calender – Hen Galan – old new year. We don’t have a Mari Lwyd (a horse’s skull on a pole like a hobby horse and with a big white cloak and ribbons which went from house to house and pub to pub) to drink and dance and parade with but we do follow the other tradition of wassailing our apple trees on that night.

Mari Lwyd

With birthdays and anniversaries added into the mix there are plenty of reasons to stop working and have a celebration!

Blessings # 23 – W is for Woodland and Wild

I enjoy working in my garden. I enjoy eating what I grow, the flowers that bloom, sitting on my deck with a cup of coffee but the most magical areas are the pieces of woodland. If I get fraught and frazzled I take a walk through the veg patch and past the soft fruit into the rough, self-seeded woodland area and then through a gap in an old hedgebank into the planted woodland which I rent from the neighbouring farm. Apart from cutting back any brambles which grow across the path those spaces require no work. They are always peaceful and quiet. Although the planted section was only put in just over 20 years ago there are some much older trees which must have been in hedges when even this very steep slope was grazed. There is something about the solidity and calmness of trees which I find settles me. I walk down to the stream where there is a small clearing and sit there watching the stream tumbling over stones and burbling its song and all the worries fall into perspective. In a few weeks time it will be carpeted with bluebells!

I like trees and woodland so much that I am planting more. The field on the opposite side of the stream from my garden is abandoned. The farmer who owns it has effectively retired but refuses to either sell up or to rent out his grazing. Ungrazed for about 12 years the grass is getting very coarse and brambles and blackthorn are creeping in from the edges. I keep pulling tiny seedling trees out of my veg beds and decided that instead of just putting them on the compost heap I would pot them up and then plant them out on the field. It wants to become a wood so I will help it! I also grew some apples from pips (you can read about that experiment here) – rather a lot of them! So they are going over there too. I have no idea whteher they will fruit, whether the fruit will be nice to eat or sour, but if they fruit at all and I don’t want the apples the birds will enjoy them.

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I have also started to clear along my top, North boundary where John planted hundreds of willow cuttings. Most of them took and grew for a few years but they were left too long and most have fallen over and died. The soil is very thin so I am planting trees in pots with the bottoms cut out. That way they start in good compost but can send roots down into the stonier soil as they grow. That’s the plan anyway.

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I will never see these new woods in their full glory – they are a blessing paid forward. I have so many blessins it only seems fair to ensure some for those who follow me.

Blessings # 22 – V is for Vision

I may have poor hearing but luckily my vision is pretty good. I have a pair of prescription glasses for distance but don’t actually NEED to wear them for driving. The optician recommended I have them for driving after dark or if I am tired. So they live in the glovebox and come out very occasioanlly. Similarly I wear ready readers if I am tired or doing close work or reading small print. Because I only use them for a few jobs and they are quite cheap I have a pair by my bed, some by my chair in the sitting room (for unpicking knitting!) a pair in the workshop and another in my studio. The Welsh Government funds more frequent eye tests for me than for most people – I would like to think they do this for me but I suspect it is as much because if I lost 2 senses I would be more demanding of services!

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But vision is also about having a vision, envisioning, not in the religious sense of seeing angels or saints but imagining how things might be, how problems might be solved, being able to ask ‘What if..?’ (which I talked about in a previous post – you might like to go back and read it here if you missed it).

I am intrigued by the way some people are very good at creative thinking and others less so and how it can vary over a lifetime. I think it may be to do with our attitude to change. It seems particularly pertinent now when we have all had massive changes forced upon us. Do we long for ‘things to go back to normal’ or do we contemplate a ‘new normal’ or hope that that this is ‘pressing the reset button’? Response to change seem to lie on a spectrum from ‘bring it on’ to ‘over my dead body’.

wei chi

You may already know that the chinese character for crisis is Wei Chi. It is a conjoining of two smaller characters Wei means danger, Chi is the life force or, in this situation, perhaps better translated as opportunity. And therein lies the conundrum. Are we more aware of the danger? That leads us to dig our heels in, retrench, try to grab control, resist change. Or do we major on the opportunity? Can we envision something better rising from the ashes, become energetic and enthusiastic about a new future? Either extreme is unhelpful but somewhere in the middle – the cautious optimism point – lies a way forward in relative safety.

The colleague who introduced me to the idea of Wei Chi was particularly interested in it’s connection to grief. In order to move to something new we have to give up what was, accept that it has gone. That is as true of breaking a plate as of losing a loved one – the process may be longer or shorter, stronger or weaker but it has to be gone through. If we try to avoid it, circumvent it, deny it it will come probably back to bite us on the bum.

I have long been a change junkie! Or to put it another way I have a low boredom threshold! I am always trying new things, new ways of doing tasks, new arrangements of furniture, new hobbies, new recipes…. I need my less flighty friends to restrain me and help me face the loss of what was before racing on to the new.

One lesson that I have learned recently is to be clear about my vision for the future. When I started the work of planning to live long and well as I reach my later years (some people would say I have already reached them!) my friend Jasmine Dale encouraged me to draw a picture of what that old age would look like. Although I sometimes ‘Open mouth without engaging brain’ I generally have a pretty nifty censor on my words even if they are only spoken in my head. Being no artist my pencil censor is much less experienced so a drawing was more likely to get at what I really wanted rather than what I thought I ought to want. I drew it with coloured pencils – washed out and hard to see – then did it again in felt tips – better, stronger, more convincing. I saw that I had drawn THIS house so was assuming I would stay here. It made me question that and seriously consider the pros and cons of staying or various other places I could live. As you may have gathered I decided to stay here! But it revealed what the disadvantages of that decision were likely to be and what I needed to plan to avoid them.

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It still looks a bit wishy washy!

That drawing has become my lodestar. All my big decisions are measured against it – do they take me towards it or divert me from it? Without a vision I would wander aimlessly and how would I know if I had arrived? I may even be ready to ‘ink it in’ by re-doing it bolder and more permanent!

I am so grateful that I can allow myself to dream big dreams and have the loving support of people who will restrain my wilder flights of fancy, help me think through my plans, make suggestions, and support me as I try to turn them into reality. Thank you to you all.

Blessings # 21 – U is for upcycling a.k.a. Scrap Happy April!

When I started this series I was wondering how to accomodate Scrap Happy and by a wonderful bit of serendipity todays letter is U!

When we revamped this house we installed a new bathroom in a diferent place from the old one before taking the old one out. We therefore had a lot of pieces of used plastic waste pipe lying around. Re-arranging the kitchen added more and then there were the offcuts from the new things going in. By the time we finished the pile of lengths was quite big. So John cut it all into short pieces, stood them in punnets which came from the supermarket with mushrooms in, into the bottoms of which he had pierced holes, and used them as modules for planting seeds.

Over time the chemotherapy took its toll on his digestive system. He also became immuno-compromised and had to take antibiotics for a whole sequence of infections. So he started to take those probiotic drinks to try to help his gut recover. The empties piled up until he had the idea of cutting the bottoms off and using those as modules in the same way.
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They have been going now for almost 15 years and still get washed and re-used every year. Once the seedlings get going they are either transplanted into the ground or potted on into old cream or yoghurt pots (again with holes made with a drill or a soldering iron). These days I also stand the tubes and pots in plastic boxes which are the containers mushrooms are delivered to C&M Organics in. They cannot be returned or recycled but hold 60 of my modules so enough for a whole row of peas or beans.

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Since so many people seem to be starting to see the wisdom of growing some of their own food now that shopping is less easy |I thought these might trigger some creatibve ways to grow on the cheap and with what is to hand.

Scrap happy is curated by Kate and Gun (links below) and celebrates creative ways in which people use scrap materials to make lovely new things.

Here are the links for everyone who joins ScrapHappy from time to time (they may not post every time, but their blogs are still worth looking at).

Kate, Gun, Titty, Heléne, Eva, Sue, Lynn, Lynda,
Birthe, Turid, Susan, Cathy, Tracy, Jill, Claire, Jan,
Moira, Sandra, Linda, Chris, Nancy, Alys, Kerry, Claire, Jean,
Joanne, Jon, Hayley, Dawn, Gwen, Connie, Bekki, Pauline,
Sunny and Kjerstin

See you next time for more scrappy loveliness.

Blessings # 20 – T is for Time

Is it just me or has time become more elastic since we have all been staying in? I no longer know what day of the week it is because there is nothing to differentiate one day from the next. I haven’t looked at my diary for weeks.

One of the things I find interesting about time is that it is so completely egalitarian. Whoever we are – rich, poor, educated, deprived, cheerful, depressed, believer, heathen…. we all get exactly the same amount of time in each day to spend however we see fit. Imagine if that was true of other resources like money! Of course some of it has to be spent on maintaining our lives – sleeping, eating, earning enough to pay the bills and so on. I am fortunate. When I want water I turn on a tap rather than walking to the spring or pump with my bucket and lugging it home again – something I remember an aunt doing when I was little. I don’t spend hours commuting to a job I may or may not like but which puts food on the table. But most of us have some ‘disposable’ time which we can do with as we choose. And maybe we sometimes actually have more choices about how we use our time to support our lives than we realise. Or would have if we had the courage to take a risk, to grab life by the scruff of the neck and shape it to suit ourselves.

The length of each day is fixed but none of us knows how many of them we will have. Just because there is a global pandemic and many of us are staying at home and keeping safe doesn’t mean that all the other diseases and accidents that can see us off have taken a holiday. I can take exercise, eat well, wash my hands often, get enough sleep, take care when climbing ladders and still have a heart attack, fall and break my neck, or be harbouring a milgnancy.

I have been given a life which has already been longer than some and which I hope will go on for a long time yet. I am lucky enough to have plenty of resources, practical and mental. Each new 24 hours is a blessing and it behoves me to make the most of it – even if that is to waste it wisely.

Blessings # 19 – S is for Sunshine

And I have been blessed with some almost every day for the last 3 weeks whilst we have been locked down.

When we were looking for a place to buy we had a wide search area but a clear list of things we wanted – a large plot so we could have a big garden and no neighbours too close, ideally a plot which was empty so we could build a house to suit ourselves, somewhere quiet with clean air. We also wanted to be well above sea-level. We both loved living on the Exe Estuary in Devon but had noticed that the boards which were put across the slipways under the railway tracks were being used more often and built higher, until we began to wonder how long it would be before our village was flooded. But top of the list for John was that the plot should be South facing.

That proved to be a problem. All the building plots were rather mean in size and on the North facing side of the valley or road. The South facing side had been built up first to the end of the area designated for development and now only plots on the north facing side would get planning permission. Had ‘One Planet Developement’ been available we might have looked at that but that came in much later. (To find out what One Planet Developement is all about read my previous post here) When we started looking at plots with buildings on we found that almost all the houses were orientated to face East. After all farm workers needed light in the morning to get up and get to work and possibly some in the evening but during the day they would be busy outdoors! This place was probably built as it was because digging out any more of the hill would have been far to much work for a pair of mere tied cottages!

Had we been able to build to our own design we would have made even better use of the sunny aspect. But we did what we could. Eleven years ago we finally had funds to have solar panels put on the roof. The big array is solar PV which generate electricity. At the time the government were offering good incentives to ramp up solar generation so I get just over 50p for each kilowatt they generate, which in Summer gives me a nice bonus and even in winter gives a little. After a few years they had paid for themselves and they will go on bringing in a tax free amount for the next 14 years. After that it will just be what I get for selling the power to the grid which is very little! But what I use is free and the system is set up so that I use my own power in preference to power from the grid if I am generating. Of course my main need for electricity is in winter but at least I can do my spring cleaning at the moment with a clear conscience. All the extra washing of curtains and covers is using free power!

It is hard to see in the photo because the elder tree was in the way but there are 2 solar thermal panels on the lower roof. They give me hot water when the sun shines so I don’t have to use the heating system so much.

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The derelict shed is attached to the equally derelict cottage next door! Finding a spot where I could take a photo of the roof without too many trees in the way proved tricky now they are coming into leaf!

The lean-to greenhouse is not there because I needed more space to grow under glass. It is to absorb heat when the sun is shining and by opening the windows I can let it inside. Today there is a chilly wind but in there it is hot and the house is toasty without any heating being used.

The last improvement, a couple of years ago, was to have the deck built so that I can sit and enjoy the sun in summer.

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Sun to sit and bask in, sun to heat my home and grow my food, sun to heat the water and sun to run appliances and give me a little bit of extra income – what a blessing!