IMG_1316 (1024x768)With the garden under several inches of snow, my mind has turned to what to do when it’s all melted. I do so love this time of year for hatching plans and forming schemes.

So here I am on the settee, under a blanket, flicking through my ever-increasing pile of books about self sufficiency and growing food. Which feels a little odd really, since I’ve recently decided that I won’t be growing food in our garden this year.

I’ve made this decision before, and changed my mind, but this time is different. This time it’s not the result of grumpy frustration at slug-eaten seedlings and no courgettes. This time it’s the result of a long, well-thought-out process and a lot of planning.

I’ve mentioned my permaculture diploma before, but I don’t think I’ve said too much about it in this space. It’s a course of study, with a tutor, but you get to decide what you learn, and you’re assessed on a portfolio of designs that you submit after several years. One of my first designs is our little garden, and I’ve had much fun drawing base maps and greaseproof paper overlays of the existing features.

Existing features (768x1024)I’ve looked at wind direction, sunlight and shade, access points, existing use, and views. I’ve thought a lot about what we want to do in the garden, and what we want to produce, in the context of the permaculture principles.

And I’ve come to the conclusion that our little space is not, for me, the place to grow our main veg crop.

That does rather seem to fly in the face of advice to keep things close to home – ‘the best pest control is a gardener’s shadow’. But while I do love to grow food, the main thing I want from my garden is somewhere to sit, in peace and quiet, without a constant nagging feeling that I ‘should’ be doing something.

I often pop outside to eat lunch when I’m working at home, and I don’t find it restful to be greeted by dead plants, slug trails, and a never-ending feeling of being the scruffiest house in the street.

I know, I know, that what other people think should not concern me. But it does. And I also know that other people probably don’t bat an eyelid, and this is all about me. But I also know that I don’t have much space, and when I spent months nurturing a single courgette plant, and it’s eaten overnight leaving an enormous blank space, that makes me rather sad.

So no more courgettes in the garden. No more attempts at cabbages, or potatoes, or even strawberries (which I’ve only ever eaten a handful of in all the years I’ve been here).

I’ve spent a long time considering an allotment. I used to have one, and gave it back as I couldn’t keep up with the sheer size on my own, and as it was very overgrown when I got it, I never really got it under control. Sometimes I long for the space to grow more, but I know that the responsibility would just nag at me – another ‘should’ in a head that already feels full of them.

But there is now a solution! A kind friend has offered space in his garden for me to grow whatever I like! Someone else grew vegetables there, but has now moved out, and the garden is unused and a little overgrown. I can grow in any part of it, without being responsible for the rest. I can pop in whenever I like, and I don’t have to pay rent like I would with an allotment. There’s a water supply, and a polytunnel, and space for things like leaf mould and a manure heap, which I don’t have space for here. And it’s only 15 minutes walk away!

And so my food growing will mostly be transferred to our friend’s garden this year. No, I won’t be able to see it every day – but my eagle eyes didn’t result in good crops this year anyway. Yes, I’ll have to traipse up and down the hill whenever I want to visit – but there’s space to store tools there and I can always have a nice cup of tea when I arrive. The ground is good, and (most importantly for me) it’s not overlooked.

I just need to wait for the snow to clear so I can get my garlic planted now!

Posted in in the garden, permaculture | Leave a comment


IMG_1166 (1024x768) (1024x768)Merry Christmas!

As predicted, it was a lovely quiet day here. We opened gifts, spoke to family, and pottered around slowly making dinner, then pulled on our boots for a late afternoon stomp around the woods (with a quick visit to our local chicken friends on the way).

IMG_1190 (1024x768) (1024x768)IMG_1188 (1024x768) (1024x768)IMG_1160 (1024x768) (1024x768)Last night a friend arrived – staying over on his way back to Inverness to do the local parkrun with me. He got here just as the snow started to fall, and within a couple of hours things were looking very festive indeed.

IMG_1278 (1024x768)I just love the way our new white streetlights shine on the snow.

As cosy as it was, we just had to go out for a walk through the woods.

IMG_1227 (1024x768) IMG_1218 (1024x768)(Excuse the wobbly pictures, it was quite dark by this point and I’m surprised they came out at all!)

This morning I was expecting (hoping??) the parkrun would be cancelled but no! The sun shone, the snow was melting fast, and a band of 85 hardy souls braved the freezing sogginess to run round the park.

IMG_1293 (1024x768)IMG_1297 (1024x768) IMG_1307 (1024x768) IMG_1303 (1024x768)Utterly enchanting (and the first and last time I’ll ever be in the top 100 finishers!).

I’m back home now and curled up on the sofa with a hot water bottle and a blanket, listening to children sledging down the street and building a giant snowman in the garden opposite our house. My friend has left to drive to Inverness – I don’t envy him that journey at all, not today. I’m planning to stay right here on the sofa until bedtime.

IMG_1310 (1024x768) (1024x768) IMG_1311 (1024x768) (1024x768)Hope you’re cosy where you are this year…

Posted in cheerful living, home, i love it round here, in the garden, running | Leave a comment

nearly there…

IMG_1153 (1024x768)Things have started getting a little festive around here.

I love it.

My presents are nearly bought, our tree is up, and I’ve been out every weekend with the flute choir playing carols at local Christmas fairs. I’ve eaten quite a lot of mince pies and I’m just about to put some mulled wine in the slow cooker. There’s only four days of work left.

I love Christmas. I always take two weeks off work and we often go on holiday, although this year we’re staying at home. We eat Tunnocks teacakes and drink tea and advocaat, and walk in the frost looking at the twinkly lights. I spend a lot of time reading, and even more time planning all the things I’ll do next year.

Somehow time feels like it stops at Christmas. I imagine things are rather more hectic with a house full of children, and we’ll be visiting our share of those, but in our house it’s peaceful and cosy, and the new year feels full of possibility.

Not long now…

Posted in cheerful living, home | 4 Comments

disappearing act

IMG_1071 (1024x768)Oops.

After all my ramblings you’d be forgiven for thinking I’d run off to actually be someone else. I just don’t know where the last three weeks have gone!

I usually find a hint while looking through my photographs.

IMG_1083 (1024x768)IMG_1076 (1024x768)Hmm, yes.

So, there’s been a trip to London (for work), trips to lots of other places (for work) and some festive flute choir expeditions. Also some failed soap-making (more on that later), and lopping down of trees in the garden (more on that later too). I spent a weekend at the national permaculture diploma gathering (er, more on that later too). And a bit of time wandering around some fields and some more time knitting.

IMG_1088 (1024x768) IMG_1084 (1024x768)Oh, and Peter bought 67 bananas that were reduced to £1.50 so I’ve spent quite a lot of time eating those.

IMG_1079 (1024x768)This week’s adventure was having the gas supply cut off. Fortunately it was all a misunderstanding and we do not have a gas leak, and everything is switched back on again. Thank goodness.

We do need a new cooker though, and I’m a little bit sad because the old one is quite old and I’ve come to think of her rather fondly. I say ‘her’ because she’s a Flavel ‘Fiona’, and she’s been with Peter for over 25 years (and was well used by someone else before that). It’ll be sad to see her go but she could probably do with a rest now.

IMG_1119 (1024x768)(and yes, I could have tidied up before taking that photo, but then you might not have heard from me for another three weeks)

The reason we had people fiddling with the gas supply in the first place was to have a smart meter fitted. While I know not everyone approves of these, for us it’s a good option. We get a little ‘Pippit’ display which tells us how much gas and electricity we’re using, and we can keep track of how much our bill will be.

IMG_1122 (1024x768)Over the years, several plumbers have told us we need a new boiler. We much prefer to repair things where we can, and fortunately have found a cheery plumber who is willing to keep our boiler going as long as he can (it’s pretty much as old as me). I confess I don’t trust people who just take one look at the outside and say ‘that’s ancient love, you might as well get a new one’.

Ours isn’t the most efficient boiler, and we’d likely save a few quid on our monthly bill if we replaced it, but we just can’t bring ourselves to do it until it’s necessary.

For now, it still works. Which is fortunate because things have turned rather chilly out there.

Wrap up warm folks!

Posted in adventures, home, tea and cake | 6 Comments

sometimes i want to be somebody else

IMG_0913 (1024x768)This is the view from our kitchen window, and I sometimes wonder what life would be like with a different view.

Not from a different house (although I do think about that often enough), but a view from a different life, through a different set of eyes. And not because I don’t like my life, because I do. But in idle moments I think about what it would be like to be someone else for a while.

I know I’m not alone, because Victoria Wood wrote a song about this very thing. It makes me laugh every time I hear it, because it’s so true. She sings about not wanting to be reincarnated as a famous historical figure, but rather as just another ordinary woman, with a different ordinary life. And I understand, because that’s what I want too.

I’ve had a surprising number of jobs in my life. I’ve worked in a newsagents, a factory, and a nightclub. I’ve worked for a conservation charity, handed out leaflets for a hairdresser, and taken notes in lectures for deaf students. I’ve written reports for construction industry seminars. I’ve been a personal assistant, taught economics to undergraduates, and for a short time I was self employed as a Victorian. I even spent a day as a lingerie model. Many of those jobs I’ve enjoyed, and some I’ve loathed, but all have given me a glimpse into what it might be like to be somebody else.

IMG_0847 (1024x768)Years ago at a family Christmas do, the conversation turned to dancing. I made some wild declaration (as I do now and then) that I was going to leave work and become a ballerina (while twirling ineptly around the room). ‘You can’t be a ballerina!’ I was told, ‘you need to start when you’re a child!’

I seem to remember declaring ‘I can do whatever I want!’ and being told I couldn’t be an astronaut, a physicist, and a variety of other eminent professions. My young cousin joined in, telling me ‘you can’t be an elephant!’ (there’s a certain logic to that, at least…).

My family of course were right – given my age and lack of athletic background or any interest in science, it’s unlikely I’m going to make it as a professional astronaut or ballerina any time soon. But my interest in wanting to know what it’s like to be those things will never go away, and might explain my desire to do so many different things at once and never settle on any particular thing. Even if I won’t be an astronaut, I can learn a little about the stars, maybe even dress up in a space suit once in a while, and get a feel for what it might be like.

Because I can’t live all those other lives, I sometimes imagine I’m looking at my own life from the outside. Have you ever tried doing this? It’s fascinating. Just observe yourself, even on a dull day, and watch the little things you do automatically, and think about why you do them. It’s almost as good as observing someone else.

Today, for example, I watched myself lie in bed for almost an hour after the alarm went off, and then run to the bus stop and eat my breakfast on the bus (and if the me from ten years ago had seen myself I would have rolled my eyes in horror). I saw myself get excited about a potential new project, and my disappointment after I was told it wasn’t possible. I ate leftover risotto for lunch, and donated ten forks to the communal kitchen as I was fed up eating my lunch with a spoon.

Nobody else saw me sneak to the cafe for a sweet treat this afternoon, and nobody saw me make a hot chocolate and put 20p in our saving-up-to-replace-the-hot-chocolate pot (because I’ll happily pay £2.50 for a hot chocolate in a cafe, but somehow paying £2.50 for a jar of hot chocolate that will make 15 cups feels extortionate). Nobody saw me make a gantt chart that only I will ever see. Nobody saw what I wrote (and then deleted) in response to some reviewers’ comments on an article I’d written.

giant knitting Oldham (1024x768)When I was younger, I used to imagine that when you died, you and all your friends got to sit and watch a video of your entire life, start to finish, in real time. I loved the idea of showing other people all the tiny details of my life that they’d missed out on, and I loved the idea of seeing theirs. I didn’t think too much about the practicalities (would my friends all be dead at the same time? How would we ever have enough time to watch everyone else’s lives in real time? Would it actually be really boring??) I was too focused on thinking about how fascinating it would be.

Maybe that’s what I’m doing here, trying to pin down some of what I do to show somebody else. I’m quite obsessive about writing things down sometimes – I keep this blog, but I also write elsewhere on several different forums, and in emails, and letters, and usually have at least a couple of notebooks on the go. I make myself charts and lists and am forever declaring goals and intentions and ticking things off.

Why? Am I afraid of forgetting what things are like? I do love to read what I wrote when I was younger, and often curse myself for having been such a poor diary writer as a teenager (they’re full of typical teenager things – mostly ‘it’s not fair!’ and ‘they don’t understand!’). Am I trying to justify what I do? (I’m not sure I’m doing a very good job of that!)

Maybe, since I can’t live everyone else’s lives, I’m just trying to make sure anyone else can read a piece of mine, just like I love to do with other people’s.

What about you? Are you as nosey as me? I’d love it if you told me something about yourself!

Posted in some things about me | 7 Comments

yorkshire sculpture park

IMG_0918 (1024x768)Today we’ve been to Yorkshire Sculpture Park, and I don’t know how I’ve lived here for eleven years and not been before.

IMG_0928 (1024x768)I also don’t know how I managed to take so many photographs (155!) and yet so few pictures of sculptures…

IMG_0929 (1024x768) IMG_0937 (1024x768)Oh wait – that’s one – I almost didn’t recognise it for a second as it looks just like a set of steps.

IMG_0948 (1024x768)IMG_0951 (1024x768) IMG_0954 (1024x768)Ah, there’s another – Andy Goldsworthy this time, and while I do like some of his work, these dead trees suspended in stone felt a little sad.

(Yes, I know they’re trees. And dead.)

IMG_0957 (1024x768) IMG_0989 (1024x768) IMG_0969 (1024x768)I imagined a field full of large, obvious sculptures, and that is there near to the buildings, but a trail runs for nearly five miles right round the park, and today was the perfect day to wander through the woods in all their autumnal glory.

IMG_1005 (1024x768) IMG_0990 (1024x768)Every so often we’d come across another sculpture, peeking out through the trees.

IMG_1012 (1024x768)Anthony Gormley this time. Bet it’s a good view from up there.

IMG_1021 (1024x768)I confess I’m not much of a sculpture fan, and I’m not sure why I suggested we go there today (it might have had something to do with the cafe).

IMG_1023 (1024x768)The thing that captivated me most wasn’t a sculpture at all – it was these bright blue berries. I have no idea what they are. They look just like robins’ eggs.

IMG_1025 (1024x768) Utterly charming. It took me a while to realise they were real.

IMG_1029 (1024x768)We so very much enjoyed being outside. These past two weeks have felt dark and a little shut in, and a good stomp through the woods with some long views was just what we needed.

I was very taken with the exhibition of Emily Sutton‘s paintings in the gallery too, especially this one. They did have a few cards in the shop but sadly none of the ones I was fond of. It seems she has a studio in York though, so maybe one day I’ll peek in on the way home from work.

I’m tired now. We’ve been outside for hours, walked miles, and eaten nothing but cake. If that doesn’t warrant a bath I don’t know what does.

IMG_1043 (1024x768)

Posted in adventures, i love it round here | 3 Comments

my garden, myself

IMG_0830 (1024x768)I haven’t talked about the garden much lately, not because I haven’t thought about it (because I have, oh so very much), but because I haven’t been out there much and I feel a bit guilty.

It’s been nagging at my mind to do an update, but I didn’t know what to write until I popped over to the wonderful Grow Write Guild and saw the latest prompt:

What does your garden say about you?

Well, if you asked the garden itself, I’m pretty sure it would say I was a slovenly, idle mistress, prone to grand ideas and flights of fancy but unwilling to put in the effort required to keep up any semblance of order.

Which sounds about right.

But it got me to thinking that what the garden says about me depends on who’s asking.

If you ask people who know me, and who grow food, they’d ask how I managed to kill off two courgette plants when everyone else is overwhelmed with them.

If you asked someone who loves flowers, they might admire the fuchsia and the planter full of nasturtiums, both still blooming late into autumn.

IMG_0832 (1024x768)If you asked the neighbours, they might tell you how much less neglected it looks now than in previous years (and they might also note that it’s probably about time to prune the willow hedge)

IMG_0836 (1024x768)And if you asked me?

I might tell you that right now the garden says I want to grow food, but am pulled in other directions. The garden holds evidence of activity – a functioning compost bin, a full watering can, laid out beds and even some kale. But there’s also evidence of neglect – empty pots, dead plants, untidy corners, abandoned tools. If you look at my list of how much I’ve harvested this year, you’ll see October’s harvest ran to a total of £1.80. Hardly spectacular.

I’ve been thinking a lot about what I want the garden to say about me.

I want it to say that I love colour and abundance and lying in the sunshine watching the birds. I want it to say that I can find a use for things that would otherwise be thrown away, and also that I have enough attention to see a plant through a whole season. I want people to look in and smile, not mentally make a list of jobs that need doing.

I’ve got many plans for the garden this coming year. I’m using it as one of my projects for my permaculture diploma, so I’ve been out there measuring and creating maps with overlays of greaseproof paper showing wind direction and shadows.

I’m slowly coming to the conclusion that this is not the place to grow food, not in the way that I’ve tried to anyway. I’ve been offered the use of a friend’s garden to grow in, so that will change how I use this one quite dramatically. For the first time I’m thinking about colour and shape and a planting scheme.

I’m quite excited to see what it says about me when I’m done…

Posted in in the garden | 3 Comments