Something I learnt as a child…

So, a couple of days ago, I started idly twisting a couple of old cut-off shirt seams round my fingers, and before I knew it I was twining & stitching a tiny basket, which is ideal for keeping odds & ends of thread in… I was ridiculously pleased with myself, although I know perfectly well that in days gone by, or on this day in other places in the world, any child can make these; it’s definitely not rocket science!

Tiny basket made from cut-off shirt seams…

But it brought a long-forgotten memory to mind; I was probably about 8, and had made something very similar at school. I trotted home fairly bursting with creative pride, and handed it to my mother. “Very nice, dear,” she said, distracted, as mothers-of-many so often are. “But what did you learn today?”

So, making stuff isn’t learning; that’s what I learnt that day. Learning is words and numbers, facts, and figures. Learning is ideas and abstractions; making stuff is just – child’s play. Something to be put behind us so that we can enter the glorious adult world of using those ideas & abstractions to earn money & buy stuff, playing our rightful part in The Economy. Making stuff, if you really have to, should just be a hobby, involving buying lots of new stuff to make it with, in your “spare” time, or perhaps it should be monetised, if you’re more than competent; you could sell those! But what’s the point in bothering, if you can’t do it cheaper than a oriental wage-slave & churn out enough to supply the high street giants…? Not many of us crafters could support a family on what we could earn, any more then I can feed my family solely on what I can grow on my allotment. Yet somehow we are still driven by something inside to do it anyway.

I know I’m not the only one to be dismayed by how creativity has just fallen out of our educational system; it’s simply not valued in any way by those who make the decisions unless they can see it as a way of gaining a competitive edge in the world. Music, drama & textiles are hanging on by a thread, but very few adults follow through with their interest once they realise they’re not going to be the next superstar or “designer” name. And children only have a basis to explore their potential talents if one of the adults around them happen to be interested in & actually doing such things, and is willing to help that child learn. You won’t do something if you think you might get it wrong or look a bit silly, but especially not if you don’t even know that it can be done.

There are massive commercial pressures to keep people a little bit helpless, a little bit stressed and anxious, because then they’ll keep right on buying stuff, which keeps The Economy ticking over. Also, why put sweat and effort into learning to make something when you could just buy one, or 3D print it? So gradually, our collective competence is dwindling away…

Making or growing stuff, actually manipulating matter with developing skill, applying and combining ideas, and ending up with something genuinely useful and quite possibly beautiful too, is deeply satisfying, even on the level of a tiny basket made from rags. It doesn’t have to win a Turner prize to be worth doing. Why are we allowing future generations to be deprived of this delight?

Home-grown turnips & home-made jam…

Here we are, nearly the end of May…

…and I’m going flat out in the garden and at the allotment again. It’s still too cold put much out, and now what I have planted out is in danger of drowning, but our little greenhouse is full to bursting of tiny plantlets waiting to gallop into their full potential when conditions allow. There’s plenty of infrastructure work still to do up at the allotment to get ready for them, but I’ve hurt my back so will have to wait a few days more before I can get on top of that. In the meantime I’ve been cooking up an idea for a self-built “tomato-house” in an under-utilised space round the front…

Seedlings ready to go in. But not into a bog…

But whenever I’ve wandered over to the allotment to tend the potatoes and brave seedlings that have poked their tiny heads up (Yay! Parsnips! For the first time ever!) I’ve been saddened to walk past several “landscape gardeners”‘ pick-ups parked outside people’s homes, with shredders going full blast and branch after blossom-laden branch being fed into the chippers. Rootballs & whole shrubs chucked onto the lorries, bag after bag of rich topsoil going to the dump & sterile sand being barrowed in, followed by rolls of astro-turf. Massive, expensive plastic-rattan suites & flimsy “gazebos” are being delivered to take up half the outdoor space and blow-up hot-tubs to cover the rest. And the big new “executive” houses going up in the new estates all round our little town have tiny pocket-hanky gardens. It’s left me wondering how most people see gardens these days; do they just want their outdoor spaces to be a place to “be” in, or entertain in? Our local estate agents seem only to see gardens as potential building plots.

I do know that people are very stressed and don’t want to have to bother with “work” in the garden when they finally get home after queueing in traffic for half an hour to get through all the roadworks caused by the new builds. I know that the supermarkets have plenty of fresh produce you can buy for pennies, so why bother to grow your own? I know that to many, wildlife is something that lives “out there” and any living thing that shows up in your space is a pest or potential danger that should be got rid of; toads are slimy, hedgehogs prickly, bees, wasps and anything that looks vaguely like them might sting or bite, birds may poo on your expensive rattan suite, bats get stuck in your expensive hairdo, and so on. But don’t people have any idea what they are missing out on?

Some non-supermarket produce entertaining me…

When the sun shines, our little garden is a bit of a sun-trap, and there’s no greater blessing than to doze gently in a chair, listening to the hum of next-door’s bees coming in to drink at the pond and pollinate my crab-apples. We have a small solar-powered fountain, bought for a few pounds in an online sale, to keep the water clear & fresh for the tadpoles that will grow into frogs and toads that will keep the slugs at bay. The antics of the two hedgehogs whose “range” includes our garden amuse us hugely after dark, and we’re privileged to have one of them “nest” regularly in the lesser-visited recesses of the garage. The scent of the pittosporum at dusk in spring, and the roses all day in summer, are a constant delight. And the taste & texture of home-grown produce just beats any samey-same affordable supermarket vegetable hands-down. Ah well, perhaps I just belong in an older & kinder version of the world…

Spot the bee…

(For UK residents, here’s a link to a petition to Parliament asking for a ban on artificial grass in gardens: https://petition.parliament.uk/petitions/585520)

In other news, I’ve been making-do & mending as usual, and would love to share a little project with you all. Elder daughter had a favourite pillow-sham for many years, one of those nice M&S patchwork ones in pretty shades of blue & pink. I forget where it came from originally, but it’s lived here for at least ten years. However since about Christmas it’s languished at the bottom of the “putting-away” pile of clean washing, and when I looked more closely at it, I realised that it had actually disintegrated past the point of no return. But she couldn’t quite bear to rip it up for rags or just chuck it out.

A worn-out pillow sham…

So the parts that aren’t too worn are now two lavender-stuffed hearts, to scent her wardrobe or pop under her pillow for a good night’s sleep. There are two tiny bits left which might make a pin-cushion. Sometimes you don’t have to harden your heart & chuck out items with fond memories that have “had it” – it’s always worth thinking, what might they be next?

…becomes a well-stuffed lavender heart – a fitting end?

Bizarre!

How strange! I feel as if a beloved friend has just left us… the time had come to replace my Mac Mini. We’d had it for over 10 years and it had served us well; it’s been replaced with an updated version as that’s what does the things I need from a personal computer the best & fits the space available. It had become slower & slower over the last few months, and every now & then the fan would kick in audibly as it struggled; I suspect it had got very dusty inside. I opted to go for the trade-in option, as that means that anything that’s still usable inside the box will get re-used, and the bits that aren’t will be recycled rather than just sitting in a cupboard until I got round to chucking it out.

So I did the Mac-to-Mac transfer, which wasn’t as horrendous or time-consuming as I thought it might be, though there were one or two little blips. But Apple Support were great & smoothed it all out for me, and the New Mac Mini was up & running easily a couple of days ago. Yesterday I managed to track down all the bits of data that had wandered off to other folders, so today was “Wipe Mac-Mini-1” day. I followed the instructions on the Apple website to prepare it for returning to Apple, but as it came to clicking the “Erase Disk” option I felt a real pang of sorrow!

It’s very strange; I know I’ll feel the same when my beloved Mazda Bongo finally trundles off to the great scrapheap in the sky. Or if my 1909 Jones Medium treadled sewing machine jammed irreparably, something having broken inside. My head knows perfectly well that they’re just machines; they don’t have personalities, they’re not my “friends” no matter how useful they are, but somehow my heart “knows” otherwise. And I suspect that that’s one reason why I feel I have to do what I do; I see perfectly good old tools, furniture or books sitting in a skip or at an auction and somehow they seem to be begging, “rescue me!” But that does rather lead to an excessively cluttered home, despite my efforts to re-home stuff profitably.

I suppose the answer is, stay away from skips, scrapheaps and auctions. But please tell me I’m not alone, and that other people out there do sometimes feel the same, and that some of the good old stuff that’s tossed away in our wasteful society will also be rescued – just not always by me…

My beloved “rescued-via-Ebay-for-£2.50” Jones Medium treadle, still very much in use!

In the spirit of Thrift…

A long time ago, I discovered that the word “Thrift” doesn’t quite mean what people generally think. (Although there is an element of words eventually coming to mean what people think they mean, rather than what they originally meant. Just don’t tell Humpty Dumpty.) It didn’t, and shouldn’t, mean penny-pinching miserliness; it came from the same root as “thrive”, just as “frugal” originally meant much the same as “fruitful”. Once I’d wrapped my head around the idea of thrift as something positive, it put a different slant on my attempts to live within our means as we raised our biggish family on one-and-a-little-bit incomes whilst paying a fairly hefty mortgage to afford a home big enough for us not to actually fall over each other. It became a challenge to get the very best out of the resources actually available to us, rather than to become bitter & envious, and strive after ever more money and ever more stuff.

There are all sorts of interesting thoughts hovering around this; why are we continually encouraged to buy, buy, buy; to upgrade things that aren’t broken, to cook with fresh ingredients from the other side of the planet, to constantly change our clothes & decor at the whim of fashion editors & celebrities, to replace rather than repair? Is this a sane way to try to run the world? Why is our own time rarely recognised as an important resource, only time that someone else pays you for? However, the central fact is that, given that you actually do have enough (a key concept) of everything vital, it’s an interesting challenge to see what more you can do with the resources, of any sort, that do come your way.

Hence my determination not to just throw away (and where exactly is away?) the little strips of not-so-usable fabric that resulted from demolishing 20-something shirts, some old jeans, and a couple of skirts for free or very-inexpensive fabric. The hems, side-seams & plackets, mostly; I have another project or two in mind for the collars and cuffs. And thanks to lockdown 3 here in the UK, I have plenty of time to put my plans into action for a while. So, here’s the finished hem-and-seam rug:

Rug in twined-weave, made from seams, hems & plackets of old shirts, jeans & skirts, plus an old duvet cover.

I do know how very lucky I am, to have the time and the space to make things, but something inside me won’t let me not make things, and of course there are plenty of other things I should probably be doing, like housework. The things I make may be simple & easy, and I really don’t need another rug, but it’s given me great pleasure to turn some things that under other circumstances could be seen as “waste” into something genuinely useful and colourful.

For the next few days, I need to concentrate on getting a few seeds started, and a part-done cot quilt that needs finishing before the “user” arrives! But then – where next with my massive “to do” pile and my random assortment of “resources”…?

A jolly Covid Christmas upcoming…

I dashed into our local big outdoor shopping mall whilst passing on another errand earlier, looking for a few last-minute gifts. What a grim experience… I went into one shop, which was rammed, and the little assistant by the door said to the guy immediately behind me (far too close!) “Please may I remind you, sir, to wear a face covering in the store?” to which he snorted, “It’s not a law, you can’t make me; do you want my money or not?” The poor little lass just looked down; she was evidently used to this & knew not to antagonise. The place was full of aimless plastic & polyester tat and people barging around with no regard for personal space, never mind social distancing, so I left & tried another place, a well-known kitchenware shop, which wasn’t so crowded & didn’t seem to be attracting so many idiots. There were some good things, but at very silly prices. They’ll be half that price next week, and so they should be! So I just bought a couple of everyday necessities and left empty-handed; I don’t go down there very often. It seemed to me that people are behaving every bit as daftly as they normally do at this time of year, totally ignoring the enhanced risk of the mutated virus. I think I’d rather risk disappointing my family & friends than shop with the herd again…

It was also noticeable how slowly everyone was driving. Conditions weren’t that bad; grey & drizzly, admittedly, but no worse than that. But we were trundling slowly along at a very steady & careful 27mph in a 40 zone before the driver in front of me nearly wavered into the kerb & I suddenly realised that it was lunchtime & they’d quite possibly had a bracing snifter or two; I think there’s a lot of that about, with people stressed by what seems like an endless onslaught of bad & worrying news, health, job & money worries and the pressure of trying to keep up appearances over the “festive season”. Or more worryingly, perhaps they weren’t feeling very well…

We are very much amongst the lucky ones this year. We have 3 of our 5 offspring here at home, with a 4th not very far away. Eldest and his delightful partner unfortunately still live in Tier 4 so won’t be joining us, except digitally, but we’re all healthy (so far!) & have plenty of food in the house & at the allotment. I’m sad for all those who will be alone, and those who don’t have enough to eat, never mind presents for the kids. And as for those with no roof over their heads, in this endlessly grim drizzle that will only end as the temperature falls… my heart sinks. What are we thinking, to celebrate the birth of the Prince of Peace with an orgy of buying plastic & polyester tat? Stuffing ourselves with expensive, unhealthily-processed foods when many don’t have enough to eat? And doing what I did today, actually risking our lives by rushing into crowded spaces where some people have no intention of following the guidelines, in pursuit of the “perfect” present?

Count me out of that next year, please… in the meantime, I’m wishing you all a happy & peaceful Christmas and a healthy & merry-hearted New Year.

Tree from our local RSPB reserve, decorated with baubles rescued from the Tip, hand-painted be-glittered fir cones and walnut shells – oh, and the non-recycled odd candy cane!

I don’t know why…

I just haven’t been able to write anything for the last few months. I’m not sure why; it’s not as if I haven’t been doing things, and plenty of them, but it’s seemed somehow like time apart from the mainstream of life. Part of me desperately wanted to record the sheer strangeness going on all around, but a larger part of me felt that committing it to type might make it real, somehow. A sort of feeling that if I held my breath, didn’t do anything, didn’t acknowledge the situation, it might kind of just fade away…


Anyway, the spell has been broken by the necessity of getting a newsletter out; there wasn’t much to put in it, so I ended up writing an article-ette to bulk it out, then suddenly, Bingo! The brakes in my head came off. And I have to report, it is real. At the start of all this, back in spring, I think we all hoped that in a few weeks, it would all be behind us, just another something-and-nothing. But it isn’t; it’s becoming apparent that that was just the start and we have a long & sometimes rocky road ahead of us. There have been many moments when it seemed that someone somewhere was playing a gigantic joke on us (drive 30 miles to test your eyes? You cannot be serious, that could actually be lethal) but no, it’s for real, the lunatics are in charge of the asylum and they’re not about to fly away over the cuckoo’s nest.

Where I live, we’ve been relatively lucky in that the virus has yet to gain much of a foothold. By and large, people have done what our leaders asked them to, and it’s easy for us to get out into the fresh air and stay socially distanced. But the price has been not seeing our families; we had a wedding in the family, the bridegroom being one of our sons, and my Other Half and I had to stay elsewhere so that he could be with his siblings before the ceremony & not break the Rule of Six. (All kudos to the bride & groom for staying calm and switching their arrangements several times at the drop of a government diktat, at considerable expense.) My mother had a spell in hospital and decided that she couldn’t bear to live alone any longer; we’ve found her a wonderful care home, which she’s enjoying hugely, but we can’t visit her except to yell up to her balcony, and we certainly can’t give her a hug. These are small sadnesses, and we know we’re very lucky in the great scheme of things, but they are also little rips in the social fabric that binds us all together, and we all know what happens to little rips that don’t get mended swiftly.

There are – undercurrents – that worry me. More and more places are refusing to accept cash, ostensibly because coins and notes may harbour the virus. But as our banks & government have been flying the kite of a cashless society for a long time now, this seems to be playing into their hands. Then what happens to those who are refused bank accounts, often for reasons beyond their control, like debts run up by a previous partner or occupant of their home? How can markets, independent traders, workshops & studios flourish without cash where the mobile connections aren’t reliable, i.e. anywhere outside major population centres?

It’s getting harder to get hold of big things that you really need. I won’t bore you with my greenhouse saga, but it took 5 months to actually acquire one, having originally ordered (and paid) in early April, and it was a nightmare to put together. In the end, though, I’m very pleased with it. It took 2 months to get hold of a new & much-needed freezer, which isn’t the make or model I wanted, but at least it’s the right size and actually here; the one I wanted is still unavailable. Apparently it’s equally hard to get hold of a new TV now too; “supply chain” problems. Interesting…

The bantams & their chicks investigate the new greenhouse…

You can’t actually see a doctor or dentist unless you’re on the verge of expiring. Phone consultations are better than nothing, but they can’t see the lump on your eyebrow that you hadn’t noticed or the fact you’re rather yellow. And so much blame is being misdirected – “NHS” Track & Trace, anyone? – which has nothing to do with the NHS itself and everything to do with money-grubbing super-corporations trying to dig their fingers into our pie, with appalling incompetence that would have got any public servant sacked & disgraced. But how can we hold our “leaders” to account when they’ve made it absolutely clear that they simply don’t give a damn what we think?

How do we know who to listen to? We’re told that policy decisions are “following the science” but whose science? Who’s paying for that science? It does rather seem that those with the highest responsibility are cherrypicking the science that they want us to follow, but have no intention of following it themselves?

Anyway, enough! What have I been up to? (Apart from growing stuff, failing to earn anything much (there are no vintage markets going on down here, and all the summer festivals & events were cancelled, and look likely to be next year, too) and trying to find ways that our family can celebrate things like weddings more or less together?) Well, not as much as I would like to be able to say. I taught myself to knot netting at the beginning, so that my peas could have something tough but soft to scramble up. The wild rabbits that infest our allotment site ate my peas. The rabbits also ate my carrots, my runner beans (including most of the ones that re-sprouted from last year’s roots) and nearly everything except beetroot & chard. (Which did give me the chance to learn to appreciate fresh home-grown beetroot, which is actually quite yummy.)

Home-grown beetroot…

They also tunnelled under the sunflowers, which depressed those somewhat & led to some strange multi-headed blooms. Once I’d realised that I had to defend everything against rabbit incursions, and my second line of beans were halfway up the poles and beginning to flower, we had a late frost – 23rd May – which killed those too, and most of the French beans, gave the potatoes a nasty headache and generally wreaked havoc. Only 4 plots got badly “hit” out of 126; it was then that we realised we’re at the bottom of a very gradual slope and cold air sinks downwards.

But that said, the courgettes went bonkers. We grew just one more plant than last year, when we had – enough, just about – but this year we ended up coming home with anything up to 12 courgettes on every visit, and giving a fair number away. 3 of the 6 plants are still going strong, as are the 3rd planting of runner beans. We only planted 3 tomato plants; the other 14 came up of their own accord. I didn’t keep on top of supporting them & pinching them out, etc., but we had a magnificent harvest before the blight struck, and ended up with a freezer full of ratatouille & passata. There’s plenty of chard, kale & leeks in the ground to see us over the winter and there are a number of “unofficial” Turk’s Turban squashes (i.e. grown from seeds from last year; they’ve come up pretty much like their parent plant & do taste good) sitting in the conservatory as well as a couple of little pumpkins. And the raspberries have been superb. For all the frustrations & setbacks, we still well & truly got our money’s-worth out of our little plot. Now it just remains to clear the beds that will be “resting” over the winter, sow a couple of lines of runner & Iron Age horse beans, and tidy up.

Well, maybe the rabbits didn’t get ALL of the peas…

I discovered how to make & drink rhubarb champagne, which is delicious, but I haven’t done a lot of craft-work; I did manage to twine a new cover for a small stool with the remains of a damaged old blanket, but that’s about it. Like with writing, I didn’t have the heart to start anything, somehow. But now I’m looking forward to actually using up some of my fabric, yarn, fleece and other resources in the long dark evenings to come. There are plenty of ideas beginning to bubble away in my head; time to start putting some of them into practise!

Small foot-stool re-covered in woven blanket

Supermarket mayhem…

She was standing by her empty trolley, impeccably suited, subtly made-up & sleekly-coiffed, clutching her shopping list, with tears trickling slowly down her face. Our local W8rose had run clean out of pasta this morning; the shelf was utterly empty. And rice, and noodles, and tinned tomatoes & passata, corned beef & tuna, bread flour, yeast & sugar, all except the exotic, expensive varieties. To be honest, there were plenty of alternatives like bulgur wheat available, but rationality had fled and sheer blind panic set in. Her blank, tear-stained face will stay with me for a long time.

I’m not completely unsympathetic; poor woman, evidently nothing in her comfortable life had prepared her for this. And she may only have had an hour to “get everything in” before giving a vital presentation or chairing a meeting. The reality of being “let down” by one’s ubiquitous upmarket grocer brings home the reality that there is something going on just now that many people are somewhat poorly-prepared for.

One of my daughters works at another local supermarket which has been mobbed for the last couple of weeks. Regular customers who normally do a £100 weekly shop are spending £300-£400, ransacking the shelves of what they perceive to be store-cupboard staples, like crisps and energy bars. Out of curiosity, I looked up bulk noodle & rice supplies on Amaz0n, and watched the available deals vanish before my very eyes; I’d see a deal considerably less favourable than I’d find in our local oriental supermarket, click on another for comparison, go back to the first & find it had sold out, literally seconds after I first saw it.

I’m not worried for ourselves; for many years, I’ve been a “prepper” in the sense that I’ve kept a good store-cupboard & always had some non-perishable food & flavourings on hand that we could survive on for a number of days if for some reason, like having ‘flu, being snowed in, or having broken a leg, I couldn’t get out for a bit. That just seems like common sense to me. When something runs out in the main larder cupboard, I open the one in the store cupboard and make a note to buy another ASAP to replace it, making sure stuff is rotated and used up well before it’s best-before date when possible. It isn’t always possible, as demand fluctuates, but in general we don’t end up throwing stuff out, and sometimes it even saves us money. But that hasn’t stopped people gently laughing at my “Armageddon Cupboard”…

And that’s one of things distressing my daughter; knowing that a lot of the stuff that people are rushing out to buy will probably be wasted in the end, as they won’t have, or will run out of, the things that make bland staple carbs like rice & pasta interesting, or they just won’t need or use it at all until it’s out-of-date. Also that many people are buying much more than they could possibly need to last for a couple of weeks, because they’re used to daily or, at most, weekly shopping and have no idea how much stuff they actually get through. Not much thought is going into their panic-driven lists; they’re racing to snap up things that a) they don’t usually buy or use and b) there’s no known shortage of in this country, but that someone’s mentioned on Faceb00k.

People are getting left out. I’m not so worried for the lady crying in the pasta aisle, though that’s a shame. But for the pensioners who can only get there once a week, with just an hour before the bus back home leaves, who find the shelves empty. For the food-banks, whose donation boxes are conspicuously empty. For those elderly or disabled stuck at home, dependent on carers & meals-on-wheels deliverers who may themselves have to self-isolate. For those who have no storage, living in bedsits, or worse still, no home at all to keep stores or self-isolate in. And what about those on zero-hours contracts, who will have no money to pay the rent or buy food with if they need to take time off sick?

This is a mess. Those nominally in charge don’t appear to have a coherent plan of action & seem to be more invested in minimising economic damage than in making sure all of their citizens are as safe and as well as can be. They’re leaving it up to us to prepare ourselves, and not everyone is in a position to do that, or has the time or the skills, or even the inclination. And it’s up to the supermarkets to ration supplies or not, as they choose. If things do get really silly, all we can do is try to look after any vulnerable people we’re aware of, making sure they do have food to eat at least, even if it’s just a bag of tins (provided they have & can use a tin-opener; not everyone does or can) or packets left on the doorstep & a thumbs-up through the window. Phone your elderly relatives, if you can’t go & see them, so that at least they have a tiny bit of social contact, and phone them back every day if you’re the only voice outside the gogglebox that they’re hearing. Skype or FaceTime them, if they can manage that.

Oh, and please don’t bet your health, and everyone else’s, on it “not being any worse than the ‘flu”…

This really matters…

IMG_2010
Allotment-grown goodies…

Get Food, Growing, Cooking & Nutrition on the School Curriculum

OK, I’m back! This little petition request (above) popped into my inbox this morning, and really lit a fuse under my still-somewhat-sluggish mind. It’s a subject dear to my heart and woven throughout the fabric of my life; food, and the production thereof, is THE most fundamental factor in our collective health after clean water. Even above sanitation & the miracles of modern medicine; if you are healthy & well-nourished, you stand a far better chance of fighting back effectively should misfortune strike.

But what people seem to lack today is the power to make sane & sensible food choices, because they have no basis to make those choices except advertising from the manufacturers & purveyors of junk foods. Thanks to the steady downgrading & elimination of Home Economics, Domestic Science and the like from our school curriculum (subjects that enabled people to stand on their own two feet at home and often went far beyond that) many people actually seem unaware that they do have choices apart from what’s in front of them on the supermarket shelf, no matter how devoid of actual goodness it may be. Not to mention the fact that they usually have no time to spend pursuing more sensible (and usually more delicious) choices, or actually cooking them, or experimenting to get the best out of them. And many people lack the space & time to grow their own.

How can small local food businesses, selling decent produce, survive in a marketplace dominated by giant supermarket chains unless people know there are other choices available? How can farmers stand up to the ever-growing pressure to reduce costs by cutting corners if we don’t care enough to reward them?

How can children appreciate good food if they’ve never tasted it? We all know the battles we’ve been through to get reluctant children to try something new, something that their friends perhaps don’t eat, but we also know that mostly, with persistence, that battle can eventually be won. I have fond memories of administering a “green box” scheme, where the farmer delivered to & the customers collected from my doorstep; one of my sons, then aged four, would prowl up & down surreptitiously to identify the customers who didn’t like kale, then happily inform them that, actually, he did. Nine times out of ten, thanks to his big blue eyes, we’d end up with extra kale to stir-fry to crispy with garlic & soy sauce. Naughty boy! But he still loves kale now, aged twenty-six and halfway through a PhD…

It doesn’t just come down to money, although time is definitely a big factor. We all know people who eat well & thrive on a tiny budget, and people who have plenty of money but are suffering from all the ills that modern society can inflict on them. That’s not to say that there aren’t people who genuinely do not have enough money or resources to eat well, or at all, much to our collective shame; there are far too many, for far too many different reasons, mostly not self-inflicted. But for the vast majority of people whose weekly trolleys are laden down with junk, it’s lack of awareness that there is another way that’s hammering them, from both the health and budgetary angles. Or lack of confidence to at least try… and that’s what could so easily be addressed at a young age, if the political will to act is there.

To put it in terms that even a politician could understand: people cannot make sensible choices if they are not aware that there are choices…

It’s no good insisting that this education should take place in the home, when many young parents have never learnt themselves to cook or budget. This is not necessarily a new problem; witness my poor mother‘s experience. (Luckily for us, my “aunt” Ethel was a good & dedicated cook…) The lack of importance given to this subject for many years, the downgrading of domestic knowledge and inspiration, the idea that domesticity equals drudgery have all played a part in crippling us. As has the idea that seeking to make the best of the resources available to you is somehow “cheapskating” rather than just plain sensible.

Personally I think the time has come to get angry about this; we are all, or have been, suffering because we don’t know any better, or we’re not confident enough to try – and we could be, so easily…

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Home-grown tomatoes, home-made preserves…

Some idiots, some good people…

End of the summer holidays & we can get out & about again without sitting in a traffic jam for half an hour! I’ve just been out blackberrying on the drove roads out to the north-west of our little town. I left my van in a convenient parking spot (its National Trust farmland; it really is a proper parking spot with plenty of room for working tractors to get past) and set off down the trail. Within a few yards of the parking spaces I was dismayed to find poo bags liberally scattered in the long grass either side of the path, all different colours, most of them not even tied shut. It’s not as if there isn’t a dog-waste bin down there; there is, and it’s a fox-proof one, so they hadn’t been dragged there, just thoughtlessly discarded by people who can’t bear to handle the inevitable by-products of pet ownership. It’s as if people just expect someone else to clean up after them, no matter where they are, and they clearly have no idea just how much damage those plastic bags can do to wildlife, or someone else’s dog, for that matter. It would be far better just to leave the poo where it’ll just rot down into the earth, as long as it’s not on the actual path. Sigh…

I got loads of berries, and found a hitherto-unsuspected crab apple too – yippee! I thought my imagination was running riot as I was thinking of blackberry & apple crumble, and could even smell the delicious tang of the apples, then I turned to see a little tree waving red-gold fruit gently at me above the hedgerow. They’re not quite ready yet, so that one’s “bookmarked” for a week or so’s time. There are a couple of others out there that I know of, one green, one yellow, and lots of elderberries and other goodies out there, free for the effort of picking them.

I only saw two other people out there on this lovely afternoon; a lone cyclist and a lady of much my own age, walking three very elderly retrievers. We exchanged a few pleasant words about being inappropriately dressed for the heat, me in my thorn-resisting denim & walking boots, her in a tweed skirt, cardigan & sensible-if-elderly knee-high country boots. I gathered blackberries for another ten minutes or so, until my tubs were full, then strolled back towards the van. And lo & behold, the poo bags were gone, all gone. There are good people out there too…

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Blackberries ripening in the garden…

Baffled again…

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Sweet old Christmas card

…not for the first time! I was intrigued to see all the posts on social media over the festive season about how a real Christmas tree is so much better for the environment than a fake tree. Well, of course it’s better that people should be encouraging the growing of trees rather than spinning copies up out of aldulterated oil & extruded metal that could certainly be put to better use. But most of the posts I read seemed to imply that a fake tree would only have been used once; i.e. you should have been buying a new fake tree every year… oh dear, I’m on the wrong planet again!

I’ve been getting quite cross with myself; surely it would be horribly patronising of me to think that real people actually do do just that? That they’ll spend serious amounts of money buying a fake tree & decorations in this year’s colourways that are just going to end up at the Tip as soon as it re-opens after the festive break? Of course, there will be those with good reasons for getting rid of a tree; they don’t last forever, they do get scruffy & fall apart eventually. People move or change their homes around and need a tree of a different size or shape. Some won’t have anywhere to keep stuff until next year, or their old decorations hold sad or bitter memories for them. But equally, there will be people out there next autumn who are wondering how they can afford to decorate; perhaps they could be given away rather than dumped? Which might restore the environmental balance a little?

And – things can be re-used in different ways, putting a new slant on old memories. I was amused & intrigued to find a number of our old floral candle-rings, once used as table decorations, now looking glorious in a starring role on this year’s tree. (We have two cats, one relatively young and very playful; the few surviving old glass decorations stayed safely in their boxes this Christmas!) Decorations do somehow hold memories; I often “rescue” vintage ones and you can almost feel the weight of stories accumulated over the years. Sometimes bittersweet, but mostly gentle and goodhearted. Somewhere I have some festive printed crepe paper that my grandfather treasured from his childhood, which was always wrapped around the bucket we had our tree in; he was born in 1883, and grew up, as did my father, then I myself in a close & happy, if sometimes far-flung, family. That piece of paper holds memories of well over a hundred festive Christmasses, though hardly any of them would have involved much money!

And in the meantime, I’ve come up with a different interpretation of the word “Epiphany” – the realisation that I will still be picking Christmas tree needles out of myself and our soft furnishings in July… Happy New Year to you all, and may the recycling/remaking/reusing/making-new-from-old Force be with you!

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A rescued vintage Santa…