Sticky Willy on the Rocks

We visited Pi Acres a couple of times this week, the second time to finally move the horsebox lorry to its new home. Now work will finally begin on converting it.

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Fern’s new home for the winter

We have called her ‘Fern’ which will make far more sense when I have repainted her green, and then painted on ferns and silver birch trees. But there’s along way to go before I can start on that as Stuart and Lorie from Winkleigh will be working alongside Paul to start the conversion and help get it ready for us to have some adventures in her next summer. We might even go on a British touring adventure in her before we sell her and plough the profits into conservation projects at Pi Acres.

fern plansThe drawings are just preliminary but it gives an idea of how we want it laid out. As we will be looking for second hand, recycled and scrapped materials to fit it out, the drawings will have to be redone according to what we can find. We will have to buy the insulation for the first fix and in a bid have as low an impact on the environment as possible, we plan to buy insulation made from recycled bottles.fern plans 2

While I wondered round Pi Acres this week, I was struck by how bare it looks now, and also how messy it looks after a summer of projects and camp fires with no lush foliage to hide it anymore. But it’s still exquisitely beautiful, and although I say it every time, I wish I could get there more often. The colours even on a drizzly day were exquisite and the water level has risen considerably, making the water busy and exciting.

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I wonder if it will flood this winter? The work we did this summer to direct the water coming down the hill through a colvert pipe and to the stream seems to be working, and what with the bank we built, it looks like the route in is no longer a bog like it was last year.

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The underpinning work the rivers authority and the council did on the bridge and stream bed is helping the flow of the water nicely, and has literally bedded in. Nature is softening the edges and helping disguise the work that has been done. They left me some sandbags that I plan to open up and spread over the newly created bank opposite the stream. I realise of course if it floods it will just get washed away, but until then, there will be a small beach for us to marvel over.

There’s much to do and I’m keen to get back as soon as I can and tidy it all up, but we have started to do Airbnb from our apartment in Exeter to raise funds and it’s suddenly become an endless cycle of checking in new guests, checking them out, laundry, cooking and cleaning. We’ve had a guest the past two weeks who has been enjoying full board with us, so I have been home every night cooking up delicious vegan feasts. We may have converted her to veganism as she’s loved it so much, so I’m delighted my cooking has been enjoyed so well. Last night’s guests in the smaller of the two rooms we are letting had seconds and thirds they loved my curry and home made bhajis so much.

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Mushroom, spinach and sweet potato curry with pilau rice, samosa and bhaji

It’s made me feel very good to share food with grateful people. In fact, I would liken having Airbnb guests to having children at home again, except so far no-one has answered back, raided the fridge and drunk all my mango juice, refused to tidy their room or forgotten how to say thank you. I actually feel appreciated! We’ve had five reviews so far – all five star, so that’s a good start I feel. We have worked out that the money we raise doing Airbnb should pay for the conversion on Fern, and after that we plan to rent out our flat in Exeter and move nearer Pi Acres. It might be nice to stay in Fern on the land when it’s warmer and get lots of conservation work done, but I’m far too much of a princess to do more than two nights in a row before I start longing for a luxury soak in my bathtub. We’ve been avidly looking for somewhere to rent nearby, and I even found a couple of places we liked, but they were too far away, so I think we will stick it out with Airbnb until the Spring, and then hopefully by then a cute cottage somewhere nearby will turn up. Step-heavy upstairs is still making my life a misery, but now that all legal battles are behind me, I feel better equipped to deal with her clomping. Perhaps my EMDR treatment is working too; I feel calmer and less jumpy these days. I even managed to get through what must be over ten days of fireworks constantly going off in the city every night. Even the pooch has been less perturbed than usual – is that my calmness or just her getting used to it I wonder?

Perhaps my daily tipple of rosehip tincture is helping my mood, or the fact that my manager Claire is doing such a dandy job of managing Pobby & Blue for me, it has reduced my stress levels, but I noticed last week that I haven’t had a stutter for some time now. I’m not stimming as much as I used to, and leaving the house hasn’t been at all difficult. I had concerns that having strangers in my house would trigger lots of OCD traits that often go hand in hand with my autism, but instead, I seem to be thriving on the routine. Even Paul admitted he’s enjoying the housework as we strip beds and clean rooms between guests. I’m concerned I’ll start ironing the bedsheets soon and be sucked entirely into a world of domesticity, but this is only temporary, and by Spring we will be off on some adventures.

The Himalayan Balsam wood that was springing up everywhere all summer at Pi Acres has pretty much all died off now (until next spring of course), but rather than the ground starting to look barren, sticky weed, or sticky willy as some people call it has sprung up everywhere.

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‘Galium Aparine’ more commonly known as ‘Sticky Willy’.

It germinates in the cool wet weather of winter. ‘Galium Aparine’ has a multitude of other names including cleavers, clivers, bedstraw, goose-grass, robin-run-the-hedge, catchweed, grip-grass, velcro plant, and sticky bud (not the type you’d get offered at college of course). Sticky weed reminds me of walks with my son where he would sneakily attach it to my back, sometimes so much so that when we got home, I would be astonished at how much he had managed to attach to me without my knowledge.

It’s a great plant for herbalists and foragers and has a clean crisp taste when eaten raw. It is known to boost the immune system (which would help stave off those pesky winter colds) and cleanse the lymph system. It promotes weight loss, and if you cook it with beans, it can help reduce the flatulence that usually accompanies eating them. I suggest throwing a few sprigs in with your brussel sprouts this Christmas to help avoid Christmas Day afternoon parps. It’s also a good urinary astringent as it assists with inflammation.

It’s very easy to squeeze juice out of it, and makes a great refreshing cordial (I’d add lime and maple syrup to sweeten it). If you harvest some, scrunch a big handful of it up and seep it in vodka. Over the space of 4 to 6 weeks (give it a shake everyday) it will turn a lovely lime green. Like the cordial recipe, if you add lime and maple syrup it makes a delicious medicinal tipple, and who wouldn’t want to offer your guests visiting for Christmas a sticky willy on the rocks? As soon as I can get back to Pi Acres, I’m going to harvest some, and by the time my Rosehip tincture runs out, my sticky willy tincture should be ready. Just in time for Christmas. I have mixed feelings about this time of year; my only family being Paul and Oliver, who will be with his half siblings over Christmas and not with us. I’m even tempted to cancel it altogether at home. Being in retail makes it just another marketing tool, and the overt consumerism that takes place makes me feel bad for the planet when I consider the rubbish people buy that will just end up in landfill.

I watched the starlings congregate on telephone wires and in trees last week and felt a pang of sadness that they were leaving but now that the trees are getting stripped bare, it’s much easier it is to see the birds that have stayed. They’re hungry this time of year as they try to fatten up for winter, so I must remember to keep putting food out for them. The berries aren’t enough to sustain them. Mistle thrush particularly like holly berries, but at this time of year, they split up from hanging out together and go find themselves their own holly bush for the winter. They are fiercely territorial over their chosen bush and guard the berries so well, no other birds get a look in. If you have a holly bush that still has berries all over it by Christmas, chances are there’s a stroppy mistle thrush nearby watching over it. I hope it won’t be too upsetting for the mistle thrush in my garden when I pinch some of the holly to decorate the flat. If I decorate the flat of course, and not go full bah humbug. I suppose the Airbnb guests would like a festive place to stay next month, so perhaps I will do it for them.

ringPaul and I did a jewellery making workshop recently and made wedding rings for each other. We held our own wee ceremony and said our vows again; the ones we wrote for our handfasting ceremony in June. I cried. In many ways it was far more meaningful than the event that some of Paul’s family almost ruined this summer. We want to make more jewellery; in fact we loved it so much, perhaps we should do Christmas after all and make a wish list of jewellery making kit to buy for each other. However, chances are, our hard earned cash will more likely all go on ply wood panels and insulation for the van, but if that happens I could always cheer myself up with a sticky willy on the rocks 🙂

 

 

 

The Science Behind Letting Go

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As the wind whips the leaves from the trees and a chill sits in the air with the onset of winter, we are left with an autumnal array of jewel colours that make this time of year quite beautiful. I recently learned that the colours we get every year are dependent on the weather. I used to wonder why some autumns seem more colourful than others.

Leaf colour comes from three pigments. The one everyone knows about is chlorophyll, which is green and is crucial for photosynthesis to take place so that the plant can convert sunshine to energy and grow. Less well known pigments are carotenes which are yellow, and anthocyanins which are reds, purples and pinks. As summer fades, shorter days and colder weather trigger the trees to stop producing chlorophyll which slows down and eventually breaks down so that the existing previously masked colours finally get a chance to have their day.

However, on particularly cold nights, low temperatures destroy the remaining chlorophyll so the leaves become yellow. When we have a bright, sunny autumn, sugar becomes concentrated in the leaves and more anthocyanins are produced, making the leaves redder. If the wind isn’t too strong and the leaves can drink in the last of the sunshine, the leaves will stay put and turn from yellow to orange to red before dropping.

For the leaves to drop without a fierce wind whipping them away, a layer of corky cells forms across the base of the leaf stalk which restricts the movement of sugars back to the main part of the tree. This also leads to a concentration of anthocyanin and helps the leaf turns red.

I’ve been thinking about this; the tree produces corky cells that cut off the energy the leaves have been giving it, so they eventually become separate enough to drop off. The autumn leaves literally teach us all how beautiful it is to let go. In my personal life, this has been an important lesson. Autumn is a time to let go of past hurts, and to cut off the energy of people and habits that we no longer need in our lives.

The fallen leaves then nourish the ground as they rot, so although the onset of winter can feel stark and bare, the ground is being prepared for next Spring as decomposing matter feeds the fungi and detritivores (which literally means feeders on dead or decaying matter) and fill the air with that damp woody smell that we have all come to know as mushroom time. This is the time for fungi to really have their season as they assist in the yin and yang of life and death. It’s nature’s ultimate recycling where matter is surrendered back into the ground and converted into simpler organic forms that are the food source for many of the species at the base of all ecosytems.

I have been struggling to let go of the hope that my family would come through for me, so in the spirit of autumn, I have finally had the bonfire I’ve been talking about where I burn my past. I’m not sure how ecologically sound it is to burn photographs, but psychologically it’s been very powerful for me. I kept a small handful of photos that remind me of happy times and might be of interest to future generations, but the rest – a whole bin bag full have now been ceremoniously burned. fireWedding albums from my first marriage are now gone. Pictures of my birth family gone. My sisters. Gone. My parents. Gone. Hardest to part with were pictures of me with my family where I look fabulous. I asked myself why I struggled so hard to part with them and realised it was vanity. I was gorgeous once. But I do not need vast swathes of photographs that prove I was beautiful. I’m far more beautiful on the inside now, and that is what matters.

An acquaintance visited me not long ago and saw a photograph of me when I was young. “I’d have done you back then” he said, as if that was a compliment. I found it deeply offensive, not just because of the crass nature of the comment or because I had to hold my tongue to stop myself saying that I would never have ‘done him’ (he’s deeply unattractive to me on both shallow and deeper levels) but because of the objectification of a human being, as if my worth was tied up entirely on how I look.  I burned the ‘hottie’ photos with a sense of relief that whilst Paul and I fancy each other like mad, it really has little to do with whether I am a stone lighter or whether I shave my legs. Inner beauty is what matters and too many of us are made to feel ugly because we do not fit the stereotype of what the media tries to tell us is attractive.

Letting go of what is expected of us is liberating. I’ve bought a velvet hooded full length zip up ‘house coat’. I no longer care if it’s eccentric to go out the house in it; I love it. I’m letting go of worrying what people think of me. I went out last week to a friend’s birthday party and didn’t pretend I’m normal. I confessed to friends of friends – (strangers to me) that I couldn’t hear or process what they were saying because of the noise and because I am autistic and no-one batted an eyelid. No-one squirmed and tried to move away from me. My weirdness was just accepted. Although on many levels I enjoyed it, I found it exhausting and ended up tearful and wiped out as a result. Whilst I’m mixing more with people who are not afraid of a bit of neuro-diversity, it’s still mixing with people and I’m just not cut out for it. So I’m letting go of the expectation that I have to.

We have been advertising rooms to let now Oliver has gone to university. It’s been hard to let go of that part of my life and not constantly hound my son to find out of he’s sleeping well and eating properly. He rang me yesterday with no prompting, and we chatted for twenty minutes or more. I’m not usually one to chat on the phone – I struggle with knowing when it’s my turn to speak, but I was so happy that my son was chatty and alert (not groggy and overtired from Fresher week partying) that I was overjoyed. He isn’t vegan like we are, but proudly told me of all the vegan pasta dishes he has been making and getting good at. He’s only bought meat once in the last two weeks apparently, and that was a pack of bacon. Of course I told him he’d bought the flesh of the most intelligent animal that is farmed, but I commended him on limiting his meat consumption. I need to be less judgemental – every step in the right direction is good and if I can let go of disappointment that people aren’t doing everything they can to save the planet, and become a more compassionate species, I might be able to warm people to my ideas instead of scaring them away that I am a militant vegan that is judging everyone.

I was hoping that being vegan would have helped me to lose some weight, but alas, either my cooking is just too delicious or I’m just a sneaky eater. I’ve been making the most delicious raw, sugar free, gluten free, cacao protein balls that are every bit as delicious as choccy treats (naturally sweetened by dates and a dollop of maple syrup). ballsThey are ridiculously easy to make – I just throw a handful of dates, raisins, cashews, and hazelnuts in the blender with a sploosh of maple syrup, four dessert spoons of raw cacao, a dollop of coconut oil and whizz it up. Then I rolled the mix into little balls and covered in desiccated coconut or crushed hazelnuts. In this batch, I added a couple of drops of orange oil, a few scoops of pea protein and some chia seeds so that Paul is getting more protein, as unlike me, he’s losing weight. Now, if only I could let go of eating them all myself.

#lettinggo #autism #proteinballs #autumn #vegan

 

 

 

Autumn Winds

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It feels as though Summer ended with an abrupt gust of wind that came straight after my court case and drew a line under the season once and for all.

I won my case at court, and the sociopath paralegal suing me just made himself look even more incompetent when the judge threw out his case. There was a beautiful moment when the judge asked him what his qualifications were to fight litigation cases, and he had to admit he failed to even complete his first year at law school and had no other qualifications whatsoever. I shan’t bore you with details of the case, but what I will tell you is that he looked like a mini grey haired version of Donald Trump and his body language, way of speaking and smarmy expressions just as ridiculous. The judge was suitably aghast that he charges £200ph and wanted to charge me £4-6k (over the £2k fixed fee we had agreed) for fighting the rogue builder that ran off with my money two years ago.

As we left the court, I wanted to feel jubilant, but I just felt flat. The man is clearly a sociopath and whilst I may have won against him in court legally, he has cost me my (albeit fragile) relationship with my step-father, because they are long standing mates and he chose to support his friend over his step-daughter. I just don’t get people and feel bereft that my family are so utterly rubbish, but then, I’ve always known this. Back when I should have got help as a teenager when my autism was presenting itself in fairly dramatic ways, I was instead bundled off to military boarding school.

Straight after the case was dismissed, Step-Heavy upstairs went away, and Harry has apparently gone back to London, so there’s now been a blissful two weeks of no clomping around upstairs at my flat and I’ve been sleeping like a baby. I don’t know yet whether the sleep is due to the lack of clompy-boots upstairs or the long overdue relief that two year’s worth of legal battles were finally over, but it’s been marvellous. And it’s meant I’ve been in a good place to sift through forty years worth of hoarding as we finish packing up the flat to move. We haven’t found anywhere to move to yet, and it may well be that we don’t move now until Spring, but that’s okay as decluttering at home and making the place lovely makes it more bearable to stay. I’ve been going through generations of photos, old school books, journals and have whittled it down to three piles and a small trunk. The trunk is what I will keep, and the piles consist of: one to throw out, one to look through properly as I have started writing my autobiography and another that I plan to burn. There’s something deeply symbolic about burning photographs and letters from people you wish to cut ties with, and I’m finally ready to let my birth family go. If my autobiography should get published, you will know why burning my bridges to them is so important, but for now, all you need to know is that I am letting go. Like the leaves falling from the trees, Autumn really is showing me how beautiful it is to let go.

I used to hate it when Summer was over; it represented an end to long nature walks where I could feel a warm breeze on my exposed skin, swimming in the sea, eating outside, sitting in the garden and of course an end to all the flowers I love seeing from early March through to now, but then I started learning about trees a couple of years ago. Trees are super interesting right now, with their weird alien looking growths that house seeds. The pods hanging off my neighbours wisteria are fabulous, and as beech nuts ripen, the cases open like something out of an alien film.

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Tim the Herbalist

It’s a great time to go foraging, so Paul and I attended a half day course with a gentle souled man called Tim who took ten of us on a walk near his house, then we went back to his cabin and made tea and potions with our foraged haul. There were two women on the course who clearly knew more about foraging than herbalist Tim did, and constantly interrupted him to add their penny’s worth. I tried not to find it irritating, especially as I was itching to also share my knowledge but decided that would be very autistic of me and I needed to be aware that he was the teacher and we should all be listening to him. Their lack of awareness of how disruptive they were being made it hard for me to relax, especially as the one who interrupted the most and talked the longest had very, very tiny hands. She waved them about  as she spoke like an Italian and sometimes moved them quite close to the two ladies sitting either side of her who both had the long fingers of piano playing hands, which made her hands look even smaller. I started silently willing her to shut up the longer she spoke and had to work very hard to stop myself blurting out in a tourettes style outburst ‘Your hands are very small!’ in a bid to interject some kind of halt to her babble. You’ll be pleased to know I didn’t, and I left the course more knowledgable about herbs and quite pleased with myself that I was able to mask my autism well enough that I probably appeared normal.

Much of what he taught us, I already knew, like hawthorne being good for your heart and nettles being a superfood, but new to me were the benefits of meadowsweet and bramble leaves. There’s something innate about collecting things from the forest and making tinctures. It resonates with something in me and I’ve determined to learn more.herb2

I already make my own face creams, insect repellent and bath oils using the barest of organic ingredients so it seems a natural step to start looking for those ingredients around me rather than buying them online.

In the van on the way home from the foraging course, Paul told me tiny hands lady was clearly on the spectrum herself and that I was like her. I don’t know if you’ve ever found someone intensely irritating and then had someone say that you are like them, but the journey home was anguished for me, as I think Paul is right. I am like the woman with the tiny hands. Except I’m not, because I’m growing ever more aware that I don’t want to be like tiny hands lady. She did know her stuff; an expert even, but that doesn’t mean everyone wanted to listen to her. I’m beginning to understand now why I was never liked at school. Before my teenage rebellion, I was just like her and often knew more than the teacher did. It explains why I never had many friends, and in fact still struggle now. But I am also pleased with myself that I don’t need to be at the mercy of my autistic brain; I can appear normal and whilst it’s exhausting to have to navigate my way through social interactions whilst also trying to keep in mind that I can’t truly be myself, I did marvellously well on this course. I even made a friend called Lisa who runs an art land project in Kingsbridge. We are going to see her set-up this week, and as I’ve warned her I am autistic (she’s a teacher so she understands special needs more than most) I may be able to be myself and not have to apologise for it (we shall see!).

Lisa is also a dream therapist, and I have been having the craziest dreams recently about my family, about my passports, burning the photos, escaping from my family and other very bizarre things. On Lisa’s instructions, I’ve started keeping a dream diary, but they are so profound and relate so well to what I am going through right now, it’s prompted much writing and the autobiography is now well underway. I’m in the zone! Despite just wanting to spend time writing now, I have still managed to get outside and harvest rosehips, and I’ve made a tincture. I’ve written an article for the Dolton diary about foraging, and as it’s interesting (hopefully genuinely interesting and not in a tiny hands way), I’m going to tag it on at the end here, along with a confession. I scrumped all our apples from the local cemetery! Happy reading, and if I have inspired you, happy foraging:

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September has been great for foraging wild blackberries, damsons, and elderberries this year. I made bramble and elderberry jam, and apple and blackberry crumbles with my haul. Well, I say jam but it didn’t set as well as I liked, so let’s say I made compote. It has an elderflower perfume to it that is lovely. I’ve been stewing apples, freezing blackberries and generally making the most of nature’s free food store, but it doesn’t end there.

It’s all to easy to think that this is the time of year when we should all be pruning and tidying and getting our gardens ready for cooler weather, but hold fire there a moment, as there’s plenty more to see, harvest and eat before we settle down for winter. The roses in my garden are still flowering, but many elsewhere have turned to seed and all of them will before the end of October. But before you prune your roses, might I suggest you wait until you have all the rosehips you can gather as they are a superfood, with loads more vitamin C than oranges; just what we need to boost our immune systems ready for the cold season. The multitude of health benefits include the relief of symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis and respiratory conditions. They also prevent cancer, lower cholesterol, manage diabetes, regulate digestion, boost the immune system, increase circulation and help build stronger bones. They contain vitamins C, A, E, B-complex as well as minerals like calcium, iron, selenium, manganese, magnesium, phosphorous, potassium, sulphur and zinc. They also contain organic compounds like beta-carotene and contain several anti-oxidant components that all help improve health. Rosehip syrup is just as easy to make as jam, so what are you waiting for? I’ve made a tincture which is even easier. It’s as simple as washing, top and tailing the rosehips and seeping them in vodka. I’ve put the jar near the tea caddy and everytime I make a cuppa, I will give the jar a little shake. In four to six weeks, I will have a beautiful rose coloured tincture that I can put in my tea, or just sip like a tonic. The origin of the word tincture come from ‘tint’ which is what will happen to the vodka as it steeps. Word of warning for handling rosehips: if you are cutting them open, the small hairy seeds inside are nature’s itching powder, so wash your hands afterwards!

Also out in abundance at this time of year are hawthorn berries, which are well known for helping heal heart conditions. Why not combine your rosehips and hawthorn berries to make a tincture that will not only be delicious, but will keep you super healthy? It’s also mushroom picking time, but there are so many mushrooms out there that could make you ill, I wouldn’t chance eating any that you don’t know for certain are safe. Beech nuts are very tasty if you can get your hands on them before the squirrels, and of course there’s sweet chestnuts this time of year. Last year I got enough to roast, peel and freeze so that we could have chestnut stuffing at Christmas, but again you’ll be competing with the squirrels and they are very efficient at getting there first, then digging up your garden to hide them. If you are lucky enough to have a monkey puzzle tree, the nuts are delicious; they’re like giant pine nuts but with a texture like brazil nuts. They’re edible raw or cooked, but I would suggest dry roasting them and seasoning them with paprika, salt and pepper.

Have fun foraging, but don’t forget, it’s scrumping if it’s in someone’s garden.so check with them first before you start picking the rosehips off your next door neighbour’s rose bushes!

 

To Weed or Not to Weed

I wrote this cute little article for The Dolton Diary, but as they couldn’t use it, I thought I’d pop it here. I’ll be writing another more suited to October for the next issue, so in the meantime, here it is. What I wouldn’t say in the Dolton Diary, is that I have been also been ‘weeding’ toxic people out of my life. After this Monday (my court case) I will be changing my mobile number and weeding out even more people. I feel like a pupae; after the stress is gone, I’m going to burst out of my cocoon and fly, and only lovely people will get to share in that.

It’s that time of year where it’s hard not to miss the white trumpet flowers of bindweed decorating our hedgerows, creeping across our garden fences, and where it is allowed to spread, even winding it’s way up and over tress. bind weedOtherwise known as Convolulus, or Wild Morning Glory, it grows so quickly at this time of the year that it suffocates our garden plants and, forgive the pun, often proves to be a real bind. Whilst it looks beautiful scattered alongside country lanes, none of us want it in our gardens. It’s a weed; the very name gives that away, but weeds by their very definition are simply plants growing where we don’t want them.

Weed-killer is not an option; not just because it kills the plant it’s climbing all over (and the nearby plants) but because it’s so damaging to all the creatures and bugs we should be trying to conserve. Pulling it up at it’s spindly stage at the start of it’s growth is also not an option as it simply snaps, and as anyone who’s tried removing bindweed knows, if you leave any roots at all, it just comes back. I found that if you leave it to thicken up, and encourage it to wrap it’s vine around itself and not your beloved fuchsia, it forms a woven rope that when tugged, pulls away from the surrounding plants in it’s entirety so satisfyingly it’s worth letting it grow just for the enjoyment of removing it. I’d suggest throwing it somewhere where you don’t mind it growing rather than composting it (it’s so persistent it will probably grow on your compost heap!) as it’s still an attractive climber in the right place. We just don’t want it in our gardens.

Another weed that is satisfyingly easy to pluck from the ground if you wait until it is strong enough to stay in one piece when pulled is Himalayan Balsam Wood. HM10It’s an unwelcome interloper to our countryside, stealing space in our ancient forests that should be full of native woodland plants. It’s all along the water’s edge leading down to the River Torridge, and if allowed to flower and seed, will continue to spread further downstream, changing the delicate ecosystem that protects our native plants. If it wasn’t spreading so prolifically, it would be lovely to enjoy its pink snap-dragon style flowers, currently in blossom everywhere. The Devon Wildlife Trust regularly recruits volunteers to remove it, but it’s just impossible to get it all. I was surprised to see it all along the banks of a river I walked along in Brittany last week – it’s everywhere! Unlike Japanese Knotweed that causes havoc with the foundations of our houses and is hard to remove, Himalayan Balsam Wood is easy to remove; it’s roots surprising feeble for such meaty stems. This is one weed that should be removed to save our native wild plants, but not all weeds should go. Dandelions are one of the first food sources for bees that have been hibernating all winter, so if you can bear the pretty yellow blooms upsetting the uniformity of your otherwise perfect lawn, why not leave them be as a gift to the bees?

Nowt as Queer as Folk…

It’s been a busy August, what with our honeymoon, Folk Week and of course peak season at the shop in Sidmouth.

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We also prepped and ran an art tent at the Off-Grid festival this year. It was straight after we got back off honeymoon and I was still quite wobbly after my fall. I told the organisers how ‘special’ I was feeling, and they were so flipping lovely they made it easy for us. Beautiful souls running a beautiful event (although the food was disappointing and I tend to take that quite personally).

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We made things out of recycled material from the Scrapstore and twigs and branches from Pi Acres and it was fun. No nerves, just fun. I want to do more of that at Pi Acres.

Getting to the land has been almost impossible, so I was delighted to find us a beautiful thatched cottage to rent in Riddlecombe, just down the road from Pi Acres (from an ad on the Dolton Post Office noticeboard not online as I would have expected!). I spoke to the owner and she seemed happy with the idea of us moving in at the start of October. It would only have been a winter let, but I was more than happy to be told that we would not have to leave until the end of June, as the folks that own it as their personal holiday home wanted it back just for summer – “we only really need it for July, August and September” said poshy posh Lavinia from Chipping Norton. The viewing was arranged through an agent as they were so far away, but there were emails between myself and Lavinia. To say I was excited is somewhat of an understatement; I’d planned writing my next novel from there. Then the agents handling the letting said we could only have it until end of March. I was disappointed of course as May and June are my favourite months and the gardens at The Dell were stunning; I imagined being there when the bluebells came. The gardens even had a thatched folly, and it was such a lovely place, right on the doorstep of the most exquisite forest that I wanted it even if it was literally just for winter. It would have been perfect for us, as we are now waiting for Autumn to strip the bushes and trees and let us see where we can create a pathway to the top of the mound at Pi Acres. We wanted to be nearby to plant and prune and really get on making our plans a reality.

Thankfully, we own our place in Exeter, because if we had given our notice to leave where we were, we would have had nowhere to go, as the owners ‘changed their mind’. I sent Lavinia an email asking what had happened, as up until changing her mind, we had been in touch directly. No reply. No explanation to the letting agents

guinea pig
Whaaaaat?

It reminds me of the Fishers who ran up £3k of legal bills ‘buying’ my business, only to drop out after eight months with just a couple of lines from their solicitor. Again, I’d been in direct communication with them; spent hours emailing, discussing terms and yet they didn’t have the decency to apologise or explain anything to me. I was particularly annoyed as they claimed to be Christians. What is wrong with people? I’m the sort of person who over shares it is true, but I didn’t need any deeply personal essays on why I was being let down; just some kind of acknowledgement that it would be disappointing for me and for that, they are sorry. Am I being unreasonable? Old fashioned? Too principled?

I sent a rather long email to the new buyer (and the agent) offering to buy my business explaining why I can’t accept an offer at the moment. I probably over-shared, but I think it’s important to be transparent about such things. I’m still at that crossroads of indecision; I have the dreaded court hearing on Monday and I’m pooping my pants – not that I will lose, as I believe I have righteousness on my side, but that I will fall apart under pressure in court. I’m super emotional at the moment and actually cried over the prospect of vegan chocolate cheesecake a few minutes ago, so how am I going to fare in court? I’m having anxiety attacks increasingly frequently and almost reached the end of my tether with my upstairs neighbours last night.

The guy in the room above my bedroom is back home with his Mum after his life has clearly fallen apart, so I’ve tried really hard to be sympathetic to his pacing on the floorboards, the wailing and crying but I think what makes me cross is his mother Step-Heavy (Stephanie). She ripped up all the carpets in her flat two years ago with a view to replacing them, but still hasn’t. footstepsThis is despite me telling her I have PTSD (I’m super jumpy with sudden noises; not just because I’m Autistic but because I briefly lived next door to an alcoholic insomniac psychopath who regularly beat up his mother and smashed up her home – I had to give evidence against him in court to put him back in prison) and because I’ve even offered to pay for the damn carpets I’m so fed up with never getting a full night’s sleep, or even being able to grab an afternoon nap. It’s intolerable and I’ve told her many many times and begged and pleaded she sort it out. I’ve offered rugs, bought her cushioned slippers, begged her to not start clomping until reasonable hours and of course now offered to PAY for it. Her response? “I’ll think about it” (with no apologies either).

I’m also annoyed that she told me she was thinking maybe her son could have her bedroom while he stayed and she sleep in the room above us, but no, she’d rather have a broken man hear EVERYTHING us newlyweds get up to, and have us hear him open can after can and cry. It got so that every time we laughed loudly, or sang or, well, you know, we were somehow torturing him. Why would a caring mother do that to her anguished son? But, thinking about it, she had zero empathy when I told her a couple of years ago that I was on beta blockers for stress related arrhythmia and her lack of carpets was making me ill, so why would she have empathy now? I feel sorry for her son, but it didn’t stop me getting so upset last night I shouted up through the ceiling at 2am that he needed to go to bed so I could sleep.

I don’t get people. We’ve had a bit of drama at the land as well, with John helping us move a tree out of the stream, only to have a neighbour get very upset about the resulting silt in the water potentially ruining mayfly larvae. And I only just noticed I have messages on this blog – I never saw them until now. Most are beautifully positive and supportive, but there’s always going to be someone unhappy at the sight of any change. There’s also been some rumblings of rumours that we are travellers – after seeing the horsebox lorry I suppose, so I’ve written an open letter in the Dolton Diary, just to put people’s mind to rest. I also wrote an article for the diary about nature this time of year as Andrew is too unwell to write his usual articles, but there’s no room for it as there’s a piece about the flower show. Maria who runs the diary said she could put it in next month, but it’s about things in bloom now and wouldn’t work for next month. I’m happy to write another for next month as I thoroughly loved writing it. I was the weird kid at school who liked homework though! Anyway, as I don’t want to waste a good article, I will publish it here imminently. And then I need to ground myself ready for Monday. Perhaps we will make it to Pi Acres on Sunday as I have always found it grounding? Or maybe I will just hide here, as Harry and his mother upstairs have now gone away for a few days and it’s made home a haven once more.

Voyage de Noces

We took off in our van and boarded a ferry for Roscoff last week for our honeymoon, or as they say in France, Voyages de Noces. HM1The countryside looks almost identical to my beloved Devon, so it was great to be exploring a new land that looked so much like home.  It was especially good to be surrounded with nature that I could connect to because the ferry over was a special kind of hell for me. Bright lights, people everywhere, screaming kids, and regular tannoy announcements that were terrifyingly loud. I’m noticing now what happens in my body with this form of sensory overload and I can only say it feels like I’m in a war zone. I can tell myself logically that it’s all fine but it’s become clear that my brain isn’t linked in such a way that it is able to instruct my body not to panic, so every time a kid screamed or the tannoy burst into noise, I felt as though I was under attack. In the end, I spent a whopping £30 on headphones (I really should have brought my own, so that annoyed me) and on the journey home, we booked a lifesaving cabin (although there were still tannoy announcements clearly designed for the hard of hearing, or is it perhaps to be audible above the din that is hundreds of people all in the same space?).

The first few days were bliss. We camped and played the guitar and sang. I cooked lovely vegan food al fresco and the sun shone. We took long walks along the river and I took photographs everywhere. The landscape is truly stunning as you can see…

HM6

I was struck by the vastness of the countryside, with unspoilt lakes scattered everywhere  and vistas so stunning it was breathtaking. HM8Everywhere we drove were lush green tree tunnels and panoramic views of far stretching countryside with barely another person on the road. Roads seemed largely devoid of potholes and Paul kept commenting on what a pleasure it was to drive; so very different to the country lanes we try to navigate back home. I suspect a vigilante resident has filled some of the potholes on West Lane near our land as it’s just the worst ones that have been filled in, but in France, the roads were smooth and we glided along them in a state of bliss.

We camped the first couple of nights, and I cooked, but when we arrived at the first of the two Chambre D’Hotes we had booked, it became more of a challenge because we are vegans, and it’s hard to be a vegan in France; especially when meat eaters are trying to feed you. I’m getting very good at making delicious home cooked, cruelty free food, so placing the responsibility of feeding us on people that don’t have that same experience meant disappointment, not just because we were fed potatoes and veg as a main course (it was delicious, but I couldn’t help feeling like I was just eating a side dish) but because they presented the other guests with a chicken that they had roasted in a bizarre sitting up position and brought it out to the table sizzling in it’s roasting dish. It was almost comical had it not been so upsetting for us. We tried to politely ask if we could take our vegetables outside, but they looked at us so so confused, I blurted out I can’t sit at a table while people eat my friends. Later (and again at breakfast) I ended up profusely apologising for being so militant in my veganism and making people feel awkward, but the truth is, I find being in the presence of dead animal flesh, whether cooked or raw totally abhorrent now. Have I fallen so far down the rabbit hole I can’t see anything the way I used to? I don’t like the idea of being rude, but now I’m home, I wonder if I should I be apologising to people that I find it so upsetting to see beautiful creatures that want to live, killed, stripped of their skin, hair and guts and dished up on a plate. We should all find it upsetting because our survival simply doesn’t depend on it anymore. It’s entirely a selfish, tastebud thing coupled with conditioning that this is normal. If I accept this level of apathy towards the real consequences of what people are eating, aren’t I somehow condoning it?

Let me ask you; would you find it abhorrent if you went to someone’s house and they had made a human stew and dished you up a bowl with the flesh of human limbs in it? Imagine it for a moment, it’s the stuff of horror movies, right? Now consider that I experience that same horror at the thought of eating animals. HM5They are sentient beings just like us; they feel pain and emotion and want to live.

On the campsite, there were a gaggle of geese that we made friends with. At first, approaching the fence to their enclosure resulted in some very loud telling off from the geese, but I sang to them and they soon calmed down. Before long, if I approached the fence, they came over to see me and had a wee picnic on the grasses there while I sang to them again. It made it all the more painful when I then found myself in a French grocery store and considered what the French do to geese to make Foie Gras, and how these beautiful, intelligent creatures are force fed until their liver explodes. Have we grown so accustomed to being barbaric, we can’t see what we’re doing?

Camping Milin Kerh just north of Guingamp had some exquisite walks, and it was interesting to see that Himalayan Balsam Wood has taken over in Brittany too.

I wanted to tell the campsite owners what I had seen and explain how it needs pulling out, but I’m trying be more aware about how my well intentioned desire to share my knowledge can come across as rude, so I held my tongue. It wasn’t easy, but their free range pet rabbits placated me (I sang to them as well). God, I hope they don’t eat them. The owner’s mother told me that there was one goose she didn’t like and wanted to eat it for Christmas. I didn’t tell her I was a vegan, but oh my, that was hard too.

I’ve come home inspired. Not just by the countryside, but by the art we saw when we drove through beautiful (and deserted) towns. We wandered through a silver birch forest and I want to paint the picture I took of it on the side of the horsebox lorry. I’m itching to paint, to write, to create. I might burst if I don’t do something soon!

We’ve decided we want to learn to weld and make garden sculptures (and weld the horsebox lorry too perhaps?), and after seeing how beautiful a simple arch with plants growing over it can make for stunning glimpses of what lies beyond. I’d love to place some archways around on our land, and create beautiful and distinct spaces.

During the last couple of days of our honeymoon, I took a tumble down some steep stone steps and banged my head. Bruised and battered all over, it led to me feeling quite wobbly. I managed to break my fall halfway down by grabbing onto the railing, but had I not slowed the speed at which I was heading towards that rock, I could be dead. It’s customary for me to imagine the worst outcomes to most situations (part of my Autism apparently) but I hadn’t imagined that one. I hurt everywhere and I now know pain in my body makes me far more sensitive to anxiety triggers, so by the time got home (after another hell ferry), I spent a whole day crying and wishing I hadn’t come home to so many unpleasant things to deal with like a court case and staff rota. I want to go back to France, back to long walks, back to imagining what I’d grow over archways, and how I am going to word the first paragraph of my new novel.

If we sell the business, there will be months of handing it over and hand holding for the new buyer. I’m not sure I can wait that long to leave Exeter. If we can find a house near the land (and there’s a chance – we have a viewing lined up), then it could all come to be in just over a month. My scary court case against a bully is on September 3rd. If I’m honest, all I can think about is getting that out of the way. It involves family, and I feel the heartache of it like a physical pain in my chest. It would be unwise to make such big decisions while my heart flutters with anxiety at every second or third thought which largely centres around the injustice of it all. I don’t have the ability like neurotypicals do to close the door on the unhelpful thoughts, and they keep coming thick and fast as the date of the hearing approaches.

We want to live in Dolton. We want to be near our land. That’s all each of us knows for sure right now. Maybe in the long term, if Dolton doesn’t want an outdoor eduction centre and place of sanctuary, then maybe we will just sell up everything and buy 30 acres in France. Once this court case is out of the way, I think everything will fall into place. And I’ll paint this Hydrangea.

HM3

Crossroads

dahliaI’m sitting in my garden in Exeter looking at a Dahlia that was given to me a few weeks ago by Debs, John’s wife who lives in Dowland. I repotted it and it’s now three times the size it was, and it’s covered in blooms. My tomato plants are covered in small green balls that will soon turn into juicy tomatoes and I’m finding I only want to be in my garden and nowhere else. Tending to my plants here in Exeter as well as running my business is making it near on impossible to get to Pi Acres, but we’ve had an offer on the business and it’s brought us to an interesting crossroads in our life. My son Oliver leaves for university next month and we don’t have to stay in Exeter. The world is our oyster, and it’s prompted some interesting discussions about what we want out of life.

We had to postpone our honeymoon and are off to France this week instead, and so in the interest of considering all our options, we are looking at a house in Brittany that has an acre of land. It could mean living where we are doing our project; where I can tend to a garden, and write my next novel. Being near the land I tend to has become a priority, but we have realised selling the business and moving abroad is not the only option. We could rent out our flat in Exeter and rent a house in Dolton, thus being near Pi Acres, and of course, near my garden (which I would have to move – it’s a van load of plants, all in pots ready to go, so it’s doable). Rather than selling the business, I could pay Claire (my star member of staff who is virtually running it anyway) to run the shop and we keep our income too.

There are other factors to consider in this; money plays a large part and perhaps we are not ready financially to retire. We still need to earn an income for the next few years until the mortgage is paid off. Could promoting Claire make owning my business so stress free, it could be a feasible way to work the land, push ahead with our project and have the life we desire very, very soon?

What would village life be like as an Autistic person? I’ve stopped trying to be friends with neurotypicals now, so I wouldn’t do what I’ve done all my life which is run around trying to fit in and make people like me. I’m reclusive by nature, but have bursts of wanting to be around other people. Sadly I’ve always found my attempts to socialise exhausting even when the company is rewarding. I suspect I also end up appearing flaky when I accept invitations only to find I can’t face it when it comes to the event. I’m more aware now of what I can handle and what I can’t, so if we did decide to move to Dolton, I hope there would be an acceptance that whilst I look completely normal, I find interaction far more challenging than most and won’t be doing dinner parties or coffee mornings.

The prospect of living near Pi Acres and having to commute to Exeter once a fortnight for a business meeting with my manager, maybe once a month to visit Sidmouth to inspect the shop, and have all the rest of our time in Dolton appeals enormously. We could give our project our full attention, and I could grow more vegetables! I’d have time to make some planning applications to make Pi Acres an outdoor education centre, we could dig some ponds, plant orchards and I could start my next novel. It’s swishing around in my head, and I know it won’t be long before I can’t bear not writing it any longer and it will spew forth from me in a torrent of creativity. I can feel it just bubbling up waiting to explode onto the page. Oh, what to do! What would you do in our position?