Now that the shortest day of the year is behind us, and days are stretching out before us once more, I feel an intense excitement that is almost an anxiety it’s so powerful. There’s been a chain of events that has set us on a different course and now it looks like things are finally coming together. In trying to work out how best to help Oliver get through university, we thought about downsizing when we moved and how best we could help him financially. I got letting agents in to value the flat for when we rent it out and one of them suggested I see a financial advisor to consider a buy-to-let mortgage. Well I did just that and discovered that despite my low earnings, I have considerable equity in the flat and that has opened up a world of possibilities. As popular as the flat has been with Airbnb, it was never something I could have considered long term. After our first nightmare Airbnb guests (just before Christmas), and the option to move out very soon, I’m pleased to say that January will be our last month being Airbnb hosts. It’s been an experience and we have met some amazing people, but I’m more keen than ever for Paul and I to have our own wee space that we don’t share so we can create our own private haven. We more or less live in our bedroom these days so tiny house living would suit us perfectly. The more possessions I part with (or realise I am happy to leave behind) the freer I feel. Stuff is just stuff.
With that in mind, I went on a crusade to find our haven but alas, tiny houses on sizeable plots just don’t seem to exist. Or we can’t afford them. Or they’re too far away from Pi Acres. We’ve been asking ourselves in all the chaos of the many options open to us what it is we really need to be happy. What do we want? Oliver still needs financial support, so moving out and downsizing will help us to help him, so that means the next two and half years we have to keep earning, but then after that, we can go anywhere in the world, live anywhere and do anything we fancy. When you find yourself with that kind of freedom, you have to think wild, think outside the box, think big! But also think about going small, think simple. Break it down and ask yourself: “What really makes me happy?” Too many of us work to afford things that we just don’t need. The latest iPhone perhaps, or a new car. We’ve been conditioned to think we need a house made of bricks, and that it must be decorated in up to date trends. We are bombarded with imagery and advertising devised to make us feel bad about how we look or smell without the product they are selling so we buy it. It’s a trick to keep us enslaved. I catch myself thinking things like ‘Well, I haven’t bought any new boots this winter, so why not?’ when I have perfectly good boots. I find myself caught in a loop of spending and then having to earn to feed my addiction to spending when actually, I don’t need half of this stuff. When you break it down, what do you need? I mean really need?
I’m a great list writer, so I did indeed break it all down into what we really want and need and then had to find acceptance that we can’t have that yet. Not all of it just yet. But, with one more canny move before we make our dreams happen, we could set ourselves up financially and ensure we get everything on our list. The mortgage advisor called it ‘gearing’ and basically what I am now doing is releasing the equity on the flat to buy another property here in Exeter (at the end of our road funnily enough) where we will port my small personal mortgage. It’s a small end of terrace house, so while we do it up we will be free from Step-heavy upstairs and have our own space. Hurray!! Then, when it’s had my special interior design magic makeover, we will do another buy-to-let mortgage, release more equity and then hopefully move to somewhere small but with enough land to have a big cottage garden, maybe a couple of acres if it isn’t near Pi Acres.
We shall have to wait and see, as I’ve now started a Facebook page for Pi Acres (Pi Acres) and have started meeting people online who want to come and help us with our projects, but who also want to set up communities. I’ve found myself having to explain that whilst Pi Acres will be great for us all getting together for weekends and camp outs, it isn’t the right space for communal living – for many reasons ranging from it being in a flood plane, to the likelihood of planning permission, to the fact that it’s mostly shaded and in a valley a couple of degrees colder than surrounding countryside. Winters are grim, and access to the land would be tricky without a 4 x 4. For us, it’s a conservation project and a chance to create a space that we can share with others who see themselves as custodians of nature as we do. Sadly, I can’t see it even working to grow vegetables there, although I am now meeting people who know a thing or two about permaculture so we shall see. I’ve started planning the next steps at Pi Acres and even putting events in diaries and inviting people, so regardless of what our long term plans are likely to be, we are going to press ahead with making Pi Acres a haven and in the process, spend more time there this summer. I am still in favour applying to make it an outdoor education centre and sharing it with schools, colleges and of course the scouts. I have now offered the space to the local scouts, so as soon as Karen and I can get together, we can work out how to share the space. They currently only have the football field to do their outdoor badges and can’t have fires there, so I am excited for them being able to come and use Pi Acres and get some of their bushcraft and outdoorsy badges. I used to be a scout leader for many years (Cubs and Beavers) and do love a bit of singing around a campfire. I have to say, apart from dealing with parents, it is probably one of the few times that my Autism made me a perfect leader. My science and nature ‘special interests’ coupled with a no nonsense bossy tendency meant those boys always had an interesting meeting (and always clean fingernails too as I used to do inspections!).
I’m excited about the coming summer at Pi Acres. We will be around a whole lot more than we managed this past year. I’ve wondered if our handfasting last June and the way Paul’s family abused both us and our sanctuary put me off sharing it for the remainder of last summer? Maybe commuting to the land from Exeter will continue to be a problem, or perhaps it just takes a bit more determination to choose to opt out of the rat race and just go be in nature? Obviously the ideal scenario would be to live in a rural haven, so there’s a chance we may have to sell Pi Acres if it transpires we really want to live next to or on the land we work. Perhaps we need a bigger plot, maybe even pool our finances with others and buy a farm. Maybe we could create out own small community by choosing who our neighbours are. It seems more appealing to the current set up at Pi Acres where we have neighbours who don’t want us there and disapprove of all the good things we want to do there. And that’s just the conservation projects and current use of the space. How would they feel if I plonked poly tunnels or solar panels on the only sunny patch which is right in front of their houses? What if I applied to put a classroom cabin on the only sunny bit (so we can have solar panels and electricity) – wouldn’t they hate us even more? I’m a sensitive empath and just not thick skinned enough to deal with the false smiles of people who are weirdly polite to me only to then tell everyone else how much they hate everything we are doing. I can’t bear the dishonesty more than anything else, but it also tarnishes the enjoyment of everything I do just incase they disapprove. It makes me cross how daft people are though – I am by far the best option to have owning that land and they should be encouraging us to stay by supporting our ventures. If they drive us away, we might sell to someone far less desirable! It just makes me want to find our dream house and land and get there as soon as we can!
So, what is our dream home? Well, it isn’t to have a fancy house despite the rather capitalist approach to getting there. Here it is:
- To be time rich and not a slave to paying a mortgage.
- To have lovely neighbours and feel part of a community.
- To be able to grow our own food and have rescue animals.
- To be able to do something awesome for other people; especially people less fortunate than ourselves, be it nature days for autistic kids or just helping people reconnect with nature or art. To be inspirational to others.
- To have off road parking for our horse-box lorry, or other tiny house dwelling so that there is somewhere for guests to stay, or even somewhere for other like-minded people to live. We’d like to travel, so a neighbour or a tenant to look after the animals when we go away would be perfect.
- To have a workshop for our projects – for me that’s painting and sculpting, but for Paul, that’s welding and carpentry as well. A barn or large studio workshop would be ideal.
- To be somewhere rural, or semi-rural so that birdsong is the only thing you hear in the morning.
- To be near civilisation/hospital so that when we are old and infirm, we aren’t too isolated. It needs to be accessible and not too remote.
- To have running water, electricity and a mini bath tub.
- To have a log burner or an open fire.
- To be as carbon neutral as possible.
I have considered whether Pi Acres could ever be that place for us, but it just isn’t, not just because it is unlikely to ever get planning permission for a dwelling to be built, but because I don’t want to live there full time. Sadly, there is no easy or affordable way to get mains electricity, mains water or sewage to Pi Acres, so it will only ever be an off grid haven. I can do off grid for a day or two here and there, but I’m just not ready for full hippy status just yet. Unless the apocalypse occurs in my lifetime, I would rather live somewhere with a bathroom. I know what a princess that makes me sound, and that if I were to truly live like a eco-warrior I would just live in the horse-box lorry (when it’s finished) and stop washing my clothes or bathing, but I just can’t. Proper bathing facilities makes me happy. I don’t need jewellery or holidays or fancy cars, but I am autistic and my daily routine starts with a poop and a bath. And I’m not so good at sharing my bathroom as I discovered when we had Airbnb guests. I can’t relax in the bath at all, so my morning routine became very hurried incase someone else needed the bathroom. It often set me up to feel stressed before the day even got going. And we often had a lot to do when there was a constant stream of guests. But we have still found time to go for glorious walks on sunny days and dare I admit it, I have enjoyed the way having guests has made me plan our day to accommodate guests. Routine suits me. But I’d like a routine that included nature every day. Proper nature,not just the local park to walk the dog.
The most ideal situation would be if one of the cottages that overlooks Pi Acres or something else close by came up for sale at the end of Summer. We could port our mortgage again and move near our land. We could live off the rent we receive from Exeter property and really devote our time to conservation and creative projects. I’m trying to take a more Buddhist approach of acceptance, as we could be equally if not more happy buying a plot of land with a house on it in North Devon and being near surfing waves. So I’m trying to detach myself from where and how the next move will be after this imminent one. Maybe we will move to France? Or Canada? I’d like to live somewhere with a sense of community.
I would like to be surrounded by people who love us and make us feel welcome. I yearn to feel a sense of belonging somewhere. We don’t have that in Exeter. Despite knowing lots of people, I have very few friends and neither of us have any family we see any more. Oliver spent Christmas with his father and has now gone skiing, so it was always going to be a quiet one, but I hadn’t expected to feel so orphaned this Christmas. In fact, I’ll be straight up honest and tell you I would have cancelled Christmas entirely had it not been for our dog Tuki, who gets the whole concept of opening presents and so for her, we opened a small number of gifts – nearly all for her, and for ten minutes it actually felt like a celebration.
My manageress Claire gave me some Christmas gifts including some homemade vegan lemon curd that she made herself. I love homemade gifts and I was deeply touched. It’s somehow tragic that the most thoughtful person in my life outside Paul is someone I pay. When I looked at the faces of people frantically shopping last week I couldn’t help thinking that Christmas has become a marketing tool and the holiness has all gone. It doesn’t feel spiritual anymore and I find the level of consumerism and waste quite ugly. I think from now on, I would rather opt out for ethical reasons. Like the Quakers believe: everyday should be as holy as the next.
This has been the third or fourth Christmas in a row with zero contact from anyone in my family, and many years longer than that with others like my sister Julia. I think the court case from earlier this year has drawn a line under any chance of reconciliation. The more I walk with integrity and the less I tolerate sociopathic behaviour from anyone, even family, the less I want to have them in my lives. But before you think I am just whining , this whole ‘boo hoo’ and ‘woe is me’ cannot be my lasting emotions, so it’s time to move on and let them go. When I look back over the course of my life, I’m not sure what it is I think I miss. How can I miss something I never had? My very beautiful (on the outside) sister Julia has always been a it of a narcissist and only ever been nice to me when I am useful or she needs something. the other sister Joanna has always been flaky. My stepfather has always been mean. To expect anything different from any of them now is delusional so I am closing the door. I’ve had a full EMDR session on trying to reprogram my brain to let go of them, and whilst it probably helped to make moving on more achievable in everyday life, it didn’t help me Christmas Day morning when I felt that yearning for a family so strongly it made me cry. But thankfully, Paul was an angel and made Christmas Day a beautiful, romantic, fun, gorgeous day and I’m utterly blessed to have him as my husband. Apart from his daughters, Paul had no contact from his family either this Christmas, and so we find ourselves now really quite isolated. It would appear the rift in Paul’s family continues in the aftermath of our wedding where his family were like something out of the Shameless cast. To resolve it would mean talking about it, and no-one seems willing to do that. It mirrors my own family issues and I feel bad that it’s so often the way that when you decide to live with integrity and travel the road less travelled, how resentful the people you leave behind can become. It’s as though the more conscientious you become, the more self aware, the more the haters hate you. I had hoped that Paul’s family would become my family but they’re just as selfish and unkind as the ones I’m blood related to and have finally git away from, so I’m certainly not going to tolerate their negativity. Life is too short to battle with toxic people. I hope that before I’m fifty (my next birthday so its not far off) that I figure out the whole forgiveness with boundaries thing. I can forgive, but that doesn’t mean I have to keep that person in my life. I was reading how ‘door slamming’ to people and toxic relationships is a very INFJ thing to do (Myers Briggs personality types) and also a very autistic thing to do. When I can master not experiencing intense loss when I slam the doors, perhaps then I will have mastered Buddhist detachment but I’m not there yet.
We are all on this journey and learning what we are supposed to learn at just the right time, but I wish people would hurry up and wake up and stop being twats. I want to meet people less messed up than me. I want to learn from people that have figured it out. How can I be one of the wisest person I know when I am so aware of how stupid and naive I am? Where are my elders to guide me to becoming one of them?
Paul and I have been campaigning with Extinction Rebellion to try to do our bit to encourage change where it matters. Extinction Rebellion are all about lobbying, campaigning and organising peaceful protests to change things at government level. We sang in the Extinction Rebellion choir all over Exeter just before Christmas to try to reach people and help change attitudes, and I watched with interest who our allies were and who clearly hated us just by looking at us. I wrote a pledge, as I believe the change needs to happen in our hearts as well as in our governments. The more I learn about how disastrous the meat and dairy is for our planet, the more I think we should all be vegan. So, here’s my pledge:
I pledge to be kind and live with compassion and empathy for all life.
The pledge to be kind and live with compassion and empathy for the all life is akin to swearing an oath of allegiance to your planet and your fellow beings. You are pledging to become a custodian of them instead of their destroyer. Making the pledge is a promise to become a better person and to join the revolution by being the change. It is no longer any use blaming society. We are society.
To pledge this isn’t quite as simple as it sounds. It’s the proverbial rabbit hole and once you fall down it, you become Alice as you fall deeper and deeper into the abyss of veganism and what that actually means. Being kind isn’t just a fluffy sentiment however. To have empathy and to live conscientiously, the full pledge needs to expand to this:
I pledge to consider what implications ALL my actions have on the planet, my fellow beings and myself, and to always try to pick the action that has the least negative impact on all.
I pledge to hear my conscience, whether it tells me to pick the vegan option on a menu, or to not buy that plastic bag, or to say something constructive rather than be unkind.
I pledge to be inclusive to all around me, and treat everyone as my equal regardless of race, colour, religion, age, gender and neuro-diversity.
I pledge that whenever it is possible to boycott food, products and industries that harm animals or the planet, I will make that choice. I will choose kindness over convenience and integrity over taste-buds from now on.
I pledge to slow down, get off my phone, spend more time in nature and contemplate my purpose.
I pledge to give more time to do good deeds, whether that’s helping someone vulnerable, volunteering or campaigning for change.
I pledge to stop convincing myself that happiness lies in capitalist ventures, consumerist products, or selfish ambitions and instead do more to help others. I will stop buying into the illusion.
I pledge to speak out when I see injustice or cruelty whether that’s from our leaders or my friends, colleagues and family, but I will also try not to judge people too harshly and remember everyone is on their own journey. I will not be unkind in my anger at the injustice or cruelty I witness or experience.
I pledge to consider my carbon footprint when I travel and when I shop. I will buy local produce where possible, to buy handmade or second hand, to buy from small ethical independent businesses and to make, mend, borrow or share whenever I can.
I pledge to own up to my mistakes and be held accountable for my actions.
I pledge to forgive myself for making mistakes, and to self-parent so that I am kind to myself but that I also never give up trying to be a better person.
I pledge to educate myself, whether that’s learning a new skill or opening my eyes to what is really happening around the world; ignorance is no longer an excuse when all the information is out there and available to anyone prepared to wake up.
I pledge to wake up.
I pledge to try to wake everyone else up too by sharing this pledge and encouraging everyone to make it.
Phew! That’s all quite weighty and full on, and I feel the need to lighten the mood as I end this blog, and end this year as I can see it is almost midnight. So I shall sign off with a picture of my latest paintings. The colours feel happy, and the butterflies symbolic of the chrysalis I feel 2018 has been for me. Either I’m about to burst forth, spread my wings and fly, or maybe, just maybe, we as a species are. People are waking up, and if you’re reading this I hope you are one of them. Let’s all be the best that we can be this coming year and make the changes we all need to make to evolve into better versions of ourselves. And save the planet into the bargain.