Dead Cuttlefish in a Cage

May is by far my favourite month of the year, not least because all the blossom is out and the birds are nesting but also because my birthday falls in May. I love the lushness of dappled sunlight filtering through bright lime green leaves and birds chorusing while the brook babbles at Pi Acres. It’s the best time of year here in particular; bluebells and wild garlic scatter the forest floor and it’s before the midges come. I’m like a toddler stopping every few feet everywhere I go at the moment to examine a flower. The photo library on my phone is full to heaving of pictures of flowers and trees heavy with blossom. When you stop and look closely, and I mean really closely, it’s quite astonishing how exquisite even the tiniest curb-side weed is. Stop and look and see how exotic the flowers on a sweet chestnut tree really are, or how utterly perfect dandelion seeds are.

It’s this time of year I feel most inspired to take on a new special interest. The year I bought Pi Acres I was tree obsessed and barely looked down from looking up all summer such was my fixation. In case it isn’t rather obvious, this May it seems to be flowers. I’m learning all the time what plants are and also what they can do for us. I recently discovered that Himalayan Balsam Wood is edible!

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Himalayan Balsam Wood in flower

The flowers are edible, but also the seeds which when toasted taste like hazelnuts apparently. Before the seed pods hit bursting stage (when they are still green) they can be harvested and cooked like mange-tout and are delicious in a curry  – or so I’ve read. I also read wild garlic leaves make a great pesto, but to be honest without the capers, chilli and olives added to my foraged leaf pesto, it was very bland indeed. Still, it feels good to eat the plants from where we stand, as if I am somehow ingesting the land directly beneath my feet and it then connects me more strongly to it. If I’m not careful, I’ll start thinking I need to poop in the woods to help plant seeds! I’m foraging and growing more and more, choosing my planting according to what is useful as well as pretty.

I love a good cruelty free food experiment so any balsam left after our ‘Balsam Bash’ in July will be harvested. I’m organising a mass weeding of it to try to largely eradicate it and help restore the ancient woodland flora but we are unlikely to get it all.  I might allow a small patch (as far away from the river as possible) to get to bursting stage and then harvest the seeds very carefully. You have to place a bag over the seed pod as the slightest touch will see it explode its seeds in quite spectacular fashion. I’m sure it’s why it’s spread so prolifically along the stream to River Torridge and I wish it wasn’t such an invasive bully because it’s so pretty.

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Big areas of Pi Acres are currently covered in ten inch to foot high balsam – soon to be as tall as me if left to mature! 

The bees love it – so we are leaving the pull up until they’ve had a feasting and then we will swoop in on July 13th and remove it by hand – pop it in your diary and come and help! It pulls up satisfyingly easily with a just a little tug and seems to kiss the ground as it unplugs. No chemical weedkillers at Pi Acres, just graft. I’m looking forward to plucking this feisty yet pretty plant out the ground. Last year I tried drying the stalks to make bee hotels but they just went soggy. This year, I’m going to try drying them in the trees and see if that helps the hollow stalks go rigid. It will look so weird, I may go all out and do a Balsam wood art installation while they dry. We shall see – I have so many great plans and never seem to have the time to implement them all. We are growing veg this season (new raised beds in our secret garden here in Exeter). It’s another tie to the city, and the air isn’t as clean as Pi Acres, but if we want to practice self sustainability, it makes sense to do that where we live and not even try it at Pi Acres. We are simply not there enough.

For my 50th birthday celebrations, I decided not to people. Instead, Paul and I went on a camping trip in parts of Devon we hadn’t explored yet in our new caravan. We found wild rugged beaches and secluded forests. We had campfires, played the guitar and sang. Like the sweet chestnuts pregnant with exotic blooms, I also blossomed. I belong in places like this.

We found ourselves at an incredible wild campsite set in 60 acres of woodland in Rattery, Devon. The owners of Ashbourne Woods planted the entire forest themselves back in the nineties. It’s now a mix of fir and broadleaf that has matured into a well established eco-system full of wildlife. It was like being in the middle of nowhere and off grid, yet a short walk and there were hot showers, loos, a washing machine, a kitchen area with fridge freezers and a kettle.

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The more time I spend with nature, with plants and away from people, the more equanimity I achieve. I’ve been getting into the habit of starting my day with yoga and some mindfulness recently and it really helps with city living, but ultimately I don’t want to live in a city anymore. We want to live where our conservation projects are, and after two years of trying to move to Dolton (or near Dolton), we are starting to wonder if this pretty part of England is where we are meant to be. The rest of Devon, the whole of Cornwall and Pembrokeshire are all places I would love to be. France is still an option. We are no longer tied here now Oliver has left home and we are free to go wherever we want. So how comes we are still here, trapped with DIY lists of what we need to achieve in order to leave? The bathroom isn’t finished. We need a shed. There’s decorating to do before we can rent out or sell this place and be free to move onto the next thing. But the boiler is tricky and there’s rising damp that needs sorting. It seems the more I strive to simplify my life, the more complex it needs to be first to get there.

I am fortunate enough to have an amazing manageress who runs my business, so we may yet disappear for the summer to play in someone else’s woods now we have the caravan. Because we can’t currently spend more than 28 days camping at Pi Acres (and that includes occasions we let other people wild camp), and because it’s entirely off grid (I’m a bit of a princess and have irrational compost loo fears that my autistic brain refuses to let go), we’ve found some amazing wild places with proper showers and loos but still off the beaten track and wild. It makes touring so much more appealing than fretting about neighbours or dog-walkers who probably don’t like seeing a caravan wherever we plonk it for our stays at Pi Acres. I get that caravans aren’t pretty – but ironically, if I painted silver birch trees all over it and worked my Shelley magic, there would be campsites that would refuse us entry because of how our caravan looks. We are still thinking about our planning application to make Pi Acres into an outdoor education centre, but without somewhere to live very close by, it seems less and less feasible. I’ve considered asking permission to stay longer in our caravan over Summers to be onsite to do our conservation work, and also thought about asking to build an eco house and live on the land, but I just don’t think it’s just the right place for what we want to do – not when there are so many other options. So many amazing things we could do. An overwhelming possibility of options if you strip it down to what really matters. 

What does really matter? I’ve been considering this while also learning what flourishes where in the plant world. My city courtyard garden is blooming; everything is either fat with flowers or about to burst open – all except one plant that withered and died.

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Definitely not happy here…

I’ve now moved the dying plant to a sunnier place in it’s own pot now and it’s beginning to recover but it got me thinking. So far in my life, I have felt a lot like that that withering plant, trying to flourish in a world in which I do not fit. When a plant does not grow, you look to the conditions you placed it in. Not for a second would you think the plant is to blame.  You wouldn’t expect it to ‘try harder’ (as so many of my school reports said in secondary school) or to grow in an environment that is hostile to it. You’d change its environment. And that’s how it is with me. I wither in cities and thrive in nature. The problem with being autistic is not being autistic at all – it’s the world in which we live that’s the problem. We need a different environment to the one we are being offered. But let’s be honest here, no-one thrives in this set up really – it’s just that autists feel it more painfully than most. Neuro-typicals have a way of compartmentalising the misery of being enslaved in this capitalist, fascist state that has somehow managed to trick over half the nation into voting for rich elite and believing joy can be found in the latest iPhone. may10The world needs to become more autistic to help save it from the demise we are heading to. It’s time to get back to nature and each other and stop squabbling like children. It’s time to say it like it is and stop pussy footing around with niceties. We were never meant to live this way. Animals were never meant to live (and die) this way. I feel the grief of it all like losing family to Alzheimers. The connection is gone yet the person remains. If people would only just stop and smell the flowers – literally. Just. Stop. There’s something about connecting with nature that changes you. It creates gratitude, and as Thay (a wise Buddhist monk guy with all the answers if only the world would listen to him) would say, people are ignoring the destruction of the planet because they are not connected to it anymore. Happiness is not consumerism. He says only love can change the world and he’s right. Love is kindness, joy, gratitude and equanimity, and if we all practiced it the world would not be in this mess. Our needs would be met through serving others. It’s so simple. Self serving, selfie taking, selfish goals don’t work – not individually and certainly not globally.

I need my environment to be a certain way for me to thrive. It needs to have birdsong and peace. It needs to be away from people. When I have a routine, like starting my day with yoga and I eat good food at sensible times and get outside, I’m so much more together, sorted and happy. When you strip away what really matters, you might find yourself pleasantly surprised. It’s ridiculously simple.

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Thriving in my city garden!

Just stopping and considering what matters is in itself an act of joy. Unless you are utterly brainwashed and still believe joy can be found in material possessions or slimmer thighs, you will know that being outside in the spring sunshine, closing your eyes, listening to birdsong and shallowing your breath is a joyful way to commune with nature. And you don’t necessarily need to be in the countryside – even in my city courtyard garden, bursting flowerbeds and chattering starlings speak straight into my soul. We discovered a firecrest nesting in the cabin garden up the road and every time one of the firecrest parents visited the nest, the sound of the squeaks the chicks made my heart want to explode with joy.

I’m continuing my quest to lower my carbon footprint and it’s shocking how easy it is to forget and just buy a plastic toothbrush. Veganism and conscientious living doesn’t just stop with diet and plastic though, it’s a constant questioning of what matters – down to who you bank with, how much packaging is on your food, whether your bought compost contains peat along with all the obvious stuff like not eating meat. For me, it’s reached a stage of also being careful who I spend time with, what I watch on TV, and who I can have in earshot. I am so much happier now I can’t hear the simpering tones of Step-Heavy upstairs. We went to look at another house in Dolton last week, but when I heard the neighbours’ chatting in the next garden I knew I couldn’t live there. I’d be fantasising about shouting out the window that meat was murder when they had a barbeque or something equally as unwelcome to those who think they’re having far too much of a lovely time to questions their actions. They’ve found their version of joy through cream leather sofas, stone washed jeans and a good Chablis. Except it’s not joy, it’s a dead cuttlefish in a budgie birdcage. It’s not freedom. It’s not even pretending to be.

We finished my 50th birthday adventure )which included zip wires, my son visiting, pottery classes and beach trips) at Pi Acres. People came. People who have woken up. These are people I can be around. We all need to find our tribe, even autistic introverts who talk too much like me.

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True Colours

I once bought a cyanathus shrub that had a picture of what it would look like when colours1flowering on the price tag. It showed a deep indigo blue like this one from my garden now, but when it flowered it was a pale almost grey-blue and I was most disappointed. I felt tricked because I was specifically wanting this colour in my garden. This deep indigo blue is what I see when I am experiencing deep passionate love or waves of joy. It also follows that when I see this colour, regardless of what my thoughts were at the time of seeing it, I experience a wave of that emotion. It’s a form of synaesthesia and is a co-morbid (I prefer the term co-existing as there’s absolutely nothing morbid about it) condition of autism and my super-sensitive brain. I have an unusual relationship with colour and the spectrum I both see and feel seems to be far more expansive than most people encounter.

Synaesthesia is a condition where multiple senses become involved when processing information. The variations of this are numerable, and my particular variety leaves me deliciously unable to separate colour from emotion.  As a species we are rooted in this multi sensory reaction to stimuli – all children have it to some degree while the brain is still developing and it forms the basis of many words in our language. You undoubtedly know what I mean if I tell you my mood is blue, or I was so angry that I saw red, but for 95% of the population, the senses do little more than what is required of them by adulthood. Seeing red is a metaphor for most and not literal like it is for me. Genetics and the way we live today have dulled the senses so that all too often, we cease to have an emotional response. Might this be because sensitivity is often perceived as weakness? Society wants us to all behave the same way, have the same responses and be predictable. Predictable sameness is easier to control. Differences are not welcomed and diversity is feared. It’s why so many people bully the weird kid or think refugees are bad. We do not embrace diversity but instead ridicule, troll and bully those who are different. Having been shunned by neuro-typicals all my life, I feel this like the colour of forget-me-nots. Sadness is indeed blue.

Having tried for so very long to hide my sensitivities (there are so many!) in a bid to ‘fit in’ I can now say with absolute authority that it is quite the opposite of weakness to express them and is actually an act of courage to be openly sensitive in the world in which we live. How messed up is that? Surely we should be celebrating the more sensitive individuals who experience the world so very differently to the rest? These people literally open our eyes, our ears and our hearts to a different version of what we think is real. Think about Greta Thunburg or Chris Packham and all the good work they do trying to save the planet and our wildlife. And then read how the haters have trolled them. Chris has had death threats and dead crows hung on his gate. The ugly ableist comments on Greta’s pages make it hard for me to feel love towards the haters. Far right upper class toffs have resorted to bullying an autistic sixteen year old girl rather than get behind the truth. She must be quite the threat to them.

A post was doing the rounds on Facebook earlier where Greta is quoted as saying her Autism is her super-power. She wields the sword of truth like a super-hero yet is hated for it; a modern day Messiah being crucified by social media? And yet, there is hope. She has been nominated for the nobel peace prize. And today MPs voted to declare a climate emergency. It seems the ‘different’ people are standing up and telling the truth. The hippies and outcasts are getting organised. Extinction Rebellion is making change happen. We are making change happen. I hope the numbers that support the changes that need to happen to make the world a better place far outnumber the trolls and the haters. Never before have I felt such a strong ‘them and us’ feeling when it comes to listening to emotional people begging the world to stop destroying it and seeing the internet haters spouting their vitriolic rants in response like arrows with cursed tips. I feel the sting of it on humanity and the weight of it like a deep blood red velvet cape. But the rebellion training urges all anger to be met with love, so I’ve been considering how I can turn my rage into love. I’m angry with idiots that think it’s okay to tell me how much they are enjoying a juicy steak when I talk about veganism. Or argue that Trump is right and climate change is all a bunch of lies. Am I supposed to love those people? How?

I commented a couple of days ago on a smallholding page on Facebook where a woman asked what weed killer could she use in a field that wouldn’t harm her ponies or chickens. I said ‘Don’t use weedkiller’ and thus ensued various trolling statements some quite vitriolic about me being a vegan. I felt a spiky red rage rise up in me and I wanted to berate the trolls and make them look stupid but instead I tried the XR way. I closed my eyes, pictured the colour indigo and instead of arguing with the worst troll, I wrote ‘Much love to you’ and lots of flower emojis. I expected something hateful back; something that would show this brute’s true colours, but instead he wrote ‘same to you’ and hasn’t said anything nasty since. I’m delighted (this emotion is yellow for me, like sunshine) as I feel like it’s proof that the only way to respond to the haters is with love (or not at all if it can’t be loving). I don’t want to waste my energies arguing with idiots online. I need to be more indigo and less red.

I’m also aware that people take to trolling on the internet as a release for all the pent up rage they feel in their everyday lives. I know this rage (bright red and clashing fuchsia for me) so I can relate. When I’ve been unhappy in the past, strangers online have got the full wrath of my escalating rage, and I’ve belittled, chastised and put the idiots firmly in their place but it’s not won me any friends or left me feeling all warm and fuzzy inside. I am trying to remember that I need to take a deep breath, think indigo thoughts and exhale love and happiness when faced with internet trolls. I try to remind myself that happy people simply aren’t mean, and their true colours might not have anything to do with the ridiculous comment they just made online. They are sleepwalkers angrily protecting their right not to wake up, smell the roses and see the truth. I’m here for the ones ready to wake up. Ironically the truth pill in the Matrix is the red pill, and blue is the illusion. But for me, truth is blue (a soft cornflower blue maybe) but if you’ve been hiding from the truth all your life (and especially if you ever had to realise you were a nasty internet troll)  then the harsh reality could be red for you. Like a warning wake up call. This is an emergency, and time for us all to show our true colours; to be the change and not just just demand change.

Half a Century

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In just over two weeks I will be entering my sixth decade of living. I would like to say that time has shaped me into a wise, capable, mature woman, but instead I feel like I have regressed, and the older I get, the more childish I become. Perhaps it’s a lifetime of masking my true self in a bid to fit in and I’m just too old and tired to pretend anymore, or perhaps I am just more comfortable being authentic since I removed all the people in my life that couldn’t see, hear or understand me. I feel loved, and accepted and I’ve never been happier. I am delighted to report that I am also deliciously comfortable. No itchy clothing, no tight bras, no high heels, no aggravating waistbands, just a lounging vibe and everything is chilled. I had no idea before discovering I was autistic just how much my clothing and jewellery were aggravating me until I focussed on what was bothering me and sorted it. High heels may look great, but I’ve lost all desire to hurt my feet just for mere aesthetics. blogapril13Pi Acres doesn’t care what I look like. It feeds my soul irrespective of how shiny my hair is, or whether my cardigan has a hole in it. Paul loves my face free of make-up and the silver of my hair since I stopped dying it. Despite the fact that I can see the wrinkles, the jowls, the rosacea, the dimples where I don’t really want them, I’ve never felt more beautiful. Ironically, the less you care about external looks and the more you work on having a huge big conscience that practices kindness, the more you shine.

We have just moved house and when I unpacked my trousers, leggings and pyjama bottoms, I symbolically popped them together in the same drawer because they are completely interchangeable now. If I feel like walking the dog in a kaftan or pyjamas (to be fair they look more like lounge pants or yoga wear than pjs) I will. I feel liberated by growing older, and am coming to terms with dealing with people less lovely than me; I’m no longer afraid to tell people how it is and not tolerate nonsense. Despite this, I feel blessed to have no conflict in my life at the moment, having resolved all squabbles with builders and incompetent traders, and as I have no contact with my siblings or parents, there are no family arguments to deal with either. We’ve moved away from our sociopathic neighbours. I’ve removed all the deadwood, discarded everything that made me mad, and it’s quite astonishing how good life can be once you remove the bullshit. Moving house and getting the old place ready for tenants has meant grafting far more than I have grown used to recently, and coupled with a loss of routine, I’ve noticed I feel more autistic than usual. Tasks like getting my DMs laced up or doing laundry have made me feel almost sick with impatience. I’ve been more tearful. More vulnerable. I wanted to dash up to London as soon as we had moved and make my stand along with all the Extinction Rebellion heroes getting arrested in a bid to save the planet, but I’m all too aware now of when I can’t handle cities, let alone the noisy chaos of civil disobedience en masse. I decided some soul food in the form of Pi Acres would set me up and help make me battle ready for rebelling in London.

So, instead of going straight up to the big smoke, we collected our caravan shortly after moving house, left the chaos in our new dwelling place (I’m going to have to part with far more possessions to fit in our tiny house!) and spent a few days at Pi Acres. It was Easter weekend, and we had a heatwave.

It was beyond gorgeous and it restored my soul. After letting the sunshine, the flowers, the lush greenness and the exquisite birdsong heal me, I am more determined than ever that the land’s healing properties should be shared. Western living is soul destroying and getting back to nature is more important than ever as we spin out of control in our consumerist, capitalist ugly desire for growth at the expense of being kind.

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Wild garlic everywhere at the moment!

It’s a bizarre concept to say that I own this piece of land. What gives any of us the right to partition up something that we are custodians of rather than landlords and say that we own it? That said, it’s a concept I am currently embracing with our locked gate and defiant positioning of the caravan where everyone can see it; like a territorial flag that says ‘We are here!’ and ‘This is Ours!’. We parked the caravan in the only sunny-all-day part of our land as I wanted the sunshine, but having learned how hot in can get in there, we will choose a shadier spot next time. We were a little overlooked by the neighbours across the road, and I wonder now if it annoyed them. In hindsight, I can see that I wouldn’t want to look at a caravan out of my window, so I will be relieved to stay in a more tucked away spot next time. Having had the time to reflect, we decided not to antagonise the old neighbours back in Exeter by parking the caravan at the rear of the flats despite still owning the parking space. Instead we booked professional caravan storage where we can hook up, clean up, empty the cassette loo and not annoy people. Even though the horrible people at our old place probably deserve a bit of karma like staring at our caravan even after we’ve moved out, I just decided my energies are better served fighting necessary battles. Like climate change.

When we returned to Exeter after storing the caravan, the weight of the world truly hit me. I had work commitments, seemingly endless change of address letters to write, tenancy agreements to read and sign, and various other rat race type chores that sucked me into an abyss that stole all my spoons and left me with nothing. I have a friend with similar special needs than me, and yet she made it to London, so I felt utterly wretched that I couldn’t get away. I cried a lot. I felt pathetic, but I also felt very humbled. Doing what we can, and recognising where our strengths lie so that we can play to them is how we win the battle with climate change. I’m not popular with some for being vegan, and I’m especially unpopular when I tell people scientific facts like that the single most effective way to reduce your carbon footprint is to go vegan. Or that by buying meat, you are effectively ‘contract killing’ and paying to torture sentient beings for your tastebuds. People simply don’t like to hear where they are failing.

Pi Acres is totally off grid, with no internet or mobile reception so when we got back, I avidly caught up with all the news from London from the XR civil disobedience protests. Over 1000 arrested in end, the police brought to breaking point, and Waterloo Bridge held by South West rebels (my tribe) for a full week. I wanted to take up a mountain of my homemade vegan flapjacks, samosas, and maybe a heap of vegan sausage rolls. I wanted to help in their kitchen, or comfort people in the well-being tent. I wanted to print rebel tee-shirts and explain while wearing flowers in my hair that we need to do this to wake people up. I felt the yearning to be with these peaceful rebels like my tribe were calling me to battle. It broke my heart that I didn’t make it there, but I am humbled by the lesson I have learned about myself as a result.

I’m not a front line person; especially in protests. Even non-violent protests. I’m a meltdown risk in crowds. I’m also so emotional at the moment, I might not be peaceful with my racing heart and jittery nerves. There are so many more rational, peaceful eco-warriors out there that are able to sit down in the middle of Marble Arch, get arrested and not be traumatised by it. So despite my yearning to be with my tribe, and battling with feeling utterly inadequate I just about managed some Facebook campaigning and offering messages of support to those who were there. I went out wearing my XR ‘ACT NOW’ banner. It isn’t enough. But here’s the thing; I am doing what I can right now. Like all the arrestables in the London protests that are not yet vegans, we are all doing what we can, and I am grateful for anyone that does anything at all that helps save the planet.

There were some fraught debates on Extinction Rebellion Facebook groups online with vegans arguing with non-vegans and it has forced me to face how I feel about non-vegans. It’s true; I’ve been judging you. But you see, I’m a foodie and I find it easy to make delicious home cooked whole-food where every meal is a beautiful peaceful protest, but I get it – not everyone can cook. Not everyone wants to. I have a love affair with flavours and spices that simply makes meat redundant – my food is so good, it’s simply not necessary. Whilst I would love the world to become vegan, the last thing I would ever want to do is make someone feel like they are failing if they aren’t being as ‘good’ as me because they eat meat. People willing to get arrested as part of a peaceful protest are doing their bit, regardless of what they ate. All efforts to change, no matter how small, add up. They really do. If the whole world went flexitarian and cut out meat for just a day or two a week it would be so much better for our carbon footprint than a small minority of perfect vegans trying to save the planet and yet alienating everyone else into the process. There’s been enough ‘them and us’ so we need to accept everyone and encourage all efforts to change, not chastise those who refuse to change as quickly as others.

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On the side of my hemp milk while we were camping.

We need a global shift towards kindness, and it is to this end that I have worked out how I can play my part in the climate crisis. It might not be chanting with a flag in a crowd in Marble Arch, but I have skills. I can see how we need to shift our thinking collectively. It isn’t just a climate crisis, it’s a humanity crisis. The world has become unkind. I’m putting together a leaflet about kindness (which will encompass veganism, neuro-diversity, inclusivity and how all our choices have consequences) and I’m going to set up a free mobile vegan kitchen and give out the leaflets with my best food creations in Exeter High Street. Paul’s vegan spaghetti bolognaise has already converted most of our friends into ditching buying dead animal mince meat for making their own spag bol. At Pi Acres this weekend, our non vegan visitors loved ‘Veganaise’ and have vowed to switch. They might still eat meat, but at least the mayo will be vegan from now on. Small changes lead to big shifts over time. Alongside attending XR meets, I’m setting up a singing ‘eco-warrior’ group for anyone that wants to meet up, sing, and work out how we can all do our bit to change the world. We’re gathering like ships in harbour, readying for battles that will be won with love and kindness and not hate and segregation. The time has come for change, and I’m changing. Are you? 

I’m going to be fifty years old in a couple of weeks. I thought about having a party but the truth is, I struggle with social gatherings. Having spent a lifetime masking so that I can appear normal and be the perfect hostess, I find I just don’t have it in me to organise a party, let alone handle all the stress and the endless ‘what ifs’ that come with being autistic. Instead Paul and I are going on an adventure in the caravan. We are doing a pottery class and camping off grid near Kingsbridge. We will probably end up at Pi Acres for the last leg of my 50th adventure. I fancy making a sculpture with the hundreds of wooden hangers we have stored in the shed at Pi Acres. Instead of it going to landfill, we are going to make some outdoor art with it. I want to encourage people to holiday at home. Stay-cations help save the planet! I know Britain has its issues right now, but the countryside is still beautiful. Listening to birdsong, babbling brook, and the rustling leaves in cool breezes is all I need. Isn’t it what we all need? A grounding in nature to restore the balance and keep us in touch with what really matters. Now we have the caravan, there won’t be any more holidays where we fly. I think Greta Thurnbull would approve.

 

Being Literal

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Water levels quite high at Pi Acres when we last made it there..

Being literal, as most Autistic people are, I mean what I say, and I (foolishly it would seem) expect people to mean what they say back to me. So, when a builder says that something isn’t a problem and will be done in a certain time frame, (given no extenuating circumstances of course), I have a tendency to believe him. When a mortgage advisor (who has taken exams and is strictly monitored by Ombudsmen) works out all the sums based on my earnings and equity and then tells me that I can afford the teeny tiny house down the road, I am likely to believe him. And when a seemingly lovely couple offer to help us refurbish our horse-box lorry at a cut price deal because we are their guinea pigs on their first conversion, being lovely people ourselves, we are prone to believe that people do good deeds. Like we do. We are good deed people.

However, to my utter dismay, I keep discovering that many people aren’t good deed people, and they just don’t do what they say they will. Either they never intended to, or they are so incompetent that they mess up and expect the customer to pay, which given my heightened sense of justice (another Autistic trait), doesn’t work for me. So, as you may well have guessed, I have been entrenched in a few battles to get what I am paying for and it’s been tough few weeks. Thankfully with the builder, I have a full  paper trail of what was agreed, and have photographed, videoed and even catalogued what an utter bodge job these guys did and then demanded more money to continue when it went way over time. They broke a water pipe and refused to fix it unless I paid another £1000 instalment (they actually asked for payment in full and were most aggressive when I refused). They tried blackmailing the money out of me by threatening to walk, but my gut instinct told me that if I paid them a penny more, they would walk anyway. It’s what a rogue builder did to me a couple of years ago, (followed by legal battles that went on for two years) so I was unlikely to make that mistake again. So the builder walked – or got sacked depending on how you look at it after six painful days of us tolerating an incompetent labourer who freely admitted he was hired for our job at the last minute and didn’t have a clue what he was doing.

We’d gone with the cheapest quote because of the mortgage advisor making a right royal mess of my mortgage. The plan was always to do an equity release on my flat and end up with enough money to buy our dream home in the countryside later this year. However, mortgage man Richard was out on his sums by £106,000 and it wasn’t discovered until AFTER we had exchanged contracts. That’s a lot of money! For a few hairy scary days, it looked like we were going to default on the purchase and potentially lose £23,500 which was the 10% deposit. Thankfully buying the teeny tiny house down the road didn’t use up my full borrowing potential and so after frantically trying to find solutions and having to agree in writing that I was happy to continue working until I am 73 years old, the funding was somehow bungled together. BUT. There’s now no equity to put forward to the next house and our new mortgage payments are £300 a month dearer, so we might not be able to help Oliver like we planned. To say the whole thing has been a farce is an understatement, and the cause and effect of this has been doubly stressful as I no longer have the money to consolidate my debts and pay a builder to fix everything. My credit rating is excellent thankfully, so I’ve just borrowed more money as part of the solution. It makes me feel really quite sick with anxiety and I have never liked debt. I firmly believe this is how they enslave you; borrow money and then work yourself into an early grave to pay it off. Obviously I have no intention of working until I am 73, and plan to be debt free with a source of income inside the next few years, but as I approach 50, I can’t help looking at where I am at and how I got here, and despite the rat-race nightmares of hiring builders and being misadvised by financial ‘experts’, I’m pretty darn chuffed at where I am.

It would have been wonderful to have the finances to pay professionals to do everything, but instead we have been forced into refurbishing much of the house ourselves. Apart from the fact that my bones are seizing up and I’ve discovered muscles I didn’t know I had by doing so much hard graft, it’s been quite amazing to do this project together with Paul.

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Creating chaos and enjoying it!

It’s felt like we are young honeymooners doing up our first home together. It’s a complete do-over, only this time we are both with the partners we are supposed to be with. The difference is astonishing, and it makes me want to run around telling couples who are miserable that it doesn’t have to be that way. I look around and see so many people settling for less because they are too busy focussing on goals that don’t matter, and forgetting all about joy. Our main goal should be to find joy in everyday things. And silver linings from stormy horizons. I’m learning that mistakes are also gifts. Would I have bought a light fitting from the charity shop for a pound if I had the money to buy everything new? Would it have felt like such a hidden treasure had it not been so welcome? We couldn’t afford a new kitchen, so I painted the old one and have transformed it. I think it’s better than a new kitchen! Why have I always moved house and put a new kitchen in? I’ve had to break this conditioned notion that new is best. It isn’t! Upcycling and mending what we already have should be our priority if we want to save the planet. I am always going to try and source what I need second hand from now on and only buy something brand new when I really can’t find a greener option. If I have to buy new, I’m also going to try and buy local and support a local trade. 

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We jiggled the sink unit and plate rack round and hey presto! What magic can be achieved with a lick of paint and a bit of vinyl.

Dare I say it (and do I mean it?) but I think I’m looking forward to entering my sixth decade of living and can look at my life and be pleased with where I am at. It has sod all to do with money or equity or property or any measure of success by Western standards, but more to do with who I am, and who I have become.march6.jpg I like the me I have matured into, and the self loathing I had grown accustomed to living with has shrunk into the background like a bad dream.  I am starting to see myself the way that Paul sees me, and to acknowledge that whilst I am disadvantaged in many areas of life because my brain is not typical, I am also very gifted, creative, articulate and so capable in some areas, I can be like Wonder Woman. Fierce and brilliant. And strangely unpopular despite my kind heart. Why is it that society shuns people like me? Is it because I don’t know how to schmooze at parties? Being literal and honest can made for very cringeworthy interactions and I know I sometimes make people feel uncomfortable. It’s not my aim, but I can’t help point out things that are wrong or make no sense. It’s like tourettes, but instead of swearing I blurt out my feedback on the uneven positioning of a display or I will wonder out loud why there are no vegan options in a meal deal. Partly, it’s curiosity as I want to understand things. Like why tradition is so important, or why someone has made certain choices. Sadly, this often comes across as judgemental, rude and is often completely unwelcome. I often don’t realise this at the time however, and agonise over every word I said at home later when I can clearly sense I have said the wrong thing, but don’t know what. I find it sad that people don’t seem to want the truth; not even truthful enthusiasm for something that is good. I can be embarrassingly happy about awesome things. Paul loves that about me; I haven’t lost my childish awe and joy when I encounter something good. But people are more likely to remember the negative stuff like when I tell someone pigs are more intelligent than dogs when they just want to enjoy their bacon sandwich. I’m the girl that told the other girls at sing club it was heading towards becoming bitch club and was ousted for it (it was genuinely like being back at school they were so unkind about other women not there to defend themselves).

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I think this should be more gender neutral and say ‘To the people who are awkward…’ but the sentiment stands.

 

But I am glad of this part of me. I fight for justice and fairness and above all, kindness. People who know me know I have no malice or hidden agenda and know I am never intentionally mean, but that I will always say it as it is. I’m the one to ask if we can discuss the elephant in the room because I just can’t pretend everything is fine when it very clearly isn’t.

Up until recently, I would attend events I didn’t want to go to, to make small talk with neuro-typical people I have very little in common with, and pretend I was having a great time because I was just grateful to have been invited.  But I am now aware of what a liability I am socially; I get why I don’t fit in and have gone through stages of grieving my lack of friends and family, to accepting I am not wanted by most, and finally now realising I don’t want to be around anyone I have to mask my real self from to get them to like me. I’m excellent company to people who have nothing to hide and who want to be around people like me. And that’s the key isn’t it? Choosing to be where you are wanted. That is fine when choosing who you want to spend time with, but not so fine when it’s people you have to live alongside and they aren’t quite so friendly or reasonable.

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A fellow Aspie

Society currently doesn’t want people like me, but as I live in this society and am not quite ready yet to go and dig a hole in the mound at Pi Acres and live in it like a crazy lady, I have to do something to help change it. But I also have to at least try and pick my battles carefully as it’s exhausting. I have more battles going on right now than I need, so I will not be going to Shirley’s all women shindig because it’s my idea of hell (sorry Shirley, this is no reflection on you) and I do not feel guilty that I have said no. My attendance is not required and I just don’t need to put myself through the anguish of parties anymore. I will however, be putting myself quite squarely in the firing line and standing up for my rights when I feel passionately that they have been ignored.  Or I have been ripped off or bullied. There’s been some strongly worded and much edited correspondence coming from this laptop the last few weeks including an email to Step-heavy upstairs telling her that she and the entire management committee are ableist and guilty of discrimination. They told me that I was not allowed to have Paul with me at management company meetings despite my admission that I need support to attend these things, but that I could request that a proxy attend on my behalf. So I had to send Paul to a meeting upstairs that I wasn’t allowed to go to despite being a director of the management company. That’s madness! I was also told that despite being a director of the management company I was not allowed to draft a letter for Step-heavy (my remortgage application required some simple questions answering) for her to sign. They are the most awkward, unpleasant, unsympathetic lot I’ve ever had to live alongside (and I’m from London originally!) so I no longer care if they think I’m highly strung/crazy/too sensitive. In fact, I care so little now what they think of me that I’ve rented out the flat (subject to references) but have kept my parking space at the rear. I’m going to put a caravan on it.

So, that brings me to the horse-box lorry and what has happened that has made us ditch the project and buy a caravan. I sold my cute little red Fiat 500 last year and the money was put aside to refurbish the horse-box lorry into ‘tiny house’ living. We planned to stay in it on the land when we could this summer and then sell it. It didn’t cost us much and we have been sitting on the cash from my Fiat patiently waiting for months and months for work to start on it. I had drawn plans, written lists and sourced all secondhand and free bits for it, and I made sure I liaised thoroughly with the people due to work on it. Everything in writing. However, they turned out to be as sneaky as the damn builders and it’s destroyed any trust I have in them. I shan’t bore you with too many details, except to say that without checking with us first, they spent 15 days stripping off all the metal panels (so Fern is just a naked frame now) and asked us for £1800 for doing so.

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Stripped bare!

It’s brought us to a rather unpleasant stalemate situation because we haven’t got £1800 to effectively pay to make our lorry worse than when we gave it to them. Doing this has made it a project not worth continuing with – financially at the very least. Despite the fact that it was always a budget conversion on an old lorry, and we had sourced all second hand/free cookers, showers, windows etc they are now claiming they thought we wanted a bespoke, top range conversion and money wasn’t an object! How do you deal with that? Apart from that, their timing couldn’t have been worse, what with the builder, the mortgage advisor and the management committee all being either incompetent or shifty. I just don’t have the tolerance anymore to be taken advantage of, and although Paul is warning me I have started to sound like I don’t care, I have to toughen up. Being a kind person doesn’t mean you allow people to take advantage of you and in fact, it is unkind to future empaths like myself not to try and protect them from the same experience from the same sharks.  So, the money that was put aside for the first fix on the horse-box lorry has now gone on a caravan. It’s not a fancy one, but I will work my Shelley magic on it and we will stay on the land in it this summer. The shed at Pi Acres had an attempted break in last time we went, so I shan’t be leaving the caravan there when we aren’t there too. We’ve been planting willow (Andrew has more for us apparently so I am most happy about that) and will be planting up hawthorn and holly next time we go. Sadly we had to cancel a couple of events like path making (Paul has started cutting a path up to the top of the mound) as we will soon be moving into our new home. We have to leave the flat immaculate for the new tenants so there’s that to do as well. I feel guilty that we aren’t at Pi Acres right now, fixing the broken geodome or sorting out the area for the caravan but it is what it is, and the land will still be there when we are free to come and love it properly again. We’ve invited the local scouts to share the space with us so I’m excited about that too. So long as they respect our compost loo, all is well. I don’t want to have to deal with any more unnecessary shit. Literally.

 

 

Lemon Curd and Christmas

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.  blog8I 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. blog10.JPGWe 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 a neighbour who don’t want us there and apparently disapproves 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 house? 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!

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.

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Exeter to Countess Weir canal walk December 2018

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 live off the rent we receive from our 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.blog3 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. 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. My stepfather has always been mean. I shan’t go on, as I am sure you get the idea. 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 got 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.

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‘Hope’ by Laurie Maitland (my art name)

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.

 

The Science Behind Letting Go

leaves

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!