It’s been a roller coaster of a month and I’m not quite sure where to begin so I’ll start with the bricks and mortar part of our lives… we had an offer on the house last month. It was considerably less than the asking price and I wrestled for some time over whether to accept it as it was such a massive drop.
We did the sums. We found a mindful mortgage consultant. We drove back to Wales. We trudged over hundreds of acres on smallholdings for sale over a two week period (my hips are not happy about this) and eventually, we found ‘the one’ (the twelfth property we looked at on this particular trip). With an offer accepted on a 14.5 acre smallholding, our house sold subject to contract and a complete vision on the eco village we would be building, I really thought it was just a paperwork exercise to now make the dream a reality.
People have always marvelled at how fearless I am when it comes to new ventures, but what they don’t realise is that when you are autistic, everything is scary. I’ve far more fear attached to having to attend a party than borrowing hundreds of thousands of pounds to buy a smallholding.
I posted the details on our vegan eco village networking page and had such an overwhelming response from people wanting to join us that we literally had to create an index card filing system to keep track of everyone. We sent out ‘tribe seeking’ questionnaires and had several back straight away. It presented some challenges when we found out how many people just weren’t vegan (why did they join a vegan eco village networking page if they have no plans to ever be vegan?) but as part of the sieving process it started to look like it really would’t be hard to find ethical vegans to join us – we’d not advertised it externally at all and had dozens of applications to join us. I connected non-vegans with other non-vegans and pointed people towards other projects that I know are happening where they looked like more of a match for each other. I would love it if these people connected and good came of it. It makes me feel like I have fulfilled some sort of divine purpose when I hear amazing things have happened because of introductions I have made. Sometimes I get so busy making other people’s dreams come true, I forget I have dreams of my own.
I don’t know if it’s unhealthy detachment leading to my brain to disassociate from reality, or if I have achieved some form of wise old lady Buddhist detachment to the outcome of my endeavours, but when the sale of our property fell through and the smallholding purchase also falling through, I didn’t despair. In fact, I had an underlying sense of wellness that it was a positive thing. Like an angel just kicked me up the arse and then whispered ‘not yet’. I know it will happen. Just not yet.
It’s an autistic trait to endlessly pick apart the whys and wherefores of events and try to work out what went wrong. I like to consider whether I handled the situation correctly. Could I have done anything differently? I realised on reflection that I could have kept the buyers (if I reduced my price further) and that I could have advertised to find investors to then continue buying the smallholding, perhaps even manage to do it without the sale of my house. But the man buying my house was a bully and I felt anxious about doing business with him. He was already causing problems before we had invited solicitors into the fray. It didn’t feel good selling to him, so when it all fell through, I felt both disappointment and relief in equal measure before very quickly settling at ‘meh’. We are not so desperate to sell that we need to do business with sociopaths. And we’re not so desperate for a tribe that I will take money from strangers. Especially when the last two people I tried to help turned out to be very dark indeed beneath the fluffy exterior – but I will come back to that later….
There’s a possibility that my tolerance level when dealing with sociopaths and narcissists is potentially lower than for the majority given my history and over empathic nature (which is like having a target painted on my forehead to those who lack moral fibre). Paul and I have been watching a series on Now TV called ‘The Blacklist’ and the main protagonist Reddington is a sociopath, but because he doesn’t pretend he isn’t one, we, the viewer find ourselves rooting for him. Is it because he is authentic and doesn’t pretend to be something he’s not? Or is it that his rare acts of kindness are proof that he has a soul despite being a serial killer with little or no conscience? Or that he is willing to be held accountable for his choices even when it’s ugly. It’s prompted some interesting conversations at home over who is the darkest: the troubled dark soul who owns his shit, or the sickly sweet, polite sociopath who hides their selfish agendas behind smiling facades? I’d rather be dealing with the former, and in the current political climate it sure would have been good if politician’s true motives were revealed. Then we wouldn’t have found ourselves in this dystopian nightmare that is the reality of our current society. I’m deeply troubled by the way our government have lied and lied and yet people are still voting for them.
The lies and underhand tactics behind false smiles are symptomatic of what’s wrong with the whole world – not just the world of politics. I’ve said it before, but to save the world, we have to all start owning our shit. It’s a joke how far people will go to avoid being honest, but the thing is, I have this innate ability to get the sociopaths and narcissists to reveal themselves. A lifetime of being a victim of gaslighting because I’m ‘not normal’ (my first husband’s catch phrase) means I always thought that when people behaved badly towards me, it was because I had done something to provoke it and that it was somehow my fault. It was almost always the people who appeared so nice to start with. The common denominator for so many dramatic outbursts of anger aimed at me, was – me. I believed the people who told me I was too sensitive, or that I pushed them away, or that it was me that made them behave badly because of something I said or did. I no longer think that. I do not say things to stir up trouble and nor do I look for confrontation, but I do speak the truth. Without hidden agenda. Unlike the glib charisma of narcissists, if I have any agenda at all, it isn’t veiled. I’m quite clear about what I want, what I’m after and what my boundaries are. I have kind thoughts. I like helping people. I’m flawed but I’m authentic. So when I encounter someone who is fake, it often doesn’t go well for them because in trying to find out what their motives are, and what they are all about, I often ‘out’ the narcissist.
Not long ago, Paul and I opened up our home to a young couple – foreigners relocating to the country for his research position at the University. A scientist and his wife (who would be looking for a job when she got here) arrived a few months ago and we put them up for a few weeks over Summer. They were vegetarian not vegan, but they promised that they would be vegan while in our home and that was good enough for us. We shared meals and spoke about veganism. We shared recipes. We talked about how cruel dairy was and they both agreed that being vegan was a good idea. She was excited about trying out new vegan recipes. They seemed a lovely couple and we got along fine. As we were very actively house/land hunting in Wales and spent most of the Summer away, we didn’t spend much time with them, but even when we were back home there very few challenges sharing with them; nothing awful and to be honest, I considered it all to be the usual stuff you’d encounter when having to share your space with other people. She didn’t do any job hunting that we could see and was home all day, every day. That was quite hard for me to start with as I work from home and didn’t expect her to be there all day too but I got over it. She liked to experiment with cooking and most of the days we were home, she spent several hours a day in the kitchen (which isn’t big enough for both of us to try and cook at the same time). In the end, I politely suggested a rota and she acknowledged without any falling out that she had been hogging the kitchen. All good I thought, even when she then tried comparing how much more wholesome her food was to ours. Oh, how we laughed at how she cooked everything from scratch when we often popped shop bought fake meat pies in the oven. (Clive’s pies my all time favourite). I resisted the urge to say I usually cooked all the time including days where I batch cooked vegan wholefood to freeze but not being able to get in the kitchen had stopped that. I just thought to myself that it’s only temporary and I could get control back of my kitchen when they were gone. That and any excuse to eat pie really.
She seemed lovely to start with, and there were a couple of times she opened up about personal aspects of her life. I won’t divulge too much out of respect for her, but I can share that she spoke at length at how awful her family were – both Paul and I could relate, as we both experienced abusive childhoods. Her variety of childhood abuse stemmed from being darker skinned than the rest of her Indian family; she was made to feel less – like an outcast and that she wasn’t good enough. Learning this helped me to be more patient with her when I started to notice that behind the giggly, softly spoken words there was a dark passive aggressive streak.
They talked about having a similar dream to us – living off the land in a sustainable way, but unlike us, she wanted to keep livestock for dairy and eggs. Paul and I talked to them both about exploiting animals but she was having none of it. To keep the peace, we never let it get heated and always remained polite, but she knew our position. If I’m honest, despite the politeness, I started counting down the days until she was gone. I wanted my kitchen back and she had also started to remind me of my narcissistic sister – all glowing and charming with softly spoken tones yet I had a growing feeling that she was hating on me big time under the politeness. She was petite and pretty but despite her outward beauty, she had nothing kind to say about her sister who lived in London (with a very successful career and two children, both of which seemed to trigger her). In fact I’d say she was rather scathing about her, yet was completely charming and wonderful to her on their regular video chats. I started to wonder what she was saying about me behind my back as I’ve learned the hard way that people who say bad things about other people may well be saying bad things about you too. I witnessed the lies she told her husband when he got home from work as to why she hadn’t found a job yet. I really tried to see her good traits and reasoned that the angry and bitter vibes I could sense behind the false charm was how she was holding herself together; I know what survival looks like with someone who is mentally unstable. Just like Paul’s sister and her vitriolic rants, I could see the damage and although I would prefer not to be around toxic people, I was careful to be as kind as I could. To show kindness when it’s a challenge is easier when you remind yourself that you don’t know what secret battles people are having. They moved out when we were in Wales and we only saw them once more when I said they could come back and use our internet while we were away as their new place didn’t have any.
It wasn’t until she posted information about her new vegetarian creative cookery classes online a few weeks later did it all fall apart. I simply stated that I’d love a vegan creative cookery class, but to her, I may as well have said ‘I’m superior to you because I’m vegan’ if the vitriolic messages I got later were anything to go by. I tried to explain that the whole reason I am vegan is because I do not consider myself superior to anyone, including animals which is why I do not eat, harm or exploit them. It didn’t help, and I as I could see this was not a battle I was going to win no matter how reasonable and calm I stayed, I stated it was time we stopped pretending we were friends and that I should have our keys back as she still hadn’t returned them after moving out. She ignored a couple of reminders over the next few days, then after a third, very polite message that we were able to collect keys that afternoon if she was home, she replied to say that she had just thrown my keys in the bin and I could go rummage though her rubbish if I wanted them back! She then ignored my reply telling her how unacceptable that was. I took a screenshot of her message and sent it to her husband, asking him to step in and help. The next thing I know, I get a phone call from the estate agent that we bought our house through. They had themselves just had a bizarre phone call from The Co-operative Funeral Care Co on Tiverton Road to say that a crazy lady had just run into their office, thrown a set of keys on a desk, shouted ‘Jenny will collect these’ and then ran out. As the keys still had the estate agent key fob on the key ring complete with the reference number from when we bought the house, they were able to ring me and I went down and collected my keys. I then later got an email from the husband telling me my keys were at the Co-op Funeral Care shop as if this is a perfectly usual way to return keys.
I thought this was to be the end of it, however she then tagged me in a post on Exeter Vegetarians and Vegans page on Facebook. She had got embroiled in another argument over veganism with a question that admin had raised, and then weirdly accused me of sending her hate messages because she’s vegetarian! I looked back over all our messages and all I could see was me trying to explain with kindness why dairy is cruel. The only hate I could see was coming from her. ‘You think you’re better than me’ was one of her accusations and it’s a common one that vegans hear. I may think my choices are better (in some areas) than others, but I never think I am a better person. I’m a different person, and different doesn’t necessarily mean better. It’s like comparing an apple and orange and asking which is better. Admin had switched off comments before I came to witness the whole ugly thread, so I had to ask them to remove the slanderous comments that I sent hate messages. Why is it that toxic people accuse innocent people of the very thing they themselves do? It made me want to screenshot every damn page of all our conversations so everyone could see she was lying, but instead I wrote to her husband once more and offered to help. I asked him to look through the messages with his wife and wondered if they could discuss why she thinks I’ve been hateful to her. I even offered to go and talk it through with them to help get the bottom of her negativity towards me, because if her campaign of hate resulted in more lies and slander I would be involving the police next time. No reply, but then, I didn’t really expect one. Narcissists simply never face the ugly part of themselves and besides, it’s much easier to hate the person that holds the mirror up to that ugliness than face yourself.
Having woken up this morning to the news that the Conservative Party won the election yesterday, I can’t help thinking my experience with the vegetarian lodger is like a snapshot of what is happening politically in the world. Sociopaths and narcissists are not being held accountable for their behaviour and lies. We accept sociopathy as if it’s a welcome trait to make things happen. People seem to lie to each other all the time. This needs to change.
The symbiotic relationship between how our leaders behave and how the mass population behaves has never been more clear to me. That and the fact that we really are living in an Orwellian matrix where the masses really are shockingly easy to manipulate. ‘The Party told you to reject all evidence of your eyes and ears. It was their final, most essential command’ (Orwell 1984) is scarily accurate to what just happened in this election. People can see quite clearly how bad things are, but still would rather believe the lies.
It seems to me that the foundation of our society is built on lies, so when someone like me comes along and speaks the truth, it doesn’t make me very popular. ‘The more a society drifts from the truth, the more they will hate those who seek it’ (also Orwell). If we start pointing the finger at who is lying in government, maybe we have to start looking at the lies and cruelty in our own lives. We’d have to look at the lies in the advertising we are exposed to, the false politeness of a society that is failing and of course the lies we tell ourselves so that we can continue to be selfish and never be held accountable for it. If you scratch the surface of the fake lives the majority are leading you will find that not many people are happy. Addiction fills the void where joy should be – whether that’s with alcohol, Facebook, consumerism, gambling etc – all symptoms of a lack of connection to each other and to nature. If people were more connected to the planet, I’m sure they’d be more awake when it came to protecting it.
It looks to me like we are mostly connected to each other by misery – I noticed this more than ever when I belonged to a group of women called the Singing Sisters. When I told Paul about the things the women regularly said at Sing Club, he renamed it Bitch Club! I made myself unpopular when I told the group I was very uncomfortable listening to them slagging off someone who wasn’t there. I said that it sounded like she had mental health problems and needed support. It wasn’t long after that that they were all discussing me behind my back and I was made to feel so unwelcome in the end, I had to leave. It was like being back at school. I noticed in my post mortem of my time with these women that when I was single and could complain about disaster dates or laugh about the latest narcissist I had invited into my life, everyone could relate. But when I met Paul and got engaged, no-one wanted to hear the romantic stories. My happiness was not welcome. This is not what I call sisterhood. The dictionary describes sisterhood as a connection between women based on common interest, trade or religion. I think the common interest in Bitch Club, sorry, Sing Club was to hate men. And people with mental health problems. People think I’m being mean when I hold up a mirror but often I’m just describing what I see.
We went back to Wales last week for a seminar on co-housing and made some useful contacts and got lots of great information for building our eco village. But, here’s the thing; I’m starting to have a wobble that I want to be around people when the more I do to share what we have and help people, the more I feel like a mole being bashed over the head in a plastic ‘whack a mole’ game. As part of the tribe matching service I seem to have inadvertently begun, I introduced two contacts to each other – one a lady that I suspect is on the spectrum and is overcoming all sorts of anxiety issues to be pioneers in a new sustainable life with her beautiful family, and the other an ‘earth mother’ type with a grown up son and having lived in many communities. I had hoped they would connect, but not only did they positively hate each other, the toxicity of the ‘earth mother’ type shocked me somewhat. I tried being a peacemaker but got shot down by her for my efforts. ‘Did you not see me radiating?’ the earth mother type said when I suggested rather than accuse my other friend of being toxic she could look to her own negativity that arose after their experience of each other. It didn’t go down well, and I have been deleted as a friend. I did my usual autistic post-mortem and pieced together the evidence of where it all went wrong for these two women. The anxious one in this equation is a vegan. The other, who believes she ‘radiates’ is not. Was cognitive dissonance at play again with a vegetarian thinking they have ‘arrived’ and not being prepared to examine their choices because they would find they weren’t all kind ones? Or was it that people like my anxious friend trigger anger in people that lack empathy? Ironically, while the ‘earth mother’ type was spouting her hate on her Facebook page about the toxicity of someone she just met, she failed to see her own toxicity. And she really didn’t like me suggesting it. Paul and I nearly fell out over it because he wants to protect me from people like her and was cross that I got embroiled when I defended a friend. ‘Better not to get involved’ he said while I spent a day in tears. But my tears are not a sign of weakness, and I told Paul that people like her are the very people I believe I am here to challenge. Some of the loveliest, most soulful people I know aren’t vegan yet, so it isn’t a vegan thing. It’s people who pretend to be kind, but the moment they are presented with something that makes them uncomfortable, they reveal the dark selfish individual they are. The ‘earth mother’ type who dismisses another person because they may have mental health problems is not one of my tribe.
The conclusion I am currently drawing from this is that those that pretend to be kind in a bid to groom others into liking them for selfish agendas are often the darkest souls of all. Give me an authentic mess who can’t hide their darkness over a simpering manipulator any day. I long for a day when people speak freely about what they think and how they feel. Even if it occasionally makes for an awkward moment, I appreciate honesty.
All this has held up a mirror to me too. What is my agenda? Why am I continuously trying to connect with other people when all I keep finding is nastiness? My vegan eco village networking page is more popular than ever, but I’m starting to think we need to scale down our project so that there’s less people. More animals perhaps. Because my experience so far of people is that ‘four legs good, two legs bad’ (Orwell again!). I hope that changes, but my disappointment in how our nation voted yesterday along with my own ‘whack a mole’ experience of trying to help people has sent me into hiding at the moment. It’s winter so hibernating seems natural anyway.
We will put our house on the market again at Christmas, and try again, but until then, (and perhaps until we go for it with the eco-village in Spring) I may not write again for a while. I have an idea for a novel and there’s a chance I will be writing articles on Autism and PTSD once a month if I get the gig so this is a bit of a signing off for now. I may publish my ‘neurodivergent’ articles here for those of you following my journey into conscientious living, but otherwise this marks an end to keeping my personal blog going. I shall leave with a positive note on some jolly good news so you don’t think I’m flouncing off in a huff:
Greta Thunburg has been made Time Person of the Year. As someone who is also autistic, outspoken and passionate about saving the planet, I hope people like us start getting hailed as role models instead of weirdoes or ‘not normal’. I feel this is the beginning. Change is coming.
I’m sitting at home in Exeter writing this in what I can only describe as a nest with a blanket wrapped around me, pillows hugging me, my feet up, Tuki next to me and a steaming mug of coffee by my side. The caravan is back in storage and the holidays are over. A grey drizzle has replaced the last of the summer sun and an autumn chill is in the air. It feels like we are home after a long adventure and it is time to take stock of all that has happened this summer. It’s like we’ve had a love affair with Wales only to come away wondering whether it was real love or infatuation.
Life is still orange but the tone has been darkened as if this summer has had a seventies sepia tone laid over it; the feeling made complete last week with the purchase of a new (secondhand) electric bike. With a basket and a rear pannier. I am nine years old all over again and with the cadence sensor it’s like I’ve the energy of a kid again too, zooming around Exeter trying to remember to smile with my gob shut so I stop swallowing flies.
It feels good to ditch the car and although we have only been home a few days, we have been zipping around to our allotment, the cemetery and down to the riverside on foraging and harvesting adventures. The corguettes doubled in size while we were away and were well on their way to becoming marrows they were so fat. After each bike trip, we’ve sat at our kitchen table chopping, preserving, cooking and generally marvelling at how simple things like eating our home grown corguettes or making jam with foraged damsons can give us so much joy.
I’ve started hoarding food as if the whole Brexit thing is the precursor to the apocalypse. Despite the slightly sinister undertones of prepping, there’s something really wholesome about harvesting and storing food ready for winter. I used to find Autumn depressing as it hailed the start of dark winters that always seemed to go on too long, but now it’s been reborn as the second spring for me, the abundance of food and medicine from nature certainly goes some way to making this an exciting time rather than a dreary one.
Since I last wrote, we have hosted two ‘Vegan Eco Village Networking’ events, and spent several days at the charity owned smallholding in Wales trying to work out a plan for how the land and premises could work for our vegan eco-village.
We had a gruelling six hour interview with Hugh, the founder trustee of the charity and agreed that we would stay for a few days and draw up plans for him to look over, and that we would host the first of our ‘tribe seeking’ meet-ups there. Hugh is a little older than us, (but not by much) and is a successful business man turned benefactor. He isn’t vegan but he believes vegans resonate at a higher frequency and are generally kinder people than most. I don’t quite understand why he isn’t walking the walk himself, but acknowledging how lovely most vegans are seems a good step in the right direction.
He was most welcoming to the idea that a group of vegans could bring his own vision of an intentional community based on kindness to life at his rather unloved and uninhabited smallholding. With only two volunteers struggling to run an Airbnb in dwellings that haven’t been updated since the seventies, hold the fort and keep it from going to seed (and with both leaving within the month) I had expected a little more enthusiasm at what we were offering rather than having to convince a suspicious interviewer that we’re lovely. All in front of several people we had never met before, the majority of whom were not vegan. It was painful for me, either making smalltalk or trying to explain in front of carnists why we were vegan. Talk about feeling like a lamb in the lion’s den! I doubt he had any real idea how terrifying being interviewed over lunch at a table of at least eight people is to someone with autism.
We had already heard tales from our networking about why things hadn’t worked out for previous pioneers/caretakers/volunteers, but we decided to hold back judgement, as gossip is not to be trusted. I thought perhaps we had discovered that it was just a series of unfortunate placements with the wrong people which had plagued the project from ever really taking off, and this didn’t in itself sound any alarm for us. We had also heard that Hugh did not visit often and we would be left to our own devices for the most part should we decide to be one of the pioneers he was appealing for. So we sat gazing at the lake imagining that we would be setting up permaculture projects and planting an edible forest alongside fellow vegans and Stanley the twenty-eight year old resident swan that can no longer fly.
Being autistic means that most human interactions are fraught with anxiety for me. Did I say the right thing? Did I offend anyone? Do they like me? Am I being paranoid, or can I feel them hating me? I think also, because it’s so exhausting for me trying to navigate my way through social interaction it means I am not always able to hear the alarm bells I should be hearing. It’s why sociopaths have been so able to manipulate me in the past. I also assume the best of everyone when I first meet them (which I think is a rather lovely thing) so I am more likely to be an enthusiastic puppy greeting new people and projects with passion and excitement, only to come away later and realise I hadn’t quite seen the signs. But because I hear key phrases repeated from most conversations at random times in my head, I often have ‘aha’ moments much later than the event and then I can agonise for days, weeks or even years on what I should have said or done. I have real problems letting it go, but like Greta Thunberg says, that inability to ‘let it go’ can be a super power when it’s for something grand like dissent for a culture that is destroying the planet.
The first alarm bell I actually noticed with my interactions with Hugh was shortly after posting the Welsh meet-up event on my closed group (‘Vegan Eco Village Networking’ Facebook page). Despite having permission directly from Hugh to host our event at his smallholding, I got a text message from his P.A demanding I cancel the event and remove it from Facebook immediately. I replied by saying that I will not be cancelling my event, nor will I be removing it from my Facebook page, but that I will find a different venue if they are withdrawing their offer for me to host it there. Immediately Hugh called me and apologised saying he hadn’t realised it was a closed group and he had visions of hundreds of travellers turning up in their caravans all having seen my posts. We laughed about it but my telephone chortle did not relay the physical reaction I had of being sucked into a dark void when I got his dictatorial demands via text from his Greek manservant. Hugh reassured me contritely that he really wanted us to host our event at his smallholding and told me how much he wanted to meet everyone so I allowed myself to be charmed back into the idea once more. Whether it was the desire to be there living the dream or just my forgiving nature, I am not sure, but I put the stroppy text message to one side and organised our return a week later.
Oliver came to stay with us while we were there, and for a while the romance of the place led us to think that this would be our home soon. We walked every path and boundary in the 80 acres, drew maps, talked obsessively about little else for days. We worked out a scheme by which the transition could happen while still maintaining an income from Airbnb guests so that the founder trustee wouldn’t have to put his hands in his pockets but rather let our enterprise ideas fund a full refurbishment.
Despite the idea of another refurbishment so soon after completing this one at home not being my dream, (and not even being on property we owned) we offered to undertake the majority of the work ourselves, and although Paul was thinking of applying for the paid caretaker position available, I offered my services for free, just to have the pleasure of bringing our project to life in a marriage of shared visions. I showed Oliver our plans, typed up a full report and even watercolour painted the map Paul drew of the place with my infamous colour coded key charts of all the exciting things I could imagine there.
The current volunteers, a lovely young vegan couple who had wisely kept away from the politics of the place were enthusiastic about our plans but before we left, we also showed everything to a chap called Andrew, Hugh’s trusted business advisor. He was so extraordinarily negative about everything (whilst also casting aspersions on Hugh’s character, abilities and his vision) that a defiant determination set in that I would prove to this idiot of a man that we could do it.
I found myself feeling protective towards Hugh and wondering if Andrew was one of the reasons the place hadn’t blossomed. In my frustration at every suggestion having the response that it wouldn’t work, I told Andrew the ancient Chinese proverb: ‘Those that say it can’t be done should stop interrupting those doing it’. And I also told him he was the most negative person I have ever met. I left the meeting trembling and feeling just like I did every time I saw my old neighbours up the road. I hate that every time I have to deal with the likes of these venomous people it stirs up all the previous times I’ve battled with others like him too. But if I’m entirely honest, I’m also glad that my reaction to him made me feel ill. It feels like my spidey-sense is really starting to tell me who the baddies are. I’m not as easily charmed by sociopaths like I used to be and if I stop and listen to the reactions in my body rather than my ego I will become a much wiser person I am sure. I used to think I was paranoid, but now I have Paul to talk through our experiences of people, it’s helped me to realise that I’m actually a reasonably good judge of character these days. The fact that I cannot work Hugh is disconcerting, but I also know that we all go through dark times and it doesn’t make us bad people if we apply survival strategies to living. It’s a common thing in Western society and I believe the reason there are so many people suffering from depression. We need to show people a different way. That’s our form of rebellion.
During our stay, we weeded the allotment, pulling up vast networks of bindwind that had twisted like rope creating a blanket over everything – suffocating the raspberries and garlic, tomatoes and rocket. It pulled up with such satisfaction I barely minded that stinging nettles got me while I saved the vegetables from their bindweed doom. We worked out why the chickens weren’t coming out of the coup and we spoke to the farmer next door (who Andrew had also slagged off but turns out to be most amenable). It felt like we were already coaxing the place back into life, so when I sent the plan to Hugh it was with confidence that the next step would just be to work out the finer details. I had listened hard to what Hugh’s vision was, coupled with what the volunteers told me me about the existing Airbnb business, and what skills the people I could invite to join us would offer. I put together something that met the brief for all concerned and could be a reality by Spring. I emailed it to Hugh before we left.
On the drive home, we discussed at length the things that Andrew had said about his boss and I realised what a tricky position I had been put in. Should I tell Hugh the terrible things that his employee was saying about him and his ideas of housing co-operatives or social impact enterprises? My reaction to Andrew’s negativity was so strong that I wrote a poem about him. I wonder why is it that it takes brushing up against evil to inspire me to write poetry.
The green of the hills and the kiss of air upon my cheek
bracken and river
balsam wood and clover
dappled shade and burning bright sun
birds twittering and brooks babbling.
I was won over.
But as silence crept around the place
I felt a chill of something.
A history of darkness
sitting around the buildings
where no-one emerged from their homes
and even the chickens hid in their coup
refusing to come out and cluck and play.
And then we heard it.
The piercing shriek of the buzzard
I looked up and saw it circling
the hens heard it too and buried their heads
into their wings and edged into the corner,
climbing over each other to get away
until even my soft tones were no comfort.
There’s safety in the crook of the coup.
He came and perched on the strut overlooking the coup
and shat on the floor.
A big messy green and white poop
filled with the DNA of those he’d eaten.
We heard him on the telephone
vocal in his lack of loyalty to the founder trustee
shitting in his coup and blaming him
for all the failures yet still invoicing him.
A wolf in the sheep pen. Mosquito larvae in the fish bowl.
A snake in the grass.
A buzzard in the chicken coup.
I had expected some positive feedback on the plan we sent, but instead Hugh sent a curt reply telling me that The Farmhouse was fit for purpose and did not need renovating and then wrote a strange bullet point plan of what he saw happening over the next few months. It was like spilling your heart out and sharing your dreams with someone to have them ignore it all and ask you what’s for dinner. At least that’s what it felt like. Not once did his plans mention permaculture or biodiversity or anything that suggested he was a fellow eco-warrior trying to live conscientiously. That added to the other alarm bells, it was the final straw and we decided to withdraw our offer.
I could list all the reasons why we decided it wasn’t for us – there were far more alarm bells in the end than I have mentioned here but instead I shall say it clarified our need to be creating our eco village with fellow vegans who share our vision. Despite my initial reaction that Hugh had grossly wasted our time, I’m grateful for the clarity. Our path is clearer now, and although we were tempted for a while by the ease with which we could have just ‘landed’ in Wales with no financial commitment, it taught us quite a lot about our choices. And ultimately it showed us how much we do not want to have to liaise with people like Andrew, or try to work out the inconsistencies and reactionary nature of a fickle boss who is still very much a capitalist despite the generous nature of his charity. These are the people we are trying to move away from. Whilst I’m all for showing the wolves how we should all be living and being a beacon for love, we don’t really want to invite them into our straw houses. The planet is on fire, so the time to stop worrying about offending carnists, it’s time to all start making choices that save the planet instead of destroying it.
As we had the meet-up planned for a week later, I was reluctant to burn my bridges entirely by being too brutally honest but I also wanted to be truthful, so I sent Hugh a kind email explaining that what he wanted wasn’t for us, but that I would be happy to introduce him to everyone else at our meet-up and he could network too alongside us. I wrestled for days with anxiety about what I would say to him if he asked why we backed off. And my fears were realised when Hugh arrived the day before the meet-up and in earshot of new arrival fellow vegans and asked me very directly why it wasn’t for us. My autistic super-powers of imagining every scenario stood me in good stead as I had already rehearsed what I would say should that situation arise. I explained that ‘this isn’t the right time’ and that I am better at writing my thoughts so I would put it all in an email after the meet-up. And I told him I felt he should know what Andrew was saying about him, so I would put it all together for him after we returned.
People camping and staying over at the meet-up arrived Friday night and although the official event didn’t start until the next day, the community kitchen ended up with the majority of us chatting, drinking tea and heating up suppers as dusk fell. Hugh and his assistant arrived in the kitchen expecting a meal but as the event wasn’t until the next day, there wasn’t anything for them, so guests rallied round – we offered some of the curry I had made for the ‘bring n share buffet’ the next day, and in the absence of rice (which was back in our caravan), one of the meet-up guests, Lorraine offered some of her pasta. His assistant had to cook it, and I very much got the impression that they were used to being served and not having to cook for themselves. If it wasn’t so overwhelming meeting and greeting everyone I feel sure I would have ended up cooking their dinner. It ended up with us all sat round the table with Hugh awkwardly interviewing people and asking people why they were vegan and what they could offer. He triggered one of our guests with his brand of suspicious interrogation into such deep introversion she didn’t attend the camp fire the next night. She confessed to struggling the whole of the next day because of it. It made me realise that for all the good deeds a person might do, if they wonder what every person can do for them instead of what they can do to help them, their presence is never going to feel like a kind one. Even if the project they are working on started off as an altruistic idea, if people then just become a commodity to make that vision happen then it’s like planting a kindness tree in poisoned soil. It’s never going to blossom.
Hugh and his assistant left at 7am the following morning, saying they couldn’t stay for the meet-up. I thought it odd that they had the invites, knew the date of the meet-up yet travelled hundreds of miles just to come the night before, but I was grateful they left too. We reestablished bonds with people we had already spent time with and met new fellow vegans who were equally as lovely. We shared all our lovely food, shared our stories and it was heart warming and nowhere near as scary as dealing with people like Hugh and his assistant. I know now that the location isn’t anywhere near as important as the people. Although it sounds so very obvious now, it took this journey for me to truly understand this.
A family I hadn’t met before that came to the meet-up fell in love with the place, so we shared our experience of Hugh and why we weren’t going for it ourselves. I think for someone that doesn’t have equity, or the choices we have, Hugh’s smallholding could be a dream opportunity for some, so it was with full knowledge of what they were potentially letting themselves in for and still being most excited, we recommended them to Hugh as potential pioneers/settlers/caretakers to start his intentional community. My need for truth and understanding as part of my ‘special needs’ made it a potential nightmare for us, but for others who can compartmentalise, or play the long game it’s a sweet deal. We put them up for the night when we got back from Exeter so they could go and be interviewed by Hugh the next day in Paignton. By the time he interviewed them, I had sent my email outlining where he had lost us and how to avoid losing the couple we had spent the weekend with. I sang their praises and delivered some truths to Hugh that wouldn’t have been easy to hear. I felt he needed to know that in most of his interactions, he flitted from enthusiasm to flippancy and then made several dismissive statements that contradicted previous statements. As an autist who is very literal, this is very disturbing for me. For example, he said he understood my theory that you can’t have a village based on kindness and then endorse babies being taken away from their mothers so that you don’t ‘offend’ carnists (he currently offers cow’s milk) – so we were delighted when he said he could see why it had to be vegan but then he later did a complete U-turn saying he wanted the place to be inclusive for all that that was why it could be a planted based kitchen but not a vegan location ‘incase you alienate people’.
I tried to be as kind as I could, but sometimes truth is a harsh weapon and doesn’t feel kind. I said: ‘It’s easy when you are task focussed to forget the bigger picture which is kindness in all human interaction and making people feel good about what they are offering. You did not do this. Ask yourself, when you meet fellow pioneers, do you immediately wonder what they have that they can offer you, or do you wonder how you can help them? What did you think when you met us? Did you wonder how we could work together, or were you eyeing us up suspiciously because you don’t trust people anymore? Assuming the best of people is in itself an act of kindness’.
I hope I wasn’t too harsh, but I was delighted to discover after their interview, Lorraine and Chris told me that Hugh had cooked them a vegan stew, and that it was only him and two others interviewing them. And that they were gentle and lovely to them. They’ve since been offered places as pioneers and then settlers at the village and I’m very happy that I have been a part of that. I hope Hugh sacks Andrew and they don’t have to deal with him, but it’s not my affair anymore. It feels like I just passed a lover onto another single person because they weren’t right for me. I’m happy for them, but also disappointed that Hugh scared us off. Who knows, perhaps we will return one day, either as a transitional place until our tribe are ready to buy collectively or perhaps to help with an event that Lorraine and Chris run. We will stay in touch and see what happens.
We are focussed on the bigger picture, so despite the occasional pang that we let Hugh and his empty village go, and the fact that I always fear losing good opportunities, I also know from this experience what it is we are looking for, which is this:
- To live with fellow vegans away from carnists.
- To find a way to live in harmony with each other with kindness at the core.
- To work towards the common goal that we want to live cruelty free, more simply, with less impact on the environment and achieve self-sustainability.
- To be with nature and secure a forever home where we could plant and grow.
- To set an example of a model that is transferable to the general population on how those with money can assist those without to create villages not based on capitalism.
A couple of days ago, Paul and I sat at the kitchen table chopping runner beans we had grown ready to freeze them, listening to podcasts and discussing a new theory I had read in someone’s blog. (Click here to read the full article). As a fellow autistic person she was ruminating on the idea that an autistic brain processes emotion entirely differently to neuro-typicals. To understand how deeply we feel things, she said one ought to consider that we experience grand emotions that neuro-typicals may not even call emotions. Things like mercy, longsuffering, labour, justice, solidarity, knowledge, reason, fairness, truth, dissent, and passion are felt as primary emotions. Things like sadness, grief, jealousy, fear, shame, sympathy become secondary emotions. It’s not that we don’t feel them, (we do; more keenly than we let on) it’s just that things like justice and truth are more consuming. It means the bigger picture becomes the main experience and might explain why people think I am fearless. They see me starting up businesses, or moving to a new town or going back to university as huge scary things and think I do not fear change. Yet I’m massively fearful of change. Even changing the cutlery draw round causes me anxiety. But being autistic means I’ve had to learn to overcome my fears and try to get on in this nonsensical world. I fear everything; far more than I tell people, but as my main emotions lie in seeking justice and making the world a better place; a kinder place, I often don’t allow fear to stop me.
I wonder if that is what I have in common with Hugh. Perhaps his lack of empathy and the way he treats people as if they are assets or commodities and not people is a symptom of these grander emotions? Maybe he is so focussed on the bigger picture, he comes across as lacking empathy? People with autism are often accused of sociopathic behaviours and a lack of empathy when in fact the opposite is true. Often, we feel the pain and fear, and we also feel your pain and fear too, so it can be overwhelming. I’ve learnt to overcome that by focussing on the bigger picture. The mission is everything. It’s easy then to forget that other people do not have the same experience – that ‘work’ can manifest as a profound emotion that can consume us, or that knowledge is a deep pleasure. Or that being so passionate about a project succeeding, you lose your moral compass trying to make it happen. I hope I live alongside people truthful enough to tell me if I too start losing my morals I get so task focussed.
The second ‘Vegan Eco Village Networking’ meet-up was in Devon, held in the park opposite our house and then at our home for food. It went very well. I met another autistic lady just starting her journey into the idea of intentional communities. There seems to be a lot more autistic women in vegan circles. Perhaps it’s got something to do with those grand emotions. They make us eco-warriors and drives us to fight for justice. Conversely these very same grand emotions that make us feel like misfits may also help us in this neuro-typical world that doesn’t yet understand kindness is how we will save the planet and each other. We just can’t let it go. Perhaps this is how the meek inherit the earth?
We’re back home now, and I need several ‘nothing’ days to recover. We’ve done a few runs to the tip (I love the recycling centre and often come back with more than I’ve taken!), played board games and spent time recovering. Peopling is exhausting. I can be entirely myself with Paul, so being with him is like being alone. Only better. My gratitude for him, for our lovely home (that still hasn’t sold), for our lovely life, my amazing son out there making his own way in the world now, our lovely manageress (who I recently promoted to Director and gave her a share of the company), for our sweet dear little pooch overwhelms me. I’m accepting that we are probably here in the city for the winter now, and I’m okay with that. I’m trusting things are falling into place exactly as they should.
And I’m also very okay with realising that my dissent for so many things is a grand emotion that is helping guide me to create something new.
It’s been a while since I have written anything here as we have been busy travelling back and forth to South West Wales, looking at property, staying in alternative communities, visiting beauty spots, exploring the countryside and coastline, eating vegan cake and way too many biscuits, meeting people and following signs as if we are on a spiritual quest to find our way home. I need to find it soon before I become too plwmp! Travelling has not been conducive to eating as healthily as I normally would and I’m yearning to tend to my veg, potter in my kitchen and put down roots.
I feel like a roulette ball that has been bounced around number after number, each one feeling like home and yet the wheel has spun me forward to a new number every time I thought we’d found our groove. Each time we found a house or land where we could see ourselves and I imagined a new life with a whole new set of plans, we would find something better, or the house we wanted would get snapped up, or we would decide later it was too remote, or too close to town. Or the acreage too small. Just when I thought we had stopped spinning and found the house of our dreams a couple of days ago (complete with a co-housing tribe to buy it with us – I was literally about to put in an offer in) an unexpected jump has landed us on a colour and not a number at all. In fact, there’s a chance the numbers have disappeared all together.
The analogy will make sense when I tell you what has happened, I promise.
The journey began with a contact found online for a ‘One Planet Development’ building opportunity to buy land collectively with others in Pembrokeshire and split it up to create individual smallholdings at a fraction of the cost of buying land or an existing homestead alone. I liked the fact that the people setting up this buying group to buy 60 acres of level fertile pastureland and woodland with a river running through it up were permaculture experts and organic farmers. In their desire to have pesticide free neighbours they were inadvertently creating an eco village as they tried selling their plots to like-minded people. We wrote many emails sharing philosophies and discovering how we shared the same vision of self sustainability without livestock, and the desire to live in a community based on kindness. While they were trying to raise funds and get people involved, they were staying in another commune where their son was a co-owner, so we went to stay with them. The commune was also looking for investors, so we went with an open heart ready to consider joining someone else’s vision and being part of something bigger than ourselves.
The ‘commune’ was set in the grounds of a large Grade II listed house with dilapidated barns and around 60 acres of woodland, pastureland and a stunningly beautiful stream running through it. The estate had been bought by three couples four years ago and they all shared a vision of turning it into a co-housing community by inviting people to join them and making it a place of healing and sanctuary. However, they didn’t agree on how to live communally at all. The elderly couple we were staying with told us that the commune was badly in debt, and there was a horrible history of falling out with each other, mental breakdowns, unresolved disputes and all sorts of weird politics yet they also wanted us to consider investing in it! The couple in charge of the commune were cold towards us despite being potential investors, but we found out later that we were staying with their enemies and may even have been brought in to stir things up, like unwitting pawns in a battle between people who had lost their moral compass in an attempt to keep their vision alive. They desperately needed investors to bail them out, but such was the debt and poor state of repair of the mansion that I feared that their lack of transparency about the problems was tantamount to running a scam where new investors were likely to never see their investment back should they too decide it wasn’t for them. Worse than this however, they could find themselves liable for repairing a crumbling listed building that they weren’t even allowed to live in. The elderly couple we were staying with knew of all the darkness behind the natural beauty of the decaying estate and yet flitted from warning us against them yet five minutes later would be trying to convince us to buy in so that perhaps their son would get his investment back and be able to buy this other plot with them. We debated at length all the issues, discussed how co-ops and communities could work in terms of legalities and infrastructure and I did lots of research to find solutions. I managed to work out a good business solution on how they could keep the vision alive and bail themselves out, whilst simultaneously providing a good deal to future investors but they were not interested. I now genuinely fear for all the gentle hippies out there that just want to live communally with each other and with nature that may have their life savings taken from them and find themselves embroiled in conflict that doesn’t look set to being resolved anytime soon. Needless to say, we ran a mile. Truth is it wasn’t for us from the start. I’m getting increasingly good at feeling the energy of people and it was not good energy. The lady in charge became an example on how not to be should I ever find myself with the weighty responsibility of other people’s life savings. Aside from all that, the smell of bacon on the first morning also ruled them out as our tribe, and has made me ever more certain we can’t live with carnists anymore. I just can’t get my head around the hypocrisy of people who say they love animals and yet they eat them.
Since then, we have visited Lammas (which also has a few problems we have learned from) and looked at so many properties and smallholdings I’m getting very good at working out how our dream could become reality in each and everyone of them. I’ve been number crunching for each one and working out how we can finance it. It’s taught me something interesting: I’d be happy at all of them. Apart from fact that I am exceptionally good at seeing the ‘before and after’ of how I can transform places, and that I’d arranged viewings at places I already knew I liked online, the reason all of them felt like home immediately is that home is wherever Paul is.
In an attempt to find a vegan tribe to buy collectively with, I started a Facebook page called Vegan Eco Village Networking and invited people from the vegan groups I am already in to join. Within just a few days there were hundreds of members and I have been inundated with people wanting to invest their money in the eco village I eventually set up. We’ve now camped with some of the potential investors, and looked at property together. I have discovered I could get an ethical mortgage that would support my whole eco-village idea so that I could buy it alone if need be and investors join us as they decide to commit. (It’s very scary to committing to living with strangers, and I like the idea of probation periods to see if the community fits together before taking people’s money). I’ve met the most incredible people, so whilst we haven’t yet bought land together, we are already a community.
On the vegan eco village networking page, I’ve been encouraging people to share their projects and form their own tribes. I’ve put people in Devon in touch with each other and posted links to schemes I have investigated where I didn’t get alarm bells. I won’t be promoting the schemes I know to be worrying, and I feel the weight of responsibility that there are gentle folk out there that need protecting from some of these schemes. There are some projects that sound amazing but seem so ambitious, I have concerns that they are realistic. I’m not alone in this and have inadvertently found myself in an advisory position with people presenting me with deals they’ve been offered and asking if I think it sounds okay. It’s meant I’ve been obsessing somewhat about what infrastructures could work, how to find solutions when things don’t work, and when conflict is unavoidable, how to make kindness the core principle in all conflict resolution.
I’ve discovered there’s two different types of people looking to buy collectively on the networking pages. There are those that just want to buy land cheaply and put a dwelling on it so that they can escape the rat race and other people, and there are those who want to find a way to live alongside each other in an attempt to save the planet, and support each other in a self sustaining community. There’s waves of people waking up and realising that capitalism is dead and that kindness needs to replace greed now. The planet protectors are rising up and I’m finding them. These are exciting times!
I’ve been trying to work out what camp people are in – are they motivated by self or have they heard the call to be eco warriors and pioneers? I’ve found some amazing people for whom being the forerunners in a simpler, more compassionate way of living isn’t frightening. We all agree it’s how the world needs to be to stop destroying it. At it’s core has to be kindness, so this brings me back to the course I was writing that aims to set a template on how we should all be living. It would work well teaching it from within a community that understands the gravity of the choices we make everyday; from what we eat, to how we treat each other, the planet and even how we treat ourselves. It all comes back to making a pledge to choose the kindest option wherever possible.
Such was my confidence that I could put such a community together, (coupled with a willingness to deal with the associated problems as there will always be challenges to overcome) I found an amazing old rectory set in 16 acres and pictured it complete with an artisan led retail courtyard, farm shop, cafe, wedding venue and edible forest with small Welsh cob houses dotted throughout. I found people who wanted to buy it with me. Lovely people who shared our vision. I drew up mock plans and drawings and even did a brochure to show the investors what the place could look like. Imagine a ‘National Trust’ style house with permaculture gardens where all the staff co-own the place and live onsite. A posh house with hippy owners who share the space and become a beacon on how we could all live together with kindness at the core. I wrote a mission statement. I was about to make an offer, but decided to wait until after the weekend as it was a big decision. Until after we had visited another community whose blurb on kindness on their website resounded so well with me I felt my heart chime with the resonance of it. I thought perhaps they could show me more wisdom about how community could be beautiful and inclusive, but when we arrived, we discovered there was no community there yet. Just a kind vegan hipster volunteer with a long beard who showed us round and explained he had arrived thinking he was to be part of a community only to find he was it. No-one else there apart from a few Airbnb guests. It’s owned and run by a charity that invests in projects based on kindness.
Like a blank canvas, it’s set up ready for a vegan eco village and just needs the people to arrive. It needs someone with vision to bring it to life. It needs us.
You’d think I’d be jumping around thinking this is perfect for us, but I bizarrely feel very little. I’m wondering if I have finally achieved Buddhist detachment and guru levels of acceptance of ‘what will be will be’? Or perhaps I have realised that I will be equally happy elsewhere if this is a dead end, or maybe I’m so stupidly excited I have gone into an autistic shut down. It’s very hard to tell. I’m wary but still curious to know why community has not happened yet. Is there a catch? Perhaps I am experiencing the same disbelief I felt when I met Paul that maybe it’s too good to be true. But I also know they need us (or people like us), and we could absolutely be their angels. So, do we join forces with these people (and give up the control we would have had if we did a project independently) and plonk our community here?
If it is indeed the direction we are supposed to go, it presents a whole new set of challenges for me if I end up working for a charity. I’ve been self-employed for twenty-six years and have largely considered myself unemployable, not least because I am used to being in charge, but also because my autism requires a different approach to how I work and regenerate. I consider my autism to be my superpower – it makes projects happen, it gives me a unique insight into the world and how it could be, it makes me refreshingly honest and without hidden agenda, and it gives me the vocabulary to express myself.
But it’s also meant I’ve struggled with the social aspects of working with people. I’m often so task focussed I can occasionally appear rude. I need to start work later in the morning than most so that I can do my morning routine which includes yoga, dog walk and meditation – it ensures my well-being and helps me avoid meltdowns and burn out. I’m aware that I have special needs. I’m nervous that my honesty will make me unpopular but these are all the challenges to overcome if we want to live in a truly inclusive society that venerates gifts in people and simultaneously accommodates their needs. I’m taking solace in the fact that I’m old enough now that soon my quirks will just be seen as the straight talking you’d expect from a wise old goat of a woman who has experienced life (and yet has the childish enthusiasm to still experience joy like a curious five year old?!). I think that’s a good mix, but let’s see how that goes in the next chapter of my life. I feel quite fierce in my determination to learn and live conscientiously. And to find the right regenerative, supportive culture to live in.
And to love this beautiful man with all my being. I feel like the luckiest lady in the world right now. And that’s despite the hot flushes coming several times a day now. I’m entering my wise woman years, and look forward to no longer being at the mercy of hormonal cycles that have been triggers to meltdowns all my life. Right now, I’m irrationally emotional about being a plwmp tart yet all I want is chocolate. I’m about to tackle the part of being kind that I struggle with most, and that’s being kind to my body. Vegan junk food is not wholefood and it’s time to give up sugar and processed food.
I’m hoping that time spent with fellow vegans who are into wholefood will result in more meals like the one we shared with a young couple keen to start up their own radical eco-village.
I said earlier that I felt like a roulette ball being bounced around waiting to land in a number and know my route, but now with this latest possibility where the numbers just don’t matter like they did, I find I have landed on a colour. It’s not red or black like the roulette wheel, both of which signify danger to me. It’s orange. Don’t ask me why. Maybe I’m going all Hare Krishna on yo ass, who knows?
If you want to know more about the vegan eco village networking, feel free to join by clicking this link: Vegan Eco Village Networking
We are in the last throes of finishing our city house refurbishment and couldn’t wait any longer, so it’s just gone on the market despite the fact that the top landing hallway still needs to be painted, and the shed still needs a roof. I have yet to render part of the garden wall and paint the new shed so that the transformation is complete but it’s all come together rather well and I’m delighted with how it looks so far.
I’ve enjoyed ‘dressing’ the house with all my cushions, paintings, plants and throws and it looks like something out of an interior design magazine it’s so lovely. It would seem I’m good at this, and if the amount of viewings is anything to go by, other people like my taste too. We may even have an offer inside the first week of marketing it, which would throw us slightly as we haven’t prepped the other things that need selling if we are to pool our assets and put it all into our next home. And we haven’t found our next home yet, so there’s that too.
We have been house-hunting to try and work out what and where we will go next and Pembrokeshire is looking high up on the list. It would mean selling Pi Acres as well as our house, so it’s a big move and needed investigating properly. So we took a trip in our caravan and fell in love with the place.
Four out of the five houses with land that we looked at would have been great for us, but until we sell our house, we can’t make any offers on anything. There was one house set on 31 acres that we loved, but dismissed it as an option because of the amount of work required to tame it and make the house nice – it’s been left un-lived in and unloved for some years by the look of it and felt too much. However, since dismissing it, the place has kept popping back into my head and it won’t go away. We could re-wild it, plants hundreds of trees and set up a green campsite. We could create a nature reserve and animal sanctuary and sell off a handful of acres to like-minded people to join us in the venture. My mind has been whizzing with ideas like making the most of the Welsh One Planet Development for building eco-homes and how we could make a living off the land. It could be a really cool little vegan village set in a garden of Eden.
I posted a couple of pictures and appealed for other eco-warriors to join us on Facebook groups like ‘Diggers and Dreamers’ and ‘Alternative Living’ and couldn’t believe the rage from non-vegans. How dare I tell people what they can eat? People were so angry, they posted pictures of dead animals and wrote vitriolic rants in the comments feeds. Why does my being vegan and looking for other vegans make people so angry? It could well be classic cognitive dissonance at work. If you’re not sure what that is, let me give you my take on it. Let’s look at it in the context of veganism. Lots of people claim they love animals and yet eat meat. This is an odd concept, because you don’t slaughter and eat something you love. This contradiction that you can love one species and go out of your way to protect it, yet pay to murder another because it’s tasty are in complete conflict with each other. So to cope with this, non vegans follow a script that has been given to them. I certainly did before I went vegan and had a full set of justifications but I knew I was wrong really. In fact it was the feeling bad about my choices that precipitated the change. It’s good to feel bad sometimes. The culture from which you hail will set the script as to which animals you have been told are okay to slaughter and eat and which ones are supposed to be pets and don’t eat. This all works well for the the meat eater convincing themselves they are free to make their own choices without anyone judging them until they meet a vegan. They may find themselves feeling uncomfortable because deep down, they know that the kindest choice they could make would be one where an animal wasn’t killed or exploited for their tastebuds.
In summary, being kind and good makes other people feel shit about their own choices that might not be as kind or good. The ego will do its best to protect that reasoning and not allow someone to make themselves feel bad. It is easier to be angry with the vegan and transfer all the negative and uncomfortable feelings onto the vegan than take a look at their own choices. I had to switch off comments on my Facebook posts as people were being so unkind, but I’m grateful that people are so willing to reveal their true nature as it sorts out straight away who the lovely people are.
The irony is that I don’t expect anyone to justify their choices to me, but as soon as it transpires I make my own choices based on kindness, people think I am being superior and will either get angry with me or try to excuse themselves by saying they’ve cut down on their meat or have gone dairy free now, or maybe they’ll tell me they only eat a bit of chicken occasionally. I don’t need to know this stuff – your conscience and the battles you have are your own! If I can be an inspiration and help people see how easy it is to switch to a plant based diet and make kinder choices for the animals and the planet then that’s great but I don’t set out to make anyone feel bad. I can’t ‘make’ anyone feel anything, and that how someone receives well intentioned commentary is down to them, not me. Obviously, practicing kindness and trying to deliver truth in a way that inspires change is preferable to destroying someone’s myth with some kind of patronising set of statistics that proves them wrong but no matter how good my intentions are, it will still rile the ones who are resisting enlightenment.
I have been working on creating a 12 week course on kindness and think it would work really well in a home group set up with a meal or as a pastoral course taught to tutor groups in schools. Rather than dictate what my idea of kindness is, it would raise ethical questions for all areas of life including relationships, friendships, neuro-diversity, bullying, animal welfare, veganism, planet and nature kindness and hopefully create some thought provoking material that would facilitate change within, because that’s what’s needed globally – a shift where we all consider the consequences of our actions and choose the ones that cause the least harm. Choose kindness!
Many years ago, I trained a a Psychotherapeutic Counsellor but because I am too empathic to remain professionally distant and cope with other people’s pain, I never practiced it as a job. One of the things that we were taught as counsellors was that when people get angry and hurl accusations, it can be quite revealing to change the vocabulary from a projection to a confession about self. So for example, someone shouting ‘you’re an idiot’ may be them saying ‘I’m an idiot’ – a confession perhaps that they feel an idiot but would rather blame you for being an idiot than owning their own shit and admitting to a mistake. It’s classic transference, and although it doesn’t apply to everything, it’s worth considering as an insight into what the real issue is. If something riles someone, it is often because it hits a nerve, and it might be quite revealing to explore that than respond defensively to an accusation.
One of the houses we looked at in our search was in Chawleigh, Devon – a barn conversion set in about an acre of land. It wasn’t quite right for what we were looking for but the elderly couple that owned it were very interesting and the old boy, a chap called Terrence was very keen to show us all the work he’s done for his own charity in India. His office wall was covered in newspaper clippings of schools he’s opened, villages he’s supplied solar power to, orphanages he’s funded through his own building and entrepreneurial endeavours with property ventures here in the U.K. and all profits going to his projects India. He talked of doing God’s work and listening to the divine for direction and spoke about his Indian wife Rohini with affection. When I mentioned our more altruistic ventures, he insisted on giving me his email and offered us advice and guidance in our ventures. He invited us to dinner, and I genuinely thought it would be lovely to connect with other people who also do good deeds. However, I wonder now if the our budding friendship with these people changed course when we told them we were vegan. I always knew it would be a slightly awkward dinner because not only is veganism often an issue, but so too is my autism. We didn’t tackle feminism but I suspect that would have been an ism too far, as it all went horribly wrong with just two isms coming into play and it ended with him demanding we leave his house immediately. It’s not the first time someone was done in by my isms, but this was the first time Paul had seen how volatile it can make people. Getting trolled online is not anywhere near as dramatic as someone kicking you out their house and calling you killers! I think the mixture of my autism (and information retention for my special interests coupled with a heightened sense of justice and the need to correct wrongs) and my veganism was too much for Terrence.
The dinner started well, if a little tricky for me as we all politely chit chatted and I got accustomed to making eye contact with both Terrence and Rohini. It’s always a challenge for me, but I’m more comfortable asking elderly people to tell me about their lives than trying to make conversation with my peers. There’s been a void in my life for guidance from someone I respect and I went to dinner hoping to come away inspired and maybe feeling honoured to have been in their company for a couple of hours. Instead I left feeling utterly disappointed. Flabbergasted at first, then disappointed. So, where did it go wrong? It was apparent from the start that Terrence liked to talk about his adventures and projects and we were a willing audience. He’s done many amazing things. We asked him how it came to be that he was able to do everything he had done. I wanted to know what his motivation was in the beginning – was he certain of what he was meant to do and and where did he get the cash to kick start it all? We heard his magic beans story of good fortune and bad and it was really quite something. Rohini had made an Southern Indian dahl with rice and poppodoms. We sat in a garden room overlooking their gorgeous leafy green garden with huge trees and shrubs – it had a very colonial feel, almost like we were actually in India. Terrence sat in a chair I suspect was his usual seat from where he purveyed the world with his hands clasped in a contemplative playful stance like a jolly king. I told him about the course I am working on to promote kindness as a way of life, but he was skeptical. He didn’t think that kindness could be taught so I tried to explain that the course was more about raising questions that encourage people to make kinder choices in their lives rather than dictate how they should behave. He was quick to play devil’s advocate. There were a few awkward moments like when he referred to Rohini as being his coloured wife, and Paul and I exchanged glances. But there were also endearing moments of them being very cute together and clearly very loving but at the demise of the evening, they were quick to clasp their hands together in what looked a little like delight at having upset us and claimed that our distress was a sign of their victory over us. What was their victory? Well, let me tell you.
The topic of veganism finally came up as we were finishing the last bits of dahl and rice on our plates and praising Rohini for her cooking (although Paul didn’t like it and didn’t eat much). Terrence had a bizarre way of saying veganism, pronouncing it vayganism which disarmed me slightly as I had to swallow the urge to correct him. But I remained polite and nodded and listened while he said that it was all a fad. I asked him what his thoughts were on climate change and he said that too was a fad, and that when he was a young man, his life expectancy was 25 because of predictions of the hydrogen bomb being used. He asked Paul how long he had been vegan, and when he answered about two years he exclaimed: “Ha!” and said “Try being something for your whole life!”
Terrence then went on to talk about deforestation and that it needed to stop, but just as I was about to delight that we agreed on something, he then blamed the deforestation on the need for soy bean crops for vegetarians. Perhaps he didn’t take kindly to my telling him that approximately 70% of soy bean production is for animal feed to produce meat and if we all stopped eating meat, the need for soy bean production would drop dramatically. “Oh I don’t take any notice of statistics.’ he said. I looked at Paul and our glances confirmed it would be pointless trying to challenge him on this, so I steered the conversation in a different direction that was lighter and less emotive. Looking back over the whole event now, I think this is the point where it went from cheekily challenging to dark. He gave a bizarre speech about how it’s all very well being vegan but if you don’t look within and self reflect you will be cruel to people. You should listen to the divine and reflect and not be cruel to people, he said. I was about to ask where cruelty to animals came in that but instead I just said ‘Absolutely’ and agreed with him. It should have been a softening moment as our eyes met, but I think now that despite what was being said, he was offended by me. Offended that I agreed with him as well perhaps? I felt his anger, and could see his hatred towards me. It’s almost as if he revealed a lost darkness to me in that look and he knew I saw it. It was a look that let me know whatever I said, he now considered me his adversary. I’ve seen that look in movies so I know that one. I get others confused but there was definite clarity in our opposition.
I hoped the subject would change after that, as it had all turned quite dark for a moment, but Terrence wanted us to know that even though he ate meat, it’s okay because he is a true vaygan. When I enquired as to why he thought that, he said it was because when he was a young man, a Buddhist/Hindu monk tested him. The test was a set of questions and how you answered them revealed your true nature. As a result of this test, Terrence had been told he was a true vaygan you see. Well of course, I wanted to know the questions, so he explained that you have to imagine you are in a desert with nothing there. No food. No water. A man brings you a bowl of water and a live rabbit. If you don’t eat the rabbit you will starve to death. Would you kill and eat the rabbit? Another scenario was a bowl of water and a dead rabbit. ‘What would you, as vegans do in either of those situations?’ he wanted to know. I was dying to ask where the man who brought the rabbit and the water was from and why couldn’t you just go home with him and not starve but I decided to just check there was no other option – it was either eat the rabbit or die, which he confirmed so I said yes, in that case I would kill and eat the rabbit. But only if my survival depended upon it. Paul agreed he too would eat the rabbit if his survival depended upon it. “Killers!” Terrence exclaimed and pointed rather aggressively at Paul “And hypocrites! Call yourself vaygans? You’re killers!” This, ladies and gentlemen is classic transference because cognitive dissonance would not allow him to be anything other than the good guy who has dedicated his life to charitable works.
I was suprisingly calm despite my racing heart thudding so hard in my chest I thought he might see it, but I asked him how he himself had answered those questions. In scenario one, he told us he had said he would die rather than kill the rabbit and in scenario two he would eat the dead rabbit because it had been killed for him. That was why he was a true vaygan. But you! he said and pointed again, you’re killers! I think we were both utterly flabbergasted by the ludicrousness of being vegans invited to dinner only to be told we are killers. By a meat eater as well! I think our exasperated responses at that stage were interpreted by the pair of them as some form of weakness and that an emotional wobble in our voices somehow invalidated the point we tried making which was that we aren’t in a desert and we do have a choice and we choose kindness which means no animal has to die for our meals. He then accused me of being all superior and said “who do you think you are? I told him it’s precisely because I do not feel superior to any other creature or person that I am vegan. This possibly angered him more, but it was at this point Rohini seemed rather delighted at Paul’s distress. “Look darling!’ she exclaimed, clapping her hands together “You really got to them. They don’t know what to say to that!” and implied it suggested our guilt at being caught out as killers. “They don’t like to hear the truth do they?” she said. Paul’s eyes widened and he spoke so passionately, I wonder if Terrence felt intimidated. “You’re right, I was a killer” Paul said. “When I think about the amount of bacon I ate. The amount of animals that had to die for my tastebuds, I’m deeply ashamed. But I have a choice now and I choose not to allow animals to die for my meals. We have that choice. You have that choice” he said. Terrence shook his head and explained once more that he wasn’t a killer as the animals he ate were already dead. Paul tried to tell him that he was paying for them to be killed and that’s the same thing and they all started talking over each other. I interjected. “Tell me something” I said. I said it again twice more to get their attention and had to insist I had a really good question for everyone to get them to pipe down and listen. I took a deep breath. I have a tendency to talk too fast and too loud when I am upset so I tried to be calm. I’m very sensitive to tone of voice and can’t bear the raised voices of an argument, so I tried to bring it down a notch or two, but whether I appeared calm to them or not I don’t know. Paul said I sounded calm and he knows my manic screech when I get too excited about making a point. So, my question was this: Imagine you are a big Mafia boss. You have never killed anyone yourself and consider your hands clean of any killing. However, you have henchmen who kill whoever you ask them to kill. Does this also make you a killer because you ordered the killing? Terrence tried not to answer because he could see where I was going with it, but Rohini nodded and said it did make the Mafia boss a killer. “A killer by association’ she said. “Well then” I said “If you pay for your meat, you’ve paid for an animal to be killed for your dinner and you are just as much a killer. This was too much for Terrence. I believe he was disgusted that we should call him a killer and he said as much, at which point Paul reminded him that he had just called us killers. “I most certainly did not!” he said. We both looked at him and told him that he did. For a moment I thought that would be it. He went quiet and looked at he floor and I thought perhaps he was about to apologise and say he got it. “Leave my house. Now” he said instead, raising his arms but kept his eyes still staring at the floor. At first we thought perhaps he was joking, but within a couple of seconds, Paul looked at me with realisation that he wasn’t and so we gathered up our things as hurriedly as we could to leave. As I put my belongings back in my basket (I’d brought them my homemade flapjacks and scooped them back into the basket without even thinking about what I was doing I was so flustered. I wish I’d left the flapjacks now, but hey ho) I said I was sorry things had taken this turn and I wasn’t quite sure what why it had gone like this. “Blame him!” shouted Terrence and pointed at Paul who guffawed, clearly incredulous and confused as to what he’d done. I looked Terrence squarely in the eyes. “Do you think you are all knowing and so wise you never need question yourself?” I asked but didn’t really give him time to answer. My voice had dropped an octave by then and I could hear my teacher tone coming out. I took a breath and reminded myself that no matter how cross I felt, I had a duty to be kind. “I really want you to go over all the things that were said tonight” I said, growing aware that he would probably find the statement deeply patronising, so again, I consciously softened my tone “and think about all of it and try to work out what went wrong, because I know I will. I will go over and over it. I looked at Rohini and did Namaste hands and swept out with what felt like it could have passed as a dignified exit, I don’t know.
I wish I was more like Earthling Ed who manages to make people feel good about all the good stuff they already do whilst also challenging them to go even further and be vegan. He appeals to their good nature and implores them to see it differently but he does it with questions. I think I achieved a little of that but as we drove off, shaking our heads and wondering what the hell just happened, I couldn’t help cringing and wondering how I could have handled it better. I find it really hard not to just prove someone is stupid with patronising tones and clever tag-lines that punish them for their stupidity. I want kindness to be my main motivation and not just a desire to correct someone who isn’t seeing it straight – so I know I could have done better.
Paul and I spent most of today and all of last night after we left discussing what happened with Terrence and Rohini. I think my expectations were too high, and I learned the hard way (with an old acquaintance who set up an art therapy charity yet was deeply controlling in a rather sinister way in her personal life) that just because someone does good deeds, it doesn’t mean they are necessarily a good person. It’s not as simple as who the good guy is and who the baddie is. I wish it was! Good people do bad things sometimes and bad people do good things because it feeds their ego to get praise and admiration for being so good. I know the feeling well because I am autistic and I used to love being recognised for being a good girl at school, but there’s a danger that addiction to the feel good factor could become the motivation. I wonder if Terrence felt threatened by our ‘goodness’ because his philanthropic ventures comes from a darker place? I hope not! I would like to think he has all good intentions, but the more I have thought about it – putting together evidence like the pieces of a jigsaw, I think Terrence and Rohini have lost their way, but as they would never thank me for saying so, it might be best if I say nothing. Perhaps we planted seeds? Neither of us said anything nasty, or swore or raised our voices so maybe it’s best left there where they were the ones who behaved badly and not us.
I think what I’ve found most disconcerting is my confusion that someone can dedicate their life to good causes yet end up being such a dick. I can’t help wondering was he always like that? It’s not until I come away from situations like that and unpick what was said and go over it all do I realise all the other things that were said were pretty awful. It’s as though I had switched my danger radar off in my eagerness to think the best of them and didn’t see the other clear signposts that pointed towards a couple who weren’t very kind on a personal level. I told them I was selling my business to my manageress and needed to set up a payment plan for her as she had no equity to buy it in a lump sum but he told me I was mad to part with it if it could continue to give me an income, possibly for the rest of my life. I tried to explain that I’d have happily given my business to my manageress for nothing if I didn’t need the money but it seemed an alien concept to him. He adamantly argued why I shouldn’t sell it and in the end I had to tell him that this is what I do – start a business, make it successful, get bored and go onto a new venture. I don’t care about the money – if things go according to plan, Paul and I will have enough to pay for our forever home and create the life we want working with nature. We don’t need or want much because we stopped believing in the capitalist bullsh*t that consumerism is the path to happiness.
I explained I was autistic and Terrence said he knew very little about autism, so I started to briefly explain what it was, and how it manifests very differently in girls than boys. Ironically, I was just talking about my hyperlexia when he interrupted me to turn and ask Paul what he did for work. Paul ran through a list of things he’s done and talked of how we are now just finishing off a refurbishment when Terrence told him maybe he should get off his lazy arse and get a job! Perhaps we thought he was jesting a little so we didn’t rise to it, but in hindsight, I’m now thinking that’s pretty rude and presumptuous. Paul’s a grafter, just like me and we barely stop with all the things we are doing. I could see Paul was a bit offended and at one point when we were left alone in the room (well before the real drama kicked off), Paul leaned forward and whispered that he didn’t like him. I could see that Terrence didn’t warm to Paul either and barely addressed him the whole time except to grill him or point a finger at him to call him a killer and a hypocrite.
I’ve been trying to work out what the lessons are for me and resist the temptation to ping off an email to Terrence to show him the error of his ways. Instead I have asked myself what are the errors of my ways? How should I have handled it? There was one point over dinner when I said I wanted to write ( I even suggested it might even be my calling but that made Terrence visibly cross and he shook his head and tutted) and he said how selfish it was to pursue creative things and even asked me who I thought I was that I should afford myself the luxury of writing or painting? I wonder now if this is the reason he has lost his way? Is he denying himself the chance to express his inner being because he thinks it a luxury? It makes me want to write to him and tell him he’s wrong and that it’s through being creative that you find God (or Chi, or love or inspiration, or joy or whatever you wish to call it). That it expresses your soul and is essential to well being and not just a luxury. It shows you who you are.
I’m sad that Terrence and Rohini turned out to be such disappointing elders; it’s highlighted my desire for guidance and for parental figures in my life, but sadly I think I have reached the age where so many of my elders are now losing their marbles and have grown too stubborn to see the truth. Like my stepfather and so may others who are reaching the end of their time, it might be just too difficult to look at yourself and realise you might have been a dick all your life. Perhaps the kindest thing to do would be to just let them be?
I didn’t offer the same exclusion from the harsh truth for Step-heavy up the road. (If you haven’t read any of my previous blogs, Stephanie had the flat above me in the last place I lived in and ripped up all her carpets and clomped around above my head for two years until I could bear it no longer and moved out). After moving out, I loaned my allocated parking space to a neighbour but Stephanie took against that and started a battle that resulted in me sending her an email that laid it out very clearly what she was responsible for. I read it a zillion times, slept on it, edited it over and over and finally sent it knowing it was harsh. Harsh but necessary. She didn’t reply but we as we walked up the hill this evening we noticed that a carpet company was parked outside and could be clearly seen measuring her rooms to get carpets. Perhaps my letters do work after all?
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!
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.
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.
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.
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 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. We are still thinking about our planning application to make Pi Acres into an outdoor education centre, and 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 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.
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. The 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.
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.
I once bought a cyanathus shrub that had a picture of what it would look like when flowering 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.
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. Pi 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.
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.
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.
When we got back from Pi Acres, 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.
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, 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.
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.
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. 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).
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.
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.
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. 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.
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 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? 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, as I don’t want to live next door to carnists anymore.
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.
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. 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 bit 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.
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.