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