Lighthouses, Ships & Norcadia

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After having a suitable break at home in Exeter from searching for the ideal location for our vegan eco-village, we headed back to Wales last week. This time visiting friends as networking was our priority, not house hunting. It’s become more and more important to us to get to know the lovely people we could end up buying collectively with. Plus, not everyone is ready yet to buy land – some still have houses to sell like us or are waiting until Christmas and winter are both out of the way.

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A vegan ‘Bring and Share’ buffet at Anastasia’s house.

We took our electric bikes hopeful that the rain would stop long enough to go for an exploratory ride around Cardigan or the coast roads, but it was relentless and our bikes sat in the cabin unused. Fortunately I like the rain and we took sanctuary in a small log cabin we rented through Airbnb in a woodland holiday park. We played the guitar, made and ate wonderful food, canoodled like teenagers, played our favourite board game Carcasonne and donned our raincoats for some muddy walks.  I couldn’t get internet and I think it broke the spell many of us are under with our addictions to our screens. We grounded ourselves. And then we went to a vegan lunch organised by a wonderful lady who has just moved to Cardigan and also reconnected with other fellow vegans we already knew. We networked. octblog31

There’s a price to pay for spending time with people – particularly strangers and the effort required trying to find connections with them. In fact it was so exhausting, I had to then cancel the plans we had for the the next day to see other friends just so that I could recover. I probably need to adjust my boundaries to incorporate this and not be overly optimistic that I can do it all. It’s okay to visit an area and not necessarily see everyone that lives there.

 

There’s something about the smell of British woodland in Autumn after rain that is so earthy I find it seductive. Like sipping a hot toddy or a slipping inside a heavy velvet cloak and feeling instantly calmed by the weight of it. Sitting with the doors to the cabin open listening to the rain and breathing in the crisp air felt soul cleansing. The woodland birdsong spoke into my heart and healed much of the negativity I had come away with.

I had come away with a heavy heart over what has been happening in our personal lives and also how this has been mirrored on a massive scale with people globally. The divide has never felt so great; splitting families apart and creating a disquiet between us. This last week or so has seen a bizarre wave of anger aimed at Greta Thunberg – even climate activists saying she is a no more than a puppet for capitalists who have decided to invest their billions in more renewable energy sources and profit from the climate crisis. People have commented very unkindly on her looks, made judgements on her ‘acting’ skills and been so cruel I feel ashamed to be part of this species.

I found myself embroiled in debates online and then it struck me that much of it feels manufactured – that perhaps climate crisis skeptics and oil billionaires have been funding new trolling algorithms so that we get so busy arguing with each other we stop trying to save the planet at all. Therefore I’m going to try to resist arguing online with the eejits that think it’s okay to crucify a sixteen year old trying to change the world as it can profoundly affect my well-being. It would seem that even my armchair activism may well be too triggering for me, and as it forms just another distraction from what I should be doing, I really ought to limit my time online. Otherwise I’m just a zombie, floating around on a lilo in the ocean not noticing the tide pushing me further and further away from being able to achieve anything at all. It feels like this is the zombie apocalypse, with the majority of us hypnotised, brainwashed and controlled by power hungry sociopaths. It’s so easy to lose three hours trawling the internet. Plug in and zone out.

It seems to be a disproportionately high number of white middle aged men challenging what Greta stands for and she has hit back by telling them they are clearly threatened by her and this shows that change is coming. And it is. I feel it and whilst it’s easy to get caught up in the waves of grief that come with waking up and seeing how stupid, selfish and lazy most of the world is, I also know that just by being the change, we are at least doing our bit. More and more people are waking up.

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Lorenzo Quinn’s Giant Hands sculpture emerging from a Venice canal to make people more aware of climate change. 

Artists are showing us the truth, musicians are singing it, and if the amount of corporations jumping on the vegan bandwagon is anything to go by, we are changing things. We watched a bit of terrestrial telly while we were in the cabin (we don’t watch it at all at home) and were stunned by the amount of vegan products being advertised.  Even if it’s supply and demand profits for the capitalist vultures, we are changing things. So to the climate crisis skeptics, I say this: if it turns out we were wrong about climate change, we will have created a cleaner, kinder world to live in, but if we are right and yet do nothing, we could be heading for mass extinction. Doesn’t it just make sense to do what’s right anyway? I find it astonishing that there is all this information out there – so much knowledge about how to live sustainably and how to reduce our impact on the planet yet so many of us still choose tastebuds and convenience over these fatally important issues. But the movement to take responsibility for our actions is growing. I have non-vegan staff making announcements on Facebook that they are going to try going vegan for a month because ‘You can do nothing, or you can do something. We want to do something.’ (I cried when I read that). It feels like our cunning plan to infect the world with kindness is working. And by ‘our’ – I mean the people choosing the right side of history to be on. The side that are evolving into kinder people. The side that embraces empathy as a well needed trait in a world currently run by sociopaths and psychopaths.

Gandhi said ‘First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win’. It seems we are at the fighting stage then and I take comfort in that. ‘Change is coming whether you like it or not’ as Greta has been reminding us. I personally do not care if greedy capitalists are jumping on the Greta bandwagon and paying for her yacht to get her to the states to show Trump what the future looks like. If they are promoting change in order to profit from it, or attempting to groom a genuine icon to further their agenda I care not. Let them help our cause with their greed! When we have averted the ecological disasters we will be stronger and the revolution to end capitalism won’t be radical at all; just the next step.

Next week is the start of the next Extinction Rebellion take-down in London. I wish crowds didn’t trigger me, or that I wasn’t so empathic I can feel the dark emotions of the haters to the point of making me feel ill, or that noise and chanting didn’t make my heart race like a hunted gazelle. I’d like to be there in London supporting the brave people prepared to be arrested. I wish I could be there on the front line and know how to respond lovingly to Tory commuters who are so greatly inconvenienced by the rebels trying to save the world that they spew hateful diatribe at us. To me, even the verbal assaults are like hurling curses that I feel in my chest like an air blaster hitting me with a sonic boom. I’m autistic. Or highly sensitive if that helps to better understand how these things affect me. I’m deeply empathic. In fact everything is deep for me. Too deep sometimes. I wear myself out so much it’s overwhelming and I need to take special care not to burn out. Sometimes I am so overwhelmed, I have to shut down and introvert.

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Networking is difficult for me. Whilst I met some amazing people who I look forward to spending more time with, I also met an emotional vampire who insisted on finding my profile on Facebook in front of me, and demanding friendship. I used to get the urge to befriend every lost soul and think perhaps I could help them, but I have now learned I have to conserve my energy and be selective about who gets my time. I thought it through with some anguish as I do not take rejecting someone lightly, but in the end I had to ignore her friendship request. There was a time when I would have been flattered by the attention and honoured that someone so charming should feel so strongly about me they will insist I must go and see them when I’m next in their town, but I am realising with more and more certainty that I cannot be around people like her.

I had hoped perhaps my initial instinct over my aggressive new ‘friend’ was wrong, but when I looked at her Facebook profile and the endless pouting selfies, ‘Kardashian’ style bodycon dresses, false eyelashes and body building poses I had to admit I am still attracting narcissists and I simply can’t cope with them anymore.  I’ve been a magnet for people like this all my life and whilst this woman may well have been a good hearted individual, and I have judged her far too harshly based on her profile – the image she portrays acts as a red flag for me now. It triggers me as one of my sisters is also of the same ilk.  I am very grateful that I am no longer subjected to anymore of her pouting vanity, and more importantly that I am no longer under the spell of any charismatic, yet shallow narcissists that use charm when they need you and drop you when they don’t.

I realise of course that many people are like this because they are products of our sick society and the constant need for approval is a symptom of the damage it is causing. Trying to work out whether insecure souls are really manipulative narcissists playing victim is exhausting, however it turns out you can spot these people quite easily as they turn into nasty aggressors very quickly when challenged. And they never back down or acknowledge a nasty outburst and apologise for it.

Whilst I have spent my life assuming the best of people until they prove me wrong, it’s perhaps time I also acknowledge that I just can’t tell with some people. None of us can if someone has crafted their fake persona well. octblogg2It’s how the charismatic sociopaths get into power – they trick and deceive with fake smiles and false promises. They claim to be the new prophets and that they are here to save us, but really all they do is split us apart so that we compete against each other instead of sharing. People do not feel like they are part of a community anymore, and getting ‘likes’ on a pouting selfie and having people comment on how fabulous you look is what support looks like these days. It’s tragic. Kindness is the only way we are going to survive as a species now and that means thinking of others. Kindness doesn’t mean accepting someone else’s darkness. I’m trying to find the balance between helping those that are lost and not absorbing their negativity. It’s almost impossible when you are autistic; I feel the pain of others like it is my own.

Please don’t think I expect everyone in my life to be all good. If you have issues but want to change, I’ll save up all my spoons and go to hell and back to rescue you if you need me to. But if you don’t want saving, or you think I’m wrong about what is important then I’m not going to waste my energy. It’s too precious.

There’s a divide between us and it simply comes down to this: you’re either ready to face yourself and all the ugly truths about who you have become in order to address it and change, or you will refuse – for whatever reason that is; perhaps you are a sociopath or a narcissist, or perhaps (and I hope and pray this is the majority) you’re just asleep. You’re a zombie floating around on a lilo not realising the planet is dying. Not realising the pain and suffering inflicted on your behalf. It’s time to wake up, and to try and wake up everyone else around you! If you are hated and persecuted for this, move away. These people are not ready to see who you have become yet.

My life is immeasurably better since cutting ties with my biological family. We as a society should stop tolerating narcissists and sociopaths full stop. No more gratuitous fawning over celebrities. No more falling for the glib flattery of sociopaths.

sociopathNo more voting psychopaths into power. It’s all connected – accepting the bad behaviour of a family member is not far removed from accepting the sociopathic behaviour of a prime minister. Gentlefolk with kind hearts are constantly being manipulated by people who seem devoid of a conscience. Let’s stop that please. It starts at home, so look around you and set some boundaries that protect you from anything that isn’t born of love and kindness. It’s time we started measuring success and love differently. It’s time we make kindness our priority.

Like the grand emotions I spoke of in my last blog post, I am finding that the bigger picture and focussing on the mission to create a kinder world helps me overcome feelings of guilt or fear at rejecting a friendship request from a potentially toxic influence.

Over the past few weeks, someone from Paul’s family has been regularly taking umbrage online with his vegan and far left political views on Facebook. A couple of times it briefly triggered Paul into someone I barely recognised. It was as though their darkness infected him while he allowed them to antagonise him. I tried to help him respond to their vitriolic rants and spiteful emojis with love but it just made it worse. In the end I found that they reminded me too much of the narcissistic traits of my own family and then I too was triggered. When both of us are triggered, it takes me to a place that doesn’t feel safe. I found myself yearning to belong to a tribe who could support us through these times. To strengthen us as we fight this battle. We all need a family, but perhaps it shouldn’t necessarily be the one we are born into. We need to surround ourselves with kind people and if you’re family is unkind, it is only social conditioning that tells you that you have to put up with it. You don’t. If we refused to turn a blind eye to cruelty and named it, talked about it and found solutions to deal with it think about the different world we would be living in.

When I came to think about my triggered angst later, I realised I had been quite specifically reminded of both my mother and my sister with Paul’s family member trolling him, and also of all the many sleepwalking zombies who are angry at me for making them feel bad. In my autistic inability to let go of my past pain, I relive my abusive childhood and all the painful rejections from my family every time I am triggered. It means all these people meld into one caricature of something very dark and ugly. They, like so many others have taken against us. Against me personally, for what? For being good? For being truthful? For being different? For feeling things too deeply? For being over-sensitive?  For being too much? For making people feel uncomfortable? For choosing to live more conscientiously? I think most of them choose their ‘side’ based on fear, and like so many humans facing the dilemma of whether to evolve, self reflect and face the truth about who we are and what we are responsible for, they have chosen denial and hate. Some people will never see themselves, or who you are as they can’t see beyond their own false reality. It’s cognitive dissonance. It’s a pity, but make no mistake, this is war we are in. If you are not with us, you are against us. It’s empaths versus sociopaths. Perhaps these are the end days like some religions will have us believe – perhaps this is how the meek inherit the earth? While the narcissists and power hungry capitalists are all fighting with each other, we gentlefolk will build a garden of Eden quietly in the background. It’s what we are trying to achieve with our eco-village, with my kindness course, and with our determination to live by example even when we are persecuted for it. I may not be able to rebel in London with my fellow XR activists but Paul and I will be rebelling everyday in our own ways.

Even if it’s small rebellions like sprouting our own beansprouts instead of buying them wrapped in plastic from a supermarket, or choosing a delicious plant based diet instead of eating sentient beings. Or selling everything to go and live in a cabin without all the trappings. We hope that doing these things inspires others, not angers them but ultimately that’s not down to us. So if you hate us for trying our best to be good people, I suggest you look at what it is we are triggering in you. Is it time you chose to do something too? octblog3

It’s no good making excuses anymore like “Oh, but I can’t give up cheese’ or ‘Some of us have to make a living’ or ‘I haven’t time to shop locally’ (I could go on) because this is an emergency and I have stopped worrying quite so much if my goodness is offensive to those who refuse to wake up.  My family is anyone who chooses kindness – every day and in every way that they can. My tribe consists of people who would never separate a mother from her baby because it’s milk tastes nice.

Or that thinks that other species are here to be our slaves. The family we choose isn’t toxic, isn’t self serving, isn’t determined to put us down and doesn’t hate us for trying to be better versions of who we used to be. Our family is your family if you want to leave behind the lies and the brainwashing and instead of being self-serving, choose to serve each other instead. There’s an enormous amount of joy to be found in helping others. So much, it makes me a little sad I didn’t learn this twenty years ago.

I feel like I’m a lighthouse now – shining my light like a beacon so that ships can see their way. I may not be able to set sail quite as bravely as my XR comrades or Greta, but my light is strong. I will not apologise if it also shines a light on the ugliness I keep encountering. Until it’s brought into the light, we can’t deal with it. And deal with it we must.

At the risk of taking my lighthouse and lilo analogies too far, plagiarising other authors, and using far too many cliches this is how I see it: lighthouse Most of us are ships. But we sit resolutely in our docked harbours and do not set sail for distant shores because it feels safe not moving. (I think I stole that from ‘Women That Run with Wolves). Some are ships with huge beacons on them like lighthouses at sea. Some are fleet leaders. Greta is one of those – complete with beacons, armoury and a fleet behind her. I see her autism as a super-power driving her to achieve justice for the planet. But you don’t need to be autistic to want to save the world. Or be more empathic. We all have skills. we all have choices. Many people have forgotten they are ships and instead their vessels have been weakened by society until they have become deflating lilos, carelessly floating about  – manipulated by the media and brainwashed into either believing everything is fine or that the new iPhone is all that matters. They are unaware we are heading towards disaster, and do not want to hear the bad news from those that have woken up. Then there’s Norcardia. If you don’t know what that is, it’s that soapy looking scum that sits on the top of the water. It behaves like a fungi with it’s branching filaments, but is actually a bacteria – one that can make you sick. Tories are Norcadia. Boris Johnson. And Trump. Dare I say it – even Brexit supporters. They surround and infect the lilos until they all dissolve in a jellified soup of filth. Even hearing their voices or seeing their stupid Facebook updates is like catching a spray of it in a sudden unkind gust of wind. It’s up to us to decide what we are, and to also decide who we want with us in our brave new world. So. What are you? Lighthouse, ship, lilo or Norcadia?

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Dissent as the Grand Emotion

tukiI’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. septblog14

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.

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Love heart made by Claire at our meet-up

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.

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Oliver, the fruit of my loins enjoying the lake.

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. septblog29The 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 Advisor

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.

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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.

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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. septblog4We 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’.

septblog9I 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?

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Chair £5 from the tip! Even the money tree is from the tip.

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.

The Plwmp Tart

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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. roulette-ball-bounceEach 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. eatThe 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.

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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. waunllan1I 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.

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Paul with one of the families that might be joining us in 2020.

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.

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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.

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Pumpkin and mango curry, spinach dahl and rice. Curry made by the very talented Ryan of the Radical Eco-Village.

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

 

Done in by the isms

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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.

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Tuki loved all the beaches!

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. cognitive dissThey 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!

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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! vegan1I 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.vegan2

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? creativityI 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?