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.
In just over two weeks I will be entering my sixth decade of living. I would like to say that time has shaped me into a wise, capable, mature woman, but instead I feel like I have regressed, and the older I get, the more childish I become. Perhaps it’s a lifetime of masking my true self in a bid to fit in and I’m just too old and tired to pretend anymore, or perhaps I am just more comfortable being authentic since I removed all the people in my life that couldn’t see, hear or understand me. I feel loved, and accepted and I’ve never been happier. I am delighted to report that I am also deliciously comfortable. No itchy clothing, no tight bras, no high heels, no aggravating waistbands, just a lounging vibe and everything is chilled. I had no idea before discovering I was autistic just how much my clothing and jewellery were aggravating me until I focussed on what was bothering me and sorted it. High heels may look great, but I’ve lost all desire to hurt my feet just for mere aesthetics. Pi Acres doesn’t care what I look like. It feeds my soul irrespective of how shiny my hair is, or whether my cardigan has a hole in it. Paul loves my face free of make-up and the silver of my hair since I stopped dying it. Despite the fact that I can see the wrinkles, the jowls, the rosacea, the dimples where I don’t really want them, I’ve never felt more beautiful. Ironically, the less you care about external looks and the more you work on having a huge big conscience that practices kindness, the more you shine.
We have just moved house and when I unpacked my trousers, leggings and pyjama bottoms, I symbolically popped them together in the same drawer because they are completely interchangeable now. If I feel like walking the dog in a kaftan or pyjamas (to be fair they look more like lounge pants or yoga wear than pjs) I will. I feel liberated by growing older, and am coming to terms with dealing with people less lovely than me; I’m no longer afraid to tell people how it is and not tolerate nonsense. Despite this, I feel blessed to have no conflict in my life at the moment, having resolved all squabbles with builders and incompetent traders, and as I have no contact with my siblings or parents, there are no family arguments to deal with either. We’ve moved away from our sociopathic neighbours. I’ve removed all the deadwood, discarded everything that made me mad, and it’s quite astonishing how good life can be once you remove the bullshit. Moving house and getting the old place ready for tenants has meant grafting far more than I have grown used to recently, and coupled with a loss of routine, I’ve noticed I feel more autistic than usual. Tasks like getting my DMs laced up or doing laundry have made me feel almost sick with impatience. I’ve been more tearful. More vulnerable. I wanted to dash up to London as soon as we had moved and make my stand along with all the Extinction Rebellion heroes getting arrested in a bid to save the planet, but I’m all too aware now of when I can’t handle cities, let alone the noisy chaos of civil disobedience en masse. I decided some soul food in the form of Pi Acres would set me up and help make me battle ready for rebelling in London.
So, instead of going straight up to the big smoke, we collected our caravan shortly after moving house, left the chaos in our new dwelling place (I’m going to have to part with far more possessions to fit in our tiny house!) and spent a few days at Pi Acres. It was Easter weekend, and we had a heatwave.
It was beyond gorgeous and it restored my soul. After letting the sunshine, the flowers, the lush greenness and the exquisite birdsong heal me, I am more determined than ever that the land’s healing properties should be shared. Western living is soul destroying and getting back to nature is more important than ever as we spin out of control in our consumerist, capitalist ugly desire for growth at the expense of being kind.
It’s a bizarre concept to say that I own this piece of land. What gives any of us the right to partition up something that we are custodians of rather than landlords and say that we own it? That said, it’s a concept I am currently embracing with our locked gate and defiant positioning of the caravan where everyone can see it; like a territorial flag that says ‘We are here!’ and ‘This is Ours!’. We parked the caravan in the only sunny-all-day part of our land as I wanted the sunshine, but having learned how hot in can get in there, we will choose a shadier spot next time.
When we returned to Exeter after storing the caravan, the weight of the world truly hit me. I had work commitments, seemingly endless change of address letters to write, tenancy agreements to read and sign, and various other rat race type chores that sucked me into an abyss that stole all my spoons and left me with nothing. I have a friend with similar special needs than me, and yet she made it to London, so I felt utterly wretched that I couldn’t get away. I cried a lot. I felt pathetic, but I also felt very humbled. Doing what we can, and recognising where our strengths lie so that we can play to them is how we win the battle with climate change. I’m not popular with some for being vegan, and I’m especially unpopular when I tell people scientific facts like that the single most effective way to reduce your carbon footprint is to go vegan. Or that by buying meat, you are effectively ‘contract killing’ and paying to torture sentient beings for your tastebuds. People simply don’t like to hear where they are failing.
When we got back from Pi Acres, I avidly caught up with all the news from London from the XR civil disobedience protests. Over 1000 arrested in end, the police brought to breaking point, and Waterloo Bridge held by South West rebels (my tribe) for a full week. I wanted to take up a mountain of my homemade vegan flapjacks, samosas, and maybe a heap of vegan sausage rolls. I wanted to help in their kitchen, or comfort people in the well-being tent. I wanted to print rebel tee-shirts and explain while wearing flowers in my hair that we need to do this to wake people up. I felt the yearning to be with these peaceful rebels like my tribe were calling me to battle. It broke my heart that I didn’t make it there, but I am humbled by the lesson I have learned about myself as a result.
I’m not a front line person; especially in protests. Even non-violent protests. I’m a meltdown risk in crowds. I’m also so emotional at the moment, I might not be peaceful with my racing heart and jittery nerves. There are so many more rational, peaceful eco-warriors out there that are able to sit down in the middle of Marble Arch, get arrested and not be traumatised by it. So despite my yearning to be with my tribe, and battling with feeling utterly inadequate I just about managed some Facebook campaigning and offering messages of support to those who were there. I went out wearing my XR ‘ACT NOW’ banner. It isn’t enough. But here’s the thing; I am doing what I can right now. Like all the arrestables in the London protests that are not yet vegans, we are all doing what we can, and I am grateful for anyone that does anything at all that helps save the planet.
There were some fraught debates on Extinction Rebellion Facebook groups online with vegans arguing with non-vegans and it has forced me to face how I feel about non-vegans. It’s true; I’ve been judging you. But you see, I’m a foodie and I find it easy to make delicious home cooked whole-food where every meal is a beautiful peaceful protest, but I get it – not everyone can cook. Not everyone wants to. I have a love affair with flavours and spices that simply makes meat redundant – my food is so good, it’s simply not necessary. Whilst I would love the world to become vegan, the last thing I would ever want to do is make someone feel like they are failing if they aren’t being as ‘good’ as me because they eat meat. People willing to get arrested as part of a peaceful protest are doing their bit, regardless of what they ate. All efforts to change, no matter how small, add up. They really do. If the whole world went flexitarian and cut out meat for just a day or two a week it would be so much better for our carbon footprint than a small minority of perfect vegans trying to save the planet and yet alienating everyone else into the process. There’s been enough ‘them and us’ so we need to accept everyone and encourage all efforts to change, not chastise those who refuse to change as quickly as others.
We need a global shift towards kindness, and it is to this end that I have worked out how I can play my part in the climate crisis. It might not be chanting with a flag in a crowd in Marble Arch, but I have skills. I can see how we need to shift our thinking collectively. It isn’t just a climate crisis, it’s a humanity crisis. The world has become unkind. I’m putting together a leaflet about kindness (which will encompass veganism, neuro-diversity, inclusivity and how all our choices have consequences) and I’m going to set up a free mobile vegan kitchen and give out the leaflets with my best food creations in Exeter High Street. Paul’s vegan spaghetti bolognaise has already converted most of our friends into ditching buying dead animal mince meat for making their own spag bol. At Pi Acres this weekend, our non vegan visitors loved ‘Veganaise’ and have vowed to switch. They might still eat meat, but at least the mayo will be vegan from now on. Small changes lead to big shifts over time. Alongside attending XR meets, I’m setting up a singing ‘eco-warrior’ group for anyone that wants to meet up, sing, and work out how we can all do our bit to change the world. We’re gathering like ships in harbour, readying for battles that will be won with love and kindness and not hate and segregation. The time has come for change, and I’m changing. Are you?
I’m going to be fifty years old in a couple of weeks. I thought about having a party but the truth is, I struggle with social gatherings. Having spent a lifetime masking so that I can appear normal and be the perfect hostess, I find I just don’t have it in me to organise a party, let alone handle all the stress and the endless ‘what ifs’ that come with being autistic. Instead Paul and I are going on an adventure in the caravan. We are doing a pottery class and camping off grid near Kingsbridge. We will probably end up at Pi Acres for the last leg of my 50th adventure. I fancy making a sculpture with the hundreds of wooden hangers we have stored in the shed at Pi Acres. Instead of it going to landfill, we are going to make some outdoor art with it. I want to encourage people to holiday at home. Stay-cations help save the planet! I know Britain has its issues right now, but the countryside is still beautiful. Listening to birdsong, babbling brook, and the rustling leaves in cool breezes is all I need. Isn’t it what we all need? A grounding in nature to restore the balance and keep us in touch with what really matters. Now we have the caravan, there won’t be any more holidays where we fly. I think Greta Thurnbull would approve.
Now that the shortest day of the year is behind us, and days are stretching out before us once more, I feel an intense excitement that is almost an anxiety it’s so powerful. There’s been a chain of events that has set us on a different course and now it looks like things are finally coming together. In trying to work out how best to help Oliver get through university, we thought about downsizing when we moved and how best we could help him financially. I got letting agents in to value the flat for when we rent it out and one of them suggested I see a financial advisor to consider a buy-to-let mortgage. Well I did just that and discovered that despite my low earnings, I have considerable equity in the flat and that has opened up a world of possibilities. As popular as the flat has been with Airbnb, it was never something I could have considered long term. After our first nightmare Airbnb guests (just before Christmas), and the option to move out very soon, I’m pleased to say that January will be our last month being Airbnb hosts. It’s been an experience and we have met some amazing people, but I’m more keen than ever for Paul and I to have our own wee space that we don’t share so we can create our own private haven. We more or less live in our bedroom these days so tiny house living would suit us perfectly. The more possessions I part with (or realise I am happy to leave behind) the freer I feel. Stuff is just stuff.
With that in mind, I went on a crusade to find our haven but alas, tiny houses on sizeable plots just don’t seem to exist. Or we can’t afford them. Or they’re too far away from Pi Acres. We’ve been asking ourselves in all the chaos of the many options open to us what it is we really need to be happy. What do we want? Oliver still needs financial support, so moving out and downsizing will help us to help him, so that means the next two and half years we have to keep earning, but then after that, we can go anywhere in the world, live anywhere and do anything we fancy. When you find yourself with that kind of freedom, you have to think wild, think outside the box, think big! But also think about going small, think simple. Break it down and ask yourself: “What really makes me happy?” Too many of us work to afford things that we just don’t need. The latest iPhone perhaps, or a new car. We’ve been conditioned to think we need a house made of bricks, and that it must be decorated in up to date trends. We are bombarded with imagery and advertising devised to make us feel bad about how we look or smell without the product they are selling so we buy it. It’s a trick to keep us enslaved. I catch myself thinking things like ‘Well, I haven’t bought any new boots this winter, so why not?’ when I have perfectly good boots. I find myself caught in a loop of spending and then having to earn to feed my addiction to spending when actually, I don’t need half of this stuff. When you break it down, what do you need? I mean really need?
I’m a great list writer, so I did indeed break it all down into what we really want and need and then had to find acceptance that we can’t have that yet. Not all of it just yet. But, with one more canny move before we make our dreams happen, we could set ourselves up financially and ensure we get everything on our list. The mortgage advisor called it ‘gearing’ and basically what I am now doing is releasing the equity on the flat to buy another property here in Exeter (at the end of our road funnily enough) where we will port my small personal mortgage. It’s a small end of terrace house, so while we do it up we will be free from Step-heavy upstairs and have our own space. Hurray!! Then, when it’s had my special interior design magic makeover, we will do another buy-to-let mortgage, release more equity and then hopefully move to somewhere small but with enough land to have a big cottage garden, maybe a couple of acres if it isn’t near Pi Acres.
We shall have to wait and see, as I’ve now started a Facebook page for Pi Acres (Pi Acres) and have started meeting people online who want to come and help us with our projects, but who also want to set up communities. I’ve started planning the next steps at Pi Acres and even putting events in diaries and inviting people, so regardless of what our long term plans are likely to be, we are going to press ahead with making Pi Acres a haven and in the process, spend more time there this summer. I am still in favour applying to make it an outdoor education centre and sharing it with schools, colleges and of course the scouts. I have now offered the space to the local scouts, so as soon as Karen and I can get together, we can work out how to share the space. They currently only have the football field to do their outdoor badges and can’t have fires there, so I am excited for them being able to come and use Pi Acres and get some of their bushcraft and outdoorsy badges. I used to be a scout leader for many years (Cubs and Beavers) and do love a bit of singing around a campfire. I have to say, apart from dealing with parents, it is probably one of the few times that my Autism made me a perfect leader. My science and nature ‘special interests’ coupled with a no nonsense bossy tendency meant those boys always had an interesting meeting (and always clean fingernails too as I used to do inspections!).
I’m excited about the coming summer at Pi Acres. We will be around a whole lot more than we managed this past year. I’ve wondered if our handfasting last June and the way Paul’s family abused both us and our sanctuary put me off sharing it for the remainder of last summer? Maybe commuting to the land from Exeter will continue to be a problem, or perhaps it just takes a bit more determination to choose to opt out of the rat race and just go be in nature? Perhaps we need a bigger plot, maybe even pool our finances with others and buy a farm. Maybe we could create out own small community by choosing who our neighbours are, as I don’t want to live next door to carnists anymore.
Unless the apocalypse occurs in my lifetime, I would rather live somewhere with a bathroom. I know what a princess that makes me sound, and that if I were to truly live like a eco-warrior I would just live in the horse-box lorry (when it’s finished) and stop washing my clothes or bathing, but I just can’t. Proper bathing facilities makes me happy. I don’t need jewellery or holidays or fancy cars, but I am autistic and my daily routine starts with a poop and a bath. And I’m not so good at sharing my bathroom as I discovered when we had Airbnb guests. I can’t relax in the bath at all, so my morning routine became very hurried incase someone else needed the bathroom. It often set me up to feel stressed before the day even got going. And we often had a lot to do when there was a constant stream of guests. But we have still found time to go for glorious walks on sunny days and dare I admit it, I have enjoyed the way having guests has made me plan our day to accommodate guests. Routine suits me. But I’d like a routine that included nature every day. Proper nature,not just the local park to walk the dog.
I’m trying to take a more Buddhist approach of acceptance, as we could be equally if not more happy buying a plot of land with a house on it in North Devon and being near surfing waves. So I’m trying to detach myself from where and how the next move will be after this imminent one. Maybe we will move to France? Or Canada? I’d like to live somewhere with a sense of community.
I would like to be surrounded by people who love us and make us feel welcome. I yearn to feel a sense of belonging somewhere. We don’t have that in Exeter. Despite knowing lots of people, I have very few friends and neither of us have any family we see any more. Oliver spent Christmas with his father and has now gone skiing, so it was always going to be a quiet one, but I hadn’t expected to feel so orphaned this Christmas. In fact, I’ll be straight up honest and tell you I would have cancelled Christmas entirely had it not been for our dog Tuki, who gets the whole concept of opening presents and so for her, we opened a small number of gifts – nearly all for her, and for ten minutes it actually felt like a celebration.
My manageress Claire gave me some Christmas gifts including some homemade vegan lemon curd that she made herself. I love homemade gifts and I was deeply touched. It’s somehow tragic that the most thoughtful person in my life outside Paul is someone I pay. When I looked at the faces of people frantically shopping last week I couldn’t help thinking that Christmas has become a marketing tool and the holiness has all gone. It doesn’t feel spiritual anymore and I find the level of consumerism and waste quite ugly. I think from now on, I would rather opt out for ethical reasons. Like the Quakers believe: everyday should be as holy as the next.
This has been the third or fourth Christmas in a row with zero contact from anyone in my family, and many years longer than that with others like my sister Julia. I think the court case from earlier this year has drawn a line under any chance of reconciliation. The more I walk with integrity and the less I tolerate sociopathic behaviour from anyone, even family, the less I want to have them in my lives. When I look back over the course of my life, I’m not sure what it is I think I miss. How can I miss something I never had? My very beautiful (on the outside) sister Julia has always been a bit of a narcissist and only ever been nice to me when I am useful or she needs something. My stepfather has always been mean. I shan’t go on, as I am sure you get the idea. To expect anything different from any of them now is delusional so I am closing the door. I’ve had a full EMDR session on trying to reprogram my brain to let go of them, and whilst it probably helped to make moving on more achievable in everyday life, it didn’t help me Christmas Day morning when I felt that yearning for a family so strongly it made me cry. But thankfully, Paul was an angel and made Christmas Day a beautiful, romantic, fun, gorgeous day and I’m utterly blessed to have him as my husband. Apart from his daughters, Paul had no contact from his family either this Christmas, and so we find ourselves now really quite isolated. It would appear the rift in Paul’s family continues in the aftermath of our wedding where his family were like something out of the Shameless cast. To resolve it would mean talking about it, and no-one seems willing to do that. It mirrors my own family issues and I feel bad that it’s so often the way that when you decide to live with integrity and travel the road less travelled, how resentful the people you leave behind can become. It’s as though the more conscientious you become, the more self aware, the more the haters hate you. I had hoped that Paul’s family would become my family but they’re just as selfish and unkind as the ones I’m blood related to and have finally got away from, so I’m certainly not going to tolerate their negativity. Life is too short to battle with toxic people. I hope that before I’m fifty (my next birthday so its not far off) that I figure out the whole forgiveness with boundaries thing. I can forgive, but that doesn’t mean I have to keep that person in my life. I was reading how ‘door slamming’ to people and toxic relationships is a very INFJ thing to do (Myers Briggs personality types) and also a very autistic thing to do. When I can master not experiencing intense loss when I slam the doors, perhaps then I will have mastered Buddhist detachment but I’m not there yet.
We are all on this journey and learning what we are supposed to learn at just the right time, but I wish people would hurry up and wake up and stop being twats. I want to meet people less messed up than me. I want to learn from people that have figured it out. How can I be one of the wisest person I know when I am so aware of how stupid and naive I am? Where are my elders to guide me to becoming one of them?
Paul and I have been campaigning with Extinction Rebellion to try to do our bit to encourage change where it matters. Extinction Rebellion are all about lobbying, campaigning and organising peaceful protests to change things at government level. We sang in the Extinction Rebellion choir all over Exeter just before Christmas to try to reach people and help change attitudes, and I watched with interest who our allies were and who clearly hated us just by looking at us. I wrote a pledge, as I believe the change needs to happen in our hearts as well as in our governments. The more I learn about how disastrous the meat and dairy is for our planet, the more I think we should all be vegan. So, here’s my pledge:
I pledge to be kind and live with compassion and empathy for all life.
The pledge to be kind and live with compassion and empathy for the all life is akin to swearing an oath of allegiance to your planet and your fellow beings. You are pledging to become a custodian of them instead of their destroyer. Making the pledge is a promise to become a better person and to join the revolution by being the change. It is no longer any use blaming society. We are society.
To pledge this isn’t quite as simple as it sounds. It’s the proverbial rabbit hole and once you fall down it, you become Alice as you fall deeper and deeper into the abyss of veganism and what that actually means. Being kind isn’t just a fluffy sentiment however. To have empathy and to live conscientiously, the full pledge needs to expand to this:
I pledge to consider what implications ALL my actions have on the planet, my fellow beings and myself, and to always try to pick the action that has the least negative impact on all.
I pledge to hear my conscience, whether it tells me to pick the vegan option on a menu, or to not buy that plastic bag, or to say something constructive rather than be unkind.
I pledge to be inclusive to all around me, and treat everyone as my equal regardless of race, colour, religion, age, gender and neuro-diversity.
I pledge that whenever it is possible to boycott food, products and industries that harm animals or the planet, I will make that choice. I will choose kindness over convenience and integrity over taste-buds from now on.
I pledge to slow down, get off my phone, spend more time in nature and contemplate my purpose.
I pledge to give more time to do good deeds, whether that’s helping someone vulnerable, volunteering or campaigning for change.
I pledge to stop convincing myself that happiness lies in capitalist ventures, consumerist products, or selfish ambitions and instead do more to help others. I will stop buying into the illusion.
I pledge to speak out when I see injustice or cruelty whether that’s from our leaders or my friends, colleagues and family, but I will also try not to judge people too harshly and remember everyone is on their own journey. I will not be unkind in my anger at the injustice or cruelty I witness or experience.
I pledge to consider my carbon footprint when I travel and when I shop. I will buy local produce where possible, to buy handmade or second hand, to buy from small ethical independent businesses and to make, mend, borrow or share whenever I can.
I pledge to own up to my mistakes and be held accountable for my actions.
I pledge to forgive myself for making mistakes, and to self-parent so that I am kind to myself but that I also never give up trying to be a better person.
I pledge to educate myself, whether that’s learning a new skill or opening my eyes to what is really happening around the world; ignorance is no longer an excuse when all the information is out there and available to anyone prepared to wake up.
I pledge to wake up.
I pledge to try to wake everyone else up too by sharing this pledge and encouraging everyone to make it.
Phew! That’s all quite weighty and full on, and I feel the need to lighten the mood as I end this blog, and end this year as I can see it is almost midnight. So I shall sign off with a picture of my latest paintings. The colours feel happy, and the butterflies symbolic of the chrysalis I feel 2018 has been for me. Either I’m about to burst forth, spread my wings and fly, or maybe, just maybe, we as a species are. People are waking up, and if you’re reading this I hope you are one of them. Let’s all be the best that we can be this coming year and make the changes we all need to make to evolve into better versions of ourselves. And save the planet into the bargain.
We visited Pi Acres a couple of times this week, the second time to finally move the horsebox lorry to its new home. Now work will finally begin on converting it.
We have called her ‘Fern’ which will make far more sense when I have repainted her green, and then painted on ferns and silver birch trees. But there’s along way to go before I can start on that as Stuart and Lorie from Winkleigh will be working alongside Paul to start the conversion and help get it ready for us to have some adventures in her next summer. We might even go on a British touring adventure in her before we sell her and plough the profits into conservation projects at Pi Acres.
The drawings are just preliminary but it gives an idea of how we want it laid out. As we will be looking for second hand, recycled and scrapped materials to fit it out, the drawings will have to be redone according to what we can find. We will have to buy the insulation for the first fix and in a bid have as low an impact on the environment as possible, we plan to buy insulation made from recycled bottles.
While I wondered round Pi Acres this week, I was struck by how bare it looks now, and also how messy it looks after a summer of projects and camp fires with no lush foliage to hide it anymore. But it’s still exquisitely beautiful, and although I say it every time, I wish I could get there more often. The colours even on a drizzly day were exquisite and the water level has risen considerably, making the water busy and exciting.
I wonder if it will flood this winter? The work we did this summer to direct the water coming down the hill through a colvert pipe and to the stream seems to be working, and what with the bank we built, it looks like the route in is no longer a bog like it was last year.
The underpinning work the rivers authority and the council did on the bridge and stream bed is helping the flow of the water nicely, and has literally bedded in. Nature is softening the edges and helping disguise the work that has been done. They left me some sandbags that I plan to open up and spread over the newly created bank opposite the stream. I realise of course if it floods it will just get washed away, but until then, there will be a small beach for us to marvel over.
There’s much to do and I’m keen to get back as soon as I can and tidy it all up, but we have started to do Airbnb from our apartment in Exeter to raise funds and it’s suddenly become an endless cycle of checking in new guests, checking them out, laundry, cooking and cleaning. We’ve had a guest the past two weeks who has been enjoying full board with us, so I have been home every night cooking up delicious vegan feasts. We may have converted her to veganism as she’s loved it so much, so I’m delighted my cooking has been enjoyed so well. Last night’s guests in the smaller of the two rooms we are letting had seconds and thirds they loved my curry and home made bhajis so much.
It’s made me feel very good to share food with grateful people. In fact, I would liken having Airbnb guests to having children at home again, except so far no-one has answered back, raided the fridge and drunk all my mango juice, refused to tidy their room or forgotten how to say thank you. I actually feel appreciated! We’ve had five reviews so far – all five star, so that’s a good start I feel. We have worked out that the money we raise doing Airbnb should pay for the conversion on Fern, and after that we plan to rent out our flat in Exeter and move nearer Pi Acres. It might be nice to stay in Fern on the land when it’s warmer and get lots of conservation work done.
Step-heavy upstairs is still making my life a misery, but now that all legal battles are behind me, I feel better equipped to deal with her clomping. Perhaps my EMDR treatment is working too; I feel calmer and less jumpy these days. I even managed to get through what must be over ten days of fireworks constantly going off in the city every night. Even the pooch has been less perturbed than usual – is that my calmness or just her getting used to it I wonder?
Perhaps my daily tipple of rosehip tincture is helping my mood, or the fact that my manager Claire is doing such a dandy job of managing Pobby & Blue for me, it has reduced my stress levels, but I noticed last week that I haven’t had a stutter for some time now. I’m not stimming as much as I used to, and leaving the house hasn’t been at all difficult. I had concerns that having strangers in my house would trigger lots of OCD traits that often go hand in hand with my autism, but instead, I seem to be thriving on the routine. Even Paul admitted he’s enjoying the housework as we strip beds and clean rooms between guests. I’m concerned I’ll start ironing the bedsheets soon and be sucked entirely into a world of domesticity, but this is only temporary, and by Spring we will be off on some adventures.
The Himalayan Balsam wood that was springing up everywhere all summer at Pi Acres has pretty much all died off now (until next spring of course), but rather than the ground starting to look barren, sticky weed, or sticky willy as some people call it has sprung up everywhere.
It germinates in the cool wet weather of winter. ‘Galium Aparine’ has a multitude of other names including cleavers, clivers, bedstraw, goose-grass, robin-run-the-hedge, catchweed, grip-grass, velcro plant, and sticky bud (not the type you’d get offered at college of course). Sticky weed reminds me of walks with my son where he would sneakily attach it to my back, sometimes so much so that when we got home, I would be astonished at how much he had managed to attach to me without my knowledge.
It’s a great plant for herbalists and foragers and has a clean crisp taste when eaten raw. It is known to boost the immune system (which would help stave off those pesky winter colds) and cleanse the lymph system. It promotes weight loss, and if you cook it with beans, it can help reduce the flatulence that usually accompanies eating them. I suggest throwing a few sprigs in with your brussel sprouts this Christmas to help avoid Christmas Day afternoon parps. It’s also a good urinary astringent as it assists with inflammation.
It’s very easy to squeeze juice out of it, and makes a great refreshing cordial (I’d add lime and maple syrup to sweeten it). If you harvest some, scrunch a big handful of it up and seep it in vodka. Over the space of 4 to 6 weeks (give it a shake everyday) it will turn a lovely lime green. Like the cordial recipe, if you add lime and maple syrup it makes a delicious medicinal tipple, and who wouldn’t want to offer your guests visiting for Christmas a sticky willy on the rocks? As soon as I can get back to Pi Acres, I’m going to harvest some, and by the time my Rosehip tincture runs out, my sticky willy tincture should be ready. Just in time for Christmas. I have mixed feelings about this time of year; my only family being Paul and Oliver, who will be with his half siblings over Christmas and not with us. I’m even tempted to cancel it altogether at home. Being in retail makes it just another marketing tool, and the overt consumerism that takes place makes me feel bad for the planet when I consider the rubbish people buy that will just end up in landfill.
I watched the starlings congregate on telephone wires and in trees last week and felt a pang of sadness that they were leaving but now that the trees are getting stripped bare, it’s much easier it is to see the birds that have stayed. They’re hungry this time of year as they try to fatten up for winter, so I must remember to keep putting food out for them. The berries aren’t enough to sustain them. Mistle thrush particularly like holly berries, but at this time of year, they split up from hanging out together and go find themselves their own holly bush for the winter. They are fiercely territorial over their chosen bush and guard the berries so well, no other birds get a look in. If you have a holly bush that still has berries all over it by Christmas, chances are there’s a stroppy mistle thrush nearby watching over it. I hope it won’t be too upsetting for the mistle thrush in my garden when I pinch some of the holly to decorate the flat. If I decorate the flat of course, and not go full bah humbug. I suppose the Airbnb guests would like a festive place to stay next month, so perhaps I will do it for them.
Paul and I did a jewellery making workshop recently and made wedding rings for each other. We held our own wee ceremony and said our vows again; the ones we wrote for our handfasting ceremony in June. I cried. In many ways it was far more meaningful than the event that some of Paul’s family almost ruined this summer. We want to make more jewellery; in fact we loved it so much, perhaps we should do Christmas after all and make a wish list of jewellery making kit to buy for each other. However, chances are, our hard earned cash will more likely all go on ply wood panels and insulation for the van, but if that happens I could always cheer myself up with a sticky willy on the rocks 🙂
As the wind whips the leaves from the trees and a chill sits in the air with the onset of winter, we are left with an autumnal array of jewel colours that make this time of year quite beautiful. I recently learned that the colours we get every year are dependent on the weather. I used to wonder why some autumns seem more colourful than others.
Leaf colour comes from three pigments. The one everyone knows about is chlorophyll, which is green and is crucial for photosynthesis to take place so that the plant can convert sunshine to energy and grow. Less well known pigments are carotenes which are yellow, and anthocyanins which are reds, purples and pinks. As summer fades, shorter days and colder weather trigger the trees to stop producing chlorophyll which slows down and eventually breaks down so that the existing previously masked colours finally get a chance to have their day.
However, on particularly cold nights, low temperatures destroy the remaining chlorophyll so the leaves become yellow. When we have a bright, sunny autumn, sugar becomes concentrated in the leaves and more anthocyanins are produced, making the leaves redder. If the wind isn’t too strong and the leaves can drink in the last of the sunshine, the leaves will stay put and turn from yellow to orange to red before dropping.
For the leaves to drop without a fierce wind whipping them away, a layer of corky cells forms across the base of the leaf stalk which restricts the movement of sugars back to the main part of the tree. This also leads to a concentration of anthocyanin and helps the leaf turns red.
I’ve been thinking about this; the tree produces corky cells that cut off the energy the leaves have been giving it, so they eventually become separate enough to drop off. The autumn leaves literally teach us all how beautiful it is to let go. In my personal life, this has been an important lesson. Autumn is a time to let go of past hurts, and to cut off the energy of people and habits that we no longer need in our lives.
The fallen leaves then nourish the ground as they rot, so although the onset of winter can feel stark and bare, the ground is being prepared for next Spring as decomposing matter feeds the fungi and detritivores (which literally means feeders on dead or decaying matter) and fill the air with that damp woody smell that we have all come to know as mushroom time. This is the time for fungi to really have their season as they assist in the yin and yang of life and death. It’s nature’s ultimate recycling where matter is surrendered back into the ground and converted into simpler organic forms that are the food source for many of the species at the base of all ecosytems.
I have been struggling to let go of the hope that my family would come through for me, so in the spirit of autumn, I have finally had the bonfire I’ve been talking about where I burn my past. I’m not sure how ecologically sound it is to burn photographs, but psychologically it’s been very powerful for me. I kept a small handful of photos that remind me of happy times and might be of interest to future generations, but the rest – a whole bin bag full have now been ceremoniously burned. Wedding albums from my first marriage are now gone. Pictures of my birth family gone. My sisters. Gone. My parents. Gone. Hardest to part with were pictures of me with my family where I look fabulous. I asked myself why I struggled so hard to part with them and realised it was vanity. I was gorgeous once. But I do not need vast swathes of photographs that prove I was beautiful. I’m far more beautiful on the inside now, and that is what matters.
An acquaintance visited me not long ago and saw a photograph of me when I was young. “I’d have done you back then” he said, as if that was a compliment. I found it deeply offensive, not just because of the crass nature of the comment or because I had to hold my tongue to stop myself saying that I would never have ‘done him’ (he’s deeply unattractive to me on both shallow and deeper levels) but because of the objectification of a human being, as if my worth was tied up entirely on how I look. I burned the ‘hottie’ photos with a sense of relief that whilst Paul and I fancy each other like mad, it really has little to do with whether I am a stone lighter or whether I shave my legs. Inner beauty is what matters and too many of us are made to feel ugly because we do not fit the stereotype of what the media tries to tell us is attractive.
Letting go of what is expected of us is liberating. I’ve bought a velvet hooded full length zip up ‘house coat’. I no longer care if it’s eccentric to go out the house in it; I love it. I’m letting go of worrying what people think of me. I went out last week to a friend’s birthday party and didn’t pretend I’m normal. I confessed to friends of friends – (strangers to me) that I couldn’t hear or process what they were saying because of the noise and because I am autistic and no-one batted an eyelid. No-one squirmed and tried to move away from me. My weirdness was just accepted. Although on many levels I enjoyed it, I found it exhausting and ended up tearful and wiped out as a result. Whilst I’m mixing more with people who are not afraid of a bit of neuro-diversity, it’s still mixing with people and I’m just not cut out for it. So I’m letting go of the expectation that I have to.
We have been advertising rooms to let now Oliver has gone to university. It’s been hard to let go of that part of my life and not constantly hound my son to find out of he’s sleeping well and eating properly. He rang me yesterday with no prompting, and we chatted for twenty minutes or more. I’m not usually one to chat on the phone – I struggle with knowing when it’s my turn to speak, but I was so happy that my son was chatty and alert (not groggy and overtired from Fresher week partying) that I was overjoyed. He isn’t vegan like we are, but proudly told me of all the vegan pasta dishes he has been making and getting good at. He’s only bought meat once in the last two weeks apparently, and that was a pack of bacon. Of course I told him he’d bought the flesh of the most intelligent animal that is farmed, but I commended him on limiting his meat consumption. I need to be less judgemental – every step in the right direction is good and if I can let go of disappointment that people aren’t doing everything they can to save the planet, and become a more compassionate species, I might be able to warm people to my ideas instead of scaring them away that I am a militant vegan that is judging everyone.
I was hoping that being vegan would have helped me to lose some weight, but alas, either my cooking is just too delicious or I’m just a sneaky eater. I’ve been making the most delicious raw, sugar free, gluten free, cacao protein balls that are every bit as delicious as choccy treats (naturally sweetened by dates and a dollop of maple syrup). They are ridiculously easy to make – I just throw a handful of dates, raisins, cashews, and hazelnuts in the blender with a sploosh of maple syrup, four dessert spoons of raw cacao, a dollop of coconut oil and whizz it up. Then I rolled the mix into little balls and covered in desiccated coconut or crushed hazelnuts. In this batch, I added a couple of drops of orange oil, a few scoops of pea protein and some chia seeds so that Paul is getting more protein, as unlike me, he’s losing weight. Now, if only I could let go of eating them all myself.
#lettinggo #autism #proteinballs #autumn #vegan
It feels as though Summer ended with an abrupt gust of wind that came straight after my court case and drew a line under the season once and for all.
I won my case at court, and the sociopath paralegal suing me just made himself look even more incompetent when the judge threw out his case. There was a beautiful moment when the judge asked him what his qualifications were to fight litigation cases, and he had to admit he failed to even complete his first year at law school and had no other qualifications whatsoever. I shan’t bore you with details of the case, but what I will tell you is that he looked like a mini grey haired version of Donald Trump and his body language, way of speaking and smarmy expressions just as ridiculous. The judge was suitably aghast that he charges £200ph and wanted to charge me £4-6k (over the £2k fixed fee we had agreed) for fighting the rogue builder that ran off with my money two years ago.
As we left the court, I wanted to feel jubilant, but I just felt flat. The man is clearly a sociopath and whilst I may have won against him in court legally, he has cost me my (albeit fragile) relationship with my step-father, because they are long standing mates and he chose to support his friend over his step-daughter. I just don’t get people and feel bereft that my family are so utterly rubbish, but then, I’ve always known this. Back when I should have got help as a teenager when my autism was presenting itself in fairly dramatic ways, I was instead bundled off to military boarding school.
Straight after the case was dismissed, Step-Heavy upstairs went away, and Harry has apparently gone back to London, so there’s now been a blissful two weeks of no clomping around upstairs at my flat and I’ve been sleeping like a baby. I don’t know yet whether the sleep is due to the lack of clompy-boots upstairs or the long overdue relief that two year’s worth of legal battles were finally over, but it’s been marvellous. And it’s meant I’ve been in a good place to sift through forty years worth of hoarding as we finish packing up the flat to move. We haven’t found anywhere to move to yet, and it may well be that we don’t move now until Spring, but that’s okay as decluttering at home and making the place lovely makes it more bearable to stay. I’ve been going through generations of photos, old school books, journals and have whittled it down to three piles and a small trunk. The trunk is what I will keep, and the piles consist of: one to throw out, one to look through properly as I have started writing my autobiography and another that I plan to burn. There’s something deeply symbolic about burning photographs and letters from people you wish to cut ties with, and I’m finally ready to let my birth family go. If my autobiography should get published, you will know why burning my bridges to them is so important, but for now, all you need to know is that I am letting go. Like the leaves falling from the trees, Autumn really is showing me how beautiful it is to let go.
I used to hate it when Summer was over; it represented an end to long nature walks where I could feel a warm breeze on my exposed skin, swimming in the sea, eating outside, sitting in the garden and of course an end to all the flowers I love seeing from early March through to now, but then I started learning about trees a couple of years ago. Trees are super interesting right now, with their weird alien looking growths that house seeds. The pods hanging off my neighbours wisteria are fabulous, and as beech nuts ripen, the cases open like something out of an alien film.
It’s a great time to go foraging, so Paul and I attended a half day course with a gentle souled man called Tim who took ten of us on a walk near his house, then we went back to his cabin and made tea and potions with our foraged haul. There were two women on the course who clearly knew more about foraging than herbalist Tim did, and constantly interrupted him to add their penny’s worth. I tried not to find it irritating, especially as I was itching to also share my knowledge but decided that would be very autistic of me and I needed to be aware that he was the teacher and we should all be listening to him. Their lack of awareness of how disruptive they were being made it hard for me to relax, especially as the one who interrupted the most and talked the longest had very, very tiny hands. She waved them about as she spoke like an Italian and sometimes moved them quite close to the two ladies sitting either side of her who both had the long fingers of piano playing hands, which made her hands look even smaller. I started silently willing her to shut up the longer she spoke and had to work very hard to stop myself blurting out in a tourettes style outburst ‘Your hands are very small!’ in a bid to interject some kind of halt to her babble. You’ll be pleased to know I didn’t, and I left the course more knowledgable about herbs and quite pleased with myself that I was able to mask my autism well enough that I probably appeared normal.
Much of what he taught us, I already knew, like hawthorne being good for your heart and nettles being a superfood, but new to me were the benefits of meadowsweet and bramble leaves. There’s something innate about collecting things from the forest and making tinctures. It resonates with something in me and I’ve determined to learn more.
I already make my own face creams, insect repellent and bath oils using the barest of organic ingredients so it seems a natural step to start looking for those ingredients around me rather than buying them online.
In the van on the way home from the foraging course, Paul told me tiny hands lady was clearly on the spectrum herself and that I was like her. I don’t know if you’ve ever found someone intensely irritating and then had someone say that you are like them, but the journey home was anguished for me, as I think Paul is right. I am like the woman with the tiny hands. Except I’m not, because I’m growing ever more aware that I don’t want to be like tiny hands lady. She did know her stuff; an expert even, but that doesn’t mean everyone wanted to listen to her. I’m beginning to understand now why I was never liked at school. Before my teenage rebellion, I was just like her and often knew more than the teacher did. It explains why I never had many friends, and in fact still struggle now. But I am also pleased with myself that I don’t need to be at the mercy of my autistic brain; I can appear normal and whilst it’s exhausting to have to navigate my way through social interactions whilst also trying to keep in mind that I can’t truly be myself, I did marvellously well on this course. I even made a friend called Lisa who runs an art land project in Kingsbridge. We are going to see her set-up this week, and as I’ve warned her I am autistic (she’s a teacher so she understands special needs more than most) I may be able to be myself and not have to apologise for it (we shall see!).
Lisa is also a dream therapist, and I have been having the craziest dreams recently about my family, about my passports, burning the photos, escaping from my family and other very bizarre things. On Lisa’s instructions, I’ve started keeping a dream diary, but they are so profound and relate so well to what I am going through right now, it’s prompted much writing and the autobiography is now well underway. I’m in the zone! Despite just wanting to spend time writing now, I have still managed to get outside and harvest rosehips, and I’ve made a tincture. I’ve written an article for the Dolton diary about foraging, and as it’s interesting (hopefully genuinely interesting and not in a tiny hands way), I’m going to tag it on at the end here, along with a confession. I scrumped all our apples from the local cemetery! Happy reading, and if I have inspired you, happy foraging:
September has been great for foraging wild blackberries, damsons, and elderberries this year. I made bramble and elderberry jam, and apple and blackberry crumbles with my haul. Well, I say jam but it didn’t set as well as I liked, so let’s say I made compote. It has an elderflower perfume to it that is lovely. I’ve been stewing apples, freezing blackberries and generally making the most of nature’s free food store, but it doesn’t end there.
It’s all to easy to think that this is the time of year when we should all be pruning and tidying and getting our gardens ready for cooler weather, but hold fire there a moment, as there’s plenty more to see, harvest and eat before we settle down for winter. The roses in my garden are still flowering, but many elsewhere have turned to seed and all of them will before the end of October. But before you prune your roses, might I suggest you wait until you have all the rosehips you can gather as they are a superfood, with loads more vitamin C than oranges; just what we need to boost our immune systems ready for the cold season. The multitude of health benefits include the relief of symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis and respiratory conditions. They also prevent cancer, lower cholesterol, manage diabetes, regulate digestion, boost the immune system, increase circulation and help build stronger bones. They contain vitamins C, A, E, B-complex as well as minerals like calcium, iron, selenium, manganese, magnesium, phosphorous, potassium, sulphur and zinc. They also contain organic compounds like beta-carotene and contain several anti-oxidant components that all help improve health. Rosehip syrup is just as easy to make as jam, so what are you waiting for? I’ve made a tincture which is even easier. It’s as simple as washing, top and tailing the rosehips and seeping them in vodka. I’ve put the jar near the tea caddy and everytime I make a cuppa, I will give the jar a little shake. In four to six weeks, I will have a beautiful rose coloured tincture that I can put in my tea, or just sip like a tonic. The origin of the word tincture come from ‘tint’ which is what will happen to the vodka as it steeps. Word of warning for handling rosehips: if you are cutting them open, the small hairy seeds inside are nature’s itching powder, so wash your hands afterwards!
Also out in abundance at this time of year are hawthorn berries, which are well known for helping heal heart conditions. Why not combine your rosehips and hawthorn berries to make a tincture that will not only be delicious, but will keep you super healthy? It’s also mushroom picking time, but there are so many mushrooms out there that could make you ill, I wouldn’t chance eating any that you don’t know for certain are safe. Beech nuts are very tasty if you can get your hands on them before the squirrels, and of course there’s sweet chestnuts this time of year. Last year I got enough to roast, peel and freeze so that we could have chestnut stuffing at Christmas, but again you’ll be competing with the squirrels and they are very efficient at getting there first, then digging up your garden to hide them. If you are lucky enough to have a monkey puzzle tree, the nuts are delicious; they’re like giant pine nuts but with a texture like brazil nuts. They’re edible raw or cooked, but I would suggest dry roasting them and seasoning them with paprika, salt and pepper.
Have fun foraging, but don’t forget, it’s scrumping if it’s in someone’s garden.so check with them first before you start picking the rosehips off your next door neighbour’s rose bushes!
We took off in our van and boarded a ferry for Roscoff last week for our honeymoon, or as they say in France, Voyages de Noces. The countryside looks almost identical to my beloved Devon, so it was great to be exploring a new land that looked so much like home. It was especially good to be surrounded with nature that I could connect to because the ferry over was a special kind of hell for me. Bright lights, people everywhere, screaming kids, and regular tannoy announcements that were terrifyingly loud. I’m noticing now what happens in my body with this form of sensory overload and I can only say it feels like I’m in a war zone. I can tell myself logically that it’s all fine but it’s become clear that my brain isn’t linked in such a way that it is able to instruct my body not to panic, so every time a kid screamed or the tannoy burst into noise, I felt as though I was under attack. In the end, I spent a whopping £30 on headphones (I really should have brought my own, so that annoyed me) and on the journey home, we booked a lifesaving cabin (although there were still tannoy announcements clearly designed for the hard of hearing, or is it perhaps to be audible above the din that is hundreds of people all in the same space?).
The first few days were bliss. We camped and played the guitar and sang. I cooked lovely vegan food al fresco and the sun shone. We took long walks along the river and I took photographs everywhere. The landscape is truly stunning as you can see…
I was struck by the vastness of the countryside, with unspoilt lakes scattered everywhere and vistas so stunning it was breathtaking. Everywhere we drove were lush green tree tunnels and panoramic views of far stretching countryside with barely another person on the road. Roads seemed largely devoid of potholes and Paul kept commenting on what a pleasure it was to drive; so very different to the country lanes we try to navigate back home. I suspect a vigilante resident has filled some of the potholes on West Lane near our land as it’s just the worst ones that have been filled in, but in France, the roads were smooth and we glided along them in a state of bliss.
We camped the first couple of nights, and I cooked, but when we arrived at the first of the two Chambre D’Hotes we had booked, it became more of a challenge because we are vegans, and it’s hard to be a vegan in France; especially when meat eaters are trying to feed you. I’m getting very good at making delicious home cooked, cruelty free food, so placing the responsibility of feeding us on people that don’t have that same experience meant disappointment, not just because we were fed potatoes and veg as a main course (it was delicious, but I couldn’t help feeling like I was just eating a side dish) but because they presented the other guests with a chicken that they had roasted in a bizarre sitting up position and brought it out to the table sizzling in it’s roasting dish. It was almost comical had it not been so upsetting for us. We tried to politely ask if we could take our vegetables outside, but they looked at us so so confused, I blurted out I can’t sit at a table while people eat my friends. Later (and again at breakfast) I ended up profusely apologising for being so militant in my veganism and making people feel awkward, but the truth is, I find being in the presence of dead animal flesh, whether cooked or raw totally abhorrent now. Have I fallen so far down the rabbit hole I can’t see anything the way I used to? I don’t like the idea of being rude, but now I’m home, I wonder if I should I be apologising to people that I find it so upsetting to see beautiful creatures that want to live, killed, stripped of their skin, hair and guts and dished up on a plate. We should all find it upsetting because our survival simply doesn’t depend on it anymore. It’s entirely a selfish, tastebud thing coupled with conditioning that this is normal. If I accept this level of apathy towards the real consequences of what people are eating, aren’t I somehow condoning it?
Let me ask you; would you find it abhorrent if you went to someone’s house and they had made a human stew and dished you up a bowl with the flesh of human limbs in it? Imagine it for a moment, it’s the stuff of horror movies, right? Now consider that I experience that same horror at the thought of eating animals. They are sentient beings just like us; they feel pain and emotion and want to live.
On the campsite, there were a gaggle of geese that we made friends with. At first, approaching the fence to their enclosure resulted in some very loud telling off from the geese, but I sang to them and they soon calmed down. Before long, if I approached the fence, they came over to see me and had a wee picnic on the grasses there while I sang to them again. It made it all the more painful when I then found myself in a French grocery store and considered what the French do to geese to make Foie Gras, and how these beautiful, intelligent creatures are force fed until their liver explodes. Have we grown so accustomed to being barbaric, we can’t see what we’re doing?
Camping Milin Kerh just north of Guingamp had some exquisite walks, and it was interesting to see that Himalayan Balsam Wood has taken over in Brittany too.
I wanted to tell the campsite owners what I had seen and explain how it needs pulling out, but I’m trying be more aware about how my well intentioned desire to share my knowledge can come across as rude, so I held my tongue. It wasn’t easy, but their free range pet rabbits placated me (I sang to them as well). God, I hope they don’t eat them. The owner’s mother told me that there was one goose she didn’t like and wanted to eat it for Christmas. I didn’t tell her I was a vegan, but oh my, that was hard too.
I’ve come home inspired. Not just by the countryside, but by the art we saw when we drove through beautiful (and deserted) towns. We wandered through a silver birch forest and I want to paint the picture I took of it on the side of the horsebox lorry. I’m itching to paint, to write, to create. I might burst if I don’t do something soon!
We’ve decided we want to learn to weld and make garden sculptures (and weld the horsebox lorry too perhaps?), and after seeing how beautiful a simple arch with plants growing over it can make for stunning glimpses of what lies beyond. I’d love to place some archways around on our land, and create beautiful and distinct spaces.
During the last couple of days of our honeymoon, I took a tumble down some steep stone steps and banged my head. Bruised and battered all over, it led to me feeling quite wobbly. I managed to break my fall halfway down by grabbing onto the railing, but had I not slowed the speed at which I was heading towards that rock, I could be dead. It’s customary for me to imagine the worst outcomes to most situations (part of my Autism apparently) but I hadn’t imagined that one. I hurt everywhere and I now know pain in my body makes me far more sensitive to anxiety triggers, so by the time got home (after another hell ferry), I spent a whole day crying and wishing I hadn’t come home to so many unpleasant things to deal with like a court case and staff rota. I want to go back to France, back to long walks, back to imagining what I’d grow over archways, and how I am going to word the first paragraph of my new novel.
If we sell the business, there will be months of handing it over and hand holding for the new buyer. I’m not sure I can wait that long to leave Exeter. If we can find a house near the land (and there’s a chance – we have a viewing lined up), then it could all come to be in just over a month. My scary court case against a bully is on September 3rd. If I’m honest, all I can think about is getting that out of the way. It involves family, and I feel the heartache of it like a physical pain in my chest. It would be unwise to make such big decisions while my heart flutters with anxiety at every second or third thought which largely centres around the injustice of it all. I don’t have the ability like neurotypicals do to close the door on the unhelpful thoughts, and they keep coming thick and fast as the date of the hearing approaches.
We want to live in Dolton. We want to be near our land. That’s all each of us knows for sure right now. Maybe in the long term, if Dolton doesn’t want an outdoor eduction centre and place of sanctuary, then maybe we will just sell up everything and buy 30 acres in France. Once this court case is out of the way, I think everything will fall into place. And I’ll paint this Hydrangea.
There’s nothing quite like a wedding to bring out the best and the worst in people. Or so has been our experience of holding our own hand-fasting ceremony and party at Pi Acres.
We worked tirelessly to tame the land, tackle brambles and make the land accessible to vehicles and for camping. We collected jam jars and recycled materials and made bunting. We wove, and tidied and strimmed. We even built a temporary composting loo! The hot weather made it easier of course to mow and cut (apart from when the heat was unbearable of course, but I shan’t whinge about sunshine), and besides, it wasn’t all work, work, work; we still found the time for some outdoor cooking, guitar playing and of course singing! It made up for all the times the strimmer cable broke, or the horseflies tried biting, or the brambles flicked us in the face (and on one occasion in my eye resulting in a trip to A&E!). I am grateful for the deadline the handfasting gave us as the land is now set up ready for us to enjoy it, and we have a whole summer stretching ahead of us.
However, the whole experience has left us so exhausted that the days off we have managed to put aside since then have found us too tired to make the journey to the land, let alone think about packing grub, organising our van for a spot of overnight camping or tackling any of the projects we have in mind. We’ve bought a second hand paratrooper parachute and I’m dying to drape it over the broomstick geodome we have made. I want to camp in it, but the effort to set it up would be too much for just one night, so instead, we will have to wait until we have a handful of days off, some more good weather and that I can make sure the shop is fully staffed.
The shop is doing very well at the moment – what with the good weather, it’s seaside location and the fabulous staff I currently have – I really can’t complain. Or shouldn’t complain….however I feel like owning this business is trapping me. It stops me coming to spend time on the land. My VAT return is due in shortly, and although all I do is gather up all my paperwork, scribble notes on my bank statements and print up sales reports to hand over to my bookkeeper, I find it soul destroying. I also have a civil legal battle going on at the moment with an absolute bully and it looks set to go to court and that’s even more stressful than business paperwork. I feel like these things sit on me like a heavy weight, but after just five minutes in Pi Acres; our beautiful little patch of heaven, I am lighter. I am happy again and all the stresses of Western living just slip away with each bird that sings out from the treetops. Anxieties ebb away as I listen to the babbling brook, and my heart skips with joy when I see a wren or a brave robin come and grab a worm near my feet. The dappled summer light beneath the trees and the cool breeze that whisks through the valley kiss my soul back into wellness.
It’s a space I was excited to share with family and friends on our hand-fasting, but sadly not everyone shared our hippy outlook about love, land and life and instead two worlds collided. The beautiful souls turned up when they said they would, they made vegan cheesecakes, and foccaccia, bean dip and other things. They turned up early and helped build the firepit, position the haybales, tie string on jam jar lanterns and decorated the geodome so beautifully I cried.
The ceremony itself was utterly beautiful and nothing could detract from that, but if we do it again in a year and a day, we will only be inviting a very select few. I’m not one to name and shame, but I what I will say is that it’s the last big party we will ever have on our land again. And never, ever again will we invite people who disrespect our compost loo! It’s been an interesting experience because it’s focussed us on how we want to use our land. We want to share it with people who get our passion for conservation and who want to help us build something that will benefit people who want to come and connect with nature and each other.
I have finally come to terms with the fact that I have Aspergers and I am no longer ashamed to admit that things affect me differently to neuro-typicals. I think differently. I react differently, and the social constraints of being ‘civilised’ are a struggle for me. I’m an empath and literally soak up the vibe of people yet am disabled in my skills to deal with it should the energy be dark or confrontational or just not kind. I’ve started the process of getting an official diagnosis, although I don’t need a label to know what my challenges are. Aspergers affects men and women in startlingly different ways, and recent research highlights how many undiagnosed women there are that have slipped through the net, been misdiagnosed with mental health disorders, or just simply don’t understand why they don’t fit in. The more I learn about why I have been shunned and judged for being different all my life, the more certain I am that Pi Acres should be for people who need it. Connecting with nature and each other is good for your mental health, and I can think of nothing better than sharing our sanctuary with other gentle souls who understand that love and kindness is all that matters really.
I currently have two potential buyers for my business, but I’m trying not to get too excited because I’ve been here before. I’m finally learning that people don’t always mean what they say, or that they change their minds so until it gets to exchanging contracts, I will not be racing ahead with what will happen next. Should I find myself with a lump sum from the proceeds of the sale, it would be very tempting to press ahead quickly with setting Pi Acres up to be a sanctuary for people to come and find space. I’ve been running a million ideas around in my head from getting special needs kids there for outdoor days, to offering some art therapy days, to offering a hammock or two to forest bathers, and even how soon we can get diggers in to make some ponds before winter sets in, but whoa!! I forget sometimes how tiring everything has been recently and how I shouldn’t make decisions when I feel like I do. I’m nursing a broken heart from the realisation of how much family have let me down – not just for the hand-fasting, but all my life. Things have been brought to the surface, old wounds opened and at last I am dealing with things and finding forgiveness for the past.
At the risk of sounding like a total peace loving hippy, I’m finding out what forgiveness really means. It’s about letting go; not just of the thing you need to forgive, but of the expectation that the person you are forgiving will change. It’s a letting go of hope; but not in a negative way. It’s realising that people may not want to walk the same path as you and that letting them go is sometimes an act of kindness for their sake as well as your own. Some people aren’t ready to see the world the way we do. Some people just don’t get it and that’s okay. If the mirror we hold up to them shows them how ugly they have become deep in their souls, then who are we to force that mirror on them when they are not ready?
So, if you are reading this, and you have a kind soul and you would like to get involved in things like planting orchards, eating vegan supper round a campfire and singing, then make contact with us as we will be doing things here and there when we can and would love some beautiful souls to join us.
The imminent projects at hand are firstly trying to eradicate an interloper that has taken over big chunks of woodland where it was once full of ancient woodland plants and flowers. They’re all still there, but to help them continue to thrive, and of course to stop the spread of the Himalayan Balsalm Wood going further upstream, we need some help plucking it out!
It pops up satisfyingly easily and I’m going to try an experiment of drying them as the stalks are hollow and would make fabulous bee hotels for next spring. We need to do this before they go to seed!
Pi Acres is a very long skinny parcel of land and we’ve had to give up trying to tame large parts of it. We’ve noticed that the far end is still being used by dog walkers, but the paths people are treading down for us are crucial for biodiversity and until we do get planning permission and start digging ponds and the like, I’m very happy with this – but I would like to ask a favour of anyone who is currently walking their dogs on our land… well actually, three favours:
- If you fancy paying back the favour of enjoying our land and doing a good deed, can you please pull up some of the Himalayan Balsam Wood – either contact us to join us when we are there, or just find a patch up the far end and start plucking them out?! If you leave them in a pile where we can collect them, we will put them on drying racks if we find them. (Please don’t wander down beyond the wire fence where the geodome or our fire pit is just in case we are using our new haystack target wall and crossbow!)
- Keep your dog on the path as there are nesting birds.
- Pick up poop (your own or your dogs!)
The other project we are now planning is what to do with the horsebox we have just bought!
One of the business ideas we had to make sure we didn’t just fritter away the proceeds of the sale of my shop was to do up Luton vans as campers/tiny houses and sell them. I’m very good at interior design and love this kind of project, so we had been keeping an eye out for decent vans, and how much we could spend on one when we had the money. There’s a workshop at the Off-Grid Festival this year (incidentally we are running a Nature in Art workshop there ourselves) specifically tailored to converting Lutons, so we were planning to attend that before buying anything. But then this little beauty popped up on Facebook Market Place and it belonged to my son’s old Maths teacher at Sidmouth college. It’s an MOT failure and needs a couple of thousand pounds spent on welding it, but that made it such a bargain we could afford to buy it now.
So, instead of coming to the land and gaining my fix of peace and stillness, I’ve been trapped here in the city, doing stock runs, ordering stock, doing staff rotas, preparing court paperwork, but also doing all sorts of drawings for the lorry! I’d like to make it an open space inside with lots of built in storage, a small kitchen and a wee log burner. I’m imagining a rest room/kitchen/classroom and then I’d love to keep it somewhere on the land but such things depend on selling my business and deciding we are ready to go the whole hog of running classes from the land (and getting change of use/planning permisson and all that serious stuff that requires thinking about properly). Chances are, we will do up the inside (by hand because we have no electricity at Pi Acres) and then take it away to weld it, get the new MOT and sell it. I’ll post pictures of plans and progress as it goes on, but as I think I need to hide in my cool basement flat here in Exeter just until the heatwave is over (and keep my veg patch watered!) nothing will be happening quickly. We’re off on our honeymoon soon, starting with a festival here in Devon called ‘All About Love’ where the organiser vetted everyone with an application process to get a ticket! I think Paul might try to dissuade me, but I’d love to do the same to anyone who wants to come onto our land. Would that be allowed? Shouldn’t we all do such a thing for anyone that comes into our lives, onto our property and into our psyches?
Food for thought? I shall try not to leave it so long until the next blog, but it is peak season at my seaside shop so I find I am still living between two worlds – the rat race city existence and the tranquility of my city garden and of course Pi Acres. I am thankful for my secret garden here in the city, but it does not compete with the sounds of being in the middle of nowhere. We will get there when we can, and hope that while we cannot be there as custodians of it that our lovely neighbours and fellow nature lovers will keep an eye on it. We’ve been meeting lovely local folk and want to thank everyone who is delighted with our plans and has shown real support. We may well call on you all when we are ready to plant the orchard! In the meantime, we will be connecting with other beautiful souls and also hoping we will meet more like-minded people at the All About Love Festival. I only hope that they won’t think I’m too weird when I blurt out inappropriately that I have Aspergers as an explanation as to why I’ve just bossily told someone that you can’t claim to be an environmentalist if you’re not vegan. Please God, help me not to be too weird around normal people, or failing that, please surround me with beautiful weirdoes.