Four Legs Good, Two Legs Bad

 

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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.blog112

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.

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Kinda Village at dusk.

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.

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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.

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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.

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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. insultIt 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:

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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.

Sticky Willy on the Rocks

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.

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Fern’s new home for the winter

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.

fern plansThe 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.fern plans 2

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.

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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.

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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.

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Mushroom, spinach and sweet potato curry with pilau rice, samosa and bhaji

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.

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‘Galium Aparine’ more commonly known as ‘Sticky Willy’.

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.

ringPaul 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 🙂

 

 

 

The Longest Winter

snow piJust when daffodils seemed to promise winter was over, along came the snow. I was in Italy on business when it came and for a while I was unsure if I would be able to get home. The snow was bad enough to see sleepy little Sidmouth cut off, and staff unable to get to work, so my fashion boutique did not open. Roads were unusable and in the end, we all just had to give in and have snow days. Adults became children once again with sledging and snowball fights, and I made it home just before it was too late to make an icy snowman in the communal garden at my Exeter flat. A group of people made an igloo in Belmont Park. The blue white of fresh snow and skies blanketed in thick snow clouds made for beautiful vistas, but it was also a critical time for flora and fauna. Disastrous even. Friends told me when the snow melted they found several dead frogs in their garden.

Before I left for Italy, my small courtyard garden at the rear of my flat in Exeter had a robin nesting in thick ivy that covers my garden wall. When I returned, several inches of snow had covered the nest site and I fear her eggs were lost. She’s been out collecting nesting materials again since; although the cold has played havoc with my fashion trade, with spring flowers and frogspawn, we all just have to start again, like that wee robin. It means I’ve been busy working to promote business, taking clients overseas to help them with importing and not spending time at Pi Acres at all. I’m desperate to be there, but Spring will eventually come, and so too the weather than means we can achieve some of our plans for Pi Acres.

Last time we visited, we started tidying the land – clearing old corrugated iron sheets, picking up rubbish and have started the process of removing vast amounts of barbed wire. The previous owners had kept horses a long time ago, so the boundaries around the first third of the land used to be fenced. Most of the fences are now down, so the barbed wire is mostly just a trip hazard, and needs to go. A lovely man called John who lives just up the road is going to bring his tractor down and remove all the brambles and mow the tangled weeds back to what will look like meadow soon, but we have to remove the rest of the barbed wire first. It will be great to see the space properly once it’s been mowed. Of course, as soon as lime green shoots appear on the trees, so too will the weeds and the brambles return, and our job this summer will be to just keep removing it until we have a real meadow again. We are adopting a philosophy of cutting back, and then seeing what reappears. Then, and only then deciding what should stay and what should go – I’m more than happy to let nature do half the landscaping! It means it’s near on impossible to draw up plans because the land will lend itself only to what works, and that might be different to what I have in mind! Some areas are so wet and boggy, I may dig two or three smaller ponds rather than have one big one down the far end like I had first envisaged.

But ponds and orchards will have to wait as there’s not much more we are going to do to the land this year other than try to establish the meadow and create living hedgerow boundaries by replanting the saplings that have sprung up where we don’t want them, and winding in coppiced branches. There are lots of overhanging trees and dead branches leaning over from the DWT bridle pathway which will have to quite brutally be cut back to allow light on the new meadow space and allow the grass and meadow flowers to grow. The lovely people at Devon Wildlife Trust may even come and help us with that. Everyone seems keen to see us restore the land to a thing of beauty, and shares our enthusiasm to re-establish the meadow, dig ponds and plant fruit trees. I’ve been blown away by how supportive and lovely our new neighbours at Pi Acres are; it’s in stark contrast to joyless city folk we share space with here in Exeter. The level of peace I feel just being at Pi Acres means we’ve started plotting a way to move nearer the land so that we can spend more time there. I’ve worked out that if I rent my flat out, the revenue would not only pay the mortgage and bills on the flat, but pay for the rent on a cottage near Pi Acres. But that can’t happen yet – it probably won’t happen until next year, when my son has gone to university and I have sold my business. This summer, we will camp occasionally on the land, but I’m a fair weather camper, and not hardy enough to go without a flushing toilet and hot running water for more than one or two nights.

It takes an hour to get to Pi Acres from Exeter, and try as I might, finding time to get there for a couple of hours here and there isn’t possible. But as soon as it’s warm enough to spend whole days outside, we will be there alternating between working our butts off to make it lovely and lazing about on picnic blankets and enjoying it; hopefully finding the rest balance between work and play.

I have always tried to do the right thing, whether that’s by people, by the planet or by animals. I have a large conscience that keeps me from telling lies, or stealing, or being mean. I believe you reap what you sew. I believe in karma, so to this end, I have been dutifully carrying my travel shopping bag in my handbag (to avoid buying plastic bags), and before becoming a vegan, I always bought free-range eggs (happy eggs I called them), and I tried to buy free-range organic veg and meat. I opposed fox hunting and I refused to wear fur. I did my bit…or so I thought.

Last summer my son read a book called ‘How not to Die’ by Michael Greger and then followed me around reading excerpts that bestowed all the many health benefits of a plant based diet. I was a vegetarian for many years in my youth, so when he said a vegan diet could help me sidestep the hereditary pre-disposition I may have for early onset Alzheimers, I decided to give it a go. So many of our modern diseases are because of our diet, so it made sense to start changing things and avoid some of those as I hurtle towards old age. I joined Exeter Vegans and Vegetarians on Facebook, and as I was no longer wracked by guilt that I was part of the meat industry, I finally felt able to open my eyes and see what was really involved in order for us to eat meat.

I know many of you just don’t want to know what really happens  – it’s so much easier to enjoy a medium rare steak if you don’t think about the process that led to that piece of meat being on your plate. Perhaps you’re at the stage of your journey where you think organic free-range meat is kinder? I’m not going to argue all the points right here and right now, other than to encourage you – when you’re ready, to open your eyes. To read about what happens in slaughter houses, and even in the organic milk industry – did you know there’s actual machinery called ‘rape machines’ to impregnate cows so they produce milk. Did you also know, that even in free-range organic chicken farms, the male chicks are macerated live at a day old. They are trundled down a conveyor belt and scooped into a macerator and the RSPCA consider this a humane way to kill them as it’s quick. The mulched up dead chicks are then turned into food for other livestock. There’s no such thing as a happy egg there. Once you start looking – watching the videos and knowing exactly what goes on, I can only say you would have to be a sociopath or starving to continue eating meat or dairy once you know the truth. There’s simply no need to eat meat when we can get a full balanced diet that our bodies will be much healthier on. And the planet will love you for it too – did you know you need 5 times as many acres to feed a meat eater than a vegan and eating meat uses 219,000 gallons per year per person MORE than a vegan. It’s environmentally disastrous for our planet how much meat we feel we need to eat. And that’s aside from the practices that would shock you if you only knew.

The idea that I was supporting such barbaric practices with the food I was eating meant the more educated I became, the easier it was to be vegan. There’s so many vegan options out there now and it’s delicious food. But then I discovered I wasn’t vegan at all, because it isn’t just about what you eat. It’s also about what you wear, what you put on your skin, and what you do that exploits animals. It’s like the rabbit hole of conscientious living just got a whole lot deeper, and weirder and harder.

I run a fashion company and import clothing from Italy and France, so now that I am several months into eating a vegan diet and buying only cruelty free products, I thought: ‘I know! I’ll make my boutique vegan’. Except it’s not that easy – animal cruelty is endemic in my industry. I have stopped buying leather handbags and mohair jumpers (I never bought fur), but scratch the surface and to my horror, I now know that the vast majority of garments have been dyed with products tested on animals.

I thought perhaps I will start stocking PETA approved vegan clothing and bags. They may well contain no animal products, but when I asked for provenance of the dyes and whether they are tested on animals, only one company out of several could provide this. Surely to get vegan approved status from PETA would mean they check everything, but this seems to have been overlooked. I could get my factories right now to produce a viscose garment (did you know viscose is a 100% natural plant based fabric – mostly bamboo as it grows so quickly) and get vegan approval from PETA knowing full well the dyes are tested on animals… they don’t seem to check the dyes at all other than looking at the ingredients. That vegan ready-meal that Tesco’s have produced? The dyes on the packaging may well not be vegan. Let’s see the provenance if you claim something is vegan! We need more transparency – and in this age of social media it’s there if you want to know the truth. Google KFC chicken farm abuse and you’ll never eat KFC again. Google what happens to male chicks, google the impact meat eating has on the planet and you’ll soon fall down the same rabbit hole I did.

It’s a journey made harder by industries fooling us into thinking the products we buy are cruelty free, but I’m not going to stop trying. I’m on a journey and whilst I plan to be fully vegan in all areas of my life, I currently still wear my beloved leather DMs because the damage was done when I bought them and I can’t change that now. I won’t stop trying to source vegan products for my fashion boutique, and I will campaign for more transparency with dyes (forgive the pun). I won’t stop trying to live a life of greater integrity because it matters. It matters more than ever now – have you seen what’s going on in the world?

Until recently, my vegan journey has felt like a separate issue to the eco-project at Pi Acres but they are linked. Everything is linked and the rabbit hole I seem to have fallen down now extends to how I work the land with the least amount of cruelty to animals and the lowest impact on the planet. I want to remove vast areas of brambles and restore the meadow, but I’ve been told no matter how many times you pull it up, brambles will return unless you use weed-killers. I’d like to run around on the grass barefoot this summer – but will I have to use week-killers to enable that? That just doesn’t sit right with me at all. There’s ‘spot on’ weed-killers so that I can literally just target the thorny brambles and nothing else, but it would be naïve to think those deadly chemicals will not damage the surroundings in some way.

Pi Acres is entirely off grid so I’ve bought petrol mowers and strimmers and chain saws, ready to clear and tame but even that comes at a cost. Petrol isn’t environmentally kind is it? How far does one go? You can’t harvest or mow anything without there being a cost to life, but that doesn’t mean I will not consider the implications of every solution we find to tame the land. If a tree gets felled, the wood will be used to make something – perhaps it will become benches around a campfire? There’s a flow of water whenever it rains that comes down the hill, across the DWT nature reserve car park and under my gate. It needs channelling in some kind of gully towards the river so that the land isn’t entirely bog, so we have to investigate what materials I can use that are eco-friendly and of course consider the environmental impact of what I use – how far will I have to ship it from? Is clay piping better than concrete? I’d like to get some hardcore delivered to the entrance inside the gate so that we can park on our land and not use any of the spaces dog walkers use next to Halsdon Nature Reserve, but it will take a while for grass to grow over this and might look ugly for a while. Will people think I’m not being green if they see piles of old bricks being delivered and dumped inside our gate? There’s so very much to consider, and the rabbit hole of conscientious living seems so much, I almost want to warn you of the dangers, but instead I’m going to encourage you to jump in here with me. Even if you only give up meat twice a week, or decide not to use slug pellets in your garden, it all helps and like I said about Karma – for every good thing you do, there will be a reward, even if it’s only a peaceful smugness that you’re moving in the right direction. Every small step is good even if you fall down in other areas. I’m telling myself that too, because I might end up using weed-killer on those pesky brambles.

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