Friday, 11 August 2017

For the Earth our home.



Oh dear.

Apparently, by the beginning of August, we had already used up the resources the Earth is capable of renewing in a year – the trees we cut down, the water we consumed, the fish we took out of the sea; all that sort of thing.

Time to redouble our efforts, dears, as we don’t have the extra planet Earth we’ll need if we go on at this rate.

What to do?

As usual I feel semi-powerless, but recognise I do have options, and an obligation to take what action I can.

So these are the steps I thought I’d take (I do these things already but I could do them more often or more consistently) ~


1) Buy second-hand – furniture, china, clothes, shoes, jewellery, books, kitchen equipment, bags and baskets, cars, hats – pretty much any manufactured thing I can think of is available on eBay or in charity shops or on Freegle for significantly less than the same version of it new. I recognise this will damage retail sales – and as someone who writes books I understand the implications of that well! Book 2 never gets published if Book 1 doesn’t sell. Happily e-books are a possibility in the particular case of publishing.

2) Electronic gadgets have enabled us to share living space more efficiently, cut down car use significantly and reduce the amount of paper needed radically – and paper is heavy to transport and store. Thoughtful use of electronics can reduce the amount of resources we take up. However the gadgets themselves use resources (and often slave labour), so those we choose to have we should treat as precious and handle responsibly so that they last and remain undamaged as long as possible.

3) Cut down packaging. Buy unwrapped bread from the baker, veggies straight into the bag from the greengrocer, dried legumes in simple cellophane wrap with no dyed labels from the wholefood co-op. And where possible gather direct – from the garden, the fields and woods, with no resource-hungry manufacturing or transport at all. Store rainwater for the garden and for any not-potable use. Cook at home with basic ingredients using minimal packaging rather than ready-meals and ready-make cakes. Eating out, choose restaurants that serve food on china they wash up, not in disposable trays and beakers. No lids, no straws.

4) Share as much as possible – houses, cars, machines. So each phone, TV, furnace/boiler, freezer etc is for a group not an individual.

5) Go for renewables. We were so, so blessed that my father died the year he did, and left us some money – we used it to put solar panels and solar tubes on the roof, which heat our water and generate our electricity. The particular year we inherited that money was the year of the highest government tariff for selling electricity back to the National Grid – so it augments our income too.

6) Do things without machines where possible. Have hard floors not carpets and sweep with a broom rather than use a vacuum cleaner. Never, ever use a tumble drier – line dry clothes and fix an airer over the stairwell. Fix hooks in the bedrooms to string up camping clothes lines. Walk to the grocery store.

7) Live small and simple. Enjoy holiday time at home, walking and chilling out together, instead of air flights or cruises or boat holidays. Go camping.

8) Compost leftovers and veggie scraps. Use fresh urine and wormery juice to feed plants, not store-bought fertilizer. Bokashi bran neutralizes excrement (zaps the pathogens) for composting.

9) Take steps to disconnect from money. The whole money world is strongly linked to the activities of Mammon and the destruction of creation. The amount of money I need for my lifestyle is connected to my level of consumption. Cultivate the grace (gift) economy. Give things away. Do things for free. Share, refrain, forage and scavenge.


10) Aim to own less.



Thursday, 10 August 2017

So that was another good day.



This has been such a good day.

On Thursday we get out our housekeeping money from the bank. It’s not quite straightforward because six of us live here all together, with somewhat different food requirements. And two cats. The cats have their own housekeeping purse and money, and save up when they can to contribute a donation to improve the lots of cats less fortunate than themselves. Cunning choices must be made in selecting their food, to prevent them misreading our circumstances as a shortage to be remedied by them swinging into action to augment the family provision with dead/alive rodents and birds. Frogs, even. This creates a degree of culinary tyranny but we consider it worthwhile.

Anyway – sticking with the humans for a moment – one of us is currently away, so we decided to decrease our housekeeping money by £20 (representing her share) last week. Then last week we got the money out on Wednesday for reasons too tedious to mention – so we had a long week to cover. And the window cleaner came and he costs £15. But when Thursday (today) came round, we still had some money left over – so hooray us! That was pleasing.

Cabbage and beans feature prominently in our diet, which keeps the costs down, but also this has been a good year for fruit. In the last week we’ve been blackberrying several times, and got a good haul. Some to eat and some in the freezer. I looked in Asda and saw a small punnet of blackberries only 2/3 full cost £1.74, so I felt very impressed with our freebies.

We didn’t mean to go blackberrying today – we went for the pine cones. Often people don’t think about pine/fir cones until winter, but they ripen and drop in August, and if you gather them now they make brilliant kindling later – and kindling costs £4.50 for a small bag, so why wouldn’t you?

Up the hill from us the road is lined with Scots pines, so we took our foraging bags and went in search. We got two bags bulging full – and unexpectedly came across a lot of blackberries we didn’t know were there. It was annoying we hadn’t brought a receptacle for fruit – then I spotted someone had thrown away a spring water bottle – one of those that holds about half or three-quarters of a litre. The top was wide enough to drop in the blackberries, and we got a whole bottleful. When we got it home, I cut off the top part so it was easy to get the berries out to wash.

A few years ago we went from mainly vegetables to mainly fruit trees in our garden – because fruit trees also leave space to walk in whereas our veggie beds used to resemble the Amazon jungle. Also we wanted to help the bees, and we grow meadow flowers round the trees with paths mown through. This year has been splendiferous for fruit. Our Worcester Pearmains are just coming ripe, and the Russets too. We have pears coming on well, and we’ve had some lovely plums, and our greengage tree is laden with fruit this year, on the verge of ripening. So we picked a lot of apples and made enough apple and blackberry crumble to have some at lunch time and tea time, as well as stowing another punnet of blackberries in the freezer.  This year I also got round to freezing a box of mixed chopped pot herbs – not so essential because the sage and rosemary and bay continue through the winter of course – but nice to have the thyme and mint and marjoram and lemon balm and parsley mixed in.

After we got the first lot of pine cones we went up to the cemetery, where they also have some Scots pines, and found lots more cones – another two big bagfuls. There used to be a couple of trees there that made ENORMOUS cones, but sadly the cemetery people had them cut down. Because – I can hardly believe this – they dropped enormous cones. The human race bewilders me at times.

Then a skirt I bought for a tiny sum on eBay came in the lunchtime post – and (to my immense satisfaction) finally I’d found one that is both the right length and fits me. I would never have guessed it could prove such a challenge to get hold of a simple, plain, navy skirt that fits. I’m not grumbling though because in the course of one of my failed attempts I made a really nice new friend. Buying and selling on eBay and giving things away on Freegle/Freecycle has put me in touch with some lovely people. I recommend.

And every day for a couple of weeks now my little row of pole beans has yielded a handful of runner beans for my lunch. I love runner beans. They attracted the attention of blackfly earlier in the summer, but diligent spraying with water containing crushed garlic and a smidge of washing-up liquid soon persuaded the blackfly an alternative location would suit them better.

It makes me happy when I can achieve the Ayurvedic ideal of eating food that has gone from growing to eating within two hours – but that was true of (some of) what we ate today.

And our Alice has (after months and months of work) finally finished a huge commission of stained glass panels for the hospice, and been paid – which means we can get on with having our floors sanded.  Then in a final moment of joy, our Rosie has managed to bag a really good, well-made trombone. Hers is on its last legs, and is a vital tool of her trade. It was made at the end of a trombone-making era, since when the manufacture has been altogether less satisfactory. But there are these few trickling in if you’re in the right place at the right time and able to say ‘yes’ without hesitation. Both a joy and a relief to have found one.  It’s just before midnight as I’m writing this, and I can hear her coming in after a long rehearsal – I think if she investigates in the kitchen, there might still be a little bit of crumble and custard left over.


So all in all it’s been a very good day.



Saturday, 8 July 2017

Nakedness and the subconscious mind

So, basically, these are my clothes.

The ones on the shelf



and the ones hanging on the door



and they are enough for everything I need.


I love my clothes. They are comfy and plain, unobtrusive and modest, soft and quiet. They aren’t scratchy and they don’t rustle. They aren’t tight or restricting. I can bend and stretch and walk and work in them. The colours (dark, muted) suit me. The shapes suit my body. They wash and wear. They are made of natural fibres. They are stretchy and accommodating. They layer to follow the seasons.


Yes. I do.

But I have noticed – only gradually because I am slow to catch on  a 3-Part Phenomenon.

When something is required of me, a thing happens.

By ‘something’, I mean
  • a party
  • a speaking engagement
  • a preaching appointment
  • a funeral to conduct
  • a seminar to lead at a conference
  • a quiet day to conduct 

~ suddenly my clothes seem not enough (that’s Part 1). In response (Part 2), I start buying new clothes.

My clothes look very ordinary – boring, even – but I assure you, finding just the right things is not easy. Successful additions are not readily acquired. So then we come to Part 3 – after the event I develop an aversion to the new acquisitions – can’t bear them – don’t even want to look at them – refuse to put them by in case they come in handy in the future  and get rid of them. Because my clothes – my regular clothes – are the ones I want. I have enough.

And I realize, this is like one of those dreams – you know? Where you are out in the street or somewhere in the public eye, and you find you have no clothes on. You are naked. Caught out.

Everyone knows in these dreams the problem is psychological, not sartorial. The issue is about a feeling of inadequacy, not about the contents of your wardrobe.

And I see, this is what happens to me when something is required of me. My Top Mind (Mrs Collins) knows I can do it, and is keen to pursue the project, especially if it earns money. But my Underneath Mind (Ember, glowing under the ashes) is terrified, feeling unsupported and out of her depth. So Ember decides to get some dressing-up clothes that will hopefully allow her to pass off as Mrs Collins, and it all goes fine until afterwards – because she really only wants to be herself, not Mrs Collins at all.

I think for the future I’m going to turn down opportunities where I cannot be comfortable in my own skin. Because frankly they have earned me a pittance and cost me a fortune.

I am Ember, and I have enough.





Friday, 7 July 2017

Thinking about dogs, death and Petraichor

Julie’s comment on the previous post, about her miniature Schnauzer, Millie, made me thing of dogs, and brought to mind this poem by Charles Kingsley:

When all the world is young, lad, 
        And all the trees are green ; 
    And every goose a swan, lad, 
        And every lass a queen ; 
    Then hey for boot and horse, lad, 
        And round the world away ; 
    Young blood must have its course, lad, 
        And every dog his day.


    When all the world is old, lad, 
        And all the trees are brown ; 
    And all the sport is stale, lad, 
        And all the wheels run down ; 
    Creep home, and take your place there, 
        The spent and maimed among : 
    God grant you find one face there, 
        You loved when all was young.


All I remembered from it before I looked it up were the two phrases “every lass a queen” and “every dog his day” – which shows I must have been of quite an optimistic cast of mind when I read it as a teenager, because it feels like quite a depressing poem taken all round.  I think Kingsley can’t have been all that old when he wrote it, because my mother’s nearly ninety and, though she’s frail and forgetful, “spent and maimed” she is not, and I haven’t noticed her do much creeping either. It all depends on your point of view, I think.

My parents had a dog they loved dearly, a Border Terrier called Josh. In the last years of his life, my father went off into the wilderness somewhat and preferred the simplicity and peace of living alone. My mother sent Josh with him so he wouldn’t be lonely, and they lived together very contentedly in quietness and seclusion.

When Josh died, they both grieved for him, and I remember making a remembrance card to mark the occasion, with a quotation from this poem by Robert Louis Stevenson:

Fear not, dear friend, but freely live your days
Though lesser lives should suffer.  Such am I,
A lesser life, that what is his of sky
Gladly would give for you, and what of praise.
Step, without trouble, down the sunlit ways.
We that have touched your raiment, are made whole
From all the selfish cankers of man's soul,
And we would see you happy, dear, or die.
Therefore be brave, and therefore, dear, be free;
Try all things resolutely, till the best,
Out of all lesser betters, you shall find;
And we, who have learned greatness from you, we,
Your lovers, with a still, contented mind,
See you well anchored in some port of rest.


I think what I picked out for the card was:
Fear not, dear friend, but freely live your days . . .
Step, without trouble, down the sunlit ways,
… we,
Your lovers, with a still, contented mind,
See you well anchored in some port of rest.

Thinking of that little, muscled, bristly brown back trotting contentedly along the summer lanes of rural England, under the trees and the wide blue sky with its white clouds, it seemed fitting.

And thinking of that death of a beloved animal reminds me of the death of the last of a litter of kittens who grew up and grew old in my (now) husband’s house. By the time I married him, he was on the last two – Toffee and Mackerel. We lived then in a house with a slate-flagged kitchen floor, complete with underfloor heating. At great expense Toffee, having lost the ability to leap up onto sunny windowsills, spent his last days stretching luxuriously on the warm slates as we ran the heating day and night for his benefit!

Mackerel was the last to go. Toffee in the end was euthanased at the vet, but Mackerel died at home. 



She spent her last days in the long, narrow utility room at the back of the kitchen, in a quiet space under the counter next to the washing machine, lying on a pile of our laundry waiting to be washed. We left it there for her, because I think she probably found the smell of us comforting. She just stayed there, quietly, until her last evening. Then she moved further along the corridor of that room to the lavatory at the end, where she went into the secluded space behind the door.




We were out that evening, but our lodgers called us to come home, worried about her because she had begun to have small convulsions. While the Badger was calling the vet to arrange to take her there, I sat with her. The moment she died was memorable. In my mind arose the words, “Ah! That’s better!” in a happy expression of relief, and in my mind’s eye I saw a liquid golden bubble (like the stuff they put in lava lamps, but gold) floating upwards and free.

Yesterday in our household we were talking about death, and how it should be as natural and simple as we can manage to make it, not feared or evaded, not dreaded or protracted. Death is part of life. Carlos Castenada in his (very odd) novels featuring the Native American character Don Juan, described death as always sitting/walking/standing very near you, somewhere to your left just out of sight. And one day he will tap on your shoulder – “Time to go.”

Which reminds me of yet another poem . . . in my commonplace book . . . roots around for it . . . here it is!

It’s by Virgil. From the Aeneid? Just a short snatch:

Here’s Death, twitching my ear:
“Live,” he says, “for I’m coming.”

Quite right, too. So in the meantime, may every dog have his day, and every living soul have his or her time in the sun. Let us live simply, in slowness, lowliness and littleness finding contentment and peace. Let us take the time to watch the sparrows in the greengage tree, and love the nip in the air that comes with the autumn, taste with amazement the flavor of ripe peaches, smell the rose that rambles over the garden arch. For where is there like Earth? – and what a chance we have been given, to explore this wonder, this marvel, this fullness of life.




Petraichor (say it Petra-eye-core) – a word for the scent arising from rain falling new on dry earth. It releases the aroma of whatever is there. I have heard that in India it’s a feature of the Monsoon beginning – people where the rain has not yet arrived know it is coming when the air fills with the fragrance of spices as the rain begins to fall in the country nearby.

Petraichor is a composite of  two Greek words: πέτρα petra, meaning "stone", and ἰχώρ īchōr, the fluid that flows in the veins of the gods in Greek mythology.

Of course the fragrance released speaks – loudly – of what is there on the earth. Spices, in India. In a garden, the green scent of plants and the perfume of flowers.  And in some places the telling aroma of dog poo and particulate dust from exhaust fumes. As Shakespeare said, “Thou earth, thou – speak!” And so it does. In the end, what we put in returns to us. Sometimes quite quickly.