Trying to Act Normal

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I don't blog regularly enough to suggest that any given gap constitutes 'taking a break from blogging', but I haven't been around for a while.

I think it's fair to say I've been just numbed by the horrendous few weeks we've had. Two terrorist attacks, a General Election with a wobbly result, the ensuing bargaining and bartering, all the while with a daughter home from her first year in Uni and another one taking her A Levels.

It's pretty easy to be speechless.

Summer goes on, and I continue to miss most of it, being shut in an office. Three of us went to the Bath and West Show, two of us to the Green Scythe Fair.

The sheep have now all lambed, and all been sheared.


I'm starting to get used to Oxford Downs, they are nice, but I miss my Jacobs.

And so I return to saying something. While we all struggle to come to terms with this happening.




We, Who Have Compromised?

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I wanted to attend a screening of We The Uncivilised - A Life Story, before it was released as a download, but never quite got the opportunity.
We live in social economy black spot. No one believes us until they look at the map of just about any membership organisation and go 'oh there's a big hole, right there'. From beekeepers to WWOOF hosts, goat societies to smallholder co-ops,  calculate the biggest gap between willing participants, and we'll be smack bang in the centre.
Anyway tonight we downloaded and watched the film.
Motivating myself with this as the payoff, I closed out April's budget with a will of iron. Then started May's. I am, in one sense, happy to report that all our corporate and entreprenuerial diligance is making a difference. We will soon be closing the gap.

On another level, how hopelessly sold out and useless do I feel?

If you haven't seen the film (- do -) it's made by a  young couple desperately seeking place, community, sustainability, responsibility ... and they talk to many of our friends and heroes : Sarah Pugh, friend, hero, innovator, people lover, trainer, teacher, inspiration. Mike Feingold, the Royate Hill pixie, such a genius of a man, and so kind. Neil's guiding light, Simon Fairlie ... and above all, they talked to Patrick. Not long before he died, they captured his closing remarks, his legacy, his extraordinary funeral, his wife, Cathy's, poems, I will not lie, there were tears in our sitting room, and they weren't all mine.

On an unbelievably cold day, in February 2002, Patrick came to see our land. He walked it with us, talked to us about it, drew up some plans, and gave us some advice. Thereafter he never failed to support us, love us, have faith in us, and help us. He often gave us things because, he said, 'he believed in what we were doing'.

Tonight, I wailed, 'But we're not now, are we? We've let him down.'

'Not yet, we haven't' Neil replied grimly. I think that's  the man version of my response.

 Patrick Whitefield, 1949 - 2015
Patrick Whitefield 1949 - 2015


House Rage Returns

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Well, it's back to work tomorrow.
Tonight, by way of experiment, I've done my shopping online to be delivered tomorrow night. I reckon it's cost me about £10 more than my usual Lidl run and freed up my Saturday morning. So it remains to be seen what I do with my Saturday morning and whether it will be worth it in the end.
While I was doing this, I made the basic error of watching Sarah Beeny's 'How to Live Mortgage Free' on Channel 4.
Oh. My. Gosh.
How can you be mortgage free?
Plan A. Well, you could buy a boat, with some money you happen to have, and save lots by not paying the £1.7k per month rent on your little flat in London. And then, as an additional idea, you can get a job in January.  How were you paying the rent?! Without any mention of the real costs of living on a boat, you can just celebrate the fact that you have a hole in the floor in which to keep your potatoes.
Plan B. Buy a tin church. The catch here is that it's not possible to *get* a mortgage on a tin church, so you purchase it for the mere pocket change of £90,000 and there you are, mortgage free! Why didn't I think of that?
Plan C. Buy your house the normal way by getting a £200k mortgage (oh. wait.) and then by dint of eating cheap pasta and only playing with water pistols to amuse your kids, pay it off in half the normal time. Of course for this one, you do need to be able to get a mortgage, and not be paying so much in rent that it is impossible to save a downpayment on a pedalo on the local lake, never mind a house.
There was a Plan D but it involved a 26 year old with £70,000 buying a brownfield site and magically getting planning permission for an eco home. I know so many people with good designs for eco homes and land that they own, who have not a hope in hell of getting planning permission that I don't even want to discuss how she did that.
Housing, or the lack of it, is becoming the hot topic in this household. Sarah Beeny helped us not one jot.



Cutting Back - In More Ways than One

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The piece of land that we still rent, as a nod to our farming days, has been overcome over the last few years with thistles and nettles.  It's a damp squib of a no good corner which is the only reason we got to rent it from the Crown Estate,  and our being busy for the last year or two working to try to pull up our income means our farming activities have been severely curtailed.
Although we're committed to organic production, we won't have been alone among organic types in considering a one off spray to get rid of all the darn things. We're not certified, so  we can do as we please, and we called a local contractor to get a quote.
The guy has a living to earn, and I don't think his price was unreasonable, but it was untenable. We don't have £660 to spend on clearing up weeds.
So, we've added an after work workout to our schedule that beats any gym.
There are very few things we possess in duplicate, His'n'Hers models.  In fact, apart from the Bible, of which we each possess multiple copies (a freedom by the way we should not take for granted,) and John Seymour's Complete Book of Self Sufficiency, of which we definitely do possess such, I can only think of our beloved scythes.



Daily, we advance on the field and its rampant nettle and thistle growth and we spend a solid half an hour scything. Oh boy that works some muscles. Half an hour does well for now. We may need to increase as we build up stamina and technique. You can scythe for a very long time if you are very good at it. I am medium good at it and unfit. Frugal triumph number one, a saving of £660

In other frugal news, H and I took a quick trip into town to spec out the charity shops. I do feel they have gone to the dogs a bit to be honest. Prices are silly high and there is not much of any quality on offer - the annoying practice of copying retail stores and grouping all the clothes by colour instead of style, just does not work in a charity shop. It's all well and good leafing through the rose greys and loving things but no use if they only exist in an 8.

What with all this and a long day's gardening, supper was limited to a classic from my own days of youthful penury - tuna rice and peas.  Mine with soy sauce, Neil's with chilli sauce, and H's with kind of pop up Marie Rose sauce - i,e, a squirt of ketchup plus a squirt of mayo.   The funny thing was, my own skint student, upon whom I clearly had not previously inflicted this delight, at least not recently enough for her to remember, was in paroxysms of joy about this new cheap and swift supper, and has sworn to add it to her repertoire once back at uni.

Oh and a General Election was called. Of which, I fear, very, very much more later.

Two Elephants : One Room

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Twelve years ago (can it be? It really can) we were in the biggest financial doo ever.  There's certain terminology I won't ever use on the internet, so I won't really ever explain how bad it was, but you can imagine. Go on imagine. Now just imagine it being a little bit worse. Yes. That.
And eleven years ago, we were released from that kind of condemnation, but boy, the clean slate was slippy.
For a few years we were ultra cautious around finances, partly  because we had not a lot of choice, and partly fuelled by pure fear.
Our income, however, was absolutely miniscule.  We recently worked out that when I was homeschooling two children, our rent was equivalent to more than half our income. We lived close to the wire, but as the years went by, we got less and less careful and the debt slowly began to build up again.
Once bitten, twice ... um ... bitten.
Thankfully this time we were a little bit more aware, and over the course of the last two years, we've both set about earning more money. We didn't get in this mess overnight, and we won't get out overnight either, but we are trying. 
Elephant #1 : Until recently, our rent and our debt repayment together accounted for around about 60% of our income.

Part of the problem - actually rather a huge part of the problem - we have with any situation is my inability to focus and stay on plan for any amount of time at all. I don't know if there is a name for my condition, I guess it has elements of OCD about it, or even ADHD.  
It started to become a problem maybe 15 years ago, when I would be wholly committed to one plan, one future, one job, one business, one idea about how my/our life would look, for up to six months. Then suddenly I would change it all completely.  I would shed a skin, and become someone new.
The investments of time and money I'd made into Plan A would all be written off. Plan B would launch and I would be sure this was it.
Another few months would pass, and Plan C would emerge.
Over the years, those months became weeks, days, and at the worst of it, hours. I couldn't sleep for it, nothing made me happy, because it was impossible to be progressing towards a goal, when the goal kept disappearing. I thought I would go  insane. I think at times I did.
There are a hundred stories to tell, by a hundred personas, from those days, and I am still afflicted with this illness.  Two of my closest friends share the very same problem, and that to me means : either somehow we attract one another, or it is very widespread indeed.
It is an illness (I truly believe it is that) perhaps caused and definitely aggravated by the internet. I am so sure I want to be one thing*, until I see a really nice instagram picture of the other thing. I'm gone. The internet makes endless options seem real. In the end, it is a  terrible plague of a condition, and without treatment, because it doesn't exist, all you can do is experiment with ways to make something, ANYTHING, stick, before they carry you out feet first.

Elephant #2: I have a mental health issue which effectively stops me pursuing any goal, with mindful intention, for more than a few months, sometimes hours.

I'm incredibly proud of us this year, for tackling both the elephants - of which more another day - but for today, the issues needed naming, and putting out there.

I have, as they used to say in the cringeworthy 80s, run it up the flagpole. Now let's see if anyone salutes it.

*Bear in mind I am closer to 60 than 50. Deciding what I want to be may well be a bit superfluous.

Small Plates

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I've been thinking a lot about losing weight.

I seem to have fallen out of love with Slimming World, and as we try to keep a very tight rein on our finances, the weekly cost can't be justified when it's just not working.

I have always had a bit of a thing about how much our meals have changed in my lifetime.

It began with Christmas, when I would wonder how on earth, as kids,  we ate a big Christmas breakfast of cold cuts ( a Midland thing, I think),  turkey and all the trimmings at lunch, tea with cake and trifle, and turkey sandwiches for supper.  The only conclusion I can draw, is that the portions were much  MUCH   smaller.

I've dwelt on this, and I'm sure I'm right,  The plates were smaller!  Everything was smaller.

I was born fourteen years after the end of the second world war, but scarily, only five years after the end of rationing. My mother could make a shilling do the work of two and feed a family on next to nothing. My father was ill, for the whole of my life, but worked relentlessly.  They had been through impossible to imagine hardship.

I'm absolutely certain that what to them was the untold luxury of unrationed food, of imported treats and the birth of supermarkets and frozen foods - to us, today, was meagre fayre still.

So I've got this theory I might be able to gain control by just eating like my parents did.

Fortuitously I found three plates sitting in the greenhouse which are more the size we used to have. They've had a good clean and are in the kitchen.

For lunch, I had a ham and tomato sandwich. Just that. And a cup of tea. It had un slimming world spread on the bread, but it was not accompanied by any extras.

For supper, I fished lamb chops out of the freezer - ours are huge by shop bought standards but we've still often had two each. One today, with plentiful vegetables and rather less potatoes - though it was the spuds which were always piled up to feed the men! The men, incidentally, had bigger plates. More the kind of size we now use.  In a real nod back to childhood, there was bread and butter on the table, and the teapot warming for straight after the meal.

A small dessert of tinned peaches and one small scoop of icecream.

I struggle to find time in the evenings to do the things I need to do - study, do the garden, do some sewing - so I plan to simplify meals, and make them smaller. In summer, night after night we'd have salad - which amounted to plain cos lettuce, tomatoes, cucumber, and a dab of salad cream - with some new potatoes and either ham, cheese, or egg.  I see a few of those in our future. I can produce most of that!

We talked about packed lunches - one round of sandwiches - just cheese or maybe fish paste - a small slice of cake if you were lucky, and an apple.  Neil can remember with his two brothers, having a bag of crisps to share!

I'm happily fascinated. I must dig out Nella Last.  And get to using the small plates.


Some you win ...

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I've always been a bit leary of switching to interest free balance transfer credit cards.
I hear Dave Ramsey in my head saying 'No! Because it makes you think you did something. And you didn't. The interest is not your problem, the debt is.'
However my free credit report was offering an unbeatable 40 month 0% deal and my credit card has gone down a lot - by the noddle calculation, it would save me £900 and be paid off within the 40 months paying just what I'm paying now.
So I applied - there goes another credit search on my file - and here is where you have to look out - was offered a credit limit well below my balance. Grrr.
If I was the kind of mathematical genius who could see whether I'd be better off with half of it on one and half of it on another, I wouldn't be in this mess. I suspect I wouldn't. So I cancelled the application.

On the upside, I've been helping H look for scholarships. Do you know about the scholarship hub?

With a free account you can locate quite a few bursaries and scholarships students can apply for - lots not attached to any one university or subject. There are plenty of small bursaries with an essay submission for entry.

I went mad and invested £12 for the year - I'll give them both my password so that's 50p a month per daughter! - and with that you find loads more obscure and varied opportunities to try for scholarships. I'm really encouraging them both to make that effort. I know (from Dave again) that in the US it's possible to fund your entire college education with scholarships if your grades are good enough. We may not be there yet, but let's get in on the ground floor.

So a lose and a win today - how is your financial spring clean coming along?
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