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I’ll Tak The High Road, The Joy Of Early Rising & The Benefit Of Barricades

Sunday 14th November 2020 3pm

Yesterday’s offering of Scottish properties under £150k from Right Move included this detached bungalow in the small historic NE town of Tain.

https://www.rightmove.co.uk/property-for-sale/property-99870161.html

Looking past the current old folks home decor it has pretty much everything. There’s loads of storage, a large open plan “lounge dining room” with a real fire, and two decent size bedrooms (it’s listed as three bedrooms, but one is accessed from the sitting room so that would be my studio methinks, it even has a wash basin to clean my brushes 😊🎨). The kitchen is a reasonable size, especially as there’s another tiny utility ‘room’ for a washing machine with space to hang washing to dry. There’s also access into the large garage without having to go out in the weather. The front garden sets the bungalow back and slightly raised up from the road (not quite as quiet as I’d like, but not an ‘A’ road), and the rest of the garden wraps round, with lawns and some seating area.

I was liking it before I realised that it’s about five minutes’ walk from the sea! It’s on the market for offers over £130,000, half of what I could reasonably hope to get for my tiny one-bed quarterback. Here, or down on the south coast where I grew up, a bungalow like this would be £550,000, even £600,000.

Wrong time. But oh it gives me so much hope.

(As an aside, and too big for me, ha ha, the huge gracious and utterly gorgeous characterful 4-bedroomed house next door was for sale too, back in February, for ‘only’ £460,000. Around here it would be between £1.5 to £2million!)

https://www.rightmove.co.uk/house-prices/detailMatching.html?prop=82603007&sale=551556&country=scotland

Sigh. 

A quieter way of life, small communities, and vastly better value for money are drawing my thoughts towards Scotland. If I could take a huge pair of scissors and cut out my home and garden and deposit them, well pretty much anywhere else, I would, but alas of course that’s just a dream. I’m accepting that life here has changed completely and Scotland, I think, is a chance to put some money by for the future, and find some peace.

Meanwhile the virus still rages, increasing in prevalence here by the day, and I still stay home. Eight months and counting.

With the exception of the last couple of very wet and windy days, I’m continuing my habit (since the end of July) of sitting outside at around 6am to watch the dawn arriving, with a flask of tea and wrapped in increasing numbers of snuggly warm layers. It really has been my saviour, along with my garden generally. A little robin usually comes to say hello at some point now, and there’s always something – bees, tiny intrepid acrobatic slugs, small snails that look like mint humbugs, a whole community of really really minute snails who roam aimlessly over the front of the bike shed, and the sky, which of course is always changing, and often quite beautiful.

I usually sit out there for about an hour, and have realised that stepping out before 6.30am is advisable, because by 7.30 the rest of the street is beginning to emerge and the atmosphere has completely changed. But at 6, or ideally even before, it’s a quite beautiful, peaceful world. 

If it’s raining persistently and heavily I sit in the open doorway of The Big Shed, but it lacks the wide expanse of sky so is definitely second best. I’d like to construct some form of shelter over the “Pimms Patio” out of strong but clear polythene (so I can still see the sky). It would need to be quick to put up but able to stand the wind; employing the side of the car roof bars and the bike shed as attachment points with poles and guys on the house side is one possibility, but I’ve still to settle on the design.

If it’s been drizzly but not windy, I have sat under my clip on sunshade brolly, which is fairly rainproof too. The problem with that though is that it’s not big enough, so my knees and the back of the chair get wet!

As well as dawn watching, I want to be able to sit outside often through the winter, so I’m in the process of attaching a weatherproof back to a snuggly fleece throw. I was trying to justify buying some heavy waterproof canvas until I found an unused winter cover for a large round outdoor table. Having unpicked it I have enough – by chance, almost exactly – to protect the back of the whole throw and I can wrap that round me, and with my wide brim rain hat will be fairly well protected (and lovely and snug) if it’s a bit drizzly or damp. As well as rain though it will protect the throw from the chance that the many birds flying over may deposit little gifts on me! I feel I’m on borrowed time for that happening.

Before the weather became too wet, I painted three new expanding trellis panels to add along and above the low hedge at the front – the best option I could think of/afford (paid for with money from my lovely friends on Patreon) to try to screen me from the ‘builders yard’ opposite. They are far from ideal, but do help. Sadly they may prove too fragile for the persistent strong SW winds we’re getting, and I neither am able to, nor want to, permanently concrete the posts into the ground, so on days like today I’m a nervous wreck expecting them to collapse with every gust of wind. I hadn’t finished painting the posts before the weather changed, so the panels were (supposedly temporarily) attached with cable ties; as the wind strengthened I added more and more cable ties, and having used almost a whole packet, they are probably now going to stay as they are until the spring, with over long and unpainted posts.

It will come as no surprise if, even impermanent as the ‘fencing’ is, ‘someone’ again reports me to the council, but it would be nice to think that in the current climate they – the council I mean, not the ‘someone’ – have more important things to focus on.

As the ghastliness from across the road continues, I fully intend to strengthen the barricades and sit this out in my own private world if at all possible. Intrusions both audible and visual are sadly inevitable, but I’m still going to have windows open through the winter, and sit outside when it’s dry. I’ve been screening any gaps that would leave me visible, either to passers by or unpleasant neighbours, and plugging myself into pleasant podcasts and audio books with earphones to complete the ‘shielding’, or my version of it.

What a sad isolated time we find ourselves in. I am increasingly at the mercy of the unpleasant family opposite, and they being out and about have the ear of many who choose to accept what they’re told, turning a blind eye to the bullies’ antics, which get increasingly dangerous to other people. Heaven knows over 70 million Americans have proved in recent days that the crowd will always follow the bullies, imagining that’s where the power is and that they’ll be kept safe that way; it’s a dangerous illusion to be under, and in the long run it may sadly be their undoing. But I accept it’s a fact of life and for now, in my tiny part of the world, I feel very much on my own.

I hope my friends, you’re able to keep going and are carrying on with some good things and ignoring, as far as possible, all the crap that’s around. Thanks so much for being there.

Not Helping…

Tuesday 14th July 2020 16:59

Some of the little b******s who roam our estate and the beautiful woodland between us and the canal, and who among other things have a propensity for setting fires (one recently in the woods required several fire trucks).

Although I’m posting this on Friday, this was Tuesday late afternoon. These three – particularly the one hurling the missile at my house – are the ones I watched setting fire to the litter bin at the end of the road some weeks ago. Their latest game is to pick up pocketfuls of some sort of small hard unripe fruit, presumably fallen from someone’s overhanging tree nearby, and hurl them at houses as they lollop past.

On Tuesday I was very lucky that this one – aimed at my open front door (you can’t hear clearly, but what was shouted between them was “Hey, that front door’s open…!”) – missed to the right of the doorway, ricocheting off the brick wall, and not the other side where it would have smashed the window. Also extremely lucky that little Jessie wasn’t in any of her usual spots either just inside the door or on the patio or bench.

At the moment it’s so easy to think I’m being paranoid and even wonder if I’m just making up the threats that are becoming daily occurrences here. When the outcome is minor I find I react with little more than weariness now, as I did to this (I was sitting out of sight but very close by, and merely called out wearily, “Oh aren’t you the clever little boy. Dear oh dear.”). But I’m all too aware that luck can’t always be relied upon to be on my side.

The thought of having to replace a window pane – especially one which would need immediate action being on view, big enough to climb through, right beside the front door and only a few feet from the pavement – sent shivers through me, for the cost that I can’t afford, and the necessary intrusion by workmen.

And so the search for a way of screening the front boundary to at least twice its current height with whatever I have already in the way of material goes on.

Trying To Keep Going and A Shed Full Of Food

Thursday 16th July 2020 21:00

It’s been a chilly grey sort of day mostly, but at about three the sun came out, and I settled in my favourite spot tucked away in the ‘back’ garden, with my notebook and timer. A bit of (rather late!) morning page brain dumping, and now here I am musing on where I go from here. Not literally go – I still haven’t ventured more than a few yards from my front door; four months and counting. But where do I go with my life.

Woah, deep stuff! Well, I suppose so, but not necessarily. More practical than deep at this point. The virus situation as I see it, while we may be in a lull at the moment, is inevitably going to get worse again. People here generally seem to be thinking and behaving as if it’s all gone away – which of course is just what it needs to spread again! And a resurgence in the not too distant future, even if it’s not until the winter, is absolutely inevitable. Nothing I can do about that but keep myself safe, and accept I won’t be making any (barring emergencies) trips out in the world for some considerable time to come. So I really do now need to up my game working on something – or several somethings – from home.

I’ve been utterly preoccupied for almost the whole time of this largely self imposed lockdown, on staying as safe as I can, on keeping bang up to date with the science and the facts of the pandemic, and latterly on preparing for what might come next as best I can (ie building up stocks of essentials, not so much because I think things will become unavailable again – although I think it’s a real possibility – but more because I think deliveries will be hard to come by once more as we head into another surge and it gets dangerous out there again). So The Big Shed is filling up nicely with all manner of essentials, and I’m able to ease off worrying too much about not having anything to eat. I have masks of various kinds in case I need to go anywhere that demands the wearing of one (although of them all, I still find my old substantial diy dust mask the most comfortable, sadly now probably more likely to exacerbate my asthma with the ingrained dust, than protect me from anything). I also have a little solid brass ‘dolphin’ on a retractable cord that I can use to press buttons and open doors. And plenty of 70% alcohol hand gel.

So in a practical sense, I’m well on the way to being prepared for another six months of self sufficiency.

Now I need to work on my mental health.

That isn’t so good.

I have to be honest with you, I haven’t been doing so well mentally. I’ve been utterly dismayed by the selfish irresponsible behaviour that seems to have come to the fore, globally, but also very much in my immediate surroundings, and deeply disappointed and saddened by a few people who I’ve thought of as friends, who’ve also behaved with stupidity, and a dangerous irresponsible selfishness that I would never have attributed to them.

And I’ve listened to myself ranting and raving, begging other friends who think it’s enough to “follow the government guidelines”, to be careful, to stay safe, to understand the risks! And I’ve tried not to be hurt when one by one they’ve stopped calling. I understand: they don’t want to hear about my fears. When they ask how I am they don’t want to know

I’ve felt more aware as the weeks have gone by of having to get through this completely on my own, and I’ve felt afraid every waking moment of every single day (and have dreamt of being afraid every night).

I know for me, the virus is still as deadly as it’s always been. It may be less prevalent just at the moment, but it only takes one contact with it. So I’m staying put for the foreseeable. Which makes the question of making a living an even tougher one. And I’ve put it to one side for far too long now.

So thinking cap firmly back on again then.

Garden story planning. How can I tweak Drawing4Health to be something other than the thing it was centred around being – ie to not be about free public gatherings to draw and swop materials together? What other possibilities are there? Can I bear to go back to IT stuff? Try to put simple tech skills teaching online? Aaargh, it really isn’t what I want these last working years to be about. I’ve done it. It was fantastically well timed back in the nineties for me. It gave me the means to run my own business, and made me a good living. But I’m way behind on my knowledge, and I just don’t care enough to use all my time trying to keep up to date now. It’s who I was. It’s not who I am now. But can I afford that cop out?

Last weekend I finally accepted that the cost of keeping my computer training business website out there just wasn’t justified. The local classes were long gone, and teaching people one-to-one in their own homes isn’t going to be viable again now. So I let it expire when the hosting and various versions of the domain came up for renewal, and I waved goodbye to The Reluctant Mouse and all the fun things I’d done with it. And then I let most of the small spaces domains go too. It means a saving of about £200 all told over a year. That’s a good few weeks’ groceries. My stomach will be grateful.

Somehow I have to move on. I have to do this utterly alone. No-one’s going to wave a magic wand. No-one is going to feed me. I’ve had 45 years of practice; how hard can it be? To just. Keep. Going.

Tomorrow the forecast is for more sunshine than we’ve had for a few days, so maybe I will find some inspiration sitting in my garden; maybe that “Got it!” moment will arrive. Maybe I’ll ring the doc, see if I can get some tablets to take away the gloom, and the loneliness. Maybe I’ll find ‘me’ again, and get through 24 hours without tears rolling down my cheeks for no reason.

Or maybe I’ll just concentrate on surviving again. Day 130. And order some more supplies…

A Late Late Night, Wine, Music and The Company Of Writers

Friday 26th June 2020 00:25

OK, well, first off: a huge thank you to my friend Melissa Wiley, who is running 2-hour work sessions for her Patreon folk at the moment. Lissa is in Portland, Oregon, on the west coast of the US, so her mid-afternoon sessions are very late night for me, but I’ve been hoping to join one for a while, and today presented the perfect opportunity.

It’s been the hottest day here in the UK. Mid 30’s. Far too hot for me to do anything but hide away indoors and wait for the (slightly) cooler evening. And that, it turns out, has signalled a bit of a turning point.

Now I have to admit here that this turning point has been very slightly fuelled by alcohol. Only a couple of small glasses of wine, but nowadays I’m not drinking at all, quite simply because I can’t afford to. Truly. Food or wine, and – now I know this might not be everyone’s choice 😄 – food has to win. Because funds are very, very low. But! I had a birthday last week, and dear friends gave me wine, so this evening I have enjoyed a couple of glasses, sat outside in the slightly cooler air, with music playing in my ear… and life, for the first time in many weeks, didn’t feel bad.

And for the first time in many weeks I found I didn’t want to write about the crisis we’re all in. I didn’t even want to think about it; at all. Wine and music were breaking through the dense fog and lifting it; and the setting sun, the jungle that is my garden at the moment, the swifts swooping and soaring in the sky – all of them worked to lift my mood. It was like a door being thrown open that I didn’t even know was there and for that moment the world felt like it used to.

I think for a moment I contemplated changing my decision to opt for food over wine, but I recognised the truth that I wouldn’t be getting any work done if I did that. And this, suddenly, was about getting some work done.

I’ve been ‘indoors’ for over 100 days. And in all that time I’ve really been unable to do anything. It’s as if I’ve been asleep for 100 days, it really is. 100 days might as well be 1 day; or 1,000. I don’t know if I can move on from that, but this evening – music and wine and this very important late late work session in the company of other writers – this feels good. This feels like tomorrow has arrived. This feels like watching the sunrise on a beautiful new day.

Raging Toothache, Creativity And Maslow’s Hierarchy Of Needs

Sunday 24 May 2020 4.05pm

From the moment of the UK announcement by BoZo almost a fortnight ago, telling us he was lifting most aspects of the lockdown, my anxiety levels rose again. Not to the degree they were at the start of all this, but nevertheless my focus on at last getting some creative work done was somewhat shot again. I reminded myself of Maslow’s Hierarchy, and that you can’t expect to concentrate on making ‘pretty things’ when you’re frightened for your life, and tried to cut myself some slack.

After a few days I really was managing to focus a bit. The weather was going to pick up again and my garden story idea continued to fill me with enthusiasm. I was coming to terms with the apparent fact that everyone immediately surrounding my physical world was just going to do as they pleased. I had routines in place to keep myself as safe and healthy as possible. It was going to be a long haul, but it was going to be ok.

Then last Sunday, the toothache started.

Not long before last Christmas a chunk of one of my teeth broke off, taking an old filling with it. About half of the tooth remained, not in a very good condition, but apart from the sharp edge it wasn’t troubling me. I booked an appointment with the dentist anyhow, expecting a quick new filling and thinking probably best to get it done before the Christmas break; just in case.

He took numerous x-rays and, directing me to look closely at a specific point on one of them, made the observation “it’s terribly close to the nerve!”. From that moment on it seemed clear that he really didn’t want to touch it.

Even when I returned for a second visit, one at which I thought we’d agreed I was going to have it extracted, he revealed that doing so was almost certainly not going to be straight forward, and then declared he wouldn’t be able to enjoy his Christmas knowing I was in pain from the extraction; so it was left. At that point it wasn’t causing me pain (I’d long ago taken a nail file to the sharp broken edges), and I couldn’t reconcile asking a dentist to work on it who I knew didn’t want to work on it, so I pretty much decided I’d forget about it.

Until last Sunday. When it began aching.

A couple of times in recent weeks I’ve bitten on it and winced with pain (oddly, raw spinach, as in a salad, was an absolute no no – I can only think there must be an acid or an enzyme it releases), but it was a sharp pain and gone almost immediately. This was different. This didn’t go.

By Monday evening it was unbearable. I tried a mild painkiller and it did nothing. I tried every “old home remedy” I could find. I had no clove oil but I had cloves, so I chewed one lightly and then stuck it in the hole. No help, just bits of soggy clove stuck in my tooth.

I thought I remembered brandy being the thing to put on a poorly tooth. It’s not something I’ve ever drunk, but I was certain that somewhere I had a tiny bottle, bought once upon a long ago Christmas when I’d resolved to make my own pud (I never did). I pulled everything out of a kitchen cupboard. Yes, there at the back was a very pretty hip flask shaped bottle of, according to the label, a very good cognac. It could be 15 years old. (Does cognac go off?) It appeared to be unopened so I took a chance, swizzled a cotton bud inside, and stuck it on the tooth. No relief at all (but I did discover that very good cognac is NICE, and wondered if maybe I should just forego solid food and buy a few bigger bottles and drink the pain away).

My dilemma was going to turn out to be multi facetted, but at that point I hadn’t quite taken this in. My first thought was quite simply that although the pain was unquestionably bad enough to make any fear of extraction redundant, with my car off the road, and with a lift or taxi out of the question given the impossibility of social distancing, I’d have to walk to my dentist; only a couple of miles, but would I be ok to walk the half an hour home after being sedated?

With my stress level rising again, I remembered the dentist at the end of the road! OK yes they’re private and so it would cost money I need for food, but it would solve the problem. Yes. I’ll see if someone will loan me the money and I’ll go to them. Sigh of relief. Stress level starts to drop again.

I checked the website of the expensive dentist and it said they are doing emergency work. I rang them but only an answerphone giving a mobile number for emergencies. I rang the mobile number. After many rings it was answered with silence, and then a hesitant, “Hello?”, which didn’t quite sound to me like a very expensive dental practice poised to be answering calls from patients! I carried on regardless but was told in no uncertain terms that they are not at this time doing ANY face to face dental work, and that anyway I should contact my own dentist. I was further told my own dentist may refer me to an emergency clinic (where??), but the clinics are only taking patients who have had a course of antibiotics (“…but I don’t need antibiotics, I just need my tooth out”).

As instructed, and because it now seemed the only option, I rang my own (not absurdly expensive or private) dentist and the phone was answered by a real, efficient, dental receptionist. Promising. A few recommended immediate things to try (all of which I was already doing) and she assured me she’d ask my dentist to ring me the next day. Progress. I’d resigned myself to the walk. Soon be over.

The next day my dentist rang. No, they (too) are not doing ANY face to face dental work (the assurance on these practice websites that they are there for emergencies, apparently means they are there to advise you only). Again, I was told of a few recommended things to try (like painkillers, as if it wouldn’t occur to anyone with raging toothache to take painkillers!). It was suggested that I might like to ask the pharmacy for an Emergency Dental Kit (apparently this comes with some temporary filling material, like putty, which as in my case it’s not a hole so much as a half a tooth missing, I knew wouldn’t last 5 minutes), and then, “Sorry. That’s all I can offer. If it gets worse ring again. There is an emergency clinic about 25 miles away [I can’t walk that far!], but they probably won’t do an extraction either. Only life threatening work.”

So there we are.

To be fair the pain fluctuates. Some of the time it is just a sort of background soreness, and providing I’m ultra careful eating (nothing hot, nothing cold, nothing crunchy, or sharp – in fact, lukewarm soft suckable food is the only sensible choice), then most of most days I can get through providing I keep calm; stress exacerbates it instantly, as does evening, and attempting to sleep sends it raging so that’s the time I keep the painkillers for if I can, as I don’t want to take too many. This is going to be for the long haul, not just a few days, and given the condition of the tooth, it can only get worse.

Old Maslow got it right.

I’m hoping if I can just manage the pain, I can move up to the next levels. Because, like the virus, this isn’t going away any time soon. For the moment I’m somewhere between red and orange, and I’m going to have to work my way slowly up (obviously leapfrogging things like ‘connection’ and ‘freedom’!).

I didn’t think about it when I chose a sky blue to colour in the top level of Maslow’s hierarchy, but just at the moment it feels a little like the sky is what I’m reaching for.

Making Plans and Finding Focus

Thursday 14 May 2020 10.00pm

Since the idea popped into my head recently, of writing about how my garden became what it is today, I’ve been thinking about it a lot, and realising how much more of a story there is behind it; or to be more precise, how many stories.

I really hadn’t thought about it before, but much of the story of my life for the past 25 years or so is written in my garden. Highs and lows. Life and death. Love and loss. Friends and lovers. Successes and failures. Battles won and lost. They’re all there; all have formed the garden into the place it is now. 

The more I’ve let the idea percolate, the more stories keep coming to mind, and it’s paved the way to a new focus for my Patreon page.

The big picture of “seeing if I can make a living through writing and drawing” still applies, but just for now – while the world is in crisis and I for one am very much locked down – I want it to reflect the focus on one particular project.

So I’ve changed the description of my Patreon to “…creating a story about a tiny garden”, and altered what I’m offering for the different tiers, to reflect a new – albeit perhaps temporary – plan.

It’s still “using my writing and drawing skills” but now to create a book about my garden, that in turn tells a bit of the story of my life, and in particular highlights how good things can grow out of times that seem only bad.

First I’m going to create a timeline of all the changes that took this small outside space from just two plain strips of grass, open to the passing world, to the enclosed, semi private and secure garden full of beautiful, fragrant, colourful planting, with seating and working and storage areas, that it is today. I’ll be making notes as I go about the life events that prompted the changes – the wishes, the dreams, the hopes, and the fears. Digging out photos, and making drawings and design plans for each stage.

When all the planning is complete, I’m going to write the stories, chapters telling the life of the garden, with those bits of my life that influenced its growth woven in. I’ll turn the rough sketches into finished illustrations and use image editing programs and publishing programs on the computer to pull it all together and produce a book layout.

Finally I shall set about seeing if I can get the whole thing published.

For me it will be a journey of remembering and it won’t always be easy, but for the reader I intend for it to be something very different, full of creative solutions, practicalities and a fair sprinkling of triumph of hope over adversity! Something that’s needed now more than ever.

While this is is not going to be the answer to the “How do I make a living …?” problem – let’s be brutally honest, this is not going to be the next Harry Potter or make my fortune – it may however lead to other things. Who knows.

For now I’m writing it for my patrons. I can’t over state how much the support I receive over on Patreon is helpIng to motivate me and keep me accountable, and how immensely grateful I am for it.

I’m very excited about this little project – it feels as if this is the book I’ve been meant to write all along, I just didn’t know it until now.

A Little Early Morning View From Outside My Garden

Thursday 7 May 2020. 11:50am

I’m getting up very early at the moment in order to water and tend the troughs and tubs that are outside the front of my garden. They border the pavement, and as the road is very much a pedestrian thoroughfare, particularly with the footpath to the little shop at the far end, I don’t feel safe to be out there during most of the day or evening.

With the limitations on being able to look after them, and of course no money to spare, I haven’t added any colourful bedding to the front troughs and pots as I usually do, but am letting them do their own thing with the perennials that are already there, and the odd things that have self seeded. I’m a big fan of self seeding plants!

The stocks along the outside of the hedge are sort of semi self seeded, having had a little assistance from me by shaking them along the border over the last summer and winter as they produced their seeds. I’m aiming to get them growing all the way along, and have just shaken some more in the remaining gap, so fingers crossed they’ll be popping up later this year.

With my garden very much my focus at the moment, I’ve been giving thanks for all that I’ve done over the years to give it as much of an air of seclusion and privacy as possible; so important at this time. I’m going to be running a little series of posts for my Patrons, looking back to the very start when all that was out there was a couple of very tiny strips of open grass bisected by a short straight concrete path from the pavement to the front door. I’m digging out old photographs, and drawing up ‘floor plans’ of the various stages of the garden’s development.

If you would like to follow the journey that my garden’s taken over the past 25 years or so, hop over to Patreon and sign up. I’m opening the posts to all tiers, so whatever you feel you’re able to give will unlock them.

Meanwhile, here’s a little excerpt from the Patreon video I made first thing this morning, showing some of the pavement side of the garden, before the rest of the world was out and about.

Finding Delivery Solutions As Mail Doesn’t Really Arrive By Snail

Wednesday 6 May 2020 10.15pm

I’m gradually settling in to this strange new world, and not feeling the weight of the anxiety and fear resting on me quite so heavily. I’m well stocked now with essentials – good because it means I don’t need to panic over huge deliveries, and all the washing and quarantining they entail.

My entrance path is rapidly becoming even more overgrown than usual, and delivery drivers have been looking in disbelief when I’ve called out to them, pointing to the entrance.

‘It’s very narrow!”, they cry, hefting great wide shallow plastic crates stacked with carrier bags. “I know! “Sorry!”, I call back, “I have no way of getting rid of garden waste at the moment, so it just has to be left to grow I’m afraid. Sorry.”, I repeat. But I’m not at all sorry really. If passers by are dissuaded from venturing onto my property at the moment, that’s all to the good.

The one comment that does strike a chord though, and even in normal times it’s repeated by everyone who encounters my semi-hidden, and undeniably narrow-ish, entrance path, is a slightly sarcastic, “I bet the postman loves you!”. Well, no, probably I’m not his favourite customer, especially when it is, or has been, raining. And when the broom is covered in flowers. And when the dying flower heads are abandoning their branches even without being brushed against. And when the bees are enjoying the lavender underneath…

Since the very early days of the virus threat, I’ve sealed over my letterbox – not wanting ANYTHING entering the house, even for a moment, that hasn’t been either quarantined or thoroughly washed. We’ve been blessed with mostly dry days, so I’ve got round this by placing a large open topped cardboard box on the path, with a note inside to “Please place post in here”. That was ok while the entrance was still accessible, and on dry days, but I knew it was only a temporary solution, and I’d need to come up with something more sustainable.

Right at the start I bought a cheap wall mounting post box online, to accommodate for wet days, but hesitated to fit it to the wall by the front door, recognising that would still entail the postman battling with the broom. What I needed was some way of fitting the post box nearer the pavement. However, there was nothing to fix it to, and I still needed to get at it to remove the post; the problem seemed unsolvable. Then I had a brainwave.

Gazing out of the upstairs window my eyes alighted on my mum’s old sundial. I’d removed the pointy bit last year, that created the necessary shadow to tell the time, so the top was relatively flat, and being cast iron I knew it was quite heavy. On close inspection I realised it had a hole already in the top where the pointy thing had been bolted on – that got round any need to try to drill through the cast iron, and I began to feel it might just do the trick.

With a bit of thinking through, I realised I would need to raise the post box slightly from the top of the sundial, so that the drain holes already drilled in the base could do their job. A short chunk of wood left over from one of the legs of the sink stand that I made last summer took care of that, and the design was set.

Two extra holes drilled in the base of the post box allowed me to screw it to the small chunk of wood, and the hole already in the sundial top, with the addition of a couple of large washers, accepted a screw that then secured the wood to the sundial. Job done. Now, where to place it?

I chose a position inside the front hedge, near enough to the front door that it could be picked up by the security camera, but still on a narrow part of the border so I could reach it from this side of the hedge too. Then I discovered it was too short for the flat top of the sundial to rest on top of the hedge. Luckily there was already a (empty) pot sitting in a pretty convenient place inside the front hedge, so I ‘screwed’ it down a bit more firmly into the earth, popped its saucer on top, and stood the sundial-postbox on it. And “voila!”.

I’m hoping the whole thing will be firmly seated and heavy enough to withstand any strong winds because, providing I don’t have to actually stake it to the ground, I can simply swivel the sundial around in order to unlock the postbox and remove the post.

I’m happy to say the postman yesterday didn’t even hesitate, he just paused as he walked past and popped the post in. I then swivelled the whole sundial round and unlocked the box to remove the post (with gloved hands of course!), and felt an absurd sense of satisfaction at a problem solved.

Oh, and I realised a practical solution for deliveries is to direct them to be taken beside the car to the top of my grandmother’s old trolley that is bordered by a low ‘fence’ but accessible from both sides.

So short of actually building a moat and a raisable drawbridge, I’m pretty unlikely to get unwanted visitors, and as wanted visitors aren’t allowed at the moment, life in my garden has become restful again.

Tightening Budgets and Rediscovering Potatoes

Friday 24 April 2020 20:45

Well, I thought I’d pared my normal budget down to the bare necessities already as I headed into this year of challenges; of course, little did I know how much bigger those challenges would become! With seven months of working at the boatyard now not happening, taking the expected income with it, the real prospect of going hungry has been looming even larger and closer.

An urgent bit of crisis-within-a-crisis budgeting was called for. And it turns out there are quite a few more things that aren’t actually essential.

My small daily glass of wine with supper, and healthy quick to cook ready meals have been just a distant memory since the beginning of January. Now they’re joined by biscuits, cake, chocolate, crunchy bars, ice cream – in fact any edible treat at all! Ah well, maybe it’s time to diet.

Memberships of the very few groups and societies who I’ve supported for their good work – like the Basingstoke Canal Society – or to give me frequent entry to places I could otherwise either not see, or only afford to visit once or twice a year – like the RHS garden at Wisley have had to go.

Hardest to accept I have to let go are my regular monthly donations to half a dozen charities, but those are now all cancelled from May too.

Websites that have been dormant for a while are being mothballed when their hosting and/or domain name renewals become due. Obviously I want to keep this and D4H going, and ideally find a way of developing them even during the crisis…

My car is once again a dilemma. I decided in January not to get rid of it, especially as I was anticipating returning to the boatyard. Now I don’t expect it to be safe to return out into the world for the rest of the year. Quite what to do though, I’m not sure, but at this moment the car IS utterly non-essential. Update 28 April: I have decided to keep the insurance going just in case it gets stolen – although I don’t think it’ll start after nearly 2 months – or around here sadly likely, vandalised. I have however today SORN’d it, which means I get a refund of 10 months tax (although I’d like to hope I’ll be back driving before another 10 months is up, but for now the cash will be welcome).

The only other possible cut back – or even complete cut out – is my small storage unit. I believe storage providers are on the “essential services” list of places that are allowed by the government to stay open. As I’m not venturing out of the house even for a walk though, going somewhere like that – where unknowable numbers of other people are milling around (and the small units have doorways within only inches, or at most two or three feet of each other) – is utterly out of the question. I have to accept then that even if I was inclined to clear it out, it isn’t going to happen. With all the council tips closed, what would I do with it all anyway!

So my budget is down pretty much as low as it can go at the moment, and still comes in at a hefty £750-£800 a month. (Little Jessie, with her vet bills, litter and food, costs an average of about £100 a month, but she is, of course, a non-negotiable absolutely essential necessity!)

Food is where I’m learning to be more adaptable. Pasta, spaghetti, noodles etc are all in short supply for delivery, but I’ve reacquainted myself with good old potatoes and finding them extremely useful especially for lunches. A quick steam of a few finely chopped spuds, a dob of butter, maybe a little grated cheese or a third of a tin of tuna, mashed to a yummy perfection and dressed with ketchup – food for the Gods indeed.

A week or so ago I bit the bullet and applied for Universal Credit – something I really hoped to avoid doing – and it does look as if that will be forthcoming. It gives me just over £400 a month, far short of what I need, but every little helps.

Being accepted for Universal Credit should also make me eligible for Council Tax relief – in a nutshell, a saving of just under £125 a month. This is proving nowhere near as straight forward to apply for from the local council, with endless somewhat absurd hoops to jump through and impossible datelines, but I’m hopeful it will happen.

All in all it does look as if the government help coupled with tightening the belt another notch or two will mean my remaining rapidly dwindling savings will stretch a few months further than I’d feared, and should at least see me through to early next year. By which time I hope to be able to go out!

In the meantime, I need to get through all the stress and anxiety I’ve been feeling, and get back to working on my aim of NOT being ‘bowled out’ at the young age of 61. The coming months will be a far bigger test than I could ever have imagined, but I’d like to have Drawing 4 Health ready to launch properly in some form or other for the summer of 2021, and I need to get back on track, and get writing and drawing again.

Let’s face it, it’s not like I have anywhere to go!