2017 Resolution “The year of preparation”

I’ve had a varied year in 2016.

I decided to break free from reality and then got signed off from work with depression.

I went back to work and then took redundancy.

I built an extension having taken some time off work.

Fuelled by the need to try something different and a need to earn some money I got a job at a major supermarket. I hated it and quit.

I then got another job at a national Logistics provider, and I’m still here, but I quickly began to feel like I was back in the circle that I’ve been trying so hard to break free from. How on Earth did that happen?

However, the past year has taught me a number of things.

  1. I can achieve a hell of a lot more than I thought I could. Having some time off to build my extension was a real eye opener. Without the pressure of having to be up at a certain time, and drive to work to complete a full day, I found that I was still able to motivate myself to get up early, do a full days work, and enjoy it. I’ve often thought of myself as lazy but I now know I’m not, I’m just not motivated by sitting behind a desk all day. Manual labour and hard physical work can be enjoyable.
  2. Working in an office, dealing with the politics and sitting behind a computer all day are not for me. My previous job, which I held for 11 years had slowly wore me down. I didn’t realize this until I left with depression. As I’ve blogged before, depression changed me, but alas it was all I knew (office work) so when the need arose for me to return to paid employment I ended up doing the same kind of work in an office. It’s amazing how hard wired we are to stick to the status quo rather than trying new things. However I now look at my work as a means to an end.
  3. I’m happiest when I’m not spending money, when I’m with my family and we’re doing things together. This is probably true for most of us but think about it. I don’t need to buy things, spend money, upgrade technology anywhere near as much as I thought I did. Birthdays and Christmas have become challenges as everyone wants to get you “things” but I have no desire for “things”. My happiest times these days are at home, sat in our den, with my wife, daughters and dog, just talking about our days, sharing stories. TV off, Radio off, no laptops or mobiles.
  4. The World is in free fall and nobody seems able to stop it. Respect is something I was brought up to have, especially for teachers, elders, Policemen and women, anybody in a position of authority, people you meet, the next door neighbour, the guys and girls who come and collect my rubbish each week. Basically everyone. It seems the current generation struggle with this and it’s not difficult to see why when you read about celebrities, sports stars and politicians who appear to show little or no respect to one another. My wife is a teacher of 9 year olds. When asking them to carry out a task or to do something she is regularly told to “f” off. This are by 9 year olds.
  5. The Earth needs protecting and the number of people who are prepared to do it on a national or international stage appears to be reducing. Just look at what s happening in the US of A. 8 years of environmentally sound struggles from the current administration appears to be getting prepared to be unraveled on January 20th when Trump takes power. In the UK, the government reduces subsidies for “green energy” and then signs off the most expensive man made structure in the World to create nuclear technology (a cost incidentally that if it was pushed into solar, wind and tidal technologies could potentially provide the UK with all of the power it needs).

So with this, the wife and I have decided that in 2018 we will relocate to our first small holding either in the North of Scotland or, more likely, in the South West of Wales. The reason for the delay is two fold. Firstly the list of things I want to do beforehand is long (and listed below). Secondly our current mortgage has us tied in until Spring 2018 so it makes sense to wait until that comes to an end rather than paying a get out early fee.

We want to find our sanctuary. A piece of Earth that is ours that we can choose to live on how we choose. The plan is to purchase between 10 and 15 acres of land and then to use that land to sustain ourselves. We don’t want to be rich with money. We want to earn enough to get by. The kids are aware, the families are aware and we face a year of preparation.

So what do we want to achieve in 2017

  1. Clear all of our debt (excluding our mortgage). We have made great strides towards being debt free in 2016 and we go into 2017 with a total debt of around £7,500. Half of this will definitely clear as it is the remnants of a loan we took out some years ago for house improvements and a car. The remainder are credit cards and overdraft, all of which are managed well enough but should be able to be cleared within 12 months.
  2. Reduce our outgoings. In order to facilitate our debt clearance and to prepare ourselves for a more frugal lifestyle (and to hopefully allow us to build up some savings to assist us post move) I am on a mission to reduce our monthly financial commitments to the bare minimum (without affecting our lifestyle). This will mean things such as SKY TV going, mobile phone contracts being cancelled / reduced. Food shopping and eating habits changing. Insurances being reviewed and reduced. Basically we will be doing everything we can to reduce our fixed and necessary monthly commitments. I will share the details monthly to provide an update on progress but at the moment out outgoings are approximately £3,000 per month (mortgage, loans, credit cars, taxes, utilities, food, fuel, insurances, media and telecommunications to name a few). I aim to half this by next December.
  3. Finish the house. As I have blogged about previously, we extended our home during 2016 and most of the big work is finished but now we need to finish those little jobs that can easily get left behind; plus the garden still looks like a builders yard. Fortunately most of the materials I need for these jobs I already have, it’s just a matter of finding time to complete them.
  4. Work out where we are going to live. Our instinct is to go to South West Wales. It’s a part of the UK we have visited many times and we all love it “down there”. We intend on taking trips down there as regularly as we can so we can to get to know specific areas better and hopefully narrow our search area to a more manageable size prior to January 2018.
  5. Learn more skills. The intention is for us to work from home in our new life and hopefully turn our hand to something completely different. There are a number of reasonably priced council run adult course nearby which we intend to attend over weekends to see if we either have a natural talent at something or if there is something we discover we really enjoy. Hopefully we can find something that brings the 2 things together and we can then identify if there is a market and any possibility of us using that to earn a small living. Permaculture is important to us and the permaculture ideal of having multiple inputs rather than relying on one can also work with income. We intend on having multiple ways of providing ourselves with an income to remove the inherent risk of only having one.

In a nutshell, that’s the plan. I will use this blog (regardless of whether it is read by others or not) to help me to keep a track of progress. I’ll update it at the beginning of each month and will outline progress to date (debt, outgoings, courses, locations, house) and share what the next month will hopefully bring.

Then in 12 months time I will hopefully be able to say

“We have no debt, our outgoings are as low as they can be, we have new skills that we enjoy, are good at and can be used to provide an income, the house is finished and we know where we want to live”.

Now there’s a New Years Resolution for you. Hope you have a wonderful 2017.

False starts, redundancy & discoveries

My last post was in October last year. My 39th birthday, where I heralded the commencement of a new era in my life, having finally awoken from my depression.

Little was I to know what lay around the corner.

The extension was in full swing, the allotment had been prepared for winter and was set to become a veratible banquet of fresh fruit and veg; life was most definitely on the up.

I was settling into my work life again, not really happy but, getting on with it before I received an invite to a meeting one Friday afternoon at the end of November.

In truth, having returned from 6 weeks off in the sumer with my illness and having begun my reflection on my life, I didn’t return to work the same person. My drive and enthusiasm for “normality” had gone and I was going through the motions. I had plans I wanted to implement but not the resources or opportunities to do them. I was waiting for somebody to come along and lay the opportunities in front of me and make the big decisions, the brave decisions, for me.

As I was welcomed into my bosses office, a member of the HR team was already in there. To cut a long story short they made me an offer to leave, I accepted and just like that I was unemployed for the first time in my life…….

And if felt great.

I drove the 2 hour journey home mainly in tears, tears of relief. I had an overwheelming feeling of relief. Not joy. Not sadness. Just relief. I simply didn’t have the courage to make the decision to leave and now the decision had been made for me.

It took a while for it to all sink in really. At first it felt like I was on holiday. Then I told the builders to leave site as myself and my recently retired Step Dad would complete the work (with a few tradesmen to help.

By the end of January I hadn’t really had time to stop and think what was going on or how I felt, but I was acutely aware that I would have to find a source of income, soon.

By chance, a balloon pilot friend of mine invited me to a 4 day balloon tour of Catalonia, which I accepted. In mid February I found myself surrounded by hot air balloon pilots from all over Europe who did this for a living.

What I came to realize at that point was I had to pull my finger out and make some decisions. Other people, ordinary people, were spending their lives earning an income, albeit a modest one, doing things they really enjoyed. I began a process of listing what I enjoyed, and what I didn’t. It sounds easy but it was a real challenge being honest with myself about what I really liked and didn’t.

My wife and I at this point made a pact, we’d stop doing things we don’t like (or things we pretend to like) and start doing more of what we like.

First I decided to change careers. A temporary measure whilst I found out where my real future lay. I got a job as Assistant Manager at a well known Supermarket chain.

I didn’t like it.

I had spent the previous 3 years realising that doing things I didn’t like was detrimental to my health, so I quit after 8 weeks. A brave decision but fortunately I managed to find a job with an international Logistics company, doing similar to I had done before.

I felt hugely deflated. Had I gone full circle? Was I back doing exactly what I had been so desperate to leave before?

The answers are, almost and yes, but with one significant difference. Outside of “work” I had finally managed to work out where I was heading.

A short stay in hospital ( a first time for me and something I’ll elaborate on in my next post) had a huge affect on me. I had always being invincible. I was healthy and I had plenty of time on my side to make some decisions and do it tomorrow. I wasn’t severely ill, but I had been diagnosed with a condition that I would need to manage. That would need a change in life style

I thought my redundancy would be the catalyst I needed but it wasn’t. It was the realization that I could die, at anytime, and I was living my life in a perpetual state of dissatisfaction.

My list of things I liked or was good at produced 3 reoccurring themes

France

Self Sufficiency / Permaculture

Presenting / Teaching

As I write this I am preparing for a 3 week visit to France to start a 2 year journey to relocate to France and set myself and my family up with a new lifestyle.

Finally, I had discovered “IT” and it feels bloody great.

Birthday – a time to review and a new philosophy

So today is a big deal. Yesterday was my 39th birthday and today is the first day of the last year of my 30’s.

For some reason and for some time my 40th birthday has been a significant date that I have looked towards.

I remember attending 40th birthday parties over the years, specifically my cousins and my own mother and fathers, and rejoicing in the giving of cards stating that they were now “over the hill” and that “life begins at 40”. It obviously struck a chord with me.

Tom GoodAnother reason has to be that my Guru, Tom Good, discovered his answer to “It” on his 40th birthday.

2015 to date has been a roller coaster, with big decisions to change my lifestyle halted somewhat by a major depressive episode. Yesterday I awoke to my family showering me with recycled, upcycled and second hand useful gifts, and I knew at that point that we were heading in the right direction. An evening meal of homemade pizzas, on home made dough washed down by local small brewery Beer (I highly recommend “The Big Bang Theory” – Nene Valley Brewery) provided the perfect end to a perfect day

The allotment continues to be prepared. I’m waiting for the Local Parish Council to agree to me having a polytunnel on site. I’ve already begun sourcing materials to make my own. Used scaffolding poles are being supplied by the company that has erected the scaffolding on my extension and blue water pipe is being salvaged (with permission) from a nearby housing development.

The extension is at roof line level, so we’re waiting for the trusses to be delivered.

Bertha is ready to heat the home

Bertha is ready to heat the home

But the most exciting recent development is my purchase of the newest member of our family. Bertha.

She’s a 1970’s Rayburn Royal, in remarkably good condition. We’re hoping she’ll be able to provide hot water and heating to most of the house, backed up by a new gas boiler.

We’ve wanted one of these for years, and when this one came up recently on eBay, just down the road from home, I had to pounce, and pounce I did.

Moving it was fun and easier than I had envisaged. I have a guy coming out in the week to have a look at the chimney and hopefully she’ll be fired up and ready to start using for cooking by the end of October.

Things have been tough for the family too, with all of us feeling a little down at times. Recently my eldest 17 year old daughter got diagnosed with Anxiety. Add this onto myself and the wife having depression, something obviously hasn’t been right at home. Things are improving as I have found the strength to talk things through and have found it to be a great tonic. I’m encouraging everyone to talk through their concerns.

We have a new philosophy. All 5 of us at home, are making a note, be it physical or mental, of the things we enjoy and the things we don’t. The things that make us happy and those things that make us sad.

The simple plan then is to try and ensure we spend more time doing the things we enjoy and importantly trying to find positive ways to mitigate those things that we don’t like. It’s important to try and mitigate them or work with them as we can’t just get rid of everything that we don’t enjoy as easily as all that.

I don’t enjoy my job. It doesn’t make me sad anymore, but I’d rather not do it. Now I can’t leave today as I need to earn my money for now, but what I can do is try to identify the specific reasons that I don’t enjoy it and try to find alternative ways of approaching them. It’s not easy, but it feels as though I’m making progress, which for me is important. A step forward, be it large or small, is a step forward towards our family goal.

Allotments, Depression and Determination

It is safe to say that being diagnosed as Depressed has had a significant impact on me, and mostly for the better. I’m under no disillusions that I will more than likely have to be wary of having another depressive episode, but for now it has changed my way of looking at things.

Starting this Blog at the turn of the year was the start of me realising all was not well, although I didn’t notice it at the time. I was happy to talk about what I wanted to do and even write about it but actually did next to nothing about it.

Now I’ve begun to be more active. I’m at the allotment more often. I’m doing more work myself on the extension. The dogs walks are becoming longer, and any time spent in front of the TV is limited to maybe an hour before I go to bed.

And I feel great.

Sure the medicine is probably helping but I’m becoming more proactive. I’m enjoying doing things and find myself bored if I sit around doing nothing. Fancy that!!! I used to get annoyed if I wasn’t able to sit around!

Life, to me, is very much like smoking (something I did for around 20 years). You believe the cigarette makes you better, that it relieves stress, whereas in reality it’s the need for nicotine, for that drug, that makes you stressed. Having a cigarette simply satisfies the craving for the drug, making you feel “better”, If you don’t need the nicotine than you don’t need to smoke to feel “better”. I believed sitting watching mindless TV made me better, that doing things was an annoyance and I was too tired to do anything anyway.

The reality was that sitting in front of the TV made me tired, made me lazy and made it more difficult to escape the circle.

Having spoken to councillors, they have advised me that depression is ordinarily linked to loss. A loss of something or someone.

I believe in my case that loss is a loss of perspective. A loss of achievement. A loss of self worth. I know what I want to do with my life, but wasn’t making any positive decisions or carrying out any positive actions to help me achieve it.

I want to live the good life. I want to grow my own food and raise my own animals. I want to create my own energy and not rely on others.

AND I’M BLOODY WELL GOING TO DO IT!

Allotment almost weed free

Allotment almost weed free

So the allotment is coming along. We’re following a mixed combination of the No – Dig philosophy and the previously mentioned woodchip method. It’s currently raising a few eyebrows and the Parish Council are concerned that I’m not doing enough but they’ll see the benefits through the next year.

Allotment 2

It really is becoming a pleasure to go down there after work for an hour.

I still have objectives longer term but am enjoying slowly migrating my way out of the circle of normality.

The extension is coming along nicely, although slower than I hoped (I’m still nowhere near as patient as I should be!).

Overall life is becoming “good” again; and it’s only going to get better.

Leaving a Bad Depression

It’s been too long since my last post but things became difficult.

At the end of June I had a breakdown. Tears, despondency and doctor notes. Everything caught up with me and I lost it. Fortunately my work and the Doctor have been superb and thus far have supported me through it all.

I’m back at work this week for 3 days before heading off to Green Gathering this weekend for a (hopefully!) great weekend.

The depression was the worst thing I’ve experienced. For the first 3 weeks I wanted to do nothing. I didn’t want to speak to anyone, do anything or be anywhere. I just sat, slouched in front of the TV.

I was aware that I would have to at some point begin to try and unravel what the trigger was and make some significant decisions about my life going forward. I am ordinarily a happy go lucky guy, but recently things became dark. I was starting to see things that others would laugh at as angry. You know – if somebody spilt water over themselves. I was cross with that person and let them know. Unfortunately too many times this was my children.

Anyway – I’m not dwelling.

I believe the trigger is my approach to things. I was always waiting for someone else to do things for me. Always blaming something for why things aren’t going how I want them to. Continually finding reasons why I wasn’t making any progress in my search for “it” and escaping the circle.

Eventually I managed to unravel the mess and during the hot spell in July I started spending time outside, moving some decking, planting some seeds, painting a shed. All of this was done with my family, and I realised this is where I was going wrong. I was alienating those that I cared most about. Not purposefully, but I decided that they didn’t want to go to the allotment, or help in the garden. How wrong I was. They just wanted to be told what needed to be done.

I’ve heard people say this before, but my breakdown is proving to be one of the best things that has happened to me. Don’t get me wrong, it was a horrible experience and I still take each day as it comes and rely on medication to keep me “sane”, but it has forced me to rebalance myself.

Rather than fighting against work, I’m working with it. The outdoor seating area has been improved to make it more welcoming so we spend more time sat outside eating and talking as a family. The allotment hasn’t been touched for a while, but we are all going tonight before packing the car for The Green Gathering in Chepstow.

I’ll update soon with my plan, my new view of the World but for now I’m just enjoying being me again.

Often, people find their true strength, their true purpose during the most challenging of circumstances.

I appear to have found mine.

Allotment update

Had a successful couple of hours down the allotment yesterday evening.

It’s a decent space with a tiny, damp, holey shed on it, a couple of water butts and a lot of black sheeting.

The plan is to have about 30 raised beds on it, as per the picture below, all of which “should” be no dig & no touch.

Using the process found in the Permaculture Magazine, Spring edition, under the title of “The Wonders of Woodchip”, we are experimenting with the use of woodchips as our base material.

The article identified that the woodchips could be used to successfully grow vegetables, with the material holding onto enough moisture during the rainy periods to release during the dry.

It also directed me to the website www.backtoedenfilm.com where a feature film length movie continued to motivate me in what appears to be a win/win situation (minimum work and maximum yield) whilst all the time working with nature in a low impact way to produce great veg and fruit.

Raised beds ready for woodchip

Raised beds ready for woodchip

Using the broken pallet collars I’d managed to obtain for free from work, we’ve positioned them with enough access for a wheel barrow to get in-between.

We’ve removed the main weeds from underneath and then lined the bottom of each bed with a couple of layers of newspaper (again free!). On top of this there is approx 2 inches of manure (free) and we’re awaiting delivery of our first load of woodchips (free!!!!! 🙂 )

We are fully ware that the first year or 2 of growth will be limited as the chips need some time to mulch down, but there is some growth likely in year 1.

If all goes to plan, the only work we’ll need to put in on these beds is sowing, harvesting and an annual top up of mulch (that we’ll have sat in separate bins, rotting down ready for use).

The rest of the allotment will feature a large polytunnel for salad and early season growing, and a “huge” (wife’s request) fruit cage for soft fruits and “anything else we don’t want the pests to get”.

Allotment Mouse deterrent

Allotment Mouse deterrent

One problem we did find was on our first visit we had a large number of mouse nests and we saw at least 3 very friendly little mice making their way around the plot. Undecided on how to deal with these, it appears help is already on hand.

We had a visitor join us last night, who has been named “Clara” by one of my daughters. Let’s hope she keeps the larger pests away.

All that’s left for us to do is

  • Weed (continuously for next 6 months)
  • Mow grass outside allotment (part of the agreement)
  • Repair shed (although may replace with a pallet shed)
  • Build fruit cage (need to source free equipment)
  • Build polytunnel (again looking for free equipment)
  • Repair fence around allotment
  • Build new compost bins and “mulch” bins
  • Plant out seedlings

It’ll all be worth it though.

This is harder than I thought

Rather naively I thought starting a new lifestyle would be an easy thing to do, but I’ve realized something…..it’s not.

Well it’s not for me.

I’m becoming the archetypal keyboard warrior. Spending hours pouring over stuff online, making my points known yet doing very little positive things. Although I may be a little harsh on myself.

The chickens are settled in and getting close to Point of Lay now, which is handy as I have really rekindled my enjoyment of boiled eggs for breakfast – with soldiers of course 🙂

The allotment is being managed in small steps, with us trying to utilize raised beds as much as possible. I managed to get some broken pallet collars from work and these are proving to be perfect.

Pallet CollarsI’ve joined the Permaculture Association and am finding their magazines, particularly the ability to view all of the back catalogue, highly informative, with many projects that I am trying to adapt for my own use. Pallets sheds, outdoor pizza ovens etc. as a start.

The Winter edition 2015 had a great article on woodchip farming, which I am experimenting with across the allotment.

The idea is to line you planting area (in my case my raised beds) with a layer of newspaper, then about 2 inches of manure, and top it off with 4 inches of wood chippings. The results I’ve seen online have appeared encouraging and it buys into the permaculture belief of working with nature as appose to against it. The beauty of it is that a local tree surgeon sees the wood chippings as a waste product and I can have a truck load for free, whenever I need them!!!

I’ll take some photos when I’m next at the allotment and share it with you.

So maybe I have achieved a little more than I thought I had, I just don’t have a lot to show for it.

The extension plans are on course ad both Planning Permission and Building Regs have been approved. Hopefully work will begin at the end of May.

In the mean time, I’ll keep plodding away, knowing that in a few months I’ll start to see some progress with the veg, fruit, eggs and extension and at that point I may feel a little more optimistic than I do today.