A Shed Load of Solace

garden 2017

I’m out of the habit of writing, out of practise. I look in my diary and it was May the last time I’d written in my plot diary, but I’ve written in my phone notes and my home diary. Most of it is moaning about menopausal symptoms, memory loss, back pain (after creating the above gold medal and trophy winning garden), headaches, itchy skin, I shall not go on, but I’ve got a long list of irritating things happening to my 45 year old body. I’ve written lists of things to do, to remember, a few poem like pieces, but most originate from feeling stressed and down. Its summer so I berate myself in believing that I shouldn’t be feeling depressed. The sun shines, it’s been a really good summer, with the past few weeks topping up the water butts with night time showers. I like waking to the rain soaked car park, heating up, turning paler as the sun rises over the neighbours fence. I like to cherish the good days, the days when I feel like myself but I’m left with the wonder of where I have been. The real me, not the one thats always busy, the one racing past people so I don’t have to have eye contact with the people who know. The people, who are friends, the ones who know if they stop to ask if I’m ok then I won’t be, I’ll break. They know I need to work through this, they know I’m holding the outside together, they patiently wait, happy to give advice from afar (they know how stubborn I am), but assertive enough to tell me whats best for me. The ones who recognise I’m on the edge, who forgive me if I dont text back, but keep on texting to check I know they are there. Friends, bloody good friends, are priceless. They’ve reminded me that my family is happy and healthy. My friend’s neice has a tiny, premature baby with an under-developed brain who will not be resuccitated as the doctors advised she wouldn’t live. She is living, breathing, feeding, burping, bringing joy and wonder with her strength. Friends who remind me that I’m talented and beautiful in my own, blue haired, clumsy way. Colleagues who support me and have faith in my abilities join that list of bloody great friends.

Where’ve I been?

Asleep, no. Sleepwalking, sleep working, sleep digging! Communicating, not really.

Not listening, not eye contacting, not absorbing.

Emotional tightrope, grasping, holding on, anger, stress, on tiptoes.

I’m at the other side. I’ve stepped off and looking back at the fear, the pain, standing upright in the breeze.

Looking back ready to sever the cord, cut the ropes that tie around my neck.

Tightening my shoulders, ropes that trick my chest into shallow breaths of panic.

I’m armed, with hindsight, a past mistake, the regret is the scaffold that helps me build with the strength it taught me.

Like the phoenix, dare I compare myself to the majestic creature, I rose.

From depression, unemployment, lacking in purpose or support.

I DONE THAT. I SURVIVED THAT. I AM BETTER THAN THAT.

I don’t need the capital letters to tell myself, I am worth the investment in myself.

border 2017

So this week I ground myself at the allotment. My shrub border starts to take shape. The plants escape from their black pots ready to spread their roots and the dark soil glistens with the recent rain. The downpours blow past while I shelter in my shed. I return to plant the pittosporum, getting it facing the right way, in the right position. Its shiny leaves reflect the sunshine, as I sit and absorb it, the orange seeps through my closed eye lids. I watch the grey clouds blow past in the wrong direction (usually they go away from the coast but today they go towards it) and the sun gleems in the blue pockets and gaps inbetween.

I know, I trust in the universe, knowing that these symptoms, feelings will pass, they will be lifted from me and things will be good. Things are good. I have my own allotment, my own veggies, flowers, my own natural space on this precious earth. My own little bit of paradise.

 

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Memories

Is life all about making memories? What if your memory, your ability to remember events or days is crap? Do people aim to make memories or do they just happen as a result of a fun-loving lifestyle?


I was reminded this week of a girl called Kathy I used to go to school with. We made snow men when we were supposed to be inside school. We were late anyway as the 79 bus wouldnt venture down the hill into Childwall Valley. I had my camera with me (the type that took proper 35mm film, developed by truprint arriving 3 weeks after sending it off) as I was leaving that school soon after and wanted to get photos of my friends, hardily any of them were in school that day anyway. There are pictures, somewhere in our garage of me, Kathy and Karen making a snow man and rolling in the snow. It was a cold walk home but I dont remember that bit. I remember the wacky poses and the wet sock fight, leaving my scarf with the snow man and Kathy posing behind the snowman so it looked like he had a blonde pony tail. I remember our trips to town to buy wacky earrings and 80’s accesssories from St John’s market. Her sister told me she found letters I had written to Kathy after moving schools, she’d kept them, I’d loved writing letters and I only moved to Bootle but we wrote to each other for a few years before adult life kicked in.

My sister remembers so many events and things that happened and even though she’s 2 years older I have no recollection of many things. I remember when my brother crashed into a lamppost riding his bike, he didnt cry until he realised there was blood! I remember mum finding a fiver and me losing it, I remember my sister and her friend Angie getting nits and the screaming laugher and the stench of lotion as they used our hand-held, push-on-the-taps shower on their long, base of the spine length, thick hair.
I get too serious, I know, I am so busy acheiving and organising, sometimes that I forget to chill out, be laid back and just laugh. I can laugh in the face of disaster, I can laugh at my mistakes, Like our first ‘white knuckle’ ride was me falling asleep at the wheel, on our way driving to Euro Disney (I’m still not sure I’ve been truly forgiven for this) Obviously we were all ok. I know I’m clumsy, I cause my boss to have these cartoon type ‘eye exploding’ moments (when the characters eyes bounce out on springs and a loud hooter sounds) when I’m stressed I make huge mistakes, but I’ll admit them and laugh about them later.

My day to day life needs some laughter, I need to be less of the organiser and more of ‘go with the flow’ stuff. Yesterday for example, I didnt have plans with Layla so we went to feed the birds down at the allotment, she wanted to play in the woods but the nettles were too close for comfort. We went up to my plot to get some shears and gloves, she ended up making a salad, slicing leaves, cucumber and onion with a butter knife , we done some weeding, watched the birds, collected peas, watered Mikes plot and picked some roses. Then we headed down to the woods, cleared a path to the swing and had a chilled day. She’s getting easier to chill out with. Some days we need a plan, we need to be out elsewhere, the library, lego club, arty activity afternoon or the park. I’m not sure if its me who needs the structure or her?
I sit and chill out at home today, waiting for a new washing machine to be delivered. I’ll get down the plot later, whenever….
So my next meditation will be on welcoming laughter and fun into my life and being grateful for all the happy times in the past, the ones I can remember anyway.

Sun is shining

Sun is shining, I feel good,

Don’t need the jacket with the hood,

Birds tweeting, seeds are sown,

Peaceful, quiet, all alone,

Watering done, painting pots,

Crazy paving splashed with spots,

Rest a while, stretch my back,

After lifting compost by the sack.

 

It’s definately plot weather lately, raining in the night and the sun out through the day. Especially when its the weekend or Wednesday (my day off). I’ve invested in myself this year by reducing my working hours down to 4 days a week. I love my Wednesdays, especially at hometime on Tuesday when my feet are throbbing and I’m realising I haven’t done anything from Monday’s ‘to do’ list! It’s that garden centre time of year and we’ve had an influx of locals redescovering us. In 2015 the man who was selling his plants from our site was asked to leave and subsequently bad-mouthed us to all he knew in the area, including the volunteers who use our site. Things were a bit strained for a while. But day after day of being polite and getting on happily with our clients have changed the atmosphere. We are friendly and welcoming. Some of our clients may be socially awkward and stand too close, mostly they say hello. I do love my job, even when the manager asks me what my profit margins are on the latest order (my mental maths is shocking and the calculator always seems to be hiding when I need it). Even when the Southport sky is shooting rain horizontally from grey skies.

A client who I called Grumpy Edna (based on observational evidence rather than stereotyping), was ill a few months ago. Shes 86. Our oldest college student, learning horticulture skills. She had an accidental, poisonous dose of medication to treat her shingles and returned to us with disjointed speech, little memory of peoples names and quite distressed. It wasn’t nice at all, I wanted grumpy edna back. Luckily this week she was more like herself, except mellowed. She was joking with our resident wind-up merchant and gave a quick witty reply reminding him of his lack of hair. We all laughed. It’s such a mix of clients, dementia, learning difficulties, autistic, physical disabilities and mental health support needs all enjoying learning gardening skills, serving the public and helping to run our day care garden centre. The guy who came to service Edna’s wheelchair today said he’d expected she’d be in a care home, comfy chairs in circles watching telly. Edna was wrist deep in soil, potting on semperviviens, telling the others to be careful of their roots and not to get gravel on top of the plants. The gravel still ends up over the plants, the floor, the table and later on we find it in her cardi pockets too (the great escape came to mind). So every day is different, busy and enjoyable. I feel supported, stretched but not stressed and even on the worse days, I know I only have to survive two days then I have one or two off. Magic.

I had a political conversation with one of our clients today. Last week we’d had this little glimmer of hope that we might wake up and the tory government be history. We both remembered the austerity of the 80’s. I recalled my sister’s face at the shoes that Liverpool Corporation provided us with, as Mum was a single parent, while she recalled not having a penny left for herself after paying bills and feeding and clothing her kids. We talk about the sadness, greif and selfishness of this government who have inherited wealth and been taught how to evade paying tax on it all. I’m not skint right now, I’m lucky to be able to save as well as live comfortably (hence me reducing my days) but it could all change so easily, so quickly, so drastically with a job loss, poor health or unlucky circumstances. I daren’t think about it.

I have still been writing small pieces in my garden planner notebook but I haven’t been posting the words for a while. So each time I blog, I’ll include the pieces I wrote in the past plus any poems.

Shed Load of Solace

Solace and respite, rest and regroup. Sound off, tune in, brain fuzz decamp. Dirty hands, busy mind, phone rings again. Think practical solutions, create alternatives, body-busy distraction technique, nuturing plants, no need for talk, listening to friends, to birds, the wind blowing tunes through the trees, the buzz of a lawnmower, the tinkle of a wind chime swaying in the breeze. Life is busy, tricky but not bad.

Plot Therapy

So in the early days of teenage development I’d potter in the garden, move the furniture around the bedroom, sort out and order my brother’s toys. I think back to my first house where I’d rearrange the living room furniture, extending wires for tv and the phone or changing the colours of the cushions, dylon or the charity shop curtains were cut up and sewn into new bright accessories for the house.

Now I recognise these strategies to stop the depression taking hold. I developed this need for change, for renewal. Today I’m digging up stones and slate, divider flags and it dawns that I like winter down the allotment. It fulfils the ability to renew, to change plants around, to plan new paths and beds, to sketch up plans and rub them out again. Gardening allows me to have a focus, to order, to plan in my head, to follow my instincts and visual ability, to see the potential in the plot. Saying all this I don’t have aplan for where my yellow rose will be going in my new garden area, but that will come…

My back complains today as I try to lift a flag, yoga wasn’t on this week and I feel like one of those tough plastic dolls bending at the hinged joints, like action man, with his inflexible limbs. Whereas Sindy was definately into her yoga practise. She was supple and flexible, had brown shiny hair, average boobs and a curved bum. Very average compared with the barbie doll that many of my friends had. Compared with action man she was better at parachuting down the stairs (hankie and hair ribbons) much more graceful and didnt just clunk to the floor.

Anyway I digress to the jealousies of my childhood and recognise how the media influenced my perception of Sindy. I recognised the irritation of jealousy before christmas. An ex friend was going to the geothermal spa that I’d googled a few months ago. It was massively expensive so on realising the price I put the idea behind me. I should have been pleased that someone could afford the luxury of the healing spa but instead I was jealous. Karma worked it way round quickly when on the last day before the holiday I was questioned by my manager about my activity on social media. A colleague had told her that I had been ‘slagging off’ the company and management. I am very careful with wording and knew even if the manager saw the post it would not be disciplinary however I was left with feelings of mistrust with my ‘friends’ on facebook. solidarity is important to me in a environment where exploitation of staff is often expected and kindness is played upon regularly. I have deleted all work colleagues from my account and only one noticed and asked why, she has since deleted work colleagues from hers. trust and solidarity are of value to her too.

Gaping Holes

13-04-26-the-futurist-biennial-pic

Yesterday, on ‘nanny duty’, Layla and I went to town (aka Liverpool) walking from the library, where the urge to run around its ramps and stairs was in equal proportion to the urge to look at some books, to the vegan cafe, I was startled to see the gap, the wide cavity caused by the demolition of the futurist. I cant say I’ve ever been inside it but it appeared in my conciousness ten years ago when I completed a short course in ‘The Architecture of Liverpool’. I could tell you about the architect and his baroque style stone embellishments… but I cant remember a thing (I think I’ve even got it wrong that its baroque, I just like the words though) It’s remains were long gone, some pale brown, crumbled sandstone heaps were behind the metal barriers, exposing the street and buildings behind, and the steep incline as you venture away from the river. It reminded me of the other gaps, like the starkness of the plot in winter, trees bare, sheltered woods completely visible. I remember my son’s laugh, seeing the black gap where his molar used to be and the feeling of failure washes over my common sense. It was hard enough to get him out of bed most days never mind brush his teeth and visit the dentist. He was depressed, dental hygiene was not a priority. Then there’s my manager leaving. The changes in work that you rely on for support. My workplace changed last year and the visits from friends, colleagues with hugs, looking for plants, exchanging biscuits and just coming to moan stopped. It left a gaping hole in my mental health in the dead of winter. So as the staffing levels drop and service users change, I hear my manager will be taking redunancy next year, the fear of the gap increases. The support is what keeps me from the black hole, laughing and friendship. One colleague who used to come every thursday has left a gap where the familiararity used to be. Knowledge of where I put my tea down or the trust in me borrowing a pair of socks. The appearance of gloves and overalls when I mention I’m going to paint. She knows how messy I am. I see the familiarity in my colleagues right now, that knowing without speaking and I feel included but that bond…

I’ve been worrying lately. There’s a man I know that has learning difficulties and regressive cerbral palsy, I feel an affinity. We’re the same age, his mum is the same age as mine, she says things that my mum says. Those little sayings that I can’t remember but again strike up familarities. She is worrying as he has to go for a work focused interview this week. The assesment for ESA has decided he is capable of seeking more work. He has for the past 26 years worked one day a week in the same residential home. He used to help with the library, drinks and a bit of cleaning. Now with his arthritis and decreasing coordination, he wheels the magazine and newspaper trolley and sits and talks with residents. For 4 hours a week. He gets the same bus, on the same route to get there and back. He is polite, sociable and can hold a conversation based on things he knows, football, Dr Who, James Bond films, 80’s music, Star Trek and some current affairs. This man is lucky enough to have a social life, with support and sacrifices from others. He used to go to a British Legion club with his dad, before he passed away, and he continues to go and meet a friend there who also has a learning disability. Again familiarity plays a huge part, the regulars there know him, the bar workers have been there for years, each of their parents drops off or picks up at a certain time. At no point have I explained the vulnerability, the negatives, and neither does this family. Why should this family have to prove that this gentle man is in need of his benefits, that his mum needs respite, and financial support from a system that both her and her husband paid into heavily throughout their working lives. Not all families are inclusive, supportive, nurturing units like this. He is extremely privaledged to have a club he can go to and the tight knit community that surrounds him. Lucky to have an employer who is flexible enough to support him in continuing to work despite his physical regression. I feel despair, the sick at the bottom of my stomach despair. The film ‘I, Daniel Blake’ left me feeling this. Angry. But filled with sadness that the compassion, the caring, the equality for all is not present in our society.

I go to my allotment to clear my body, my mind, of the injustice, the worry and the frustration of not being able to solve these problems. I dig over 2 compost heaps, removing the dark brown earth that was last years weeds, returning the thorny twigs that have not yet broken down. The scratches irritate as the rain seeps through my gloves. I move the dead stems of runner beans and squash into the empty bin and stop to stretch upright as I contemplate emptying a third bin. I decide to do it as the positioning of this bin was ever so slightly on the paved area. It’s amazing how satisfying getting straight lines can be. The asparagus is earthed up and the clay soil of this years potato bed is dug before and after I add the content of the barrow. The robins swoop in to look for crawlies as soon as my barrow is turned and the magpies discover the addition of seeds on the bird table, they jostle on a nearby shed roof. The centipedes, millipedes and earwigs were breeding well in those heaps. I have to stop when I see a tunnelling system in my grass sod pile. I was adding the sods to the empty compost bin in layers, but I really dont want to expose any baby rats in this weather. I know they will cleverly move on and I can continue moving it next time. Though, with storms, hail stone and frosty temperatures on its way I’m not sure when that will be. 

Moodiness and flashbacks

This week has been a week of ups and downs.

A few weeks ago at my yoga class I made some wishes to the autumn solstice moon. The laughter and the banter in work has flowed well since. It has kept me from being truly stressed by my workload. I’ve had some relief from the toothache and sciatica from some cryotherapy from my good friend Sharon. And while the yoga classes have halted right now, I’ve managed to get some plot therapy a fair bit.

My pumpkin is looking good and the greenhouse and shed have had a good clean up. I disturbed a fair few spiders with hairier legs than mine! I emptied one of the composter bins but managed to fill it just as quickly with my hedge trimmings, some old sods from grow bags and the apple scrattings left over from the pressings. Four more to do. We’ve several containers of cider brewing up in the hut but I’ll manage drinking the rhubarb wine for now while it bubbles away. The quince tree has let go of some fruits, looking like a cross between pears and lemons. I’m going to need them for my chilli and red pepper jam. After my success with my first batch of damson jam I’m feeling confident. I’ve bought 24 jars with the little clip lids for the produce. There’s only half a basket of chillis from Mike’s greenhouse to preserve. We’ve frozen them in the past but I had the job of clearing out 20 of them about a month ago when the freezer was bursting at the seams. Hopefully the chilli jam will be a good way to utilise the summers energy.

The moodiness was at a prime yesterday when I offered to collect Mike from the plot. I was run down, had ideas that he might have cooked tea being home first and arrived to see him drinking a beer. He offered to take me out for tea and I just shot him down short and said I’d got plans. I’d had plans to eat and then go back to the plot to start sorting out the filing cabinet, they weren’t unchangable plans. I ended up cancelling them anyway. I get such a stubborn cow when I’m stressed. I think it’s a mixture of work stress, short days and the mix up of menopausal hormones causing it all but hey, who knows. All the doctors tests came back normal (me, normal!)

I was at Safeguarding training this week. There was a role play with a 14 year old lad who didn’t want to go to school, disengaged and disagreeable. It reminded me of the tricky teenage years with my youngest. The heart dropping from my chest when she didn’t come home at night. The attempts at subduing my anger when she does arrive and shrugs, talks incessantly about what she’s planning to do the next day. The meditation practice kicks in as I feel the breath enter and leave my nose, carrying the acceptance, that she is safe, unharmed and back home. In the training we had to question the actor to find out the risks and find solutions. One person starts with dwelling on the negative behaviour that he displays. “Just sitting there shrugging isn’t going to help” she says. These comments are the things I’d find myself saying to her and in almost an ‘out of body’ sensation I realised how ineffective, how wasteful these sweeping judgements were. Most of the time I calmly said what was in my mind, tried to show my concern for her future, tomorrow or longer term. I realise I done ok. She’s alive, living independantly, healthy most of the time and most importantly finding happiness for herself.

I’m finally acting on the belief that life is very short and happiness is much more important than excess money. I’ve just emailed a form to my manager asking to reduce my week from five days to four. It’s time really to start looking after myself.

 

Merchant Navy Memorial Day

I identify as a buddhist, so my attendance in a church isn’t a common occurrance. Our lady and St Nicholas church is known as the seafarers church. The weather vane on the spire was a landmark for sailors as they came along our magnificent Mersey River on their way to docking in my home town of Liverpool. It was where we remembered my Nan after her death 21 years ago. It was where she went to remember my Granddad who died as a crew member of the Derbyshire, a merchant vessel that sank in the South China Sea. I was in this church on Sunday for a memorial service.

We have many visitors to our garden centre and one man arrived just after closing time to tell us impatient staff of his time serving as a sailor. Retired merchant seaman Pat Moran, gave us a donation to create a floral display at this event. He provided stories, ribbon and his trust in us to create a colourful display for all to see down at our waterfront. He was delighted more with my attendance than the display, I was introduced to some dignitaries and sat drinking tea with some WW2 war widows before agnonising over the logistics of getting the planter back in my car. It’s one of the moments in life when I realise I haven’t stopped and listened and watched for a long while. Meeting new people, listening to their life stories, their present difficulties, helping them solve their problems, even just providing a pen or some selotape to fix the card on the wreath that kept blowing away.

It wasn’t an opportunity to sell our company, it was an opportunity to sit, remember, to listen and reflect. How lucky I am to have my family, for my Dad not to have died at sea like so many there. To have my health, with managable ailments, my rewarding job, my caring family, a home, access to healthcare, transport, the list goes on… Churches allow time to sit and think and reflect.

I resolve myself not to allow the stresses of work overpower the gratitude and it lasts half way into lunchtime. My inner voice keeps me calm, telling me I cannot do anything to control some things, so acceptance it is. I accept that having given out fifteen barbeque invitations I am told the wording is wrong and I’m to spend tomorrow on a telephone verbally inviting our service users. I accept that my ‘right hand man’, is told he is no longer needed to staff here. He has supplier contacts, he has plant knowledge, experience of customer service, even has used the till correctly in the last two weeks, but who am I to interfere with management issues? I accept that our Autistic student struggles to accept a black taxi instead of the big, white bus that has always came for him. He makes some simple decisions and goes home in the front seat. I accept that the big, white bus is an hour late as it’s a new driver, a new route and the first day back of the school year for him.

Maybe acceptance will get me through the next 2 weeks when my short break in Oswestry is booked. A few days with grass, trees, a camping stove and fresh air should refresh and re-energise. In the meanwhile I gaze at my plot with the despairing ‘where do I start?’ look. I start by picking elderberries, staining my hands, my bag, the chair I’m standing on with it’s rich, germ busting juice. Time to get it ready for the winter tonics.