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


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.

Tourist, teacher,digger and designer

My last fortnight has been diverse. I travelled to Latvia and landed safely, despite some scary roller-coaster type, turbulence just outside the bay of Riga. I was met by Anya and Evija, young women who also relished the idea of spreading the love of our language across Latvia. Riga draws you in with history and its potent beer. Folkclubb Ala provided the first experience of Latvian dancers. I’m unable to remember the last time twelve men were dancing with such vigour and coordination on a club dance floor. 

The following day provided little sleep, an adverse digestive reaction to the beer and a very heavy head all while travelling from the capital to the wonderfully welcoming town of Berzgale. At 44 I should have known better than to drink that much so my body provided the punishment free of charge. I met some fellow travellers while lying on a bench in the sun outside the train station. I was feeling a little better after refreshments and by the time we arrived at a very high viewing tower. I was intrigued by the swallows darting around the top enough to pull myself up by the handrails, overcoming the anxiety caused by the steel mesh steps reminding me how far from the earth I was all the way up. I was rewarded by about thirty nests each with one or two monochrome heads looking out for tasty treats from their parents who were busy swooping in and out of the tower.

The week that followed was an amazing experience in a poor community that was so rich in friendly, welcoming and talented people, so proud of their Latgalian heritage. Latgale is a district of Latvia having its own language and cultural differences to the other districts of the country that supplies IKEA with most of its wood. The lakes and flat green landscapes attract awkward looking storks, checking for frogs in the dew covered grass each morning. The children of the village and a nearby village met each day in the council building. The Mayor so happy to have 67 children and 12, mainly unqualified, english teachers invade his usually quiet building was a perfect example of the humbleness of this area. He appeared regularly offering coffee, saying good morning and even offered directions to a lost teacher while exploring. Unusually his building, which doubles up as a bus shelter when it was cold and raining outside, was painted in bright terracotta in contrast to the grey utilitarian concrete of so many other buildings. It housed the library and a theatre space as well as a hall and the village youth centre was housed downstairs. The activities and discussion which happened over the week left us all in awe of so many characters. The students worked together to assist others and the team building and support within our group teachers developed quickly and with ease. At the end of five days we were all so elated and exhausted as we went our separate ways. of course it now seems like a distant memory but a hugely memorable, fulfilling one. The highlights for me included twenty little ones sitting, enthralled, listening as Roald Dahl’s George made a medicine for his squeaky voiced evil grandma. My co-teacher Liana checked afterwards that most had grasped the story plot from my voices that are second nature. This was a favourite of mine for supply teaching many years ago.

So the memories were rudely shoved aside upon my return to work on Tuesday. Two tonne of soil needed shifting, two truck fulls of plants needed delivering, rolls of turf sourcing, two hedges planting and two gardeners arrived on site. Overwhelmed I stuck in so as not to give way to the panic that could have so easily meant failure. Reinforcements arrived, the woodwork staff and the maintenance staff were followed by a couple of managers laden with drinks. No water feature but fizzy pop would quench some thirst in the hot sun of Southport. The next morning (judging day) started at 7am planting in a scented hedge. perhaps it was the herby smells or the pale blue sky and quiet of the early hours that aided my calm resolve. At 12.15 we finished, turfing, planting, choosing and discarding and potting up, cleaning and deadheading, brushing soil from mosaics, flicking pea gravel out of the strands of grass. We had 15 minutes to spare admiring our work and tidying the waste. 

It was Thursday when the relaxed facade melted making me dance around like a toddler needing a wee! Carole Kline from gardener’s world came to see our garden. At the same time a young Miss England was also taken aback by the attention. The two were so lovely taking time to complement the garden and even my hair! Our art department’s poseidon statue caused a stir and they came in for a squeeze of his muscles. An excellent photo opportunity, even I’ve ended up on the flower show facebook page!

The whirlwind dies down today leaving me more tanned and the bags under my eyes give away the falling asleep on the couch before 10pm. I am very grateful for the yoga practise I had chance to do in front of the lake outside our cabin in Berzgale and the yoga studio in the hostel in Riga. I’m thankful for the day relaxing with my book while waiting for flights. I truly appreciate having such supportive colleagues today while I pottered around trying to tidy around after the tsunami left behind in our garden centre. I appreciate the other half keeping our flat looking so good, my bed for being so comfortable and for the rain. Seeing I forgot in my haste to get home last night I forgot to water the show garden and forgot to water my allotment!

Sveiki draugi

‘Hello friends’ in Latvian. I’m getting excited now that the boarding cards are printed. y granddaughter and I visited our two great cathedrals last Saturday in search of postcards and a map of my amazing home town. The little one with most energy adored the colours from the stained glass windows inside Paddy’s wigwam and she enjoyed listening to the organ being played in the anglican cathedral as well. Tiptoeing around the Catholic cathedral she was trying to be quiet while saying loudly, ‘Do we have to be quiet nanny?’.

I managed a lie in this weekend before venturing out to the allotment. Harvest time is upon us. Green french beans, brocolli, tomatoes, onions, red cabages the size of footballs swell out under the sunflowers. I brush past the sweet peas to get to the courgette that’s trying to become a marrow. Courgette chutney will be brewing up as soon as I can get the big pan washed. Our latest guest made veggie stew, of course its always better the day after, so there’s an excuse not to have to wash the pan. Then there’s the berries and the fruit. Mike’s melon is drifting its sweet smell over the edge of the fruit bowl in the newly decorated living room. The plums are ripening just as the raspberries become a big smaller and a bit softer than those first fresh pickings last month. Blueberries are continuing to swell in size and the colour turn from a deep ink to a silvery black, shiny when rubbed. On my way out I find some unexpected parcels. the boxes had been there two hours earlier but only on curiousity’s chance did I open then. Two brown hens, each in a shoebox size card box, stuck with duck tape, fluttered and wobbled as I lifted a corner. Mike put them away in Billy’s old hutch and fed them some greens, they’ve had corn and sunflowers today. My son, who has a job(!!!) in the animal rescue centre has said they can have them there. The run they are in isnt safe from foxes, so we presume they’re not laying eggs and it feels wrong to make them redundant or not fit for keeping because they’ve outlived their usefulness, but it’s not safe to keep them as pets down the plot. They’d be foxes breakfast before the weekend.

Sleep is on it’s way now, though its being held back by the ebb and flow of snoring besides me, grating with each breath out through congested airways. will have to go and nudge the compliant sleeper into silence again.

Rose garden

So life lately has been fine and rosy. A niggle of doubt tells me I shouldn’t tempt fate but hey its good to share the good times as well as the bad.

Labdien- good day in Latvian

I have the opportunity to teach (I use this word hesitantly, as Ive not taught in schools for 10 years now) in Latvia. My daughter’s friend is fundraising to run an english summer school in her home village, a rural community in the east of the country. I’m excited about being around children, being able to engage them in fun activities and help them to practise their english. The sum total of latvian that I know so far is written above, but I’m sure I’ll learn more and thankfully interpretors are plentiful. My colleagues in work have expressed concern at me ‘swanning off’ the week before the flower show, but its adding to the team building atmosphere that is developing well.

In December I was sent to Park Lodge Greenhouses, Rotten Row, Southport. the weather was dire, the other site users were obnoxious, and it was difficult to stop the grey clouds, leaky roof, lack of hot water, lack of conversation from getting to me. Ok, now the sun is here things are better, but we have a bigger, better team of staff, clients are mixing and making new alliances. The whole thing is brightening up. Myself and my colleague feel like our feet haven’t touched the ground for weeks now, our bums definately haven’t touched seats until lunch time! We’ve just done our first weekend between us and the customers streaming through the gates have listened to us selling what our company does. How proud I feel that we empower people, give them meaningful tasks, develop skills and help them learn new things, keeps me elated with enthusiasm and love for my job. It’s not all roses but I said my piece about the past and letting it go is a vital step in my happiness.

Down the plot, I grew the roses there. They remind me of the rose bush Nana and Pop planted in my childhood back garden, in front of the swing that we had, if you went high enough you could see Mrs Sumner’s bloomers hanging to dry in her garden next door. The grapes that grew up the back wall, by my twelth birthday I could reach out and pick grapes. Well, if I wasn’t so disgusted that Mum’s old tights had been around them, to protect them from the birds. We had mint in an old toilet, a strawberry bed, and smelly tomatoes, that smelt particularly pungent because Dad weed on them as fertiliser! Down my allotment I’m growing spuds, I love new potatoes, the kids helped put in peas, and beans, with squash growing around the bottom, one bed has sweetcorn (will have to eat the last two cobs in the freezer from last year), I’ve planted red shallots, garlic and we spread broccoli seeds a while ago. Ive got another bed to plant up with red onions, and have to prepare one for the plot pumpkin competition.

The kids are happy(ish). The eldest is winding down after the stress of uni, she’s got herself air in her bike tyres and a new camera. The middle one is ok (he’s always ok) but ok with getting out and about and waiting on references for some agency work. And the youngest has stuck at a job for two days so far! She’s learnt she’s not a ‘people person’. good job its only two days a week! I’m planning on getting to a few open mike’s this month but otherwise I’m content. Happy. Optimistic.Coming up roses, even!