Cabin Fever

IMG_20200216_123300_914

There’s not supposed to be a large pond there….

 

Storm Dennis was brutal last night, rattling the windows, clattering the neighbours’ gates, sending wheelie-bins shuffling down the street like budget daleks in a cut-price, post-brexit, dismantled BBC version of Dr Who. Sleep was fitful, and when it came was filled with dreams of dark anxieties, of loss, of faceless shadows lurking in corners.

Imbolc, on February 2nd, was supposed to herald the period of early Spring, which lasts until the Vernal Equinox. A time of the snow moon, snowdrops and crocuses, of new green shoots slowly emerging through the forest floor, gradually lengthening days and the smell of new life in the air. The first, gentle touches of the new year. Ciara and Dennis, the gruesome twosome, have had other ideas; and we have been trapped under angry swathes of roiling sky, fierce winds and, throughout the UK, flooding on a biblical scale. My heart goes out to those who have lost so many treasured possessions, particularly those who have only just recovered from the horrendous storms of recent years.

Everyone is suffering from Cabin Fever, it seems. My fellow walkers at the Scottish Women’s Walking Group are starting to climb walls and chew through cables. Many of us have started the Walk 1000 Miles Challenge and, after a mild and benevolent January which racked up decent mileage, are now struggling to deal with shorter bursts between work, other commitments, torrential downpours, and the risk of being hit by a flying tree. My body and – vitally – my brain – are in desperate need of a good, long stomp in the countryside, a full all-dayer somewhere I haven’t walked before. Cobwebs need to be blown, muscles need to be stretched and tested. I need to unfurl.

I’m dashing outside wherever I can, visits to the hawthorn path or to the woods where these past couple of weeks I have mostly been assessing storm damage and continuing the volunteer bird recording I undertake for the BTO. The going underfoot is increasingly difficult, however, and I have had to begrudgingly consider my advancing years and how a nasty fall might curtail my walking and exploring for several months, scuppering my plans for later in the year. (Now that is a wake-up call of middle age that certainly deserves a post of its own, and one I have jotted down in my future plans diary should my menopausal brain forget it.)

2b22afe7e9ae0843fa604b568403deae

Since giving up drinking and further developing my slow living, nature based philosophy last year (with huge thanks to Eleanor at Creative Countrywide for rewhetting my appetite); I have been staggered by how well I have coped with the winter months in comparison to other years. There is no doubt in my mind now that alcohol – even small amounts – had played a huge part in messing with my natural delicate chemical brain soup; but giving it up meant that I also ended up with a lot of time to fill. What would I do instead of boozy Saturday afternoon meet-ups with friends? What is a good movie without a bottle of wine? What would lubricate my late night social media ramblings? In short, what would replace wine as a way to calm my brain down and stop its incessant chattering?

I’ll write more about my brain chatter at another point too (*scribbles in diary, lest I forget this too*), as it has fascinated me to discover that not everyone has a constant internal dialogue rattling away in their head; but I will say that the following things have really helped me a) not miss relaxing with a glass of wine or six b) get through the long winter months and are now c) helping me cope with storm-induced cabin fever:

Meditation and yoga

Yes, it’s a total cliche but it really does help. I found that I had to look around to find resources that didn’t bug the shit out of me (there are a lot of ‘gurus’ who I just want to smack in the face with a shovel, which does nothing for one’s inner peace). TED talks are a great place to start, and you soon find out whether the proponents are talking sense or a pile of cash-generating juju. One of my favourites is Tara Brach, and I joined in her community online Radical Compassion Challenge recently, which gave me a lot to think about and introduced me to truly inspirational people like the amazing Valarie Kaur

IMG_20200214_093209_019

The postcard, incidentally, is of Julian of Norwich who is best known for saying “All shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well”. A mantra to live by.

I also have a fantastic app on my phone which originally I downloaded to help me sleep (insomnia being part and parcel of both my age and my new-found sobriety, no nightcaps to help my slumber these days!). It’s called Peak Sleep (it used to be called Rise, for some bizarre reason) and the subscription is worth every penny. It uses a number of approaches such as guided meditations, ACT (Acceptance and Commitment Therapy) and mindfulness meditations and can be used at any time of the day to help work through brain-scramble, mental fatigue and anxiety. I do, however, find their stats rather lacking but that’s only a minor niggle about an otherwise great product.

I’m still a big fan of the amazing Yoga with Adriene, mostly because she doesn’t expect you to be able to fold yourself into a clove hitch; and her quick meditations and winter blues yoga practices are a lovely way to spend a wee half hour.

Baking and general kitchen pootling

The youngest is still loving baking with me, and it’s something I really treasure. Everything, from looking through recipes to doing to cleaning up, is something I really look forward to each week – I know that at some point soon doing anything at all with me is going to become a massive bind, so I am really making the most of this. Next on my list is trying to cajole the oldest (who is apparently very good at Home Economics in school) into learning some basic meals. At the moment he seems to view meal creation as some kind of witchcraft, rather than something we all learn and develop.

Garden planning

This time of the year is gardening catalogue time. There are plans to be made, whether you have a massive garden or just a few pots. We have the raised bed at the community garden, of course, but a lot of our best gardening happened at home last year – we had phenomenal success with outdoor tomatoes and our beans, and we massively increased the amount and variety of pollinators visiting our garden by introducing a perennial border which we’re not overly fussy about weeding, and growing a number of herbs.

IMG_20200214_105547_846

No new plastic was bought for the planting of these seeds – all pots and propagators are recycled and will be until they fall apart, and even the baggies from Seed Parade will be reused!

 

I am slowly drawing together this year’s plans, really thinking about what is expensive to buy from the shops and/or comes in lots of unnecessary packaging and whether it’s feasible to try and grow it organically ourselves. I have just started off some hot peppers – cayenne, jalapeno and chocolate habenero (pictured). If you want to float away in fantasies of gorgeous gardens, check out Pinterest (but be careful on Pinterest if looking up when to sow seeds or plant seedlings out – most of the content is from the USA where the climate is often much difference to ours. John Harrison’s Vegetable Growing Month by Month is still my absolute bible for growing in the UK, remembering of course that Scotland tends to have a shorter growing season with a later spring and an earlier autumn and lower temperatures than the South of England).

On that note, I have noticed that the morning is marching away with me. The birds in the garden are in fine fettle today, and the rather-too-friendly grey squirrel has literally come to the bedroom window to gently remind me that I need to refill their hanging feeders. The sun is trying valiantly to break through the cloud cover and I might – just might – be able to fit in a quick walk before it starts to pour down once more.

You can also follow my nature ramblings over at The Hawthorn Path , follow me on Instagram or, if you’re so inclined, follow me on Pinterest  where I gather all manner of pretty things, recipes and art (including my ‘Winterspiration‘ collection of art celebrating the colder months, which is the perfect panacea to these dark days) as well as programme ideas for my Beaver Scout colony which may be helpful to other leaders, home schoolers, childminders etc.

Until next time, dear hearts xx

Advertisement

Slowvember

The weather has turned. Gone are the beautiful cold, crisp days of a world dusted with icing-sugar frost; the dull, low-cloud, drizzly days have returned to our patch of the West of Scotland.

Life feels hemmed-in, constricted. The clouds, concrete grey and stretching on for miles, are suffocating. It is a week for snuggling up with ridiculous Christmas films and hot chocolate with the curtains closed and the fire on….unless you have SAD, when you’re told to pull on your trainers and get out of the house whatever the weather.

20191125_133124

My wonderful counsellor (many years ago now) touched on the possibility of my having SAD as my usual symptoms of depression and anxiety (more common bedfellows than you’d think) worsened considerably as the days got shorter and summer became a memory; though from speaking to friends, unless you have a particularly masochistic love of the stresses of Christmas, a lowering of mood seems to be incredibly common without necessarily needing a diagnosis (in many cases, an additional diagnosis) of SAD.

Getting out of the house is vital for me, I simply cannot bear the days where I have had no fresh air at all, rare though they are. Even a fifteen minute walk to school to pick up Son The Second and walk – chatting about his day – home again can make a dramatic difference to my mood. Friday is cake and coffee day, when we treat ourselves at our favourite little cafe after school, and that has become time with him that I really cherish.

Good, comfy waterproof boots and a decent jacket mean that I can indulge in my longer walks as often as possible, whatever the weather. My favourite jacket is an enormous Seasalt waterproof number that I can fit several layers underneath which I bought for just £15.00 second hand on eBay. It has pockets large enough for my binoculars, phone (for photos) and a notebook if I don’t want to take a rucksack. I set off, usually down past the castle or down the hawthorn path and just take my time, dawdling where I want to, drinking in everything I can see, smell and hear and completely submerging myself in the sensory experience. I look and listen for the little things, the tiny flutters of a wren in the undergrowth, catkins preparing for the spring, a ribbon of lighter sky overhead. Wet and miserable days, I have discovered, can be more full of these tiny glimpses of magic than those heady days of summer when our senses can be so easily overloaded.

Jewels, whatever you deem them to be, shine more brightly in the darkness.

Jewels are at home too, warm and dry and welcoming after a few hours outside. There is a bliss in curling up with a lovely book and a cup of tea in a favourite mug, of leafing through recipe books or even Pinterest for a new comfort-food recipe to try. November is the perfect time for trying a new craft or hobby, and I don’t know what I would do with my hands in the winter without a crochet project to work on. I love to sit and watch something develop and grow in my hands, to become an object of (I hope!) beauty and what I hope will become a cherished gift. I imagine that I am working little glittering pieces of love into my stitches, weaving peace and happiness into what I am making for the recipient, I am never just crocheting.

20191126_112454

Of course, there is one major event coming up in just under a month that we dare not forget – and I know that Christmas can be an awful time for those of us with anxiety and depression as well as those of us who are alone, who have suffered a bereavement, for those whose families are less than perfect, and those who are battling addictions. Many of the issues, I believe, are not helped by the modern commercial Christmas which demands more, more, more from us each and every year and, for some, the desire to have the ‘perfect’ Christmas for our social media followers to drool over. Let’s call this out for what it is – big companies selling you stuff from sweatshops you don’t need, creating rubbish we can’t compost or recycle, and trying to make you feel unworthy / like a rubbish parent / a failure if you don’t fall for every new fad (Christmas jumpers, matching pyjama sets, Elf on the Shelf or ‘Christmas Eve boxes’, anyone?) the corporations want you to fall for and spend cash on.

It’s a deep and complex issue and not one for this week but I might come back to it next week, as it’ll be better than talking about politics like everyone else.

This year my Christmas is going to be modest, slow, and filled with people I love. Tell me about yours. Are you having a slower winter this year?

Monday Me Time and the End of an Era

It’s a truly abysmal day out there this morning. I’m keeping my feet warm under the duvet, watching a sleety rain hammer down which is knocking the leaves from the oak tree and disgruntling the starlings. Higgins, our local prowling moggie, is sitting under the fuchsia bush in our optimistically named ‘wildlife area’ wearing the saddest and most pitiful face a potential bird murderer could muster. Meanwhile, Chopsy the magpie bounces excitedly on the shed roof letting all – feathered or not – know of the half-hidden presence of the killing machine sat dripping miserably in our tiny, muddy little garden. Foiled again, Higgins.

I don’t work Mondays, and used to have the whole house to myself. Notice how I say ‘whole house’ as though I reside in splendour rather than a grubby end-of-terrace with a distinctly 1960s Brutalist feel; but having alone time was important to me. I would wave the family off to work and school, tidy up, and have the whole place looking almost decent and, amazingly, it would last that way until approximately 3.30pm when the front door banged open and Son The Second announced his return to the fold. By 6.30pm, the family would be reunited, the house suddenly full of bags, coats, shoes, till receipts, homework sheets and cables, and would remain that way – despite my best efforts / much muttering / occasional tantrums until the following Monday’s ‘Me Time’.

Monday Me Time, however, is no more. My husband is now working permanently from home and, as much as I want to embrace this opportunity to explore the joys of communal home-working; I have been – I admit – on the verge of strangling him.

Thing is, I am an introvert. OK, I am an introvert who often has to take on the role of extrovert in my job in marketing and my volunteer positions; but as an introvert who also happens to be anxious, I find peopling exhausting and I need time, alone, to recharge my batteries and to quietly process all the busyness that a standard week will generate. I also like order. I’m not a tidy freak by any stretch of the imagination – heaven forbid you open a cupboard in this house as you’ll be met by a landslide – but I do get a sense of calm and relaxation from having a clean and tidy kitchen, a vacuumed floor, the clutter put away. When my head is messy and trying to work out its tangles, a messy house is the last thing I need. I need order, neatness and one less thing to stress about.

This sounds terribly ‘me, me, me’, doesn’t it? And that’s the very thing about self-compassion that many of us struggle the most with. We are conditioned to care for everyone but ourselves, everyone else’s feelings but our own, everyone else’s comforts but our own. Looking after oneself is still seen by many to be selfish, self-obsessed, narcissistic behaviour – particularly (though not, of course, exclusively) if you are a mother. It really is an outdated, patriarchal concept that needs a good kick in the nuts. You can’t, after all, pour from an empty cup – self-compassion and taking time to properly look after ourselves is ultimately an altruistic endeavour – it gives us the tools and the time to heal ourselves so we can better respond to the needs of others.

So, my Mondays have changed somewhat and I must adjust accordingly. It’s not my husband’s fault that he’s working from home, and I can see he’s doing his best to not mess up my carefully wiped surfaces and plumped cushions or create intricate new ornaments from till receipts, loose change and some toffee wrappers. We are, for now, carefully stepping around each other, overly conscious of each other’s territory.

I have done all my Monday tasks – I usually prepare a stew on Monday mornings that can sit on the hob or in the slow cooker all day for minimum effort come dinner time; and I make yogurt. Or yoghurt, as I still prefer to call it. That will sit in flasks doing its thing until tomorrow when it is decanted into glass jars and refrigerated in a small attempt to reduce our plastic consumption. Rather than sitting downstairs in the living room with my embroidery, watercolour or crochet (oh my god, could I sound any more W.I if I tried?) listening to Radio 4, I have retreated to the bedroom. Which is beautifully tidy, I hasten to add.

I have my stash of ‘Coping with Winter’ reading material which I am going to talk about in a bit more detail in another post; and I am going to spend a few precious hours with these today whilst the wind howls and the rain lashes the windows.

20191111_104005

If the weather improves even slightly, I am going to wrap up and go out for a walk. The Hawthorn Path is overdue a visit and I know what a transformative effect walking has on mood, even when the weather leaves much to be desired. I think many of us hide away from Winter, trying to lock ourselves away in our centrally heated homes until the gloom is replaced by the first signs of a new Spring, instead of looking for Winter’s own beauty.

Maybe moving forward, Mondays will become my blogging day, my Monday Musings, at least when the weather is not conducive to a good walk. It seems, if nothing else, a positive way in which to begin a new week.

Maybe this isn’t an end to my Monday Me Time, but a brand new opportunity to be embraced and developed. Finding new ways to soothe and calm oneself, new adventures to go on to broaden horizons and find new inspirations. After all, a comfortable rut is still a rut.

 

 

 

Along the John Muir Way – Linlithgow to South Queensferry

John Muir Way, Stage 6. Approx 17 miles from Linlithgow Station to Dalmeny Station.

Link to Walk Highlands description and map here 

The route is waymarked very well, look for the small, lilac markers featuring John Muir’s head. Terrain mostly gravel or tarmac with some muddier areas, suitable for all-terrain buggies and bikes with care.

OS Explorer maps 349 and 350 

About this time last year, I joined the wonderful Scottish Women’s Walking Group, a Facebook group I’d heard about from a friend. As you know, I am a keen walker but one who usually prefers to be solitary, unless I need my husband and children to accompany me on new routes where I might get hopelessly lost or stumble down a ravine. Husband and children, however, have minds and lives of their own and don’t always want to drop everything to go gallivanting with yours truly across heather-filled and tick infested moorland. There was nothing for it, if I wished to broaden my horizons without fear of being eaten by bears or terrified by a falling leaf or my own shadow (panic trigger #1) then I would need to don my big girl walking knickers and go and meet some new people to walk with (panic trigger #2).

After a few weeks lurking in the Facebook group I was comforted that they weren’t another bunch of know-it-alls who argued about tent pole density, correct boot lacing techniques and who has spent the most on a Merino wool base layer. They are smart, funny, inspiring and so welcoming to newcomers, whether you are a Munro bagger or a once-a-week-around-the-park-with-the-dog walker. The women in the group are all ages, all abilities, from all around Scotland and the borders. Many are highly experienced and trained hillwalkers and mountaineers, but what is refreshing and so different to many of the other – dare I say it? – mixed gender groups is that no question is too silly, no idea too daft. If someone has an idea for a walk that is possibly not doable in current conditions, guidance is given with care and a full explanation and alternatives given, rather than it turning into the sort of holier-than-thou patronising behaviour and abuse you can come across in so many other groups.

Starting off it was, of course, nerve wracking meeting people I didn’t know; but I felt the fear and did it anyway, as they say. After the first few nervy minutes I found that I fell into easy conversation and by the end of the walk, your shared experience is a precious memory that easily beats any last minute wobbles.

I’ve now done quite a few different walks with the groups, including the Falls of Clyde, the Glasgow Bridges and the Three Lochs Way between Balloch and Inveruglas; and I loved the walks and the banter to be had so much I decided to give a little something back to the group and be the host on walks along the John Muir Way, which runs between Helensburgh and Dunbar. I’d already done part one, from Helenburgh to Balloch a few years back, and many others who were interested in the JMW had too, so I picked up my hosting duties with stage two, a very long stretch between Balloch and Strathblane on a boiling hot summer day. The next stages were gentler strolls through the central belt in the shadow of the Campsies, taking in the Antonine Wall, the Forth & Clyde and Union canals, the amazing Falkirk Wheel and the ancient town of Linlithgow.

Each walk was unique in personality due to the various women attending. Some have been with me for almost all the stages, some for only one, some come along when they can. Each and every one of them makes the every walk a cherished memory of a fantastic day out, and Saturday was no exception.

Friday had been awful, weather wise, and I was sorely tempted to call the whole thing off. Some of the ‘mainstays’ who had been on the majority of the stages couldn’t make it, the thought of trudging through the cold and damp for seven or so hours wasn’t exactly filling me with joy and, despite being a host I do still get nervous about meeting new people, I won’t pretend I don’t; but I stuck to my guns.

I met Linda, Lynn and Fiona in Queen Street Station (all of whom I’ve walked with before and who have done at least one other part of the JMW) and got the train down to Linlithgow, where we were suitably impressed by their spotless waiting area and book exchange. There we met Helen, Kirsty, Bianca, Susan and our first-timer ‘Walk Virgin’, Pamela and her adorable dog Buzz, who really was the goodest of boys and gave me a very warm welcome. Within a few minutes we were all (except Buzz, who tail-wagged very contentedly) chatting away as though we’d known each other for ages and the intrepid explorers set off through the High Street and down to the loch.

20191102_100936

Linlithgow Loch was just stunning in the morning light, with coots and widgeon, swans and geese sailing serenely below the wisps of mist above the water, past the distant trout fishermen in small boats looking like apparitions, ghosts of the ancient town.

20191102_102522

We left Linlithgow behind, crossing over the screamingly busy M9 and walking steadily but gradually uphill, fields rolling gently below us.

20191102_110621

Down into the beautiful woodland near Kinneil House. The picture on the Walk Highlands description must have been taken in the middle of winter as I hadn’t been expecting the riot of deciduous colour that met us, I was expecting a rather drab coniferous plantation. I looked around, trying to drink it all in, trying to absorb every ounce of the beauty and the magic of the moment – not just of the immediate environment, but also of the very fact that I was here – hosting a long walk – with women I barely knew. A year ago, such a thing would have been utterly inconceivable for me. I would have been far too scared.

20191102_112302

We had a wee mooch around the grounds of Kinneil House, but we were all too aware that light was not on our side and we’d not yet stopped for lunch, so we pushed on down into Bo’ness, and this view of the Forth of Firth, millpond still and eerily quiet but for the occasional call of a curlew on the mudflats.

20191102_121355

No visit to Bo’ness is complete, of course, without seeing ‘Thomas’ and his friends.

Did we all stand there waving? You bet we did.

20191102_121902

A brief stop for lunch, in which we discussed the merits of flasks of varying sizes and brands, and Buzz the Goodest Boy tried his best to relieve Pamela of her ham roll and we were soon off again towards Blackness Castle , a fifteeth century garrison and prison known, due to its imposing position, as ‘the ship that never sailed’.

Sadly no time to visit, but I have been before with family and it is a really interesting place if you’re in the vicinity. We did visit the public conveniences though, and were very impressed by the clean toilets, toilet roll, soap AND paper towels and, although they lost a point for not having a hook on the back of the door for coat/rucksack hanging, I would like to big up Falkirk Council for having by far the best public loos I have visited all year.

20191102_135654

Quick photo stop for the Facebook group. What a bunch of legends, eleven miles in at this point and still grinning / tail wagging.

20191102_142304

Into the woodland surrounding the very impressive Hopetoun House….

20191102_14331820191102_144338

Including this absolute belter which stopped us in our tracks. I think it’s a Japanese Acer, but I’m not absolutely certain. What I can say is that my photo doesn’t do it justice, it was utterly stunning, and more a deep pink than my camera has picked up.

20191102_151704

Hopetoun House peeping out. We didn’t hang around as they were busy setting up for a fireworks display and we didn’t want to get in the way, plus by this point we were rapidly losing light.

20191102_152042

A wee peep at some gorgeous manicured gardens, and some rather impressive ironwork….

20191102_15400220191102_155318

Though if it’s metalwork you’re after……feast your eyes. All three bridges.

20191102_155544

By the time we got into South Queensferry, it was almost dark and we were, justifiably, shattered. The last three miles on tarmac had taken its toll on our weary feet and we were, by now, all ready to drop. Fiona couldn’t resist a wee poke of chips, and who can blame her? They smelt amazing and tasted even better, I can’t remember the name of the chippy but it was on the right hand side of the road as you head towards the rail bridge, after the main part of the town and before the hotels.

20191102_164722

With the majesty of the Forth Rail Bridge as our background, the team split with us saying our goodbyes to Kirsty, Pamela and Buzz who were getting a lift before the rest of us headed off (via the scary, dark, long flight of slippery steps route which are definitely not for the faint-hearted) to Dalmeny station where we were to head into Edinburgh for home or our journey back into Glasgow.

IMG_20191102_211318_788

And so another stage of the John Muir Way is complete. The way receives a lot of flak from many for being ‘too boring’, ‘too close to the central belt’ or ‘too much on paths’ but I am delighted that routes such as this are springing up and bringing walkers to these areas. High footfall in many areas of the highlands means that popular routes are being damaged and the fragile ecosystem is being put at risk by tourism – even by those of us who tread as gently as we can. Highland beauty spots on lovely days more closely resemble lunchtime on Buchanan Street than peaceful wildernesses, whereas on this stretch of the JMW we probably encountered less than ten other walkers over the full seventeen miles. Furthermore, as someone really interested in modern social history (post Industrial Revolution), I find these walks fascinating – not just for the remnants of the past you see all around you when you know what to look for; but also as a study of how nature returns and takes over, reclaiming these sites back for herself. Urban / suburban nature and how it should be cherished and celebrated is a post for another day, however.

 

One Hundred Days of Solitude

July 20th 2019, Glasgow City Centre, 9pm

Standing in Glasgow Central Station, having enjoyed a few pints of lager and a couple of whiskies with friends I’d been walking part of the John Muir Way with. I’ve walked down from the pub, dodging my way round the men smoking on street corners who were shouting sleazy comments to the much younger women walking past; past the hen-nights, a stag-do; a fight outside a chip-shop. Dense patches of vape smoke hanging in the air. A huddle of young women crying and trying to re-do each others’ eyeliner and spraying each other with cloying perfume. Everyone seems to be either grinning or sobbing, swaying with the beat of the summer city and the promotional booze.

In the station, I watch a woman of indeterminate age clutching a bottle of vodka in one hand, her stilettos in the other. She is just arriving in town, alone, into all of this. Swaying through the barriers, swearing at the guard that her crumpled ticket won’t go through the machine. I spend the rest of the evening worrying about her.

Monday 22nd July, the start of a new week, I wake up and I know that I want to be alcohol free.

The journey started. And it has been surprisingly lonely.

I knew I’d be asked a lot of questions if I told other people. Apparently, it tends to go two ways – either lots of questions, or people just not wishing to acknowledge it or give you any support whatsoever. I have experienced both. Whilst I can’t do anything about those people – good friends (at least, I thought they were) included – who have fallen into the latter category apart from feel hurt and rather bemused by their attitude; what I can do is answer some of the questions I’ve had.

So, were you an alcoholic?

Well, it’s what everyone’s thinking, isn’t it? Let me say, categorically, no. I was not an ‘alcoholic’. Did I think my drinking was harmful? Yes, yes I did. I might not have been pouring gin on my cornflakes and hiding bottles on vodka in the toilet cistern, I might not have been dancing on tables, drunk texting or bumping into parked cars on the walk to the bus stop; but I was starting to find it all too much of convenient habit, albeit one that everyone else seems to be doing.

The whole definition of ‘alcoholism’ is an interesting one, though, particularly when you look at the concept of the functioning alcoholic and whether you consider addiction a psychological or a physical issue, or something in between, and I’d love to hear your views.

So, why did you stop?

Mostly, I was concerned about how quickly alcohol – like all drugs – becomes a crutch, and how every event is marketed now as an excuse to drink. Having a good day? Celebrate with alcohol. Having a stressful time? Relax with alcohol. Having an awful day? Drown your sorrows with alcohol. Kids pissing you off? Drink. Kids left home? Drink. Etcetera, etcetera.

The marketing towards women I find particularly cynical and incredibly distasteful – if I see another birthday card, engraved glass or money bank proclaiming ‘Prosecco Time!’ or ‘Wine O’Clock’ I might actually put my fist through the nearest wall. With research indicating that drinking more than six units a week (a piffling amount for most people, of course) can lead to an increased risk of seven types of cancer, including breast cancer; stroke and, of course, significantly worsen the symptoms of anxiety and depression; I’m not too keen on people making a mint out of the misery of others. Therefore, I’d rather not support this culture of drinking by paying for alcohol.

I read a few brilliant books and websites about living without booze and I just felt that their new, improved lives and optimism, as well as their pragmatism, were things I too wanted to cultivate and nurture in my own life. It dawned on me that maybe it wasn’t my personality and my brain that was fucking with me and causing much of my depression and anxiety– it was the alcohol. Why hadn’t I thought of that before?

So, have you stopped for good?

That wasn’t my intention when I stopped drinking back in July. I’ve given up for charity in the past, and at first I wanted to try sixty days. I’d seen how great I’d felt after the thirty or fifty day stints I’d done in the past and I wanted to see what happened post-sixty. Then that became post-ninety. Now, here we are at post-one hundred and at the moment I have no intention of drinking alcohol any time soon. I have two gorgeous looking bottles of flavoured vodkas made by my dad staring me in the face every morning in the kitchen, and I haven’t been remotely tempted.

I’ve not promised myself that I’ll never drink again, I’m not drinking at the moment, and we’ll see how long that continues.

What I can say is that, so far, nothing in my life can be improved by adding alcohol to it. Nothing at all. So why bother?

Jesus wept, what a bore. I suppose I can’t drink around you now?

Not at all, drink as much as you like. I don’t have a problem being around other people drinking whatsoever, and I still enjoy being in pubs. You don’t have to hide your drinks cabinet or bury the cooking sherry under the ironing pile (but I might smash your ‘Prosecco Fund’ moneybox).

Oh God, are you going to become a lecturing evangelist?

Christ, I hope not. I can only really speak for myself and how much good it has done me, and how this change is helping me deal with my life. As I have said, I am ‘alcohol free’ rather than ‘sober’ – I wouldn’t ever wish to tell someone who was an alcoholic (using the standard ‘physical’ definition) how I think they ought to live their lives. I found stopping drinking relatively easy, and had none of the unpleasant symptoms that a lot of people can, and will, experience. In fact, I’d go so far as to sometimes feel a bit of a fraud, like I’ve given up sweets and I’m trying to big myself up.

I will write sometimes on how I feel life has improved for me since giving up drinking, in the hope it may help other people who are thinking of cutting down or quitting (even if only for a month for charity) because it can feel like quite a lonely place (please be reassured that there are LOADS of us in Club AF!); but if anyone wants to chat in greater detail about books, resources etc do please feel free to get in touch via the contact page here.

So, here I am. Me and my depression and anxiety, just like so many other people out there. I’m exactly as I was before, only now I am alcohol free. I’m done with trying to escape reality.

I’m staying here. In this world, walking my own path, in my own time. No more waiting for my life to start when X, Y or Z happens / when the stars align / when everything else is perfect. This IS a perfect place to be. So I’m staying here now – hence the new blog name.

You are very welcome to join me.

 

 

All change….

I’m not going to start with an apology, because I do that far too often and really, I have nothing to apologise for.

I just wanted to let you know that this site, and its sister site The Hawthorn Path are going to be coming back, albeit in a different guise.

This year has proven to be very important and educational for me, and I will be using this space to try and do my best to explain what I’ve learned. As always, it is likely to be garbled and sporadic, but that’s why you love me, right?

It would mean a lot if you could join me, back here, on November 1st.

Thank you xxx

New Year Solutions

You must be living under a rock if you’re still blissfully unaware of the damage that plastics, chemicals and needless waste are doing to our planet. I am not, however, going to sit here with my collection of scented candles and our car sitting outside (albeit off the road awaiting repairs) and claim to be some kind of Green Goddess, because nothing puts one off a cause faster than a hypocrite.

I have, however, been making small steps over the past years to not just recycle and compost; but to reduce my consumption in the first place – though I will confess right now that I do have an almost overwhelming desire for books and crafting and arts materials.

Some of you will remember the wonderful “Self Sufficient-ish” website and forum, and Dave and Andy Hamilton’s companion book , The Self Sufficient-ish Bible. A staggering ten years since publication, it is still my go-to read for all things eco AND practical and forum members are amongst some of my best friends, so it has been a really important and integral part of my life since our kids were wee.

We do, however, all have a tendency to slide back into bad habits and this year, motivated by a marvellous BBC Radio 4 series also called ‘New Year Solutions’ I decided to get my act together and haul my backside out of the rut I feel I’ve got stuck in. As regular readers of this blog know, I am a keen walker (and user of public transport) and I love pottering in the kitchen and cooking from scratch, growing my own vegetables and making do and mending wherever I can. I haven’t been on an aeroplane since 2006 and I would consider our lifestyle to be rather more eco-friendly and waste-conscious than many people of our demographic; but I wanted to see what else I could do and, tellingly, how easy, cheap and practical it is to swap.

It was a glimpse of the bathroom that really shocked me, and the sheer amount of plastics and chemicals contained in one ridiculously small space.

One of my first experiments, last year, was to invest in the materials needed to make bubble bath, shower gel etc. It’s basically Castille soap and vegetable glycerine mixed with water and essential oils. It doesn’t, however, contain any chemical surfactants so you get, essentially, bubble-free bubble bath after the first few minutes. It does, however make a very nice shower gel, as long as you can train your brain away from the idea planted by clever marketeers years ago that foam and lather = clean.

I bought glass screw-top bottles for mine, these wouldn’t be practical in some situations where they might get dropped and smash and, really, when I worked out the cost of buying the ingredients and containers and compared it to your supermarket own brand bubble-bath and shower gel, which can be bought for pennies, it wasn’t the most practical or cheap swap. It does have the benefit of containing far less in the way of chemicals than shop bought, of course, as well as you having the ability to add essential oils to suit you and if you refill a bottle with the mix you are reducing your plastic.

I had heard about shampoo bars and, once I had my hair chopped off, I invested in one – a lovely smelling mint and coconut one I found on eBay for about £4.00 and, having read some rather unimpressed reviews of shampoo bars in general, I tried it without expecting much. Well, well. 10/10 on my newly short hair, would recommend. I can see how it might feel tacky on longer hair than mine (currently in a chin length bob) which is a common complaint; but in terms of waste, these bars will last much longer than your average bottle of shampoo (the manufacturer stated around five times longer) and the only plastic was the wrap around the bar – the item shipped wrapped in cardboard and brown paper instead of a jiffybag.

A throwback to my 80s teenage years this one – Cider vinegar rinse instead of conditioner: 6/10 (because even if you only use a few mls of vinegar you can’t help but think you stink like a bag of chips. The smell goes when your hair is properly dry, and it makes your hair lovely and shiny but someone might mistake you for a rissole if you go out with damp hair and dollop some ketchup on you.)

Coconut Oil as a night moisturiser, hand moisturiser, eye make-up remover: YES! 8/10, a bit heavy for anything other than night use but very good indeed for budging waterproof mascara. My coconut oil remains solid because our house is Baltic, and it comes in a glass jar. Win.

What about one of these crystal pendant alum salt thing instead of deodorant, then? Surely not!?

What a surprise! 11/10. No plastic at all, the crystal chunk will last over a year. Being in that delightful time of life known as peri-menopause, my body produces all kind of weird and wonderful sweaty smells my twelve year old son would be proud of. Whilst this isn’t an anti-perspirant, I am absolutely pong free, no niffy whiffs here! A wee bit pricy at first glance at £5.49 (eBay again) if you are, like me, a roll-on user; but it looks as though you’d certainly get your money’s worth if you’re able to give up your more expensive aerosols, though I do understand that if you’re used to spraying yourself from head to toe in smelly stuff, a quick slick of a wet crystal in your (clean) pits might not seem enough and, as I said, it doesn’t prevent the actual sweating. Again, big up to Mother Nature Goodies for zero plastics in their wrapping and packaging.

Bamboo Toothbrush: Medium bristles a bit hard in comparison to a plastic one; but toothbrush is nice and light. I am a sucker for oral hygiene marketing, and I can’t help believing all the hype that an angled head, varied bristle lengths and weird bobbly bits of plastic will drastically improve my oral health, even though my hygienist has told me that’s basically just crap.

The toothbrush was very cheap, less than £1.00 and again came in a completely plastic free packaging. I’m going to give it a go, but I’ll be interested to see there are any changes to my oral health when I next see my dentist. 6/10, need convincing.

“Truthpaste” vegan toothpaste made from clay, myrrh, wintergreen and a host of other ingredients straight from the bowels of hell. I’m sorry, lovely people at Truthpaste, but your product is f%*&ing disgusting, it feels like you’ve fallen face first in cement. Slightly minty tasting, if you can get past the ‘refreshing’ sensation of a gobful of crushed brick. It did leave my teeth feeling nice though, but I can’t help feeling it’s sloughing away my remaining enamel whilst earth-kindly depriving me of any flouride (we don’t have it in our water up here) 2/10 and I’m happy to give it another go, but I’m not sure it wouldn’t be too abrasive for everyday use.

Making my own soap: I’ve been buying melt-and-pour organic SLS free soap base and adding ingredients to create custom soaps, my favourite is my honey and oatmeal with a wee bit of sweet almond oil. The oatmeal had all floated to the top of the mix but hey, that’s OK because I now have one soap side that’s smooth and the other than is a very gentle exfoliant. It doesn’t make your skin feel as though your jowls have been trapped in a lift door. I’d like to say it makes me feel 16 again but, by Christ, we can’t have miracles at what works out at 50p or so a bar. I wrap mine in greaseproof paper and then pop them in an airtight tub or Kilner jar to save them degrading over time. So simple to make, and would make fabulous gifts. There are tons of soap recipes on Pinterest.

And so….down to the kitchen…….

I’ve been wanting to try beeswax foodwraps for ages, but I confess that I was always put off by the pack prices – a lot of money for something I would be buying blind without trying first. I then discovered that my friend Avril has been experimenting with wraps and she gave me a pack to try out. I was so impressed I am helping her sell them, so if you’d like to try them do let me know. Great on jars and bowls, and I’ve written up a guide on how to use them and how to ‘refresh’ them after you’ve been using them a few months. I am still trying to perfect the origami required to make sandwich envelopes though.

They are £12.50 inc. postage and packing and the pleasure of having me handle your order, and come in three sizes – 20 x 20cm, 25 x 25cm and 30 x 30cm.

Swapping to Indian Soapnuts instead of washing powder – to be honest, these were the things I thought might be the turkey of the show. However, I was very pleasantly surprised once I got past the fact they don’t foam much (those damned marketeers again!) . Everything has come out beautifully, although white shirts etc will probably need an occasional brighten with Vanish/Oxy whatever (if you have a revolting tween as I do with white school shirts). Soapnuts have no smell or softening factors so it is advised to add essential oil to the conditioner drawer but of course that doesn’t soften. Vinegar softens and, again, it doesn’t smell at all once it’s dry but we don’t usually use softener anyway. At £9.00 per kilo (just 6 shells will last around 5 washes at 30 degrees) inc P&P this will be much, much cheaper than powder and I love the idea that I’m not flushing washing powder out into the world. 9/10. They lose a point because they came in a plastic bag.

These are just a couple of things I’ve looked into – on the whole I’ve found the changes fairly reasonably priced (though I was given the wraps as a gift) and, on the whole, just as practical and straightforward as the items I’ve swapped out – there’s certainly very little that is more time-consuming. The only real disappointment is non-bubbling bubble-bath (and who doesn’t love a bubble bath?), and the unfortunate texture and taste of the toothpaste, which I might yet learn to love.

Join me next time, dear reader, when I moan about chest infections, the KonMari method and the state of our raised bed.

xx