Butterflies in the trees

It’s July, no scratch that. It was and now it is August and the sun melts one day into the next, like ice-cream pooling at the foot of a screaming child. I used to think August was a yellow month, it marks a peak of summer, the light starts to fade and days do become shorter. But now I think it is orange and dusty because of the wild Saharan winds blowing over the islands. Each day ticking past with that sunset closer and closer. Family have visited us and we tried to show them the things we like, and places we go. But time together was what mattered most over the touristy things to do. The sea is warm now so we swam on busy beaches and even my mum went swimming for the first time in years. I was witness to her frolicking in the waves and I have to call it that, she had a childish grin and giggled. She even managed to get just the ends of her hair wet and ruin a good straw hat. I think it was worth it. I haven’t seen my mum properly get in the sea in 15 years or more, maybe 20. It was a brilliant holiday, a Greek Staycation of the finest order. Time off work and lots of eating out and wine and good conversations and stories.

I thought a lot while the family were here – and they gave me lots to think about, in a good way. Not just considering what they think of how we live here, but also how my life is so different from theirs was at my age. We talked about choices and acceptance – it has changed so much from one generation to the next, what was a wild adventure in 1960s, is now a common place weekend away. What was a safe career choice back then doesn’t exist now – house prices, global economic gloom, climate change are all a reality that affect us all.  I wasn’t sure how but it seems like choices that are available have made us expect more from work and life, and as a result are more anxious.  A pervasive fear about what success should look like, or feel like, is perhaps not a balance between ambition, expectation, obligation and gratitude. Perhaps it is just a fabled Arcadia.

It reminded me of an overheard conversation a few weeks ago. Three people, shared a table set out with tiny white cups of Greek coffee and glasses of water. A loaf of fresh bread, perhaps brioche, was being slowly eaten as they talked, hands tearing the bread into pieces.  They are much older than me, but spritely animated with hair in various shades of grey bobbing up and down in my eye-line. It is one man and two women.  I have an espresso freddo to keep my notepad and pen company in the shade of  Maouli Square at noon. There could be no better place to spend time than this. Under the shadow of the Ernst Ziller designed Town Hall, a plateia of marble, both extraordinarily historic and splendidly grand. My dad agrees with this when he visits – he’d sit there all day watching the pigeons if we’d let him. Each of the three are taking bites of the bread and slurps of coffee between slow and long proclamations in English, Greek and a few words of French. They are talking about their families. “Everyone talks about money as if it’s the solution” one of the two ladies starts and they listen. The other lady eventually responds nodding “In this life it is difficult, it should be difficult, things need to be valued” The man chips in “they want another house, a new car, a holiday not one but three times a year.  Pah, it never ends”. Their conversation turns to grandchildren – ‘always wanting more, toys and fun parties and things to possess’.  I gather the gist only from the English they use with the wringing of hands that this is a worry. A familiar generational difference the world over. Each generation tricked or cajoled into the lifestyle trappings affordable to only the privileged few. ‘Isn’t health and time worth something now? she says.

I try to swim in the morning when the beaches are quiet.  There are regulars with rituals to observe. ‘Kalo Banio’ they call to one another ‘have a good swim’. The couple who hold hands and set their towels out under the same shade every day. They arrive by car, although I suspect  they don’t travel far. There are two old men that arrive at the same time, in similar worn baggy shorts and greet each other like old friends. They discard their plastic beach shoes neatly next to each other as they chat. I imagine they are talking about the current, the swell of the sea and its deep mysteries with intricate detail that could only be gleaned from a lifetime of summers spent swimming here. There are three women who wave at the men ‘Yassas’ as they bob and chat in the water. Their faces hidden from glare by their white cotton hats. It is a ritual of daybreak. That cleansing swim to ward off ills and keep going against the tide of time.

We are 2 days into 10 days of land-sitting for our landlord. It’s not an arduous task, just watering the fruit trees and crops, looking after the chickens. For me; it’s bit of a good life fantasy to have something like this one day. Yesterday we went to the field in late afternoon, which is really what in the UK we’d call early evening,  when the sun is lower in the sky and the days heat is starting to dissipate. Walking though the fruit trees at the back we disturbed a lot of butterflies, as they started to fly around us and G immediately panicked thinking they were moths! It was quite a sight to behold. Somewhere between 30 or even 50 pairs of orange and brown wings fluttering in different directions. All flying out from under the shady canopies of the dark green leaves of the citrus trees. It was the type of sight that would have been amazing to capture on a photo, but it wasn’t a time I had my camera.

Not everything can be captured and stored away in a digital file, sometimes the memory is good enough to last.

10 meditations on 2017

Christmas is spent with ghosts.
Just like the three ghosts that visit Ebenezer Scrooge (or Frank Cross, played by Bill Murray in my favourite version, Scrooged), the phantoms of our past, present and future haunt us every year. I am not alone in thinking more about the big things in the days after the frivolity of Christmas while awaiting the shiny promise of a New Year.

If Christmas is for nostalgia, the Ghost of Christmas Past has been and gone by the 29th December, discarded like the turkey bones thrown into the food recycling bin. If you’re lucky to not be back in work this week it is like a no-man’s land, some call it ‘Twixt-mas’ or the in-between days before NYE’s fizz. We sit and watch repeats on the telly, internet shop and wonder what the future will hold. These days are prime hunting ground for the Ghost of Christmas Present, who asks questions about here and now, waiting the future to knock at the door as the clock strikes midnight onto 2018.

Every year I feel berated by the grace of John Lennon’s lyrics; “Its Christmas time and what have you done, another year older, a new one’s just begun”. I can’t help feeling he’s pointing accusations when I hear it. Yes, compared to a member of the Beatles, my life has been quiet from one year to the next. But I think it is fair to say 2017 has been a myriad of adventure between the UK and Greece – one which has given me a lot to be thankful for.

Here is my 10 tiny little meditations on 2017 from the Ghost of Christmas Present:

  1. Action: Things are learnt by action not by indecision. If I kept waiting for the right time – a momentary bliss when the earth aligned on its axis, the moon was cradled softly by a cloud in an open sky and there were no distractions, no moments in which my mind would wander and fill with the voices and dreams of other lifetimes. How long would I wait? Now is the time. Postponement is not a state to relish.
  2. Sunsets: by realising that sunsets are just an illusion of the end of the day as the world continues on round its path, I did not feel cheated. Instead I felt wonderfully relived, that these were not endings but merely intervals like curtains being drawn over one day to the next, they only had meaning when we see them collectively and gave power to them. 2017 was a year of many sunsets,  so many beautiful minutes of silence as the earth spun slowly round into the magic of the blue hour where the fading echo of the sun’s light turns the scene sepia gold  before turning away into darkness again. To witness this repetition is be sure of nature’s true hold of time.
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  3. Language: I am still a beginner at Greek and need way more practice with the language. If I believed in resolutions for 2018, this would be high on the list. Instead I just believe in giving it a go.
  4. Sunrises: also pretty special to witness. Nothing can beat that feeling of excitement holding cups of coffee to keep our hands warm on the deck of the Blue Star Ferry in early April, watching a dawn rising up from the horizon of port buildings in Piraeus with no idea what would happen when we arrived on Syros. Reflecting against the jumbled architecture of Athens port, orange and pink light reflecting off silvery towerscapes and crumbling warehouses, we looked outwards and held expectations against the unknown, fears and hope, not realising the possibilities those months ahead would reveal.
  5. Cats: when a little black and white long-haired furball with a mottle tail and one eye permanently dilated, turned up at the house in Greece, I wasn’t sure what to make of it. It became obvious had moved into its territory and it eyed us up for a few days…slinking from one side of the terrace to the other, nose in the air and sniffing. Eventually she came closer, growing trustful when we responded with saucers of water at first, then later titbit snacks she would devour with her snaggled tooth grin. She sidled up to us and purred, played with string and sticks.  I think wherever she is now, she is still a little rebel-rebel like Bowie her namesake.
  6. Books: I have cherished the time alone this year with just a book. Some have moved me to tears, made me angry, hopeful and even disappointed – an act that felt voracious and needy, hungrily devouring their pages. It felt like a good year to a be a reader. I meandered through a range of fiction, biography, history, philosophy and poetry – losing count of numbers, but feel enriched and privileged by the worlds I have peeked into. I have already started hastily compiling a list for 2018. Please send me your recommendations!
  7. Writing: sometimes you come to the page with an intention, a fully-fledged idea and other times I come unstuck with just a few words, allow them to form and take you away. Anything can happen here. Practice, explore, mess around with structure – I am happiest doing this, easing off the pressure. Fight the will to compare or mediate or suffocate the process. Just let it flow. Anything creative with words will be a long battle.
  8. Noise: To take yourself away from the noise, not just the ever-present hum and whirr of traffic, over-crowded cities, distracted by the cacophony of digital attention and the rich/poor, left/right, good/evil, fake/true paradox that entrenches indifference. 2017 was filled with heartache, etched by news that broke at such speed and changed direction from despair to joy in seconds. Most of us prefer to keep up rather than check out – the competitiveness of being busy and misappropriation of information as wisdom. The only thing I needed in this year was to slow down and stop being afraid of what happens away from the noise. The internal noise of my own brain hasn’t yet shut up, chattering over long held beliefs and holding the stick of other people’s success up like a marker. But it is quietening down and allowing me to focus. I now like the sound of a ticking clock, the fierce meltemi wind, the sea waves crashing in a storm and the song of cicadas. This alone won’t solve much in the world but it allows me to think and process what I can do.
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  9. Fear: I held so much anxiety inside me in the UK I didn’t recognise another sensation when I wandered round grinning ear to ear, walking over hills scattered with spring flowers and being on the verge of tears of what felt like happiness. The weight of fear and worry is mostly based on imagined threats. By taking away those tiny small stresses that pile up to a mountains, I found myself standing differently, shoulders hang freely and hands that don’t fidget. I found it took me a while to ease into the blankness of living without them. I mean blankness as the only way to describe the feeling when the heaviness goes away and the catastrophe of worry subsides. I will save my worry for things I can change.
  10. Family (and friends): the time I have had with them this year has been up and down, but filled with stories and laughter. The annual Christmas journey from Kings Cross has been done countless times with my backpack, balancing presents and cake tins on my lap on an overcrowded train. The same ritual since I was 21 is still being recreated year after year, a return to a home-town that you no longer know but all is still familiar and steeped in memory. Family waiting by the door, food stock piled, the aging Advocaat bottle in the drinks cabinet, the sprout jokes and plastic After Eight chocolate (apart from that one year it went ‘missing’?). This time of fervent celebration is shaped by nostalgia, that busy time when you try to see everyone, give presents and have long talks over bottles of wine. Amidst the calm currents, loneliness and grief bubble up to surface of our lives. I am thankful for their health, happiness, support and most of all…jokes.

When the clock strikes midnight and we collectively look towards a New Year wrapped up in possibility with its promise of newness, reinvention and satisfaction. I for one will be looking outward thinking about how I can do more in 2018 and keep the Ghosts at bay.

A letter to myself

I wrote a letter to myself at the end of August on an afternoon so golden the sun melted my heart as well as my ice-cream. I scribbled it down and posted it to a friend in the UK, asking her to give it to me when we next see each other. She is one of the friends you can rely on to feed you cake and listen. She doesn’t realise her magic; her acts of kindness are not just like a buoy that stops you from sinking, she holds a lifeline out and sends the rescue boat to everyone in need she loves.

The letter might have been to remind me of things or it might have been to save myself from falling into old patterns. When we met up 6 weeks ago she handed the envelope over and I didn’t need to open it until now.  Despite being my 36th birthday I hear a voice in my head that belongs to a 16 year old girl who is afraid of everything in a way that manifests itself in not just anger, but in a cloud of uncertainty. I knew I would need these words.

Maybe you’ll open this in late September – or wait a while longer till the days normalise and form their shapes around routines, trips to the station, supermarket – Friday night pizza and that whole bottle of wine you find comfort in. Whenever it is, now is the time to remind yourself, not of the past, but of potential. Like the sun bursting over the mountains at dawn, slow at first, lighting up the horizon and then spreading with earth’s energy that contains both light and warmth, the rays come slowly, but bring big, warming earthly impact. Steady yourself. Hold still.

(Did you find her  now? or did you pretend she wasn’t there before?)

This is who you found. You found a woman who can run up a mountain. A woman who still freezes in front of a barking dog, but her pounding heart muscle knows it won’t end in death. She gets eaten alive by mosquitos and learns to stop scratching the bites, despite the weepy infections. She has happily forsaken TV and swapped them for books and contemplation. And this – the words that form worlds on a page.

A woman who against all sensible advice put her hands in the cold hard earth in Spring to grow plants from seed and worried about nothing more than watering, waste and nurture. All the while, the real Greek Garden entwined its roots deep in her soul. She looked at the wide expanse of blue in the sea and sky, feeling gracious, and small and humble and happy. That word ‘happy’  hangs on to greatness. The expectation of happiness like a leaded weight we carry.

A woman who found her steady solid love for Graeme grow new dimensions as he unseated himself from his fears and worries, strode out into the wilderness and looked forward.  We dived into that ocean together and felt reborn in cold salty waters. Nothing was easy, but nothing was impossible.

There are times now, this minute, you need to hold on and remember this all. Close your eyes. First hear the wind in the pine trees, hear the soft waves. You are sat on the terrace in the soft light of an early morning, just a low hum and flow as the village awakes. A collared dove squeaks , a goat bell in the distance, a dog barks it’s lonely sound. Today will be filled with time used wisely. Together and apart you’ll both go about your day, fetching bread and supplies, sweeping, cleaning – the complete ordinariness of domestic life. The same rituals the world over. She takes time over food, considering ingredients as a ritual not a chore. More than just the necessity to fuel and nourish, it is an act of caring. Accept this isn’t her gendered role, it is a universally human and who she is.

A wave or greeting to a neighbour – passing pleasantries in a language that sits uneasily on your tongue and only just beginning to unfurl its complexities. There will be hours of work – silence – focus – transporting yourself to another world. Later, you’ll sit down on the beach together- slowly stretching out limbs and un-furrowing your brows from the squint of a phone screen and the clouded thoughts of work – toes in sand and pass comments on the beach goers, the usual faces; the lady swimmers in cotton hats and swimwear finery, gossiping and forming circles treading water; the children at play in the waves – kicking up water and making games up. You’ll swim, hesitant at first as you step into the chill of the sea – diving under to start your mission – your strokes trace an invisible map line of the sea floor out to the third buoy in the distance; past the clump of seaweed growing in an old tyre, the rock formation and then flat emptiness of wave marked sand on the bottom. You know this route well – a ritual of now well charted territory. Although you haven’t counted your summer swims like those true Greeks, in your heart you know it is enough to get through a winter and hope it will be enough to stave off illness. That swimming woman is brave. She can travel anywhere on her own and not be afraid of being alone. This life is just an adventure.

The words don’t come easy, but she tries, taking pen to paper to start a fire. It isn’t a new spark, it’s embers have always been there. Forgotten and disregarded, like a lamp gathering dust that is now alight. The words are a beacon to find your way in the dark seas, through choppy waves to rescue lives lost.

Remember how you really feel about ‘things’ – the ever growing piles of stuff that clog up your house and lives and weighs heavy on your mind. Having 2 bags of stuff feels free – pack up and go – the weightlessness of living simply. Don’t look for sanctuary or belonging in the accumulation of possessions, you have discovered how to live. Is that more valuable than anything new?

The woman you found feels freer with less. That’s okay – accept that money and status aren’t what drives you. It might feel revolutionary to say it out loud but this realisation has made you question everything.  You are good, no, better than that, great at what you do, you can sail into any task and rescue it.  Believe in yourself,  your judgement and your abilities. Apply these rules to everything. Don’t be swayed off-course, you know you can do anything.

The woman you are knows simplicity is key: remove complicated thoughts, hesitation and time wasting from your day. Relish it. Here everything is reduced to this simple configuration of living quietly, life at low volume. Sleep, work, eat, rest, enjoy.

Compare that to your day now as you read this. How’s that daily journey? The lines on your furrowed brow etching deeper each day?

The Money / reward / life is something to worry on. Yet, life is made up of the currency of time – trade it wisely.  It is all you have.

You are fortunate and recognise this. Think about the difference you can make. Work to keep the universe in a positive balance, don’t bow to expectations, limitations and others people’s egos.

You know you can’t change how some rely on the praise of others to give their own lives meaning. Don’t fall easily into that prison of weighted expectation. Wherever you end up, to walk away from your desk, walk down to the sea, look up to the sky and realise how insignificant your worries are. See how much time in the world has already passed and folded over into history.

Step outside – it’s the same sky the world over – grant yourself space to breathe, time to change, and a plot to grow.

Yours always,

 

September: a time of new beginnings

When people ask what I have been up to in Greece, I will refuse to be embarrassed. Despite busying myself with real work, writing and gardening, figuring out hiking trails and petting sweet, but sad cats, I’m happy to admit I spent a lot of time staring into the middle distance, relishing wonder and musing over ideas in a state of under-employment. I take nothing for granted and appreciated how it all worked out, after all time is one of the luxury items in modern life.

One of the things I have used this time for is to consider how life in London worked, and didn’t work.  Last week while we were packing up I went through some notebooks I kept last year and earlier this year – I can’t work out if they are the musings of a mad person (likely) or just someone very stuck in a depressive way of thinking (highly likely). It broke my heart to read it and wonder, just how I didn’t address a lot of those things earlier and let them slide?  Some of this stuff is just my own ‘over-thinking’. I know I am lucky to have created this breathing space, I have a shit ton of friends who just get on with it and have a far more complex life, juggling illness, complicated families and tiny tots. I also have friends they have so much outside of work that fulfill them on a deeper level that renders the 9-5 into pale insignificance. I am proud to say every woman I call a friend just lives by the GSD motto (gets shit done) without fuss or humble-brag.  We are constantly told that being still is an idleness, that you must be in perpetual motion, ‘busyness’ is an aspiration status of being in-demand and working all the hours makes you an ‘important person’. It will make you, not break you.  

Yet, a small simple truth I discovered in the act of making life very small and very simple, that time can allow you to refocus and remind yourself what matters – how you want to live.  

Our last 10 days on Syros were spent in a way that blurred the lines between a holiday and just enjoying the simple way of life we have relished there for months. Admittedly we went out a bit more and ate out a little more lavishly than before – but still the nagging idea about how we would feel back in the UK sat heavy on the horizon.

There were hikes to Gramatta and Lia beaches, Kambos and Sa Michalis  – despite the keenness that Autumn was calling, the temperatures stayed hot and the sun fierce.

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There was a calmness to those days, as the traffic reduced and children went back to school, things being put back into places and the fun of summer, not being finished, but certainly winding down. As Syros is mostly visited by Greeks, mid-September is quieter but sees another trickle of tourists arrive from Northern Europe to enjoying the less crowded beaches and off-peak prices. But in the main it was all back to work and school for most people.

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We packed up our little Greek house and I tidied the garden – plenty still in flower and the aubergine is still producing fruit. I did a final audit of ‘stuff’, carefully keeping the important things and recycling a lot we didn’t need. I spent a little time coaching the cat about fending for herself, the hypocritically feeding her tuna and other treats the needed using up from the store cupboard…bad kitty parent.

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The day we left was abysmally hot – 33c and humid, like the kind that makes your face sweat, even indoors! We swam early that day – I went out on my favourite bay loop to the two buoys tied together in such a way that they bob together in the waves. I call them the ‘kissing buoys’. In such times there is this horrible adjudicative of naming things ‘the last swim’, ‘the last espresso freddo at KiniTro’, ‘the last sunset’ behind the mermaid statue. It annoyed me by its bell-ringing finality everytime one of us mentioned it as an off-hand comment! By the time we had hugs and well wishes of ‘Kalo himonia’ (good winter), we were in the taxi, the road climbing uphill, the last glance down to the bay, the taxi radio playing ‘Dust in the wind‘ by Kansas (listen to it!) – it was all, just..so, you know…

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The reality is no one knows what will be our last anything, that’s why everything should be cherished. If there’s one lesson the past 6 months, or even year, has taught me, and often is so obviously overlooked as a cliché. But cherish and be present in everything. As I write this I’m sitting here in my garden in the UK – the sun is shining, an almost impossibly perfect late September day which marks the Autumn Equinox. The sun feels warm, hot even, there is dampness and freshness in the air from last night’s rain – I walked barefoot on the lawn this morning, enjoying its bouncy dampness and bright green freshness, colours that are so scarce on the dry and rocky Greek islands, that I forgot how beautiful they were. The colours of leaves are just starting to turn on the cherry tree – they hold fast – the sunlight bounces off the kitchen windows and reflects from the white patio walls. Days like these are to be cherished and luxuriated in every moment.

Like most of us, I find that questions that weigh one’s mind mostly are the ones that reflect an ideal state rather than the present we inhabit. Women (and men) my age spend an awful lot of time considering; is this the right job for me? Am I challenged enough? What will my next career move be? Where will I be in 10 years time? Am I happy with the next promotion/payrise? Would I like to be a parent? Can I ever afford a house? Will i ever be able to retire? These sorts of internal questions and ways of thinking betray a sense of ‘becoming’ all the time – like you are constantly on your way somewhere and waiting to arrive. Steps to a new role or state of being hangs in the distance like a destination to arrive at, rather than just occupying the space you inhabit right now. This journey-mentality might be the one that causes stasis rather than frees you. I can dig out a load of labels I have arrived at, that I am both happy and unhappy with – my job title, my rank in the pecking order of power and decision making, my income, my education, my marital status, my child-free status, my weight, my height, my class, my accent. It makes me wonder, is this who I am? It is, and yet, in so many ways it isn’t. Life is just made up of small grounded moments that take you out to sea, to the shore, to the path, to get lost and feel small because the world is vast. Life should not be lived using time up waiting for something to happen.  

With this in mind, we used two days in Athens to break the journey up and relax.  It meant we weren’t bothered at all by the late arriving SuperFerry, which although a more comfortable and newer boat than the usual Blue Star that does the daily Syros-Pireaus slog, it takes 45 minutes longer and had difficulties docking in the port which added to the delay. Avoiding any unnecessary baggage pain or stress, G had pre-booked a taxi which greeted us and we then had two nights to ease back into city life. Athens was a small shock to the system and not just because of the heat. The first morning there I awoke and sat with a coffee on the apartment’s small balcony overlooking a cross-street; it was like being immersed in noise and chaos, cars honked and mopeds sped by – police sirens blared and the whole neighbourhood stopped to observe the scene after 2 cars collided in the slow bumper to bumper rush hour traffic. It was certainly an event; builders stopped to shout down what they’d seen, traffic police turned up to cordon off the road and every person stopping at the bakery rubber-necked to see what was going on.  I shuddered at the noise of it all. Only 24 hours later I had been listening to nothing more than the rustle in the pine trees and the cicadas’ chirping – cities are a sensory overload.

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We arrived back yesterday under clouded grey skies of late afternoon. Watching the houses fall into focus as the plane descended into Gatwick; England looks mostly grey and green from the air, but has a bizarre imposition of order over chaos – everything here has a place and role, streets that are designed in symmetrical forms, even villages look like miniature worlds. Not at all like the ad-hoc buildings across rural Greece that look like they were built without plans, dotting the hills like wild seeds laying root wherever they landed.

Arriving at our house was strange. It was intact but felt empty, it seems (and smells) different, but it is the same. Like waking up and the past six-months were a dream. G just finished unpacking the kitchen stuff and declared, “it’s the same but different”. I suggested it’s the same space but maybe now he inhabits it differently – maybe nothing stands still. Unpacking the bags and getting out our things will take time. But the act of it all makes me feel un-grounded and all out at sea; going from basics and simplicity, back to luxury items like washing machines and toasters and TV’s and everything we have plenty of. Yet living without has proved to me that we don’t really need them. 

I have just pegged the washing out to dry in this sunny weather, it won’t be instantly dry like in Greece, but I can be thankful we can dry them outside still without having to put the central heating on. I feel once that starts, its such a big use of energy and really marks out the seasonal transition. 

On the whole, G and I have both found different benefits to being in Greece. For him, and I hope he won’t mind me saying this; it has been an affirmation of his focus and drive. But more importantly it has been the time he needed to climb out from under the shadow of grief after his father’s death. In many ways we learnt to love and respect each other’s space more – when you live in close quarters without the immediate support network that family and friends take up, you learn to talk more and share more with each other. Don’t worry I certainly won’t be dishing out relationship advice anytime soon.

Somehow in this time away I realised I need to give myself more credit… Yes, you heard that right, the eternal pessimist, always second guessing herself, and listening to the nay-sayers, and if there isn’t any actual nay-sayers, I’ll create them like shadows under the bed. Yep, like some self-aggrandizing t*t, I actually am starting arrive at a place where I get it; be nice to yourself. The whole jumbling tumble mystery of life, is just that. A massive mystery – no silver bullet, just evolving and ever changing, challenges to confront, acceptance of the good and being thankful the positive things that comes your way, hiding away good and kind things in your soul for when things won’t be as rosy – but most of all slowing down and being appreciative of everything you have; My family, my husband, my friends, fighting injustice and caring for the natural environment matter to me, as do words that make sense of this chaos. Perhaps one day I will leave the earth a more beautiful place with something I can create.  

This isn’t some bold epiphany, I am just ready to make it real – there isn’t any ‘nothing is impossible’ rallying cry or positive affirmation. It’s gentler than that. It marks out a way to live.

In the next few weeks I am making a promise to myself to keep the summer alive by writing out more Syros adventures and editing my 1000s of photos.  A small act to stave off the dark days of winter.

Watch this space.

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Back to the front garden

Front gardens are undoubtedly a collective eyesore on many streets in London. They are have been downgraded to become unloved and functional places people park a car, store bikes and utilise precious (expensive) space for the much-needed multiplicity of recycling containers. That’s why it’s such a sad state this so-called ‘nation of gardeners’ have let their front gardens get into. Nearly  1 in 4 gardens are paved over to have more utilitarian uses. I understand this completely given high population density spaces we find ourselves in. All space is at a premium. However there are ways of having parking and plants – horticulture that brings us not just an aesthetic cheer, but also supports wildlife and pollinating species. That’s why the RHS Greening Grey Britain campaign really gets to the heart of the problem and gives inspiration to help us all green up our streets. 

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My own front garden was no exception – when we moved in it was an unloved 3 x 2 meter plot of ripped plastic lining and old stones, weeds and paving slabs.  2 years later, the house redecorated and back garden restored, but the front garden had only been stripped back as far as removing the stones to a bare patch of earth – albeit with its own permanent population of dandelions. Hardly the nature reserve we wanted!

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But with a bit of planning and graft we’ve transformed the space – all for less than £400 on materials and plants.  We started with a few basic ‘back of a fag-packet’ plans and wish lists for the look and plant types – the challenge will always be the outlook as its north east facing – gets 3+ hours of early morning sun from May onwards but will be in total shade in the winter months. Finally deciding on one large planted section, and pots that can change with seasonal interest.

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The main investments were the weed lining, shingle and path edging – as well as hardy plants such as an acer palmatum, cotoneaster ‘Coral Beauty’, as well as a  couple of low growing evergreens and a sambucus nigra. All of these will be maintained and kept neat (hopefully). I’ve planted in cosmos and red new guinea impatiens for colour. By a stroke of bad luck (or labelling mishap) the red cosmos all turned out to be deep pink – so we have a kind of brave colour scheme in the front – but hey it’s bright and bold, without any concrete grey in sight!

The pots were all painted blue with spray paint for that overall Grecian appeal. I also arranged a hanging basket with bright blue and purple lobelia, intermingled with highly scented petunias. There are three terracotta wall pots with a mix of the impatiens, lobelia and orange trailing begonias too.

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Now in early August it is really coming into its own and filling out the space with flowers attracting playful bees and butterflies.

The perfect thing has been that the front seems to have escaped the overwhelming invasion of slugs and snails currently wreaking havoc across the veg beds out back. But with time I’m sure they’ll discover it soon. It really has made a positive impact on how we see the house, as well as providing a little cheer for the street. I met at least three neighbours on the weekend we planted it – faces I’d seen but never spoken to in the years we’ve lived here. It’s true – plant something colourful and it’s not just for your benefit, the world wants to say hello and enjoy it too.

If you ever needed an excuse to get outside and bring some cheer to your street, join in, read this for inspiration and get Greening Grey Britain!