I've spent much of today staring at a slightly more rainy version of this view from the living room window. It's nearly September, which is one of my favourite times of year for plotting and scheming. There's a third of the year left, which gives a sense of hope that there's still time to achieve something, and it's the start of the new school year, which always gives me a sense of promise.
I'm in a pondering mood, and have been thinking about plans, both short and longer term. I don't think I really made any resolutions this year, so there's nothing concrete to look back on and try to make a final push of progress. I've got my 20 in 2020 lists of course, but that's more about cheerful little things I wanted to spend my time on, rather than big overall goals.
I usually do some planning towards the end of each month, and at the start of each year I create lists, split into categories (home, garden, health, money, for me, for us, and 'other'), and allocate goals to time points (within one month, within three months, within six months). I revisit these throughout the year, and often find myself shifting things down the categories when I haven't finished them.
Today I'm doing lots of pondering about these categories, and what the future might bring, and what I'd like it to bring, so I might as well share some of my ramblings here. Don't expect too much coherent thought...
This should really have been the main focus for this year, but for various reasons it hasn't been, and I'd like that to change. There are two elements: (1) DIY; and (2) general tidiness.
In relation to DIY, this has been our kitchen since the builders replaced our sagging, rotten joists at the end of last year.
We've become far too used to our temporary kitchen in another room, with a microwave, toaster, tiny oven, and two-ring induction hob. The sink is at the bottom of that small staircase in the left of the picture, and the temporary kitchen is at the top, so it's rather a nuisance to trek up and down to drain rice and do the washing up. Not enough of a nuisance that it's prompted us to do anything about fixing the kitchen though.
We paid for the builders to do the ceiling, but wisely or not, we're doing the rest ourselves. Or not doing the rest ourselves, as the case may be. There has been some progress this month - I've ordered everything we need to fit insulation and plasterboard in between the joists, and done an experimental section which I'm delighted to stay is still attached to the ceiling several days later.
I remembered that towards the end of doing our old house ready to sell it, I created a separate page on my blog where I listed what I'd done each day. You can see it here - it covers the last year before we sold the house, and looking back now I'm in awe of what I got done (that list was just things I did, not Peter) on top of a full time job.
I think I need some more of that energy and focus now, so I've created myself a new page on this blog to do the same thing. We don't have the same sense of urgency (we're not planning on moving again any time soon, if ever), but I would like at least a semi-functional kitchen by Christmas, even if it's not completely finished. We'll see.
The second aspect of home is day-to-day tidiness. I've always struggled with this. I'm not naturally tidy, but I do like living in a relatively tidy home - but having a building site in the middle of the house tends to make me feel like not bothering. We try to keep the living room/temporary kitchen/bathroom areas of the house clean and relatively tidy, and the room where I work, but other than that, things are rather a scruffy mess. Washing doesn't get put away, chicken bowls pile up and occasionally go mouldy, bottle recycling accumulates for months before being taken to the tip (I'm blaming lockdown for the most recent incarnation of that last one).
I don't really have anything wise to say about this. I've been re-reading Rhonda's blog about housework and homemaking and trying to rediscover the joy, and it does help. I seem to remember it was a lot easier (and more pleasant) to keep on top of things when our old house was finished and all our possessions were stored in the cellar. Hmm...
Garden and land
Oh I have so many things to say about this! So many plans! So many overwhelming plans! Fencing in an area to use as a veg patch this year was a great idea, and it has gladdened my heart to see at least one area kept relatively tidy and productive. I've not harvested much though, and I'm thinking a lot about what to grow next year that (a) is more likely to grow well (no more sweetcorn) and (b) that we actually want to eat (so perhaps fewer turnips).
The chickens have been both a worry and a delight these past few months. The new ones are finally settling in, and they're all starting to behave like a coherent flock. Bessie's feathers have grown back, but now Rusty is limping after I stood on her foot when she sneaked up behind me as I was getting the shopping out of the car. Sigh.
Their run now has a roof, but it's not had the weather-proofing effect we'd hoped for, so that's another project that will have to be rejigged at some point. Still, it's safe and warm and relatively dry in there so that's a start.
Peter's garden shelter has been a fantastic thing during lockdown, and since we've been allowed visitors we've had plenty of them, and been able to keep them all outside (good job, given the state of the house). It's pretty robust, but it's not likely to last the winter, so we're thinking about how we could make something similar but more permanent for next year.
As for the rest of the land, well my head spins when I try to think about it. I've been scything the hay meadow, half an hour at a time, and was hoping to get it finished in these two weeks I've had off work, but it's felt like it's rained all the time so I've got barely any done. Dry stone walls fall down every time I look at them, and there are various gaps that need fixing in the coming months.
One cheerful thing that I don't think I've mentioned here is that I've been in touch with a few people, and it looks like we might be able to get someone to plant an area of woodland in a couple of our fields. This is extremely exciting (not least because we wouldn't have to pay for it, or do any of the planting). It's brought up lots of unsettling feelings about land management though, and whether I feel like I'm 'allowed' to make decisions about what we do here (I'd happily make decisions about a garden, so why does a field feel different?) Again, lots to think about, and plenty to do.
Health and exercise
This is a category I've always struggled with, and it will probably only get worse as I get older. I've got a proper sweet tooth, and have put on a good three stone in the last five or so years, which I'm not particularly happy about. I've done plenty of cycling lately, but I miss walking to work and wandering round the city which used to keep a background level of fitness which I no longer have. I've joined the Joe Wicks bandwagon and am enjoying cooking a bit more healthily so we'll see how that goes.
Hmm, another category that makes my head spin. I've been looking back on old blog posts I've written about being thrifty, making things, saving money, and realising I've stopped doing a lot of things that I used to take for granted.
I have mixed feelings about money. I've spent most of my life without much of it, and the last few years earning more than I feel I deserve (although very much in line with others in my profession). There are two interesting calculators that I might recommend you have a go of. This is the global average salary scale - apparently I earn over 350% of the global average. Then the UK Institute for Fiscal Studies has a tool to work out where, as a household, you fit in terms of average UK income - we are in the top 30%.
This doesn't come as a surprise, of course. I'm not one of those people who feels 'poor' despite evidence to the contrary, and have spent enough of my life counting pennies to now count my blessings that I no longer have to.
I do still have a rather thrifty gene though, and while I do spend on things that aren't necessary, I also begrudge spending on things I could easily make myself or find cheaper second hand.
I suppose all this boils down to spending (and saving) in line with your values. So my house is full of charity shop finds rather than new clothes, mismatched bowls rather than matching kitchen appliances. We rarely eat in restaurants, or go to the pub, but we do spend a lot of time in our local cafe. And of course we've moved out to this ludicrous house (which we could only afford because of past thriftiness, an expensive 25 year mortgage, and because so much work needed doing to it), and now we're here we're doing much of the work ourselves.
I don't really know what I'm waffling on about here. We have another 23 years left on this mortgage and to me, right now, that feels far too long. I'm hatching a plot to see where we can cut back on our current spendiness to see if we can get rid of the mortgage a few years earlier. Watch this space.
Anyway, this has turned into rather more of a waffle than I'd intended, and I don't know whether I've got any further along in my thinking. But these are the things that have been whirling round in my head as I've been sitting here this afternoon, pondering what the rest of the year will bring, and how I want to spend my time. It looks like there'll be more DIY in my future at least, and probably less baking. We'll see.
I've been underlyingly grumpy this week, for no good reason. It's been really windy, which I always find unsettling, and I've had a sense of my days slipping away without me really doing very much.
I'm trying to pin them down, to be more deliberate, to at least create a record of what I've done so I can look back and remember.
Thursday was pretty cheerful. We started with a cuppa in our favourite cafe, and then I spent quite a lot of time sitting in the garden shelter, plotting and scheming. It was windy outside, but not in the shelter itself.
The chickens sat with me for a while - they can be pretty settled and restful when there isn't food on offer.
Thursday was also the day I finally got round to weeding the veg patch - with the chickens patrolling the perimeter looking (unsuccessfully) for a way in. I'd been pretty pleased with the lack of slug damage so far, but this last week the kale has been full of caterpillars.
Any illusions I had about the chickens acting as pest control were shattered when they wouldn't even eat a caterpillar that was plonked directly under their beaks.
Thursday was also the day I harvested some veg!
Not much, just kale, chard and a few peas, which I cooked up later with a massive risotto.
I've been slowly shifting my 'hay sponge' onto the edible windbreak to use as mulch, so I did some more of that on Thursday too.
The garden (or at least the veg patch) was looking pretty tidy by the end of the day.
Friday was quite different. I woke up in a bad mood, and grumped myself into an even worse one by stomping around trying to tidy up the house. Eventually it was 'suggested' that I meet a friend, and so we had lunch in a cafe near her house, and it was most cheerful indeed.
We managed to lose our only set of keys for one of the cars (it seems we may have thrown them out with the recycling), and then later in the evening there was a power cut as I was trying to cook my tea.
Written down in the cold light of a new day these things don't seem so bad, but they piled up on one another and by the end of Friday I was Quite Fed Up.
Fortunately, sanity has been restored this morning, as a lovely locksmith-magician turned up and created a new key out of thin air, and a spare for both cars (and a spare for what I thought was a front door key, but which apparently isn't).
I've been pottering outside today, but the weather is a mix of sunshine and showers and I keep having to dash back inside. I did stay out long enough to find some windfalls though - half of our apple crop and all of our plums (er, one). Sad casualties to the weather.
I'm never gloomy for long though. This afternoon I'm off to meet some friends for a cuppa in a place I've not been to for years, and later we have a friend coming to camp in the garden. I've got some adventures planned for next week, and it's nice to have something specific to look forward to. All good.
Yes, I'm off work again, for a fortnight this time, and I should have timed it better, as we've been basking in sunshine while I was at work, and then having torrential downpours the minute I was off.
Still, it's been a good excuse to get a bit of knitting done, and I'm delighted to report that I've now finished my sock.
It's always a bit of a deflating moment finishing a sock - cheerful, because you've finished - but of course it's rather useless unless you do the whole thing again to make a second sock.
It's Thursday already, and my holiday feels like it's running away with me. I do like an at-home holiday, but I often feel the need to pin down my days, document what I've done, or it all blurs into one and I go back to work feeling like I never left.
We've had plenty of visitors recently - one set the weekend before I was off, another who stayed Thursday to Saturday, camping in the garden, and yet another set on Saturday afternoon. Two lots of visitors brought hammocks, and I think a hammock might just be on my things-to-acquire list.
We've spent lots of time knocking about in the garden shelter, which has been such a success we're working out how we can recreate it in a slightly less ad hoc way for next year.
I spent a day editing a video for a voluntary project, and where did Tuesday go? A nice leisurely trip to the cafe, and some hay making, and a little trip to a local town for supplies. The sun shone and I lingered for a while by the river.
Yesterday we were up early, and got takeaway tea and sat by a canal for a while, but then it rained and rained when we got home, and I spent the day cooking things for the freezer, and finishing my knitting.
Yesterday I also made a start on the DIY - about time really, as we've been without a kitchen for almost ten months.
And today? Today the sun is shining, and I'm trying to spend a fair bit of the day outside, although it's quite breezy out there too. I've got a list of garden things I want to do, and it would be nice to spend some time just sitting around out there before it starts raining again.
After yesterday's complaining, I made a conscious effort to drag myself back to cheerfulness, starting (of course) with a nice cup of tea. Far too windy to drink it outside, but it was very nice to feel the sunshine through the living room window, and I've enjoyed having these roses which some friends gave us last weekend.
I spent quite a lot of the day outside, with no particular plan, and the rest of it inside letting my face recover from being buffeted by the wind.
I realised I'd missed National Meadows Day on Saturday. For the last couple of years I've been to open days at local meadows, but that wasn't possible this year, so I wandered into the middle of ours to see what was growing.
Lots of things, as it turned out, but it was so windy it was difficult to take a photo of them. I'll write a separate post about managing our meadow I think - each year I learn more and I'm getting a better idea of what needs doing and when.
The gooseberries were starting to ripen - not the red ones I planted, but the green ones on the edge of the field, which I've missed for the last two years because the birds spotted them before I did. I've harvested a few (they're now in the freezer) and will keep checking. The blackcurrants are nearly ready too.
While I was out pottering round the garden, I turned the compost (and oddly enough later had a conversation with my sister about compost bins for her garden).
The first bay wasn't full, but it was becoming a bit of a tower and has had a lot of hay and chicken bedding added lately, so I shifted it to the second bay and mixed it up a bit. Some of the middle was quite dry, so hopefully the rain will give it a bit of a soak today.
I also spent quite a bit of time with the chickens, old and new. Peter's built a temporary outdoor run attached to the main run so the new ladies can get used to the fresh air without roaming completely free yet.
It also means there's plenty of space for a bit of 'enforced mingling', although at the minute the two factions prefer to stay quite far apart from each other.
The new ladies are making themselves at home and seem quite comfortable with us, and when they're on their own, but are very wary of the older ladies. The older ladies are also fine when on their own, but are quite put out about having imposters living in their space. Bessie seems to be on the mend now she has her implant, but Rusty has been acting a bit too quiet for the last couple of days, although she did lay this soft-shelled egg yesterday which might explain a few things.
We had a bit of a downpour in the afternoon so I came inside to tidy up a bit, and found one of these tiny fairy eggs that I'd collected a few weeks ago and shoved on a shelf near the back door and forgotten about. I love these - we've only ever had four in nearly two years of chicken keeping. They're shaped just like a normal egg but tiny.
I've added it to the collection I keep on the windowsill.
More rain, so I sorted out some clothes, and cleared up the kilo of dried mealworms that had vibrated itself down the side of the freezer when the washing machine was on earlier in the day (I'd also left my watch in the pocket of my jeans so that was not a successful wash overall!)
Eventually it stopped raining, so back out to do a bit of tidying in the greenhouse, which I'd neglected for so long that the thistles had started growing through the handle of my watering can.
We caught a mouse near the back door (probably harvesting the rest of the mealworms from under the freezer) and drove a couple of miles to release it in the Mouse Layby up on the moors (where we release all our mice into the wilds).
Once the chickens were all shut in, I made a start on digging my experimental french drain. There's a really soggy area in the field next to our edible windbreak, which gets even more soggy when trampled by the cows, and drains across the gateway, making even more mud. I'm hoping I can drain some of it off into a space in the garden which can stay damp most of the year, and soggy for some of it, and which will hopefully stop the field (or at least the gateway) getting too wet.
Bit of a project, at least when you're being stubborn and doing it on your own with a pickaxe. But I thought I might as well take advantage of the wall having fallen down to lay a bit of pipe underneath it.
I don't really know what I'm doing, of course, but other people have laid french drains before so it can't be impossible, right? I'll figure it out.
So, altogether not a bad day, and it did lift me out of the funk I'd dipped into. The sunshine played a big part in that, of course, but so did doing something, reading, growing, digging, pottering. I must remember all this next time.
I can't complain about my personal experience of lockdown. I've been able to work full time from home, we have plenty of outdoor space, none of my immediate family are ill, and I've been able to exercise and get hold of the food we need.
I think I might be starting to fray slightly round the edges though now. Not for any particular reason, and I'm certainly not keen for things to get back to 'normal' any time soon. I think we've just had a run of gloomy weather and I've started to feel a little bit stuck.
I hate feeling stuck. You'll never catch me complaining about my job but saying I can't even look for a new one because 'I'm institutionalised' as I've heard several people say over the years. So far I've never stayed in a relationship, or a house, because 'it's easier' than moving on, although I would never criticise someone else for doing that, as relationships and living arrangements and jobs are complicated beasts.
I'm not feeling stuck in any of those big heavy things right now, just generally a bit out of sorts and feeling a little tiny bit stuck because I can't do many of the things I'd usually do to get a grip on myself. If times were normal, I'd take myself off to a local town for an afternoon of pottering by myself, and sit in a cafe for an hour or two with a notebook and pen and a nice piece of cake and make some plans. Or I'd go for a trip to a museum or somewhere only I wanted to visit, and spend as long as I wanted ambling around the grounds.
But I can't do those things right now, and the weather has been so grim this last week that I've not even been able to spend a few hours in the garden in the evening.
I think in reality that's the only thing that's changed this week. Before this recent bout of wind and rain, it had been warm and sunny for weeks, and I was fine with not being able to go anywhere because I spent hours each day in the garden. But when the weather keeps me inside (at least most of the time) I notice the housework that needs doing and the kitchen that is still a building site, and the garden is no consolation when I can barely even see it from the window.
I do know where these gloomy thoughts sit in relation to what's going on in the world. I know this is a tiny problem compared to what many people are facing, but I'm writing this here as part of my attempt to drag myself out of it. I'm a cheerful soul usually, not predisposed to maudlin ponderings, and I have little patience for them in myself (I can handle other people's gloominess far better than my own).
So here's the plan. The sun is shining today, which is a good start. I'm going to have another cup of tea, read while I drink it, and then tog up and get outside. Yesterday was National Meadows Day, which I didn't realise, so I'm going to take a few pictures in our meadow and see what I can identify. I've got some washing in the machine which will hopefully dry quickly in the breeze. One of our older chickens seems unwell, so I'll bring her in for an Epsom salts bath and keep an eye on her. I might let the new chicken ladies out to free range for a while (always a risk - they're still quite easily spooked at this stage and we have no fences so they could end up miles away).
I'm going to listen to a more cheerful audio book - the one I have on the go is annoying and SO very long and I'm only a couple of hours from the end but I just don't think I can take any more of it, not today anyway. I might go for a walk, or even a bike ride.
And I'm going to take pictures and report back. I've been blogging in various places for over eleven years now, and I've always treated my blogs as a kind of scrapbook of cheerful things for me to look back on. It works. When I do it regularly, I can look back and say to myself 'see, it didn't rain for the entire summer!' Or 'look how much you've got done in the garden since March!' This isn't in any way a complete record of my life (clearly, as there were only two posts in June) but I do like to record the gardens/chickens/craft/cake side of things, which I've barely been doing at all lately.
Ok. Tea. Outside. Sunshine.
May is drifting by lazily in a haze of sunshine and soil. My hands are blistered from wielding garden forks and walling hammers. Slowly, the veg patch takes shape.
Some evenings we walk around the lanes, and the last of the sunlight lighting up the cow parsley makes us feel like we're in a story.
The days are long, and the weeks feel timeless, with nowhere to go and nobody to see. We've not yet driven anywhere for exercise, and we have plenty of outside space of our own so no need to sunbathe elsewhere.
This strange new world is starting to take its toll in unexpected ways. I'm starting to worry about how I'll fit everything back in when life starts to turn back towards normality. My days are full now, and while of course it will be lovely to see people again, and be able to pop to a cafe, I will miss the long gardening hours.
Would the veg patch have progressed as much as it has this month if I'd been able to pop into town whenever I wanted, or meet up with friends, or idle away the mornings in a cafe?
I wouldn't have chosen this time (who would?) but I've tried to use it well. Not by taking up the bassoon, or learning to speak another language, but by slowing down. Not taking up new things, but spending more time doing the old things, the things I already enjoyed but often didn't leave time for. Nurturing seedlings. Long weekend mornings of reading. Writing letters. Eating tea in the garden.
It's looking like I won't be returning to work in my office until after Christmas. I can't say I'm sad about that. I like my job, and miss some of my colleagues, but I haven't stopped working, and often worked at home anyway, so I can easily live without my physical office space (which at any rate is just a desk in a large open plan room). I've not been in my office since 27th February anyway, so already it feels like a place that doesn't really exist any more.
My world has become small, in some ways at least. I'm grateful for not having to navigate city streets and busy parks right now, but I've seen so few faces since this began. I wonder how many faces we do see each day in normal times, just going about our normal business? Hundreds? Thousands?
Anyway, no new faces for me, not for a while. Peter of course, and the postman, and the farmer checking on his cows. An occasional neighbour on a ramble around the lanes. The woman who runs the village shop. Those will have to suffice for now. It's like going back in time (aside from a fortnightly supermarket trip, of course, although I'd happily do away with that too).
Anyway. It's easy to forget as the days roll by that there are still things to do. With what feels like endless tomorrows, it's easy to put things off. Today I'm back at work after a long weekend, and within five minutes the day won't feel endless, it will feel like the normal round of jumping between projects and trying to get things finished. But come five o clock I'll be back outside in the veg patch, the evening stretching out ahead, the sun (hopefully) still shining.
I was forty yesterday, and I confess that in all that time my baking skills haven't improved much.
Or perhaps it's my decorating skills that aren't quite up to scratch - the cake itself (a whole orange cake I spotted on the Down to Earth blog) was extremely tasty. Basically you whizz a whole orange in the blender and add it to a sponge mix for a deliciously orangey, slightly squishy cake.
It doesn't really need icing - the muffin-sized versions I made the night before were fine on their own - but a combination of a silicone loaf tin with no structural integrity and our tiny and slightly inadequate temporary oven led to a cake that definitely needed covering up with something.
It might not win any competitions, but it went down very well with a nice cup of tea.
Speaking of the Down to Earth blog, you might notice Rhonda's Down to Earth book in the background in that picture. This was my birthday present to myself, and I've spent the last couple of days happily flicking through it and wishing I was retired so I could spend all of my days making cakes and sewing and pottering in the garden.
Today it's been raining, so I've ignored the dry stone wall that has been taking up quite a lot of my energy for days, and stayed inside. I had a vague feeling of time just drifting away, without me actually achieving anything, so in the spirit of following the book's advice, I decided to tackle a household job I'd been putting off for a while - sorting out the utility room.
This is the entrance to our home, and acquires the usual household detritus that is either on its way in or out of the house. Wellies, recycling, dishes that have been used for chicken treats, rubbish bags, tools, all congregate here, and if we don't keep on top of it, getting into the house becomes a perilous navigational exercise. Yesterday Peter put all the shoes away and took the rubbish bags outside, and today I've spent a happy few hours washing dishes, cleaning walls, decanting slightly damp powdered cleaning stuff (borax substitute, laundry bleach) into airtight containers, and giving the place a good hoover. It felt good.
In the course of all this sorting, I discovered a bag of soap I'd made - I never got the texture right, and after goodness knows how long sitting in a bag under the sink, it feels slightly oily. I've left it on the newly cleared side to dry out, and if it doesn't work as hand soap, I'll grate it to mix with the washing powder.
I also discovered this candle-making kit that I had as a present some years ago and which got lost in the house move. Again I made use of my newly cleared surface to play with the beeswax.
I like this picture on the box. It looks achievable - nothing fancy, nothing requiring endless patience, just a bit of rolling and cutting. I can't say mine look exactly like the pictures, but they're not far off.
The instructions said the beeswax sheets would be pliable at room temperature but I had to hold them up against the radiator for several minutes to get them to bend without snapping - not sure what that says about the temperature of my house...
Anyway, I didn't come in here to waffle on about all that, I came in to waffle on about turning forty, but as I'm not sure how I feel about that, perhaps it's best that I don't. Tis only a number, after all - and after hearing of the death of a friend's daughter this week I'm grateful I've lived to see it.
I will be sitting down to make some plans for the next decade soon though...
Well, the world does feel like a rather strange place at the minute, doesn't it?
Two weeks ago I spent the weekend in London. We'd heard the news, of course, but at the time, Covid-19 didn't seem like something we'd need to be taking precautions against, on an individual level at least. I travelled by train, shared accommodation and food, and there were plenty of hugs.
I was still on strike that week, and I met up with friends, hosted a (small) dinner party, and generally carried on daily life as normal, always with one eye on the news.
Things started getting stranger throughout the week, and several universities moved all their teaching online. Mine didn't, and I spent an anxious weekend refreshing the university website, trying to work out whether I should do my teaching on the Monday online or in person. I decided to go to class myself, but tell my students they didn't have to, and provide an online option. An hour later the university announced we had a week to move everything online.
Monday was my first class back after three weeks of being on strike. Only a handful of students turned up, and I'll admit we felt rather daft as we stayed 6 feet away from each other, dotted around the classroom. I didn't go to my normal office, so I didn't see any of my colleagues or my usual students.
On Monday night, we were told to move everything online and work from home immediately.
I work from home a lot anyway, so there was no great transition needed for me, although it's been a week of experimentally recording lectures, shifting student supervisions online, an eight hour teleconference (!). Things are settling now, and work-wise, next week onwards should be much calmer, although obviously tings are changing daily now so who knows.
Outside of work though... We went to our local cafe Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday, and they were increasingly worried about what would happen to them. We didn't go yesterday, and last night the government announced all cafes (and restaurants, cinemas etc) would close. We bumped into one of the women from the cafe at the supermarket and it felt a bit sad to be saying goodbye.
Of course I'm anxious about how things are going to pan out, globally, nationally, for the health service, for people on precarious work contracts (one of the main things we were striking about), self-employed people whose businesses may not weather the storm, people already living in poverty, people without anyone to support them. I'm waking up too early, going to sleep too late, scrolling through Twitter (like that's going to help).
I think I need to stop. Not stop reading the news, but stop refreshing it regularly, stop reading endless commentary, stop worrying about things I have control over, and instead focus on things I can control. Donating to the food bank. Supporting colleagues and students who are anxious. Keeping in touch with family and friends. Staying fit and healthy.
As a society we'll come out of the other side of this, and I hope when we do we all have a better understanding of what it means for people to have no safety net, for health and social care services to be overstretched, for cleaners and support workers to be underpaid and underappreciated. Because those things are bad for all of us, not just for the people experiencing them directly.
This wasn't what I came here to write today. I came to write about how I've found my working hours stretching at both sides of the day now I don't have a two hour commute, how I'm spending too much time sitting down, drinking too much tea, not getting enough exercise, and all of those things are still true.
But mostly I'm feeling gratitude. I'm thankful that I'm healthy, that I have a safe place to live, a stable job I can do from home, plenty of projects to keep me occupied while everything is shut, and space to be outside away from other people. Many people don't have those things, and I don't take them for granted.
I've written a lot about running over the years. It all comes down to the same thing. I'm enthusiastic for a while, enter a race, don't train properly, do it anyway, come last (or nearly last), and then don't run again for months, until some other ludicrous race catches my eye, or I'm goaded into a challenge by my sister.
It's got to the point where I've started to think I'm incapable of sticking with a training plan, that I'm never going to get any faster, that I'll always be slow, plodding, last.
I don't mind being any of those things - someone's got to be last after all, and the fiercely competitive streak that spurs me on in other areas of life doesn't really affect my running (except for the odd sprint finish). But lately I've got to wondering just how fast I could go if I actually tried.
In 2014 (I think) I was training for a marathon, and while I didn't do 'marathon training' particularly well, I did run far more consistently than I ever had done before, and it showed. I knocked three minutes off my fastest 5k time, getting down to an annoying 30.07 (I never did manage to get under 30 minutes), and I did a 10k race in an equally annoying 1 hour and 1 minute.
That was fast for me, but it isn't particularly fast in general, and I've never got anywhere close since (I did my latest 5k in 39.17). Before you start thinking it, yes, I know I'm faster than everyone who stayed on the couch, even now, but that's not really the point. I'm not beating myself up here, or (heaven forbid) criticising anyone else who runs slowly - but I would like to improve, to see what I'm capable of.
I've always run alone, but had the support of other runners online. My online running pals have been a source of encouragement and inspiration over the years and occasionally we've met up and raced together, although that hasn't happened for a good while now. I've never had much luck running in a group - I've always been too slow, holding people up, and in one case was just left behind when a supposedly 'slow' running group shot off into the distance and never looked back. It takes me right back to school PE lessons every time.
My local running club seems friendly, and says everyone's welcome - but even their slowest weekly runs are around six miles in an hour - as fast as I've ever gone, and much further and faster than I'm capable of at the minute. These are normal people - surely it can't be completely beyond me to get to that level?
Anyway, all this rambling is to say that last Monday I found myself joining the running club's beginners' group - a special programme for non-members working their way up to running 5k. I feel faintly ridiculous working up to 5k (again) - I've done marathons after all - but right now this is where my fitness level is. I went out with the slowest of three groups, and managed to keep up all the way round. It felt good.
So good, in fact, that I paid up for the remainder of the programme, and went on Wednesday too. we ran up hills, and spurred each other on, and I kept going further and faster than I would have bothered to do on my own.
Today I got up and dressed to go to running club's monthly 5k run. I'd looked at the finishing times for the past few months, and knew I'd probably be last, very likely by a good five or ten minutes. Old doubts crept in - while I've been last plenty of times in plenty of races, I really would like to get out of the 'I'm always last' mentality, and voluntarily putting myself in that position seemed unhelpful.
So instead I drove to a nice flat trail, plugged in an audio book about running (The Long Run: A Memoir of Loss and Life in Motion), and did 3.7 miles in a nice leisurely 50 minutes, running for four minutes at a time then walking for one. I had a nice time, and felt a good sense of achievement.
I've been here before with this enthusiasm for running, and after a couple of weeks my regular training has always dropped off. I'm hoping that having the group to run with will keep me going this time. Once we're up to 5k, the leaders keep the group open so those of us who are keen can keep working up until we're ready to go out with the running club's usual hour-long runs, and I would SO very much like to do that.
It's not such an outlandish goal, is it?
I'm enjoying tracking my days, although I'm not sure it makes interesting reading for anyone else. This last week has mostly been a washout - I started sniffling on Monday morning and things went rapidly downhill from there, so other than dragging myself to work, not much has been done.
Left for work at 6am. Tired and unenthusiastic, and by the end of the day I'd properly come down with a cold. Met Peter at the cafe on the way home, but the kitchen had closed by the time we got there, so we came home in a slight grump instead. A quiet evening of not-very-much-at-all.
The first proper snow of the year! Just an inch or two. The new car slid around a bit getting out of the lane, but the main roads were gritted and we made it to the city without incident (there was no snow there at all, of course). A long and very tedious day. I felt like a zombie and was having a complete sense of humour failure all day. Peter had a band rehearsal in the evening, so I had arranged to meet a friend for tea, but at the last minute his plans were cancelled. We still saw our friend though, and didn't get home til after 10pm anyway. Peter slept on the sofa so I could cough and sneeze my way through the night.
I probably could have done with staying off work, but with six meetings to rearrange and the car due in the garage, it seemed like less effort to just get on with it. I stumbled my way ineffectively through another day (all the meetings got ticked off though), picked the car up, got home about 6 and dozed my way through the evening.
Worked at home, and for all the good I did I might as well have stayed in bed. We met our friend for lunch in the local cafe though which was nice, and had a very quick wander round the charity shops. I tried to work again in the evening but it just wasn't happening. Another lazy evening, and I forgot all about putting the bins out.
Left for work at 6am, and after a couple of hours in the office, sneaked off to meet a friend for breakfast in a new-to-me cafe. I was feeling slightly more human, but an hour of walking to the cafe and back didn't really do me much good, and I had a rather unpleasant day of trying to catch up on all the things I'd not quite done for the rest of the week. Didn't get home til 7pm, and after an uninspiring tea of porridge, put my dressing gown on and stared mindlessly at the computer for a couple of hours before having an early night.
Had a rough second half of the night on the sofa. Normally I sleep well anywhere, and for most of the week I've been starting the night in bed, then several hours later when Peter is ready for bed, I've been getting up and sleeping on the sofa. This works well, but on Friday night there was clearly a mouse having an exciting adventure behind one of the cupboards which woke me up every hour or so. I was awake early, and sneaked in a couple of hours of work, trying to catch up with what I'd missed throughout the week ready for a deadline on Monday. We had a lazy breakfast in the cafe, a wander round the charity shops, and then in the afternoon I cleaned out the chicken run, which was as much energy as I could muster. A friend came to stay in the evening so we stayed up til 2am.
I was awake before everyone else, and sneaked in a bit of work, trying to catch up before Monday's deadline. After a quick breakfast, Peter and our friend left, and I planned to work until lunchtime then have the rest of the day to myself. Sadly Peter's plans were cancelled, so by the time I finished work at 2pm I had fifteen minutes to myself before he came back. Still, I did manage to hang the washing outside for the first time this year, and spent some time outside sorting out a pile of wood to build a new compost bin and cleaning out the chickens. The evening was spent pottering round getting ready for the week ahead, doing an endless mountain of washing up, and other not-very-interesting household tasks.
So, the end of the second week of tracking my days, and still no DIY. No sewing or running this week either, and no wall-building or flute playing. One visit from a friend though, and lunch with another friend, and a teensy bit of gardening. Progress.
Sit down and make yourself comfortable. I'm Jenni, and I write here about our new foray into country living, which includes growing food, knitting, baking, wandering around the fields, and seeing which local cafe serves the best cake.