Where to call Home

It’s been a long time since we’ve been able to visit our peaceful home in France.  We are up against three children’s and five different institutions’ agendas.  I’ve also never quite worked out how children’s clubs you pay for seem to own their time, when you will pay the fees anyway, regardless of whether you’re away or not! I know, I know, committment, part of a team and all that … but they are actually children and with that need time out with their family too!  Enough negatives maybe…

Our French sanctuary takes us away from what is increasingly feeling like madness:  in a beautiful, ancient city where a new multi-storey carpark scheme takes precedence over cycle routes, I need to get away.  If I could think of a way to earn my living doing it I’d let out my house in suburban SE UK and go for the duration! Silence is becoming so precious.  Even as I write, alone in the ‘quiet room’ of the library, the noise from outside is a constant yet unwelcome companion.

It is hard to understand how, when we know we need silence for thought, creativity and well-being, it seems not to be a priority in our cities or even many of our homes.  Even in a relatively tranquil area of suburbia, on a day when neighbours are not lawnmowing, building or busy with DIY, there are alerts I have messages, alarms to tell me the dishwasher or washing machine have finished …in addition to the cacophony in my head:  school admission form, marking, lesson prep., accounts, washing…

Are we so accustomed to noise we’re unaware of the stress levels it creates?  Even when I am aware of it, in a working week, with evenings full of family committments, there is often little I can do.  Beyond taking up yoga and seeking out quiet spaces whenever I can, my body is telling me I need to move.  Oh for that quiet space, the view from a window beyond which a hare runs across the grass, birds come and go and a deer startles from beside the woodshed.  Our house in France, our sanctuary and my spiritual home.



Permaculture novice

Although permaculture has always interested me, I’ve been daunted by the vastness of the knowledge and understanding I’d need to integrate it’s principles into my life effectively. I’ve decided it’s pointless not starting a project because you can’t do it big or well enough, so am focussing on improving the efficiency and, I hope, quality of life in my tiny suburban corner of the globe.

Where to start? Well, since my last post my interest in food has developed, which helps. The discovery of the un-packaging shop in town has helped, along with conversations with my husband, who enjoys cooking more. Some jars have formed (see photo) and meal planning started, though needs improvement as we find it hard to set aside the time. Budget has also had an impact, as budget changes mean I simply can’t afford to ‘last minute shop’ for things so often.

Another change: the plan to sell the car. This will ease the financial situation, although I’m nervous of a repeat of past experience where my sense suburban trapped-ness grew beyond my tolerance threshold. Connections with local community are the answer, or part of it, but this proves difficult in a community of commuters. I have to expand my connections.

Finally, for now, I’m considering the best use of what is currently a concrete hard standing for two cars out front. Having unsuccessfully tried car and parking shares (little interest from some I suggested it to, combined with lack of compatible needs from those who were keen), I’m wondering again about how to use it optimally. Once we have one car, us off-road parking for a guest vital? Or is it useful (south-facing) growing space? Currently no water supply and containers would dry out quickly. I imagine it might be costly to dig it up … unless we did it ourselves. I’ll ponder on it – enough for today. I need something to calm my mind:

‘The wave cry, the wind cry, the vast waters Of the petrel and the porpoise. In my end is my beginning.’

T S Eliot

When biscuits fail


We are trying to ‘Un-consume in 2018’, as part of a group set up by Catherine Lloyd,




The holidays over and as February looms, I’m more pushed for time and feel burdened by routine.  My goal of offering gifts that count, but don’t cost is a challenge.  In spite of some clear successes, I can’t say I think I’ve ‘got it’ yet:  the art of giving is hard to master.

Let’s start with what went right: I’m in a department store café with my daughters and joke to the lady next to me that she’s nicked the last baked potato, (which she had!) … as they leave, smiling, my eldest asks me, ‘how do you do that?  …Make friends so easily?’ Touched, I love her for reflecting back a little bit of me so positively.  It means a lot and at that moment I realise that, like her, I carry an easy capacity to compliment.  What wonderful, feel-good giving for free!

There have, of course, also been failures.  The error in question was an attempted ‘gift’ of time’ … well-intentioned, yet wrapped in my own values and needs, with insufficient thought as to the recipient’s own position.  Result:  a loaded, coded package that made them feel obligated.

It was returned unopened.

I have agonised over this, probably too much, definitely too long.  But I’m a brooder … that’s what we do.

Commitment to the sometime painful emotional process we hope will be worth the gain is tough.  I need to work out what went wrong and I guess it was something like this:  you make beautiful, home-made biscuits, you bake them with love, yet if you offer them to someone allergic to the ingredients, you’re unlikely to hit the spot.  This was my mistake in offering time to a busy person.

When I think about it now, I was primarily trying to service my own need.  I value spending time and feel deeply appreciated and valued when people spend time with me. This doesn’t mean inviting someone to spend time with me when I am less busy, even offered with every good intention, will come across as a gift to them, whether or not they share my values hierarchy.

It is not just Christmas that has been commodified, it is giving in general.  However, as I have said before, stepping away from it is complex.  Hurt at what I perceived as rejection, I have beaten myself up over and over for my stupidity.  Yet I am, at the same time, aware that emotional deficit is no starting point for giving.  That easy capacity to compliment needs to start at home … if we are to get it right, we should forget martyrdom.  We must first be very, very kind to ourselves I think.

The challenge: un-consuming in 2018


The challenge is from my friend Catherine,

whose genius idea it was to set up an

‘Un-consume in 2018’

 Facebook group and make me a member.




The challenge is exactly that:  to try and un-consume in 2018, in whatever ways we can, sharing ideas and inspiring each other as we do.  I like the group because of its inclusive, fun and un-judgemental nature.  No-one is setting themselves up as an expert.  We are, simply, living and trying … and although all on different stages of the journey, as a group we have only just begun!

So, Christmas has come and gone and already I feel happier and closer to people as a result of thinking of gifts I could give them that they’d like, whilst avoiding presents in the conventional sense. Result!  This is not the first time I have tried this, as I have attempted it for a number of years, with varying amounts of success.  One issue is that the time it takes for me to think of a different ideas for each person runs out and I end up buying more than I meant to every time.  I can’t help wishing I was one of those people with an obvious craft, talent or other ‘product’.

There was the year we did marmalade, to find although it’s my dad’s favourite, many of our friends don’t actually like it!  Then the year of newspaper wrapping … I was more pleased with the way that went.  We’ve done gift brunches, vouchers, walks and biscuits:  the usual stuff! Two reasons this year felt a bit different:  a sense of connection through group membership and understanding that money spent on duty gifts can mask emotional distance.  It is therefore important to read people well to ‘get giving right’.

This year I did buy some presents, but feel my feet more firmly set on a path to less consumption and engaged in more relationships of mutual understanding.  One of the presents that touched me most was a packet of seeds from my friend Jo.  When we know we can be touched by ‘the little things’, how is it we are also so susceptible to marketing?

Given that ‘I’m just not doing presents’ is not a real solution for me either, because of the desire to show love, feel connection and reluctance to risk valuable and valued relationships, what is the way ahead?  I guess as far as Christmas is concerned I have another year to think about it.  Meaningful stepping away from its commodification seems a complex process:  done properly, the ‘un-consume’ thing is deeper than I first imagined!