Garden Update (May 2017)

It’s been a long time since I posted about the garden. This is the last photo of the back garden I showed you, back in January 2015:Braemore garden

This is the same view today (sorry about the blurry photo):IMG_20170529_125244

Some of this is simply the difference between January and May, but most of the difference is down to hard work and planting! Today I did some more planting, and I think I am more or less sorted for the summer. My courgettes are getting on nicely, in the back and along the side of the house.


Today I planted out broccoli seedlings in the front and in various places out back.


You’ll see that in the front bed, I’ve also got some beet ‘spinach’ and a couple of tomato plants that are really doing well. I’ve also got strawberries in another raised bed in the front, and some raspberry canes against the fence. Today was the first strawberry harvest of the season. They were delicious.IMG_20170529_123208

On the patio, I planted some flowers in this old sink, to replace the ganzanias I planted a month back which were eaten by molluscs. These are geraniums, petunias and begonias, plus one ganzania (I live in hope) and a tomato – all from Portslade Church’s plant sale. I’m ready with my gloves and head torch to do a slug patrol after dark – I’m very reluctant to use pellets – it’s their garden too. I’m also trying another fuschia, in the hope that this one will survive the winter unlike its predecessor. I love fuschias.IMG_20170529_125258

The wire caging is to keep the fox from digging up the plants. There’s plenty of soil for him (I think he’s a him) to dig up in the wild corner of the garden, near the laurel bush under which he likes to take a nap. IMG_20170529_125629

I enjoy pottering in the garden, but what I really like to do is sit on the swing seat. I extended the roof a couple of years ago, sIMG_20170529_125656o I can sit there even when it’s raining. It has a great view (see below: oak, hawthorn, hazel, rowan, hydrangea, laurel, camelia, budleia, apple, pittosporum and next door’s silver birch, as well as grass I let grow tall, as grass should), and it’s tucked away from sight. I bring a coffee out here early every morning and have a little time thinking, praying and watching the birds on the feeder. It’s my favourite place at other times, too, for reading or just sitting. Because what’s the point of a garden if you don’t sit and do nothing except enjoy it?IMG_20170529_125133


Milk is murder…?

Over the years, I have tried several times to be a vegetarian. The longest I managed was for a year in 2015, which was my way of participating in Fast For The Climate in the lead-up to the Paris climate summit. Ironically, it was while I was in Paris for the start of the summit that I started eating meat again, as I was eating in restaurants and there wasn’t a lot of option. These days, we probably eat meat once or twice a week, and we make sure that it’s organic and as local as possible. But it’s a shoddy compromise.

One of my problems is that I really, really like meat. I was brought up eating meat at least once a day, but usually more than once, and I love it. I still have this feeling that a proper meal consists of meat, mashed potatoes and a vegetable. That’s a deep-seated reason why I have struggled to be vegetarian. Another reason is simply lack of imagination and time. I get home from work tired and really can’t be bothered to think too hard about what to cook for the family supper. I know that I could tackle this by looking through some vegetarian recipes and making a plan, but I don’t do it.

One thing that de-motivates me is that I’m aware that being a vegetarian doesn’t solve the issues that I want it to, in terms of either the environment or animal welfare. I watched a short video last night called ‘Dairy is Scary’. I can’t embed video on this blog, but you can watch it here:  I know it’s sensationalist and that American food standards are often lower than those in Europe, but even so, I was appalled and found myself shaking my head and saying ‘No’ through much of it. The thing is that it didn’t tell me anything I didn’t already know. I already knew that, for environmental and welfare reasons, not eating meat is not enough – I should also stop eating milk and cheese. Whereas, in fact, being a vegetarian led me to eating much more cheese than before.

And that leads to another consideration. In a meat-eating culture, giving hospitality to a vegetarian is a nuisance and, in my erstwhile vegetarian experience, hosts often just substitute a slab of meat for a slab of cheese. It’s either that, or you end up eating a lot of Quorn. So – is it better to be gracious in giving and receiving hospitality (and simply living in the company of others) by eating meat or easy substitutes, or should you find a way of sticking to your principles, in humility and grace? Is it better for the environment to eat some chicken that was organically farmed up the road, or some weird stuff that was made in a factory somewhere, wrapped in plastic and driven for miles? What about almonds grown in drought-stricken California? Is it better to eat butter made, in a simple process, from English organic milk and wrapped in paper, or margarine made in a factory from Indonesian palm oil (Palm oil! No!!) and wrapped in a plastic tub? I have wrestled with these kind of questions for several years, but today I feel that the answers come more easily when the mental image is still playing in my head of milked-out exhausted dairy cows being dragged across concrete by a tractor, thrashing their legs as they go to be hung up, still conscious, by those legs while some man eventually gets around to killing them since they’ve given all the lovely milk that they possibly could and are no use to humans any more.

[Pause to shed some tears]

I recently heard someone say, while defending the oil industry against the divestment movement, that for every complex problem there is a solution that is simple, clear, easily understood and wrong. My own response is that for every problem that can be made complicated as a way of avoiding change, there is a solution that is simple, right and scary. In this case, how can the solution be other than adopting a vegan diet?

Here are a few thoughts about it…

  • A low-impact, plant-based diet is going to be very different from a meat-based diet. Substitutes like Quorn and margarine are problematic in their own ways, so the answer lies in re-thinking food. It occurs to me that re-thinking food in a dietary culture shaped through animal-exploitation is similar to the challenge of re-thinking the use of fossil-fuels in a culture based on cheap energy. You tend not to notice the culture in which you’re raised – it’s just the way life is – so the values go right to your core and often go unnoticed. Going against the culture means dragging those values into the open, naming them and changing them and the change goes right to the core of who you are. That couldn’t possibly be easy, but when the culture is destructive, a new culture that affirms life will be far better in every way once you transition into it – and holding onto that prospect in hope, disciplined hope, will (hopefully) help the transition.
  • Ethics don’t begin and end with animals. An animal-free diet still presents moral challenges to do with the origins of our food, including impact on soil, water and wildlife, packaging waste, food miles, and emissions and waste from processing.
  • Time is of the essence. I’m thinking of time to think about what to buy and cook, as well as time to prepare food. As I’ve written elsewhere, saving time often costs the earth.
  • No regrets! Rather than thinking about what I’m missing out on, I should focus on what is gained by this change and make it positive rather than reductive. I need to figure this one out, because it just feels reductive, not only in terms of my diet and the food I enjoy, but also reductive in terms of the suffering of farm animals.

I’ll let you know how I get on. It’s not going to be instant, not least because I live and eat with other people. I think that trying to live a morally good life in the modern world is always going to be an exercise in deciding where the compromises are going to fall. But, step by step, I hope to move the compromise nearer to what I believe in.

Is this an issue that you’ve wrestled with? I’d be interested to hear your thoughts.




Story-telling Boots



My walking boots are starting to look their age, just like their owner. Some cleaning and some waxing would improve their appearance, but there’s not a lot I can do for the worn out linings. Still, I think they look interesting. They look like they could tell some stories of the places they’ve been with me.

These boots have climbed mountains, like Hellvelyn with my friend Simon, when all we had was an afternoon free while on a course in the Lake District. They have rested on a rock on Lindisfarne for hours and for days when I’ve been there on retreat. They have tramped through snow and ice, like the time when walking was the only travel option to go and see my counsellor when I’d had my breakdown. They have trodden hills and woods, fields and beaches in Devon, Wales, Dorset, Derbyshire, Northumberland and, of course, on the beautiful South Downs. They’ve gone camping and gardening and have even done a bushcraft course. These boots have lived, and I have lived in them and trodden this amazing earth with them and had some incredible experiences while wearing them (or alongside them, having taken them off for a swim in a river or to walk barefoot on dewy grass in the moonlight).

I feel my boots and I could sit down by a campfire and tell nostalgic stories of our adventures together, and even if no one else would be especially interested, my boots and I would understand each other like old friends do. And they do feel like friends, in a way that no other part of my kit does, and it’s a shame that they are wearing out. I think that some cleaning and waxing is the least I could do for them, faithful companions, and perhaps we can share a few more adventures yet.

Edge time

A couple of weeks ago, I spent a day in some woods staring at the trees. Always time well spent, I find. img_20170201_111748It being a beech wood, the floor was covered in thick leaf litter – just a uniform sea of brown. After a while, I noticed some green near my feet. And then I noticed more specks of green. The bluebells were just starting to poke living leaves through the dead beech leaves. My point is that I didn’t notice them until I had stopped for a while and slowed down my brain.

I went for another meditative walk in nearby woods yesterday. img_20170215_114135This time, I tried becoming attentive from the start, by identifying the trees at the edge of the wood. Then I deliberately walked slowly so that the point of the walk was to become aware rather than to reach a destination, even though I had one in mind. I found I noticed more things, including some badger snuffle tracks, img_20170215_114055a tree stump where a bird of prey had plucked a wood pigeon and more signs of spring: elder coming into leaf and a clump of snowdrops.

I have commented before that I think trees keep to a different sense of time than do humans. So much of my life is lived by the clock, with deadlines to meet, work to be done, places to get to. Possibly the most frequent response I get when I ask people how they are is, “Busy,” and I find myself saying the same thing, perhaps, if I’m honest, just to keep up. I wonder if any of us really know why.

I think it’s important to create an edge to time. It is unnatural and therefore unhealthy to travel so fast all the time, and keep spinning so fast, and filling every moment with activity. It’s important to go to the edge of this fast time sometimes, and stop. Life becomes grey and dull without contrast. img_20170215_105325There was wisdom in the old idea of a Sabbath day – one day in seven that was different to the other six because you didn’t work in it. I’m trying a few things, like not gardening or doing laundry on Sundays, which means I can sit in the garden and enjoy it without thinking of the jobs I need to do. I try to sit quietly with a coffee in the garden every morning after breakfast. It’s not always possible, but I don’t want that to be simply because I’ve got stuff I want to get on with. The stuff can wait for twenty minutes – it will still be there. On my way in to the office, however late I may be, I stop and look at the sea, if only for a minute. It is such a privilege to live near the beautiful sea, and there is rarely as much need to hurry as I think. And I am trying to get regular time in the woods. These are just some of the ways that I am trying to apply the brakes and create some edge space in my life, some contrast between on and off.

In permaculture thinking, the edges are especially fruitful places, and maybe it is the same in the times of our lives. When we slow down and pay attention, we notice things about the world around us and about ourselves that would otherwise go un-noticed in the normal frantic whirl. Noticing the bluebells made me tread very carefully, as they are easily damaged and it will be lovely to go back in April and see them in flower. I find that attentiveness leads to appreciation and that leads to loving action, although perhaps not as much as it should. There really is little to be gained from the ceaseless high-speed stampede of modern life, but applying the brakes and introducing some contrast, some edge time, could be a big gain for you and for the world.img_20170201_135935