Coughs and Coffee

It’s not so often these days that I rise before the sun or that I get to really appreciate the stillness that exists in the hours before life reawakens. A bad cough and a poorly thought out remedy (coffee) has quickly rectified this and so here I’m sat, in the dark, wondering if my absence will soon be felt. I can hear stirring now but yet it seems only the wind wishes to remind me that I am not forgotten, gusting against my windows like a friend knocking impatiently at the door. ‘Let me in’ it seems to shout.  ‘I know you’re awake and I am too. I am here even when you don’t notice me. I am forever your friend’.

I’m reminded now of a young gentleman I heard speak on a Radio Four phone-in just yesterday – the topic being ‘how to combat loneliness’. Whilst Chris and I had been deep in random conversation as we delivered flowers for a family business, this well spoken man had entered our reality by intimately sharing his very modern-day problem. ‘I have an excellent job, I drive a new car, I have it all really… but when I look at my Christmas tree I feel sad. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a beautiful tree but that’s the thing – I know no-one will see it but me. I have everything but no-one’. His final words have haunted me somewhat since. How can a healthy man of my age feel so desperately lonely? This wasn’t a house-bound pensioner I was hearing from, it wasn’t a disabled woman or a homeless man – it wasn’t someone my mind could easily label and rationalise. Worse still, his pain was very real – almost tangible I’d say, and his statement left something hanging. The answer.

I had laughed earlier when an elderly woman had shared her rather obvious solution to the issue – ‘the best thing to combat loneliness I’ve found is to get out and meet with people’. Of course in her simplicity she was right, but equally it is understandable why for some people that may be a difficult thing to do – say for example for those with mobility problems. What I was struggling to understand was why a fit and healthy young man couldn’t apply this basic solution to his life – why he couldn’t create that human company he so desired. Was this the burden of a generation of social media I wondered, where ‘friends’ are numbered rather than known or was it something even more sinister, are we living in a time of ‘presents’ and not ‘presence’? Although tragic to hear this man’s pain, his story brought new meaning to my own which in some ways has been all encompassing of late.

This week I have sat and cried in company over the desperateness of our lifestyle decisions – the harsh reality being an empty fridge, unpaid bills and a boat constantly in need of more. I have honoured the winter solstice within a circle of spiritual souls and reflected on my need for a deeper belief in easier times ahead. I have shared coffee and cake, freshly baked, with old and new friends as we swapped stories of self-sustainability and the gloriousness of freedom from a society of need. I have written to people I have lost touch with and bumped into those that I don’t see so often and in amongst all of this I have loved and have been loved. At a time when we have had the least materially and financially, we have been reminded how much we have on a human level – and the freedom we have to enjoy that.

Beyond this though, I have also come to appreciate that the energy that we seek from others doesn’t have to be in the form of a person. Loneliness doesn’t have to be overcome through contact with another human in the same way the wind doesn’t need a physical body to show me its presence. A dog for example, can often be better company than a casual acquaintance and for many people that has been a credible solution to their isolation. For those who are unable to share their lives with a pet, perhaps the answer can be found in nature. We are all energy, we all live and die in the same way and sharing in that process can help nurture the soul. How many gardeners speak of talking to their plants and the peace they feel when working with them? Just yesterday I delivered a collection of flower arrangements to various partially sighted individuals across my hometown and I noticed something time and time again. As I stood on their doorsteps watching them delight in the scent of their surprise gifts, I understood that that energy – albeit non-human – would continue to bring pleasure long after I had left their company. They would nurture the flowers with water and even food in the same way they would provide for a child or friend. In this instance, the ‘present’ was also a ‘presence’ of sorts.

As the world now begins to awaken around me, I am left with a deep sense of peace – the wind is no longer my only company which has instead been swallowed by the sound of rushing traffic. Perhaps I needed that cough, perhaps I should have chosen that coffee, perhaps the darkness and the call of the wind weren’t such second rate company. I may not be able to reply to the gentleman now in my thoughts but if I could, I’d urge him to open his heart and mind to the possibility that presence can be felt in all energy and that in accepting this, he could never be truly alone. I’d also invite him to talk boats and eat cake with Chris and I and if we were feeling brave, I’m sure we (Chris) might even suggest the obvious. That what he and others are seeking won’t ever be found in the capitalist trap that he’d found himself in and that there is another way. I for one am grateful for all the personal reminders of this that have helped to carry us through the dark winter months. Solstice blessings, happy Christmas and thank you for your company.

Not all that glitters

Who are you? Asked this question, most people will respond with a series of facts that include their age and employment, possibly even their parental or relationship status – all identifiable characteristics that neatly slot them into a social hierarchy on a judgement of worth. Of course we’re all raised in a world which silently reinforces this message; the child denied an opportunity to speak by their teacher understands this as does the redundant grandfather and the gay parents – everyday we judge and are judged. There is little wonder then that we cling to our achievements and wear them as medals of our social identity  – this is what I’ve earned, do you see? Respect me for I have eight medals – more than you and more than him!

I’m as guilty as the next person of having collected medals – worn on my lapel like medals of war.  For me, a gold medal was never enough. I wanted the glitteriest of all the gold medals as this was sure to make my family proud – who wouldn’t want that?  In some ways it wasn’t too far from the truth. My glittery gold medals brought me a higher income, a bigger house, a more expensive car, holidays to exotic destinations and most of all, respect – that type achieved by a First class degree and a well paid job. To my family I had made it and in societies terms, perhaps I did… until I woke up. In truth, I don’t remember it as a pivotal moment or even as a process of conscious awakening. All I know is that one-day I understood and that from that point forth, my life could never be the same.

Removing my medals hasn’t always been cathartic or even a liberating process… each one taken has brought great sadness and despair, particularly for my family who fear I may have lost my way. For me, this has been my greatest challenge – in part I acquired my collection of medals for them, and now I am giving them away for me… what greater selfishness? The truth is, I defined myself so well by my medals that even my own family don’t recognise the person beneath – the soul that’s exists without ornament or decoration. Their eyes have never taken the time to fall on my words, they don’t know even of my story and so, for them there is nothing left to see. I have simply ‘thrown it all away’. As they grieve for me, so too I grieve for them – my tears fed by a well of fear that they will never take the time to learn who I am or even to accept what I had to do. A gulf of guilt sits between us as medal-less I judge and am judged. Some things simply cannot change.

So who am I? Five years ago I would have told you that I was a wife and mother, a registered midwife and teacher. I might have mentioned that I had a mortgage, that I drove a BMW and that I travelled internationally at least twice a year… I had no idea who I was. It has taken me another half-a decade and a whole heap of tears to be able to answer that question with some certainty. Who am I? I’m the person who seeks beauty in freedom and solace in nature, who looks for stories in strangers eyes and turns to plants to heal. I’m a traveller, a writer and ever the wonderer, a person who loves to dream and who makes no excuse for not realising them. I’m an activist and a believer, best of friends with my lover and a leader for my children. I’m the person who’ll keep your secret and who, in time honoured ways, shares space in circles of women (and men). I’m a birth-keeper, not afraid to be wise but ever the learner. I am stubborn to the end – particularly when truth, honour or integrity is being jeopardised. I am entirely me.

In truth, it is probably the latter elements that have carried me through the last five years. What Chris and I have done has not been easy, living without money is not easy nor is building your own home. If it was, I’m sure more than a few of you would have cast off your social shackles and followed me into the unknown. It’s also incredibly hard to let go of medals so hard-worked for, particularly when you are judged without. It took me a long time to be able to not correct the stranger who made assumptions about me, purely because of my hair. At times like those I’d want to whip out my medals and dangle them under their noses but then, for what? I had taken them off so that I had nothing to hide behind and no boundaries to my soul. I instead learnt to let those people decide on my true colours by getting to know me – medal-less and vulnerable me. After all not all medals are a reflection of the truth and not all that glitters is gold.

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Light in the Dark

Our car skidded to an unceremonious halt in the falling rain as Chris quickly turned in his seat to unlock the rear passenger door. Seconds later, an unfamiliar face peeped through the gap, his eyes trusting but inquisitive as they explored our faces for a clue as to who we were. ‘Where you heading?’ Chris had asked. It didn’t really matter in truth, we’d have taken him where-ever he had said – unwittingly this stranger had us held to ransom by a karmic cycle of kindness which we were more than willing to submit to. It’s not so often that you see people hitching a ride through Huddersfield.

In the space of fifteen minutes we were able to learn a lot about our guest – that he was from the west coast of Wales, that he was a travelling musician and that at 18 he had taken a risk that had prompted him to live life by the grace of the universe – and strangers. I’d been interested to explore the perspective of a man who’d ‘survived’ through the simple kindness of people who lived beyond the borders of his own country and culture – why did he think we were becoming so disengaged from each other and humanity? His answer had been quite frank.  ‘I blame mobile phones; it’s these things that have stopped us being able to connect with other people. We say things we wouldn’t normally say, we ignore people we wouldn’t normally ignore and we have forgotten how to be truly present with other humans’.

I had pondered this for some time after we had parted company – was this at the root of it all? Had we essentially lost our ability to connect through the human experience? At that very moment elsewhere in the country, our elected representatives were debating the need for the UK’s involvement in further military action in Syria. My radio regurgitated well-prepared speeches about ‘ground support’, ‘terrorist threats’ and even ‘saving Syria’, but no one gave voice to the people trapped in the midst of this terror. I didn’t hear the story of the mother who tucks her children in every night fearful of the airstrike that will snatch their young souls away, or the story of the man who works endless hours but can’t afford the $1 shoes to replace those falling from his feet. I didn’t hear that part. Instead I heard privilege and power and greed and selfishness… I heard all that is wrong with humanity. Or did I?

Switching radio stations,  we had stumbled upon a live phone-in for listeners to discuss if ‘good’ actually existed in the world. A rather emotional contributor was laying out her rational for why she felt that we had become a society of people who just didn’t care. Reeling off lists of times when she had felt let down by another person or people, this woman was clearly no-longer trusting of humanity and in turn her anger was perpetuating disconnection – she wouldn’t allow anyone to speak or to respond to her points. By not listening and therefore not allowing herself to connect with the shared human experience, she had also become a reflection of all that she so clearly feared. At this point I was reminded of a Buddhist story in which a monk, having spent a great deal of time building a perfect wall, feels shame at two bad bricks he considers to be poorly laid. Unable to see the beautiful wall for the two bad bricks, he starts to resent the wall and tries to avoid looking at it – that is until an impressed visitor to the monastery reminds him, ‘never-mind the two bad bricks – what about the 998 good ones!’

So what about the good ones? What about the times that that disillusioned listener will have been on the receiving end of kindness, of concern, of love – when had she forgotten about those? And what of the people around her who quietly donate their time and resources into making this world a better place every single day? What about them? It’s so easy in difficult times to be drawn into a feeling of desperation and hopelessness – to feel as if the human experience is out of our own hands, but it is not. We are each capable of great things both singularly and collectively. For those 397 elected representatives who yesterday let down humanity, there were 223 who did not and a whole wealth of our society who urged them on. Collectively the wall that that creates is magnificent and we shouldn’t allow those 397 bad bricks to ruin what I see happening in this country – which is change.

Chris and I have lost count of the number of times we have been helped by people known and unknown to us, simply because they could. In doing the same, we are constantly reminded of our human connection – both in terms of vulnerability and strength. This in turn harnesses that very basic human emotion – empathy – the ability to recognise another person’s experience as if it was our own. Empathy is very important in times such as these as it will help us to decide our own action (or inaction) from a human experiential point of view. Being able to decide on a course of action is an act of empowerment in itself and empowered people bring about change. Do you see where I am going with this? If we each start to reach out to one another and be the light in the dark, very soon the whole world will be lit up with positivity. In a world of compassion, it’ll be that bit harder for anyone to turn their back on the stranger in need, be it a hitch-hiker, a refugee or a politician who has lost their way.

 

 

Humanity – a sinking ship?

On Monday evening, I had unexpectedly found myself sat in a busy Accident and Emergency unit. It was the culmination of several stressful days – we had recently discovered water within Penny’s cabin whilst working on her floor and it seemed only a spare £1000 and a crane could provide us with the security we needed – dry land. You don’t need to be a boater or an intellect to understand that boats and water-leaks don’t go too well and we had spent many an hour scratching our heads and speculating how this could possibly be happening. There seemed little point in continuing with our renovation work until we either solved the problem or removed Penny from the water, and so the pressure was on – for me to raise the required funds and for Chris to find the source of the mysterious leak. Although we had both hoped that I would lose this particular race, time was without doubt  against the two of us.

It’s easy to get caught up in life’s little dramas and to forget that no matter how much we attempt to step out of ‘the system’, we are and always will be a part of one. Our life impacts and is impacted upon by the world around us, its community and the human experience. Fundamentally, when all else is removed, it is our recognition of this relationship that brings peace to our souls – for we all have something to offer and indeed gain from this transaction. Our boat and dream was potentially sinking, we were all but penniless and now, sitting in A&E we were being passively fed a new more desperate story – one about a ‘need’ for war and the physical danger of foreign looking strangers. We were of course a captive audience, held in place by an underfunded healthcare system and a continuous news station filled with government propaganda. The irony of it all was almost laughable as we each sat in silence, listening to the government’s justification for directing public money into murder rather than the healing we were all sat waiting for. I wondered if other people noticed this.

My curiosity soon got the better of me and I had leaned ever so slightly forward in my chair to catch a glimpse of the young man sat next to Chris. From where I was sat I could just make out the skin of his bare feet in leather sandals, the fold of his traditional clothes and his hands, wringing continuously in his lap. He was nervous. I leaned ever so slightly further forward and could now see his face, his eyes were sad and downcast and he was chewing his lips in a clear attempt to hold back tears. Sat in front of him were who I presumed to be his mother and sister, leaning in to one another so that their headscarves gently touched. With an occasional shake of their stooped shoulders I was led to imagine the tears that were being spilt there too, falling softly between their lowered faces. I wondered about this family; I wondered if the person they were waiting for news about was their father and husband – a person whose loss would surely end their world.  I remembered losing a person like that too and I shared in their pain for a moment. Now the news seemed insignificant. I thought for a moment about how much money I had in my purse. I hadn’t enough to buy them all a warm drink, and so I instead settled back in my seat and silently sent each of them some healing. That at least was free.

As I took the time to look around the room, each person I then saw offered a new reflection of myself. From the couple supporting their young disabled relative to the mother nursing her child with a burn to the hand – each shared a story that I understood and had lived. We all had different skin tones, different cultural dress and were all of different ages but we were also all the same. We all shared experiences of life, of love and loss and at that very moment we were also all in need of comfort and reassurance. We had each left everything else in our lives to sit in a room amongst strangers and wait, mostly patiently, to have our primary needs met. Yet despite this, we were also people guilty of succumbing to the medias narrative of intolerance…  somehow we were being convinced to disregard our human connection and to instead fear one another. Here, the only fear was of our own well-being or that of the ones we loved. There was no room for anything else.

We had eventually left the hospital that night tired but reassured. As if a corner had somehow been turned, the following day Chris was able to identify the source of our leak and we were able to take the necessary steps to correct Penny’s problem – something which was quite insignificant. With renewed spirit, renovation work was soon back underway and it was whilst in the thick of this that we had by chance met a smiling young man who’d stopped to admire the Huddersfield canal. Having arrived in the UK from Vietnam just eight weeks ago, he was feeling fairly home-sick and understandably missing his pregnant wife. Reminded of our night in the A&E, we had happily provided this stranger with much needed company as he had chatted animatedly about his life and dreams for the future. Of all the things we had talked about, the one thing that really stayed with me was his obvious relief at finding that we were actually ‘nice’. Having been warned that he should expect some cultural intolerance, recent events had left him wary of how we would respond to his story… as if that was somehow something to be explained away. How simple it was to eradicate his fear through the hand of friendship, something we are all capable of – a smile on our face, simple conversation or a cup of tea! Why do we let ourselves forget this?

We may have solved Penny’s problems for now but this is trivial in the face of what we are all about to experience together. If you have free time tomorrow, perhaps like me you could join one of the many peace demonstrations taking place in every major town and city in the country. You are invited to stand alongside strangers who wish to nurture a better version of humanity and challenge our government’s drive for war. It may well be that you have never done anything like this before, you may even feel strange about being there but remember,  each one of those people you’ll be stood with will share a basic wish to end this cycle of fear, intolerance and death. We are after all humanity, everything else has been a creation of man to divide and segregate for gain. Let’s not forget that in times of need and remember what makes us all the same.

 

 

Our Legacy

There is a tree that towers over the rooftops of the cottages opposite to our own – if you did not search for it, you probably wouldn’t see it or its subtle message to our challenged world. Here in the fading light I can just about make out its naked branches dancing in the autumn wind, so majestic yet somehow also so unassuming. Its shadows whisper a song about death and decay whilst its solid presence paradoxically speaks of continuity and hope. The tree, if we choose to listen, teaches us about life amongst death and then life beyond even that.

At a time when we find ourselves surrounded by the ending of life, it is hard to consider what comes next or indeed, how death can be accepted – especially when it has not been anticipated. Whether we are aware or not of our own time to die, we will each inevitably leave an energetic legacy upon this world which is both a physical and spiritual manifestation of our presence. This will exist in many forms – in the possessions we leave behind, in our scent that lingers on in our clothing, in a memory implanted in a friends mind and through the eye of another soul we shared space with. We will exist beyond death through the legacy we choose to create now.

In a culture that prefers to deny aging and death, it can be somewhat easy to forget that life will remain beyond our current experience of it. Our legacy will not only influence how life progresses beyond our own death but also how we ourselves will continue – for we are after all nothing more than single atoms that will one day make up the air, the trees and all that lives beyond us. What would it be like to be a tree growing in a lush, green forest or to be a tree lying twisted and broken in the midst of a war zone? If that seems beyond contemplation try bringing it closer to home; can you imagine your future ancestors, your children perhaps, being muted by their own government so that they live in fear of truth?

If we choose to look beyond ourselves and our current existence it is possible to make decisions that help create a conscious legacy rather than a circumstantial imprint. Some of these decisions will involve stepping outside of our current comfort zones so as to fit into the mould we want to create. If we want to teach children to cross the road correctly, we do so ourselves in plain sight of them. If we want to challenge war, we educate those young people who are considering signing their lives away to the government and their military, we protest and we reach our hand out to our ‘enemy’. If we want a beautiful planet, we start to think consciously about how we live and how we teach our young to live, we set a template for sustainable living. But it has to start now, whilst we are alive and whilst we have the power to do that.

We have recently stepped outside of our comfort zone yet again with Penny, this time by investing in a cast iron wood stove in place of our oven. Why would we even think about cooking on something made in 1880 I hear you ask? Well, beyond being a beautiful piece of handiwork, the stove allows us to completely remove the need for gas on the boat and means that all our heating, water and cooking will be done through solid fuel – gathered fire wood. If we truly want to help reduce our impact on the environment and create a more healthy environmental legacy, we must learn to do things that we have become de-skilled in and for us that includes cooking with a natural flame rather than a synthetic one. The real challenge will be getting our new oven onto Penny through one of her ten windows – watch out for an invitation to this special event!

We hope that our own legacy will be one of connection – connection with the land upon which we live and which we will also one day become, connection with our ancestors who are living, dead or to come and connection with other souls who share our world – animals, plants and the like. If we can leave a legacy that reflects how these connections can exist in harmony we are helping to set a blue-print for the world in which we will continue to exist. This may all seem like a romantic ideology but ultimately, we are in the process of doing it. Every decision we take for Penny is a reflection of this legacy and our hopes for the future. We hope one day more people will join us in living consciously rather than circumstantially. Even a tree knows what there is to come.

 

 

 

 

“If everyone did this walk, imagine how things would be!”

Sitting here at my laptop, thick socks warming my cold feet and several layers of woollen clothes lining my body, I wonder how it would be to be out there walking freely again? Would my skin startle at the damp chill in the evening air as it does now, or would it instead embrace the refreshing coolness of the changing season – like water to the parched man’s throat? It is so much easier to appreciate the beauty of autumn from a place of comfort; a thick jumper can take the edge from a blowing wind, a house key in the pocket can offer reassurance of sanctuary from darkening nights, a pair of wellies can make the sodden earth nothing more than a softer step beneath our feet. The truth be told, it’s hard to forget this reality having lived so humbly amongst the elements or indeed, to then return to life’s conveniences with a welcoming heart.

Three months have now passed since we returned ‘home’, slightly longer than the period we were walking and by rights we should have readjusted – but we have not. People are often startled to hear that we are continuing to live with no hot water, no heating and limited lighting throughout the house. ‘Why?!’ they all ask. ‘It’s a rented house isn’t it? You can’t live like that – get your landlords on to it!’ It’s hard to explain why we might choose not to fix the boiler that broke whilst we were away, to ignore the light-bulbs that have one by one slowly shone their last. In some ways its hard to pin-point the reason within ourselves – sometimes we feel we are subconsciously preparing ourselves for March when we will be living full-time on Penny, other times it just feels like these things are simply not a part of our lives anymore.

In a similar way, Penny is becoming a fascinating reflection of our somewhat radical lifestyle choices. Our most recent decision was to remove our electric fridge to make space for a traditional clay (and sand) pot for cooling perishables, something more common to eastern cultures. Just as simply, our clothes will need to be washed in the sink (or some other bucket-type contraption) – there was never any intention to install a washing machine on Penny due to their high energy consumption. On evenings such as this when heat may be needed our wood-burning stove will do the job and along with the engine, we hope it will also be able to generate free hot water. We could of course install a gas boiler but we are quite comfortable living without one and at a time when the earth’s resources are reducing, we have to ask ourselves why we would do that?

This question is something that has been playing on my mind a lot recently, particularly since both Chris and I have begun our apprenticeship as Druid priests. Why do we choose to use the earths resources with such little regard as to the impact we are having on our world and its many inhabitants? Studying and living by a nature-based tradition requires a person to be answerable for all that they consume, both in terms of food and other energy sources. A simple question that we have been taught to ask of ourselves is, ‘what if we all did this?’. What if we all bought our vegetables from a supermarket rather than a local grower? What if we all neglected our recycling? What if we all went for the cheaper battery-farmed eggs? With this question always in our mind, it’s hard not to be conscious of the impact our seemingly simple actions may have on everyday reality and inevitably, our decisions have become a reflection of what we’d like to see in the world.

We are quite aware that for some, our decision to study under a spiritual apprenticeship is quite alarming but for those who know us well, who know our values and our way of life, it was simply an inevitable course of action. In some ways, our apprenticeship actually began the moment we stepped away from that very famous sign-post in the north-east of Scotland –  from that point forward we became students of the land and like all our ancestors before us, we were ultimately at the mercy of nature’s energy. Such connectedness and learning can not be under-evaluated and in honour of that, we are tentatively considering inviting two other yet unknown souls to join us for the remainder of the walk – so that they too can close doors, open new ones and reconnect with the earth around them. It would be our intention to create focus for the journey so as to help guide those who join us in their own re-awakening. We have many skills to support this but we are still ourselves students of the cause and we have much to consider before anything is formalised. Perhaps if this resonates somewhere deep down within and you are free for approximately 2 months in May, you may wish to get in touch. As Chris and I have always said, ‘if everyone did this walk, imagine how things would be!’.

Giving a tree a second chance :)
Giving a tree a second chance 🙂
Wood we collected to grace Penny's interior
Wood we collected to grace Penny’s interior
Old wood made new!
Old wood made new!
Rotten wood removed from under the floor
Rotten wood removed from under the floor
Fitting the bedroom / kitchen partition
Fitting the bedroom / kitchen partition
Rebuilt bed / dining area frame
Rebuilt bed / dining area frame
Restored window frames
Restored window frames
New electric box and fresh insulation
New electric box and fresh insulation
Unfinished business
Unfinished business

What We Do Best

I did have something else written. A whole piece detailing the trials and tribulations of work on Penny, hastily scribbled on a scrap of paper in the falling light last week. As I had typed it up in a quiet moment, I had noticed how ’empty’ the words had seemed. It was as if I hadn’t been present in the writing… perhaps I hadn’t been.

I’ve struggled coming to terms with my role in Penny’s restoration. I can reel off a long list of jobs completed, progress made and problems raised, but these are mostly of Chris’ doing. I’m the person behind the scenes, fetching screws and other materials, sanding down cut wood, cleaning and being the person with the ‘alternative suggestion’. Chris’ logical ‘black and white’ mind looks at situations very differently to my more imaginative ‘grey’ mind, which usefully gives us the potential for at least two solutions to a problem, should one arise. This also means that my experience of working with Penny is very different to Chris’ – when I allow myself to become engrossed in the physical tasks it’s as if my ability to reflect on and process our progress disintegrates. I struggle to visualise where we are going or feel emotion about what we have done. I turn off that part of myself that makes me who I am and we need that as much as we need practicality.

It’s a double-edged sword in so much that in surrendering to our natural abilities, new challenges are then created for us both. When Chris is fully present with his work on Penny he is lost elsewhere – his mind full of measurements, angles and reclaimed timber. Chris works best like this but it is not how he wishes to work, preferring my presence even if it is not practically of any use. On the other hand, immersed deep in wood-cuttings and equipment I quickly lose the ability to think and dream – something which we both need me to do to help visualise what Penny could be. It helps provide Chris with a blue-print to work with and it keeps us both motivated through the renovation chaos. Stepping away from Penny brings its own challenges though, not least because my mind is soon full with other issues… how are we affording to live? how am I going to cook us the next meal? how many months do we need to live in this way? These are not issues Chris normally concerns himself with and once they spill out of me, they become part of his reality too. They become something else for him to fix where really, it is me who is in a  process of adaption.

So many times we hear the words ‘I’d love to do what you’re doing but…’. Usually that ‘but’ is followed by a reference to some element of that person’s life that they couldn’t give up, most often a material possession that requires some sort of regular financing. The attachment and need that is felt for the ‘money’ promissory note is what keeps most people in the shackles of our incompetent government and without a life of freedom – there is a fear of what it is to live simply, to change what has become habitual for us. As humans, we begin to develop the moment we dare ourselves to step outside of our comfort zone, at the point where we are challenged to step-up and try something new. The meals I now create for example, are now completely prepared from scratch – usually from produce gifted to us by loving friends and family. Each evening we have a meal that not so long ago, when I was a busy working mother, quite frankly we would have only had the chance to eat in a restaurant. Virtually all of the ingredients are organic, seasonal and local and I over-cook so that should we have unexpected visitors, they are welcomed to share in our meal with surplus remaining for a later date. I have the time to plan our meals from the food we have been gifted or what I have had the fortune to forage. This is the reality of having no money for food. We can’t afford a McDonalds or some other takeaway but we can eat better, with more connection to our food and its benefactors than ever before.

My worries over money to be paid for rent and bills are equally as nonsensical, as Chris sometimes needs to remind me. Our rental contract remains on our home until March, which is when we are aiming to complete work on Penny. Each month, we have just enough in the bank to pay the rent and so begins another 31 days of scrimping and worry. But for what? What would be the worst that could happen, if for some reason I couldn’t get that money together? Ultimately I imagine that our contract could be terminated early… but then we would still have Penny – our actual home. We have the coolest camper van, with no debt, that sleeps 4+. We have family who have offered us a shared home until March. It would also mean we would have no more utility bills, no ties to the corporations, no more worry and more financial freedom. So in effect, it’s fair to say that I’m worrying about losing worry – I’m worrying about losing something that keeps me in shackles. Does this sound familiar? We are all guilty of being caught up in this madness.

In a short time I’ll be leaving the sanctuary of a silent house to return to Penny, to Chris and hopefully a newly fitted stable door. I’ve had my much needed ‘thinking time’ and I’ll be able to be present for him with positivity and enthusiasm for the work ahead. Equally, Chris will have been able to be fully submerged in the door fitting process without feeling the need to converse with me, allowing him to do justice to himself with the quality of his craftsmanship. It’s in this way that our project is beginning to show its real beauty. For example, standing underneath Penny’s newly completed internal roof it’s hard not to get lost in the story of each piece of wood – all a different colour, shape, size and texture. Once uniform and unlovingly discarded, their uniqueness now stands out proud providing a constant reminder that change can indeed be a good thing. Sometimes the very best way of showing your true colours is to separate yourself from the rest of the pallet.

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