Going barefoot

Back this week, after some lovely family time away, to the dying days of the summer, although with rowan berries glowing and acorns on the ground it’s been feeling like the season has been on the turn for a few weeks now.

As part of my project to try doing things a different way I’ve spent most of the summer when I’ve been out in the garden barefoot and so has the little man. It’s always been something I’ve liked to do and I was always first to abandon my uncomfortable shoes when on the dancefloor but this summer I’ve made it much more of a daily habit.

Every morning my ritual has been to waken myself from slumber by walking in the garden in my pyjamas and feeling the dewy grass underfoot. It’s a lovely way to wake up and that first blast of fresh air in the lungs in the morning is really invigorating, but also at the same time, calming.

I first really became interested in being barefoot when first watching the little man learning to walk. Advertising and grandparents will have us putting shoes on little feet as soon as possible, but I kept the shoes off his feet, despite the pressure. After observing him trying to take his tentative first steps I noticed first hand just how he used his toes and his full foot to grip and balance himself – something that with shoes on he wouldn’t have been able to do. Ever since then I’ve encouraged him to abandon the shoe leather in favour of being able to feel his toes wriggle and feet to make contact with the earth.

Barefootedness isn’t really a thing in England, like it is in other countries. My neighbour recently had her grandson to stay over from New Zealand, he walks everywhere with no shoes, and even drives barefoot.  The soles of his feet have become like shoes in themselves.

There are several things I’ve noticed after spending a lot of time shoeless this year, some good, some bad:

  1. It really hurts when you tread on Lego (an occupational hazard in this house) and stubbing my toes seems to be something I do a lot, which also hurts.
  2. Ditto walking on gravel.
  3. Walking on dewy early-morning grass is a delight and wakes you up gently. Although you need to look out for slugs and snails.
  4. Despite me thinking that hard surfaces would slough off any roughness from the soles of my feet, this hasn’t happened. Instead my heels have acquired a deep patina of muck that is immune to scrubs and shower gel.
  5. People look at you a bit oddly when they see you in no shoes, and the little man is constantly being told to ‘put something on your feet’.
  6. This morning I walked out for the first time in months and the ground felt cold – my body could tell me that chilly September mornings are on the way before the garden thermometer.

I’m going to keep my barefoot project going for as long as possible, as I’ve now got to the stage where I find wearing shoes constantly a bit restrictive, but it may also mean that when the time comes over the next couple of months for colder weather, slippers and boots I may appreciate their cosy embrace a little more.

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Wood, sweat and tears

You know when you do those things that seem like a really great idea at the time, but then half way through you wish you’d never started? I’m just in the middle of finishing one of those projects.

A couple of weeks ago on Pinterest I came across a great idea for a small garden hideaway. That’s doable I thought. We’ve got loads of bits of wood kicking about, how hard can it be? A week and a half later my elbows, wrists, shoulders and back can testify in applications of Voltarol just how hard it could be.

I’m on the home strait now, just frustratingly held up by the local DIY store running out of OSB board. Oriented slant board, apparently. That’s something I didn’t know a week ago. But the hideaway now has sides, a door, a roof, a pull-down table and will be something that when it’s completely finished I will be rather proud of. Proud because I eschewed the rather tempting ready-to-put-up garden sheds and structures, tempting though they were, in favour of designing my own bespoke construction and re-using as many materials as I could. There really is something great about this sort of challenge, I’ve used my brain and my hands, I’ve worked out problems and found solutions. All in all, it’s been far better for my health than simply clicking ‘add to basket’, which would have taken no effort whatsover and cost me an awful lot more money.

I’ve also discovered how much I really love wood. It’s so easy to repurpose. As well as the garden retreat I made a mud kitchen from an old pallet for my son. All from bits of wood retrieved from a neglected bit of the garden, which once cut, sanded, cleaned and painted came up as good as new.

It may take my aching body a few days to recover from this building work, but it has been worth it. I’ve enjoyed knowing that I can make something entirely from scratch, and although I’m not the best wood-worker in the world I honed my skills as I went along, and in no small way it has been good for my soul. I just need to make sure that I’ve got enough Voltarol to see me through to the finish line!

ANTIDOTE: Make things, and don’t worry too much about how much skill you think you have or have not. Making things with our hands keeps us connected to previous generations.

Tuning into the seasons

This week is Lammastide, or more officially August 1 was Lammas or Lughnasadh. The Pagan wheel of the year from which these calendar markers come from, is I’ve found, one that’s worth looking into if you want to break away from commercially enforced seasonal markers. There are some overlaps: Yule is the winter solstice and shared with Christmas, Ostara, or the spring equinox is roughly equivalent to Easter and Samhain falls on Halloween.

When I started to research a bit more I found out that Lammas traditionally marked harvest time and also the turn of the season from summer into autumn. But surely August is still summer isn’t it? It’s when we all take our summer holidays and pack up our buckets and spades. But August can be an incredibly wet month and so many a bbq or summer fete has been rained off this month as our expectations of this time of year override the soggy reality. As I look out on to my wind-blown garden I can see rowan berries ripening into jewelled-orange and boston ivy tinged with purple-red, spiders are festooning the cotoneaster, and in the early mornings there is a damp earthiness in the air that smells like the turn of the season despite what the calendar says.

Over the last few years I’ve been coming to the realisation that taking note of seasonal changes is about looking around me and noticing rather than sticking rigidly to a calendar that imposes dates and times on the natural world. It makes more sense to me that autumn should be August, September and October culminating with Samhain on October 31.

And this is where it gets interesting. On the Pagan wheel of the year Samhain is when the wheel turns, one year ends and another begins. There’s always been something about the marking of New Year’s Eve on December 31 that has never fitted with me. I hate the way that after a three-month run-up to Christmas, the Boxing Day sale adverts start on Christmas Day evening and these all-important mid-winter celebrations are encouraged to come to an abrupt end all ready for January, the Monday morning of the new year. Celebrating the end of one year and the beginning of the next at Samhain, however, makes so much more sense when the fecundity and growth of long summer days has turned golden brown, set seeds and begun its winter hibernation. The winter months of November, December and January culminating with Imbolc on February 1 as the start of spring then become a time to huddle indoors round the fire, or go for bracing walks in the cold, expectant for the first snowdrop to raise its head and begin the whole cycle of growth all over again.

ANTIDOTE: Look around you to observe times of the day and year, rather than referring to clocks and calendars.

Not built to last?

It’s finally happened. After a shuddering explosion that sounded as though someone had petrol-bombed the house, and with a similar accompanying burning smell, my washing machine has finally washed its last and gone out in a blaze of dripping-wet washing and a death-throe leap across the kitchen floor.

We’ve been through a lot, me and the washer. Most notably the two years after my son was born when in a fit of self flagellation I decided to go down the washable nappy route. But the last few months have seen it creaking and groaning in its old age, ready to join the great spin cycle in the sky.

It’s always the way isn’t it? I’d only been thinking last week that the washer had been standing in the corner of the kitchen (yes Kirsty Allsopp, please do throw your hands up in horror!) dutifully washing for 16 years and how that must be something of an achievement in today’s not-built-to-last culture, when my hubris obviously facilitated the washer’s end.

I quickly ordered another one made by the same company and it’s due for delivery tomorrow. So, today a chipper northern man rang me to discuss delivery and point out that I’d been rather remiss in not ordering some sort of cover for this new item. Had I not seen it at the checkout? I pointed out that as my last washer had given me 16 trouble-free years, apart from a couple of years ago when the brushes went and were replaced by a local repair man who also doubled up as a psychic, yes, a psychic, and no, he hadn’t predicted its failure. I told him I’d not be in need of any sort of insurance cover as I was confident in the longevity of washers in my service. To which he replied, ‘well, they don’t make them like they used to.’ The washer wasn’t old enough to drive or vote, how could it possibly have passed into the category of ‘they don’t make them like they used to’? Surely such a refrain is reserved for old oak tables, 1930s semis and televisions. And why don’t they make them like they used to? Because they want your washer to break apparently, according to the chipper chap on the phone. Well, not this washer, and not this house, come on then planned obsolescence I’m ready for you!

ANTIDOTE: Buy things that will last.

Sisyphean sewing tasks

A couple of months ago I bought a pair of trousers, and something about them made me question several things, who had made them, and what was the true cost beyond what I had paid at the till?

As with so many things with our economic model, there really was no way of finding out, so to avoid any more attacks of a queasy conscience, I decided that henceforth I would make my own trousers. How hard could it be after all?

Turns out that it was more difficult than I imagined. Pre-washing the fabric to allow for shrinkage was a lesson I learned after I shrunk the first pair and the now-too-short hemmed bottoms ended up flapping round my shins. Fabric choice was another lesson to learn, as the first lot of fabric I bought was white with pastel butterflies on it. I thought it was pretty and boho, my four-year-old asked me why I was wearing a pair of pajamas, during the day.

But having made one pair of trousers, simply by tracing the ones that I’d bought and had sent me down this path, I went on to make several more, honing my ability as I went along. I then challenged myself to make a few tops, using the same technique: tracing existing clothing and learning on the job.

There are loads of plusses with this I’ve found. 1. I can finally get trousers long enough. 2. I can circumnavigate what I’m told to wear by the fashion police, as I now only sew clothes that suit me and fit me properly ignoring being told that red is the only colour to wear during the three summer months of 2017 or that floral blankets a la post-twins Beyonce are the only things to be seen dead in. 3. I know who made my clothes. Me.

I’ll also be less willing to surrender them to a charity bag and will be more careful about not getting them stained. I’m awful for just doing a bit of painting or DIY and not putting scruffs on to do it!

So far so virtuous right? Nope, there was me thinking that from now on I could quell my queasy conscience regarding clothing, as one of the four major ways we impact on the environment (the others being transport, housing and food).

A few weeks into my new-found epiphany for making my own clothes I was confronted with a photograph on the Guardian website of a tide of toxic slurry apparently from a foreign fabric dyeing plant. So, my making my own clothes could be seen as a good thing, but what do you do to close the loop about fabric sourcing?

During my research I came across Mark Boyle’s Moneyless Man blog where I discovered that to be truly revolutionary and green in terms of clothing I need to be growing my own hemp and nettles and weaving cloth from them instead of sourcing fabric from a nice lady in a nice fabric shop. I guess that rules out using a sewing machine too, as to be truly authentic and post-apocalyptic I really need to be using a needle hewn from a piece of bone.

There are times when trying to do the ‘right’ thing seems like a Sisyphean task – like gender-neutral parenting or trying to keep your kids away from Disney. You’re pushing uphill against a cultural and societal tide that threatens to swamp you coming from the other direction. But, it won’t stop me from trying. I still love my homemade trousers, even if they look like nightwear!

ANTIDOTE: Making my own clothes has stopped me drifting into clothes shops thinking I can buy my way to looking a certain way. It’s a trap. The dream in the shop rarely translates into reality at home.