‘What, Cornwall’s premier museum in the centre of Truro, Cornwall’s Capital City?’
‘What, you mean the Royal Cornwall Museum, which is not *just* a visitor thing, y’know, like, where you go to look at a load of old stuff, but a secure depository for a whole array of priceless items evidencing 4,000 years of Cornish history and heritage – including the Courtney Library and Archive: a unique collection of 40,000 printed books, pamphlets and periodicals, as well as transcripts, manuscripts, individual archive collections, original newspapers and engravings, maps and more …’
‘Right … ok … and if we cut the funding, the place will close?’
yeah. If we cut the finding, the place will close. Of course it will. Can’t keep it running without funding, doh. So, yeah, all of that really important, valuable, irreplaceable STUFF will be lost …’
‘Oh’. I see. Right. Well that would be a terrible loss. But, what the hell, eh, yeah, go ahead, cut the funding – excellent idea!
And so it is.
If you think this is wrong, and want to help challenge this insane decision, you can sign the petition here: make your thoughts heard.
I am not much of a ‘winter’ person. I really do not enjoy being cold. Or wet. Or windswept. (Does anybody??). It always puzzles me that we, as (supposedly intelligent) humans, are the only living entity on the entire planet to not follow the natural rhythms of the earth’s seasonal cycle. Pushing ourselves to continue as ‘normal’ through these dark, cold, miserable days – then labelling it a ‘disorder’ if our minds and bodies succumb to the physiological effects of shorter days and longer nights, colder temperatures and reduced sunlight. The ‘winter blues’. A form of ‘illness’ to be ‘treated’ and ‘corrected’. For those of us with so-called invisible disability layered up with the complications of chronic illness, the effects are heightened. The complex regional pain syndrome in my left hand (I am left handed) causes cold in that hand to register not as ‘cold’ but as ‘pain’. The multifaceted effects of fibromyalgia become amplified, and the Christmas period in particular brings in own special kind of hell, with ‘cheerful’ bright flashing (migraine-triggering) lights EVERYWHERE, torturing me with pain, nausea, vision loss, and more, so that I avoid leaving the house as much as possible (becoming more of a recluse than I already am) – turning down invitation to social activities that would (as I know from hard-learned experience) leave me unwell for several days. Because the three conditions interact. Flare-up in my hand can trigger a migraine; migraine in turn can trigger the CRPS in my hand, and the whole lot can then set off a chain reaction of wider-body fibromyalgia symptoms – because all three conditions are rooted in the central nervous, the ‘information superhighway’ of body-&-mind.
Thus I tend to retreat in ‘hibernation’ mode from early December, reemerging in early February, around the time of what is known here in the northern hemisphere as Imbolc (in Christian overlay, St. Brigid’s day) – the midway point between the winter solstice and spring equinox, ie. the official beginning of spring.
Me and planet earth, we got a thing goin’ on.
Not that it is all bad, this hibernation thing. In fact, for me it is the only way forward. Not simply a matter of surviving, but thriving. And although ‘unseen’ in the public domain, I am far from idle. And certainly never bored. This has been particularly true this time around, since I’ve been investing a substantial amount of time and energy in various methods of therapeutic intervention via my local NHS ‘Pain Management’ department. Regular appointments with a whole array of incredibly knowledgeable, skilled and capable health professionals, including occupational therapists and physiotherapists, and (the bit that surprises people most when it comes to managing pain) psychologists. One-to-One input and an online group (currently, week 6 of 9). I only wish this had been available ten years ago, when I first needed it – instead of the dismissive: ‘nothing we can do, you must just learn to live with it’ …
But I digress.
Most significant this winter, has been my enrolment (October 2021) on a 3-4 year PhD, at the University of Wales Trinity Saint David. I say ‘at’ but in reality I am home-based here in west Cornwall, working online as distance-learner via the wonders of modern cyberspace. ‘PhD’ sounds terribly grand, frighteningly clever, and somewhat intimidating. In reality it means I have committed myself to the next three (possibly four) years immersed in a subject of my own choosing. Put that way, it can sound a little self-indulgent. This notion is, however, balanced by the fact that my research proposal has been approved by a whole panel of highly accomplished academics, all experts in their own field, together agreeing that my suggested research is, in fact, a worthy cause. Who’d had thought it, eh?! Not bad for a 55-year old grandma who left school at 16 with a handful of average O-levels, returning to education at 22 (by then a newly-single mother of three) … with more than three decades of life lived since, along the way aquiring a Bsc. Hons. degree, an MA., teaching certificate, and more. And yet, still, this last few months, I have floundered. Because it’s all very well getting a place on a PhD programme. But you then have to do the work. Follow through. Walk the talk. Come up with the goods.
Fortunately, now four months in, I am in a much better place than I was at the start, when the initial buzz of acceptance sank rapidly beneath the shock of: ‘What have I done? Am I up to this?!’ Very quickly plateauing out into a rabbit-in-the-headlights zombie state of … ‘What. Am. I. DOING?!?!’ Cue, subsequent blur of funding applications, getting-to-know-you meetings with my two wonderful supervisors, seemingly-endless form-filling, additional funding applications, much buying of books, paper, more books, and a steep learning curve getting to grips with a much appreciated disability-support package (ergonomic equipment and computer software) … plus, most recently, a proper-academic submission of my full three-year research plan … And now I am ‘there’. Wherever ‘there’ is. Point being, I have somehow gotten out of my own way, and am now getting on with it.
Meanwhile. There is a much-neglected allotment needs tending (it can wait) and a colony of bees left to their own devices over winter. So, feeling the need to reconnect with the wider outside world (and with a brief window of blue sky) I headed off yesterday to check on my one surviving colony, which I last looked in on at the end of November. Last year was a mysteriously disastrous year for honeybees, with beekeepers around the world suffering dramatic losses for reasons that so far remain unclear. Inexplicable queen death and general failure. I lost 4 of my 6 colonies, with one of this final two becoming queenless, my only option being to combine the two together pinning all hopes on their overwinter survival, aiming to build back up again this coming season. I cannot overstate the my joy – and sheer relief – at finding them alive and well (as far as I can tell from the quick lift-of-the-roof manouvre I performed, not wanting to disturb them too much at this still-precarious early stage of the year). I did a quick icing-sugar shake varroa treatment, popped on a block of fondant as supplementary feed, and closed them back up. I’ll leave them to it for the next few weeks, and check in on them again towards the end of March, by which point the weather should be starting to warm up, and the queen (assuming she has survived) will have again begun to lay the all-important eggs, replenshing the colony with lots of lovely new honeybees.
The hubby has never really shared my passion for allotment-growing. He does enjoy the results, ie: delicious edibles; random plant-part (leaf, stalk, flower, fruit or bulb) transformed into plate of food. But, the ‘before’ bit – mud and dirt, seeds and compost – It’s just not his thing. There is, however, nothing like a spot of ‘friendly’ competition to get a man going. Thus, when a friend earlier in the year suggested a pumpkin growing contest – played out in public via the wonders of Social Media – he was in. So began one man’s first attempt at growing-his-own …
Here’s how it went.
April. Let the learning curve commence …
… June …
… July – August …
… September – October …
Sadly, ‘Giant Ginge’ didn’t quite make it to record-breaking proportions. So, no prize win for my man (this time). And, once picked and left to cure, the stalk very obviously started to rot. Meaning, this beasty had to be used sooner rather than later. So, it was, into the oven in large chunks (skin on, seeds removed) to be roasted to reduce moisture content and improve flavour (these giant pumpkins are bred for size, not taste, they are full of water and not the greatest for cooking and eating).
The cooked pumpkin flesh (skin removed) then went into the freezer and came back out again today, to be transformed into a big pan of soup (some of which we ate, freezing the rest as individual portions for future use). This, for me is the real winner. It’s all very well, al that macho ‘mine’s bigger than yours’ competition. Growing something that can be turned into something that can be eaten – this, for me, is the real winner.
Pumpkin soup recipe
When I say ‘recipe’ I use the term loosely. This is more a list of ingredients (in no exact proportion) and a general cooking method, to be adjusted to individual preference.
Onion (red, white or a mix of each), 1 or 2, also a leek or two, if you want.
Celery, 1, 2, or 3 sticks, however much you want (none, if you do not like it.
Garlic (two or three cloves, more or less or even none, it is your choice)
Pumpkin, whatever type you happen to have, however much you want, either roasted (as above) or simply chopped and used raw.
Root veg: sweet potato, carrots, parsnip, whatever you have, in whatever amount feels right.
Orange split lentils. These give ‘body’ to an otherwise watery soup, but can be left out if you do not like or cannot eat them. (maybe add a normal white potato if you leave out lentils, for extra starch, boosting texture).
vegetable (alternately, chicken or beef) stock, or water.
Additional seasonings: salt, pepper, herbs of your choice. Chilli, etc.
Method: chop onions (and leeks if using), sweat to brown in pan, add celery, cook a further few minutes. Add garlic (if using) together with stock, lentils (if using) and other veg in order of how long it will take to cook (carrots, for example, take longer than pre-cooked pumpkin). Simmer until just soft but not overcooked. Blend or mash (stick blender is helpful here). Add seasonings – either mixed in or sprinkled on top to serve.
Our little community garden (Weethes Cottages Community garden, aka WCCG) is front page news! Ok, so it’s *only* the front page of a small weekly, but font page is front page. We are ‘trending’!
A moment of fame.
Not that this was the aim when we set out to transform the overgrown green in the middle of the street into … well, we weren’t sure at that point exactly what we were going to so with it. We just knew that we wanted to do something with what was then something of an eyesore. An oval of grass, 28m-6m, of no particular point or purpose. This was back in November 2019. Fast-forward two years, and here we are. Front page news, with what is now an actual garden. A wasted space, transformed.
It’s been a steep but enjoyable learning curve, for all involved. My own role has been to get things going, and keep it going. This began with a ’round robin’ postbox drop, inviting all who might like to participate. Local Lib. Dem. councillor Penny Young played a huge part in this early stage, steering us forward under the criteria of various current environmental policies, and helping us seek the necessary permissions. We (various neighbours) had been talking for several months about the possibility, but none of us knew how to actually get started. Penny helped us with all of this.
On a practical level, we’ve had some stops and starts. Deciding to go down the ‘no dig’ route, we set to work in November 2019, enthusiastically covering the ground with whatever we could find – I had various pieces of black woven ground cover going spare at the allotment, so we used these, and put out a call (via social media and word) of mouth for large sheets of cardboard – with which we were then inundated, from shops and offices, schools and anybody who’d recently had any large item delivered. All of this we used to cover the entire area, held down (or so we thought) firmly with rocks, planks and various other (again, so we thought) heavy items. The plan being to kill (or, at least, weaken) the grass, in preparation for work to begin in spring. And then … disaster. Typical Cornish weather. A howling gale, lifting everything up and off, so that I found myself out in the pouring rain one dark and windy November night, lifting off everything that had been put down, being concerned that we might find rocks, planks etc hurling through the air doing damage to all of our cars, parked nearby.
Undeterred, we came up with a ‘Plan B’ – still going with the no dig ground cover, but now covering just a select few smaller areas, leaving most of the grass to do its overwinter thing. This turned out to be the way forward, enabling us to plant up small areas as we went, create different features of interest, over time. This also allowed individuals to get creative, contributing as much or as little as they wanted to, or were able. For some this meant regular daily sessions, getting stuck in weeding, digging, and planting. For others it meant buying or donating seeds, plants, or tools, offering ideas. For some it meant being unable to physically contribute, but nevertheless joining in with enjoying the end result; a shared space, to be used by all. Sometimes it’s ben the little details – for example, the donation of a part-tin of yatch varnish lurking in the back of a shed: exactly what was needed to finish off the project name signs, which I made using bits of old wood, otherwise going to waste. All contributions, large or small, have been equally valued.
2020 of course brought covid lockdowns. Here the project really came into its own, as people (who might otherwise be shut up alone at home) were able to work together, yet separately, outside, in shared purpose. This had the effect of really bonding people together, and since then, friendships have grown -as has the garden. A further year on, and this summer (2021) has seen things really taking shape, with the addition of gravel pathways connecting two seating areas, one with a bench and the other with a picnic table, and an ever-changing display from the variously planted areas. In July we participated on the Eden Project’s Big Lunch, everybody coming together in celebration of joint effort. And this week we made it to the front page! Who knows what the next two years will bring, eh?
Not yet, but there will be in a few years from now. Not that I’ll be able to fix anyone’s broken leg, because I won’t be *that* kind of Doctor, but one of those academics with a head full of knowledge that I myself find fascinating but does not necessarily enthral the crowd at my local pub (and is unlikely to save any lives). I am nevertheless feeling both excited and accomplished at being accepted as a Doctoral research student at the University of Wales Trinity Saint David Centre for Advanced Welsh and Celtic Studies. I am also feeling a little overwhelmed, because … well, y’know what they say about ‘be careful what you wish for’ … this of course only the beginning, for now the real work begins (just one week from now: start date October 1st. Gulp).
It’s a funny old feeling – like the world (well, not the entire world but my own personal little patch of it) has shifted, whilst at the same time remaining the same. The news came on Thursday, initially, by email (followed the next day by a more official letter) and in celebration we (hubby and me) went skipping off downhill for fish & chips on the prom (tiddley-om-pom-pom). Ah yes, we know how to live. Even the intermittent cloudy showers could not spoil it for us. There’s a lot to get organised – a major point being funding (or, at this point, lack of, but I’m aiming to get this sorted ASAP). And in the meantime, this last few days – while I have headspace free – I’ve been plodding on with the edit of my MA thesis material, which I am reworking into what I hope will be saleable products, ie. a series of books aimed at those with an interest in local Cornish history and folklore … (I know, I know, I ‘m being a little cryptic here, not quite revealing the whole just yet. But I will. When myself and my work are ready for public scrutiny) …
Barley moon, Corn moon, Fruit moon … call it what you will … is the final full moon before the Autumn equinox, and a marker point for farming cultures throughout human history, calling time on crop harvests before the weather takes a seasonal turn. Hence the name. A full moon hanging heavy and bright in the night sky, is always a sight worth seeing, and living on the far-southwest Cornish coast we get to enjoy a really clear view of this natural phenomena, enhanced by the relative absence of overbearing electric street lights and surrounding expanse of sea, lending a mystical feel to the whole experience. I really enjoy summer – I function best, both physically and mentally, in warmth and light rather than cold and dark – so for me this time of year has a tinge of sadness, because I know that winter is on its way, necessitating a shift in to hibernation mode. I do however value the ‘pause and reflect’ effect of this seasonal downshift, looking back on the last few months and making plans for what’s to come next.
Which for me of course means bees, plants, and words.
This season for me has not been a good one, for bees. There, I’ve said it. Nothing instagram-worthy about that declaration, eh?! (I did a business start-up course years ago, and the tutor would repeatedly tell us: ‘Make out that you’re a great success, even if you’re not’. Pretending to be something I’m not has never come naturally or comfortably to me, so obviously I struggled with this – supposedly basic – aspect of self-promotion, being unable to con myself – never mind others into *believing*. Good thing I never went into advertising eh?!). Nor has it been a particularly prolific period on the allotment, the obvious point being that I’ve spent so little time or effort there, having insufficient energy and inclination to do so. It has, however, been a good few months on the academic and creative side of things. Proving the point, that it it is true what ‘they’ say: that you cannot have it all (and perhaps should not try).
But back to the bees …
From what I’ve seen on social media chat and also in the news, it’s not been just me. Beekeepers everywhere have had a difficult year this year. Beekeepers in France have been so hard-hit they’ve had to request financial help from their government, with honey harvest in some areas dropped to below half the usual amount. On Facebook I’ve seen others such as myself, starting the season well but by early summer realising that something is very wrong.
I ended last year with six colonies, all separately hived, all doing well; out of these, five came through winter successfully, and I looked forward to what I thought was going to be a great year for honey. And then … The cold wet spring meant insufficient food-forage at that crucial time, and from there they not only didn’t pick up but floundered. Unusually, I’ve had to continue supplementary sugar feed right through summer, and still they’ve struggled. Add to this enthusiastic robbing by wasps, an infestation of wax moths, and the end result is just two out of those five colonies survived. Ironically, this is the two that I moved from one location to another back in June, downsizing from three apiary sites to two. Transporting beehives from one place to the next is a risky business, in this case resulting on one of these two hives becoming queenless, so that I then took the further decision to combine the two into one. Astonishingly, it’s these that have now survived. Leaving me with just this one, supersize (double brood box) hive to pin my hopes on, for overwinter. Fingers crossed they will get through, and in spring I can start again – raising new colony splits from this one hive, to continue forward.
On a positive note, this has given me lots of new beeswax (to be transformed into candles). Far less bee worries over the next few months. And more head space for everything else … which right now mainly means writing. I am currently awaiting confirmation of a place as a PhD research student, building forward on the MA which I completed earlier this year. It is very exciting but also quite daunting. PhD or not, I’ll be taking these ideas forward in the creation of a series of books, which I am now working on (Watch. This. Space) ….
How did that happen?! The year has whizzed by, and summer has passed in a whirl, with family fun as priority. With grandchildren aged 8 and 2, and the beach on our doorstep, there’s been a lot of sun, sea and sand, plentiful ice-cream, and a fair amount of fish ‘n’ chips eaten straight from the box whilst sat on the sand/grass/prom bench: a lot of wet towels, soggy swimsuits and sandy shoes, bags of sea-glass, crabs in buckets and bundles of driftwood, with the highlight for me being my first attempt at SUP boarding – including of course the inevitable fall-off with a grand splash. To top it all, we’ve been back-garden camping in a fabulous VW tent (Simple pleasures and – bonus – no campsite fees!). Inevitably, the allotment has gone neglected, with only the occasional visit, purely for family fun.
And then there are the bees. This has been an unusually difficult bee-year, with a number of factors impacting on bee health and honey production. Starting the year with five hives (of six overwintered) I am now down to two! I’ll be nurturing these through autumn in preparation for winter: this will be the first year I’ve taken no honey off for human use: instead I’ll be leaving it all for the bees, giving them the best chance of surviving through to next spring. As ever, my granddaughter has been keen to help – with her baby brother watching (and learning) from a safe distance.
10.48 PM. Just a few hours since my previous post. Mission accomplished. I attended my first (of what will be many) ‘live session’ of the Memoire writing course, as per today’s previous post. Like a lot of people, this whole Zoom-meet thing is quite new to me … well, not *completely* new, because my MA was by distance learning, studying ‘at’ the University of Wales Trinity Saint David via the magic of modern internet connection. So, not entirely new. But new enough. And then there was lockdown. And now we all have Zoom fatigue. The positives, nevertheless, still outweigh the negatives – most obviously, now, being able to ‘attend’ a course hosted by a tutor in Canada, along with fellow students all around the world, accommodating different time-zones, altogether in cyberspace. Live chat and interaction – plus – bonus! – the whole thing gets recorded, so we can watch it again, whenever, wherever, and however many times we might want or need. A wholly different experience to my undergraduate studies, way back when …
But I digress ….
Topic for the evening was ‘memoire as poetry / poetry as memoire’ with guest speaker Canadian poet and glass artist Kim Mckellar – who, I confess, I had never heard of until now. Here is an example of her work …
Poetry is an art that I myself am yet to master. Yet. If ever. One day (perhaps) I may try. Perhaps. In the meantime, this first session was inspirational, and energising … yet it left me depleted. I’d not known what to expect, found it difficult to stay focussed, and then when it was over I felt fidgety and strangely emotional … Simultaneously flat, weirdly tearful, yet oddly also rested and lifted. Only one thing for it: a hot, deep, bubbly bath. With tea. And chocolate. Waiting for the kettle to boil (for said tea) my gaze followed through the kitchen window to this climbing rose (pictured, below) currently sprawling, in full bloom, up and over the back fence. Framed against a dramatic sky (not yet dark with night, but heavy with impending weather) it somehow matched my mood. The picture does it no justice: poor lighting and insufficient techno-whizzary to make full use of the camera settings. I’ll take another tomorrow. In better light.
I acquired this rose almost exactly five years ago, in the first week of July 2016. It was then very small and scraggly, merely a couple of short stems with a few leaves but a strong root system, bursting to escape the 5-inch pot in which it sat, grasping onto life, in a forgotten corner of my mom’s overgrown back garden. She had died, suddenly, just a few days previous, five weeks short of her 80th birthday. I brought it home and planted it out in my own garden, where it has since grown steadily, extending its reach to fill almost the entire fence, drooping indulgently over into the back alley, all sprawling branches, sharp thorns, and abundant foliage. It flowers every year at this same time, marking the anniversary of her passing with an ever-expanding display of outrageously glorious magenta pink blooms.
It must mean something, I am sure. I just don’t quite (yet) know what.
Well this is exciting. A change from the more usual blog focus on bees, garden growing and health. Last week I enrolled on a creative and nurturing writing course. A memoire-writing course with award-winning Canadian playwright, performer and best-selling author Alison Wearing .
Yes, I know that I just finished an M.A., I have a few projects on the go, and am applying to start a PhD (fingers crossed) this coming autumn. But this is different. A side step from formal academics to more personal endeavours languishing far too long on the back-burner. I am beyond excited, as I’ve been wanting to do this for quite some time (several months, in fact) but I kept putting it off, awaiting that mythical *one day* … you know, the ‘one day’ that never comes …
Well, that ‘one day’ is now here. Result being that, simultaneous to feeling ‘beyond excited’ I am somewhat apprehensive … because of course now there is no excuse. Nowhere to hide. The time is here. The time is now.
‘I feel like a rat on a wheel. But the thing is – I built the wheel. This endless cycle of ‘to do’ … I created this … I put myself here … ‘
This realisation hit a couple of weeks back. I’d been feeling it for a while, but it took until now for those feelings to crystalise into thoughts expressed as words.
Living with so-called ‘invisible’ disability places limits on normal daily function. And because none of it is physically obvious – there is no wheelchair, no walking stick, no missing limb or prosthetic aid (hence the term *invisible* disability) the effects can be misconstrued as behavioural trait or personality fault. Lazy, unreliable, flaky (Yes, I’ve been called all of these and more. Mainly not to my face). The no.1 problem in all of is work. How to maintain a *normal* job in a no-longer-normally-functioning body? Hence my return to education in 2017 (embarking on an MA, which should have taken two years but, in reality, stretched out to more than three) – at this same time starting again with beekeeping (fifteen years on from my initial ‘dabble’) …
Skip forward three and a half years. MA completed (final mark pending) with various writing projects in process and the potential to continue on to a PhD this coming autumn. Health struggles are ongoing – exacerbated, of course, by the government-led Covid response (all ‘non essential’ hospital treatments – including my own rehabilitative therapies – were stopped last April/May, only recently restarting, after a year of non-intervention).
Meanwhile, on the beekeeping side, what started out as one hive has grown into several, across three different sites. Plus all of the associated activity (honey production, candle creation, hive maintenance). And then there’s the growing: flowers, herbs, veg … I’ve also, in this last 18 months, instigated and managed a community garden project in the street where I live (more of this another time, in a future blog post). As each new opening has arisen, I’ve gone with it. A fun-filled learning curve, at some point turned ‘rat on a wheel’. But here’s the thing: if it is me who put myself here, then it is me who can free myself back up. Reset the wheel.
This, then, is exactly what I am now doing. First up, the most obvious: reduce the physical work-load and time demands. Editing three apiary sites down into two. The choice (which one to let go?) has been easy: the Bee Garden, my very first apiary site, where I started out, back in 2018. Despite my best efforts, in nearly three years there’s never been a good honey harvest here: whole colonies have died (one of them quite suddenly) and/or struggled to survive overwinter, largely I think due to the adjacent farm fields (on all sides, stretching several miles, meaning insufficient wild forage and potential contamination with agro-chemicals). Add to this the land-owners plans to sell up in the near future, meaning I’ll have to be moving at some point anyway. As the saying goes, a ‘no brainer’. Nevertheless, I felt a considerable pang of sadness as I closed up the two hives, dismantled the hive-stand, loaded everything up and drove away for the last time – very soon overlaid with relief, as I settled them together into their new location at the Bee Field, which will now be my main apiary site.
Life is a constant process of change. We can resist – remain stuck – or go with it. Stagnate or adapt. Survive or thrive. The choice is our own.