Creating Change; A Retrospective & Becoming International

So it’s been a long time since I’ve written to you.  It’s been in the back of my mind to check in and let you know how things are going but honestly, this last year has been so break neck that I’ve been consumed with just keeping the machine going in the right direction!

A quick synopsis for anyone that needs it! At the end of 2017 I resolved to move fully into interior design. I had been doing projects for a number of years but more as a sideline. I didn’t account at the time for how quickly this would happen for me and by January I found myself spending most of my days working on a variety of projects that came knocking on my door. In the first half of 2018 the pendulum swung fully in the direction of interiors and my retro furniture business had to take a back seat(I had set this up in 2015).  Of course, due to my compulsive addiction to furniture buying I wasn’t able to give it up completely! I just didn’t have the time to market my pieces like I used to. I also had to give up doing vintage furniture fairs because I found I was working weekends also on the interior design.

My first year in interior design hasn’t perhaps been the usual experience in that I had geared myself up for people wanting advice and guidance on how to do their rooms up and what I actually got was people asking me if I’d be able to do their entire house.  Literally ‘here are the keys, send me mood boards and then get on with it’. So from the word go I was nose deep in working with all the trades, project managing whole house conversions and renovations and having creative control over the ‘look’. All of this I had done before on my own projects but nothing prepares you for the level of anxiety that doing it for someone else invokes(see all my blogs that focus on mindfulness!). 

By July I had completed 3 whole house renovations and a number of lighter touch projects.  The sands shifted again in the second half of the year when I was asked to come on board with a larger scale commercial project. I had worked commercially in the past but this one was unusual in that the company brought me on board at the same time as the build commenced. Normally I would have expected to have several months of preparation time for something like that. Talk about thinking on your feet! 

That commercial project over ran and took all of my time up until leaving for my holiday in New York in early November. I had a chance over there to reflect on what the year had thrown at me and came to the realisation that I’d love the opportunity to diversify with the work I do, allow it to take me across borders and dare I say make use of the 4 languages I speak.. I resolved to become an international interior designer. I mean, why not?

Of course you can’t make an omelette without breaking eggs so I knew that there would have to be a few changes and some decisions had to be taken in order to open this new avenue up for me. The trouble with doing the job that I do, is that there is no blue print for it. There are no manuals that tell you how to succeed in your career. If you are a teacher, then there are thousands of books you can buy that will help you create the correct flight path for your career with handy hints and tips along the way. For interior designers that also run vintage furniture companies? Not so much!

So I decided to take the bull by the horns and do what I always do in these situations- just make it the fuck up and roll with it. Step one was to ease the pressure with the retro furniture side of the business. I knew I couldn’t commit any longer to the amount of time it took to run the company successfully online but I also knew I couldn’t bear to give it up so I compromised, got a showroom and now open it once a week to the local community (12-3 Saturdays , M16 0BP. Come say hi!-shameless plug). 

Step two was to put everything in place to be able to work continentally. My fiancee, who is also my business partner and I talked at length about where we wanted our careers to go and where we wanted to spend our time from now on, and with one eye on the political situation in the UK at the moment decided that actually now is the time for audacious moves. Tickets booked we set off to find a location abroad that would work as a base for us when we weren’t in Britain.

After 5 months of negotiation and MANY emails we are finally a week away for receiving the keys for our foreign investment. I’m so excited for the future and what it might bring. I feel I’ve created the opportunity now for my interior design to hopefully continue flourishing in the UK and also over the coming years on the continent and worldwide. I’ll maintain a base in Manchester, allowing me to carry on with all my projects and clients over here whilst raising my profile abroad and having a bloody good time whilst doing it!

I hope that you, and many more will come with me on this new journey and that in the fullness of time maybe some of you might even like to come over there and stay with us. There is plenty room for everyone and in the next week over on my instagram I’ll be sharing images and info about what it is we have bought exactly.

H|A|L|T

HALT

 

People ask me, ‘when did I first know that I was a creative’. I answer, ‘I think the kids around me at school seemed to know before I did. I think my mother always knew, but we didn’t talk about it.’ I had my first creative experience when I was 12, so I was an early starter on that front and then it just went from strength to strength really. One minute you’re hanging a curtain, next you’re applying for summer jobs at interior design agencies in the big smoke. 

Being a creative person has it’s ups and it’s downs, quite literally. At times my brain feels like a packed semantic motorway full of professional racing drivers all on performance enhancing drugs. At times it all crashes down and the silence is profound.

 We didn’t have much money growing up, and by not much, I mean I remember getting my first job at 11. For me working wasn’t for pocket money but more a practical way of contributing to the weekly bills and improving our lives. Despite being on the breadline I remember going up to my bedroom regularly and thinking, ‘oh no, this will never do’, going to the garage and searching for old tins of paint or literally anything I could use to pep the look up of my space.  On one occasion all I had to hand was PVA glue and tinfoil. 3 hours later I had a very shiny cast iron fireplace with a fairy light insert. I used to visit the local charity auction and return home dragging three seater settees and all sorts. My poor mother was constantly bemused by what I expected to achieve with these tatty old bits of furniture. 

 

Throughout all of this though and as I carried on into adulthood my racing mind and hurricane like ability to swirl up a pile of ideas has remained the same. One of my pals thinks I’m like a Labrador – very useful with the right training. By that I assume she means as long as I keep my brain in check I can really get a project turned around nicely. Either that or we shouldn’t be friends.

 Labradors. Cute. When trained.
Labradors. Cute. When trained.

 

So this mind of mine has served me well over the years, but it has been a constant source of exhaustion. Sometimes I get home after a days blabbering and bartering with my unconscious and literally have no energy left for the person I should most prioritise. I can be so tired at night that even going up to bed feels an insurmountable journey. I long to live in a bungalow. 

 I blabber. A lot.
I blabber. A lot.

 

With all of this in mind ,anything that I can find that helps me on the daily to temper my frankly crazy mental state is always welcome. Because I am a Labrador, my attention span can be at worst non existent and at times negligible so I like short, sharp statements that keep me on track.  I recently heard of HALT and it really resonated. Hungry: being who I am I regularly forget to eat during the day (I totally make up for that in the evenings so don’t worry on that front). Angry: sometimes how I feel can stop me from being productive and actually that can quickly consume my days. Lonely: being self employed means a lot of time alone and this can rapidly have a knock on effect with how I feel without me even being aware. Tired: finally with the Grand Prix going through my head pretty much constantly that can really drain the batteries quite rapidly. 

 I love me an acronym. Not an anachronism which turns out to be something totally different. Who knew!?
I love me an acronym. Not an anachronism which turns out to be something totally different. Who knew!?

 

HALT. Hungry. Angry. Lonely. Tired. There is such power in just referring to this throughout your day when you are going about your business. Being aware of how you feel is in itself empowering. Even if there is nothing that we can do about it in the immediate. Maybe you can’t have a cheeky wee nap right now, but for sure if you can acknowledge how you feel then you can make informed decisions about what your next step should be. Loneliness is not a preserve of the old.  I can feel lonely many times throughout the day. We live in a world of social media where most believe that companionship is offered through these channels. It is not. There is nothing like hearing the voice of another that cares for you. There is nothing that will replace actual, physical human interaction. Just even going to the corner shop to buy milk can make you feel better than 6 hours of desperately trying to find comfort in whatever is your app of choice. Find someone. Talk.

 

I go back to HALT several times throughout the day now and just check in with it. I tag thirsty in with hungry because I’m a right bitch to be around when I’m dehydrated.

 

Try it. HALT. It’s good for what ails ya!

Self Employment; Living The Dream?

Walking through Manchester City centre at 8.25 this morning I am confronted by my alternative path. Thousands of people pushing down the road in the opposite direction. Away from me. All different but all the same in one way. They’ve all got that same familiar look that betrays their thoughts, they all have a face of dis-ease. Hunched shoulders and purposeful, urgent marching they make their way towards their place. Dressed and distressed like professionals. Professional what in, I’m not sure. Perhaps professional widows. They’re all actors definitely. 

 Typical morning on Deansgate.
Typical morning on Deansgate.

 

Ill fitting shirts and blouses and treading carefully on tight shoes some shuffle forward and some lunge. Some even lurch not unlike zombies hearing the distant drone of human flesh nearby. Me, I’m wearing shorts, a white t shirt and my knock off Ray Bans. It could be my imagination but I can’t help but feel side glance every now and then from some of them. Anger and perhaps judgment at me not wearing the money making clobber that 95% of the rest of the city centre has on right now. I must look far too comfy to them. If we are music then they are jungle and I am Elevator.  As I meander to the dulcet tones of a generic backing track they are confronted by a cacophony of clanging beats and sharps sounds. 

 I firmly suspect it may be the dirt and rust that is holding my van together.
I firmly suspect it may be the dirt and rust that is holding my van together.

 

I dropped my van off for its MOT this morning. That’s why we’re walking in opposite directions and hear different music. It’s the reason I wear shorts and they don’t.  This is why I have the time, not just to passively see their faces but to actually observe what is in front of me. I am self employed. Writing it like this makes me sound like I have a ‘condition’. Perhaps I do. It’s certainly infectious. Since I have become self employed I have influenced a number of others who have also decided to follow my path. I’m not sure how much they still like me now to be honest.

 

When you’re self employed your boss can’t sack you, but the universe can. You have no one to answer to, except the constant nagging voice in your head that demands to know what you are doing to get more money, to improve and succeed. There are no shit employees you have to deal with and this is because you are alone. Days can go by and no one will talk to you. You can take any holidays you want whenever you want and these will be unpaid and each will start with the desperate realisation that with every passing second everything you have built diminishes. You are the master of your own destiny, as long as you don’t expect that destiny to involve getting a mortgage. You get the enviable task of informing people at parties and social gatherings that you run your own company, which invariably is met with admiration and trilling about how others wish they had the guts whilst your own guts seize with fear at the sheer uncertainty behind every move and decision you take.

 

The suit I chose not to wear now is still on me. At the end of the day however employed people take theirs off whereas my one is unremovable. I am ready at any time to work because I must be. In the words of those fierce New York queens – I don’t get ready, I stay ready. I start to ponder about how this is really just a constant state of emergency.  

 I have become really quite good at thinking on my feet and getting shit done regardless the situation.
I have become really quite good at thinking on my feet and getting shit done regardless the situation.

 

With this my phone rings. The van has failed it’s MOT and it will cost too much to repair it. It’s a write off.  My money maker has given up the ghost and I’ll have to work out how to finance another. This used to be the stage at which blind panic would take over me and consume the rest of my day. But for some reason over these past weeks and months I have become more aware. I’ve shifted more into the present and I know that somehow, some way, this will all work itself out. 

 All easier said than done, but so worthwhile striving to do.
All easier said than done, but so worthwhile striving to do.

I guess that is the thing, I don’t have the consistency of a guaranteed monthly wage but time teaches you that as long as you work hard, are willing to be reflective and make changes and never give up then good things happen. Unless you’re a cunt.

We Are All Ruled By Our Own Fears-Breaking The Cycle

We’re all ruled by our own fears. Perhaps arrogantly I have always thought that I was the exception to that statement. I navigated my way through some tricky moments when I was younger and came out the other side to go to university and gain loads of letters after my name for which the Student Loans company charged me handsomely. I’ve moved to other countries alone and set up a new life bungs of times, I’ve changed career without a second thought, and thrown myself into massive projects with huge financial implications should they go wrong and I’ve done it with all the gusto of Honey Booboo straight after a bottle of Special Juice.  Yes, my friends I truly have not given a fuck. Zero fucks here for fear.

 

I sound great don’t I?  No inhibitions. Free to be who I want to be-I am the tampon lady that roller skated with Dalmatians.  Remember her?  What the fuck was that all about?

 

Problem is of course, that I am not all of the things above. I have done all of the things above apart from insert a tampon and go dog skating, but there’s time yet for that. At the heart of the matter I will not be stopped, but the cost of forging ahead with what I do in life is high. 

 Sometimes I repeat this quote to myself. Less is more.
Sometimes I repeat this quote to myself. Less is more.

 

Rewind to 21 and I had many a post-it on my bedside table with affirmations on them incase, in fact no let’s just say when I woke up during the night panicking about whatever my panic du jour was. Key things I loved to panic about were;

  •  money
  • lack of money
  • guilt about not spending enough time with family
  • the future
  • the past
  • what career I should go into
  •  my health
  • my relationship

 With the exception of the last one of those, as I think about that list, I realise my fears are pretty much all the same that they were 15 years ago. Although I don’t have the affirmations by my bed anymore. I prefer to drink myself unconscious and hope for the best. I’ve really matured in that sense.

 

I am a multipotentialite, a polymath, or as Emma Gannon puts it, I follow the ‘multi hyphen method’. What this means in laymen terms is I have a variety of skills that I put to use in order to further my career. Or as Robyn says in her song ‘Cobrastyle’ I have ‘relentless determination in the quest to get paid’.

From the outside this looks like an online retro furniture store, pop up homeware shops, a blog, an interior design business and various collaborations across the board. On the inside, well just basically start reading this blog from the beginning.

So as I said, the cost is high. I always strive for better and more. But I heard the phrase by Pedro Almodóvar in the year 2000 “ it costs a lot to be authentic. And one can’t be stingy with these things because you are more authentic the more you resemble what you’ve dreamed of being.” Sometimes that cost is material and sometimes it is mental. More often than not the latter I find, but I don’t want to sit in the sidelines and watch time go by.

 

A childhood friend of mine. The person I first got drunk with, and whose wall I later decorated with my spew.  The same girl I sang my first karaoke song alongside, and who left me to sing the unreachable high note alone – I WILL NEVER FORGIVE THIS – is now contending with terminal cancer. She has shown magnanimous strength, courage I can’t even imagine and a sense of control that astounds me throughout. I can’t change her situation and I think every day about it, but I can change my outlook toward the life I have. It won’t change things at all for her but I hope that she sees the impact her strength has on others and that this in turn gives her some small comfort. 

None of us can change what has already happened but we can shape what we have of our futures. I want to find out exactly who I am, and it may take a lifetime to discover. I am more than likely going to have to add many more hyphens to my job title in the process and considerably more wrinkles to my face. Fear gets in the way every day, hundreds of times but you’ve got to feel the fear and make the choice to just do it anyways. It’s what Deanna does.

 

 

You can read about Deanna below, and donate from the same link.

https://uk.gofundme.com/deannawilson

Winter Blues? Go Green With Indoor Gardens.

I think I most definitely suffer from anxiety and probably bouts of depression from time to time. As you grow older you become more sensitive to your body and how you feel mentally I think. Of course before you diagnose yourself with any of these illnesses you must first make sure that you have not in fact just surrounded yourself by arseholes. Arseholes will make you feel terrible so bear that in mind.

 

Keeping my mental health in tact, or as near as I can to that is always a struggle for me and this is probably why I am drawn towards gardening so much. Creating life and sustaining it really does make me feel better, inside and out. Whether it’s getting mucky in the garden creating new features (see my old blogs about making a green space out of *literally* a car park), or planting seeds on a windowsill and watching them go through germination and sprouting I just get a massive kick out of the whole process. Key issue though however – the massive black hole that is November through to April/May. My garden looks like a sludgy feral dump currently with twigs loitering in every corner and decomposing leaves recarpeting the ground. Vile. All the indoor plants are snoring as I type – they shan’t be considering making any effort whatsoever to grow for at least another three months. Like the divas that they are. Life just basically fucking sucks on the greenery front at the mo.

 

This is what has driven me to find my hit elsewhere. When nothing goes right, go left. That’s what I say. If the sun won’t come out then I will fool the bastard plants into thinking it was here all along. Cue introduction to my new experiments in playing plant God. The indoor garden systems! 

 

Firstly we have the Ikea Krydda or Växer system.  It comes in a 1 or 2 tier option. And you put it together kind of like a pick and mix. Pick and mix.  Sour, chewy sweetie goodness. God I want pick and mix. Anyways, you put it together yourself which I in fact am already not a fan of before I start. Lets face it, every single one of us have on more than one occasion gone to Ikea to buy some essentials (and about 75 quid of other surprise purchases along the way) only to get home and realise you didn’t buy ALL the component bits. This set has disaster written all over it on that front. I did actually go to Ikea to buy this set but gave up half way through loading my trolley as even the staff were unsure about everything I would need to purchase. Also – not the prettiest thing frankly. You also need to have a separate propagator for it so it’s quite labour intensive-not that I mind that but just so you know. From what I can fathom a set up for this will be around about the £100 mark. 

 

Leading on from this we have the Ikea Bittergurka. I don’t know what the Gurkas did to get this  piece named after them but I’m sure Joanna Lumley is not thrilled about it. I love this. I have purchased it and been using it for a few weeks now and it really works. It is dead simple to set up only involving one screw – which you can fit with a butter knife. Not that I did that of course. But I did. Fuck it. I leave it on 24/7 and it gives the kitchen a nice warm glow to it. I feel like this helps me with the crappy feelings I get when I look out the window to darkness every day.  You literally just sit your plants in it ( in my case shop bought coriander, rosemary and basil), and you top it up with water every so often and that’s it. My herbs are noticeably growing every day and I am hacking away delightedly at them at basically every meal time. I may also be inventing a few mealtimes as an excuse to get in there and forage. It wouldn’t be fair to measure it against the Krydda because the Bittergurka doesn’t propagate and isn’t a hydroponic system, but on ease of use and overall impact however I far prefer it. Also it looks fit, and was only £35 all in.

 

Moving on from this I realised that I didn’t have a means to propagate and I do really want to be able to bring seeds on all year long.  I had decided against donating the amount of worktop space that the Krydda would take up so went on the prowl for another option. This is when God, God herself came down from heaven and spoke unto me. She said Paul, Paul go unto the Red Cross shop in Chorlton and verily I did my children. On entering I did find awaiting my eager clutch a Miracle Grow Aerogarden in immaculate state.  The angels descended, but I had to ask them to shut the fuck up because I couldn’t hear the woman at the counter. Turns out she was asking if I had a loyalty card. Who knew the Red Cross did them!? Anyways, got it home and it was über easy to set it up. I had to order seed pods for it and fertiliser which cost a tenner for 6. Literally you plug it in, add water, two caps of fertiliser goodness and pop the pods in. Then you switch it on and leave it until it tells you to do something else such as give it more water or food. It’s not a pretty thing and the amount of light it gives out may have your neighbours questioning exactly what kind of hydroponics you’ve got going on in your house, but I’ve got it set up in the kitchen and I’m literally giddy with excitement about seeing the wee seeds start to show their little green arms. My plan will be to get my seeds going in the Aerogarden, which I may move to the utility room when the days get longer, and then transfer them to the Bittergurka. There are more palatable looking Aerogardens on the market now and they come in at around about the £120 mark and my one has space for up to 5 plants at a time.

 

There are some other contenders out there also such as the Seed Pantry Grow Pod at £65 which hosts two plants. I think the thing to think is, how much time can I donate to this and how pretty do I want my kit to be. I wanted the best of both worlds with an ability to grow a variety of things at the same time. I totally recommend getting one of the above though if you suffer from the winter blues, it will give you a bit of a lift and contribute towards tastier dinner times too!

Things That Go Bump In The Night.

 The view from the kitchen in our old house in the sky.
The view from the kitchen in our old house in the sky.

So before we took on our money pit, we lived in a brand new, bought off plan duplex apartment in the city centre. The type of place I refer to as a ‘laminated shoebox’.  It was characterless (when I arrived but not by the time I had finished with it!) but it was full of right angles, dry floors and rooms that heated to expected temperatures.  Then we bought Heywood House, our current Edwardian semi on the edge of Chorlton, and by edge I mean no where near but gets nearer when drunk and talking to strangers.

On day one, hour one, the boiler wouldn’t start. Turns out the gas had been capped because the place had been derelict for so long. This took many engineers and a lot of money to work out. On day two the boiler spat the dummy and stopped doing the usual stuff boilers like doing.

This went from 1 engineer saying it would take 60 quid to two engineers charging 180 quid after a buttload of head scratching, looking around, trying to work out how much money we had and what would be a feasibly large bill to land us with that wouldn’t result in refusal to pay at all. Frankly at that point in time had they said I would have to sell my sole to the devil for working heating I would have signed on the line before the sentence was finished. I was genuinely starting to wonder what the hell I had let myself In for at this stage.

Cut to a month later, and the building work has started.  I go down to the basement one day, or what I laughingly referred to as my ‘work shop’, and it’s full of water, as in literally about a foot high.  It was at this point that I realised the previous owner for reasons that I don’t want to know had tiled the walls of said basement but only down to precisely where the water now triumphantly licked their edges. Known problem. Can’t believe it didn’t click when we were viewing it before purchase. Fast forward a few months and after many, many interesting and sometimes quite eventful conversations with First Utilities, they eventually agree that they are responsible for this all and fit a ‘no return valve’ on the drain. Problem solved and will to live lost ever so slightly more.

 It was with great, almost fevered delight that we realised all the fireplaces were still working.
It was with great, almost fevered delight that we realised all the fireplaces were still working.

The hours of dialogue involved in fixing all the stuff above must run into days by now I would have thought, although in all fairness they pale in comparison to the amount of time that we, our immediate and extended family, friends and sometimes vague acquaintances have discussed….the temperature in the house. Honest to God, I cannot tell you how prominently this issue features when you buy an old house. Ours is not a particularly large 4 bed but it does have 23 windows and three doors – one being a patio set. That is a lot of opportunity for heat to escape right there.

 Nestled just down in the right hand corner is Alexa. The teller of the temperature.
Nestled just down in the right hand corner is Alexa. The teller of the temperature.

 

 

 

 

 

To begin with we didn’t notice it so much because we were renovating and so basically confined to the miserable life you lead when in this position which basically entails living in your bed or scrambling over things to get to the shower. It was more after the noise finally calmed and the builders had left and winter arrived the following year that we began to, slowly at first, and then in ever decreasing circles start to obsess about how warm it was in the house. We bought a Hive thermostat system so we could remotely check how warm it was in the house. Sometimes from the other side of the world, when we weren’t even in the fucking house or likely to be for days or weeks. We began frantically stock piling wood and coal for the burner. You know, just in case the temperature dips. Eventually it was beginning to cause RSI having to check the thermostat constantly so we bought an Alexa who allowed us to  just ask her instead ‘Alexa, what temperature is it inside?’. More often than not at Heywood House this will lead to immediate scrambling for things to burn and/or accusations of carelessly long opening of front doors etc causing said ‘dip’. Most recently we spent hundreds of pounds hanging a set of curtains over the entrance to the living area. The entrance we paid thousands and thousands of pounds to create.  You know, just to keep the heat in. Ah the joys of breezy old houses.

 

Breezy old houses have another quirk of course. Noise.  Noises. Queer, sharp claps and creaks. Groans and bangs. Clicks and taps.  Mostly taking place in the dead of night. When your over active brain is already desperately looking for any reason at all to convince you that death in imminent and there is evidence to suggest it will come in the form of an ax murderer who has likely entered through one of the gaping holes between the windows and walls created by the water entering in the basement. Ah the noises. For the first few months I didn’t sleep alone in the house. Because beforehand we had lived on the 4th floor of a gated entry building with security guard present (when he could be fucked), I was suddenly very aware of our 20+ points of entry and total lack of boundary fence – see the blogs on the garden. It took a while. It took a while also to get used to the noises. In fact two years later this morning as I lay in bed at 6.30am thinking about what to write a blog on as my other half showered I realised how much of these noises I now no longer pay attention to as one by one they present themselves. I’m far too preoccupied with temperature to be honest.

Picking Reasonably Priced Feature Wallpaper.

Ok so the script is that I am unwilling, for a guest bedroom, to shell out mega bucks for fabulous wallpaper. I understand that there is a time and a place for a bit of decadent fabulous wall art, and totally get that there are people out there that are more than happy to spend a months wages on hand scribed, gold embellished, one of a kind nonsense. I am not one of these people and don’t really imagine that I ever will be. I like bang for my buck and I also like low bills in all areas when redecorating. For this reason I don’t hire painter/decorators and for this reason I want to find a reasonably priced, unusual and fancy looking wallpaper that isn’t at total arse to hang.

 

This leads me to my quest for a nice paper that will go alongside the coral pink I have chosen for the ‘Story Book Guest Room’ – see my previous blog! I want something forest green and/or dramatic that will serve as a nice backdrop to the foliage in the room and gold gilt frames and mirrors etc.

So no decisions as of yet. I think I do want something on that wall and if anything I think the Muriva wins. I’ll send off and get a sample of it.  See how I feel after a few days.

New Year Resolution Embargo.

 

January.  Undoubtedly the most dour and lacklustre month of the year. Basically it’s the ideal time to commit to drinking wine every day and eating as much as Is humanly possible at all times. Although as we all know, for very boring reasons, this is something that we should try to do in modesty. I am Scottish so that is not something that comes naturally.

 My bedroom is the safest place to be in January.
My bedroom is the safest place to be in January.

 

One thing that I do definitely feel strongly about is New Years resolutions. I hate them and just basically feel that they set everyone up for miserable falls. Normally in about 3 to 5 weeks. On that note is anyone else getting relentless emails from gyms they left years ago offering free everything if we just promise to come back? So I will not be committing to any resolutions – haven’t done for many, many years now. 

 

I do take the time to reflect however, and set up some basic plans and guidelines for the next 365 days. For example this year I want to have either bought a plot of land somewhere in North England or be on the cusp of doing so (giving myself lots of manouvre room there incase I don’t manage it in time!).

 One of the current contenders for self build space.
One of the current contenders for self build space.

I want to sort the front garden out at my house also. You’ll see from earlier blogs, when I moved into the property it basically had a car park at the back and a waste land at the front. In my minds eye, I can see a living wall that defines the borders of the plot, perhaps with some kind of pergola along the side of the drive.

 I want to create a space that gives us privacy, but also is visually engaging.
I want to create a space that gives us privacy, but also is visually engaging.

I would absolutely also LOVE to go on another all inclusive holiday somewhere. Have you ever gone on one?  It’s the best thing in the world ever. Wine on demand, chips with every meal and by the end of the trip you can’t even remember where your debit card is, it’s been that long since you had to go through the stress of paying for anything. I am also going to start volunteering this year at a local charity, I want to give my time to my local community.

 13 million people in the UK don't have enough food to get by. We can all help by donating our time, money or kitchen essentials.
13 million people in the UK don’t have enough food to get by. We can all help by donating our time, money or kitchen essentials.

 

I reckon I am going to leave it at that for just now. Obviously there are all the usual work ambitions such as take over the interior design world, be nominated for every award ever invented, find every piece of the most amazing mid century furniture created and generally rule the world. Standard stuff.

 

I think the trick is to not be unrealistic about what you can achieve. You are good enough as you are.  Making mild changes over time and setting up medium and long term goals gives you plenty of time and opportunity to evolve and not feel that gut wrenching anxiety of looming deadlines.  In 2016 I read Ruby Wax’s book ‘Mindfulness for the Frazzled’ and that will continue to influence me throughout the year. I struggle with anxiety and an over working Capricorn mind so it’s literally critical for me to focus on controlling my thoughts or they control me with remarkable speed. As I go through life I find more and more people that suffer similarly. One thing I think we would all benefit from is being more mindful of our mental health.

At the end of the day in the words of Maya Angelou ‘nothing will work unless you do’ but in order for that to happen, you have to be in the right mental place so be kind. Set reasonable mid and long term goals and if nothing else works crack open the wine, and wait for February. Help is on the way!

Working With New Garden Structure; The Pergola Is Up.

So in my last blog we made the decision to give the fake grass a wide birth and went for the more back braking option of lifting a relatively large driveway in order to make room for some of the real deal.  The week after that the pergola began to be built, and we got our first glimpse of what this space could end up feeling like.

It’s now been two weeks since the structure has been in place and I’m starting to get a feel for the space that it has created.  It seems odd to say, but I’m finding having this new structure to be a little bit like when you get a new house and are not quite sure where to hang your pictures. Things I thought I was sure about, I am now second guessing.  I’ve decided to give myself another few weeks to get used to the space before committing to any further moves with the over all plan. 

The dining area I am more or less happy with, although I do have a rectangular dining table to bring to the space later this week, which will work far better with the shape of the area and give us the room we need for family visiting etc.

 

The central space is currently a muddle, perhaps even a dumping area.  This is basically because we are in two minds as to what direction to take it in. I’m seeing a living wall along the rear end of it that will host our salad leaves, herbs and spices followed by white stones and a water feature creating a sort of zen area. The other half sees a massive hot tub.  We’ll have to see how this one pans out!

Laughingly referred to as the ‘gin terrace’, this space gets the last of the evening sun and so I want to have quite a cozy area for that certain time of the evening.  You may be spotting a trend with the furniture by now.  I’m a bit bamboo crazy.  On this set, which I got for the bargainous price of £20.00, I plan to stain the bamboo the same shade as the pergola and recover the seats in some kind of, yet to be discovered, jungle fabric.  Watch this space on that one!

 

The grass seems to have settled in well.  We are on to our third week with it and there are no significant areas to panic about that I can see.  It seems to be draining away just fine when we have heavy rain, so that’s a relief.

In terms of planting so far all I have done is to purchase a phormium ‘gold sword'(10 years old and only £16.00 second hand!), and bring my Chinese windmill plant, and eucalyptus round from the front garden. Otherwise, I am living with the space and holding fire with committing to where new greenery, and planters should go.  It’s likely that the plants you see in tubs currently, apart from the twisted hazel and central one yet to be clad in metal will be removed to another area.

Coming from the car park that we had when this project began It’s difficult to imagine that this is the same space. I hope that by mid summer this same picture will be framed by the giant frond leaves of banana trees, and the vibrancy of that fence will be broken up by some of the vigorous climbers that I am cultivating in the polytunnel at the moment.

 

What do you think then? Hot tub or zen garden?  Yes or no to bamboo furniture? Yes or no in general?  I love being able to check in from time to time with these blogs and get your opinions. Next time I check in with you, I’ll be looking specifically at creating the right planting in those massive raised beds that I created.

To Grass Or Not To Grass, That Is The Tarmac.

So I thought I’d just give you a quick update on where we are up to with the mid century inspired garden.  It’s been a long couple of months trying to get the tectonic plates into place that will allow us to get to the final stages but over the course of the next 72 hours we will finally have our pergola installed and a lawn.  The latter of these two has probably caused us the greatest consternation as my partner was fully subscribed to the concept of astro turf whereas I mostly wasn’t. 

 The day we moved in.  That concrete car crash you can see behind you is what we laughingly referred to as our garden at the time.
The day we moved in.  That concrete car crash you can see behind you is what we laughingly referred to as our garden at the time.

The background to this is that the plot was originally a carpark (if you haven’t been following the blog you can see all the original images of the space in earlier entries).  The main question was how do you lift and dispose of asphalt and what do you then do with what this exposes? The simplest solution was to buy fake grass and almost treat it like a big rug that we lay over the problem.  For me however I’d know that it was still there underneath it all and that would jar with me.

So off I merrily went to get quotes to remove the asphalt and have it disposed of, assuming that this would involve several men, digger machines and skips.  Little did I know that actually the entire process could in theory be done with just a pickaxe and crowbar.  This realisation dawned on me when the first gentleman that came to quote gently tapped on the asphalt to test it and a clump just popped up and clean off.  One quote for £460.00 later, a quick trip to the local DIY store and £20.00 lighter I was merrily hacking away at my driveway like a demented lunatic. 

 Not an easy job, but surely worth the effort right?
Not an easy job, but surely worth the effort right?

I’d say in total it took me about 8 hours to lift and remove 25 square metres of the stuff.  Add to this the cost of the sandy loam, which is a preparatory soil mix that you lay before turf, and the turf itself, the total cost of the lawn will come in at £181.60.  Of course there will then be upkeep to consider, which you don’t have with fake grass but then I feel there is a deep value in using authentic materials and honest design resolution which I don’t feel I would have achieved using the other route. At any rate, we’re already quids in as the fake stuff was likely to cost in the region of £700.00 before fitting.  We may treat ourselves to an automatic grass cutter with the savings!

 I've added some bamboo and twisted willow to the kitchen terrace to create some structure and define the area.  Also to make it feel like less of a stage!  We are quite looked over by neighbours currently.
I’ve added some bamboo and twisted willow to the kitchen terrace to create some structure and define the area.  Also to make it feel like less of a stage!  We are quite looked over by neighbours currently.

 

My last blog focused on sourcing appropriate, well priced containers and some of the pieces I pointed towards are on there way to me as I type.  One thing did occur to me however when revisiting the garden design and that was that I didn’t want to end up with a container heavy area, but do need space for the gunnera, banana trees and other giant species to spread their roots. For this reason I decided to be resourceful which is code for make things for free. 

 I've gone bamboo bonkers with the patio furniture featuring it in each of the seating areas.
I’ve gone bamboo bonkers with the patio furniture featuring it in each of the seating areas.

 

One of the benefits of having a mid sized van is that you can stop off whenever you see some good wood in a skip and recently I lucked out with a collection of roof joists. Creating raised beds out of them along the perimeters of the plot will allow me to train some of that fabulous evergreen Clematis over the fencing and hopefully soften the blow of our boundaries, but will also give me that much needed planting space for some of the larger specimens whilst keeping the over all design relatively clean.  These beds are yet to be stained to tie in with those of the kitchen terrace.

 I think this raised bed will be home to the banana trees.
I think this raised bed will be home to the banana trees.
 Made from reclaimed timber, this bed literally cost £2.00 and I think will be used to home the gunnera.  As they like it boggy I have lined it with thick plastic.
Made from reclaimed timber, this bed literally cost £2.00 and I think will be used to home the gunnera.  As they like it boggy I have lined it with thick plastic.

I have moved the poly tunnel also as it was literally in darkness for most of the day as well as being constantly hit by wind coming down the side of the house.  In it’s new position I rarely even hear the rustle of plastic, and It gets the benefit of early morning sunlight right through to about 3pm. Ultimately my aim is to replace this structure with an Eco Dome – ideally one that I build myself, however that’s a WHOLE other set of blogs!  At £55.00 delivered, this 4 metre by 2 metre giant will do just fine in the meantime!

 The view from the southern perimeter.  Basically it just looks like a big mess currently doesn't it!
The view from the southern perimeter.  Basically it just looks like a big mess currently doesn’t it!

 

So what do you think? Can you see Improvements? It’s so difficult when you’re working on it day by day to stand back and notice change!  All your advice so far has been invaluable and has and will continue to influence the outcomes of the area so please do comment and get involved.