For years I’ve taken a daily walk through the fields with the dog, exchanging pleasantries or pausing for a brief conversation with other walkers on the footpaths. It would have seemed strange to avoid people (apart from the man with the two Staffordshire Bull Terriers that nearly all the dog walkers here avoid) or not smile and say hello.
In the space of a week, with the introduction of social distancing, it’s become normal to avoid all encounters we can. I scan the path ahead for approaching walkers. Some instantly turn around and retreat as soon as they see another person. Other people start walking in a wide arc so that we make a sort of choreographed pass and I supress the urge to do a little twirl.
I find it easiest to keep going and step aside into the field as the oncoming walker get closer. Time it wrong and we both step into the field necessitating a clumsy shuffle to pass while inwardly I calculate the distance between us and wonder how many steps to take before it’s safe to breathe in.
Just lately several blogs have been brought out of hibernation with short posts about the inconsequential. It’s as if we need to share the ordinary to make sense of all that’s happening around us at the moment but can’t encapsulate it in a tweet or an IG photo caption (apparently only a third of people always read the captions in Instagram anyway).
I’ve always thought that blogs like this can be a little removed from the real world. We witter on about baking bread and taking walks, picking flowers and knitting blankets seemingly without a care in the world, while cataclysmic events rock the world.
I see no reason for that to change too much even though our lives have changed in ways we wouldn’t have considered possible a few weeks ago.
For many of us there are still plenty of reasons to be cheerful; here are a few of mine:
Spring is here and winter is over. The primroses, cowslips and violets are in flower, the fruit trees and blackthorn bushes are frothing with blossom and the birds are singing. The hens are laying, the herbs in the garden are bright and fresh.
My calendar is empty for the next few weeks. No appointments, no obligations, no boring meetings. I can do whatever I like. So long as I don’t leave home.
I have more time to do the things I want to do. All Ruth’s printmaking classes in The Barley Barn have been cancelled, which is not something to be cheerful about, but instead we’re trying out printing projects and other creative things to share on Slamseys Journal. The first post about creative craft distractions if you’re stuck at home is already up and there’ll be more to follow. Also, instead of baking cakes and biscuits for the classes, I can fill my own cake tins.
It’s not raining and the sun is shining. The washing can be hung outside to dry, it’s a joy to get into the garden to sow some seeds and I no longer have to squelch along wet, muddy paths in wellies. Best of all, after a dismal autumn and spring sowing season, it’s finally just about dry out enough for the tractors to get onto the land in a last ditch attempt to drill some spring barley.
I have a knitting project that will last for ages. Last month, I knitted a Gamaldags sweater from Icelandic Knitter, which was incredibly quick to knit and I’ve worn it almost non-stop. I then had a fancy to knit a gansey or guernsey, whichever you like to call it. I have no idea why it seemed a good idea to knit something on tiny 2.25mm needles, which is taking an age to knit. There seems barely any noticeable progress after an hour of knitting each evening and though that seemed a bit of a drawback at first, it now seems a positive thing.
People have started to blog again. We may have to socially distance ourselves in real life, but on the web, we can drop in or open our doors to people all over the world. A virtual seat at the kitchen table with a cup of coffee and a biscuit.
Spent last week of 2018 in slothful idleness eating Christmas Day leftovers and chocolates, reading books and enjoying the sunrise while taking Morris Leader of the Fox Terriers for short walks. Almost missed marking the start of 2019 as preoccupied having fun with good friends, though general agreement was that exact timing is desirable but not essential.
Spent much of first week of 2019 clearing Christmas Barn of remaining stock and shop fittings. All now boxed, labelled and stored away. Found decapitated fairy head behind shelving, another victim of unforgiving concrete floor. Tried to reduce amount of glitter on 2018 Christmas ornaments but still much glitter to sweep up. This year will try even harder. Will also challenge suppliers on packaging as there is too much that cannot be recycled.
Have abandoned knitted blanket for time being as only dingy colours of waste wool left. Will pick up again later when brighter coloured wool to hand. Been patching trousers as alternative “something to do with my hands in the evening” project. Revelling in joy of visible mending and making most of time while grandchildren are too young to be embarrassed by it. Overjoyed to discover that easiest way to turn over edges and keep patch in place while sewing is to use glue stick. Much easier than pins. Fewer bloodstains left too. Probably better way to temporarily fix hem than previous method of using office stapler.
Have compiled photograph book for 2018. Fairly eventful year for the family, especially with all the house moves, though much seems to have gone unphotographed. Those photographs taken now uploaded and book awaited. Content that if all technology fails will always have proper book of photos for every year. [Note to self: Spend more time lazing in a hammock in 2019.]
As usual, December has passed in a blur and find myself surprised that Christmas Day is just over a week away. How did that happen?
Have been trying to find balance between keeping Decorations Barn look reasonably full against not having to carry over too much stock to next year. Shelves looking a little bare but not as empty as Christmas Tree Barn, which has very few trees left (hurrah!).
Very glad to see back of dancing, singing moose from Decorations Barn. Fun to see reaction of customers who walked close enough to trigger moose to wiggle his hips and sing Jingle Bells, Jingle Bells, Jingle Bells Rock but a little wearing when children worked out how to activate him. Again and again. Suspect family who bought him may have already unplugged him several times. Perversely, rather miss his singing now he’s gone. A little.
Called the bluff of all the witty customers who saw the sign outside
and asked for gin wreath. Not a wreath to hang on the front door if it is to stay intact.
Reached sparkle and glitter saturation and cut foliage for making natural wreaths. Cut back thyme that had grown leggy and tied woody growth into loose knot to make tiny wreaths. Added extra herbs to make wreath bouquet garni to hang in kitchen and save traipsing outside in cold and wet.
Decided to entertain two-year old with printing. Made great mess with rubber stamps and ink. Used excess ink on hands to make thumbprint robin prints. Took longer to clear up than do the printing and rather regretted not using washable ink.
Buoyed with success of autumnal stationery printing, decided to make and decorate Fold & Send Mail letters for Christmas. Subsequently, enjoyed time sitting quietly in the evenings writing letters. Even received letter in reply. Forgot how good it is to get handwritten letters instead of email and texts. Got carried away and masqueraded as Father Christmas. Thankfully, received no reply to that letter so won’t have to attempt sleigh ride and slide down chimney.
Realised that last gift ordering dates imminent and house has no Christmas decorations up. Searched out checklist for Christmas dinner. Wondered if time has come (after twenty years) to change slightly. Continue to wonder.
Hello! You’re still out there. Come in, take a seat. We must catch up. It’s been so long since I was last here*.
Last year, I deserted Life in Mud Spattered Boots to write at Slamseys Journal. The idea was to continue to write about the same things but also to include printmaking tips and provide some inspirational resources, which we hoped would be particularly useful for people who were coming to Slamseys printing workshops.
Over the past year, two things have become apparent.
ONE I know very little about printing, which has resulted in a dearth of useful printmaking tips and inspirational resources.
TWO I should have heeded Rowena’s advice. Rowena left the final comment on the blog last year: “I also see the need for your own space. A place you can call home and express yourself as you wish without having to conform to the company line.”
Luckily, both are easily remedied. Firstly, Ruth is going to join me at Slamseys Journal, so that she can write about printmaking and I can write about the farm. Secondly, I’m resurrecting Life in Mud Spattered Boots where I can write about whatever takes my fancy, like a sort of online Commonplace Book, so that even if nobody else reads it, at least I can flick back to find the recipe I need or see when we started harvest in previous years.
I know it’s very old fashioned to write a personal blog (instead of a content driven monetised blog with sponsored posts, adverts and pop up forms) for the pleasure of doing something creative and being part of a community of like-minded people, but lately, a few other previously neglected personal blogs have been revived and I’m happy to join in.
Shall we just rewind to Commonplace Book? I’ve been keeping these for years, though until recently, I didn’t know that’s what they were called. They were just my Black Book, or whatever colour it happened to be at the time, in which I jot down recipes, ideas, lists, measurements, planting plans for the garden, times and distances for walks, daily routine for a one year old, lesson plan for a jelly printing class … a hotchpotch of ‘Useful Information’. Occasionally, I even write useful quotes, like
Write down things that matter and free your brain for other things.
though I’d forgotten about that until I came upon it when trying to find a recipe last week.
Commonplace books aren’t logical records of events like diaries but more a record of useful information. Take notes in them, copy recipes or write down ideas before you forget them. Fill your commonplace book with illustrations, photographs and cuttings. If you’re of a logical disposition, divide your commonplace book into sections, number each page and make a list of contents. Use a beautifully bound book or a cheap notebook or index cards or Evernote. The commonplace book is a repository for information and one that lasts a lot longer than the back of an envelope.
This blog (I hate that word and wish I could find a better one) will be rather more organised and less random than my written commonplace book. A seasonal celebration, with a bit of cooking and some gardening. A walk or two. A few crafts. Maybe the odd random post.
But generally, it will be about life spent in mud spattered boots.
*I’ve slipped in a couple of posts that were previously published in Slamseys Journal just to fill in the yawning gap between last July and this post.