From Writer’s Block to Therapist-in-Training

I seem to have writer’s block when it comes to this blog. There are several things that I want to write about, and I have even started a couple of blogposts, but somehow what I’ve written so far isn’t capturing what I wanted to convey, so they’re just gathering dust in my Drafts folder, waiting for me to have the confidence to go back and finish them. I used to write blogposts a lot more frequently and I know that this was partly because I had more time, but I was also less intimidated than I am now, which seems silly, because I don’t think my writing skills are ay worse. Perhaps it’s just that I’m now spending more time absorbing content than producing it – even on Twitter, I rarely write my own tweets anymore, but instead spend most of my time on there RT-ing other people’s opinions. I am not happy about the fact that I seem to be more self-conscious about my writing than I was before, but I am hoping that my goal of writing four blogposts this year (which sounds pathetically low) will make it easier for me to come back to it. The first rule of Behavioural Activation, for those who are feeling unmotivated and lacking in confidence, is to set very small, easily achievable goals, so you can meet them without too much difficulty and boost your confidence. I am therefore going to follow this advice, which I have handed out to my clients several times – on the basis that if it’s good enough for me, then it’s good enough for them.

So first, a quick update on what I’m doing now. I’m currently in my second year of a doctoral program in clinical psychology. If I get through the program, I will be able to get a job as a clinical psychologist and start my career as a therapist. It has taken me a long time to get here. I completed my BSc in Psychology at uni nine years ago and had no idea what I wanted to do after that. I mucked about for a couple of years, travelling a bit and volunteering, before finally deciding that I did want to do more studying. I completed a masters in Mental Health Studies, which was advertised as being a good stepping stone to a clinical psychology course. At this point, I was considering clinical psychology, but did not feel particularly confident about my chances, because it is extremely competitive to get into the PsyD program and I didn’t think I was ambitious and dedicated enough to do it. However, it was something that really interested me, because I liked the idea of being a kind of GP for mental health – meeting, assessing, diagnosing and treating people with all kinds of mental health issues. The biggest barrier to making it onto a clinical psychology course is work experience. You must have at least a year’s worth of work experience (this is a bare minimum) as either an assistant psychologist or a research assistant. Most of these jobs are advertised through the NHS. Some idea of how difficult it is to get these jobs can be gained from the fact that every time one of these positions was advertised on the NHS jobs website, the application would close within 24 hours due to the sheer volume of applicants. One recruiter I spoke to said they had received over 300 applications within that 24 hour period. I even applied for positions that were unpaid (like psychology internships), but after receiving feedback from one recruiter that I needed more volunteer experience (to get an UNPAID position!) I gave up and applied to work as a teaching assistant in a primary school instead. This was a really low point for me. I had no experience working with children, I didn’t even like children that much, but the recruiters were looking for people with psychology degrees to work one-to-one with autistic kids and I figured that at least this would give me experience that was at least vaguely related to psychology.

In contrast to the psychology positions, I heard back from three TA recruiters within 24 hours, which tells you a lot about how desperate they were for teaching assistants, bearing in mind that, as I mentioned earlier, I had precisely zero experience working with children. I got a place at a school in Streatham and quickly found myself way out of my depth, with absolutely no idea whether I was doing okay or fucking up on a fairly monumental scale. No one ever actually took me aside and told me that I was doing things wrong, but I never really felt comfortable in that environment and although I did gain some valuable experience and enjoyed working with the kids on a one-to-one basis, I never felt like I learned how to handle even a small group of them on my own. The kid with autism that I was assigned to was an absolute sweetheart and needed much less support than I had anticipated, which meant that I actually spent more time helping other kids in the class who were struggling to keep up with the work. I definitely don’t regret the experience, because I learned a LOT, but I do wish that I had received more support and feedback on my performance, so I could have known for certain whether or not I was doing an adequate job.

Fast forward two years and I am now in a PsyD program in Canada and enjoying it very much. It’s the most challenging thing I’ve ever done and I get pushed out of my comfort zone on an almost weekly basis, but I’m also learning a huge amount and feel incredibly supported by the faculty, my supervisors and my classmates. I don’t honestly think I could ask for better support and encouragement. Last week I went to my first ever conference and presented some data relevant to my thesis project. My thesis supervisor helped me choose what data to focus on, edited my abstract and made suggestions for my presentation. I probably wouldn’t even have been accepted for the conference without her advice and support. I am coming to the end of my first placement now, which has involved me learning how to conduct therapy, honing my clinical interview skills, how to facilitate a psychoeducational group, how to do a diagnostic assessment and how to write up case notes. I have been given every opportunity to try new things and develop new skills, whilst still feeling nurtured and supported by those with more experience. In addition to developing important clinical skills, I also feel that I am growing as a person. After feeling stuck and stagnant for so long when I was unemployed, it’s amazing to finally feel that I am making progress and doing something meaningful!

I am hoping to write a couple more posts talking about my experiences on the program, for the benefit of anyone who might be considering clinical psychology as an option and also for those who are curious about what psychologists actually do.

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Gardening Update – A Few Hits and Several Misses.

Wow, so this is my first blogpost for a while! It’s another gardening update –  but I do plan to write some non-gardening posts in the future. I just felt that, in the interests of honesty and openness, I should talk about the results of my first attempt at gardening. I should also probably admit that I put off writing this update because things did not go as well as I had hoped and I was kind of embarrassed…however, as I said in the first of these posts, I feel that it is important to document the failures, as well as the successes, because too often people omit to mention – or gloss over – the disappointments and it all seems suspiciously easy.

Overall, my first foray into proper horticulture  was not really what you would call a success! The plants that did the best (as in, provided the most produce) were those that required absolutely no intervention on my part, i.e. the raspberry bush and the redcurrant bush. In contrast, the plants I actively put effort into cultivating failed pretty miserably. My carrots were minuscule – if you combined the whole crop together it would probably have just about made one normal-sized carrot!

The zucchini (courgette) that I had such high hopes for also came to nothing – as I mentioned in my last post, they were unfortunately devoured by slugs, along with the radishes! However, up until then, they were doing well, so I think I will try them again next year and be more wary of any slimy visitors.

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I made the difficult decision to remove all of my strawberry plants and try re-planting new ones this spring – I already have a contact for someone who might be able to sell me some, so I am also hopeful for these, although I may not get much of a crop from them this summer. The raised beds are currently covered with snow, so nothing much will be happening there for a few months, at least.

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The only other plants that did well were my indoor ones. The basil is still going, although I discovered today that there were some tiny flowers on it, which unfortunately means that the basil leaves won’t taste as good any more, so I may find a new basil plant and make sure I pay closer attention to it this time. I also want to get a couple of other herb plants, possibly rosemary and parsley, but maybe others too – although I am running out of space on our windowsill!

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The mystery plant that I thought was mint is starting to look more and more like basil and is also still growing, but it’s now very tangly. I’m not sure whether to just give up on this – I’ve already tried thinning it out, but it just got tangled again. My friend has recently given me a tiny mint plant that he propagated, so I might just focus on that one instead, especially since I know for certain that one is mint!

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My pepper plant is also doing very well – the green peppers finally changed colour and are now a bright cheerful orange! I’m not sure whether to pick them now or wait and see if they change to red…I think I may try growing more this year, but perhaps choose hot peppers rather than bell peppers this time.

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Finally, I also attempted to grow new celery from a celery “butt” left over from a bunch we bought at the supermarket. This has done pretty well and in fact needs harvesting soon – and also should be moved to a bigger pot. I love that it was so easy to re-grow the celery, and although it hasn’t produced proper big juicy stalks, the leaves will make a nice addition to our next pot of stew!

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In conclusion, I am somewhat disappointed with my gardening attempts this year, BUT I am still feeling fairly optimistic about the coming year, with several ideas of things to grow and also a newly-acquired compost bin, which will hopefully help to enrich the soil and promote better growth.

If you haven’t tried gardening but want to have a go, I would recommend starting with a few herbs, perhaps re-growing some celery and maybe a pepper plant or two. These don’t take up much space and brighten up your home – and can also be kept going through the winter, which is important when you live somewhere like Newfoundland!

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Gardening Blues

This is my third gardening update and I’m afraid I’ll have to ask you to forgive the slightly pessimistic tone of this blogpost because my horticultural endeavours are Not Going Well. I was away for almost the whole of July and despite having some lovely people come round and water the plants/feed the pets while we were on holiday, the garden now seems to be struggling a bit.

I planted out my 4 zucchini plants in between the rows of spring onions in one of the raised beds before we left, but it seems that some hungry bugs have been munching on them because the leaves have all but disappeared on two of them and the other two are also looking a bit disheveled. I had high hopes for these, seeing as they grew so quickly in the pots, but it looks like we might be struggling to get any zucchinis this year. Perhaps if I buy some slug pellets or other type of bug repellent, they might do a bit better, but I’m not feeling terribly optimistic.

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The carrots, on the other hand, are still growing nicely – they seem to be the only outdoor plants that are thriving right now – which is odd, because I thought I had read somewhere that carrots were not ideal veggies for beginners. Having said that, I know from previous experience that they might be green and bushy on top without having much going on below the soil, so there may still be a distinct lack of actual carrots later on!

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The small tub of radishes I planted also didn’t make it, which is rather disheartening, because I had read in several places that radishes are super easy to grow, but it might be that the containers weren’t right and perhaps didn’t have enough soil. I might try them again if I have some seeds left – and this time, lavish a bit more care and attention on them!

The most disappointing of all, however, are my strawberry plants, which seem to have developed a fungal disease called Leaf Scorch. Apparently this can be caused by “overhead watering” which I think is what I’ve been doing, as well as overall damp conditions. The soil hasn’t seemed overly damp, hence me watering them on a regular basis, but perhaps I’ve been watering them too much. Apparently thinning out the plants, ceasing overhead watering and re-planting with new, unaffected plants after the season is finished can help to control the disease, so that’s my plan for now. If anyone has any other tips or suggestions, please let me know! Its a particular disappointment because the poor plants were doing so well up until this point; they were flowering and ready to produce fruit, but now they all seem to be dying. Ah well, this is as much, if not more, of a learning experience as growing healthy plants would be, so I shouldn’t complain too much.

My indoor plants are doing somewhat better – especially the hot peppers, which are now enormous. However, they are now a problem, because I had to re-plant two of them in bigger pots that won’t fit on the windowsill, but I also can’t put them outside because it seems to be too windy, even in the somewhat sheltered porch! I did try it, but after a day the plants were actually losing leaves because of the wind, so I brought them indoors again. I guess I need a mini greenhouse or something, so they can be outside and absorbing sunshine, but protected from the wind.

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My spearmint is also FINALLY growing – still very slowly, but it is at last making progress. So it’s not all doom and gloom!

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My plan for the next couple of weeks is to start again with the radishes (in a more suitable container with lots of decent soil), maybe buy some slug pellets to protect the zucchinis and perhaps remove some of the strawberry plants that look like they’re too sick to recover. Hopefully I’ll have better news in my next update. Onwards and upwards!

 

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My Top Five Audiobooks

I adore reading and devour books whenever I get the opportunity to sit and read for a few minutes. But I also spend a fair amount of time walking or driving around rather than just sitting still and it is not advisable to be reading a book while doing either of these activities. Audiobooks are an excellent way to cram yet more reading in to a busy lifestyle, because you can be doing something else while listening to a book, plus you get the added bonus of someone reading to you, which is something most people last experienced as a child, when their parents read them a bedtime story.

I’ve sometimes heard people say that they are not keen on audiobooks because they don’t like having to listen to a story and would rather read at their own pace. I admit that when I first started using audiobooks, I found that I needed to concentrate a bit more than I would when reading on my own, because I wasn’t used to listening to voices for such long periods of time. At one point, however, I was listening to audiobooks more than I was reading actual books, and when I started reading books again, I found that I had to adjust a second time, because now it seemed to take more effort to read for myself than to listen to someone else. I currently have a good balance of books and audiobooks, which means that I get the best of both worlds.

Before discussing my top five audiobooks – and hopefully giving those new to audiobooks some suggestions for where to start – I want to mention two important points. First, audiobooks are usually pretty expensive. It generally works out better to buy them through Audible, or even to buy the CDs on Amazon and then upload them to your computer later. However, it is even cheaper – sometimes actually free – to borrow them from your local library. I would recommend trying all of these things before going to your local Waterstones, where audiobooks are generally about £20 each and thus, in my opinion at least, prohibitively expensive.

The second and most important point about audiobooks is one that probably seems blindingly obvious, but is nevertheless worth reiterating. The narrator must be very, very good. Just as badly written books can be intensely irritating to read, badly read audiobooks can be painful to listen to. Even when the narrator is good, sometimes something about their voice (pitch, accent etc) can be really grating – and this is often something that is personal to you, other people might love a particular narrator, but you may find them unbearable. In my list, I have mentioned four narrators that are absolutely superb at what they do. The other audiobook is read by a group of people rather than one single person – although they, too, are all extremely good.

  1. Three Men In A Boat by Jerome K Jerome, read by Hugh Laurie

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My first choice for my top five is one of the funniest books I’ve ever read. It still amazes me that this was written in the late 19th century, because it still sounds so fresh – and hilarious! Initially intended as a piece of travel-writing, but marketed as a comic story, Three Men In A Boat tells the story of three guys (and a dog) going on a boat trip down the Thames and describes in great detail the various adventures that they experience along the way. The reader, Hugh Laurie, is best known for his role in House, or, if you’re British, for his parts in Blackadder and Jeeves & Wooster. He is also a talented musician and is a magnificent audiobook narrator. It seems unfair for one person to possess such a staggering amount of talent in so many areas, but he is so very good at what he does that we can forgive him. He has also narrated some other books that I love, but this is the one that I go back to again and again and again. Unfortunately it is an abridged version (about two and a half hours), but his voice and narrative style are so perfect for this book that I don’t even care.

2) Just William by Richmal Crompton, read by Martin Jarvis

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I have always adored the Just William series and still re-read them occasionally. Although they appear to be children’s books, they were actually originally aimed at adults, something that is abundantly clear when you read them as an adult and can appreciate how utterly bonkers some of William’s escapades are. Martin Jarvis has narrated many other audiobooks, but his readings of the William books are the best, in my opinion. Like Hugh Laurie and TMIAB, he hits just the right note in terms of tone and style, capturing William’s indignant attitude towards the apparently insufferable adults in his life perfectly. Miriam Margoyles selected the Just William audiobooks as one of her Desert Island Discs, so clearly I am not the only one who appreciates Jarvis’ talents!

3) Literally anything by PG Wodehouse, read by Jonathan Cecil

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Martin Jarvis has also narrated some of PG Wodehouse’s books, but, apart from the fact that his versions are usually abridged, his readings do not quite cut the mustard, for me. I much prefer the beautifully modulated tones of Jonathan Cecil, who narrated the Jeeves stories, the Ukridge stories and several others. Sadly Cecil passed away a couple of years ago, before completing his readings of the whole Wodehouse oeuvre, all of which I would have purchased, had it been available. He does all the characters wonderfully well and his voice somehow matches Wodehouse’s world in a way that is difficult to describe, but just works for me. There is also a wonderful moment in his narration of Love Among the Chickens, very near to the beginning, where he is obviously struggling not to burst out laughing at the line he is reading, which I just love. This also happens with Hugh Laurie reading another book – it should really, I suppose, irritate the reader and distract from the story, but I think it just enhances the whole experience, to know that the narrator is not detached from the story, but is enjoying it just as much as the listener.

4) Alan Bennett’s Talking Heads, read by Alan Bennett, Julie Walters, Thora Hird, Maggie Smith, Patricia Routledge, David Haig, Eileen Atkins, Penelope Wilton and Stephanie Cole.

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This is an odd one to include and I must admit that I struggled to decide on what to pick, after selecting the other four, rather like when I was trying to choose my top five Wodehouse books. The first four came easily, but the fifth took some serious pondering. I finally chose this one, because although I listen to other audiobooks more often, they are mainly books read by the four other narrators on this list and I wanted to include five different readers, for variety’s sake. In fact, there are a number of different readers for this audiobook, which is a collection of Bennett’s Talking Heads monologues, read by several very well known actors. The monologues cover a range of themes and characters and are by turns poignant, playful, creepy, heartbreaking and, in a couple of cases, seriously unnerving. Hearing one character speak alone for about 20 minutes sounds rather boring, but Bennett’s extremely sharp observation of human nature and the way we behave and react towards those around us ensures that these stories will stay with you long after you have finished listening to them.

5) Harry Potter by JK Rowling, read by Stephen Fry

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Last, but by absolutely no means least, my favourite audiobook series so far – Harry Potter. The magical world that JK Rowling created is brought to rich, colourful, joyous life by the effulgent Stephen Fry. He too has read a wide variety of audiobooks, but this is the absolute pinnacle of his narrative work. Despite the vast cast of characters in the Potter world, Fry manages to create distinct and memorable voices for each one, to the point where, even when you haven’t heard from a character for a while, when they suddenly pop up again in the story with no introduction, they are instantly recognisable from their voice alone. I don’t have enough superlatives to tell you how brilliant these audiobooks are – and if you happen to be an HP fan, they are an absolute must-listen.

So there you have my top five audiobooks! I do hope this list encourages you to try at least one of them – and if anyone is persuaded to give audiobooks in general a go after reading this, I would be absolutely delighted!

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Gardening Update!

Wow, I’ve just realised that it’s been almost two months since my first garden-related post back in April! I’ve been meaning to do an update for a while, but I’m actually glad I waited until today because I have much more to talk about now.

First of all, thank you to everyone who read my last post, and especially to those who commented – I loved reading all your thoughts on gardening and your useful tips and advice!

I mentioned in my first post that this gardening malarkey was something of an experiment for me and I didn’t have huge hopes of growing vast amounts of food, I would just be happy to see what happened and learn from my mistakes. Having said that, I have to confess to being rather disappointed when none of my carrots or spring onions germinated…I think this may have been because I planted them too early – there were a couple of cold spells after I planted them that may have finished them off before they had a chance to begin. This means that one of my raised beds is still empty. I’m not sure whether to try planting something else in there, or just to leave it for this year. I do have a few seeds I haven’t tried yet (lettuce and tomatoes) and some carrot seeds left, so I could try those and see what happens. Please let me know if you have any suggestions or advice on this!

After planting the carrots and spring onions, I discovered some tubs in the garage left there by the previous owners and decided to bung in some zucchini in one and some radishes in the other. Despite making sure there were holes in the bottom of the containers, the soil remained remarkably damp after several days of rain and I think this may be why the zucchini didn’t germinate. At this point, as you may imagine, I was somewhat disheartened by my failure to produce even a few seedlings – HOWEVER, yesterday I checked the containers and found that the radishes have actually started growing! At first I was suspicious and thought they might just be weeds, but they’re growing in a fairly neat row, which is how I planted them, so I think they probably are baby radishes.

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Radishes = SUCCESS!!

The strawberry patch is looking much better now that I have cleared all of the dead matter away and given them a bit more room. I was delighted to see so many flowers on the plants – but I read in my gardening book just this evening that it is apparently necessary to cut back any blossoms that appear before “midsummer”, so I may need to eliminate them. I assume this is so that more energy goes in to the plant rather than the flower, but I’m not sure. Furthermore, I don’t know whether “midsummer” refers to the yearly halfway point of June (Midsummer’s Day) or halfway through the summer season of whatever locality you happen to be in. I would guess the author probably means the latter, but in either case, it sounds like the flowers have to be removed.

From the end of April, when it was still pretty chilly and there were few signs of life in the garden, till now, everything in our garden has been growing at an almost alarming rate. This finally resulted in a mammoth tidy-up session this weekend, which involved a severe haircut for our lawn, which was starting to look frankly hippyish,  and a huge amount of pruning of various bushes and shrubs. Our garden now looks much more respectable – and, having cleared out two pots and a hanging baskets by the front door that still had last year’s dead plants in, I was actually able to sow more seeds – snapdragons, freesias and a wildflower mixture. I also discovered, much to my delight, that two stray pansies were growing right by our front doorstep! I adore pansies and had almost given into temptation a couple of weeks ago and bought a tray of them, but I resisted because we already had so much going on in the garden already and I wasn’t really sure where I would put them. And now we actually have a couple of pansies that have grown all by themselves! They must have grown from seeds produced by the pansies that were apparently in the hanging basket last year.

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Surprise pansies!

Finally, here is a picture of part of our garden in full bloom. The tulips are dying off now, but they did look stunning for a few weeks. I’m excited to see what comes up next – I know we have raspberries to look forward to in a couple of months – and the rhododendron will start flowering soon too, but we may get a couple of surprises as well! We haven’t lived here a full year yet, so there may still be something that we haven’t seen.

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Radishes = SUCCESS!!

Oh also, my basil and pepper plants are still doing well – I think the pepper plants may need an even bigger container soon!

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Hopefully next time I’ll have better news on the vegetable front. Thank you for reading!

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How Does Your Garden Grow?

So it looks like spring is slowly beginning to arrive in Newfoundland. Technically spring doesn’t really happen here, winter is just slowly overtaken by summer at some point in June, but there are crocuses blooming and the snowfall is definitely lessening, so I have decided that spring is definitely now arriving, albeit with frequent delays and setbacks!

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Our crocuses have now survived two dumping of snow 🙂

When we moved in to our current abode, I was thrilled to note that there were two raised beds already set up in the garden – one of which was full of strawberry plants. I have been desperate to try my hand at properly growing stuff for a while now and this place seemed ideal. We even have a raspberry patch that we share with our neighbour – it’s on the narrow strip of grass and hedge that divides the two houses.

Up until now, we haven’t had much chance to do anything, because of the snow and so forth, but the last couple of days have been fairly bright and sunny, so I decided to seize the opportunity and get out in the garden. I enthusiastically bought some seeds at the dollar store a few months ago and had completely forgotten what I had purchased, so it was a pleasant surprise to discover I had carrot seeds and spring onion seeds, both of which were apparently suitable for sowing in early spring. I may be optimistic in sowing them now, but this is really all experimental – even if we don’t get any veg from them at all this year, it will be interesting to see when and how – or even if – they start to grow.

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Carrots on the left, spring onions on the right!

I discovered to my dismay that the strawberry plants had already started regrowing – this was a problem because I had not thought to remove the dead parts of the strawberry plants from last year, so now the new baby plants are fighting to get through the older, dead plants and there isn’t enough space. Unfortunately, the plants are all matted together, so it’s impossible to just rip up the old ones without dislodging the new plants – in fact, they seem to be joined at the roots, so I will need to buy a pair of secateurs or something and carefully cut away all the dead vegetation – according to strawberry plants.org, anyway.

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Entangled strawberry plants.

I am entirely new to this growing business – apart from an ill-fated attempt to grow carrots in a container during my undergrad years in Liverpool – they grew, but were extremely thin and spindly, so we didn’t get anything edible from them at all! Thankfully, Google is my friend and I’m fairly certain I can find the answers to most queries I might have through a quick search online. However, if anyone reading this has any advice or suggestions, do let me know!

In addition to outdoor plants, I also have a couple of basil plants that were given to me by a friend of a friend – we had our first ‘harvest’ from them a few days ago and they were delicious, so I am very keen for the leaves to grow back so we can use them again! I particularly want to try one of the basil buttercream recipes I’ve just found online – I can’t really imagine what basil buttercream even tastes like, but am deeply curious to try it!

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Basil. My fish (George) is on the left.

 

What else? Oh yes, another friend has given me four sweet pepper plants – unfortunately one is already looking a bit far gone, because I hadn’t realised they needed frequent watering (oops!) but the other three are doing well, so I can hopefully transplant them to a larger container soon.

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Sweet pepper plants. Not sure if the front right one will make it!

Finally, my girlfriend has started growing beansprouts from a tub of mung beans, so we have those to eat too.

Why the sudden fascination with growing our own food? Well for me it isn’t really that sudden – I grew up on a farm and we always had our own fruit and vegetables available, os that just seems natural to me. Plus – and I know this is such a cliche – I really do believe that our homegrown fruit, in particular, tasted better than anything I’ve since bought at a supermarket. The supermarket practice of chilling things like strawberries and raspberries ruins the flavour, in my opinion. Strawberries should be sun-warmed when you eat them, not cold. This may be partly to do with nostalgia, but anyway, fresh fruit and veg is bloody expensive here in Newfoundland (we mainly buy frozen veg for this reason), so anything we can grow ourselves will definitely help both our diets and our grocery bill!

I will post regular garden updates with photos, but I don’t expect anyone else to be particularly interested – there are a bajillion other blogs doing exactly the same thing as this already, and they are probably much better organised and more engaging – I think this will mainly be for my own benefit, so I can keep track of our progress over the next few months.

I will of course still be posting my usual blogposts about various topics of interest, so this definitely won’t turn into a gardening-only blog!

Thanks for reading 🙂 If you have any tips or advice, or just want to share your own stories about growing food/flowers etc, I would love to hear from you, so please do comment or message me!

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Thoughts on Life Dissatisfaction & the Desire to Trade Places with Someone Else

I don’t have time to write a full blogpost this month, as I have several BIG deadlines to meet in the next week, but I wanted to post something, even if it was fairly short.

So I hereby present you with one of my absolute favourite poems.(I saw James Fenton read this poem at a live event a few years ago and it was wonderful to hear it being read by the actual author).  I love the subtle humour, especially the embarrassed-yet-defiant description of drunkenness and the author’s outrage at someone having stolen his life, despite the fact that he himself no longer wanted it! There’s something very human about his reaction there, with which I think pretty much all of us can identify.

 

“The Skip” by James Fenton

I took my life and threw it on the skip,
Reckoning the next-door neighbours wouldn’t mind
If my life hitched a lift to the council tip
With their dry rot and rubble. What you find

With skips is – the whole community joins in
Old mattresses appear, doors kind of drift
Along with all that won’t fit in the bin
And what the bin-men can’t be fished to shift

I threw away my life, and there it lay
And grew quite sodden. ‘What a dreadful shame, ‘
Clucked some old bag and sucked her teeth. ‘The way
The young these days…. no values……. me, I blame….. ‘

But I blamed no-one. Quality control
Had loused it up, and that was that. ‘Nough said
I couldn’t stick at home, I took a stroll
And passed the skip, and left my life for dead.

Without my life, the beer was just as foul,
The landlord still as filthy as his wife,
The chicken in the basket was an owl,
And no one said: ‘Ee, Jim-lad, whur’s thee life? ‘

Well, I got back that night the worse for wear,
But still just capable of single vision;
Looked in the skip, my life- it wasn’t there!
Some bugger’d nicked it – WITHOUT my permission.

Okay, so I got angry and began
To shout, and woke the street. Okay, OKAY,
AND I was sick all down the neighbour’s van
AND I disgraced myself on the par-kay

And then…. you know how if you’ve had a few
You’ll wake at dawn, all healthy, like sea breezes,
Raring to go, and thinking: ‘Clever you!
You’ve got away with it’ and then, Oh Jesus,

It hits you. Well, that morning, just at six
I woke, got up and looked down at the skip.
There lay my life, still sodden, on the bricks,
There lay my poor old life, arse over tip.

Or was it mine? Still dressed, I went downstairs
And took a long cool look. The truth was dawning.
Someone had just exchanged my life for theirs.
Poor fool, I thought – I should have left a warning.

Some bastard saw my life and thought it nicer
Than what he had. Yet what he’d had seemed fine.
He’d never caught his fingers in the slicer
The way I’d managed in that life of mine.

His life lay glistening in the rain, neglected,
Yet still a decent, an authentic life.
Some people I can think of, I reflected
Would take that thing as soon as you’d say Knife.

It seemed a shame to miss a chance like that
I brought the life in, dried it by the stove.
It looked so fetching, stretched out on the mat
I tried it on. It fitted, like a glove.

And now, when some local bat drops off the twig
And new folk take the house, and pull up floors
And knock down walls and hire some kind of big
Container (say, a skip) for their old doors.

I’ll watch it like a hawk, and every day
I’ll make at least – oh – half a dozen trips.
I’ve furnished an existence in this way.
You’d not believe the things you’d find on skips.

 

Actually, this idea of trading lives with someone else has reminded me of this gem from Jerome K Jerome’s “Second Thoughts of an Idle Fellow”, which always makes me smile:

One wonders that fancy dress balls are not more popular in this grey age of ours.  The childish instinct to “dress up,” to “make believe,” is with us all.  We grow so tired of being always ourselves.  A tea-table discussion, at which I once assisted, fell into this:—Would any one of us, when it came to the point, change with anybody else, the poor man with the millionaire, the governess with the princess—change not only outward circumstances and surroundings, but health and temperament, heart, brain, and soul; so that not one mental or physical particle of one’s original self one would retain, save only memory?  The general opinion was that we would not, but one lady maintained the affirmative.

“Oh no, you wouldn’t really, dear,” argued a friend; “you think you would.”

“Yes, I would,” persisted the first lady; “I am tired of myself.  I’d even be you, for a change.”

 

Hopefully I’ll be back with a ‘proper’ post next month.

Thanks for reading!

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