News bulletins

When I was 13 years old my father had a serious accident that resulted him being hospitalised for many months. From the outset, one of the most onerous duties was repeatedly explaining to people what had happened and then, over subsequent weeks, how he was progressing. I clearly remember my mother suggesting that we should put a bulletin board on the gate post. For a long time, our lives were defined by my father’s health – we would be greeted not by enquiries about our own well-being (‘Hi, how are you?’) but about my father (Hi, how’s your dad?’).


It’s a long way to deliver a casserole!

Yesterday I heard from a friend that her husband had been diagnosed with kidney cancer. ‘Is there anything I can do?’ I asked, not really knowing what that might be since she lives 170 miles away. But, in fact, she had an answer: ‘Tell me how to make a blog. I feel the need to write.’

So I did. A number of messages back and forward and a phone call and she’s all set up with her new blog and instructions to call me if she wants to add anything and can’t work out how to do it. Well, it beats making a casserole and having a 340 mile round trip to deliver it!

To begin with, I wondered about the blog, but then I thought of my mother’s wished-for noticeboard and realised that this was the same thing. Isn’t technology amazing?

Happy birthday, blog

Compost on the bed in the foreground, potatoes in the bed in the background

Compost on the bed in the foreground, potatoes in the bed in the background

Well, apparently it was The Snail of Happiness blog’s second birthday yesterday. In those two years, there have been more than 25,000 visits from 118 countries; I’ve written more than 300 posts and there have been more than 3000 comments. Oh, and the filters have prevented more than 7000 spam comments appearing!

I’m not sure what the appropriate way of celebrating is, but perhaps spreading compost on the garden and planting potatoes (which is what we’ve been doing today) is appropriate for a blog about sustainability.

Some of my diploma work

Some of my diploma work

I started writing this blog at round about the same time I embarked on my Diploma in Applied Permaculture Design, partly as a way of sharing some of the information I gathered. It was a happy coincidence, therefore, that yesterday I finished drafting my ninth design for my portfolio. My tenth, and final, design describes my learning pathway and really just needs tidying up and rounding off as this has been an on-going project throughout the diploma. In addition, the Masterpiece blanket, and associated scrapbook, are going to form a tangible representation of my learning. My tutor, Looby Macnamara, is going to give me her square for the masterpiece at our final tutorial on 15 May. I have, therefore, decided that I won’t add any more squares to the blanket after the end of that week… so that’s your deadline if you are planning to send something for inclusion. My final presentation (assuming that all goes well with the assessments) will be in September at the UK Permaculture Convergence… where the masterpiece will have a starring role!

The end of my diploma does not, of course, mean the end of blogging, but it might free up a bit more time for the garden… which has been somewhat neglected over the past two years what with studying, family illness and voluntary work. I am hoping for an abundant summer in 2014 – lots of fruit and vegetables and lots of crafty activities, so lots to write about here. I hope you will keep reading!

It’s not what you know

Two things I read this morning have made me think about social networking. First, a comment from my friend Snuffkin (she of the wise words) and the second a blog post by Gregory Patrick (otherwise known as Mad Man Knitting… check out his lovely knitted bears).

A bowl of bath puffs!

If you want to make a difference: buy from a craftsperson!

How do you determine whether you are successful? Is it about having a roof over your head? Being able to feed yourself? Helping others? Well, apparently, at the moment it’s about how many ‘votes’ you get in various on-line competitions. And, thus it is not about what you know, or indeed who you know, but more about how many people you know and how many people they know.

I really like the opportunity to communicate with others around the world – to make new friends, to connect with other people who have similar interests.  I like using Facebook; I like writing my blog and responding to the comments. I use these channels to advertise the courses that I teach and the crafts that I sell. I even get a warm glow when I get a new follower for this blog. But how far do we take this?

If we, like Gregory, don’t get enough ‘votes’ to win a Martha Stewart competition that would allow us to develop our business, are we failures? Or that our business is not good? Or does it simply mean that we are not sufficiently well-known? And if success is only linked to how many Facebook ‘likes’ we have, what is the point in developing a skill? Whatever happened to merit?

Now I know that it’s not possible to sell a product or service without marketing, but I am disturbed by the fact that Martha Stewart is only prepared to support a business if it is sufficiently well-know to get a gazillion votes in her competition. I can’t help feeling that this is more about marketing Martha Stewart than about supporting skilled and creative people.

So, rather than buying into this sort of big-business marketing, let’s do something that will make a difference to the little guys (that’s US). If you like someone’s product – buy it; if you are looking for a gift – visit your local craft fair, or Folksy or Etsy and buy something handmade from a small producer; if you think a carftsperson is good – tell your friends (on-line if you like); and if you want to support your community, then support the people who work and earn a living in it. Let’s get behind the little guys – Martha Stewart, Justin  Beiber and Coca-cola simply don’t need our help!

OK, rant over…. tomorrow I’ll write about squashes!

Civil disobedience is homemade pants!

A few months ago I read a post by my friend Seema about making her own pants (or underpants as you would say in the US I think) that prompted me to start writing this entry on my blog. Somehow I didn’t finish it and has taken me until now to get back to it, but finally here I am…

Now, you might be wondering how making your own underwear resulted in thoughts of civil disobedience…

Apparently my homemade socks could bring down the government!

Apparently my homemade socks could bring down the government!

Well, Seema mentioned something called ‘The Compact‘, which started out as an agreement between a group of friends in San Francisco not to buy anything new for a year, with the exception of a few things, including underwear. Seema felt that it should be possible to make your own pants and thus further reduce the purchase of new items. I have previously written about buying secondhand socks, but perhaps secondhand pants are a step too far! The answer, therefore, is to make your own, and Seema tells you how.

This still doesn’t really explain the link to civil disobedience, does it? But, stick with me, I’m getting there.

In researching The Compact I discovered that this attempt to reduce consumerism and do something to live more sustainably has been widely criticised, because it does nothing to support ‘the economy’. If you watch the news or read newspapers in the UK, US and probably any industrialised country, you will know that governments want ‘growth’. And by that they mean more manufacturing, more purchasing, more exports. For example an article in the Star Tribune states:

The American economy depends on consumers willing to buy the latest in fashions, furnishings and flat-screen TVs. Indeed, in the weeks after Sept. 11, 2001, shopping was cast as a patriotic duty, a way to help prevent the economy from tipping into a recession.

And that sums it up – if you don’t shop and buy more stuff, you are going to bring down your country… the whole of the economic system that many of our countries rely on will no longer function. What can be more civilly disobedient than that?

But, I hear you ask, do I really want to bring down the economy of my country, even if it is by making my own knickers and not buying that new mobile phone that will make my life worth living once more? Well, for many people, the current economy is not working well – there is a huge gulf between the ‘haves’ and the ‘have nots’ and this is becoming increasingly difficult to govern. In addition, common sense tells us that all economies cannot continue to grow indefinitely – surely we should be looking at stable, sustainable economies, where the needs of all can be met without constantly trying to exploit either groups of people or the planet? Buying new things is driven, to a great extent by large corporations wanting to make money (I direct you once again to The Story of Stuff – do watch it if you haven’t already) rather than their desire to make you happy!

I have to confess that, as an inveterate bibliophile, I can’t bring myself to promise not to buy anything new, but I think that we could all reduce, reuse and repair in order to make the world a better place… and if that means I’m bringing down our whole economic system, then I’m fine with that


If you are interested in The Compact, there is an online community

And if you want to find out more about economics and alternatives to constant consumption, you can do no better than to visit the website of the New Economics Foundation… sounds dull, but it really isn’t!

Searching high and low

One of the interesting features of WordPress is that, as an author, you can see the searches that people use to get to your blog. It’s a somewhat diverting activity and I have spent some time today examining the search engine terms that have brought people to investigate The Snail of Happiness.

I can certainly understand why you, dear reader, would arrive here as a result of searching for ‘knitted snail’ or even ‘chickens not eating slugs’, but I’m less sure of why you would be directed here as a result of typing in ‘homel things made by waste indian’ or ‘animals beginning with m’ (have I mentioned any animals beginning with m? oh, yes, there’s that post about a mouse eating my bean seeds). Or indeed that, having seen the Snail of Happiness blog in your list of search results for ‘sticky earthworm’, for example, why you would visit… although if that’s how you got here in the first place, then ‘welcome’ and apologies that the worms are rather more woolly than sticky.

I can only assume that the person who search for ‘food during rain in nitt’ arrived because there are mentions of  food, rain and Agnes Nitt (aka Perdita, a Terry Pratchett character that my chicken Perdy is named after) in various places. But, once again, if it’s you – welcome, and I’m glad you stayed!

Anyway, one way or another, folks are arriving. So, as a public service, I thought that I would try to address a selection of the questions and issues you have been seeking responses to…

can you drink worm wee tea?

Do you REALLY REALLY want to? Have you smelled it? Admittedly the dogs seem ridiculously interested in the stuff, but they eat dog food, so clearly have no taste!

gardening without mouse

Go for it! I always try to garden without mouse. I suspect the Beatrix Potter might have a different answer, though.

how does hugh fearnley whiitingstall stop slugs?

Actually, I don’t know the answer to this. I suggest that you ask Hugh – he seems like a nice chap, although I don’t know him either.

how much tomato can a slug eat?

How big is your slug? I’m guessing that if it’s one of those banana slugs, you’ll have to provide it with a really big tomato.

good explanation for cakes

Cakes are an essential part of the diet – they ensure happiness. Do not believe people who say they are bad for you.

i am a little earthworm

Congratulations, I am a Snail of Happiness.

can i keep chickens in a fruit cage?

Yes, but only if you don’t want any fruit.

growing snails in spare bedroom

I’m not sure whether you want to grow them in your spare bedroom… in which case I suggest a vivarium rather than having them free range… or whether you have them growing in your spare bedroom and want to get rid of them… in which case I have found chickens to be very effective (although they may make a bit of a mess).

amigurumi for happiness

Well, they make me happy… and if you make them with the ‘happiness yarn’ that someone else was searching for I don’t see how you can go wrong.

how to keep a pampered snail?

Is your snail pre-pampered? If so, it’s probably best to keep doing what you’ve been doing. If you are looking for new ways to pamper your snail, perhaps you could get together with the person who wants/has them in his spare bedroom and work something out between you.

And one final one, that has me stumped, perhaps other readers can help out:

the best potato you will ever see in your life because you probably won’t see very many potatoes because you have potatoes monia which means that you are afraid of potatoes which kind of cancelled this google search out because you have a retarded fear of potatoes………..freak


Honestly, these are all genuine search engine terms that people used to get to this blog… !

So many interesting ideas out there

Sometimes I find all the information out there about sustainability overwhelming – it’s difficult to sift through what’s relevant and what’s not. However, I’m always sure that the things Mark Waghorn posts on his blog will be worth a look and will include lovely pictures. I suggest you check it out: Off-grid design

Oh, and he successfully completed our Permaculture Design Certificate recently, so he’s a good guy!

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