Reverse psychology

When I first started blogging, I read a number of articles about increasing readership. One of the suggestions that appeared in various places was to have “give-aways”. It was an idea that I toyed with, but it seemed to me that unless I already had the readers, no one would know about my give-away and so it could only work with additional publicity. Since I couldn’t work out how to achieve this, I put it to the back of my mind.

Donated squares... I would still welcome more!

Some of the squares you’ve sent me

Then, in December, I had the idea of making my masterpiece blanket. Initially I thought that I would make all the squares myself, but some tentative enquiries via Facebook revealed that some of my friends would like to contribute. And so, I bit the bullet and asked for squares – I put my request out on Facebook as well as here on my blog… and was amazed by the response. I have had offers and received squares from people who I never knew read my blog as well as from existing friends, I’ve had loads of feedback (comments and likes) and traffic on my site has increased in a way I never expected (I’ve just exceeded 20,000 hits).

Admittedly, I have been writing more often during this period, but this cannot solely explain the level of engagement by you out there and the positive comments and support. I am aware that everyone who makes a square is giving me time, but that also they are handing over real money, at least postage and, in several cases, yarn bought specifically for the purpose.

Since I have never run a give-away, I cannot make a comparison, but it is very interesting to see that the converse, i.e. asking my readers to give me something, has had such a positive response. I think this says something about human nature – there are many, many kind and generous people in this world. The project is turning out to be a great way to discover this.

So, I wonder… have you ever run a give-away? If so, did it have a positive impact on your readership? And is it better to give than to receive?

All present and correct

As you may know, we do not give presents at Christmas and, as far as possible, we try not to receive them either. It’s all part of the trying to be sustainable and avoid waste. But that is not to say that we don’t give presents… we just give them at random times and only when we know the gift is ‘right’ for the recipient. Rather than hundreds of cards and piles of presents at this time of year, we make a donation to Practical Presents… something for people who really need our assistance.

In the past few weeks the only presents I have given have been two calendars and a box of dark chocolate Brazil nuts, the latter being a birthday present. However, a visit to High Bank on Saturday inspired me to make a little gift for Sissie:

Some tiny mittens for Sissie

Some tiny mittens for Sissie

I’ll be posting them later, so if you are reading this, Perkin, don’t tell her!

For the greater good

I’m feeling  a bit giddy this afternoon. No, I haven’t been on the booze… I went to the vampires this morning. Not the ones with pointy teeth that only come out at night, the ones from the Welsh Blood Service, who give you biscuits and tea in exchange for the red stuff.

Welsh Blood Service LogoHaving failed to manage to bleed fast enough the last time I went, I was determined to improve my chances of success this time. So, when I got up this morning, I started drinking water and got through a couple of litres over and above my usual tea and coffee consumption by the time I went along. I was, therefore, quite surprised to be given another pint of water to drink on my arrival (it’s a new approach, apparently).

It all did the trick and I was able to manage a full donation today, although I have been left with quite a headache… I think my electrolytes are a bit out of balance!

It has got me thinking, however, about how important it is for me to give blood successfully. I was really upset when I failed last time, despite the fact that it had no negative consequences for me There was quite a wait to donate, but even so, when I checked, I found that blood stock levels for my blood type are low.

Anyway, I came away feeling quite hopeful – clearly there are lots of people out there who are altruistic and want to do something good without receiving a direct benefit. Perhaps there is hope for us human beings after all.

All I want for Christmas…

It’s that time of year again in Britain… TV adverts for toys and perfume, shops full of chocolate, shiny things and ‘gift packs’, people getting harassed and the implied pressure that we should all be having ‘fun’. Yes, Christmas is coming.

Christmas is coming for most of the UK, but not for us snails! And why not? Well, here chez Snail we do not celebrate it… really, we don’t. We don’t give presents; we try, as far as possible, not to receive presents; we don’t have a decorated tree; and we don’t eat turkey. It may sound like a gloomy way to spend mid-winter but really, it’s not  – you should try it one year.

It all started one Christmas morning about 10 years ago. We had got up and had breakfast before settling down to open the array of presents that we had received. By this stage we had pretty much given up on giving each other many presents, opting instead for choosing some things together that we would enjoy – some films on dvd, for example, or a few cds. Most of the gifts that we had received were addressed to both of us, so we took it in turn to unwrap the parcels. I can’t remember now exactly what they contained, except they did include three jars of chutney (neither of us like chutney) and that amongst all the other things there was nothing that I really wanted.

It was at this moment that the penny dropped with me that Christmas was simply a big disappointment… it was never going to be that magical event I remembered from my childhood. We used to put the Christmas tree up and decorate it soon before Christmas day, and then on Christmas eve, we disappeared into our rooms to wrap presents before placing them under the tree. I never believed in Father Christmas – I knew that presents came from my parents, family and friends; I knew that they were special because someone had chosen them for me (and spent money on  me). I also knew the joy of giving… in my younger days I loved buying gifts for other people; in fact, I still do.

But suddenly on that morning 10 years ago I realised that present-giving had become an obligation… that at Christmas it had become essential to give gifts simply because it was Christmas. And so we stopped. The following September, we wrote to all our friends and family telling them that, henceforth, we would not be sending them a gift at Christmas and asking them not to send us anything. We explained that we would be giving a donation to charity from now on, and if they wanted to reciprocate, they could do the same. We suggested that, alternatively, they could use any money they would have spent on us on themselves – to a buy something they would really enjoy and that they really wanted. And, everybody entered into the spirit of it… we gave money to Practical Action and our friends gave to Help the Aged, Oxfam and various other good causes.

Subsequent Christmases have been very peaceful – no mad rush to ‘prepare’, no stress, just a quiet time at home enjoying mid-winter, ordering next year’s seeds and being thankful that the shortest day is past. A couple of Christmas days we went to a local dog rescue and walked the poor unwanted dogs… enjoying sandwiches and hot coffee for Christmas lunch, before returning home to watch Doctor Who on the TV. In recent years the weather has kept us at home, but either way we have had good days.

Gift-giving has not ceased, it’s just that these days we buy gifts when we see something we think our friends might like… this means that sometimes someone gets several gifts in quick succession, then nothing for ages. We always, however, send any gifts immediately, so that they arrive at random times throughout the year. And this too is reciprocated by some… my sister is especially enthusiastic about the idea and will often send something lovely through the post because she thought one of us might like it.

I am delighted to have removed myself from the current commercialism and greed that seems to have pervaded this time of year; to contribute no longer to the heaps of plastic paraphernalia that seem to have become an essential feature; to buy simply for the sake of it.

All that said, I do have a lovely day with my sweetie!

Sowing the seeds of sustainability

The introductory permaculture course that I teach is called Sowing the seeds of sustainability – a great title that I cannot claim credit for. That honour goes to my friend Angie, who designed the course in the first place and has been kind enough to allow me, first, to help her teach it and then to run the course on my own. It’s a great course to teach and to attend (being a participant was how I originally found out about permaculture) and includes a trip to see an inspiring site. The actual visit depends on where the course is being taught, but over the years we’ve visited Station Road Permaculture, Brithdir Mawr, Lammas and Tir Penrhos, amongst others.

The next time I teach this course our visit will be to Angie’s place.It’s the first time I have taken a group there, but it will be really great for them to see some of the things an experienced permaculture teacher has done with her own home and land. And, as well as seeing the successes, it gives the opportunity to see what hasn’t worked, and how problems have been turned into solutions or designs have had to be tweaked.

This sort of sharing is an important part of learning, whatever the subject, but in permaculture the network that provides support, ideas and encouragement is particularly valued. The Permaculture Association in the UK organises a variety of events that allow people to connect (such as the recent convergence), but we tend to be technologically savvy too and so there are active groups on Facebook, for example.

One of the greatest ways to connect is during shared learning – and there are lots of courses available. However, almost all of them cost money and this makes them completely out of reach for many people. I was delighted, therefore, to hear from my friend Tracey that she is organising a permaculture course to draw people together from across Europe who would not otherwise be able to afford such a cultural exchange of ideas. In her own words:

What is my DREAM?

To raise enough money to offer TEN fully sponsored places on a full Permaculture Design Course to be held in Scotland in the summer of 2013. This would support people & communities in some of our neighbouring countries, who are facing huge financial challenges, namely Spain, Portugal, Ireland and Greece, to share the knowledge wider within their local communities.

She writes:

People have asked why bring people from other countries to Scotland to do a Permaculture Course when I could offer to fund them in their place of residence.

The answer is… Because I want to create a celebration of cultures, bring people together, share the knowledge, celebrate the diversity, have a party.

Permaculture is all about valuing diversity and I know if we can reach the target then it will create an opportunity for a real diverse mix of people to be united on one course. I plan to make it a super duper course, as you can imagine!!

The approach she is taking is ‘crowd funding’ – where lots of people give a small (or large) amount to finance a project that they feel has value. Although bringing people together who are from different regions is costly, the benefits are likely to be huge, and she is asking that participants ‘pay it forward’ and go off and spread the word about permaculture and sustainability. Sounds like a worthwhile cause to support to me (and there are perks if you donate!). If you are interested in reading more about the project or giving a donation you can visit the Sharing a Living in a Gift Economy page ( please note this web address changed on 30 September). I love the idea of crowd funding, because you can make a real difference to a project with just a small donation.

Well, I’m due for a busy few weeks now, with courses to teach and to attend… who knows what exciting ideas will come out of them and what interesting people it will meet…

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