Bags of Gratitude

Towards the end of last year I had a health scare and there was real chance that I might be seriously ill. There were trips to the gp, blood tests, a scan and then an appointment on Christmas eve with a consultant at the the hospital, who took a biopsy. In the end I was fine and there was nothing seriously wrong, but I had several very stressful weeks during which I hardly slept or ate… and, you may have noticed, did no blogging. Fortunately three very dear friends helped me get through it – without their support, love and reminders to eat (apparently it’s fine to have chocolate for breakfast in such circumstances), I’m not sure how I (and Mr Snail) would have coped.

The consultant reassured me, but it wasn’t until the results of the biopsy came through and I knew all really was well, that I was able to relax once more and my creativity (which had all but deserted me for the duration) returned with abundance.

So, how do you thank such good friends? I know they would have been there for me no matter what, but I wanted to demonstrate to them how grateful I am. I looked for presents to buy, but in the end I decided that I really wanted to make them each a gift… they all either knit or crochet, so I settled on my other main interest at the mo

I don’t normally name names, but I would, publicly, like to thank Sarah, Kt and Joëlle for their friendship… I love you ladies and I hope you like your bags.

London – fabric and friendship

I don’t visit the capital very often, but with Mr Snail in Reading (25 minutes away from London on the train) at the moment, it seems like an ideal opportunity to make a few trips in and do some of the things on my ‘list’ (not a real list – it’s just in my head).

The week before last I travelled down to Reading on Thursday so that, whilst Mr Snail was at work on Friday, I could go into London. I had two purposes: meeting up with a friend who I haven’t seen for over 20 years and visiting Berwick Street. I’m not sure whether you know the significance of this location, but I felt that it was important to go there without Mr Snail so as not to bore him to tears. You see, Berwick Street is known for its fabric shops.

Lovely Japanese waves

In the end I only had just over an hour to spend in Berwick Street and I could have spent the whole time in just one or two shops… one specialising in silks was full of such delicious fabric that I felt as if I needed a lie down before I could proceed. If I’d had more time I would have looked round, had a coffee to gather my thoughts and then gone back to make my purchases. However, in the limited time available I decided to visit as many shops as possible to get a flavour and so that I’d be better able to plan future visits. Finally, I only bought a length of Japanese cotton (in an indigo shade that the picture doesn’t do justice to) with which to make a dress, but I left with lots to think about for future makes.

After Berwick Street, there was a quick underground ride to Great Portland Street, where it turned out that neither me nor my friend have changed too much since we were in our 30s and so recognising each other was no problem. We went to Honey and Co, a lovely middle eastern restaurant that I can highly recommend… although you’ll need to book if you want to eat there because it’s very popular. There are some friends who you just feel comfortable with no matter how long it is since you saw each other, and so it was… the conversation flowed as we shared mezze, sipped orange blossom iced tea and then tucked into the most amazing feta & honey cheesecake on a kadaif pastry base. There are no photographs – we were far too busy eating and catching up on each other’s lives.

After lunch she took me on a quick tour of BBC Broadcasting House, where she works and I was lucky enough to be taken down into the newsroom – an extraordinary place full of people and technology collecting information from around the world. We criticise our state broadcaster sometimes, but the sheer scale of their news operation is something to be marvelled at, plus it was interesting to see the place for real rather than just on the television screen. A stroll up to Regent’s Park and a stop for tea and then it was back on the underground to return to Paddington to catch my train back to Reading. We agreed not to leave it another 20 years before our next get-together.

Not alone

The other day I went to visit an old friend. Her husband died a little while ago and, prior to his final illness and associated times in hospital, they had never been apart. They loved each other deeply, they built up a business together, they stuck with each other through some very black times, they shared their successes, they were pretty much self-contained. Their business was based around their home, so neither of them was ever there alone.

Now that he’s gone, she is bereft – she hates being in the house on her own, but there is no choice. She does have friends who she made through the business and her friends (me included) do go and see her. There are people around her on the site still working (the business continues) and living and they pop in throughout the day, but she still feels isolated, especially now that she is ill herself and her mobility is poor.

We do our best – we go and visit, we drink tea and do the washing up. We tell her stories and try to cheer her up, but it’s very hard and she sees no positives. There is only so much we can do.

This set me thinking about how important it is to be part of a community. And then I reread a lovely e-mail that I received from Patricia’s partner, who wrote…

…Pat was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis when she was 45, and there were many times when her health didn’t allow her to spend energy on the outside world.  Over the years forming connections and friendships online was a real lifeline for her…

and once again, I thought about the value of being part of a supportive community, but also the fact that our friends can be scattered far and wide and they are still our friends.

Last Friday I met up with a dear friend who I haven’t seen for 20 years. We found each other via social media after a bit of a gap in communications. How lovely it was to share a meal and catch up face-to-face… how lovely to have the opportunity to renew a connection.

So, lets celebrate all our friends – near and far – whether we sit in the same room, chat via the computer or send letters. And let’s learn to value our own company too, so that when we can’t be with the love of our life, we can still find joy.


By-the-way, based on a suggestion from Patricia’s partner, I have made a donation to the National Rheumatoid Arthritis Society in Patricia’s memory. If any of you feel moved to mark her passing this way, donations to any charity supporting those afflicted with rheumatoid arthritis would be appropriate. If you do this, please let me know so I can pass on the information.

Gramophone records and fizz

Regular readers will know that one of my aims in 2017 is to go on seven visits to meet up with friends that I normally only interact with via social media. This has been going well so far, with trips to Manchester and Birmingham as well as a couple of more local visits achieved by the end of March. Our holiday to Cornwall, however, provided an opportunity to go and see a dear friend in Devon on our way back home.


time to talk

I met Karen a few years ago through her blog and we quickly became friends, although we didn’t meet in person until last year when we managed to call in for afternoon tea with her as we were on our way down to Cornwall. This year, however, we wanted to spend a bit more time together, so I arranged for us to stay a night at a bed and breakfast in her village on our return journey and she offered to cook for us. What with one thing and another, Karen hasn’t been blogging for over a year now and although we have emailed and spoken on the phone, there was lots of catching up to do.



May blobs and marshland

We arrived I time for lunch then had coffee in front of a roaring fire (there was a rather chilly wind blowing outside), before a lovely walk, which involved going to see the ‘May Blobs’ (marsh marigolds). We walked and we talked and we sat awhile on a bench looking at a glorious view, and we got to know a bit more about each other in a way that just doesn’t happen until you have some uninterrupted hours face-to-face. In cyberspace we all tend only to share limited information and so it’s lovely to have time to ask questions and share more personal stories and insights. Mr Snail and I went straight from our walk to check into the b&b, get cleaned up and give Karen some time to get organised, returning about an hour and a half later.


We had taken fizz to celebrate our get together, and Karen insisted that we gathered around what looked, initially, like a rather uninspiring cabinet for it to be served:


it didn’t look promising

Upon opening it up, however, we were presented with a magical interior…



But this wasn’t the end of the wonders. Next came the gramophone and records:


time to get winding

and some pre-dinner entertainment (excuse my slight wobbles – I blame the fizz):

I didn’t record it, but my favourite record was of Louis Armstrong and his Orchestra playing The Mahogany Hall Stomp, which got us all dancing.

And then we ate and talked some more.


delicious dinner


During the day we laughed and shed a few tears and we became closer friends.

The general consensus in traditional media seems to be that social media is driving isolation and presenting unrealistic images of our lives. This can be the case, but it can also provide a route to new friends and real shared experiences. In the past few years I have made some wonderful friends via this blog and Twitter and Facebook and I have met up with lots of them. My life is richer for all these interactions and my determination to meet up with people has really paid off. Indeed, having managed five meet-ups so far this year and having already arranged three more, I’m happy to say that I’m set to annihilate my target of seven!

Do you have any  experiences of meeting up with friends made through blogging?

Turning my gaze to the world

Me and my masterpiece... all thanks to the internet

Me and my masterpiece… all thanks to the internet

In recent months I have received some lovely gifts as a result of my blogging and, although it’s not the same as meeting in person, I do love the friendships I have made via the Snail of Happiness. I now have genuine friends all over the world – people I e-mail, people I Skype and people who I will go and visit if I am ever in their part of the world. But this doesn’t just apply to distant people… I would never have met Katy the Night Owl without this blog: she is mostly confined to bed, so although she only lives about 500m from me, we had never met. Because of a series of comments here, I now have a new friend who I do actually go and share a cuppa with.

I also have some great friends who I keep in touch with via Facebook – some I knew before, but some I met via the permaculture diploma group on Fb that I’m an active member of (I’m hoping to meet lots of them in person at this year’s permaculture convergence in September in London). I was, therefore, slightly distressed when one of these friends announced that he’s going to stop using Facebook. With his comment, he posted a link to this video, it’s called ‘Look Up’ and highlights how we cut ourselves off from real-life encounters by being glued to our mobile phones, tablets and computers. Now, I agree that it’s not good to lock yourself away with the internet and never have face-to-face encounters, like the Japanese hikikomori and  dokuo,but I don’t agree that it’s all bad.

I know several people who have met their life-partner via the internet… and not just via dating sites, but through blogs and discussion groups. My Masterpiece blanket has been created because of connections via the internet, and that is a real, tangible object. I share photos with friends using Facebook and keep in touch with people who I cannot see because we live so far apart. I support small businesses that I find on-line and I’ve made friends this way too.

The route to so many interesting people.

The route to so many interesting people

What I don’t do is use electronic communication to the exclusion of face-to-face interactions and activities. Mr Snail-of-happiness and I do not take mobile devices with us when we go out to dinner – we sit and talk and laugh and look at each other, and the only other people we communicate with are in the room with us. I go into the garden and plant potatoes… I go to the local yarn shop and chat with the owner… I go on courses and meet new people… I love all that interaction.

So, as with everything, it’s about balance. It certainly isn’t healthy to lock yourself away and communicate only electronically. A virtual hug is not the same as a real hug. A touch of the hand cannot be replaced by an emoticon. I cannot wipe away your tears if I am on the other end of a phone line. I cannot clink gasses to celebrate a success via Skype. If you meet me, you see my full range of emotions; if you read my blog, you see selected highlights. But, even so, I still love writing my blog, making connections and sharing. I gain a perspective on the world that is not otherwise possible. If I watch the news, I get a very skewed view of other countries, but my friends in Tasmania, Albuquerque, Victoria, Brisbane, Cape Town, Paris, Santa Maria, Lima and elsewhere tell me of their true experiences, of what they see in the world and how they – real people – actually feel. Because of this I know that the world is full of creative, funny, caring people who give me hope for the future.

Daffodil, willow and snail

I promise that I won’t report back every time I have personal contact with one of my fellow bloggers, but I do want to share these with you:

Mementos of our first meeting

Mementos of our first meeting

A few weeks ago I travelled all of 500m from my front door to see Katy the Night Owl… fellow blogger. We would never have met if it wasn’t for blogging, despite living so close to each other. Anyway, on that first meeting I took her a bunch of daffodils (that we were kindly allowed to pick by Reena, a local farmer’s wife) and budding willow (from our hedge).

Katy was keen to make a contribution to the masterpiece and so her squares were inspired by that bunch of flowers. I went round to see her yesterday for a chat and to collect these beautiful creations. In addition, she had crocheted a tiny snail for me, that she turned into a brooch whilst we drank tea together… he’s there on the picture, but doesn’t show up very well.

I was able to take the BonBon hat over to show Katy how beautifully the yarn she had given me had worked up. Inspired, she added a BonBon to her list of things to make.

I’m still bowled over by the sense of community here in the blogosphere and the joy of finding individuals with similar interests, but I never expected to make a friend who I could walk over to have a cup of tea with whenever I felt like!

Near and far

Where you all come from

Where you all come from

When I first started writing this blog I don’t think I had any specific expectations about who would read it and, indeed, where in the world they would be. Over the months, however, it has been fascinating to see the range of countries appearing on the map of visitors. I’m still waiting for that elusive click from Greenland and it’s unlikely that it’s possible to visit from China, but the global spread is quite impressive. Although lots of visitors remain unknown, I have got to know many of my regular readers and I really love the fact that I’ve made new friends spread across the world. The Masterpiece project has been particularly lovely for making connections, and I feel especially close to the contributors when I hold their work in my hands. Of course, lots of my readers I already knew… family members, fellow permaculture apprentices, old friends… and it feels good to have this additional way of making a connection.

Yesterday, however, I managed a new experience… I went to visit someone in person who I’ve met through this blog. In the past I have directed people I’ve met face-to-face to read my posts, I’ve even chatted via Skype to a friend I’ve got to know through the blog (we must do it again Kate), but I’ve never been and called-in on someone before. It’s exciting to learn that you have readers in Poland, Brazil and Tasmania, but it’s a strange feeling to discover that one of your readers (who you’ve never encountered) lives about two minutes walk away! But so it is with Katy the Night Owl.

I came home with a full bag... that is the masterpiece peeking out from underneath

I came home with a full bag… that is the masterpiece peeking out from underneath

So yesterday afternoon, me and the masterpiece went on a visit. What a lovely time we had, talking crochet (well, me and Katy, the masterpiece just lay there and looked decorative). Katy can’t work with wool, so she gave me some balls of yarn that are no use to her… I really will have to use a bit of them to make a square to add to the masterpiece to represent “connections”. Now she’s seen the work for real, Katy’s going to make me a square, so I’ll be wandering around again once that’s done for another afternoon of tea and yarns (both sorts)…enjoying the company of a new friend. What a lovely yield from writing about things I’m interested in!

What about you? Have you made new connections through blogging? And if you’re new here, do say hello in the comments… you never know where it might lead!!

Gone but not forgotten

The route to so many interesting people.

The route to so many interesting people…. who are easy to lose

A few months ago I wrote a post expressing my sadness at the disappearance of a blog that I liked to read – The Great Dorset Vegetable Experiment. I was saddened that Yambean had decided not only to give up blogging when she and her husband sold their worldly goods and set off on a new adventure in their life, but that she deleted the entire blog. Still, at least I knew of her plans to travel and can imagine her having a  great time in warmer climes.

Yesterday, however, I assimilated the fact that another great blog had disappeared, but this one without warning. Lovely Lonnie, The Belmont Rooster, has taken his blog down and disappeared from our community without warning. What a shame – he had a huge array of information about plants and their cultivation and wrote interesting posts on gardening, farming and community. I really hope that he’s alright, perhaps busy turning all his information into a book. If you are reading this Lonnie, I do wish you well and hope you decide to start blogging again in the future.

So, this is a repeat of my previous request… if you do decide to give up blogging, do consider leaving your blog up – perhaps with a message saying that it’s currently not active. And remember that, although we have never met, we are friends, we care about you and we will miss you if you go away.

Sunshine on a cloudy day

Here in the UK, 2014 has started with rain. We’ve had a very dark day, which has been brightened up for me in two big ways. First, I spent ages having a Skype conversation with a new friend who I have encountered as a result of our blogs – she’s in Australia. so we would never have met if it wasn’t for this amazing technology. I am constantly stunned by the friends I make and by their generosity; if that isn’t enough to brighten a day, I don’t know what is! But I also decided to add a bit of colour to the day, so I found some golden-yellow wool in my stash and made this:

Circle of friends square

Circle of friends square

It was too dull to photograph in natural light, so the picture doesn’t really do it justice, but it’s both a lovely pattern, designed by Priscilla Hewitt, and a lovely colour. I hope it brightens your day too.

Happy new year!


ps there’s now a picture of it in natural light on the Masterpiece page

The strange world of blogging… and why I’m here

The portal to the blogoshpere

My portal to the blogosphere

I started writing this blog about a year and a half ago as a way to harvest my thoughts and research about sustainability and living a more sustainable life. I wanted to share my ideas and tell other people what I had found out. I wanted to show that we can make relatively small changes in our lives that can have a big impact, especially if we all work together. I also thought that it might be a good way to publicise the courses I teach and the crafts I make. I chose to blog with WordPress quite at random – I had seen someone else’s site, liked it and didn’t have much desire to spend too much time researching the options.

So, I chose a theme (quite an unusual one it turns out… don’t see many other bloggers using it… it’s called ‘Comet’ in case you are interested) and set to with the writing. I soon decided that I wanted to steer away from the very personal style of blogging… I didn’t want to share my inner feelings, whinge about the bus driver or get therapy from my blog readers. I wanted to share ideas and information about practical aspects of my life and making it more sustainable… and that’s the sort of blog I like to read too. That’s not to say that blogging doesn’t feel like therapy sometimes and it certainly helps me to get ideas straight in my head simply by writing them down and receiving feedback.

There have been some unexpected yields… I never expected to form friendships via my blog and to feel such strong connections to people all over the world, most of whom I will never meet. I never expected that my readers would engage so enthusiastically about some of my posts. Who’d have thought that a post on bartering would generate so much interest or one on how to deal with human remains? I also didn’t expect so many people who I know personally to read my blog and to feel that it was a good way to know what I’m up to. Perhaps the strangest thing is to go to events and have people exclaim “so you’re The Snail of Happiness” (my real name is Jan, by-the-way, for those of you who don’t know).

The Leibster award

The Leibster award

This is my 20th month of blogging and I’m celebrating it by participating in NaBloPoMo – a month of blogging every day. Here we are then, on day 11 and since this is a blog post about blogging it doesn’t feel too out of place to mention that I have received a blogging award from my fellow blogger The Belmont Rooster. They are funny old things, blogging awards… really a bit like a chain letter – you get an award and you get to pass it on to some other bloggers. So I have been nominated by Mr Rooster and I get to nominate some other folks. I don’t usually participate in this sort of thing, but I decided to make an exception this time; first because Mr Rooster asked me so nicely (thank you so much), second because it gives me an excuse to direct you, my readers, to a few blogs that am really enjoying at the moment and that you might enjoy too (they are my nominees below) and third because NaBloPoMo is making me completely blog-obsessed at the moment!

So, here are my nominations and recommendations for some good reading:

free food for rats is written by the lovely Anja, She describes delicious seasonal cooking as well as activities with her young family.

Permapeach: One person’s urban permaculture story documents Rachel’s permaculture adventures in an urban setting, with descriptions of community gardening, her allotment and her business, all based around permaculture ethics and principles.

westywrites may be my favourite blog right now as she describes her attempts to eliminate single-use plastics from her life.

gettin’ fresh is (and I quote) ‘not only about gardening but also about getting all that delicious produce to the table in a form that will tempt even the pickiest of eaters’.

and finally

Ecology is not a dirty word has some thought-provoking pieces and is written by another ecologist… always worth a read.

Hopefully these five bloggers will make their own recommendations and lead us all on to new discoveries. Meanwhile, for me that’s another blog post written in November and I’ve manage to accept my blogging award in a slightly unconventional way*.


* There was a set of questions to answer, most of which I have in the text of this article… you can find them here if you are interested.

%d bloggers like this: