Alison Crowther-Smith

Archive for July, 2018

Bleph-Warriors!

Tuesday, July 31st, 2018

My name is Ali and I have blepharitis.  Nope, nor had I until March 2017, when after some years of what I believed were repeated eye infections, I was diagnosed with blepharitis.

Some people say they have bleph – and maybe they do, but it is so mild, it is like what I have every (good) day.  Bleph is not tired eyes or hay fever.  A full-on bleph attack is just awful, sudden to arrive and slow to recede, debilitating and is not ‘normal’ itchy eyes that are a bit dry, reactive to pollen or whatever.  It causes great disfiguration, very pronounced redness of the whites of your eyes and major swelling of the eyelids. This can include ‘scaling’ of this skin, redness of the skin all round the eyes and bruise-like ‘stains’ of the eye sockets.  I still, even though mine is well controlled have a purple line above each upper eye-lash line.  It looks like faint eyeliner! If you thought purple eyeliner was cool, which it is not. FYI.

This post is prompted by just wishing to share what I have learned about managing this condition.  I know all too well that there are many worse things to be dealing with, but blepharitis (bleph, to its friends) is really miserable and maybe what I have tried will help someone else.

Bleph is an eye condition.  The term blepharitis can cover many variations.  Overall, bleph presents as red eyes, red eyelids, watering and itching in the eyes, sticky eyes/debris, and pain and swelling around the eyes, especially the eyelids. On and off, I had all these and more for several years.  I thought I had conjunctivitis, only over and over again.  The symptoms are often very similar.  The difference is that bleph will not usually respond to over the counter or prescription treatments for conjunctivitis.  Nor is it contagious.

Finally in March 2017 I had a diagnosis.  But that was really it – I was told what it was, wrote the word down and went away to basically do my own research.  At that time, I had terrible discomfort and disfiguring symptoms in my eyes and I was told that my bleph was allergic blepharitis.  I now think that was partially correct but not entirely. I am very allergic to a lot of things, usually insect and plant-based such as wasp stings, spider bites, and touching plants – almost all plants, actually which is awkward as I love gardening.  I have had eczema all my life.  I am allergic to soil, bright sunlight, most detergents, many soaps and lotions, plastic, rubber, and many synthetic materials.  I am allergic to a fair number of animal and synthetic fibres (again with the awkward, being a knitter…) but not as an asthmatic would be, it just affects my skin.  My hands are in a permanent state of painful siege  and my skin is ultra-sensitive, so my eyes being allergic to all the above and more added up.  I am also sensitive to some foods (but not actually allergic).  Chiefly, this is sugar.  Especially refined sugar such as in a cake, but also the sugars from any carbs if I overdo it.  This reacts badly in my gut as well as on my skin.  Stay with this, because bleph and its successful management are very closely linked to diet.

Since then, I have learned a lot about it. This is largely from on-line ‘communities’.  The best one in my view is a UK-based Face Book group founded by a man called Mario with a wealth of experience.  He started The Blepharitis Advice and Support Group because, like so many of us, he noticed how little knowledge there is about Bleph even amongst the medical professions.  Also Mario has successfully managed his bleph into submission and he wanted to share.  I am so glad he did.  Because when I found this group I was really struggling and did not know what to do, or who to ask for advice as I don’t know anyone else with blepharitis.

Bleph is isolating and depressing. It makes you stay indoors.  It stops you (or it did me) reading, writing, and knitting as looking downwards hurt too much.  I read, write and knit for a living.  It makes you wear sunglasses all the time, mainly to hide the symptoms but also as it is soothing to have low light. It can make computer work very trying and finally, it robs you of sleep because when it is very active, it hurts to close your eyes.

Some people have bleph as a result of dysfunction of the glands around the eyes.  Some people have it because of other skin conditions such as rosacea.  Which is a kissing-cousin with eczema.  Some people have it due to allergies.  Others because of an over-population of a mite called Demodex.  Demodex mites live on almost all of us, in the hair follicles.   Only c4% of humans do not have Demodex.  DO NOT GOOGLE IMAGE THIS.  Oh, OK, there you go, well, I did tell you not to! If they become epidemic, one symptom may be bleph.   Clue:  if your eyelashes often fall out, and/or grow sort of wonky, sideways, straight out or into each other, and may feel ‘sprained’ or tender at the roots, as mine did, this might be a Demodex sign.

If you think you may have bleph, you need this confirmed by an eye specialist and this will not be a GP.  In my case it was just my optician.

If you do see an eye specialist, be sure to ask – in the event of a possible bleph diagnosis – what kind you have:  allergic, gland-related, Demodex, etc.  They may not be able to tell you but it’s a start.

Conventional treatments range from eye compresses to antibiotics and steroids.  I have never had antibiotics or steroids as my optician said they would be pointless, even though I actually begged. I treated mine as he suggested:  super-careful eye hygiene, very warm flannel compresses, no eye makeup, moisturising eye drops. If you wear contacts, add not using these to the basic list. I was not in the habit of neglecting my eyes, so they were clean.  But I did (do) love wearing makeup, and this had to stop.  I can now wear it, a bit, and as long as it is not for many consecutive days.

This was my opening regime:  wash face as usual.  Apply very warm sterile flannels to closed eyes and press – keep this up with fresh hot water for as long as you can manage up to ten minutes.  This is believed to release clogged glands.  Clean eyelids and lash lines with Blephasol or Blephawipes.  I soaked a cotton bud in the Blephasol and gently ran it over the lash lines, using a firm downward motion.  Then preservative-free eye drops as dry eyes go with this whole deal.  Then moisturise the skin round your eyes as best you can.   This did work for me, kind of.  I had a very slow turnaround with an almost imperceptible reduction in symptoms over about six weeks.  By summer, it was 80% better and yet I had frequent flare-ups and was not able to reduce my regime which I had to do at least four times a day.

In the meantime, I became depressed.  I know that may sound shallow as bleph is not cancer, no-one died of it.  But it gradually wore me down and made me sad and anxious.  I knew I was only just managing it and I just did not know how to make it better.  Further abject begging at the opticians failed.  So, as I said, I joined some on-line communites of bleph sufferers, and read all (I mean ALL) the stories, the tips, the treatments and most of all, the successes.  From this group I learned about the many types of bleph – and I began to try some of the things that others had success with.  I learned that I was over doing the hot compresses. I do still use this but rarely now.  I learned that I probably had both allergic bleph and Demodex related bleph and maybe also skin-condition related bleph – and now I think that these are all linked, in my case and probably in many cases.

Just as an interesting aside, when I had Florence, I burst a small blood vessel in my right eye and for 20-odd years, I had a clearly visible red dot on the white of that eye.  It was stable, not changing and the optician was unconcerned, he just noted it.  One day, in 2017, after I had been hot-compressing for some weeks, I suddenly noticed that the dot had gone.  The frequent heat may have caused it to somehow be re-absorbed which is what Mario suggested.  Or it might be magic. It has never come back.  So, even bleph is not all bad…

My diet was OK to begin with, in that I have avoided refined sugars for years due to its unfortunate impact on my tum.  That *may* be a euphemism. But I did eat vast amounts of fruit – maybe 5 – 7 units of fruit a day! That is way too much even if you do not have bleph, because it’s all fructose!  I also ate too many other carbs because I love them, and I consumed a lot of dairy.  I still eat cheese, and I use butter but I have stopped drinking milk, which I have done by the pint, since childhood.  I LOVE cold milk.  Sigh.

At first and for about 6 months, I cut out fruit.  Now I can have it but only 1 – 2 units a day and not bananas.  I was even more assiduous about not eating sugars in biscuits etc.  My favourite foods are cheese, butter, bread, and potatoes so you know what?  I still eat them but less. I almost never eat chocolate, cake, sweets or dried fruits. Well, I do sometimes but if I do this on say 2 consecutive days, I always get a bleph flare up so it puts me off.  Why bother?  My gut is better (not ‘right’ but much better) and my eyes have improved. So, diet is the base-line.

Following a suggestion from someone in my FB group, I switched to a tea-tree cleansing regime and this is what I recommend to anyone:  Optase Eye Cleaning Wipes.  These are tea tree (TT) based.  They are very expensive so I cut each small wipe into 6.  I use 2 of these pieces a day and I store the others for up to 48 hours in the sachet, sealed with a paper clip.  I wash my face with Boots own TT facial wash.  I wash my hair and body with TT shampoo.  And at night I wash my face again and clean around my eyes and eyebrows and hairline with Boots own TT facial wipes.  I use an intensive moisturising eye drop for dry eye disease, which I have as a result of the bleph, and I need this 2 – 4 times daily assuming I am not in a flare-up.

Mainly I never wear make up anymore, really just to teach, and I protect my eyes at all times.  I wear sunglasses a lot and if it’s a dull day and I am outdoors, I wear clear glass glasses that look like specs but are just there to stop anything getting into my eyes. I keep the lights low and I avoid smoke, fumes and air-con.

Supplement are important.  I take:  turmeric with black pepper, which has powerful anti inflammatory properties.  NAC (N-acetylcysteine) which you may need to be careful with, as it can bring side effects such as with me, a gut reaction but I just stopped for a week and very slowly re-introduced.  NAC works for me.  Other bleph sufferers take many different supps and I guess it is trial and error but I was loathe to take too many as I would possibly not know what was and what wasn’t helping. The turmeric has also had a profound effect on my chronic knee injury and I am now able to run again. I also take a cannabis oil supp and Ubiquinol though for other reasons but I note that both are mentioned by some bleph sufferers as helpful.  I did not take any supps before, and so taking 4 products a day seems a lot to me.  I also think these take weeks to build up, so do not expect any miracles.  Stick with it.  In the midst of a big flare or if I feel one coming, I also take anti-histamines.

None of the above has had any beneficial impact on my skin by the way.

The most profound changes to my eyes have been brought about by the diet tweaks; the Optase Wipes and my TT regime; and the turmeric with black pepper.  A lot of people in my group rate taking part in exercise as making a big change but I always exercised a lot so I don’t know.  If you think or know you have bleph and do not regularly exercise, I advise you to consider it, as it helped a lot of my ‘friends’, even if it is just a brisk walk every day.

Now, I am not symptom free but I look as if I am 85% – 90% of the time.  My eyes sometimes hurt, are often dry and sore but they are usually not red, or swollen anymore.  Some days, my eyes feel totally normal!  I have got used to just not wearing makeup and whilst I do not feel ‘liberated’ because I love makeup and never felt like a slave to it, I feel OK about it.

I hope this may help someone.  If you are in this place, please remember that you are not alone and it can be managed so that life is good again, and fairly normal.  When I get a flare up – the last bad one was about 3 months ago – I don’t panic now.  Anxiety and depression come with this, but they also make it worse.  I go back to the compresses but not too much and I just hunker down until it passes, which it will. If you are new to bleph, I am very happy to share more, if you contact me.  Bleph-warriors of the world, unite!

 

 

 

 

July Newsletter

Thursday, July 19th, 2018

SSCW Throw and Scarf

I have just sent out the July Newsletter.  In this edition, there is the usual mix of my news, industry news and new yarns.

If you want to get these up-dates, please contact me and I will add you to the email list.

If you used to hear from me and would still like to, the chances are we got lost in the great 2018 GDPR-gate fiasco and I have had, reluctantly, to drop your address from my previous list.  This may be an enormous relief to you, in which case you don’t need to do anything.  Or you might miss the odd in-box wave, in which case, contact me to go back onto the list.

Here are some images of the easy and so pleasing Slip Stitch Colourwork Throw for the July events – 2 places available for the event on Thursday 26 July.

SSCW Throw 2SSCW Throw 3SSCW Throw 4SSCW Throw 1

Dear Diary…

Thursday, July 12th, 2018

The continuing saga of my incredibly exciting diary.

Monday:  The heatwave continues here in Somerset.  We continue to say things to each other and anyone we meet such as: ‘My goodness!  It’s like being Abroad, isn’t it?’ And:  ‘Well, isn’t it hard now to imagine all that snow we had a few months ago?’  I continue to assert that I Like Hot Weather.

I attend the gym for Monday evening torture which is Spin (static cycling, bearing as much resemblance to real cycling as Donald Trump does to a President.    Or a human being.  More on D Trump later).  This is followed by an hour of Body Pump.  Despite the air conditioning am instantly transformed into my alter-ego, Sweat Woman, whose superpower appears to be making lakes of salty water out of very little effort.  I literally only have to lift a hand-weight off its cradle and walk across the studio with it in order to erupt into a human fountain of most unattractive sweat.  Interested in discovery, made for the one thousandth time, that I sweat most profusely from my inner-elbows and the back of my head. Would dearly like to ask other participants about their hot-spots but fear this may be misinterpreted.  Observe that 90% of participants are not even glowing.

Turn thoughts to dinner but am distracted by the pain in my back caused by the new gym top I have bought and am wearing for the first time.  It has a solid front section but the back is what they call ‘crochet’ – in fact a series of knots, making the back totally see-through and rather pretty.  Model was shown wearing improbably tiny crop-top bra thing under this but I, of course, wear a full singlet.  On lying down on my bench in order to participate in chest track, I am completely overcome by the sharp pain each knot causes me to experience, worsened by the addition of a few extra kilograms of weights. Thus spend entire track wriggling about on my bench as I try to ease the growing discomfort.  In the end I sit up and pull the back up to my neck, causing Lily to roll eyes almost totally round and out of her head in manner of horror film effect.

Leave modestly air conditioned gym and almost faint from heatwave that hits me as I stagger to my non-air conditioned car.

Tuesday:  Am dressed in shorts and tee-shirt for gardening in Continuing Heat Wave when Very Exciting Parcel arrives.  A favourite website of mine has been having a sale; and a coat which I desired most fervently last winter had been reduced – so I ordered it.  Courier has no sooner swung out of the garden, when I rip the parcel open and try on the coat.  It is a knee-length Parka style padded coat – very padded, like a duvet.  It also has – and this is the best bit – a HUGE hood that is fully (fake) fur lined and also has a great big Hollywood style (fake) fur trim all round.  I zip the coat up to my neck and with bare legs and flip flops, pirouette around the garden in manner of Judy Garland, skating in Meet Me In St Louis.   This admittedly very warm modelling assignment is interrupted by sudden entrance into garden of Post Man.  Current Post Man is almost entirely silent at best of times but with 2 years of nurture I have coaxed Silent Post Man from furtive head-down nods to occasional monosyllabic exchange of ‘right?’ Which is returned with a grudging ‘arr’.  As SPM swiftly takes in the scene and wordlessly extends post to me on the path, I realise that all this work has been undone in one unfortunate encounter.

Wednesday:  I set off to travel to Scotland.  I am going there with a colleague to do some work.  In the face of prolonged and energetic resistance from me, Colleague has insisted that we will ‘let the train take the strain’ as it is put to me, instantly recalling highly misleading 1980s British Rail media ads.  Tell Colleague that, as a very experienced train traveller, I know this is huge mistake; reinforce this with true anecdotes about how, when a complex train journey Goes Wrong, it always has the capacity to transform itself into a gigantic clusterfuck.  Urge colleague, whose idea of Public Transport is limited to Business Class air travel and fond memories of the old red London buses when he was small and more – um – tolerant, that he will not like it and may not like the inevitable interaction with other people.  I do not prevail.  So, I set off to drive to the Midlands, meet Colleague, and set off on a 3-train, 2-taxi journey to the west coast of Scotland.

Journey begins well, with train being on time.  We even have some friendly interaction with an American family who are from Chicago and are, completely inexplicably, including Llandudno in North Wales in their itinerary.  The family consists of fairly elderly grandparents and two really cheerful teenage girls. They have (perfectly rational) fear and mistrust of the railways in the UK but we reassure them that they are on the Right Platform, as they must change at Crew.  As they prepare to board the train, with their giant set of luggage, I feel utmost pity for them.  At least all they will see of Crew will be the sullen railway station (Brief Encounter it is not) but really, Llandudno?  I ask them why? Why Llandudno? Their reasons – family related – seem to me to be too flimsy to support this diversion from London, Stratford-upon-Avon, Warwick, Edinburgh, Dublin and Paris.  My reservations – and Colleague’s utter silence on topic of Llandudno – penetrate their awareness. They ask us if we know Llandudno well.  Colleague, who confines personal travel to Global Exotic Locations, has naturally never been there and thus does not break monastic stance, but I again most naturally, have.  Is it lovely?  I murmur ‘…Well…The Great Orm…?’ and have vivid flashback of last trip to Llandudno, conducted entirely in thin but penetrating drizzle of the kind that North Wales does so well in August…Realise that they now think The Great Orm is a huge native bird.  Happily we part to find our booked seats.

Can see that Colleague thinks all my warnings were mere female hysteria and baseless.  He thinks this as he has booked us First Class seats.  If I travelled First Class, which I never do, maybe I too would be more enthusiastic about trains.  We are plied with free things, mainly water for me, and we arrive in Glasgow almost on time after 4.5 hours. I have knitted most of a mitten and listened to a very good portion of current audio-book.  Glasgow, like the rest of the UK, is glorying in Continuing Heat Wave.  It turns out that the railways station is basically a giant greenhouse and Colleague seeks non-existent shade or preferably air-conditioned lounge.  Continuing Heat Wave has had a very unfortunate impact on Scottish railway network, it being even more unaccustomed to  warm weather than we are in Somerset.  The rails have all buckled and made the points stop working.  This is, at least, the gist, as far as I can tell from the hilarious interaction that I witness (from a safe distance) between Colleague who could easily have been the first Radio Announcer for the BBC, and Glaswegian station man.  At length he establishes that the trains are shagged. I begin my ‘told you so’ comments with a murmured pianissimo introduction which will escalate to fortissimo crescendo by following day.

Encourage Colleague to sprint for train to Ayr.  Ignore his complaint that ‘it is a stopper’ and urge him to join me as it is the only train that appears to be leaving for The West.  I am getting on anyway.  First Class options have, of course, no further place this being A Stopper.  Wrestle with conflicting emotions.  On one hand, am delighted that this late train with no air conditioning and which will stop at eleventy-nine places, is also populated with 100s of hot commuters and also vast extended family (3 adult woman, at least 8 children and infants), all in full voice, thus proving me Right.  On the other hand, I am also having to endure the journey.  The heat has understandably taxed the patience of all the children and their carers.  A chorus of alternate shrieks and screams clearly tests patience of Colleague to the very limits of its endurance.  Insert head-phones and close eyes.  Navigate Colleague through final and lengthy stage of train journey for the day as we gaily board the train to Girvan.  I consume improbably huge quantity of cold sausage and chopped up raw veggies, which is my favourite train picnic.  I do this despite knowing I will (if we ever arrive) be given excellent dinner by Client in a few short hours, but neither this knowledge, or the frank displeasure of Colleague, or the open staring of fellow travellers can divert me from eating in manner of starving prisoner, just released.

Query with Colleague which manner of onward transportation he has arranged from Girvan station to hotel, this journey being All His Doing.  He is confident of cab rank.  I am confident, as veteran of many rural stations all over the UK, that this will not exist.  Wonder, as we emerge from hot train onto bloody boiling station at Girvan, to learn that there is no cab rank, if ‘Me Being Right’ will ever lose its shine.  Answer:  no, never.   Summon taxi via Google and iPhone in which neither Tom (of Tom’s Taxis; I personally think the plural is probably anticipatory, but do not say so to Tom) or I really understand each other but he does understand Trump Turnberry Hotel and Girvan Railway Station, and I understand Five Minutes, aye?  I await taxi in shade across the road as Colleague rattles locked front door of apparently abandoned railway station.

Arrive, 2 hours late, at Trump Turnberry Hotel.  Beauty of the west coast of Scotland – or at least, this bit of it, is undeniable.  I have now been travelling for 11 hours.  A flight, plus drive to airport and from airport to hotel would have been more like 4.5.  I am, as ever, Right.  This is of no comfort as it does nothing to ease my fatigue.  Spend very enjoyable and informative evening, and all of following morning with Client which is holding meetings at the hotel.

Take many photos of the Trump Hotel and also interrogate staff about POTUS and his role at this hotel.  Corporate memo has clearly been received and understood by all staff, who think Donald is A Good Thing for the hotel and that his son is Lovely.  The building is lovely, the location is unbelievably beautiful, despite being marred by Golf Course, but the addition of Trump Trademark giant fountains where water erupts from all the usual and also some very unexpected orifices or outlets, and a lot of gold decor does strike an odd note.  However, it is the nicest hotel room I have ever stayed in, and it is a bazillion (Trump terminology) times nicer than the last hotel I stayed in, chosen by Colleague. Also, the food was absolutely delicious, though I was unable to do proper justice to Posh Dinner being still very full of cold sausage and veggies, horsed down on last leg of travel.

Thursday:  after very productive meeting with Client, we depart and anticipate enjoying all the delights of the previous day, only backwards and with no cold sausages.  I intervene and get rid of the Girvan to Ayr bit by insisting on taxi.  Continuing Heat Wave has continued to modify the railway tracks and though our train is not cancelled, the previous one and several others are, thus making our train Very Busy.  Hilariously, the train operator, quite rightly in my view, suspends the classification of the train (i.e., anyone can sit anywhere) so the anticipated benefits of First Class are somewhat diluted.  Train is tortuously slow.  We arrive in Birmingham about 1.5 hours late.  I drive home, in state of relieved bliss, but am so ravenously hungry, I almost give in to overpowering desire to order and eat 3 Burger King Whoppers (or whatever).  Do not do so as believe this is favoured dinner of POTUS.  And look what that did for him.

Friday:  lie down a lot.  Doze at times and wonder if past 22 + hours spent driving, on trains and in taxis, with just a few hours in a Trump hotel in between, was just a dream.  Discovery of last cold sausage in lower regions of handbag indicates that it was real.  Discard sausage but regret that I did not find it the evening before on drive home.

 

Allotment at Home Up-Date: IT’S FABULOUS!

Tuesday, July 3rd, 2018

Well, 7 months after the project took its first muddy and tentative steps in January’s freezing and wet rain, February’s freezing and wet rain, and March’s freezing and wet snow, I can report that it is an overall success and I love it.  There have been some things that I would not do again, some planting and sowing failed (partly, I think, due to the long, cold winter, extending into spring), and some things I would modify, but it is really a great project, delivering all of the benefits I identified as essential and most of the desirables at the outset, plus some unexpected bonuses.  Yes, I am a project manager.  It’s my (real) job, I can’t help it.  I project the (desired) outcomes, I deliver the project, I measure the outcomes against the initial spec.  Job done.

Here are some ‘before and after’ images.

The area on the left side of the drive, then and now:

The area on the right side of the drive – then and now:

Some jungle shots:

Some gratuitous allotment/food-porn shots:

If I had been gardening my allotment now, in this extended hot and dry spell, I would have been making tactical sacrifices.  Because there is no mains water, only what we collect off our shed roofs and save, plus what we can share from the pond that was dug some years ago, and is pumped into a bank of shared bowsers, I had to walk from the top of the field, to the bottom, with empty cans or buckets and then back up with full vessels, to pour onto the most needy plants.

At this time of year that would be the 4 raised beds, the squash and courgettes, and the beans.  I would have decided not to water the cage, or the spinach, or the raspberries and rhubarb.  And I am pretty sure the spinach would have died and I would also be unable, short of doing this every day for several hours, to really stop the runner beans from aborting their flowers, or to make the courgettes and squash hydrated enough to thrive.  In short, I’d have kept most of it alive but that’s not easy or fun.  I did this in the first and second years there, especially the first which was hot – but not as hot, for as long, as this mid-summer has been.  It was hot and exhausting, boring labour.

Here, even though 80% of my allotment is in raised beds, I can water it very easily and quickly.  Furthermore, as the canopies of the squash and courgettes are so lush and thick, they are in turn providing shade for both their own roots and the roots of companion plants, such as runner beans.  Thus I have minimal moisture evaporation despite the beds being in full and intense sun for much of the day.

Even last year which was a fairly wet summer with long, cool spells, I never got such lush and impressive growth.  There is no mildew on the courgettes or squash – this is always a problem, but it’s easily remedied by just cutting off and destroying the affected leaves.  Here, so far, it just has not happened.

There has been some black fly on the broad beans, mainly I think because I had such a late sowing, the first 2 having failed due to 1) mice; and 2) snow x 2.  But here, with mains water at hand, I can blast the affected plants with a water jet which is the most effective and organic method of tackling black fly.  And in any case, the black fly has not been at all bad, perhaps because I am on hand to inspect and deal with it at least once, often twice a day so they never really get going.

Other benefits:

  • I can pick crops whenever I want, rather than collecting enough for 2 or 3 days.
  • I can attend immediately to any problems or small tasks that crop up;  all my tools are to hand and I have time.
  • Time saved is incredible.  If I had a spare half-hour there was no point going to the allotment as it took me 10 minutes to walk there.  Here, I can use even a spare 10 minutes to really good effect.
  • It is far less tiring.  I have no-dig, virtually zero weed control is needed and if it is hot, I can come inside or move to shade.  On the allotment, there was no shade, a lot of digging and constant weed-wrangling due to the open nature of the site, backing onto weed-infested fields and it having been left in such bad shape before.
  • I have a loo!  And a kettle!
  • It is possible to make a really productive and attractive site.  I always thought the allotment was attractive to be fair, once I had it in hand, but this is really beautiful.
  • I can sit in the allotment, in a comfy garden chair and have my breakfast, my coffee, a glass of wine – and just enjoy it.
  • I do not have to leave the dogs.  Rupert is now too old to go to any hostile, hot or cold places.  He has been really poorly recently and so I can just let him potter about and then put his bed in the sun or shade, depending on the day.  Right now, it is very hot and I would have been unable to leave the boys here for fear of them, and especially Roo, getting too hot or stressed.  I’d have to wait for evening or some respite care for him.
  • It is my environment and I control the use of all products.  I garden 100% organically and whilst this is not always ‘easy’, at least here, I do not have to try and do this in a mixed environment.  In fact, because I used pest control methods that mainly relied on barriers, I did not really get that much trouble but there is no doubt that if Allotment A uses chemical warfare and Allotment B does not, Allotment B may get some collateral damage as the little twats move away from the war-zone and over to my peace-camp.  Sigh.  Also, to be successfully organic, the whole environment – i.e. your own garden, or the whole allotment field, has to be organic.  If it is not, it is hard to get that long-term build up of organic benefit as the cycle is always being disrupted by the use of non-organic chemicals or methods beside you or nearby.   So for  example I had all my allotment broad beans eaten by mice this year for the first time ever and I believe this was because the ecosystem of the plot had been seriously disrupted.
  • It is peaceful.  It is so peaceful, calm and private.  There is no distracting mobile-phone chatter, no machinery or building noise.  There is a downside to this, see later, but overall, it is huge bonus and if I am honest this was one of the ‘must have’ benefits of the project before I began.
  • The level of produce is not lower, on average.  It is in some areas (broad beans, for example) but it is higher – and easier – in others such as salad crops, herbs and squash.
  • The rest of my garden – the majority of it, I mean the bits that are not allotment – are getting far more attention because I am here so much more.  Once I got my village allotment, the rest of the garden here really suffered and it became a source of anxiety and irritation.  Now, balance has been restored.

Downsides and what went wrong?

  • I have to improve the soil quality in some of the beds.  And in all cases, raise the soil levels.
  • There is clearly not much point sowing seeds for crops such as spinach or peas direct as I was able, successfully to do on the allotment.  They just do not like it.  I have no idea why. But this is easily remedied by sowing in pots and growing on.
  • I need to re-think where I site some crops.
  • I have been unable to get carrots going.  Again, I do not know why as on the allotment I did have great success, also in raised beds.  Maybe my timing and the weather.
  • Some pests were obviously imported by me along with some of the soil I moved from one side of the fence to the beds.  Mainly, probably, slug-eggs, resulting in instant death to germinating seeds as soon as the tiny slugs emerged.
  • As ever, I have over catered and there is some crowding going on.  Less will have to be more next year.
  • Raised beds are targeted by ants far more than open ground so I need constant and better ant control tactics.
  • It is a bit lonely.  I really never met all the allotment holders as my activity was almost always on weekdays, as I often work at weekends and go out on many evenings.  Plus when I was there, I was head-down-race-against-time-working-before-I-need-a-wee.  But I do miss chatting to my one-side neighbour, and the old neighbour on the other side who gave his plot up last year, though one of them has been for tea and a look round here!  But I have high levels of self-reliance and on balance, I’d rather have the peace and the huge efficiency savings I have gained.

Next:

  • The broad beans are almost over and so over the next 2 weeks, this will liberate 5 raised beds.  These will then be populated with later sowings for French beans, and I will have another go with late carrots and peas.
  • Some of the salad crops went over very fast, so I will re-sow for these too.
  • I have pricked out several squash plants that self-seeded in the compost – probably butter-nut squash as these are the only squash seeds I ever discard, we eat the others, roasted.  Anyway, this means I can continue to site them into free beds or old bath-tubs as in the images, or tyre towers, 2-high.

I have not been to the allotment for weeks.  I won’t go back now, as Mark has kindly offered to put it all to bed and save me that heart-aching (but not heart-breaking) job.  I do not miss it.  It is too joyful, busy and productive here for that.  But yet, I am so grateful that I had my allotment years.  Had I known that Florence and Will would buy a house with such a big garden and thus (completely reasonably and understandably) bow out of the allotment almost right away, I would never have gone in for it.  So it was lucky that I did not know.  I would never have learned how to grow vegetables on a big scale, and also that this is my favourite sort of gardening any time.