grow it cook it preserve it eat it wendy pillar blog gardener grow your own in dorset

Making Hay - May 2016

Updates to this blog can be few and far between, the cause, boringly, being work. Being self-employed, and having experienced long periods when work is hard to come by and bills hard to pay, I have real difficulty turning jobs down, especially with a huge mortgage and a half-renovated house. My policy, like that of most self-employed people, is 'make hay while the sun shines'. But I've been making hay like mad for a long time now, and I have some hay and nothing much else to show for it. The reality is that I won't take time off when I don't have work, I'll just panic that I don't have work and spend time trying to get some - which puts me right back on the overwork roundabout! The Self-Assessment tax system doesn't help, having been created by a genius to keep you working like you're running up a down escalator. Meanwhile, out there is the garden and all things inspiring trundling along at a fraction of their potential and my brain is so tired that I forget what it is I've been trying to achieve. People say to me 'think of the money', but what's the point of arriving at retirement with plenty of money, ruined health and no fun? I think I'd rather have interesting experiences in the bank.

It seems weird to complain of too much work (which obviously brings in cash) when so many others are struggling, but looked at another way, eating too much food is still a problem even when half the world is hungry. It will still make you obese and ruin your health, and won't solve anyone else's hunger. So it's time for change. Deep breath, give up hard-won jobs that I've done for decades, for time off, gardening, writing about gardening, and get used to not buying stuff. Hope that I don't get sacked from the remaining jobs next month!

My new workload gives me a three-day week, leaving a four-day weekend for all things interesting. It's a surprisingly difficult adjustment to make though. I started working full-time hours when I was 15, and I haven't taken a break since. I'm so used to weekends and days off being rare and precious that I can't waste time, I feel guilty doing nothing, and if I don't have a list of tasks to work through I have no idea what to do with myself. It's just as well I am taking a gradual approach to retirement, because working flat out until 60-odd then nothing all of a sudden would be a considerable shock to the system.

It looks like a fairly minor change from the outside, but it involves a major change of mindset and habits of a lifetime from the inside. When I wake up in a cold sweat at 5 a.m. because I have no work in for the following day, I have to remind myself that I've done the sums over and over and it's fine and, in any case, if it isn't fine and we have to move house, we won't die! If I have to go back to spending 60 hours a week in front of a computer screen though, that might actually kill me.

I'm aware this is a problem that I'm not going to get much sympathy with! It's the ultimate middle class/first world problem. But coming from a background of poverty, seeing what poverty in old age is like, and with the decreasing level of social support from this ruthless government, it's hard to overcome the insecurity and go against a lifetime of conditioning of what we are supposed to want. How much is enough is the question, something I think rich people never learn, judging by the number of A list celebrities selling their souls for advertising (Johnny Depp doing perfume ads - shameful!). I reckon no matter how much you have, the feeling of insecurity never leaves you. Even if you are the Beckhams, you end up being friends with Tom Cruise, who's friends with John Travolta, who parks his Boeing 737 on his ranch! I'll never be rich, but perhaps that's not the end of the world either.

So I'm breaking the cycle and going gardening and cooking, and maybe these blogs and Twitter updates will become more regular. I know, no one reading this is feeling sorry for me!

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