Soaring above Stanage

I’ve not finished with 2013 yet. It’s been a year of massive change – of getting rid of the job that had come to dominate my life – like “a big block of lard on my plate”, as I described it during a coaching session with the amazing Beverley Ward who works for Writing Yorkshire and helps writers to be productive and creative. I said that I wanted my life to look like a plate from a brilliant buffet, or plate of tapas, with lots of interesting dishes to sample rather than one thing dominating in my life!

My life has definitely been full since leaving my job at the end of April. There have been moments of celebration, and moments of fear and panic – but I’ve learned so much about where my life and my writing is going, and the things that are really important to me. It was important to reach this Christmas alive and creative, to celebrate it on my own terms.

This time last year, my life was a mess. I enjoyed Christmas with my partner and family, and New Year’s Eve with friends in Bolton. But I was knotted up inside with anxiety, utterly miserable in my job, and desperate to escape, but not sure what I wanted to escape to. I tried applying for admin jobs – without getting anywhere. I didn’t even know if I’d have a job once I returned to the office in January.

This year, life is very different. I needed to take a break for Christmas, but it was my decision when to stop, and how. Perhaps my life is now more like the Christmas dinner I made for my family: creative, adapted to suit me, making use of everyday ingredients: breadcrumbs, carrots, parsnips, leeks, butter beans and chestnuts. I used my creative mind to turn each dish into something special, with garlic, herbs and spices. And I felt proud to serve the meal in my transformed dining room. It’s been so much work recently, spending all my spare time covered in paint, painstakingly painting the skirting board or stretching to touch up the ceiling and hiding grotty corners with filler. I defy any slugs to crawl through the skirting board now! Ha! Once the decorations come down, I won’t have a sad, shabby room, I’ll have an inspiring, creative space. And my family and friends have chipped in to help, with Christmas presents of armchairs and money towards furnishing. The carpet is still grubby, but that’s another project!

We’ve been lucky with the weather so far too. The south of England has suffered with stormy winds, floods and power cuts over the Christmas period, and as I’m writing, the day is gloomy, windy and wet. But there has been plenty of gorgeous winter weather too. I’ve been walking with friends, my partner or family almost every day of the festive period so far: to Allestree Woods with my dad; onto the Bolehills with Katy and her dog Dave to gather holly and ivy for Christmas, and a quick wander around Walkley with my parents, my partner and his brother on Christmas day, after dinner!

On Boxing Day, I went on a more dramatic walk with my friend Louise. We made sandwiches from Christmas dinner leftovers – mushroom and chestnut bake and home-made stuffing – essentially a bread sandwich – but it tastes quite chicken-like! We headed out to Redmires again, under blue winter skies. We walked around the top reservoir and up the path that leads to Stanage. We’d never walked this route before, but it seemed very popular, with families and groups of friends all with the same idea. After quite a short walk, we reached Stanedge pole, a pole amongst a group of rocks. We didn’t know anything about it, but I’ve since learned (thanks to Wikipedia), that it’s a marker on an old packhorse route. it must have been a welcome sight in past centuries, a sign of civilisation on the desolate moors and the treacherous gritstone edge of Stanage. The spelling difference is deliberate! The pole seemed to be a gathering point for groups of walkers and we joined them for a quick bite of Christmas cake.

We marvelled at the view – Stanage Edge sharply marked out against a bank of white cloud, with the silhouettes of paragliders swooping over the cliffs. As we walked closer to the edge, the scenery was stunning, although after eating our sandwiches and admiring the view, our hands froze numb and the fog rolled in, hiding the village of Hathersage from view, and we remembered how inhospitable the Peak District landscape can be when the sun isn’t shining. I’ve been on some wet, desolate walks on Stanage, as well as glorious, soul-soaring ones!

I always feel proud that I’ve got such beautiful countryside on my doorstep. I started this year being forced to commute to an uninspiring industrial part of Derby – but over the course of this year, I’ve been drawn into Derbyshire and the Peak District; to the beauty of my local community in Sheffield. My work in Derbyshire at the Newholme hospital is set to continue, and expand into other areas. Perhaps areas where people are surrounded by beauty and possibility, but need help to set their imaginations, and themselves free.

Creating and Cleaning

I’ve had my head down for most of November. I’ve been learning more about the world of starting my own business and delving into the scary world of tax and accounting. Hopefully once I’ve got to grips with it all, the number-crunching won’t be as hard as I feared. I’m working on my business plan (which sounds a bit after the fact, as I started my business in May), and working out what direction I want things to go in. I’ve got some exciting ideas.

But I haven’t had much time to plan and plot my ideas yet. I’ve been working flat-out on one of my freelance editing projects – a Victorian murder mystery novel. I met my deadline and my customer is very happy with my work, which is great news. There are more editing clients who want to work with me which is really exciting. I’ve also been busy working with dementia patients at Newholme Hospital in Bakewell doing reminiscence and creative writing, which is an area where I want to build up a real expertise.

When I left my job, one of the projects I wanted to complete was re-decorating the dining room. Since we moved in two years ago, the dining room (which is like the tardis and seems bigger than the outside dimensions of the house) has become my favourite room, but it was scruffy, with a flaky damp patch under the window and stains in the corner of the ceiling, where there had been a leak from the bathroom. We paid for re-plastering and re-sealed the bath, in case of further leaks! And now I’ve been painting the walls a beautiful fresh white, enjoying listening to BBC 6 Music. It’s a slow job, but it all needs to be finished by Christmas.

I’ve also started a massive sort-out, removing all the clutter from the dining room and the study, sorting out my paperwork and starting to become a more organised person, with a proper filing system! We’ve had several trips to the tip with old cardboard boxes, a sofa bed that was so tatty and saggy it was no use as a sofa or a bed, and some old broken dining chairs cluttering up the place. Having a clutter-free, clean, tidy house is important to me at the moment, as I feel like it will enable me to work and build my business more effectively. I’ve felt under pressure and stressed-out recently and it’s time to take control of things; learning how to do things my way. That’s what being a freerange  person is all about.

The learning process has been so steep recently, time and money poor: juggling my teaching course, voluntary work, and paid work – with little time for a social life or my own creative work, but that’s what it is: a time of learning – and the outside world is starting to take notice. I’ve come a long way since I started this blog in February, dreaming of a better life in a lonely hotel room on a work trip. Since the end of the summer, I’ve worked hard – maybe a bit too hard for my own well-being. Afterall, it’s nearly midnight and I’m still tapping away at my laptop!

One of the reasons I was so stressed was feeling the year hurtling to an end. How was I going to squeeze in Christmas, amongst all the other things I’m doing – and earn enough money to survive. But I’ve made a start, buying daft little presents for my friends and family, and today, I made a Christmas cake.

I took it out of the oven a few hours ago, and it looks pretty good so far – not as dark brown as usual, as I used lighter sugar. For twenty years at least, I’ve been decorating Christmas cakes and to break the tradition this year would seem wrong. I feel better now I’ve made it – now I just have to decide on a design! I’ve got some ideas already. Christmas can be a good excuse to be creative. Before you ask, I haven’t made my own cards this year – I bought them from Age UK.

I use a tried and tested recipe from the classic Delia Smith’s Complete Cookery Course, a book that teaches you to cook virtually anything, although it was published in the early eighties. Although it’s thirty years later, and I’m vegan, it’s still surprisingly useful. There’s even a vegetarian section. In the introduction, the young Delia speaks out against factory farming, but thinks that “plant milk” is weird and trots out the old myth about Hitler being a vegetarian. By the way, researching this claim, I’ve just come across a website that claims that vegetarians and vegans are evil. I’m not sure if it’s a mickey-take or not. I suspect not! It claims that vegetarianism equals child abuse. I’m not going to link to this website because it’s so weird, but google “vegetarians are evil” and see if you can find it. Here’s the Vegetarian Society‘s website instead!

Anyway, back to the recipe. This is what I did: (Delia’s cake recipe hasn’t changed at all over the years!), except I didn’t use any currants, and I used more cherries and mixed peel. I also cheated and didn’t soak the dried fruit overnight. I soaked the fruit in some bourbon whisky I had left over, and some Portuguese almond liqueur called Amarguinha, as well as freshly squeezed orange and lemon juice. Then I put the bowl of dried fruit in the microwave on the lowest setting for twenty minutes. To “veganise” the cake, I used a dairy-free margarine and to replace the eggs, I used Orgran No Egg, which is a powdered egg replacer, made from potato starch and tapioca flour. It’s great for cakes. Because I used the fruit juice too, my mixture was a little more moist than it looks in Delia’s photos, but the cake looks great anyway!

Eating Christmas cake can sometimes be a bit daunting as it’s so rich, but I think this one’s going to be good. Hopefully the whole cake will taste of marzipan!


Things this blog is about…