Eight ideas for a fun life

When I read through books and magazine, or talk to people when I’m out and about, I’m constantly coming across new ideas or new ways of doing things. As someone who is on an ongoing quest to ‘do well, be nice and have a life… all at the same time’, I get very excited about these things but invariably never get around to doing anything about them.

So rather than consign them to my little black book of ‘things to do when I’ve got a spare month on my hands’, I thought I’d share them with you here on my blog. I’m not saying that these are necessarily good ideas, or that they’ll make you the next Richard Branson, but they’re all things that sound fun to me.

If you want to give any of them a try, then please feel free. And do let me know how it goes. I might even try one or two myself, at some point, if I ever get around to it.

1. The veggie van. Get a van, preferably an electric one or one of those really old Renault things, and set up a mobile shop selling local fruit, vegetables, bread and preserves. Collect produce from local suppliers in the morning and spend the afternoon and evening driving to wherever your customers need you to be, such as outside offices or by the railway station. We all love farmers markets, after all, but they’re usually either only once a month or during the week, when everyone’s at work.

2. The mobile coffee cart. Get a little motorised coffee cart and set up a regular round in your local area, selling tea, coffee and home-made pastries. Smile at everybody, ask how they are and become a local icon. Not necessarily the biggest money-spinner, but a great way to get out, meet people and generate a sense of community.

3. The market garden. There’s a field on the edge of our town that was bought by the Council a couple of years ago. They’re currently deciding whether to turn it into a football pitch or a children’s playground. What it would make, though, is an excellent market garden, growing fresh, organic fruit and vegetables for the local population and bringing people closer to the food they eat. So find a small plot of land and get growing.

4. The guerilla gardening campaign. I’m a big fan of guerilla gardening (see http://www.guerrillagardening.org/ if you don’t know what that is) and think that it’s a brilliant way to make boring, overgrown or derelict parts of town more beautiful and more inspiring. I’ve never really got around to doing much about it, though. But what’s to stop you (or me, for that matter) from sowing a handful of sunflower seeds on a roundabout or growing a few radishes in the planter by the bus stop?

5. The virtual orchard. I’d really love an apple orchard, but like most people have limited space. So for the moment, at least, I’ll have to be satisfied with the couple of little trees at the bottom of the garden. But why not a ‘virtual’ orchard? Go around your community and map out where the different apple trees are and who owns them. Then, at harvest time, recruit volunteers to pick the apples, turn them into juice or cider or anything apple-y, and share them with the ‘owners’ of the orchard and everyone else in your community.

6. The heritage trail. The town I live in has a fantastic history dating back through the centuries, but nobody really seems to know very much about where they live and how it has developed. My (currently very vague) plan is to develop a guided walking tour of the town, highlighting the key elements of its social, cultural and industrial heritage. This would be accompanied by a guidebook, an audio download, a colourful map and perhaps even some display boards. Why not do something similar for where you live?

7. The guerilla art campaign. I’m a big fan of art, especially things that challenge me or make me think about things in a new way. In a wood near where my mum lives, someone has made tiny little front doors that they have stuck to the trunks of some of the trees. Inspired. Or check out some of Slinkachu’s little people. I like drawing and I like making things, so why can’t I find the time (or the talent) to do something like this? It’s fun, it’s cool and it makes people smile. There really ought to be state funding available…

8. The community bookshop / coffee shop / bakery. I like books, I like coffee, I like baking and I like bringing people together. So my wife’s suggestion that I find a group of local people and open a not-for-profit community bookshop, coffee shop and bakery probably isn’t too far off the mark. A group of similarly-minded folk have opened a community bookshop in the next town and it seems to be going great guns. After all, who doesn’t like coming in for a coffee, a good read and a bit of a chat?

The first green shoots

I love this time of year because it’s when everything starts to grow. The blossom is making its appearance on the two apple trees at the bottom of the garden, the rhubarb is sprouting crunchy new stems every day and I have a row of tiny chilli plants growing in a propagator on the window ledge in my office.

Chilli plants

The chilli farm in my office

This time marks the turning point, when the dark evenings and frosty mornings of winter come to an end and spring dawns with its sense of purpose and hope. And it’s the time when I can get out into the garden and start planting the seeds of everything that I want to grow. The tomatoes, pumpkins and courgettes are already in seed trays and pots in the greenhouse, as are the mina lobata (the beautiful climbing ‘spanish flag’) and the tagetes (excellent companion plants for the tomatoes).

And that’s just the start. I have a big box of seeds still to plant, from carrots and fennel to calendula and greater quaking grass (one of my personal favourites). I’ll spend my evenings and weekends sowing, potting up and planting out until the garden is a riot of shapes, textures and colours, some edible and some just great to look at. As I said, I love this time of year.

Photo of the week

Delicious salad with nasturtium flowers

Mmmmm.... delicious!

As part of my drive to eat more healthily, I’ve been trying to make the most of the things I grow in the garden. Here’s a salad I made from salad leaves and nasturtium flowers, dressed simply with olive oil, balsamic vinegar and a little freshly ground black pepper. Just as quick to make as cheese on toast – and much more healthy.

It’s the thought that counts

It’s been quite a long week. And I’ve spent far too much of it in airport lounges, on trains, in hotel rooms, on the phone and in long, drawn out meetings. But I was at home today, so had some time to wind down and get on with some of the more enjoyable things on my to-do list, like catching up with my studies, playing with the dog and doing a bit of cooking.

It’s my mum’s birthday tomorrow, and I’m off down to the southern tip of Somerset in the morning to meet up with her and my siblings. Being me, I had of course completely forgotten to do anything in the way of getting her a present, so decided this evening that I’d make her some white chocolate fudge.

I’ve made it a few times before, and she always seems to like it – or, at least, is too polite to say that it tastes like glue – and it seems nice to make something as a gift rather than just go out and buy her a book (which is, I must admit, my usual strategy). And if I may say so myself, it turned out fairly well.

White Chocolate Fudge
White Chocolate Fudge

For anyone who’s interested, it’s actually quite easy to make. Tip 500g of golden caster sugar, 250ml of double cream and 250ml of milk into a big saucepan and heat it gently on the hob, while stirring lightly, until the sugar has dissolved. Then heat more vigorously and stir periodically until it reaches about 116 degrees celsius (called ‘soft ball’ stage – use a jam thermometer).

Take the saucepan off the hob and stir the mixture like a lunatic for five minutes. Avoid the temptation to stick your finger in the mixture, because this will be very, very painful. Then add 140g of broken-up white chocolate and stir a couple of times to swirl the chocolate in a bit. Pour it into a greased 20cm tin of some kind and leave to harden.

I find it useful to etch lines in the mixture, in an eight by eight grid, before it hardens completely. When it has cooled, tip the tin upside down over a chopping board or big plate, and your fudge will fall out in handy bit-size chunks. Yummy. Don’t eat more than three at once, though.

It’s not the healthiest snack in the world, but you do burn off a good few calories with all the stirring. And it makes a great present. Or, at least, I hope it does. I’d better take a bunch of flowers and a bottle of wine, too, just in case…

Some simple priorities

Step one in sorting out my life is to set a few ground rules; some simple priorities for how things are going to work from now on. So I’ve had a think and have decided on three things that I can do to get the ball rolling.

Firstly, I’m going to eat more healthily. I’m usually pretty good at eating the right sort of things, but when I get tired, worried or stressed I do have a distinct propensity to munch on stuff. And when things get busy, I tend to grab a packet of crisps rather than rustle up a salad. So I’m going to try harder to prepare proper meals and snacks, using fresh food and lots of things that I’ve grown in the garden.

Second, I plan to take more exercise. I already walk for a couple of hours a day with the dog, but I want to do more to improve my strength and fitness and – if we’re being honest – to shift a few pounds. I used to do yoga in the mornings, and I’d like to get back to doing that every day. I also used to run quite a lot when I was younger, so it’s time to dust off my trainers and get back out there.

Finally, I want to write more. I really enjoy writing; the act of putting pen to paper (or fingertips to keyboard) and working out how best to communicate what I want to say. And the more I write, the more I enjoy it. So I’ll try to make sure that I write something every day, whether it’s a post for this blog, an article on something that interests me or part of a longer term project.

I’ll start with these and see how things go. They’re not revolutionary steps, but some simple things that I can do to be a healthier, happier and more balanced individual. And once I’ve got them sorted, they’ll provide me with a solid base from which to move on to other, more ambitious goals.