It’s Been a While

My trips to the allotment have really gone by the way side recently. Through a combination of spending more time working on the Stoneham Bakehouse, trying to spend more time with the family, and the rubbish weather we’ve had this summer, the allotment has taken a back seat.

The allotment, for the last couple of years particularly, has been really important to me. Really important for my recovery from depression and anxiety, really important for my family to get some space, and really important in providing us with a variety of fresh vegetables and fruit.  

 As Autumn shows its true colours, with beautiful ruddy leaves appearing on the trees, I’m inspired to get back to the allotment with some regularity. Being outside is always beneficial to my wellbeing, and I sometimes need to be reminded of how it can help me. I think with weather set to be fine for the weekend, a trip to the plot is needed.


I’ve Been a Bit Preoccupied Recently

Regular readers may have noticed that posts have appeared a little less regularly over the last few months. The main reason for this is the growing realisation that I’m becoming caught up in the world of community baking, and I’ve less and less time for the allotment and writing the blog. Talking about my mental health issues, through Spade Fork Spoon, and recently when explaining the concept behind Stoneham Bakehouse as a bakery for the community, has been of real help to me. Hopefully I’ve helped others by showing that it is possible to get yourself on the journey towards an even keel, and having an allotment, and cooking, is a way which can help some.

As a man, I do feel that it’s somehow harder to admit failings, and talk about our wellbeing. With Men’s Health Week ending today, I wrote a post for the Bakehouse site, I’d like to share with my Spade Fork Spoon readership. Click on the image below to have a read. I intend to continue to write Spade Fork Spoon, so will be back posting about the recipes and stories in my changed life soon (well, soonish). 


Friends, Neighbours and Allotmenteers

One of the brilliant things about the allotment is the way it brings people together. Unlike in some places (and probably some in our city) people of all backgrounds are drawn to each other to talk, to share and to help. There is a real sense of community when you venture onto the allotment site.

When I walk through that gate, Peter or Mo will usually be at the site office an give me a wave, or offer a weather forecast. As I venture down the track to our plot, I’ll get a nod or a hello from one or other of the plot holders. Some people I just know to say hello to; but others, like my direct allotment neighbours are friends. When I was at my lowest and the allotment was the only place other than the house I could feel safe, talking to them about the plot and life was of real help. They know more about me than some of my real neighbours. Non-judgemental listening has been their gift to me; listening as I explained how I felt. In returrn I would listen to their problems, would offer my thoughts on this and that. All this quite literally over the garden fence.

The community spirit goes beyond words though. When my strimmer didn’t work recently a guy arranged for someone else to strim the path and areas on the plot perimeter. Just before leaving the plot yesterday my fabulous neighbour, Jean, brought me some rhubarb; “I know the kids don’t like it love, but you can treat yourself”. She knows me too well. I don’t treat myself enough, and as the kids really don’t like rhubarb I don’t bother with it too much. But I really like it. So this morning I had roasted rhubarb on my porridge, and loved it. Thank you Jean.

New Life, New Focus, New Balance

The last few years have been a rollercoaster for myself and the family. We’ve had a lot to deal with and have had some hard things to deal with. Without each other, our families and friends, I’m not sure we’d have kept it together. Throughout most of this time the allotment has been a place of escape, a place where the usual concerns in my life evaporated, and where gradually some brightness and confidence have emerged from the quagmire that is depression. fennel hopeThe blog was always a way of sharing these steps into a changed life. A log of the recipes (both literal and metaphorical) which have helped me on my journey. It still continues to be that, and writing things down offers me a therapeutic outlet. However, as the fog of depression and anxiety begins to thin, and the new life as a community baker emerges out of the gloom, the allotment has taken a back seat. Where once I found solice in getting to the plot and getting my hands filthy as I weeded, sowed and harvested; now the draw is to kneadinf, shaping and baking. Spare time once focussed on planting plans, seed thinning or recipe writing is being spent trialling breads, planning bakes and ordering flour. This change of focus is not unwanted. I like the new challenges; learning new skills is afterall one of the 5 Ways to Wellbeing, and has helped me to build confidence and happiness. It is however all too easy to forget the good the allotment has done me. Afteer all, the ‘me time’ at the allotment has been instrumental in dragging me back.

One of the recipes for change the blog has charted is an improved balance in my life; and it is a new balance I seek now. Something which allows time for myself, family and friends; for home, the bakery and the allotment.

Happier Living at the Plot

The allotment has become a place of calm and happiness for me over the last few years. It’s separation from life at home and work, offers the chance to look at things differently with a new pair of eyes. The people at Action for Happiness have ten keys to happier living and I reckon the allotment fulfills them all in some way. great dream

One of the great things about allotment sites is the way people support each other. Fellow allotment holders talked to me when I was feeling down, and relating to these people helped me to not feel isolated in my depression. From receiving gifts of seedlings from my neighbour, to returning the favour by giving her some spare cucumbers, contact with other members of the community was really helpful in helping me to accept how I was feeling and manage my emotions. Visiting the allotment, with out doing anything other than being there, offers therapy in itself. Just looking, appreciating, taking notice of the minute beauty of the plants growing (whether weeds or crops) allows one to find meaning in life; enables you to dispel thoughts of uselessness and pointlessness. When I had left work and my mood meant my confidence was low, the allotment also gave me direction. I needed to be there to weed, to tend the seedlings, to pick the strawberries; and so I had to go. As my confidence grew I could try new things, unlock my creative side which had been supressed. My reslience was also improved as I saw that a slug attack was not the end of the world; that I could sow more seeds; that the greenhouse could be rebuilt after the storm. Now that I’m more on an even keel, with more of a positive mindset, the allotment still offers me a place to go for peace and solitude. It also gives me a chance for physical work. An afternoon digging and weeding is as good a excercise as any gym. The Allotment Gym if you like. A gym for your body and your mind.

Time To Talk

Today is Time To Talk day, and I although its only a few days since I last posted, I feel compelled to post something about the power of talking about our wellbeing.

Although this blog is about my allotment, my kitchen, and the food we eat, it was born out of a desire to document my mental health and the journey I am on to recover from depression and anxiety. As a teacher I was stressed, over worked and reached burn out; suffering from low mood, anxiety and weight loss. The turning point for me was when I opened up to a colleague, and rather than shying away from it, they listened, gave me a hug and told me to visit my doctor. Just talking was the first step to getting it under control, and talking about my feelings has become something which has consistently helped me; whether to my super supportive wife, to a counsellor, to friends and family, even to people who ask me why I’m now a baker. It’s a hard thing to do sometimes, but in my experience the vast majority of people are supportive and often talk about their own mental health difficulties.TTC_TimeToTalk_FacebookCover_0

Talking about mental health issues, and doing something which helps my wellbeing, has led me to completely change my career. From a teacher in a primary school, to the project lead of a social enterprise, Stoneham Bakehouse, which is using breadmaking to support the community’s wellbeing. One of the projects we have started is a baking for wellbeing project with the local junior school. Based on the NEF’s 5 Ways to Wellbeing, it focusses on using working with dough to facilitate mindfulness and talking about feelings.

So, on Time To Talk Day, I encourage you to talk to friends, family, people at the allotment. Just talk to them. Check in with them. See how they are. Talking can really help.

Time for some Headspace

As the new year starts, people all over the place will be coming up with resolutions. We always look to start the new year afresh, trying to have a new sense of tree

Over the last year my life has changed quite a bit. At this time in 2013 I was floundering; I’d left teaching, after suffering from stress and depression, and I was trying (sometimes pretty unsuccessfully) to get myself feeling better. Many things have helped me on my journey. Without my family’s love and support I’d still be stumbling about; their continuing encouragement helps me to keep on the level, their enthusiasm for the new ventures in my life keeps me focused on making it a success for the whole family.

I’ve blogged previously about finding time to myself, time to think, to just be. The allotment has been a physical location where I can get that headspace, and remains a place to go for calm and a bit of solitude. As my life becomes busier it’s been increasingly trickier to find the time and space for this kind of break. I’ve begun to use an app recommended by a friend, Headspace, which enables me to take a few minutes out of the day to refresh my mind and focus on me. The app itself allows you to have a free 10 day sequence of 10 minute meditations, which you can revisit over and over again if you want. Alternatively, there is a subscription service, which I believe (I’ve yet to sign up, but are seriously considering doing so) takes you on a longer journey, allowing you to find headspace whenever you require it. The company behind this say that the subscription should be thought of as a “gym membership for the mind”; and when you think of it the mind is our most important body part, our mental fitness is key to a healthy life full stop. 

Still, a subscription for something is not for everyone and the ten minute programme has been really helpful to me, allowing me to take time out to concentrate on my breathing, body, and free my mind of clutter. In this season of cold, wet and dark days, being able to find time to have some meditation time without the need to have that locked in to being at the allotment (or any specific place) is of great benefit to me. I always finish my ten minutes with a rested mind, a little less cluttered, and with headspace for the challenges ahead.

The Power of the List

Sometimes everything becomes too much doesn’t it? Your mind races, you don’t know what to do when, it overwhelms you and you can’t achieve anything. It happens less these days, but there are still moments when I’m overcome by the things which I should do. However, I’ve learnt that a list can be a friend; writing things down can really help clear the clutter in your mind.

Just putting things to paper is often all that is needed to slow the swirl of thoughts and enable me to have clarity in my thoughts. A list also serves an other purpose. It enables you to celebrate small successes; to be mindful of the little things that you achieve. Ticking off a task, however small, is an uplifting act; putting a smile on your face as you know you’ve succeeded in something. When you’re feeling down, just being able to tell yourself you can achieve is a huge boost. Even if its the washing up!

As my understanding of the power of lists has developed I’ve realised there’s a knack to a good list. You need to separate out tasks into little bits. So instead of bake bread; have separate items for mix, prove, bake, deliver. Each small step completed fosters confidence in yourself and encourages completion of more tasks. Another trick I’ve developed is the addition of items on the list which I know, however bad I may be feeling, I will complete. So, have breakfast appears often on a daily list; and I’ve even been known to write down something which I’ve already done, in order to ensure a tick straight away. Ticks, as I mentioned before, breed confidence and help to get things done.

As a cook and a gardener, lists are also brilliant. We manage our food budget best when we make a shopping list; using what needs to be used up and buying new ingredients to supplement those in the fridge, cupboard and on the allotment. On the plot, with so much to do, the list of jobs on the blackboard in the shed is what keeps things going and helps to ensure that important, but boring jobs, get done when they are needed.

I can’t extol the virtues of the list without touching on the fact that a list has got a dark side; a way of making you feel worse. It’s all well and good ticking off items on a list when you have done them, but what if you don’t complete them? The feeling of having a list; then ending the day with the same list (nothing checked off), or worse still more things on the list, is not necessarily a positive one. It can make you feel down and a failure, but I’ve found the way to cope with this is to make sure the items which go on the list are very specific and achievable. The big, ‘life-changing’, to-dos go on a master list, and get checked off occasionally. The day to day tasks get a list each day; and yes, I do put the occasional task onto the list I have already completed. It’s all about gaining confidence and getting the ticks on the page!

Time Together and Time Alone

I’ve blogged previously about the fact that one of the things I learnt over the last year or so, is that I need to have some time to myself; a chance to unwind and have time for mindfulness. One thing I’ve come to realise recently though is that I also need time with my family, with my friends, even just chatting to neighbours. Being able to share experiences and thoughts is really important.

Last weekend we had a real family weekend. Not an exciting one particularly, but one where we were able to have time together, and also time alone. We went shopping, we went to the pub, we baked together, we also spent Sunday morning at the allotment. Perhaps the key thing was the fact that the times we spent together were interspersed with time doing our own thing. At the allotment the kids entertained themselves with chatting on the shed roof, climbing apple trees and throwing dried peas around the place. Meanwhile my wife and I could get on with a few of the plethora of tasks that are needed at the moment. That said, the children did help us, they collected nasturtium seeds with us, helped clear some of the weeds; we had fun together.

This pattern of time together, time alone, seems to be the route to success. The periods of time when we’re all doing our own thing, make the times as a family all the better. To paraphrase the Scottish independence No campaign; Better Together, but a bit of time to yourself makes it even better.

A Year Is A Long Time


The  eagle-eyed amongst you may have noticed that at the start of this month, this blog was a year old. Amazingly, I have been writing down my musings on life, the allotment and our kitchen for a full twelve month period. What’s more people seem to be interested in what I write. It has been a truly humbling experience to read the comments that many of you have left.

I started the blog as a way of documenting aspects of my life as I made a big change in my life. A year ago I was preparing for the beginning of the school term knowing that it was the first time in 15 years that I would not be greeting a new class and getting to grips with 30 new names. Instead I was preparing for the start of my children’s school year and the school run every morning and afternoon. During the period I had had off work sick, the allotment and my kitchen had provided me with some solace and I hoped that sharing some of this with the world may help me in my recovery from depression and anxiety. A year on I am undoubtedly in a better place. I still have low days (weeks occasionally) and can be easily irritated by the most simple of things; but the crippling anxious fear and overwhelming sadness I faced last year has subsided. To some extent this is due in part to the blog and the fact that I made the decision to be open about how I was feeling. Its meant I have accepted how I felt, and many people have commented about similar feelings, as well as offering support.

Having time-out from working, and perhaps most significantly, time-in with the family, has enabled me to re-evaluate what I want from life. I realised that I need to spend time on my own more, I need to socialise more, I need to be creative, I need to cook…..the list goes on. Over the year I’ve had the chance to work out what I want to do, and how it may allow me to have a happier life. So, this September I’m starting another chapter of my life. Over the next few weeks and months I’ll be launching into the world of work again. This time, not as a teacher, but as a baker. Baking bread has been  real therapy for me; the slow, physical, process of baking real bread is a really mindful act and I want to share that with others.  I’m going to start baking; initially on my own, but with the idea of establishing a Community Bakery project, where people can come together and bake for the local community.

Its a bit of a change, but one that excites me, and (if you knew how I felt a year or so ago) being excited about something is a big step.