Daisy Fritters

There’s a woman who I spend a lot of time with in the woods who is pretty much an expert at everything. In any case, she’s better than me at most stuff, (ergo, in my mind she’s an expert) so generally if she says something is true, I believe it.

Once upon a time we were picking leaves and ‘frittering them up’ and she pointed out that you could pretty much fritter anything and kids would eat it. So, if she says this is true, then it is.

Which makes frittering daisies a perfectly respectable way to spend a Sunday evening. You’ve got all of the vital bases covered – daisies are easy to identify so no worries about eating something poisonous, daisies love being picked because when you pick them they grow back two-fold, and it’s super-fun to tell your kids that your’re going to take them home and eat them!

I’ve heard from a fairly reliable source that there are not yet daisies in Michigan, so if you’re in Michigan you might need to come back to this in a couple of weeks – but ooooh, is it really still winter in some places?!? If you’re anywhere where spring has sprung you’ll be seeing daisies cropping up all over town.

The little oxeye daisies that we’ve been picking here are super lovely: they’re little bright stars of whiteness against cut green grass during the day and then in the evenings they close up and raise their purple haunches to keep them protected from the cold night air.

Right about now you’ll be wanting a recipe I suspect, and the good news is that you’re going to get two! Because deep fat frying stuff makes it delicious regardless of the batter recipe, you’ll be able to make these no matter how low you are on provisions. (Although I do appreciate that getting a hold of flour has been difficult for some people – so obviously if the only flour you’ve got is kamut flour then use that and let me know if it worked).

If you’ve got all the stuff then mix a cup of flour (self raising would be better but whatever will work), 1 egg, 3/4 cup of milk, 2 Tbsp of sugar and a pinch of salt into a bowl and stir it till you’ve got a slightly runny batter.

If you don’t have any of that, just use a cup of flour, 2 Tbsp sugar, a pinch of salt and a cup of water. (If you don’t have any of these ingredients, then you must be pretty miserable, send me a message, I’ll post you a treat!)

So, get yourself a nice hot pan of oil (don’t ask me what kind – just whatever you have) – drop a little drip of batter in, if it sinks it’s not hot enough, if it floats, you’re good to go. Then all you do is dip your daisies into the batter, they’ll close right up with the weight of the batter, and then drop them in the oil. They’ll brown pretty quickly so get a towel ready to set them on and then start scooping them out with a slotted spoon.

It’s worth pointing out that we have frittered leaves, grass, flowers and everything else edible that we can find and the kids will eat it all. Because it’s deep fried sugary batter.

This is not a health food recipe!!! It’s just something to do because it’s fun. And I’m guessing you could all do with a bit of fun right now. So go pick some daisies and get frittering.

(Also, yes, I know this isn’t a great photo. But it’s what you get. Just go make some fritters – you’ll be glad you did.)

Hey you with your $14 million boat

I’ve recently had a conversation with a person who shall remain nameless, who lives in a country which shall remain nameless. This guy is going to work every day, facing potentially-infected customers who he can’t turn away because no customers means no money and no money means no work. And he is doing his level best to make sure that his staff don’t lose their jobs.

Because you know what happens in this country, that shall remain nameless, when you lose your job? You lose your healthcare. And do you know what you don’t want to do when the entire globe is living in the grip of a viral pandemic? Lose your healthcare.

So, you know. This guy is going to work every day because he’s scared that if he doesn’t, he’s going to have that on his hands (I’m not going to spell that out for you – because I’m sick of spelling stuff out for people, which is apparently what you do when you’re at home with your children all day long.)

But here’s the kicker. See, this guy works in the heart of the capitalist dream: you work hard, you get what you deserve – the fancy cars, the McMansions, the organic vegetables. So even though an entire nation of people are dedicated to the belief that if you just work hard enough, you’ll get what you deserve, there’s a whole bunch of people who are about to get what they don’t deserve. Unless you think that suffocating their way to an undignified death because they haven’t got access to healthcare is what they deserve.

This is not about to turn into a rant about ‘socialised healthcare’. (Haha. Imagine, ‘socialised education’ or ‘socialised fire departments’, cause, you know, the state providing certain things so that all of their citizens can be healthy and well would be communism run amock…) This is actually a rant about something much more insidious, and far more damaging to people’s well-being and life-chances. Capitalism.

See, this guy that I was talking to works for a privately owned company. A company, despite it’s fairly large size, which is still owned and run by a single family. A family who have passed their company (and wealth) down for a couple of generations. And the guy who currently runs this company has no more qualifications than a) a lifetime of hard work (but please, show me a single parent who works two jobs to make ends meet that doesn’t know what hard work looks like) and b) having been born to the right person at the right time (gosh, wasn’t he clever at that?)

Anyway, I’m talking to this guy and he’s telling me about how he’s going to work because he’s worried his staff will lose their jobs if the boss decides their not making enough money – and if they lose their jobs, they lose their… la di da… you get it. And even though they’re dealing with the public all day and this guy risks bringing home the infection to his beautiful wife and children, he’s got to do it anyway because he can’t look back and know that he was responsible for that.

And he says to me, “well, you can hardly expect “boss-man-jack” (my words, not his) to sell his $14 million yacht to fund healthcare for his employees, can you?”

And you know what? I thought…. yes. Yes you can.

Yes, it is possible to imagine living in a world where there was no such thing as $14 million yachts while there were people living in tents under the motorway. Yes, it is possible to imagine a world where inconspicuous wealth had at least the smallest shred of humility that, when faced with a public health emergency, the safety and lives (ffs!) of his employees (those self-same employees who keep him in $14 million boats) come before his own material possessions.

Surely it is possible to imagine that there is enough humility and decency and love and respect in this world that none of us would sit back and do nothing (except protect our own personal fortunes – but hey – that must be exhausting) in the face of the largest public health crisis the world has ever seen.

I don’t have much, but when my neighbour needed butter, I gave her half of mine. My friend doesn’t have much, but when she heard I wasn’t doing so well, she sent a care package that was mostly gin. My landlord doesn’t have much, but today he told me that he was voluntarily giving me a rent holiday. Because there is love and decency and respect and humility in this world.

And I truly believe that a really big country whose name I will not mention here, could all just stop spouting the capitalist dream. If everyone could just agree that actually, hard work does not equal success and people who are born rich aren’t any better than the rest of us. If they’d stop excusing people who try to hang onto their own personal fortunes, even while the world burns around them. If every single person stopped shrugging their shoulders and saying ‘eh, that’s just how people are.’ Then maybe people would stop being like that.

What if a world where sharing the last of your butter, buying gin even when you can’t afford it or forgoing rent even though you’ve got a mortgage of your own was the world that everyone lived in? What if instead of shrugging our shoulders, we all expected a whole hell of a lot more from other people?

What if instead of $14 million boats, we had people who didn’t have to go to work (even though they have a persistent cough and fever) because they’d lose their healthcare if they didn’t?

So, if you happen to find yourself in possession of a $14 million boat, imagine you’re out, floating on the Med and sunning yourself with a martini, and ask whether you are really worth that much more. Are you really worth that much more than that single mum with more bills than time? Are you really worth that much more than a guy whose daughter’s died and he can hardly function? Are you really worth that much more than that immigrant who walked 500 miles across the desert to escape the genocidal maniacs pursuing his people, just to find himself a foreigner in a strange land, struggling and poor and 5000 miles from home? Are you really worth that $14 million boat, just because of the accident of your birth?

How to screw the self-employed & make them thank you for it.

I’ve been doing some ‘back of the envelope’ calculations today. In fact, I’ve been doing back of the envelope calculations fairly consistently throughout the days for the past week now — so much so that I’ve actually run out of backs of envelopes and have moved onto using paper from the craft drawer.

Anyway, the government has announced some funding for self-employed people but check this out – they are actually screwing a large percentage of self-employed workers while telling us they’re helping (except the few who will inevitably lose out). Because, you know, if you warn people that a few are going to lose out and they are the ones losing out then they have no choice but to suck it up, in the National Interest.

Self employed people are being offered 80% of an average of our last three years tax returns. Now, with the introduction of Universal Credit, people have been positively pushed towards self-employment over the past three years. Despite the minimum income floor (DON’T get me started), record numbers of people have entered into self-employment in the past three years but their incomes (especially in the early years of nurturing their fledgling enterprises) are, on the whole, very low. (I’m not going to bore you with facts and statistics, but if you’d like to see them for yourself just read this.)

This very low income in the startup period is reflected in the average weekly wage of a self employed person – about £240 – versus an employee – about £400. There’s also all of the women who were on maternity leave during one of those three years who may well have taken an income hit while their partner carried on working but who is now making a success of a new business.

However, as we all know, we live to our means. So, if a person was making £100 a month three years ago, but is now making £1000 a month, you can bet your bottom dollar they’re not living like someone earning £100 a month anymore. But if they are going to be given an average of their three years of earnings, they’re going to get 80% of something like £500. You don’t need to be an economist to work out that’s not going to pay the rent.

Now. This is where it gets fun. So you only get the self-employed grant if the majority of your income comes from self-employment. So a person who earns approximately as much doing some self-employed work as they do from a PAYE job won’t get anything. Well, they’ll get 80% of their PAYE earnings, if their employer furloughs them instead of just cutting their hours.

Pretend this is the back of an envelope: person X earns £150 a week from self-employed work and £151 from their job; they will be entitled to £120 a week; that’s a third of their normal income. You don’t need to be an economist to work out that’s not going to pay the rent.

And if that’s not enough fun for you, try this on for size. The self-employed are going to get a grant sometime in June. (Don’t get me stared on people who live month to month and who can’t wait till June to buy their kids some cheerios…but I digress.) That grant is going to be the equivalent of 3 months of earnings (don’t forget how low that figure will actually be compared to their most recent monthly earnings). But because all of the self-employed have been told to get themselves onto Universal Credit (don’t worry, there’s no MIF!) they are going to have to report that grant as income. And guess what that means? It means they won’t get any Universal Credit the next month.

Oh. And self-employed people have expenses. Expenses that are not on hold just because they’re not earning any money. I have been told by the people from whom I rent my forest that I am not allowed to work there right now. But I’m also not getting a refund on the rent that I’m paying them. But I also don’t qualify for the Rate Relief Grant because they pay the rates, not me. So they get the rate relief grant of £10000, they get my rent and I keep paying even though the money that I bring in that goes to pay my expenses is not being considered part of my income. Did that make sense?

There’s also the mega-issue that a lot of self-employed people aren’t really self-employed, they’re paid through PAYE as directors of their own limited company, taking dividends rather than a bigger salary. They won’t be able to access this grant even though they file self-assessment – and they won’t be able to get the PAYE emergency funding because, as sole directors, they can’t furlough themselves. So they will get nothing. (The majority of businesses of the 4 million registered with Companies House are owner-managed companies with one director)

You don’t need to be an economist to work out that’s not going to pay the rent.

I know it’s probably not showing solidarity or failing to express national pride or togetherness or a wartime spirit or whatever. Whatever. But I truly cannot help but think that Boris and his Tory cronies are rubbing their hands with glee at the clever little trick they’ve managed to pull. They know the average income for the vast majority of self-employed people (95% they said yesterday) hovers right around a subsistence income. DON’T BLOODY TELL ME THOSE FIGURES ARE HARD TO FIND.

They know that there has been a huge growth in self-employment over the past few years – mainly because austerity has pushed so many people into it when no other options are available. Oh, and because the job centre is forcing everyone to work no matter how low the pay.

They know that they just last week told everyone to get onto Universal Credit. And they know that when they give us all this Great Big Lump Sum Grant-thingymawhatsit, none of us will get a UC payment that month – which means they won’t be spending anything extra at all. And if those payments continue into subsequent months then they will give it with one hand and take 63p on the pound back with the other. Tbh, the one thing that will impress me is whether they’ll be able to continue rubbing their hands in glee whilst those hands are doing so much giving and taking.

And, just like every pompous narcissist has ever done, they’re all sitting around patting themselves on the back for coming up with this clever plan that makes it look like they’re helping (because, you know, poor people are thick) when in actual fact they are doing no such thing.

The power of silence

Let me start by saying this is neither a blog about education nor anything more than vaguely about forest school. So flick on by if you don’t want to hear me waxing lyrical on entirely unrelated subjects.

Back before I had my boys, I was a Quaker for a few years. Arguably, once you’re a Quaker you’re always a Quaker in spirit, even if you don’t go to meetings, but whatever. I was a very devout Quaker – if such a word should be used – attending meetings religiously (see what I did there?) – reading Quaker writings in my free time – attending Quaker book group every week.

For those of you who don’t know, the Quakers are a religious body but only in the loosest sense of the word. There is no scripture, no pre-defined set of beliefs, no ritual or ceremony. Quakers tend to define themselves by a commitment to testimonies of integrity, equality, simplicity, community, stewardship of the Earth, and peace, but not even these things are set in stone.

The format of a Quaker meeting is simple: you sit in a room together for awhile. Some people close their eyes, some keep them open. Some people bow their heads, others look out the window. Occasionally someone says something that they feel moved to say, but there’s no obligation for anyone to speak. When someone does speak, a respectful distance of silence is observed before anyone says anything further. There are no rules about what is a respectful distance. There is no defined end, yet we’re not all still there so somehow they end anyhow. Then there’s announcements and a bit of cake.

The Quakers don’t have a set of texts that you adhere to, there is no Bible or Quo-ran, what you learn about being a Quaker you learn through your own explorations of your self, and the spirit of community that is passed from person to person simply by sharing the same silent space every week. The Quakers understand the power of silence – but it is a silence that finds its voice in community.

I guess part of the reason that I don’t go to Quaker meetings anymore is because I go to the woods every Wednesday. There I sit, with strangers or with friends, sometimes we talk endlessly, sometimes we sit silently. Without explanation people move around to tend to children, climb a tree or find a bit of personal space. There is no expectation that anyone will say anything. There is no expectation that any great truths will be revealed.

The woods is my church. We are together. And that is enough.

And now we are apart. And though we have our social media, our phones and our messaging, we do not have the ability to sit in companionable silence. That power that the Quakers discovered, the power of being still and together with no expectations other than the establishment and nurturing of community, turns out to be a life-force.

I can feel the energy in my body slowly dripping away (not my physical energy – come on!), the energy that makes thinking and hoping and planning possible. The energy that inspires us to be new things and imagine new futures. I am here, and I am writing because it’s a type of catharsis, but it is hard to find the right words. The sentences don’t flow, the backspace key is being worn out.

I keep reminding myself that I am not alone. There are millions of people feeling the same way right this very second. Billions, even. But there’s alone, and then there’s alone.

I always hated that Orson Welles quote about being born alone and dying alone. But although I didn’t like it, there were many times when I wondered whether he might be right. Today, right now, I’m sure he’s wrong. Because this, right now, is alone, and this is not how humans are meant to live. We need our companionable silences, our laughter and hugs. We need to argue and make up, to slam doors and help carry groceries. We need the full range of human interactions.

Today I am looking to find the strength in this silence. Today I am learning the true power of together. Today I will draw on all that I know and have felt and have done and remember that I am not alone – that none of us is alone – even when we’re completely alone.

The time when nothing happens

It doesn’t seem to matter how long they’ve been coming to the woods, when children first arrive there is always a space of time where nothing happens. They sit, they wait, they hang on their parents’ shoulders. I worry that I’m not providing enough.

The temptation at this point, is to start making suggestions, ‘why don’t you guys play tag?’, ‘would anyone like me to get some tools out?’, ‘you could help me collect some firewood’. But invariably my suggestions are met with shrugs, blank stares or outright refusals.

It’s like that uncomfortable lull in a conversation with someone you don’t know so well. You can’t stand to just stare at one another but you don’t want to come across as a gibbering idiot in an attempt to fill the awkward silence either.

But something always happens. (Because otherwise we’d all be sat staring at each other, trapped in an endless cycle of not knowing whether we should be looking at someone’s nose or eyes or hands while we’re waiting for inspiration to strike.)

With the children in the woods, there is no identifiable moment when they’re struck upon the head with inspiration. It isn’t even entirely obvious, as they are all slipping away, where they’ve gone or with whom. And what are they doing? That’s anyone’s guess.

If you leave them long enough, don’t break the spell, and don’t try to work out whether they’re learning anything, they will invariable come back with Big Plans: tickets for a show; something delicious for you to eat; or a request to get a rope really high up a tree (usually best not to ask why).

I give them the space and the time – even when that time seems endless and I’m worried I should be doing more to support them or engage them or to facilitate their learning. They just go right ahead and get on with it – I’m mostly there to apply plasters.

And now here I am, here you are, here we all are – with nothing but time. Some, but not most, of us have no demands on our shoulders other than those we create for ourselves. And to be honest, I feel exactly like those kids do at the beginning of every forest school. Waiting for something to happen. Waiting for inspiration to strike. Wishing I could just rest my head on my mum’s shoulder while she produced packets of crisps for me to snack on.

I feel really lucky to have seen this same process enacted hundreds of times. Because even though I know that the kids always find something awesome to do, the moments before still fill me with anxiety that the children won’t get anything out of being in the woods. But they always do. I know they always do.

Which means that I know that I will. And I know that you will too. Right now we’re all those kids right now – isolated in a great big wilderness, no one expecting anything from us, not knowing how the day is going to pan out, disappointed that none of our friends are around. We are all going to have some Great Ideas.

Maybe they will be small great ideas, enacted on a small scale with not many others even knowing they’re being done. And maybe they will be world changing Big Great Ideas. Everybody’s idea of a good time is different.

Take heart out there – each of us on our own island – and take the advice of someone who’s seen it hundreds of times before. The seemingly endless expanse of nothing always gets filled with something.