I heart humdrum

The Edinburgh adventure is over.  I am back at home.  I am back at the office (craving cake).   And it’s really good.

So this week’s blog is an ode to the humdrum of home, and I have collected some photos of my favourite humdrum corners.

Here is husband playing guitar outside our block. Admittedly not a daily occurrence, but one which is quintessentially home-flavoured.

And here is a building I pass every day on my walk to the station, and I’ve always liked it.  I salute you with my wonky photo, green and brick housing block!

This was my desk yesterday on my return to work.  Typically chaotic.

…but look how many things are already crossed off!

And then of course there is nature.  I left my fruit and veg planter in my husband’s hands during my absence, and here is the state of our tomato plant now.  Miraculously still producing tomatoes despite being brown and shrivelled.  Apparently he had no idea I meant watering it *every day*.

It’s really good to feel like you belong somewhere.

I’m reading a beautiful poem of a book at the moment, a gift from a friend, called One Thousand Gifts.  The title refers to the author’s journey (struggle maybe, but only at first) to list a thousand blessings she has received from God.  Things to make her more grateful.

117. Washing the warm eggs

118. Crackle in fireplace

119. Still warm cookies

783. Forgiveness of a sister

882. Toothless smiles

891. Earthy aroma of the woods

I don’t have a list, but I feel very grateful at the moment, and I’m trying to stay that way.  Grateful for late summer sun, for family, for space, for expected babies (not mine!), for my local park (oops, that’s the start of list).

What do you love most about your home?


When it’s easy to love South London

How I love South London when the sun shines and neighbours do stuff together.

This Sunday I helped plant a community herb garden on an estate near London Bridge.

We have this thing at our church that means we don’t always just meet in a big hall on a Sunday morning to sing songs.  Once or twice a month we meet in local neighbourhoods in smaller communities and look for practical ways of expressing love towards the people who live around us.  And this Sunday our friends Martin and Naomi and their two gorgeous daughters decided to get us replanting their housing estate’s fledgling herb garden along with their neighbours.

The kids were very enthusiastic, especially when it came to making a mud pie....

I know very little about gardening, but I can operate a spade, and this is mainly what I did.  We set out – Martin & Naomi’s family, Andy and I, and our Turkish friend Baci – and over the course of the next hour several of the neighbours rocked up to help.  There was 4 year old Aldous (very enthusiastic with the watering can) who announced the gardening was “more fun than the wii, and not the wee that comes out of your willy”.

Within about an hour and a half we’d taken the plants out, thrown away the ones we weren’t keeping, tilled and aired the soil, replanted old and new herbs, covered the ground with stones (apparently this is important) and made labels out of lolly sticks so we knew what everything was.  Then we even found some chipboard to make a sign from, so the neighbours know they can help themselves.

A dance of joy over the completed herb garden...

And the sun shone the whole time! And afterwards we had homemade scones and jam!

This is when it’s easy to love South London. We’re already plotting some more rogue gardening, and I’ve spotted some brilliant free gardening lessons at my local garden farm.  Genius!


Footnote: It’s less easy to love South London when your neighbours get burgled, which also happened this week.


Loving Green Pastures

On this strange day of extreme weather – bright sunshine/hailstones alternating, at least in Woking – I have met some brilliant people with an extreme response to homelessness.

Pastor Pete

Pastor Pete (a dead ringer for Santa) says his family had always taken in people who were in dire straits throughout his many years as a pastor (he says this as if it’s normal and everyone does it).  So when he moved to Southport, aged 57, it was no surprise that he was moved to practical action when confronted by the rough sleepers living under the pier and on the golf course.  He and his wife converted their garage into a small flat where 3 people could sleep.  They bought a caravan to house another four, and invited their new friends to take over their spare rooms.  They overflowed onto the church floor.  It was messy but it seemed to be working.

But the environmental officer from the local council was less than impressed with their health and safety standards and said it had to stop.

So then their friendly local council Chief Exec invited them in to talk about bidding for some European funding for regeneration which would benefit those who were homeless.  Pastor Pete and his crew helped them out and the council won £9m, £900,000 of which was earmarked for homeless services.  But somehow none of the money ended up benefiting the ‘roofless’ contingent – the ones most in need of help.

Pastor Pete was discouraged and was blunt with God.  Then one morning soon after, he and some friends were meeting for their daily prayer and Bible study, and read the story of the Good Samaritan.  Pastor Pete was struck for the first time by the fact that the Samaritan took complete responsibility for someone he barely knew.  He felt that God was saying to him “I never asked you to go and beg from the government. I’m asking you to take responsibility.”

Pastor Pete had saved £6000 for a small pension.  Another lady from the church mortgaged her house to release £24,000, and Pete’s son committed £100 a month from his wages.  With that they bought a flat for some of the rough sleepers.  And that was where it all started.

Today they own properties across Southport and around the UK, working with 29 partners and housing over 400 people. Long-term “rooflessness” no longer exists in Southport. They worked exclusively in Southport for five years and then someone from The Times wrote an article about them called ‘God’s Estate Agent’.  From then on calls flooded in, as churches and charities wanted to meet them and find out more.  Shortly after that, a prison chaplain from Stoke with a passion for helping support ex-offenders when they got out of jail asked Pete and his team if they’d buy them a couple of houses.  So they did.

I find it totally overwhelming that these people are so bold, full of faith and generous with the little they have.  How incredible that they just go around buying houses for projects who want to house the homeless (I should say that do it in a responsible way, and give a lot of relational support).  And they’ve accrued some serious nouse.  They have a sound financial model that makes them sustainable and means they’re not dependent on government.  They invite people with money to invest it with them for a 5% return, which helps them raise house deposits.  Then the mortgage is repaid through the housing benefit payments which the tenants or clients receive. (Their website probably explains it better).

I loved meeting Pastor Pete – he was brimming over with amazing stories, and had a string of brilliant quotations from “The Book” which clearly act as landing lights for him in all the challenges of working with people in chaotic circumstances.  Although their name, Green Pastures (from psalm 23), wasn’t his idea. “I hate naming things,” he says.  “When we had a shop we called it ‘shop’.”

If you have some money you’re saving I would heartily recommend investing it with these guys…You can find out more here.

The Crazy Brazilian

While we’re on the subject of Brazilians, I should tell you about Claudio because he is by far the loudest and craziest of them all.   This is a picture of him sitting on our balcony making a wormery out of disused olive tubs we found in the bins at Borough Market.  He likes to improvise.

 Claudio came to stay earlier this year and taught us how to make wicking beds from recycled styrofoam boxes to grow veggies in, and our own small wormery.  He is a radical urban agriculturalist and spends heaps of his time teaching people to make simple equipment to help them live in a way that is more sustainable and connected to the earth.  In the city.

He lives in Curitiba in Brazil and leads a small Christian community there called Casa da Vidiera.  An unusual one. They have chickens.  15 breeds.  And goats. Everyday they collect food waste from their neighbourhood, three to four tons of organic waste a month—the refuse of roughly 150 households—and compost it all in their 0.08 acre backyard, turning it into beautiful soil.

The chickens eat food scraps and worms, rather than soybeans, which is one of Brazil’s most destructive monocrops. 68% of Brazil’s crops, including soybeans, are now genetically-modified, so choosing not to use soy is a small act of resistance against that way of agriculture.

On top of that, they have a community bakery and grow edible mushrooms from used coffee grounds, and they’re starting a new program carbon sequestering using biochar (he insists it’s a simple technology we can all reproduce!).

I love it because instead of just shrugging his shoulders and saying, ‘well, we live in the inner-city, we don’t have much outside space, what can you do?’, he has found ways to live better: to grow stuff (even if you only have a balcony), and deal with waste rather than just throwing everything “out” as if “out” is some place that we have no responsibility for.  (I am haunted by this challenge).

However, when he got back to Brazil from the UK earlier this year, he found out that a new neighbour had reported their community to the police, because keeping livestock in the inner-city isn’t exactly legal….It looked like they might have to stop everything.

So the authorities came to visit.  When they arrived and saw the plants and animals they were amazed.  Claudio explained the science of what they did and how the Food Security department had invited them to give workshops for other urban farmers about rubbish management and urban agriculture. The visitors didn’t know what to say, so they told Claudio to write a letter to the Hygiene department, and they’d put in a good word…

So the community are keeping at it.  They eat together every week (usually their own produce), and collect rubbish, and tend to their animals and plants, which is very different to my daily reality.  My wormery is still going strong though, and there’s some lovely soil developing.  My wicking bed is great, and I even have some tomatoes growing.

*If you’d like to hear Claudio reflect on life, food, gardening and theology a good place to start is with the films here (if he’s not on the front page any more, just search for Claudio). He also has a great recipe for banana peel bread if you’re interested?!*

The woman in the photo

(or A small story of good things growing)

The woman caught on camera in the photo above is our friend Lucia, who is also from Brazil, but she’s been living for years in the same block of flats as us, in South London.  I wanted to put a photo of where we live on the blog header, because I didn’t want to give the sense that ‘the good stuff’ only happens in other places.  Our block of flats is probably the primary place where we’re trying to live out a good story.   I stumbled across this photo on my search, which was taken the day of our block BBQ last summer.  Lucia was in her usual place, out on the balcony, watering the plants.

Since we moved in, Lucia has, almost single-handedly, been responsible for the beautiful jungle of plants all along our balcony.  She never asks if you want flowers outside your flat; they just appear and are nurtured by her daily. (It’s fair to say not everyone loved that).

We spent our first married Christmas with Lucia, and a few other friends.  She came over at lunchtime and in no time at all had demolished our entire collection of biscuits.  She soon launched into Andy’s maltesers, and was too full for Christmas dinner.  But she happily stayed on and watched the rest of us tuck in.

Early this year,  Lucia left our neighbourhood and went into full-time care, because her Alzheimers was getting worse and she couldn’t look after herself anymore.  She’s now down on the south coast near her son.

A lot of the plants died or were cleared away when she left.  But over the spring and summer, something has happened in our block which makes me feel like Lucia has left something of herself behind.  Some of our neighbours have started growing vegetables for the first time (including us, and another couple who had never taken kindly to Lucia’s aggressive horticulture) – quite a feat when all we have is the communal balcony  in the photo.  About four or five new families have moved in and started planting things.  It’s not quite like it was, but it’s getting there.  And people are sharing plants, and tips, and stories of dying herbs (actually it’s mainly just my herbs that are dying – any life left is due only to my next door neighbour Frank who waters them far more regularly than me).

Which is just a small thing, but one that is growing in the right direction.