Tag Archives: learning difficulties

Just a Year Ago

The rain photo in the header was taken exactly a year ago, on 3rd April 2019 as I tried to pull away from the kerb after visiting a local shop. That is currently shut. I can’t say that I’ve been pleased at the way my life has developed, and wasn’t exactly on a high when I took that photo, but I can’t say things have improved over the last year.

On the other hand, it’s not raining today.

The flower photos are all from the Mencap Garden in Wilford. The garden is currently shut, and so is Mencap. The clients are all well, and getting bored being at home. I can tell that from the number of calls Julia gets from people complaining they are bored. They can’t all understand why they are being kept at home, and one actually thinks it’s because of a fault at the garden. He is unable to grasp the concept that the country, possibly the world, has closed down. To be honest, so do I.


Unfortunately they don’t all have a good grasp of time or the social niceties of telephone calls, tending to ring when they think about it, regardless of it being 7 am or midnight.

One of the saddest sights I’ve seen in recent weeks was a young man crying in TESCO. He was in his 20s, had learning difficulties and was accompanied by a career (or possibly his mother – I only saw them for a moment). He couldn’t understand where all the food had gone and why he couldn’t buy the things he wanted.

Just over two percent of the UK population have learning difficulties. The world is a frightening place for many of them at the best of times, but I’d hate to think what it is like for them at the moment.

Some, who have family support (and money) will be fine. Others, lacking family and financial stability, will not be doing so well.

I’m going to post some flower pictures from 4th April last year and then I’m going to count my blessings.

The third day

With nine visitors with learning difficulties and our normal Wednesday six, we had a lively day as everyone decided there were no strangers, just friends they hadn’t met.

Today’s pizza count was only 14, but I had to prepare all the dough myself, ready for topping (it’s a long story featuring a glitch in timing).  Actually I made dough for 18, but we only used enough for 12, and took my two emergency gluten-free bases out of the freezer.  I used the extra dough, with a selection of olives and fresh-picked rosemary to make a loaf. It’s quite good, though the flour is just cheap flour, rather than strong white.  I didn’t take a picture, just made a cheese sandwich. It was good.

My arthritis is now playing up, as kneading the dough for 18 pizzas is not quite what the doctor ordered. Strange how when you’re young and healthy you don’t look at a pile of pizza dough as a challenge. How things change.

The keets are looking perky, and several of them are exhibiting a tendency to have a go at flying. The grey one is actually developing a taste for showbiz by the look of things and Julia says it’s almost impossible to put your hand in the pen without it throwing itself at you for selection.

The woodpecker came back to the feeder, the sun shone, a mistle thrush did its stormcock act in a tree top and  all in all it was the sort of day that makes it all worthwhile.

Things that went badly – checking up on allergies. Things that went well – emergency gluten-free pizza bases, new friendships, Gemma’s felted teddy bear (made with alpaca wool).




Ups and downs

Sorry, I just seemed to hit one of those patches when I just couldn’t get the blog done. A busy day followed by preparing for a school visit meant we were home for 9.30, heated up the vegetable curry I prepared on Sunday, watched Upstart Crow and went to bed. (Don’t worry, I’m not moving into the modern world and developing a conscience about killing animals, merely saving money.)

I was a bit disappointed in Upstart Crow. Though I may be wasting my life slumped in front of a TV, there are more interesting things to watch and I’m currently undecided whether I’ll watch it again.



The chocolate picture shows the picture of the chocolate I bought Julia at the weekend, working on the basis that chocolate is a well known universal medicine. I don’t really like dark chocolate but I took hit for my beloved. The Orange and Geranium was quite pleasant, with a taste like rosewater Turkish Delight. The one with Dragon Ginger was less successful. I was expecting something a bit on the fiery side, which I think is fair when you consider the image of the dragon. Don’t be fooled, it’s mild. Very mild. In fact you notice the texture rather than the flavour.

I was also disappointed on Tuesday morning when the teacher who visited on Saturday emailed Julia to say that they were going to cancel their booking. It seems that the school has decided it will be too dangerous for one of the kids in the class, who has a number of medical problems.

It’s a tricky ethical question, should a whole class miss out because one child has a problem? I wouldn’t like him to feel left out, but I also feel bad about the rest of the class missing a fun day out.

One thing I’m less equivocal about is the loss of a day’s wages.

However, we were visited by a group of teenagers with special needs later on Tuesday, and they were one of the best groups we’ve ever had, with great manners and good discipline. They threw themselves into all the activities (though the rain did stop a few plans) and after being disappointed by Ben Elton and the thought of lost money I found myself quite upbeat after a day with these kids.

(In fairness I also have to point out that the teachers were excellent too and if I had a Hall of Fame I’d put them in it).

The coloured tiles are salt dough. Apart from the picture of Julia’s demo area (it’s not the result of an explosion in a classroom in case you were concerned) it’s one of the few I got today – they were so keen to eat the pizza that it was all gone before I had a chance to take a picture.

Ah, salt dough!

That’s another story…

I managed to spend Tuesday night without adding the photos to the blog, so it’s now Wednesday morning. I’ve altered the post to reflect this and hope it still makes sense.

Tantrums and Thunderstorms

It’s been an oppressive day all round, both with temperature, humidity and picky bad temper. We’ve had several arguments amongst members of the group and a variety of bad behaviour. Even so, in keeping with the tetchy atmosphere, it wasn’t that which annoyed me most, it was the reckless use of craft supplies to build Minions. It started with a brief to make an entry for the art competition at Flintham Ploughing Match (theme: Nature). Several hours later (which necessitated not doing any gardening) we ended up with a selection of malformed yellow balls.

You can’t fault the effort that’s gone in, but it’s frustrating to think that it’s all wasted because enthusiasm for Minions seems to have blocked out all mention of “Nature”.

Ah well!


The chick is still doing well but yet again the mother seems only able to hatch one chick out of a clutch. It’s a mystery to me what’s happening as you ought to be able to hatch more by accident than the one from 12 she seems to manage. She’s still sitting tight but the absence of another chick after three days isn’t looking good. Truth is that we’re not 100% sure where she gathered all the eggs from so as long as she’s happy we’re going to stay patient.

The farm is harvesting at full pelt, thundering past the centre with trailer loads of grain (always when I didn’t have a camera with me) but fortunately always managing to do it when there is nobody in the way. Theoretically I’ve discharged my Health and Safety duties by reminding farm staff that we have a group in and by reminding the group not to cross the yard without us present. In practice we don’t want a flat client so it’s slightly more stressful than that.

It was a fairly flat butterfly day today until I had a walk round in the middle of the afternoon. I managed to get some poor shots of a Common Blue male. It’s not the biggest of targets and now that cameras only have screens, and those screens are always smeared and subject to glare…

You get the picture.

I’m going to borrow Julia’s Canon tomorrow.


The washing up bowl pond is doing OK, though we keep having to top it up due to the lack of rain. It’s finally got some wildlife in it, though mosquito larvae aren’t really what you want. The water mint is thriving, so that’s another species we have to talk about.

As we walked round the hedge by the allotment we saw what I think was a female Common Blue, which is brown, and then another blue. The latter was by a good growth of ivy, raising hopes that it might be a Holly Blue. I followed, but lost it and got stuck in a patch of thistles whilst a family of wrens tittered at me and a chaffinch looked on in disbelief.

As we got back to the centre my phone rang for the second time of the day (which is unusual, as nobody talks to me unless they really have to). It was the person who had asked me to do the permaculture talk. I’m not needed. I was a little relieved as after agreeing to do it I’d realised that was the weekend we were going to see my cousin in Norfolk. On the other hand my cousin is a doctor and she’s expecting me to have lost weight…

Unfortunately we have a forecast of thunderstorms late tomorrow, which is going to put a stop to combining. Looking on the bright side we may still get some butterfly watching in again.

Games, bamboo and beans

It’s not often we welcome a sports personality to the group but we did today, after his trip to the Disabled Games at Scunthorpe. So it’s congratulations for a job well done (including archery and curling) and a big thank you to the Rotary Club for putting on  the games.

Despite predictions of cloud and rain over the weekend we pretty much seem to have had good weather. Too good for the plants in the polytunnel – some of which had laid down and died on heat stress on Sunday. I was in on Saturday so I know all was well then. Current forecast indicates we are in for some cooler days but they haven’t exactly covered themselves with accuracy for the last ten days so I don’t know what to believe.

I’ve been ordering a few new seeds as I crave excitement in the garden and don’t think I’ll be getting that from phlox, onions and feverfew. So it’s hello to Giant Bamboo and Bananas. The Giant Bamboo is suposed to grow a foot a day when it gets into its stride so I’m looking forward to that. It’s going to make an interesting photo diary at the very least, and next year’s bean frames are going to be pretty spectacular if it gets anywhere near its predicted 100 foot tall.

Final picture is of our new, slightly out of kilter, X-shaped bean frame. The theory is that the beans will hang down and be easier to pick from an X than from an inverted V. I’ve seen a more sophisticated version of this in a book – I think by Alan Titchmarsh – which was a timber frame supporting a proper V shape. If the X works I may look at going the whole hog next year.


More news on the beans is that the roots we saved from last year are starting to form shoots. Normally gardening books tell you to cut the top part off and leave the roots in to the soil so that all the nitrogen they have fixed from the air will go back to the soil. A couple of years ago  Julia read an article saying that runner beans were perennials and you could store the roots like dahlia tubers. We did it and they seemed OK. Opinions on the net seem a little mixed but we’ll give them another year and see what happens.


Jobs for the Day

1) Check electricity meter readings

2) Feed Polish chickens

3) Make beadwork Christmas wreaths for keyrings

4) Make mince pies for visitors tomorrow

5) Answer interminable boring emails

6) Make lots of cups of tea (important job!)

7) Clean bird feeders and set up new seed feeder

8) Communal reading of Farmers’ Weekly

9) Set up skittle alley in barn

10) Referee cut throat game of Noughts and Crosses

11) Plan menus for meals on Wednesday and Thursday

12) Arrange for pick up of chicken that Johno is donating to one of the group

And that’s just for starters – there’s always plenty more to do. My next job, however, is making sandwiches for lunch…


We’ve always done a bit of bird watching on the farm, partly because we have birds to watch and partly because it allows me to sit and relax. It also teaches a number of important skills such as concentration, being quiet and sitting still. When you have learning difficulties you can be given to twitchiness and talking continually so it’s useful to have an activity which rewards efforts to control the condition.

One of the things we’have been watching recently has been a kestrel hovering over the field where the new woodland has been planted. I say “new woodland” but at the moment it’s sticks and tussocky grass, which is good hunting ground for kestrels. Sometimes the bird hovers in the area around the recently erected Neighbours statue and once or twice people have told me they saw it perching on the head.

I have been trying to get a shot of it but I’ve never had my camera with me at the right time and I’ve never actually seen it perching on the head. It all changed today when I managed to spot it perching while I had my camera in my hand.


Tim found some pellets in the hood of the male figure when he was putting the Christmas lights on the statues so it looks like we’ve inadvertently erected a kestrel habitat.

Christmas gathers momentum

When the Christmas jumpers start you know that the big day can’t be far off.

Today we’ve done more decorations and we’ve been working for Shipshape Arts, a company describing themselves as an “artistic creation company”. They are based in a barn on the farm and do quite a bit for us – including helping us with the Education tent at Flintham Show and making the quoits we will using for the Christmas hoopla. In return we try to help them a bit, though “help” may be be putting it a bit strongly.

Today they gave people hats. You can see them being worn in the main picture. Of course, not everyone got a hat. For some reason I didn’t, despite the fact that my poor bald head needs some warmth. Just saying…

This is one of the statues that they put up for us recently – looked at from this angle it’s a bit more noticeable than it is when you stand on the back of the Ecocentre looking across the field. The stone that looks like it’s on the right comemorates the air crash in 1944 – it’s actually on the left but there’s a curve in the road.


This is one of “The Sweepers” that were originally shown at the Southbank Centre Festival of Neighbourhood. We also have “The Neighbours”, who were also at the Olympic Park before coming up here. Did you know there was a market in second-hand statues? I didn’t. It was quite a performance putting them up, with low-loaders, forklifts, power tools and lots of helpers.

This is “The Neighbours” taken from a deceptive angle, inreality they are several hundred yards from the kitchen.


We’re decorating the Christmas tree now. It’s a bit early for me (though I’m not the biggest fan of Christmas, to be fair) but it’s turkey tasting time this weekend and we are aiming for a Christmas Dinner feel to the centre.

Finally – I nearly got a picture of a bird feeding at the table. We’ve had great tits, blue tits, pigeons, chaffinches, robins, house sparrows, greenfinches, starlings and wood pigeons so far. It could be better but we’re hoping it will build up as time goes on. Meanwhile they are all quick to take flight and added to a cheap camera and poor light levels I haven’t much to show for my photographic efforts. Looks like I’m going to have to borrow my wife’s camera or wait until the butterflies come back in summer.


At least you can tell it’s a robin, most of the others have been unidentifiable blurs.

Parakeets and the Pareto Principle

Before you ask, this isn’t a new scientific concept – the two things are linked only in my head. Sorry if you are a mathematical ornithologist, but this isn’t the exciting breakthrough you were hoping for.

Tuesday morning dawned in a foggy fashion and we headed off through heavy morning traffic to a retail park on the other side of town with Hobbycraft as our target. Half an hour later, and £40 lighter, we were back in the car.

Now that Halloween is over our next big thing is Christmas. We will make Christmas cards two weeks before Christmas and have Christmas dinner the week before. A range of design and build skills will be on show, ranging from excellent to dreadful and there will be endless rows about who gets the best stuff to work with, and that’s just the volunteers. The members of the group behave slightly better, though two of them do base their design work on the Pareto Principle –  trying to stick 80% of the decorations to their 20% of the cards. We’re working out a method of rationing for this year.

It will be a lesson in cooperation, and maybe even an exercise in maths if we organise it properly.

On a different subject we had a phone call while we were on the way here – we have someone else interested in joining the regular group. He’s coming tomorrow to see how he gets on with the rest of the group and if he likes us. I’m hoping he will as he adds a new dimension to the group, having developed dementia as an adult rather than being born with learning difficulties. He has a practical background so I’m hoping we will be able to get the nest box plan going again.

Finally, when we arrived the parakeet was in one of the trees behind the kitchen. It’s the third time we’ve seen it perching there and the fourth time we’ve seen it in total. We couldn’t get a photograph and couldn’t pick up the colour because the sun was behind it but it did look and sound very much like the ring-necked parakeets we saw when one of the kids was playing rugby in Middlesex. It was a surreal day to say the least – parakeets flying over, aircraft landing at Heathrow and the after-match meal cooked on barbecues under the trees at the edge of the field. I imagine that ours is an escapee rather than a visitor from down south. I hope so because they are they are a nuisance when you get too many of them, as Esher Rugby Club found out.

I’ve been thinking of what to write as a first post about Green Care for several months now, Finally I’ve come to the conclusion that no matter what I do it isn’t going to be as good as I want it to be, but at least I managed a key word in the first sentence, which is what I’m supposed to do.

That may be the last time I do anything because I’m supposed to do it. In a life characterised by drifting it might be asking too much of a blog if I expect it to correct my character flaws as well as publicise Quercus Community.

It’s also slightly misleading because I probably won’t be writing much about Green Care, just about a series of events that occur as I drift through life supposedly assisting my wife. She’s the one who set the Quercus project up with a friend and she’s the one with the sense of purpose and the crusading spirit. Today, for instance, I have been baking quiche (using ready-made pastry cases), looking at the World Porridge Day website, thinking about writing press releases and sorting out paperwork. Pleasant as they may be, I can’t see porridge or quiche changing the world. Nor can I see much paperwork being done.

Meanwhile my wife and her co-director have been outside in the cold and rain with our usual Wednesday group engaging in horticultural therapy and using the Green Gym. In everyday English that’s “gardening”.

Anyway, I’ll leave you with a picture. It’s our guinea fowl doing what guinea fowl do best – loafing about in a big group, Just like teenagers with feathers. They’ve had a busy day so far, looking for bugs, taunting the sick turkeys in the hospital pen and dodging showers. In this picture they are sheltering under a table. Every other bird in the county is in a hedge, but ours are sheltering under a picnic table.


However, they do eat a lot of pests and according to most websites they don’t damage plants. My experience is that they did shred a courgette by roosting on it as it grew at the top of a tyre stack. And they probably did pull a neighbour’s onion sets up. They were certainly in the area, though it could have been anyone. But as I say, they do eat a lot of pests, and they do deposit a fair amount of manure so I can live with that.

Or as Bill Mollison the permaculture man put it:

You don’t have a snail problem, you have a duck deficiency!