By James Fitzgerald
The lockdowns across the western world had people scratching their heads and pacing their carpets threadbare — but the enforced seclusion and introspection has also produced a flurry of creativity and artistry as personal values are reassessed and commute times evaporate. The increased transparency over corporate agendas and the questionable ethics of some retail supply chains means that leisure pursuits can be practical ways to disengage and gain more autonomy from the “connected” world of smart tech and draconian social mandates. As someone once said, Rome wasn’t built in a day — although that may be just the imperial behemoth we are trying to escape.
Here we list a handful of pursuits that will stimulate the grey matter and soothe the soul, while offering domestic and social applications.
A Stitch in Time — Leather Goods
While visiting a saddle-maker a couple weeks ago, my ten-year-old daughter got an impromptu masterclass in how to stitch leather. Sean Hall has turned his skillset to good use, and produces belts, bags, bridles and even reupholsters classic car and plane seats. Using a limited set of tools, he can also bring old items back to life. Some of the young people he has trained have gone into business making high-end consumer goods, such as boots, bags, wallets, dog collars, travel wear and shooting accessories. With just a leather punch, needle and thread, my daughter’s horizons were expanded after just twenty minutes at the work bench.
Plastic Fantastic — Herbs, Fruits & Flowers
The Russians have dachas and the English have their allotments, but Americans perhaps have more personal space in which to grow crops on their doorsteps. The American Dream has produced large gardens and basements, which can be repurposed for cultivation of all kinds of fruits and vegetables. Hydroponic techniques mean that the types of plants need not be dictated by the weather outside, and containers, tires and styrofoam can provide the base for soil-free gardening with the aid of real or artificial light.
This is an excellent video on backyard aquaponics farming – fresh fish and vegetables.
An inexpensive way to create a planter box, is with a vinyl gutter. Purchase a 10’ piece of vinyl gutter, and be sure to get the mounting brackets and end caps. You could cut it into 3 sections or 2 lengthier sections, so get the number of end caps you will need based on how many planter boxes you intend to create. Select your favorite color spray paint and paint the entire outside of the gutter and end caps. Now, mount your planter box to an outside wall or fence and drill a few holes in the bottom for drainage. Add a little soil and fill it with herbs, fruits, or flowers.
The Dance of Life — Qi Gong
I once got off a hard sleeper in Tai’an in China at 6 in the morning. Although the main square above the train station was in darkness, men in pyjamas ambled around the woodland (some howling at the moon), while the women congregated on the tarmac in neat rows performing Qi Gong routines. This “energy work” formed a staple of life throughout the country, with the younger generation’s penchant for Kung Fu being substituted in middle age for the more gentle and restorative Qi Gong practice. The agility and serenity of the Chinese amid the throng and bustle of their busy cities is a testament to the benefits of Qi Gong on the body’s bio-electrical systems, and resultant mental and physical health.
Pack a Punch — Canned Vegetables
To behold your harvest of crops is one of the great joys of summer, but you either end up eating copious amounts of the same thing or give them away to neighbors. One other option is to can your fresh produce. Canning is a method of preserving food in which the crops are processed and sealed in an airtight container. Canning provides a shelf life that typically ranges from one to five years, although it can be much longer. Freeze-drying edibles such as lentils can give them a twenty-year shelf life. It’s a routine that can involve the whole family and provides a healthier alternative to shop-bought packaged goods.
If The Bug Bytes — Scripting and Programming Computer Codes
Computers run most of society these days, and are starting to display the biases and distortions of their makers, not unlike the HAL 9000 from “2001: A Space Odyssey.” Quantum computers are evolving so fast that their human creators can no longer keep up with their thought processes. Learning the basics — or more — in languages such as Java or Python will deliver valuable insights into the creation mechanics behind most of the devices in your home and office, and will open a personal portal to practical uses such as website construction, engineering or repairing frozen laptops.
Sowing Other Types of Seeds — Mentoring
I wish I had had better role models as a youngster, and didn’t have to learn so much by trial and error — and more errors, and even more. As a twelve-year-old I picked up a book called “The SAS Survival Handbook” and seized on its author’s words of practical wisdom. Lofty Wiseman was the Regiment’s survival expert and part of the selection team. I would get up at 5am and run 15 miles on an empty stomach, and take cold showers, and started to view the urban landscape as a place of opportunities and potential risks. Years later, during selection for the marines, I was so fit and hardened by my routine that it felt like a walk in the park. What the other recruits referred to as “beasting” — never-ending shuttle runs, ice-cold river swims, and timed marches carrying 70lbs of kit — was to me like being paid to play Victorian parlour games. They say you never meet your heroes, but I did meet Lofty 35 years later, and we remain friends. I also got to meet Roger Moore before he died — who wrote to me as a seven-year-old and sowed the seeds of a career in the movies. By middle age, we have gained all kinds of experience and skills — that can be shared compassionately with younger people in the community, if they are open to such discussions. Sometimes just a kind word of wisdom — even in the face of apparent disrespect from a youth — can turn things around for them; countering their expectations of an intolerant older generation.
In The Bosom of Nature — Wild Camping
Always pick your camp site by daylight hours. My friends and I once erected our tents beside a great oak in a farmer’s field, after a long day on our feet. It wasn’t until a large, ominous silhouette appeared on the near horizon that we realized the field contained an aggressive bull. That tree saved our butts, and provided a handy — if hard — perch for the night. Such shared “hardships” create bonds between people and provide an opportunity to commune with Nature. That tree actually produced a physical warmth, and conveyed a sense of benevolent feminine consciousness that became a benchmark for me that has rarely been surpassed. To sleep out under the stars not only provides a spectacular light show, but posits your life against a much wider context — one that the myopic technocrats would otherwise deny you. Like most things, the more you set up a camp, the easier it becomes — although during gale-force winds it can morph into a paragliding trip.
Put Pen to Paper — Write an E-Book
The comments section of this website is populated by some very erudite and informative opinions. The best part of writing an article is often reading the responses to it. Blogs, podcasts and e-books have created a more egalitarian literary world that often eclipses the staid narratives of the legacy publishing industry, and produces some gems in the process, as well as some detritus. Holistic medicine, revised historical narratives and whistleblower accounts have all thrived in the digital age — notwithstanding recent developments in algorithmic censorship — and have helped humanity break free from the dull consensus of the 3D matrix. Self-publishing is not expensive and provides a clear goal and sense of satisfaction when completed. As an investigative journalist and screenwriter, the little-known personal accounts and stories on the periphery of publishing have been a gold mine of validation and corroboration. And you don’t have to deal with the rejection of literary agents — who will seek you out if your work taps a vein in the human psyche and sells well.
Hounds of Love — Dog Sitting
The well worn slogan “A Dog is Not Just for Christmas” still stands, but one ethical and lucrative way to avoid commitments is to offer your services as a dog sitter. People have to take vacations or spend long days at the office, so a reliable and flexible intermediary could be a quid pro quo — you get paid to indulge your passion for dogs and the owners get the reassurance that Buddy or Luna gets some exercise and won’t be tearing up the furniture in frustration. The benefits of spending time with animals are well documented, and these ones can be put back on the shelf after the fun is over. This one to be proactive with — by advertising in the free pages, in animal centers or owners’ association newsletters.
Slap It On — Homemade Tiger Balm
Tiger balm has become a universal cure-all, after originating in Imperial China thousands of years ago. So why shouldn’t it also get the DIY write-up — especially if tigers aren’t native to your location and China has become synonymous with diplomatic and trade headaches. If you don’t like petroleum oils — the common component of the balm — then you can use beeswax. It’ll still work wonders. You will need some essential oils, such as white camphor, menthol, cinnamon, clove, tea tree and cajeput, and these together constitute the healing and restorative properties of the balm.
Frank Sinatra sang about doing it his way: maybe he was a closet prepper or gardener in his spare time between lavish parties and film shoots. Necessity may be the mother of invention, but homogeneity and conformity is the enemy of it. Sometimes it pays to skip the corporate convenience offering and just do it yourself. You’ll value the results, and yourself, more.
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