TGOhhhhhCrap!

I appear to have found myself on the list for the 2014 TGO Challenge.

Kit list is undecided, but will definitely include one of these…

Baseweight is also undecided, but will be in the region of 60kg, as I’ll be taking a machine so I can do a bit of work of an evening.

I think I’d better try and find my hill legs. I think I left them in storage with my self esteem, social skills and sense of humour.

I’m an apple

A fairly nice apple, as apples go. I’m quite shiny, crunchy, worm free. In an apple contest I might even manage a Highly Commended.
But I’m not an orange. No matter how much fake tan I apply or how long I spend in Seville, I’m never going to be an orange.

So, my shortlisting for the TGO online retailer of the year for the second running has left me a bit, pah. Of course it’s nice to be nominated, but the glaring differences between what I do and what the other nominees in the category do just leaves me even more cynical and bemused by whole the Outdoors Media Game.

I won’t be attending the glitzy awards ceremony.

This, on the other hand, makes me very happy…

“It arrived this morning and I think you may have excelled yourself, Sean. The workmanship’s just fuckin’ sublime. Seriously, man. Don’t ever doubt that you’re good at this stuff.

I’m at a loss for superlatives. You even personalised it FFS!!! Good. Fuckin’. Job.

Oh btw, no way am I letting you pay nearly £13 in postage on my account. Ping me your Paypal or your domicile address and I’ll send you some form of recompense. I’m serious. Don’t even think about fuckin’ with me on this.

Sorry for the sweary post; my language can get a bit fruity when I’m happy.”

Folk often take the time to write and tell me they are pleased, but rarely am I treated to such a well crafted sweary outburst as this.

Anyway, time for an update. Wait times are still long. I’m still behind schedule. I’m not about to disappear. A few folk are snitty, most are not. It is what it is. I’m doing my best.

I’ve experienced a bit of a relapse this past month or so. It bores me to say it again, like a stuck fucking record.
Depression is an insidious twat. Most illnesses you get better or you die. This one lurks. Some people liken it to a black dog. I disagree. A dog has intent. A degree of intellect. Mine’s more like a slug. With a bit of toad and Mr Blobby thrown in. It has no cunning. It has no intellect. It’s malevelovent but devoid of any conscious purpose or motive.
It wanders off, doing whatever it does, and then without apparent reason it returns. I wake up one morning and it’s crushing my chest and it’s blank expression is sucking my self worth away.
I get up and it shifts to my shoulder, and there it sits until for some reason it simply falls off.

Hope that’s cheered you up. I’m available for childrens’ parties.

Grow yer own

Despite appearances, making people wait geological timescales for nests isn’t my only passion.

‘Grow yer own’ is something I’ve been getting into for the past few years.
The benefits are numerous; it’s immensely satisfying growing food from seed and if you struggle with depression and other mental health problems, working outside can really help during the bad times and beats the crap out of basket weaving at the community centre.
The produce also tastes infinitely better than the force-grown pish that the supermarkets stock, you have total control over what you’re eating (no pesticides etc) and last, but by no means least, it’s a small and mild mannered ‘fuck you’ to Tesco. Well, Every Little Helps.

Obviously this year I’ve had to start all over again from scratch, and an extremely limited budget meant a bit of ingenuity was called for. One thing I do have plenty of here is space. Very neglected, overgrown, bramble infested space.

Here is the main veg plot as it is at the moment.

Still looks pretty rundown, huh? I can assure it looks amazing when compared to how it looked a couple of months ago.
I’ve dug out the worst of the nettles and brambles (making foul smelling fertiliser from the nettles) and the right side is pretty much clear of weeds now.

Because of a lack of time (and inclination earlier in the year) I’m just concentrating on that side. Later in the year I’ll dig over the left side and cover it with black plastic which should get rid of most of the weeds. The path is edged with reclaimed timber that I got for free (freecycle is great for this sort of thing) and the weed control fabric is seconds quality and cost £20 for a huge roll from eBay. I’m going to get some cheap gravel chippings to finish it off.

Space is nice, but not essential. Lots of stuff does well in pots and tubs, and if you’re not bothered about the place looking like Steptoe’s Yard, tubs are free!

Tomatos in the tubs I buy with fat balls in for the birds. Punch a few holes in the bottom. Job done. No fancy greenhouse this year, so they are having to make do with the kitchen window ledge.

Baby leeks and carrots in a fish box found on the beach. Things like carrots and leeks won’t get huge in this kind of tub, but they arguably taste better when eaten small.

Even small pots can provide something. This is a French Bean that was ravaged by slugs and is now in a 10cm pot. And it’s happily producing beans, much to my surprise.

Greenhouses are great. They are also expensive. The last one I built myself, but even that cost a fair amount. So this year’s cucumber home is a flimsy cheap thing that cost £10. I had to strap it to the wall as it won’t stand up to more than a breeze, but it’s doing the job. Yesterday I bought my last tasteless supermarket cucumber for a while. There are sweet peppers in pots in there too.
I’m pleasantly surprised by how well things do in pots with regular feeding.

French beans climbing up reclaimed netting.

Bumper crop of peas, again climbing on reclaimed netting.

Still awake? Good. You may have noticed the cloches in the first photo. Not tent prototypes – pest protection. There’s always something wanting to eat your crops. Cabbage fly, carrot fly, caterpillars, pheasants, pigeons, rabbits…
The frames are reclaimed 4 x 2 timber, the hoops are seconds quality alkathene water pipe (£25 for 100m) and the mesh is what I used to use on the very first nests. Fine mesh is only needed for carrot and cabbage fly really, but it stops the other beasties too. It can also get pretty wild here so it gives a bit of protection from the worst of the wind and rain. I’m going to turn them into mini polytunnels for the winter in an attempt to have some stuff all year round.

Swedes, shallots and onions

Carrots

Courgettes

Salad bed. Reclaimed timber and old sheep netting to keep the rabbits and the cat out. Oh, and a fireguard pulled out of a skip. I have no shame…

And finally, tatties. No veg plot would be complete without tatties.

So there you have it. Hope it provides a bit of inspiration to someone. The main point is you don’t need much space. You’re unlikely to be self-sufficient from a balcony, but just a few reclaimed tubs can provide salad and baby veg. Herbs do well in pots. Tatties do well in bags of compost (or a stack of car tyres) Cucumbers, tomatos and peppers will thrive on a sunny window ledge (who cares if they detract from your new Geneva Chalk & Anthracite worksurfaces) Mustard and cress grow well in takeaway trays…
Embrace your inner Clampett. Grow yer own. It’s good for the soul.

Costs so far:
I’ve experimented this year with Wilkinson’s own brand seed. 60p for most of the types, as opposed to upwards of 2 or sometimes 3 quid from the well known brands. So far? No discernible difference.
Including buying small pots and seed trays, compost, seed, weed membrane, everything, I’ve spent less than a hundred pounds. Next year it will obviously be much less as I’ll only need to buy seed and compost.

Time so far:
Quite a bit. But then most folk probably won’t have such a big, neglected space and not having a life also works to my advantage. A couple of hours in the evening weeding, making cloches or digging is a fine antidote to 8 – 12 hours on the sewing machine. If you went down the pots and tubs route, you’d need very little spare time at all.

Introducing the 2Oookan Duomid Nest

Just finished today for a lovely couple of folk who have been waiting patiently for a long time. In fact they’ve just collected it in person. Always nice to meet customers.

Anyway. It’s a two person nest for the Duomid which was originally going to be just a one-off custom job, but I really like it and have decided to add it to the core range.

It’s the same length as the standard Duomid OookNest, but it’s 112cm wide, which is big enough to take two full size mats and still have a small 35cm deep porch for wet gear.

The idea is that when used as a solo shelter the pole will be inside the nest (there’s a hole in the top and a reinforcing patch on the floor), and when used for two it will be pitched using an A-frame arrangement. Two could fit in with the pole inside, but for longer trips it would be a bit of a pain, I reckon.

This particular one weighs just 440g thanks to the Chikara floor, which is actually lighter than the solo version with a 70d PU floor. Pack size is still tiny – it fits in the solo stuffsack with ease.
The customers have a cuben duomid, so they now have a good sized two person, double walled shelter weighing under a kilo.

So there you go. A huge solo inner which may be of interest to taller folk, and 2Oookan can also fit inside it. Boom-tish. I’ll get my coat.

A New Thing – The BugritBivy

I’ve wanted to do a really simple bug bivy for a while now, so I’ve been messing around with ideas in the evenings and yesterday I finished the prototype.

Specifications:
220cm x 62cm
5cm tub
Corner pegging points with Lineloks
30d silnylon floor
25g/sm mesh
Fibreglass pole

BugritBivy – 198g
Pole -11g

The pole is optional. The head section could be lifted and attached to your shelter, but the hoop shape does work well at keeping the mesh away from your face and for 11g I think it’s worth carrying it.
Hmmmm… hoops. Surprised none of the tent manufacturers have thought of that instead of forcing us to use trekking poles. I may approach some of them with my revolutionary new idea. I could call it a tunnel tent ;-)

The 2-way zip is roughly half the length of the bivy allowing easy access.

So there you have it. I won’t be making many changes to the production ones. I’m thinking of making it 10cm shorter and possibly 5cm higher, but that’s about it. I may also make a more substantial version – considerably wider at the head end and a 10cm tub with the Cunning Corner System, but that will of course weigh more.

I won’t be taking orders for these until probably next year, but I’m going to try and make a handful to offer through the new In Stock section of the site.

Bawbags with beaks

Bodies resembling scrotums and faces only a mother could love.

It can only mean one thing.

No, not an Outdoors Magic meet.

Blackbird chicks!

The nest is up in the roof space of the barn and they hatched a couple of days ago. I’m going to attempt to rig my camera up to a beam and leave it videoing to try and catch the adults feeding them.

UPDATE

Well so much for getting photies of their development. I think the worms around here must be particularly nutritious, as just 7 days after the first photie was taken I found this grumpy wee man sitting on the cat carrier in the barn.

Picked him up and put him back in the nest with his siblings and 2 minutes later they were all out and perched in various bits of the roof space.

Fetish Wear & Dirty Old Macs

Something of a change in direction for OookWorks – A foray into fetish wear.
The first item off the sewing machine is the prototype for a rather fetching pair of backless mesh undercrackers.

By a happy coincidence they also work quite well as a gear loft for the 2OookStar.

Weighing in at a skimpy 11g, they are are a true multi-use lightweight item.

My ancient Mac has died. But it didn’t go quietly. In a final and totally uncharacteristic act of rebellion, it decided to take my entire email database with it. All my email conversations, my folders, my orders, everything. NO, IT WASN’T BACKED UP!

Thanks to some rather clever third party software I was able to recover 99% of the emails, but all the folder structure has gone and so have my ‘sent items’. At least I have something to do of an evening now – sorting through a big steaming pile of 3500+ messages. I’d like to say it’s quite therapeutic, but I’d be lying.

So I have a new Mac now. Still an obsolete Power PC, but slightly less obsolete than my old one, and to me at least, it seems super fast. I’m also backing up my email database regularly.

I think I’ve replied to all recent emails, but if I haven’t this could well be the reason.

A Quick Update – all a bit dull, really… I wouldn’t bother reading if I were you…

Time for an update. Doesn’t time fly when you’re chained to a sewing machine…
I have a final post of reflections on this past year simmering in the cauldron of my mind, but for now I’m taking the advise of a few friends and just getting something short up. Oooerr.

The trend is up. A pretty major slump around easter time, but on the whole I’m feeling a lot better.

Nests are shipping at a fair old rate of knots although there are still some folk who have been waiting a long time. Realistically, I reckon it’s going to be August before things are completely back on an even keel.

TGO Challenge orders have been busy again this year, and I’ve made some folk very happy, which makes me very happy. By the way – I’m applying next year.

Thanks to an exceptionally remarkable customer I’m now importing my fabric in bulk which means that I have enough fabric in stock to fulfill 6 months worth of orders which is a huge weight off my mind.

I’m starting to outsource a few simpler bits and pieces – groundsheets and the like – with the intention of offering them ‘Buy it Now’ through the site from stock. That will hopefully start in July.

The veg patch is coming together slowly and all the wee birdies are going cheep.

Finally, I want to stress once more that it is just me making these nests and they take a long time. I realise most folk probably know this already, but because this kind of business is pretty much unique these days in a world of Click and Buy merchandise, I think it’s sometimes easy for folk to lose sight of what it really means to make things from scratch, on your own, to order. I don’t import these things and just forward them on.
If I take a couple of days off, production stops. If I’m ill for a couple of days, production stops. The factory closes.

I need to have a brief rant…

I’ve had a couple of fairly pissy emails recently, using terms like “if you have no intention…” and “beyond a joke…”
I can’t deal with it. Simple as that. I am doing my best. I worked a 100 hour week in the run up to the TGOc to avoid letting folk down. I haven’t had anything resembling a break for two years (excluding time off with ill health)

And what do you think it will achieve? Will it make a few more days in the week magically appear?
All that will happen is that you’ll get a refund and no nest, or I’ll feel intimidated and push someone back who’s been waiting patiently. Neither of which are particularly positive outcomes.

So if you feel you can’t wait any longer, for whatever reason, then just send a polite email and ask for your money back. There really is no need to be unpleasant. Unless being unpleasant makes you feel better of course, in which case you can go stick your head in a pig, I’d rather not make you an OookNest.

Right, back to work. Thank you for reading. Thank you to all the fantastic customers – you make up the overwhelming majority and at the risk of getting all group huggy, your patience this past 12 months is what’s ensured that OookNests will continue to be available. Without it, I would have probably packed it all in.

The weather’s looking good so enjoy the weekend if you can. I’ve got a rotten cold. Pah.
Have a cat in a bag…

No underwear on MY head…

This is going to be a difficult post to write, not only because my knuckle hair tends to obscure the keys, but also because of it’s personal nature. The few folk that know me will tell you that even when on an even keel I’m a private person (read – curmudgeonly antisocial git), and pretty much dismissive of any form of self publicity and public whining.

I don’t want sympathy as my recent situation is more than a little of my own making, and I don’t want advice. I just want to tell it like it is, giving enough information to explain things while not divulging too much about things which are nobody’s business but my own.

For the benefit of those with better things to do, and I hope that’s most of you, here is a summary of the relevant points of this post…

1. Still very much in business and looking forward to a busy 2013
2. Still working as fast I can to catch up with the backlog. I don’t work any faster when I’m stressed, anxious and unhappy, so your continued patience is much appreciated.
3. If you haven’t got your order, it’s because I’m working on one for someone who has been waiting longer than you have.
3. Prices are going up.
4. My phone signal is dire. Bollocks to you, Kevin Bacon, and your connected, mobile life. I can send and receive texts, but phone calls? Forget it. If you want to talk, let me know in advance, arrange a time, and I’ll head off down the road to accept your call. Why not get a landline, you say? Can’t afford at present, I’m afraid. My satellite broadband is expensive and for now it’s one or the other.

And now for the benefit of those with not much going on tonight, here’s a longer version…

As I said, this sort of thing isn’t really me, but my hand has been somewhat forced by a couple of things. If I had a normal job I wouldn’t need to do this, but although my product is very niche, my market is lively and talkative and very active online.
Just before Christmas I let down a couple of customers who I’d specifically promised nests to in time for planned trips. Not a major deal breaker – they weren’t round the world trips – but nevertheless it was something that I really didn’t want to happen. It’s also taking longer than expected to clear the backlog and I don’t want folk thinking I don’t care and am taking my own sweet time.

In the main I’m feeling much better. Working very hard, even designing new products, and seeing a therapist once a week to finally work through the long history that led to the events of the past few months. All in all I’m feeling very optimistic about 2013, but I am still extremely fragile mentally and get extremely anxious and panicky when I feel under too much pressure which makes my work rate suffer.
I realise that folk aren’t meaning to hassle, and once again I can’t express how grateful I am to have such wonderful customers, but the new year has understandably brought a rush of eager emails and I’ve been feeling somewhat under seige. I’ve been finding communication exhausting – not just work stuff but socially, too. I haven’t been near Twitter and have had little interest in even talking to friends and the handful of folk who know something of what’s been going on. It’s difficult to explain and for folk who have no direct experience of mental health issues, probably even harder to understand.

Eeek! I said the ‘mental’ word. I can assure you that I’m not sitting here wearing my underwear on my head (I always have a pencil up my nose; that’s normal, it helps me concentrate) but I have suffered severe bouts of depression for over 20 years. The latest, and worst, also included a breakdown for good measure and culminated in the situation I found myself in last August.

My problems are no worse than those suffered by many, and nothing compared to those of many more, but my situation is probably less usual than most. Self employed with a fledgling business and a full order book, I found myself technically homeless with no money. And by no money, I don’t mean ‘might not be able to change the car this year’ I mean no money.
What I did have was a passion for making stuff, a shit load of fabric, a good reputation and a loyal and growing customer base who were relying on me, so I really had no other choice but to carry on, doing as much as I could. 3 months on the sick to recuperate was simply not an option (again – my problem, not yours)

My business is extremely unusual. I design, I manufacture, I retail. I do everything. It’s just me. If I was solely a retailer, buying in and shipping out, or even if I had staff or outsourced like most other ‘cottages’, then disruption would probably have been minimal. As it is, the nests take a me a long time and a lot of mental effort to produce.

So that’s it really. I’m not going to share the back history that brought me here as I have a ghost writer working on my blockbuster autobiography which will be available shortly, languishing in discount bins in service stations up and down the country.

Now for the bad news. Prices are going up. Quite considerably. I feel this needs some explanation.

Basically, I’m not making any money. As things stand now, a job stacking shelves in a supermarket would represent a major pay rise. Admittedly I wouldn’t find it pleasurable or satisfying, but worrying about the rent each month doesn’t float my boat either, and at least I’d get to take home out-of-date pasties.

I’ve known since the start that the nests were too cheap, but I wasn’t confident enough in the quality of my work to charge more. I am my own worst critic and only in the past 6 months have I arrived at a standard of finish that I’m happy with. Not that I ever had a complaint even with the earliest ones, but that’s meaningless to a perfectionist.
I have done what I can to reduce costs. I buy most of my materials in bulk from the US these days, but with import duties etc., it’s still very expensive. Combine that with the time that goes into producing them and it becomes obvious that things need to change.

The standard nests are too cheap, but the flagship ones – 2OookStars using cuben and chikara for example… well, I might as well give them away. I realise you can buy a full shelter for £100, but not a one-off custom one, tweaked to your exact specifications. The nests I make are also considerably more expensive to produce than the shelters they go inside, so it stands to reason they should cost more. To put it into perspective, the most expensive nest I currently offer costs considerably less than many mass produced waterproof jackets.

So there we have it. If folk are put off I’ll just have to rethink the products and perhaps just offer simple off-the-shelf bug protection, or I’ll have to go in another direction entirely. North-West, to be precise. To Tesco, with my application form. And I think that would be an oooking shame.