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Going off grid

We’ve not neatly fitted into boxes for quite some time when filling in forms but today as I try and tidy up loose ends with regard to utilities I am reminded of just how out of the ordinary we are. There is literally no box to tick on any website or number to press given on those automated phone systems for ‘remaining a home owner but having no address, living in a campervan with no utilities attached’.

So today I have cancelled our BT landline and broadband, our TV licence and Sky TV subscription, checked the procedure for final meter readings for gas and electric supply, informed the local council and water suppliers of our moving out date, swapped household insurance for landlord insurance and looked at postal options from PO boxes to redirection.

I have a mini-rant about how bloody difficult it is to stop getting service from places, from the fact they refuse to accept cancellation any way other than by phone, that their dedicated ‘so you think you can just leave like that do you?’ phonelines all have queuing times of ridiculously long, designed to get you to give up trying degrees and quite why they want to admit to ‘we are recieving high call volumes’ to a phone number that is only for people cancelling is beyond me! I’ve swallowed several cancellation / cessation charges and stopped operators about to go into sales pitch mode their breath by explaining why we won’t be needing that service from anybody at all, not just their company.

Yesterday at the tip, or Household Waste Recycling Centre as it is calling itself these days we had some very interesting conversations with Dragon and Star about waste and about what Off Grid means. We were all feeling pretty rubbish (if you pardon the pun) about the stuff we were contributing to landfill. Yes, we compost, we recycle, we freecycle & ebay, we try really hard to reduce waste but when it’s come to actually clearing out our home all of those things we stashed in our garage and loft and we realise that they are simply no good to anyone for anything so need to be landfilled it’s pretty sobering. We chucked out two tables and four chairs due to extensive water damage, wish we’d just freecycled them years ago while they were still useable 🙁 It’s great for Dragon & Star to know already that there is no such place as ‘away’. When you throw something away you are really just moving it somewhere else for someone else to deal with.

We also talked about Off Grid and what that means. We looked at the telephone poles taking cables to each and every home, we looked at a pylon and a power station bringing power across the UK, we looked at sewers and waste water just last week so knew we were driving over a massive network of underground pipes moving water around beneath us. We talked about how we don’t give it a second thought at home that flicking a switch turns on a light, that turning on a tap brings water flowing, that lifting the phone brings the dial tone buzzing in our ear but that these are recent-ish innovations and for all their convenience they are very costly (we explained that about 2 out of the 5 days a week Ady works are just to cover the costs of these things in our home), not necessarily sustainable and very probably not essential. We talked about how on camping holidays we ration energy, water etc and manage just fine, being more creative and putting more effort into ensuring our needs are provided for in terms of light, heat, water often by more effcient, environmentally friendly and less wasteful ways. We also touched on other types of ‘grid’ such as cheap food from supermarkets rather than local, organic or free-range food which may cost more in the short term or not be quite so convenient to get but what the fors and againsts of each are long term. I love talking about these sorts of things with Dragon and Star, they very much have their own ideas, bring a childish form of reason and challenge things that I have long since just accepted. It made me think of this quote:

Treat the earth well: it was not given to you by your parents,
it was loaned to you by your children.
 So today I have been extricating us a little from ‘the grid’, untangling it’s wires from our wrists and ankles, loosening the cable from our throats, reducing our dependancy, rationalising our need. I kind of think that whatever happens to us next, wherever our journey leads us after our planned year we may never fully plug ourselves back in again.
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Watching & Listening

There is a saying I heard for the first time a while back that I really liked:

‘You have two eyes, two ears and just one mouth – use them that way’
Basically do twice as much watching and listening as you do talking.  I’m not at all sure I manage it, although I consider myself hungry for knowledge and thirsty for learning I’m sure I talk and write far too much to have the ratio right. I do a lot of reading, which is like listening with your eyes though, hopefully that counts.  
I’ve just started reading and so far it’s proving an interesting and enjoyable read. I’m not far in and will do another review when I’ve finished it but so far my overwhelming feeling from what I’ve read is that our on-grid reliance – water, electricity, gas supplies are not remotely joined up, sustainable or even make much sense. I had no real idea just  how many people are living ‘off grid’ and doing just fine. I know when camping part of the fun is rationing light, heat, power, water and planning into our days how to go about gathering resources and using them wisely. I have plenty of friends who already live without one or more of their services supplied by expensive corporate organisations and they have adapted accordingly and don’t miss them at all.
In other news this week I have been shocked and saddened by things I learnt by way of TV and computer. We are avid watchers of Countryfile each Sunday and a while ago we watched with shock when they visited one of the massive cattle holdings in the US, where thousands of cows are kept inside, never seeing sky or eating grass for the purpose of cheap, mass volumes of milk. There is an online petition and plenty of opposition to a planned version of this in the UK. I am hoping there are enough numbers of objectors to prevent this style of farming happening here although I fear there is a larger majority who want cheap produce whatever the cost to animals or the environment. Ady and I have also been very disturbed watching Hugh’s Big Fish Fight and learning of the dreadful waste of fish that goes on thanks to EU rules about quotas and discard, along with the terrible loss of marine life (dolphins, turtles, sharks) with mass fishing styles.
All of these learnings give gravity to another famous saying ‘ignorance is bliss’. I think a lot of us would really rather not be enlightened and educated. Far better to eat your cheap chicken, drink your cheap milk, wear your cheap clothes from the supermarkets and marvel at the low price you are paying without giving a thought to who is picking up the real cost, because someone or something somewhere will be. Once your conscience has been pricked you then have to decide what to do with that knowledge. Do you bury it away, choose to ignore it? Do you make a decision to change your ways and habits, knowing that even if it’s still going on at least it’s not in your name anymore or do you go the whole hog and spread the word, become an activist, try and change things?
We’re beginning with the ‘not in my name’ approach. We’re learning more, changing our ways, lightening our footprints. We’re hopefully spreading the word in a gentle way too. Maybe hearing our story will inspire others to make small (or large) changes themselves, maybe it will give them curiosity to learn a bit more themselves. I know I can get a bit preachy sometimes, passionate about stuff to the point of being boring, I guess we all can on at least one topic. I don’t have answers for lots of the questions, so until I do and maybe even after that I’ll try to remind myself  …’two eyes, two ears, one mouth’.