11

Pushing Buttons

Sorry to all those who have contacted to check we are okay for not updating sooner. Online time is limited as we are totally off grid, but we are really well, happy and loving our experience at our first hosts.

We’re at an intentional community on the side of a hill, a very, very steep hill. There are about 6 or 7 families here with children of various ages, some in school and some Home Educated. The families all have their own individual dwellings and there is a large communal building for cooking, eating, socialising etc. The water is provided by a spring, the energy is solar and hydro power stored in great big batteries, heating, cooking, hot water etc. is all done by  wood burners. The communal area is vegetarian food, it used to be vegan but that has recently been changed, although there are only one or two vegetarians living here now, everyone else eats meat in their own dwellings.

So far we have done two full days work and a little help in the kitchen on our first afternoon – we arrived mid-morning but thanks to the 1/2 mile trek up the hill to set our tent up (3 wheelbarrow loads) and then the actual setting up of the tent, with a break for communal lunch it was mid afternoon before we were free to actually do anything so we helped with communal dinner. Yesterday we spent the morning with one of the community taking stuff down the hill from his dwelling ready to be collected for the tip, then some time dealing with firewood – I did some ‘feeding’ a chainsawing person with wood and then we did some moving and stacking in the woodstore. After lunch we spent time with another member of the community on their forest garden. This was hard work, moving heavy lengths of wood up the hill and then clearing brash (heaps of branches and leaves from felled trees).

Last night we had a bath in the bath house, which involves lighting the wood burner about 3 hours beforehand and feeding it with wood to heat the water, but utterly blissful, A bath in a moonlit and firelit bathhouse at the end of a very hard days work was so lovely.

Today we spent both morning and afternoon in the forest garden. This morning we made a hedge to guard some young hazel trees from the deer in the woodland. This involved cutting then sharpening stakes to hammer in to the ground at intervals and then lying long lengths of various wood along and weaving them in. I really enjoyed that work. This afternoon was more heavy stuff which I am struggling with more because of the hill than anything else – I am incredibly clumsy and my boots are rubbish for gripping so I am ever cautious about falling. So far I’ve only gone down once but it is meaning I am very slow. Ady is finding his pace – we have been working alongside two French WWOOFers who we are probably old enough to be the parents of and they are putting us to shame but Ady is enjoying the reward of looking back and seeing what we have achieved at the end of a hard days work – so much more fulfilling that 8 hours sat in a company car…

Dragon and Star have fallen in with the children who live here and settled in really well and really quickly. We’re really proud of them for being open to try food which is hugely different to what we’d eat at home, happily sleeping in the tent and managing to find common ground with both adults and children here.

The people are fascinating, such interesting and varied backgrounds but a really good atmosphere and an excellent advertisement for communal living. There are of course tensions and politics and things which cause friction but it seems to be a very open environment with things discussed and calmly talked about and a real ethos of sharing and looking out for each other. I’m loving the time spend working and living alongside them and feel really priviledged at their openness and willingness to share.

We have another two work days before two days off at the weekend. I think various of the community are off doing their own thing so we have plans to cook some meat (Dragon particularly says he misses meat) which is okay in the camping area where we are pitched – we have a fire pit right next to our tent and visit the local shops for a few bits. We need to do some washing – there is a washboard and mangle here I am really keen to have a go with having only talked about them to the kids last weekend when we were debating which appliances we could and couldn’t live without (not literally of course!). Then we have five work days next week before we’re planning to leave here on the Saturday morning and have a night in a hook up campsite somewhere before the next host.

We’re walking down the hills to where Willow is parked every morning to collect clean clothes and it feels nice to unlock the door and climb in, the tent is fine – if very cold – but I’m missing our home on wheels.

This is a challenging place to be – for us as WWOOFers and to live, for various reasons. The hill being the main one, the terrain is rough and everything is made harder by that. We are eating food, which although delicious is vastly different to our usual diet, not drinking, sleeping way earlier and doing a good six hours of incredibly challenging physical work. It is as direct a contrast to the life we were living just a few weeks ago as you could imagine really, but it’s amazing. The people are inspirational, we are learning constantly and I already know more about trees identification, which timber is best for what, different types of alterative energies and the pros and cons and what challenges the off grid lifestyle brings than I could have learnt from 20 different books.

There is no doubt we will  be walking down that hill again at the end of our stay fitter, healthier and educated. A perfect start to what looks to be an amazing year.

1

we are proud to announce…

our plans to the whole world 🙂

We have been waiting for everything to fall properly into place before the final stages of the adventure start and we ‘go public’. Today Ady has handed his notice in at work so the rest of the world can now know.

We have firmed up a date to be out of our house and for tenants to move in which gives us slightly longer than we first thought. This is great as it means everything comes together as per my originial plans. It does mean we will end our time in the house without TV, phone or internet as I’d already given notice for the earlier date but I quite like the transition happening in staggered steps.

Willow the van is at the garage, having an MOT and getting checked over to see what is happening with the batteries to make the vehicle battery not keep it’s charge. We’ve had the landlord gas safety check done and we have waterproof jackets on the way. I’ve ticked off most of this weeks job list, the chickens who left have done so and are happily installed in their new home, the rest are staying here as the tenants are keeping them on.

I anticipate life (and therefore this blog) to rather degenerate into a slightly wibbly heap for the next month as we frantically try and pack everything up, say our goodbyes, documenting as much as we can and heading off on our way.

0

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.
2

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’.