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’.

Reading List – possible last in random series for a while

I’ve finished The Council of Dads: Family, Fatherhood, and Life Lessons to Leave My Daughters and it was excellent. Some really powerful messages in there about family, friendship, life, health and What It’s All About.

I think sometimes books about people changing their life can be slightly tedious reading, there is a danger of the author coming across as smug, patronising or just too different to the reader that it all becomes irrelevant. I guess the reason all of the books I have been reading lately have been such enjoyable reads is that just now they are all incredibly relevant as I’m reading them at the beginning of a period of change, introspection and adventuring. All of that said though even if you are only after a bit of vicarious armchair adventuring through the pages of a good book I can heartily recommend all of the books I have mentioned in previous posts – now contained in a list on amazon which you can find here.

Moneyless Man and Council of Dads

I finished the The Moneyless Man: A Year of Freeconomic Living and thought it was an excellent read; inspiring, funny, touching and heartening. One of those books that make you want to contact the author and say ‘I’d like to be your mate’ :).
It had some great stuff about how we came to use money, made me wonder just why we do all accept that pieces of paper are worth anything at all and some excellent and thought provoking stuff about bartering and skillswap.

I’ve just started reading The Council of Dads: Family, Fatherhood, and Life Lessons to Leave My Daughters which I heard being talked about on the radio ages ago. I mentioned it to a friend who did go and read it and said it was good so I ordered a copy from the library and it’s just turned up. I’m about half way through and although it isn’t directly related to what we’re about to do it does have plenty of thoughtful, life lesson stuff going on in it. It’s making me really glad my children are already of an age to have clear memories of me to take forward (although I very much hope to be there reinforcing them), pleased that Dragon and Star have a really honest idea of who I am and what makes me tick and that in spending next year in such close quarters with each other that relationship will  be further strengthened, along with becomming closer to Ady.

My favourite message from the books so far is the 2% idea from his Dad. He takes an idea to his Dad when he is in his 20s, to do something he’s never done before. His Dad offers the same advice he gave to his older brother a few years previously when he asked for advice about whether he should emigrate – take a year, give it a try. When you are 50 it will mean you spent 2% of your life trying something – if it worked, great. If it didn’t, hey what’s 2% ?! I like that.

I’m running out of books in my pile to read before we go, but then I’m running out of time to read them before we go anyway!

If you try hard enough

I’ve often been heard preaching that ‘if you try hard enough you can do anything’. This has disbelieving looks from people telling me ‘you can’t fly’ or ‘not anything‘. I guess that does need qualifying a bit, you can’t seem to cheat death for example. The thing with death of course is that it is inevitable. My Dad (who is known for words of wisdom every so often) says death is the only thing in life which is certain. And he’s right. From birth we are hurtling towards our ultimate demise, some way sooner than others of course and we never know just how long we have left. But I do believe that we can have most of the things we want in life, just not all of them because in getting one, you are choosing not to have another. I honestly believe for example that if I tried hard enough this time next year I could have £1000000 in my bank account. I could work three jobs, deal in drugs, have a go at prostitution, the list of seedy and illegal money making pursuits goes on. But I choose not to, the consequences and compromises are too great. By the same token I could have maybe not a million pounds but certainly a lot more money than I do now by dedicating all my time to making money. But I won’t, because there are other things more important to me – spending time with Ady, Dragon and Star, curling up on the sofa with a book, walking along the beach, sitting chatting with friends over a cup of tea, baking a cake, blogging… all pursuits which make me no cash at all but feed my soul, make me happy, will be the snapshot postcards that flash through my mind when I look back over my life.

Choices. Several people have said they wish they could do something I am doing before. ‘I’d like to Home Educate but I can’t afford to give up work’. Well you could, you could have less money for holidays, new clothes, you could move to a smaller house in a different area, you could bypass climbing the career ladder.

‘I wish I could go travelling’. You can, sell your house, rent it out to pay the mortgage, find a way of working as you go to cover the costs.

What I’m saying is there are always trade off. For every decision and outcome there is an opposite and equal compromise or alternative choice you didn’t make. Then there is the cosy, easy option of not doing anything at all. It’s about finding the path you want to be walking and then maybe realising in order to walk it you need to clear some brambles first, get some stouter boots and a decent map so you know exactly where it’s leading you.

Our plans for next year are involving compromise, tough decisions and moments when we question what the hell we are thinking. There are the worries we have no control over but can insure ourselves again as far as possible, these include: the van could break down and need expensive repair work – we have breakdown cover and will have a small contingency fund. We could find ourselves arriving at a maniac host who intends locking us all in their cellar – we will have an arrangement with someone who knows our planned movements and contact details and will check in with them at least once a week, there is the concern of just what we’re going to do at the end of the year – will we move back into our house? If so how will we pay the bills? – I’ve no idea on that one but I doubt anyone is secure enough to 100% guarantee they will be able to pay their bills  a year from now, so probably not worth worrying about for now.

There are the more pressing, more tough because they are direct choices we have made and actually if we just chose to stop the whole plan right now we wouldn’t have to deal with angst though. And they are the hard ones. This week I’ve found myself waking each morning in my nice soft warm bed and wondering why I’d give up that basic and enjoyed pleasure. I’ve held a sobbing Star who didn’t want to get rid of her collection of soft toys that needed putting in the loft. I’ve had long talks with Dragon who didn’t want to get rid of bedroom furniture bought when he was born. At every point we talk about whether we are all four happy to continue. I never want Dragon and Star to remember all the tough choices they have made in the months leading up to our adventure as forced on them, made for them by someone else and out of their control. We remind each other of the reasons we are doing this, the upsides of every step and the reversability of it all if we change our minds along the way.

I think its really important to enjoy, not endure, to remember why we’re doing this and keep tallying the tough bits now against the potentially amazing bits to come, to appreciate we are making trade offs and for every thing we let go of now and find difficult we will replace it with someone better, richer, more precious along the way.

It seems wholly appropriate to link to a book I’ve read, witten by someone I admire enormously. I think we should all chase our dreams, once we’ve worked out what they are and whether we *really* want them and are prepared to walk that bramble-filled path to get to them. If you are at that stage right now, this might just be the book to galvanise you towards it.