Wednesday, 29 October 2008


Last night was cold. Really cold. Outside the tent that is, not inside. Inside we were snug as could be, though I must confess we both slept in sleeping bags underneath a duvet with a fire going. The few other hardy souls who are camping at the moment were dusted with snow when I went out to turn on the heater in the car and there was ice on the dogs bowl.

The dog is not a cunning creature. Before bed last night TLB and I swaddled him in several layers of fleece blankets as we knew it was going to be cold. He has a good layer of fur but I am sure that is not sufficient to keep the little blighter warm in these most unseasonal conditions. In the middle of the night he decided to do a quick patrol of the inside of the tent and shed his insulation and was upon us in no time, shivering and asking to be re-swaddled. I have always thought that people who buy coats for their dogs are the worst sort of people but I am coming around to their way of thinking.

I think I have taken the fun out of these cold mornings for my colleagues in the office, they come in complaining about the cold and then see me, bright and breezy at my desk, realise that they have nothing to complain about and then get their heads down after enquiring as to whether I was ready to gracefully retire from my quest. They seem quite disappointed when I tell them that I was shedding blankets half way through the night to prevent perspiration. I think they now realise that I am quite serious about seeing this through till next summer.

The lowest recorded temperature in the area I am living in was a shade below -33C, but that was some 30 years ago. It is a little scary to consider that we have had no snow in October since 1976 so time will tell how cold it will actually get. I may be deeply unlucky and have starting my camping escapades just around the dawn of a mini ice age but I know that we can very comfortably cope with -4C.

It remains to be seen how much colder it will get. In a perverse way I am quite keen to find out at what temperature things start to get unbearable, though I am sure that TLB does not share my enthusiasm for extremes of temperature. Luckily the local Woolworths are selling big thick fleece blankets for £8 a pop so I think I may be making an investment, despite my pledge of frugality. Needs must.

Wednesday, 22 October 2008


In both spirit and function this is one of the best inventions I have seen in years. Last night was exceedingly cold and I am looking for ways to make the tent more habitable so I am going to buy one on pay day and will report back on it's effectiveness. It is powered by the stove and requires no external inputs, just pop it on top of the stove and it will blow the warm air rising from the stove around the tent very efficiently and it looks cool to boot. Click for more info.


Tuesday, 21 October 2008

Things I have learned

Acclimatising to living in a tent on a farm has been a learning process. So far I have learned:
  • Dogs and chickens will never be friends.
  • Petrol is very dangerous (to be fair I knew this before but it is at the front of my mind these days)
  • Chopping wood with a small axe is all in the hips.
  • Plastic bags should not be left where they can blow onto a hot stove.
  • I need to write a blog entry on cooking very soon.
  • Thursday is Radio 4's best night.
  • Always know where your head-torch is.
  • Boot fairs are full of junk that is not worth selling on ebay.
  • Toilet tents are rubbish.
  • Always shit at work. It is the ultimate expression of ones capitalist instincts and is warmer than a farm.
  • Cushions are brilliant.
  • Rivers are very cold in England, no matter how sunny you may think it is.
  • You can never buy enough tea lights.
  • There are a infinite uses for a log.
  • TLB is one of the most fantastic women in the world.
  • Owls compensate for their lack of serenading talent with enthusiasm.
  • Even the most minor burns can take over a week to heal.
  • The pleasure of a bath should never be underestimated.

Friday, 17 October 2008

Light relief

We had a competition in the office to come up with the best enviro-measures to combat the wastefulness of the office, here was my entry. I didn't win.


I managed to miss the last email from Tony so here are some ways that I have thought up to decrease our carbon footprint…

  • Sign up to to meet our power needs – 100% carbon free!
  • Join this group to enable us to recycle our toners more environmentally efficiently:
  • When disposing of old items we could start to use
  • Perform a full Environmental Impact Assessment on the company to establish our key areas of waste and environmental inefficiency (
  • Install a reed bed filtration system to process all of the companies grey water waste back into usable water
  • Install energy monitors to enable facilities staff to better monitor the usage of energy in the workplace (
  • Install wind turbines and solar panels on site to supplement grid supplied energy (from our sustainable source of course).
  • We should create small piles of wood and ponds around the office and site to encourage habitats for key environmental indicators like Toads and Newts.
  • Encourage the use of remote workers via VPN where possible to minimize the use of cars to and from work.
  • Start a cycle to work scheme like this one: to encourage people to reduce car usage
  • Allow people to have smaller cars (like say a Lotus Elise) so that emissions are reduced. If this is not acceptable, encourage the use of diesel vehicles and hybrids.
  • We should start to look into green burial options ( for employees that expire on the job.
  • Install compost toilets throughout the premises (making sure to separate fluids and solids!) to enable the grounds to be fertilized by home grown waste!
  • Instead of pointless pot plants we should have small fruit trees dotted about the office to encourage people to live healthier lifestyles.
  • Under the new European Carbon Trading scheme we could start to offset our carbon footprint by buying CO2 from small 3rd world countries that don’t use them!
  • In much the same way as Canopy Capital ( we could try to leverage the high availability of Rainforest for profit, social enterprise and environmental benefit.
  • Turf the roof of Innovation House to encourage wild flowers and wildlife habitats
  • Timed lights in the toilets that turn off after a period to ensure that lights are not left on.
  • Start to employ the principles of Permaculture in the design and implementation of new company projects. It is a design methodology that helps to develop systems that mimic the structure and interrelationship found in natural ecologies

These are just a few suggestions, if you need any more I am sure that I can find many more. I also know that were I to win the mountain bike, it would get well used by my very environmentally sound girlfriend.


Your Environmentally Suped-Up Technical Programmer

Wednesday, 15 October 2008

A new dawn of frugality

The routine is pretty apparent these days, we get home, chop some wood, make a fire, cook some grub, listen to the radio a bit and then go to sleep. The rain is pretty insistent this evening so the dog only got a casual amble around the field and TLB is out so I have the place to myself.

This was the month in which all was supposed to be well financially but things are turning out to be a bit of a struggle, after bills and £800 of debt paid off, I am grasping at the overdraft and feeling a bit miserable about it. I think I may be in some way incapable of being sensible with money, I certainly have no capacity to budget which means pretty much all financial transactions are a guess coloured by varying degrees of fear.

It seems to be very hard to live in the modern world but I can't blame that for my situation. Tax bothers me. 20% income tax rising to 40% over £35k, 17.5% vat, council tax, car tax and of course the fun taxes, petrol, fags, booze and gambling. Oh yeah, inheritance, insurance, air passenger, capital gains and farting taxes not forgetting national insurance and stamp duty. I don't earn a bean until after lunch.

Tax is not my biggest foe though, it is at least consistent. My worst enemy is temptation, luring me into dinner based traps or snaring me with convenience. I couldn't be further from my former house based lifestyle but still the expense of the modern world keeps abreast of my ability to out earn it. I think next month will be different, obtaining jumper and waterproof shoes and the like was vital this month and my only bills will be tent based next month.

I am resolved to sustain a degree of frugality hitherto unknown throughout November. No shopping or dinners of celebration, just head down to sort out some bulk wood and dog food acquisition. I hereby vow to keep the mpg on the car above 35 and will eat only in the subsidised canteen at work during the days. It will be hard not to buy jelly beans from the forecourt but I will try. Redemption will be mine.

Monday, 13 October 2008

IT and massacres

Firstly, thank you to Anonymous who pointed me in the direction of practical advice on how to resurrect the lantern which is now glowing away in the background. Sharply turning it off and then back on again seemed to fix it, presumably unblocking some internal nozzle or other. I am quite ashamed that as an IT person, I didn't consider turning it off and then on again, no matter how sharply.

So, we have moved the tent again, leaving a second huge but not quite as smelly, circle of dying grass. I made a small effort to persuade the farmer that if I was to leave the tent in one place for the duration of our stay, it would mean that their field would suffer only one pock mark rather than a series of them, depicting the antics of some alien craft in it's initial forays into drunken crop circling. I reckon that when the weather gets grim he will be much happier to let us stay in one spot as the grass will recover more slowly. We shall see.

One factor that has provided quite some considerable mirth has been the varying inclines that we have camped on. Our first spot was almost perfectly level, the second resulted in us sleeping with our feet a couple of inches above our heads and on our third location we are finding it rather hard to stay in bed at all. The stove door swings open where before it swung shut and it feels like a small climb to get further into the tent.

The reason we chose this orientation was to ensure that the flue from the stove was in the lee of the tent, hoping to avoid the belches of smoke that the wind can be forced inwards. It seems to have worked, and should we fear suffocation then we can just let go of whatever we are clinging onto and fall to safety through the door and into the valley below. Okay, it is not really that bad but the difference is noticeable. We are quickly amassing a set of criteria that need to be met to qualify as camp site material.

Sleeping out in a tent every night gives you a much better idea of what happens at night out in the darkness of the countryside down the singletrack lanes. Every night we are sung to by owls, most of whom are not very tuneful. If the cows are unhappy we can endure an evening of loud dissatisfied mooing but this is far from the most disconcerting of our evening serenades.

The thing that disturbs us most is the constant pitched battle between the various competing species of the valley. We have had a great variety of different death throes echoing through the camp. It is impossible to identify which animals make which noises but I reckon between cats, foxes, badgers and rabbits, it is a massacre out there. I think they all retire for a bit of a time out at about bed time, or maybe I am just asleep when the action really hots up.

Saturday, 11 October 2008

Everything breaks.

The lantern has packed up, I get the impression most camping gear is designed to be used once and then put at the back of a garage. The fuel supply seems to have stopped flowing so I need to take it apart and find out what is going on within. I suspect a blockage of some sort and now I have daylight hours, I can set about fixing it.

We have survived using candles for the week and it is quite amazing how much light you can get out of half a dozen strategically placed tea lights. Moreso when the dog catches fire. It has all been rather romantic really, candlelit dinners and open fires every night, radio 4 bumbling away in the background keeping us posted on the continuing financial catastrophe.

I have been considering the impact of the forthcoming reccesion on TLB and I and trying to decipher what the hell is going on. The way I see it the financial system is like a horribly complicated engine. Money is like the oil that keeps all of the parts working together and a healthy flow of it is required to ensure that I can work well with other economic entities in this great big wheezing, farting machine. I get paid, I buy chocolate with it but I never actually see it, it is like this intangible thing that at best, I can get tokens that represent it.

Some people have worked out how to syphon the oil out of the system into reserves that are of no use to anyone in the real economy as we now have to call it. Eventually too much gets removed and the engine seizes up. The big question for me is can we repair the engine or will we need a whole spangling new one? Personally, I like new cars. Even if the old one isn't fully broken I quite like an upgrade. I think I will avoid the Icelandic range though.

Monday, 6 October 2008

Loo update

The toilet tent is on it's knees, unusable and decrepit, kept upright only by tenacious guy ropes clinging on stubbornly in the face of certain futility. Part of me wants to burn it down, it is completely unfit for purpose and an eyesore but I have resolved to keep it until I get around to getting a boat for it to propel, for it's true destiny must surely be to serve as a sail. Another victory for the Ministry of Silly Design.

I now have to think about my options in this department, should I replace it with something equally likely to fail or some other option. TLB and I did even consider placing the porta loo bit of it inside the main tent but I can see that it would be a nightmare of both privacy and hygiene. I am on the hunt for an awning of some sort under which I can place a somewhat sturdier protector of dignity. In the meantime TLB may get a chance to get to know the she-pee I got her at a festival some months ago. Okay, okay, I shall start looking right now.


The quest to find the ultimate combination of materials to incinerate to ensure a constant supply of heat continues apace. The logs sold by the farmers here are largely unseasoned pine which I have learned is very prone to the creation of creosote in the flue. This can build up and will eventually catch fire with undoubtedly disastrous effects. Being the lazy man that I am I have resolved to avoid the pine in a bid to avoid both fires and regular, grizzly chimney cleaning antics.

Since this discovery I have been working my way through the various types of British countryside, setting fire with glee to as many different varieties of the Earth's lungs as possible. When we want to cook we have to get it up to temperature as quickly as possible and compressed sawdust fire blocks are perfect, but they are expensive at about £7 for 10kg. They are easy to light and form very hot embers but they do burn a bit quickly for use all the time.

Having cooked we tend to move onto sturdier logs that burn less ferociously but last a lot longer. Oak logs are very good but I cannot imagine that they are too sustainable as the trees grow pretty slowly. There are various bags of miscellaneous hardwood logs available in the garages and hardware stores of the world and all seem to be quite long burning but we have to be careful not to buy logs that are too long. A brief experiment proved that it takes a while and a not inconsiderable amount of sawdust to split a log across the grain.

I have found a bulk source of fire bricks but would require space to store them and I do not really think I can do it. I am investigating the cheapest local source and have found out about a local sawmill that makes them and is likely to much cheaper than a forecourt. I shall investigate when I get time. The farm shop over the road sells good sized bags of appropriately cut hardwood at 5 bags for £15 which is excellent value, though we will have to be a bit organised to ensure we do not run out. Our supply lines are assured.

Saturday, 4 October 2008

A rainy day in the tent.

Today has turned out to be quite interesting so far. We awoke to find the first frost of the Autumn had landed which was quite reassuring as we were very cosy in bed despite the freeze. The group of Duke of Edinburgh goblins that arrived last night were leaving gratifyingly early, grumbling and regretting staying up, screaming and scampering about the place until 3 this morning. I am kind of looking forward to the winter in that we will have far fewer neighbours each weekend.

We then resolved to go to a trendy camping shop and equip ourselves with fleeces, waterproof shoes, head torches and extremely sturdy tent pegs. Why would we purchase hardcore tent pegs I hear you ask. Well, the toilet tent decided it was feeling a bit tied down by the whole arrangement and made a bid for freedom, tearing free of its puny anchors and making a dash for the hedge. It is the perfect combination of low footprint and high wind resistance to make it deeply untrustworthy and almost guaranteed to fail.

A small fortune later, TLB and I are newly shod and looking like we are sponsored by North Face. They also had gloves and shoes and hats that I really like but they are all plastered with the flinking logo so I didn't buy them. Maybe I could get them to sponsor me, I might feel like less of a fan boy if they were paying me. Damn these companies and their highly functional logo spattered garb. TLB was almost completely free of any clothing adapted to her new lifestyle and we had to put that to rights.

We got home and while the stove was cold, we decided to clear the flue of the chimney and fit the new flashing, the unmelted one that is. I also spent 10 minutes attatching the guy ropes that hold it solid as it looks like the wind is picking up and may be here to stay. The tent feels very solid in the wind, occasionally there is a small eddy in the vicinity which will force air down the chimney and blow smoke into the tent.

There have been a few problems with the stove, I am not sure if it is my unreasonably high expectations but the quality of the flue has not been as good as I expected. Aside from the melting of the flashing, I am a little bothered by the seeming flimsiness of it, having already seen it glow cherry red once whilst we were cooking. I have been considering a few strips of fire proof blanket to lag the pipe and insulate it from contact points but I am going to have to find out if it would burn us down or not.

It is a learning process and I am sure we can overcome all niggles, the stove is a very good source of heat and I think we would be utterly miserable without it, in fact we are very cosy. Later on today, we have been invited by our benevloent landlords to a night of skittles at the local village hall with BYO booze and a barbecue. We are both a little concerned about being asked where we live. At the moment our location and status is a closely guarded secret, we have various degrees of cover story depending on whom we are speaking to.

Any casual camper can see that we are pretty well bedded in, when asked by them we tend to tell them that we are staying for a couple of weeks whilst I am working locally. As far as the farmers are concerned I am on a three month contract working in Reading and everyone else gets told nothing. I visit the garage around the corner frequently and engage in casual counter chat with the chap who works there. I dread the day that he asks me where I have moved in as I will lie.

The reason for this secrecy is pretty obvious. We have effectively no security and depend on everything we have which means that we cannot afford a break in, or rather an unzipping. There are also a lot of small minded people about who would complain if they knew that we are holed up here semi permanently, and that would almost certainly threaten our ability to stay here. Technically the farmers are breaking the rules by letting us camp here so I am keen to avoid attracting and attention to him or us. Time will tell how easy this is.

In the meantime I am going to save my insights into the best wood to burn and the relative merits of tent pegs for another day as my battery is running out and I have to put on the lamp as it is getting dark.
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