Wednesday, 26 November 2008

If only...

Dear Mr Brown,

It is with regret that I now find myself unable to continue my role as a citizen of this country and have decided to redeem my contractual obligations to the country and go it alone.

The reasons for my decision are various, I find the prospect of imprisonment should I continue to work and not pay tax rather disturbing, and quite bizarre when I consider that should I stop working, you would then give me money. I am no scrounger so I do not find this at all satisfactory, nor do I consider your efforts to make the world a safer place by engaging in wars around the globe to be very convincing. We are surrounded by allies and sea and think that we are in all probability quite safe.

I understand that you very much wanted to be prime minister, we all have to have ambitions, but I think you may better serve this country in a more community based role where you can do a little less damage, maybe as a lollipop man or a town crier. If you did this then maybe people would be pleased to see you, and I mean real people, not the political classes or your friends at the golf club. I suspect that if the real people formed a queue to put a cream pie in your face, we would all be busy for a very long time.

Your persistent disregard of the advisers that I have so very kindly paid for does very little to convince me that you are prime minister material. To be honest I do not really think that anyone is so you shouldn't blame yourself. I would think my friend Chris very arrogant were he to assume that he knew what was best for me and he knows what sort of pork pies I prefer and how I like to cut my hair. I like to think I know best too and am always finding myself dispensing advice where it is not really wanted but I am sure that I should not be given the power to imprison people if they don't take it. That is not just arrogance, that is lunacy!

Sorry if I am rambling on but I think I have paid enough of your salary to be allowed to bend your ear a little. If you would like me to attend an exit interview before I leave I would be very happy to give some full and frank feedback, though considering your treatment of the various committees on detention without trial, ID cards, the economy, drug classification and tax bands, I am not holding my breath. I guess for some people it is much easier to be able to blame you and settle back into slavery and reality television, I however have bought a tent and a trailer and am going to try my hand at some archery and subsistence farming.

With regards to the settling of outstanding matters, I would be very pleased if you would forward details of all monies paid to yourselves over the years so that we can start to negotiate a mutually beneficial settlement. My uses of your services thus far constitute:

  • 1 poor education.
  • 1 effective treatment for a twisted bollock, which may I add has been the high point of my interaction with your government.

I know you have racked up rather a lot of debts over the years in our name but I do not feel I am really to be held accountable for them, after all, I have paid my taxes and done what was asked of me, so I shall consider that policing, waste disposal, road provision and the like were actually covered by the cash I paid up front like council and road tax.

I do not expect to make use of my pension so I am expecting that quite a serious amount of money has accrued in my account which I am sure can be used to offset the costs incurred above. Any money still owed to me can be paid in gold, index linked to the date of our final settlement. I am afraid that I can no longer accept sterling as a form of remuneration as I suspect that it will simply not be worth the paper it is printed on before long.

I have attached a document detailing my national insurance, bank accounts etc to ease administration at your end and I very much look forward to receiving the relevant forms.

Yours Sincerely

*** ****

Sunday, 23 November 2008

Tea and cake.

We have just returned from what was supposed to be tea and cakes with our favourite farmers. We got rather more than we bargained for, with a delicious soup to start made from the pigs that we shared a field with. Excellent I thought, racking up mere food metres for a delicious feast. Then came the scary bit. Mrs Farmer emerged from the kitchen with a chopping board on which there was a strange looking sausage.

It was about a 14 inches long, sheathed in plastic and about the thickness of my arm, tied at each end with string. It, we learned was something called Brawn. When the pigs were slaughtered, 7 pigs worth of meat was returned from the abattoir, including heads, hearts, livers and all. Mrs Farmer has been diligently making pate, brawn, sausages and a huge variety of other pig based products, nothing from head to trotter was wasted.

We got to sample the head, which had been boiled until all of the meat emerged from the lips, cheeks and heaven knows where else. After establishing that there was no brain or tongue within this daunting looking parcel, we were instructed to put our allotted slice onto a bit of bread, smother it in raw onions and vinegar and then chomp away. TLB was not entirely enamoured by the idea and was looking quite green by the end. I actually quite enjoyed it, remarking that it was not unlike a multi textured pork pie. I was quite disappointed that there was no brain to sample, purely because I could have decided once and for all whether I preferred brains over brawn. I'll get my coat.

We talked about straw bale buildings and shower blocks and the farmer seems pretty keen to go and have a nose about at the Sustainability Centre so I reckon we may be onto something, I shall keep you posted on the result. The farmers do seem to be very forward thinking about the use of their land. They already have a sizeable wind turbine and though most of their farming activities are barely beyond subsistence, they could quite happily survive on veg and pig heads were the revolution to turn up unannounced.

We have asked about extending our stay here beyond the initially stated duration and were very warmly invited to stay for as long as we wanted which is really good to know. I have already bagsied a Turkey from amongst our neighbours and now all we need to do is work out how to roast the bugger in a tent. How exciting. It would appear that Christmas in the tent is a goer.


In the latter half of my weeks holiday I have been scheming. TLB and I went to visit the Sustainability Centre (home of Ben Law's publishers, Permanent Publications) in East Meon yesterday to walk the dog and see what sort of projects they currently have going on.

Our friendly farmer popped in just before we left to ask if we could pick up any literature about reed bed filtration systems whilst we were there and this got me thinking. It turns out that they are planning to build a new shower block for campers next year and they would like to do it with an environmentally sustainable twist. At the moment they are thinking about turf roofed semi subterranean buildings and are starting to think about planning permission and the best technologies to do this.

To my surprise, when we arrived at the sustainability centre they were in the process of building a shower block to service their own campers. There are a few yurts on site with hard standings and a few other projects in various stages of completion. A large pile of solar water heating units were stacked up next to the shower block ready for installation and one of the managers of the on site hostel informed me that they had the instruction manual and a little expertise and were going to wing it and see how they got on. Admirable.

The construction of the shower block was from straw bales with a south facing slanted roof, a design which I thought would be perfect for our farmer. The merits of building with straw bales are many but the main benefits to my mind are that they are very cheap and very quick to construct. With a little know how and a lot of effort it would be possible to knock up a straw bale house (or shower block) in no time.

I do not have the know how to be able to design and build such a thing but they sound like really useful skills to have so my plan is this: I intend to find a suitable teacher to run a course on straw bale construction. The course will be a week or so, or maybe split over a few weekends (to be honest I have no idea yet). The course would be spent building the shower block with eager volunteer aspirants like myself doing a lot of the hard work and learning how it is done in the process. The farmer would pay for materials and enough money to make it worthwhile for the expert, skivvies like me would earn knowledge in exchange for our labours and everyone is a winner. Not forgetting that TLB and I would get a newly souped up ecotastic shower block to make our lives a little easier.

The first stage in the process will of course be to persuade the farmer of what a groovy idea this is and my initial pitch to Mrs farmer was met with enthusiasm, we are in fact going round for tea and cake shortly.

Wednesday, 19 November 2008


The last couple of weeks have been very stressful, work has been the main issue with a very high pressure project but it didn't help that I was ill for the last week, which combined with the pressures of living in a tent made life feel hard.

This week is holiday. Hooray, finally I can spend my time with TLB and the dog, walking, camping, drinking and generally relaxing. Or not, as the case seems to be. TLB has also been under the weather so we had long weekend of snivelling, sleeping and hiding from the elements. The foul weather and the maladies ailing us both have gladly abated in the last 48 hours and in a bid to treat ourselves we decided to go to the local spa.

On arrival at the place we could tell it was not going to be the decadent indulgence that would have been ideal but the merits of a building full of warm water are not lost on two people who have lived under canvas for approaching 11 weeks. Having bought ourselves some swimming costumes we trundled in and made the most of the sauna, steam room, pools and relaxation lounge (3 loungers surrounded by very bad murals of lurid tropical fish). Languishing with your lover in a jacuzzi for an hour with not another soul about is heaven.

Sadly I was naive enough to make conversation with a man in the sauna. He turned out to be a fellow computer programmer and was all too eager to continue a conversation about SIP and TR/87 protocols in the jacuzzi. From now on, I will ensure that I maintain a gruff exterior when at the public baths in order to avoid that pernicious and predictable question, 'so, are you two, erm, together?' Sling yer hook pal, she's taken and now you have effectively announced your intentions toward my lover while we are all taking a nice friendly bath. Now I have to kill you, creepy man. And no I will not see you in the cafe, oddball.

We then preyed once again on the hospitality of my poetic friend who fed us G&Ts and popular media. Life would be a great deal more difficult without his assistance, his home is our favourite port in a storm. I keep asking him when he will purchase his tent, he retorts with 'If I did that where would you put all your stuff?'

The rest of the holiday, in accordance with my frugality drive will be spent walking and relaxing, with a day trip to the seaside somewhere on the cards. The frugality drive is hard. I have managed to pay off about £500 worth of debt and save a few hundred quid which is all good but once again, I am not awash in the surpluses of my efforts. If I am to be debt free and saving for some land, I will have to up the ante financially to make this all worthwhile, I do not want to be living in a tent in 5 years time.

Wednesday, 12 November 2008

Hard work

TLB has left me, I am ill, I have a huge deadline for Friday and the tent has blown down.

I know that the only reason that anyone reads this blog is to find out whether or not I develop some ghastly wood smoke based respiratory disease or get mauled by badgers in the night. Well, I am glad to say that today is not that day. TLB has gone back to stay with her father for a few days to catch up on some social engagements which has left me lots of time for clearing up snot and complaining. The huge deadline has been quite stressful but it was only the toilet tent that blew down. I thought a bit of drama might not go amiss as this blog does seem to be a bit mild most of the time.

I often wonder what my colleagues must make of me. Whilst TLB is away, I have been taking the dog into work with me. He spends the day in the car, though I hasten to add that he has three good length walks and half a dozen fag breaks today, before the animal rights crowd arrive and start ruining things. At work I always look like I am about to set off on an expedition but have thus far managed to resist the urge to rush back from the shower to my desk in a towel to retrieve the pants that I have stashed in my desk.

Some are genuinely interested and I know of at least a couple who may be reading (Hello!) but the comedy opportunities are not lost on a few. I sometimes hear people complain of the smell of firewood (which I rather like) and I am known as swampy in some departments, which in fairness I think completely misses the point but hey, it is with affection.

The new MD for the company turned up not long after I did and I had not once had reason to speak to him before a few weeks ago when he sidled up to my desk and asked how I was doing. I introduced myself and told him about the progress on the project, we chatted for a few minutes and then he said, 'So, tell me about your new digs.'

He is a Canadian man and seems very personable, though I am a little nonplussed that he doesn't look that much older than me and is in charge. Knowing that the Canadians are largely a pretty outdoorsy bunch I showed him a couple of the photos on this 'ere blog and let him know of my motives regarding saving and the like. He seemed to approve, which is good as I am sure he was trying to find out if I was a threat to the project.

As a computer programmer I am almost expected to be scruffy and have no taste in clothes, which is very handy when you live in a tent and have no taste in clothes. It is generally assumed by those in the know, the less a person appears to think about their hair, the more time they have to consider technical matters. So, with a sense of slight anarchy, I am throwing myself into my work and learning loads, tufts and all. For the last couple of months work has played far heavier on my mind than anything the mild British autumn could throw at us and I desperately hope that the terrible and inevitable crash of the world creditocracy won't put me out of a job.

Wednesday, 5 November 2008


A few weeks ago we had bestowed upon us a box filled with all sorts of pan related goodies. They were packed in paper to offer some protection and the box was discarded in a quiet corner for later disposal. It must be hard to believe but we do actually have a few quiet hinterlands within the tent, areas infrequently visited and it was into one of these that the box sat untouched for a couple of weeks. The weekend just passed was tent relocation time, we had an extra week on the last spot because it was wazzing it down all last weekend and we couldn't face moving.

During the move I grabbed the box and started to take it outside. The box started making scrabbling noises and I saw beasts scampering about within, to my shame I made a sound like a shocked girl. TLB found this most amusing. I took it outside and deposited it on the grass. Gingerly I peeled back the lid of the box and peered in. Nothing.

At this point my money was squarely on a mouse, but I had considered the possibility of a shrew or a vole or, horror of horrors, a rat. Please not a rat, I would certainly have to kill it with a hammer and would have to show no mercy when I eat it to strike fear into the hearts of its evil besnouted comrades. Hammer primed, safety glasses on, I lifted up the top layer of paper from the box. A tail darted about in the shredded paper that was clearly their home. Then came a bulging set of eyes. It is a mouse dammit, thank god. It was a field mouse I think, it froze and locked onto my gaze. There was a glint in his eye telling me to make my move, daring me to cross the line. I thought he was rather cute and resolved not to eat him.

It turned out it had a spouse as well, also cowering in the box and they had not yet worked out that they could jump free from the box so they sat there, staring at us. It was at this point that the dog bowled in wondering what all the fuss was about. The mice, previously inert were now fighting for survival. One of them burrowed into the paper and the other made a break for it.

It was at this point I knew that it did in fact have to die, because the little bastard was running back to the tent. I was there holding back the dog to ensure the little free loaders survival and he makes a dash for my food box. In a last minute save by TLB she managed to scare him away from the door so he burrowed under the tent and hid from the dog whom I had given up restraining. Meanwhile TLB managed to herd the other mouse into the hedge away from the attention of our somewhat over zealous amateur hunter-prancer.

The little swine must have been in paradise. There was quinoa and cous cous, rice and pasta. Vegetables and of course, cheese. What disappoints me most is the dog. When I bought him it was on the understanding that he would be excellent at killing small cute things and insects. It would appear that he can quite happily co-habit with whole families of furry fiends for weeks at a time without so much as raising a hackle. He has been in disgrace ever since.

It does raise the question of what I can do about vermin, or gorgeous little furballs as TLB would have it. It has become very apparent that we need to keep the food box closed and clean up spills quickly but what can I do about dog food? It gets put in his bowl each day and sometimes he saves it. I have never met a dog that saves its food before but Sometimes I can give him a sausage and he will squirrel it away for later use. He can't exactly stash his worldly morsels in Tupperware and would be stuffed with a zip lock bag. He can't even work a knife, let alone scissors, which has the fortunate upside of making him very easy to trap in a tent. So we have to accept that we may get the odd nocturnal visitor. The quiet backwaters of the tent are to be made useful so as to provide the maximum disruption to the nesting instincts of the neighbors and the dog will be required to meet strict targets on rodent rendition.

Monday, 3 November 2008

My mum

My mum has a camper van that she calls Bridget, the first vehicle she has ever named she hastens to add. She arrives with cakes and casseroles, dips and delights amid a flurry of furry jumpers and warm approval. A combination of motherly concern and camping zeal have bought her in our direction a few times since we arrived and it is always a joy to see her. Bridget represents my mothers freedom and her individuality. I have never seen her happier than when at the helm of her mobile domicile. I am dead proud.

The future

Sunday morning has turned out to be very mild which is lovely as I can open the door and lie in bed almost in the open air. There is a very light rain but the stove is burning away and the radio is helping me with my morning worship. Everything is in fact rather lovely. It makes me wonder why more people haven't made the jump into a tent to weather their financial storms. For a thousand quid you can equip yourself with home and hearth and live a very comfortable life.

I have been considering my options about the future. the prospect of saving up for a house just so that I can live in a home owned by a bank is far from the ideal resolution to this whole caper. I am starting to wonder if I can retain this feeling of freedom beyond the intended duration of our camping spree. Living largely off the grid is very satisfying, maintaining my usual scruffy work persona seems to have been no problem and TLB still seems to relish the romanticism of open fires and starry nights, I have no reason to want this adventure to end.

What I want to do is buy some woodland. I want to buy some woodland and then build us a house to live in. Legally it could get complicated but I believe that if I can build a sufficiently low impact dwelling as to arouse minimal opposition, we can easily make life very comfortable and maybe end up with our dream home for as little as £50k. These are only the seeds of a developing plan and the winter may bring to bear some degree of realism that I currently lack, but I reckon with determination we can pull it off.

One of my all time heroes is a chap called Ben Law, I stayed with him quite a few years ago whilst I was working for an environmental magazine as a boy and the recognition of what he stood for has stayed with me vividly ever since. He was the broker of a land deal in West Sussex and into the bargain he managed to wangle himself a few acres of chestnut wood for £10. When I went to visit he he had built a log cabin which was used as kitchen and living room and had a yurt in which he, his wife and his child slept. He manufactured charcoal and walking sticks from the chestnut coppice that he was cultivating and he ran woodland management workshops to teams of eager Good Lifer's.

Ben spent many years in perpetual legal wranglings with various authorities after a complaint from a local busy-body drew attention to him but after a great deal of stress he eventually won the right to build himself a house. The terms of the planning permission are that he can never sell the house, he can only pass it on to his children or spouse and should he wish to leave it, the land must be left as it was found.

I have only seen the finished house on Grand Designs but have resolved to go and visit him in the near future to find out more about both planning permission and the practicalities of establishing a life in the woods. It would also make the whole thing a lot more tangible for TLB and maybe give us some inspiration. Ben Law is a trailblazer and he has many lessons to teach the world in these times of impending environmental crisis. Lessons about self sufficiency, community, harmony with nature and resistance to authority. Who could ask for a better hero?
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