Oh god, I think I’ve tipped over the edge. Remember I mentioned that we’d gone on holiday to Devon in June? No, of course not. Well we DID. And it was amazing. We were stupidly, hallucinogenically lucky with the weather. It was like Saint Tropez but with cockles and rock pools and without the need to wax and starve yourself within an inch of extinction before arrival.
We went with a big group of families, which was great too since the kids played and punched without much need of intervention, leaving us time to doze and pretend to read impressive books. What was really amazing, though, was the family we stayed with. They moved there in the seventies, when the house was just a leaky barn. They were proper hippies (though they might loathe the word – so sorry if you’re reading) not the trustafarian, macrobiotic kind, the real deal. They built the house themselves and by hand, had their babies amid the rubble and the fields, and were, pretty much, entirely separate from the money economy for a while – growing, tending and baking their own food; building, fixing and sewing their own things; trading skills and goods with neighbours.
Which was, in itself, enough to make me self-consciously shuffle my own, ‘made in China’ shoes. But what I really noticed where the kids. Born and raised with all this (and completely without the usual piles of plastic toys or telly) they’re now in their twenties. You might expect them to be a little… eccentric. But they’re absurdly cool and kind. And - this is what struck me – extraordinarily, almost unbelievably resourceful.
One day, as we were driving to the beach, their son was digging up clay in the lane as we passed. By the time we came back in the afternoon, he’d built a pizza oven with it. The next day, we made our own pizzas, cooked them in the oven, and ate them while watching the sun set over the fields. He makes his own clothes, even his own spectacles. He travels the world, paying his way and surfing. And yeah, I’m sure it’s not perfect and has its own irritations but it all looked so… free. Not to need the stuff or services most of us (especially me) rely on routinely. It looked (under the sun and a liberal dose of gin) so liberating.
Even with the gin I was dimly aware that I’d be a bit rubbish at living like that full time. Nevertheless, I blame that holiday for what came next. I booked a very weird kind of break for August. And since August is now upon us, and the gin has long since worn off I’m beginning to feel a bit nervous.
Next week, me, Tom, Johnny and the baby are all going to life in the forest for a week, working as volunteers in an eco-community that described itself thus:
“We’re currently a group of 11 adults, spanning a wide age range, and 2 young children. We are … a small woodland community which uses environmentally sound methods of working the land without fossil fuels.
We have planning permission for self-built houses on the condition that we make a living from the land. We make our monetary incomes mainly through forestry, apple work and gardening. As a result we’re money poor but otherwise rich!
We manage about 28 acres of douglas fir, larch, and mixed broadleaf woodland using horses, two person saws, and a wood-fired steam-powered sawmill.
Our pastures, orchards, and gardens are organically certified, and no-dig methods are commonly used. We press apple juice for sale, grow most of our own vegetables, keep chickens and bees, and sell our produce at farmers markets. We make loads of jam, chutney, pickles, cider, and wine.
We have solar powered 12v electricity, spring water on tap, and use compost toilets. We burn wood for cooking, heating, and for hot water in the bathouse. We eat little meat (mostly game), and try to cater for all diets. Though some of us would consider ourselves to be spiritual, we have no shared spirituality. Most people wash their clothes by hand. Life is lived mostly outdoors, so it’s cold in the winter, but we live on the top of a steep hill, so there’s plenty of chances to get warm! There’s loads of wildlife on site, particularly badgers, deer and ticks!”
We get our own guest house (built by the community from purely natural materials) with a wood burner. Apparently, the only things we need to bring are: “a torch, warm clothes, practical footwear, and any fresh looking roadkill you find en-route.”
It’ll be an adventure… Right?!