mumsnetBack along, my family and I swapped a house for a three-acre field in Devon and a leaky caravan where we lived off-grid for two years. Sadly, we failed to get the planning permission we needed to stay. We are now back within four walls, with a proper loo and everything in a cottage in Dartmoor. So this is now a blog about living ethically amid a fabulous landscape with our home educated kids while we adjust to being 'normal' - for a while... and what we plan to do with our land next

Saturday, 28 May 2011

A question of taste

‘What else can we use truffles for,’ asked Gully one day. We were reviewing our permaculture plan and having trouble thinking beyond truffle oil, which we were planning to make with the byproduct of our aquaculture process. ‘What about truffle honey,’ asked Gully. This notion, I found highly amusing – Gully detested honey and had yet to taste a truffle and so I felt I had licence to guffaw at his pitiful ignorance. ‘Truffle honey!’ I laughed, with deep scorn. ‘What a completely insane idea! I mean, what kind of idiot would eat that? It’s like eating Brussels sprouts ice-cream,’ I continued as Gully turned back to the computer screen. ‘Or fudge-covered steak, or jam tarts with gravy, or …’

‘Well, would you just look at this little lot.’ said Gully.

It appears that when ‘truffle honey’ is typed into Google, 4,300,000 results come up in 0.11 seconds. If you like spending around 12 quid a jar, it is possible to buy acacia honey with black truffle, Cotswold white truffle honey, truffle honey with brie – and that little selection is just from the top 10 hits.

‘We’ll do that then,’ I said ungraciously, stomping out of the room.

Saturday, 21 May 2011

Free falling

I took to Freecycling away my life. It’s a bit like playing God, Freecycling. One offers, say, a rusty girl’s bike, or an ancient cobweb-strewn bookcase, and 20 replies later have to decide who should be the lucky recipient. Should one, for instance, be clinical and take the first request. Or emotional, and go for the single mother with the sob story. Or irrational, because someone makes a joke. The ones who never received anything were a strange set of people who went for just about everything I offered with a breezy ‘yeah, I’ll have that – I’ll pop round later’.

It was odd seeing all the things I had collected over the years disappearing into people’s cars. As I handed over the ride-on bikes and push-along cars in my mind’s eye I could see little forms furiously peddling up the drive, or waving flushed with the success of their first solo cycle. Even bookcases, heavily used over the years but unnoticed, went out of the door with memories and regrets. ‘You don’t understand what it’s like parting with things,’ Zena reproached me when I broached the subject of the hideous and enormous Barbie castle yet again. ‘Believe me, I do,’ I told her.

But, in all – the emotional scales of the Big Give-away were tipping to the positive. There was the sheer joy of ridding myself of clutter I realised I didn’t need and could replace easily and cheaply if I really wanted to. And there were the truly heart-warming recipients of long-unused items: the dictaphone I had bought my dying father to record his life story went to a lady who wanted to revive her comatose mother with the sound of her children’s voices; the foot spa that went to the sensory room of a special needs school; the little bookshelf that a hard-up couple were going to paint for their little girl’s bedroom.

The more I divested myself of possessions, the more I began to realise that there was something to be said for those religions that advocate the absence of material things. I began to picture myself in my dotage, wandering the country Sadhu-like with a small knapsack of essential items. Some days I became so full of the joys of decluttering that I got carried away. On one trip to the tip, having joyfully dispensed with assorted bits of metal that I had been pointlessly keeping for years, I merrily threw away the old suspension coil that had been rolling annoyingly around the back of the car for several days. It made a very satisfying clang as it landed in the bottom of the metal skip at the household recycling unit.

I felt a faint tinge of disquiet as I drove away that increased the nearer I drew to home. ‘I hope I did the right thing,’ I said to Gully nonchalantly, when I entered the house. ‘But I threw away that old springy coil thing in the back of the car’ …

… ‘You know that springy coil thing, I just chucked in the skip,’ I asked the helpful tip attendant precisely seven minutes later – three of which had involved much shouting. ‘Well, I need it back – urgently.’

Saturday, 14 May 2011

The inspector cometh

We had always been under the radar and I liked it that way – why, I thought, jump through hoops when I don’t need to? But the move was causing me concern – we would be living on the edge of small village in a caravan on a field with our children obviously not going to school, I gave it about five minutes before a concerned neighbour rung up the local authority. I had a horror of being taken by surprise by some clipboard-wielding bureaucrat picking his way bad-temperedly over the mud – and therefore decided that a visit by an inspector while we had a flushing toilet, bookshelves and walls, might be a good plan.

We were blessed in the Cambridge area with an inspector who really understood home education. I wasn’t worried about the visit, but felt a little judicious coaching of the children the night before might be in order. ‘What are you going to talk to Trevor about,’ I asked the children brightly. ‘We could tell him about our lab,’ said Zena.

The children’s lab was a playhouse at the far end of the garden, in which they spent a goodly proportion of their time doing heaven knows what. ‘Good plan,’ I said. ‘What do you do in there anyway?’ ‘We eat flowers,’ supplied Matty. ‘Ah,’ I said, nodding wisely ‘best not mention that to Trevor.’ The conversation moved on to reading matter. ‘When Trevor asks what you are currently reading, could you perhaps show him something a little more erudite than The Simpsons Big Book of Bart,’ I suggested to Zena. ‘Of course,’ she replied.

Trevor turned out to be enormously likeable with a keen interest in working dogs. We discussed the merits of various training methods for a while and I felt that the visit was going swimmingly. That was until the children arrived. ‘We’ve got a lab,’ they obligingly informed him. I beamed fondly. ‘What do you do in your lab, then,’ asked Trevor. ‘We eat flowers,’ they chorused. They went on to discuss the merits of the dead nettle over that of the buttercup and dandelion. The buttercup, they informed the clearly taken-aback inspector, was somewhat spicy, while the dandelion was just disgusting. There followed a slight disagreement amongst themselves on this latter point, while I closed my eyes and wished it all away. ‘Why don’t you go upstairs and bring down some of the things you are up to,’ I said brightly. ‘I’m sure Trevor would be most interested.’ A minute later, Zena appeared happily waving – The Big Book of Bart.