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

Tuesday, 20 March 2012

Smells like mean spirit

Without wishing to sound needy, I'm a bit of a fan of the odd self-help book. I don't have a regular fix, you understand, I'm not trying to Win Friends and Influence People one week and reaching for the Little Book of Calm the next.

However, I do like Steven Covey's Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, of which my particular favourite habit is number five - Seek First to Understand.

I have had great cause to think about this during the last week as our application for temporary residence came up before the planning committee.

We spent the days before carefully honing a three-minute speech we were to give that would convince the committee to think again about the planning officer's advice to reject our application. He says our venture does not meet the functional need criteria that would enable us to stay on the land. We disagree. We further disagreed with the way he put this across in his report.

Anyway, it was all a waste of time since I feel that no matter what we had said in our three minutes, it would have been completely pointless. Maybe next time I will just recite the telephone directory.

Nobody appeared to be in the mood for trying to understand, you see. Where's habit five when you need it?

Some of the village had turned out for the event - hoping for a ringside seat in what they assumed would be a nail in the coffin of the hope and vision of a young(ish) get-up-and-go sort of family.

I have found this negativity really difficult to quantify, especially when I measure it against the enthusiasm I get whenever I talk about what we are doing to people I work with or meet on the train. In fact, one lady I met was so interested that she stayed on past her stop to hear more.

Since I have spent so much time waffling on about mud and cats, it is probably worth a little recap on what we are trying to achieve. The idea was to take a small amount of land and see if we could make a living out of it that sustains ourselves, provides enough work and income that we can take on an extra worker, and becomes an example of how a small-scale permaculture-based agricultural model can work.

The plan really is best viewed as a flow chart. Gully made a lovely one - all set out on a grid and colour co-ordinated with big words like pyrolysis - but I did a far jollier one for the children's benefit on a large wipe board we had. This featured trees and truffles and chicken and worms and compost and bees and us in our caravan with with large friendly arrows showing how everything flowed into and out of each other, which impressed our education inspector no end.

But they failed to impress planning and thus our application for a temporary agricultural dwelling was unanimously rejected by the committee.

We will now be seeking an appeal - which means more hours spent on paperwork rather than trying to get on with what we want to do. This is rendered more difficult by the fact that we do not have access to the internet at the land, our attempt to get a telephone line being scuppered by a local who threatened to chainsaw down the telegraph pole that BT Open Reach was trying to put up. 

Still, chin up, grit teeth, move on - and in that spirit I set off the next day for a doctor's appointment in Tiverton accompanied by newly-nine Zena who was looking forward to a little quality crochet time.
Kurt Cobain, good for post planning
committee rage

She put on the car stereo. 'I don't feel like listening to Lana Del Rey,' I said. 'What do you want instead, Mummy,' she asked sweetly. 'Nirvana,' I said. 'I'm in the mood for Nirvana.'

And as we negotiated the Devon lanes in thick grey mist listening to Kurt bawling in futile fury, I felt a catharsis taking place.

I believe I may be in a Nirvana mood for some time.


  1. I'm really so sorry hear that your planning application has been rejected. I hope several days later you're back to listening to something to soothe and calm the jaded nerves. What can you do but keep trying! At least the warmer weather is on it's way and you are in a beautiful place to enjoy it. Best wishes Karen.

  2. Hi Karen et al

    Also sorry to hear this (although I know it wasn't a great surprise). Fingers crossed that the appeal has some effect. Will join you in some Nirvana-listening & hope that helps too!

    Vix & co

  3. Thank you! Enjoy Kurt, Vix - and I have managed to include more soothing music now, Karen.