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

Sunday, 1 April 2012

Going off-key

It was all going so very well. The sun came out, sleepy and befuddled bees buzzed, and I was experiencing such a surge of bonhomie that I even confided to Gully that I almost liked living where we are.

In such a mood we set off to Exeter last week, on a warm and lovely morning. As we drove through the city we saw enough people we knew to induce a feeling of warmth and fuzziness and affection for the old place.

Later that day we went to our home education group and sat among new and lovely friends talking and laughing and knitting in the sunshine while the children played.

All felt right with the world.

That was, until we went to leave and I discovered that the keys to the car had vanished off the face of the Earth.

I went through the usual motions - the 'they must be somewhere, silly me' routine. I emptied bags and crawled around the car, but after an hour of taking everything apart, it was clear they were not on my person or, indeed, anywhere to be found.

So I called the AA, which has certainly demonstrated value for money these last couple of years – and after much harrumphing, the rescue lorry managed to hoist our poor car onto the back and set off to tow us home along 14 miles of country lanes. I spent most of this journey anxiously examining Matty for signs of greenness around the gills, since he is prone to car sickness and the journey in the back of the pick-up truck was spectacularly jolt-full.

As luck would have it, I had that night arranged to go to a local pub. There is a knitting group that meets in the pub once a month and I and a fellow needle-clacking villager were due to go. Thus I was able to beat a hasty exit before Gully and I could discuss the situation at any length.

The next day dawned hopeless. The last of the straws I was clutching at – that someone had gone home with my keys by mistake – gave out and we were faced with the true enormity of our situation, which was that we were well and truly stuck.

We don't have a spare key for the car. It only came with one and to buy another was what seemed like an exorbitant amount of money. Old and beaten as it is, it is still high tech enough to come with an immobiliser so it cannot be hot-wired or another barrel fitted.

Furthermore, it cannot be towed by rope anywhere, since the steering locks if the ignition isn't on. But to get a replacement key it needs to be taken to the Vauxhall garage to be re-programmed, whatever that means. It would therefore have to go back on a lorry, only this time at our expense and not the AA's. All of which means we are looking at more than £200 to replace the keys I lost.

It seems the car is not the only thing around here that needs reprogramming.

I believe I may have mentioned how difficult it is to live in deepest rural Devon without a car before (see Living in the country - not for wimps). But for a quick recap, we rely totally on it to obtain water and food as well as necessities like recharging phones – not to mention transportation. The nearest small shop is three-ish miles away – as is the nearest bus stop. We do not have large fridges or freezers at the field thus it doesn't take us long to run out of food. In short, without a car we are stuffed.

Our problems were compounded by the fact that I was due to leave for work in London for the weekend the next day. With two adults, one can put on their walking boots and head off for the bright lights of Witheridge with a stout heart and knapsack to obtain supplies leaving the other behind to look after the kids. But with one adult, children would have to be towed along for the seven-mile round trip – and that would not be pleasant for anyone involved.

So it was decided there were enough supplies to comfortably last two people while I took the younger two for a hasty sojourn at my mother's – confirming again the wisdom of having come home to Devon and the bosom of extremely supportive relatives.

The poor dog tried to follow us through the village. She couldn't understand why we were setting off equipped for a long walk without her accompaniment. I shouted at her to go back but she stood her ground with a sulky expression and drooping head. It all felt a bit desolate.

Still, yet another relative has come to the rescue. My brother is rashly lending us his car until such a time as we can sort out our problem. I only hope he has a spare set of keys.

And maybe there's a bit of serendipity at work too; in a week of forecourts running dry while people frantically filled jerry cans in advance of a rumoured tanker driver's strike - perhaps it wasn't such a bad week not to need any petrol.


  1. Oh love! I am gonna get you one of those keyrings you can whistle at or whatever and they answer...I have been meaning to get myself one for years as I replay a lesser scenario almost daily! Now I have even more reason to purchase! Next time I'm in Saffron Walden I will treat us both :o)

  2. Skooldaze, my old fruit, I need keys with a homing device, not just a whistle - do they sell them in Saffron Walden? They STILL haven't turned up, by the way!