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, 22 April 2012

Scribbling in the margins

Ever since obtaining copies of the parish council minutes, I have been feeling even more marginalised than usual.

I won't say we are universally loathed within the parish – I have met several people who are quietly interested in what we are trying to achieve – but the clamour of the vocal ones appears to have drowned such seeds of moderation for now.

What upsets them so is a suspicion that by initially moving on to the land without planning permission we are getting away with something vaguely illegal. It isn't – applying for retrospective planning permission is commonplace, just fraught with perils for the applicant who may have to undo building work or, in our case, move off.

It's hard not to take it all personally, but when I am able to stand back from it, I find this concept of being marginalised very interesting. I am a white woman from southern England and although I do not like to think I am middle-class, I have some of those credentials – for instance, I work in the media and speak a bit posh, like. I would, therefore, not be expected to experience much prejudice other than the usual bilge from the odd unreconstructed male.

However, I do things that appear to excite irrational prejudice. I don't send my kids to school, for instance, and home education is one of those subjects that gets right up lots of people's noses without them having much idea of what it's all about.

Then there's this living in a field business that is causing such bluster and bile – the worst of which emanates from those who have never spoken to us. It is much easier to demonise people when you dehumanise them.

But I have decided that this is all good for my lily-livered liberal soul. I have this odd idea that it is only the experience of difficulties that saves one from being unbearably smug.

Take children, for instance; I have three of them – two are easy going, one is more challenging. I dread to think what I would have been like if I'd only had the two easy ones. I'd have felt very superior about my obvious parenting skills. But the challenging one whispers to my conscience 'parenting skills be blowed – happy, easy kids are just luck'. Thus he keeps me on my toes and makes me a nicer human being, although not always, it has to be said, when he is in the middle of being challenging.

Coincidentally, one of the keystones of permaculture is to 'value the marginal'. In permaculture terms, the marginal is the place where two eco-systems or habitats meet, woodland and meadow for instance, which can be more productive and richer in species than either habitat on its own.

This view clearly has much wider significance. That it is at the edges of practically any sphere, from science to society, that diversity and innovation can be found. If you want to know what the next interesting thing will be, look to the edges of society where ideas clash and fuse. Permaculture itself has been pretty marginal for years – as has the eco-movement. Hippies have been quietly living in woods, harvesting water and composting poo for a long time – it is only now that those ideas are gaining weight in the mainstream.

So there is much to be gained from feeling marginalised - not least that it will hopefully teach me how not to turn into an intolerant twit.

I am hoping that in time it will also imbue me with a modicum of measure and calm in the face of challenging times and people.

In the meantime, where's that bloody Nirvana CD?


  1. Living or striving for lets say a less unconventional lifestyle in my view makes many others insecure with their own choices or at least question them - not everyone but some. I have four home-educated children that have come in pairs (two sets of twins) one easy going 10 year old, one very difficult and challenging 10 year old and a pair of feisty five year olds and we're just working it out or making it up as we go along mostly - very humbling! We are attempting to follow a different path and it raises many eyebrows but in the end we have to be true to ourselves and follow the lives we believe we want. I love hearing about the different lives people choose including yours and your blog so thanks for posting.

  2. I don't have a glass of fizz in my hand, Angela, but I do have a cup of tea - so here's to making it up as we go along! Thank you very much for your comment, Angela and hurray for challenging/feisty/easy going kids. Karen