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, 30 September 2012

Basic instincts

The adventure with the mosquito larvae in my hand washing has led to a rethink – with the result that I have spent the week playing happily about with the water system.

The first task was to start afresh with our big barrel that collects the rain water off our incredibly efficient corrugated roof. The water it contained was a light shade of brackish and was hosting an assortment of dead insects, very alive larvae and some beetles swimming vigorously. There were a lot of these, and no dead ones, which made me wonder. Had some of them been swimming for weeks? Or had they all gone for a spontaneous dip together? In any case, I carefully lifted them out – with my bare hands. I was very proud of myself.

I then set about cleaning some receptacles. These are blue 20-litre containers that we got off eBay. They must have come from a juicing factory because their labels bear information such as 'blackcurrant concentrate'. What was left of the concentrate had, of course, congealed into a life form thus the barrels required much sluicing and shaking about to dislodge the residue.

With everything ready, all I had to do was wait for the rain. And that is never far away although, given that North Yorkshire spent most of the last week under water, I was surprised there wasn't more of it. Still there was enough to fill a 220-litre barrel in a couple of hours of steady rainfall. This was incredibly satisfying – so much so that I took to standing soggily outside to stare at the water cascading out of the rainfall outlet.

Infinity pools – over-rated
I haven't always been so easily pleased – but over the years age and child-rearing have dramatically reduced my pleasure threshold. Where once luxury might have been an infinity pool somewhere close to the Aegean, now it is getting through a cup of tea without having to deliver loo roll or a lecture on cat sleep management. In such a climate, watching rainwater trickle into a barrel is positively self-indulgent.

But there is something more tangible to this than the lamentable state of my down time. I feel increasingly that living – as many in the western world do – so far removed from our basic needs robs us of something very fundamental.

In his Hierarchy of Needs model, American psychologist Abraham Maslow argued that in order to achieve our full potential four fundamental layers of needs have to be met, the most basic of which is physiological – the need for food, water, warmth, sleep and, er, other bodily functions.

In a civilised affluent society we don't have to think too much about those things. Flush toilets remove our waste and take it somewhere nameless, where someone faceless does something unknown to it so we never have to think about it again. We buy our food neatly packed in boxes or wrapped in cellophane. Clean water gushes out of our taps. Shops sell cheap ready-made clothes to keep us warm.

This is clearly all to the good – Maslow is right, it's pretty difficult to achieve your full potential if your body is in starvation. But when our basic needs are so easily met is some fundamental instinct thrown off balance? I don't have the answer to that, of course. I only know that when I create something rudimental out of nothing, I feel a deep sense of well being. For instance, I knit. Out of two pins and a length of yarn I can create jumpers, socks, scarves and hats. I'm not the only one – there are a lot of us about. Some people still even take needle and thread and make garments. Why do this when we can go to Primark and buy a sweater or tracksuit bottoms for £3.99?

In the same vein, people hunt, camp, grow vegetables, keep chicken, make honey – in short we do things that are time consuming, sometimes difficult, often messy, all in the name of keeping in touch with our basic needs – because in a world of hotels, supermarkets and pre-packed eggs, we don't have to do any of them.

All of which is a very long-winded way of saying that by standing in the rain watching my water barrel fill up I am connecting with some primordial survival mechanism that feels a need to be connected with. It doesn't necessarily mean that I am going mad.

Yet ...

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