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

Wednesday, 20 March 2013

Barrel of laughs

'What would be the attribute you would most like your kids to have?'

The question was posed by my friend, Lou whom I have known since school and is the embodiment of the good things that can come out of Friends Reunited. Lou was always wise, as demonstrated by her answer to the question, which was 'resilience'.

This conversation came to mind the other week, when I was breaking the ice on the water barrel into which we harvest rain water. I normally syphon this into three smaller containers for everyday use, which usually is enough to outlast any weather conditions that might make a trip to the water barrel deeply unpleasant. But we'd had a cold snap that had lasted a couple of weeks and needed topping up before any washing up could occur.

Outside, I was confronted by an inch of solid ice on top of the barrel, which I had to break with a hammer before sinking a jug nto freezing water to fill up the containers. Not for the first time, I reflected that other people have taps - while at the same time feeling pleased with being so self sufficent - and resilient.

It has taken a fair amount of resilience to last the nearly two years we have spent living in a caravan without utilities. The drudgery hasn't always been easy, nor the lack of space and privacy  - and the feeling of isolation stemming from communications issues and difficulties with some  locals has been a bit rubbish too.

But I'd do it again. 'When we live within our comfort zone, it begins to shrink,' someone once said to me. And they were right - I have met an awful lot of people with shrunken comfort zones.

In the grand scheme of things, the experience has hardly been that tough. We've not been hungry, we've usually been warm, we've had music and books and games - and most importantly, we've been living this way through choice, which is an immense privilege.

I recently came across the following extract while doing a little research on the history of laundry. It's from one of my favourite websites, www.oldandinteresting.com, which is the history of domestic paraphernalia - and, by default, generally a history of women. It's fascinating - and worth a visit for those times when you're having a bad day because the dishwasher isn't working properly.

The washing of clothes at Petersburgh is very remarkable; it is done by women, who stand for hours on the ice, plunging their bare arms into the freezing water, in, perhaps, eighteen or twenty degrees of frost. They shelter themselves from the wind, which is the most bitter part of winter—fifteen degrees of frost, with wind, being more severe than twenty-five or thirty without—by means of large fir branches stuck in the ice, on which they hang mats. In general the women seem to be more regardless of cold than the men ; they seldom, even in the most intense cold, wear any thing on their heads but a silk handker-chief. - R. and A. Heber, The Life of Reginald Heber, 1830

Now that's resilience.

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