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, 30 April 2013

Smoke gets in your chai

They asked me, one day in a Sainsbury's aisle, how I knew whether I was getting a good deal on my utility bills.

I, of course, replied that I was getting a very good deal on my utilities thank you all the same, since they came courtesy of Mother Earth.

This caused a passing man to stop in his tracks, turn back, and comment: 'I just wanted to say, that is the best answer I have ever heard.'

I swelled a little with pride, which soon dissipated as I wandered around the shop. I felt a pang of sadness; it wasn't an answer I would be able to give for much longer since we will have to move off the land soon.

The mood continued, so it was that when I arrived back home I decided to cheer myself up with a nice cup of tea. Unfortunately, my tea tasted a little odd. I am very wedded to tea, and this was upsetting.

I put it down to some kind of human error in the cup maintenance (cleaning division) department. But a second cup proved just as nasty. By now, I had identified the oddness as a definite smoked taste. Had, I wondered, I washed the cups in the same water as the smoked mackerel pan?

I washed the cups again and swilled out the kettle for good measure. Then went and drew fresh water from the rainwater harvesting barrel. My tea still tasted smoked.

It was then, I realised, that somehow the smoke from the woodburner was affecting the water that comes off the roof. This is a mystery, however, since we have had the woodburner going all winter with no obvious effects on chai quality. I can only think that it is because the rain has slowed from a daily torrent to a sporadic trickle, and that the decrease in volume makes it more susceptible to being tainted by smoke if the wind is blowing from the south west, which it invariably is.

Thus far, I have been relatively pleased with our water system. I have enjoyed watching water drip into the barrel, I have coped with reasonable good cheer with breaking the ice on top of it - but if it's going to start messing with my tea, then it is a relationship that is doomed.

And this experience has led me to think fondly of the tap. Some form of which, it seems, has been around for a long time. The ability to regulate water flow was clearly desirable to early civilisations - and, of course, the Romans advanced a nice line in plumbing. Leonardo da Vinci predictably got in on the act and sketched out a few examples of valves - presumably somewhere in between the helicopter and submarine. And the globe valve, which is roughly the tap as we know it today, was patented by, just as predictably, an enterprising Victorian, J H Davis.

In rainy Britain, we take the abundance of water for granted - despite frequent fretting about hose pipe bans - but globally 780 million people lack access to clean water, according to the website water.org.

That means  really unclean water - as opposed to the smoked but fresh from the skies variety we have in deepest Devon.

All the same, I am beginning to view the prospect of a tap or two with increasing optimism.

Tuesday, 23 April 2013

Serfs up

I am sitting in our caravan in the middle of a field in deepest Devon and I am actually on the internet.

This development has been brought to you courtesy of the wind, which doth blow with some force around these parts. Actually, I am writing on borrowed wind, as it were, since I am using up the last vestiges of available energy in our batteries from a considerable gale some days ago.

The wind would have gone unharnessed, had Gully not brilliantly restored the windmill to working order. The charger was faulty and he felt the little turbine was sited too low for maximum efficiency. This was rectified by a scaffolding pole and some ingenious engineering and now the windmill spins with great effect, unless the wind drops, as it now has.

So this visit to the internet is a little temporary, as, it is becoming clear, will frequently be the case. But it is nonetheless an extremely exciting development since I have come to view lack of access to the world wide web as the chief drawback of living here.

'What, more than running water?' asked a friend. Well, yes. This is a slightly odd view - after all,  hardly any of us were on the internet much before the late nineties. So why have I come to see it as so indispensable now, ranking it alongside the humble tap as a 'must have'.

Maybe I am just extraordinarily frivolous and find life without the frequent checking of Facebook updates unbearable. And there is some truth here. I simply like keeping up with people. In the days before the internet, when we used the good old-fashioned telephone apparatus, my bills were always eye-wateringly high. Social networking on the telephone and in the pub merely moved online (although I have to say, my preferred method remains the pub).

But the chief function of the internet - and the reason it has become so central to our life - as that it is a great enabler. Without it, access to information, goods and services becomes very challenging - and over the last couple of years we have needed all of those a great deal. The idea that I can sit here and with a couple of clicks surf my way to anything from a knitting pattern to how to make a solar panel - and then with another click source the materials I will need to do either, is so exhilarating, it literally makes my fingertips tingle.

There is a slight irony, however, to all this internet bounty. Our planning appeal was refused and we will at some point in the next few months have to move off of the land. This is a little sad. We still, however, have some really interesting plans and have come to see this as a chance to consolidate and regroup - so we are bloody, but unbowed

'Success,' said Winston Churchill 'is stumbling from failure to failure with no loss of enthusiasm.'

That sounds like us.