Why go off Grid, and why now?
Why indeed. I frequently ask myself that question, and wonder idly if at thirty-something years old, I’m having an early mid-life crisis. Then, I contemplate staying in the call centre I’m working in for another year, and consider the amount the guy sitting next to me pays to rent a modest flat. Then I remember, I am not having delusions of being a mister farmer man, I am in fact escaping from ‘the box’.
So far, I have explained how we found our land in Wales, how we intend to make energy, and our offbeat way of flying under the radar for the first few months, and hiding ourselves away. I’ve been descriptive, hopefully entertaining, and I hope not a little instructive. Today, I fear I must philosophise with you. Why leave the luxuries of modern living just to eek out an existence upon a Welsh hillside and crap in a bucket?
Luxuries come at a price, and frankly, I don’t believe they’re a price worth paying. The luxuries such as central heating, artificial lighting, air conditioning, food processors, washing machines come at a hefty price …your soul!!! Cue maniacal laugh. But seriously, the truth is kind of worse because I’ve realised the extent of the cost and what I really sacrifice in order to pay for those luxuries; The most irreplaceable, non-refundable commodity there is; time. I’m an unskilled worker, I can’t sell a skill or experience in any specific field, I can really only sell my time, which I sell for somewhere between £9 and £12 an hour, depending on who’s paying me. It means time is largely subsumed by working, traveling to and from work, cleaning out the rabbit and sleeping. The five days between proper days, in other words the days where I’m not encumbered by tedious tasks, lumber slowly by like an old man carrying a tea chest on his back, waiting to flop down in front the fire on Friday, in an exhausted heap like a broken old dog. But you know, I’m a big believer in an old adage; Do the best you can, take the money on Friday and buy yourself something nice.
Then in 2008 some banks crashed. Or something. And there was a tax payer bailout. Or something. And it was all Gordon Brown’s fault. Or something. The market crash was like witnessing a massive row at a party between people you only half know. You know it’s a big deal, you kind of understand some it, but who did what, and why, and how that led to where we are now is a bit of detective work you can’t quite be arsed to do. Better just to watch quietly on the sidelines, and dodge the china plates when they start flying. 2008 marked a change, because for a lot of people, myself and Dom included, buying yourself something nice on a Friday became a luxury we could seldom afford. I won’t go on about ‘austerity’, because people of a certain age know what true austerity is really all about, and I won’t get the little violin out and start telling you about warming up dry noodles from the bottom of a saucepan over a battery powered hair dryer, because things really weren’t that bad for us. But the disposable cash did evaporate over the next ten years, and the property rental – well they really went northwards.
If it wasn’t bad enough that rent prices were going up, but so were the associated costs. I rented my first property in 2002 and back then there was no exorbitant ‘admin’ fee. There was no ‘contract’ fee, no ‘departure’ fee, no ‘check-in’ fee, no ‘arrangement’ fee. And rent was a little bit more proportionate to the average UK wage earner. Private renting also wasn’t as common place as it is now. But in the last 10-15 years demand has increased and pushed up rents while wages have stagnated. This has allowed the letting agents to charge the masses clamoring for that most basic of essentials – a place to live, whatever they want for ‘services’ apparently rendered.
Up until 2019, landlords could issue a section 21 notice by giving just 60 days notice, and they didn’t need a reason to evict you either. (This is an example of how language softens to accommodate increasingly ugly practices. The parlance ‘section 21 notice’ is a modern replacement for a far more succinct and less unambiguous term, it was formerly known as an ‘eviction order’).
Getting asked to vacate your home, without being told why, is a horrible, horrible experience, and unless you’ve lived it, you have no idea how it feels. Not only do you have to come to terms with this enforced change, there’s also have the financial implications to think about. Like all those fees for a start. And when you’ve paid your fees, moved your family, your stuff, given everyone you know and love your new address, you then face the very real prospect that it could all happen again – depending on the whims of your landlord. I believe it is now the law, landlords need to provide a reason to terminate a tenancy. I doubt if they need to water-tight reasons, though. Nobody regulates this dubious sector because it’s private, companies are simply trusted to operate in an entirely ethical and thoroughly above-board manner. Except most blatantly don’t.
Oh dear. This subject does tend to bring out the frothing and spitting cynic in me and I haven’t yet talked about the disgustingly high rent prices in some areas of the country. The quality of property, the size and the average income for a local resident is factored in no way into rental prices, and couples on a decent wage will usually see almost half to three quarters of their combined income disappear in covering monthly expenditures. That’s a huge wad of cash to part with when the two of you have spent almost one hundred hours per week between you doing things to simply pay for the privilege of a high rent and increasing bills. And if you should find yourself out of work for a spell, don’t expect a few weeks on the dole to be there to keep you going until a decent job comes along. Welfare? Forget it, chuck. JSA is so 20th century. Ah but you can get a credit card easy enough. Which is just as well. But then those debts start racking up, and when you finally get that job, you find yourself with yet another bill to pay. For the apes at the top of the tree, it’s a pretty neat little system really. The chimps fall in line, learn to stand on their own to feat and accept their shafting in the name of capitalism with good grace. The banks do well, the treasury saves a few handouts, firms gain good subservient ‘resource’ who know what it’s like out there, away from the shelter of ‘the company’. And if you can achieve all that whilst making sure everyone blames everyone else for their lot, well you’ve built yourself a jolly fine gravy train. So who’s getting off at the next stop?
I don’t want to be a frothing, spitting cynic. I dislike that side of myself, and I have no desire to re-quaint myself with it, or the depleting, sinking feelings of being evicted – sorry – served a section 21 notice. There’s only one way out; the housing ladder. But what if you’re tired of the work/weekend/work merry-go-round too?
I have come to the conclusion that giving over all that time to ‘the man’ is a mugs game. It left me with no savings, no home to call my own and a huge amount of time given over to further somebody else’s business ambitions. A. Mug’s. Game.
But self sufficiency itself is not the answer. No man is an island, and all that. We do not exist in a vacuum, I believe we need other people to share with and learn from. It’s all well and good living in a field, but one day I could well be a walking collection of different arthritic and rheumatic conditions, in much need of somewhere comfortable to park my backside, and I’ll need some funds with which to purchase my comfortables. In other words, got to pay into a pension pot, contribute to the system. Perhaps this is the last vestige of my old self talking, the self that was content in my office chair so long as I could watch a bit of snooker with Dominique when I got home, but I do believe in the system, and the potential it has to be the best co-operative out there.
I may sound like a very middle aged guy here but truly, there has never been a bigger threat to the individual self than we face right now. Technology is being allowed to transform lives, eliminate privacy, and limit free will, and it is being allowed to so without forethought as to where this all may ultimately lead. Genetic science is increasingly probing into areas that could lead to the stagnation of the species, or worse lead us up an evolutionary cul-de-sac. Fuel is being extracted from the Earth by being ripped from her surface as another forty acres is lost in Brazil, or another ‘minor event’ Earth tremor is registered by anti-fracking groups, or the gradually declining Eco-systems. Even the Bees are dying. The worse part of all of this, is we’re ultimately powerless to stop it. Sure, we can add a voice to the chorus, and sing a solo or two while your on your soapbox down the pub, but as mere individuals we can’t stop it.
I think it was Gandhi who said, “you must be the change you want to see in others”. He was fairly cryptic kind of guy, Gandhi, and I’m shite at cryptics but I think he meant lead by example. Show, not tell. Practice, not preach. He didn’t say anything about philosophising though did he. Or did he? I’m shite at cryptics. Either way, I don’t have to comfortable with how the world is run, but I do have to comfortable in how my little bit of the world is run.
Spending a fortune to live in a house owned by someone else, that will never be yours, that you can be forced to leave at any time. Gaining the fortune spent on running that home by working for a company that will never share the fruits of your labours, and will only serve to make somebody off more better off. Spending the best years off your life, living this cyclical existence. I’m not here to preach but it’s a crushingly awful way to spend life. At least it is for me. There are people who love their creature comforts, who feel the price is worth paying. Facilities, convenience and security outweigh all the other sacrifices. And you know, each to their own. Wouldn’t do for us all to be the same. But by the same token, I don’t believe it’s how we’re meant to live.
Some aren’t lucky enough to be able to do what me and Dom have decided to do. We don’t have children or huge financial commitments. We can’t afford to go under. But we can’t afford not to try this. The alternative? Well, honestly there isn’t one. Unless you consider the things we’ve decided to turn our back on as an alternative. I suppose it is, it just isn’t a happy one.
A trailer tent in a barn, in my field on a hill. Or, a sofa in someone else’s house with fifty other families in the same tiny street. It’s a no-brainer for me. And for Dominique too. Perhaps it’s a shared pre-mid-life crisis. Only time will tell. And if it is? Well we’ve lurched from crisis to crisis non-stop in the last 10 years, so what’s one more?
I will be taking a break from philosophising in the next part of The Off Grid Life Instead, I will share some practical advice of going off-grid in the first few weeks.
READ MORE: The Off-Grid Life
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Copyright Martin Gregory 2019