14 April 2019 (Part 2)
Little Gary rabbit kicked his back legs to demonstrate his unhappiness at being loaded into his carry-case, yet again. Just a week ago, he’d taken a trip in the case, to the local vet to have his ears and eyes checked. That wasn’t fun, and his new vet wasn’t as cuddly as the last, but he struggled on, knowing there would be a treat coming his way upon return home. But, a treat would be scant consolation this time as Mr. Gary prepared to take the second longest car journey of his life. Once he’d made the journey from Bristol to Carmarthen, now he was about to make the journey back.
Gary never settled easily, even as a youngster it took him a few weeks to accept and settle into a new living situation. Some had been better than others, and the large space to run around and the hutch he could return to whenever he wanted a peaceful snooze had been lots, lots better than 6ft by 3ft he’d endured for two months in the lead up to the much promised, and much needed living space. Toys, tubes and fluffy areas made up his new 18ft by 8ft world, a world he could see and occasionally venture beyond.
In vain, he kicked his back legs again. Half-hopping, and half-pushed he found himself inside the case, face to face with a large bundle of hay and some of his favourite pellets, rolling around under his feet. Normally, he’d dash at anyone coming toward him with the pellets, such was his intense love for their vegetable and fruit-like nutrition filled flavour, but not today. Eyes wide and quivering slightly, he looked out, wondering why this happening again.
Gary’s confusion was understandable; His owners had spent five weeks making their new accommodation comfortable and cozy. Just a few weeks ago the dim battery and gas powered lights had been replaced by proper, electrical lighting and his living space had evolved to become even more luxurious than when he’d arrived.
So, why did wee Gary rabbit find himself in the car with us again on another two hour journey? Before we get to that, I’d like to tell you about the first few weeks of living our off-grid lives.
Now on week three of off-grid living all major expenditures had been made, and the costs of starting up the enterprise, an estimated £2,000 had now depleted down to the bone. Just about enough to see us through another month. Dom had her job in the chip shop but it was part time, and the hours were not fixed. It topped up the dwindling funds but we needed jobs to keep us going for the next phase of our plan. We needed money, not just to cover existing bills and inevitable financial hangovers from our old lives, but to invest in the means to draw water from the stream permanently, instead of relying on rudimentary hoses and portable water butts.
Before the chip shop job came along, the weather caused us to make an unplanned dent in the money. The voices on the radio were increasingly using words like ‘storm’, ‘beast’ and hurricane. In the UK we don’t get hurricanes but we’ve had some pretty vicious storms in the last few years. Brits are often criticized for going on and on about the weather, but that’s because it’s so bloody changeable. I write things like “the weather is becoming slightly less mental” and then I look outside to see everyone’s bins being blown down the road. Except, I haven’t got a window from a house in a street any more, and I can’t see any wheelie bins, either. We looked up at the slatted parts of our barn. High up, between the timber walls and the roof, wooden slats exposed us to the elements. Boarding this up would have taken precedence over the water project but up ’till now the weather had been mostly grey and damp. We got a bit complacent and decided to wait until our funds had re-charged before beginning the project. The storm changed that. We needed to board up the slats quickly and cheaply. What followed was a flurry of talking and gesticulating, diagrams and calculations as we prepared to get something in place and double quick.
Hastily insulating us with tarpaulin and wooden boards, I spent two days up a ladder as Dominique passed up tools, lengths of wood, nails and screws, and dodged out of the way as these various things threatened to rain back down upon her. The storm had already started before I first ascended the ladder and, if the weather reports were to be believed, it was due to gain in intensity over the coming days. If it was just me and Dom doing this off-grid thing, we’d have zipped ourselves into the cosy trailer section of the trailer tent and waited out the storm, but we had daft, fluffy wee Gary to think about. Already he was alternating between confused, excitable and non-plussed. We were impressed with his resiliency against a marked temperature change from what he was used to, even getting a clean bill of health from a vet after two weeks of being there. But, with the storm coming, we felt this was pushing our luck, and his powers of resiliency to the limit, if not beyond. The way was clear; batten down the hatches (or slats), strengthen and waterproof the doors of the barn, and push cardboard and sawdust into places where water might seep in at ground level. In the sense that the wooden boards stayed in place, and any ground water did not interfere with our cotton footed friend, it was a success. A triumph of thrift and ingenuity over the elements.
I’ve learned it’s important to enjoy moments of triumph, they act as a cushion against the knock backs that always follow. Triumphs in the last few weeks had been many and varied. We’d successfully moved our lives from Bristol and transported our trailer tent from the tiny cul-de-sac in the backwaters of Bath into a barn on a Welsh hillside. We’d created our own power, a nifty space to cook and prepare food inside the awning, built a happy habitat for the rabbit and begun our fledgling efforts at composting. We had installed a toilet, found a waste water refuse point in a nearby town and basically done a great job of creating a comfortable, practical place for ourselves and our pet to live. The bones of the infrastructure is in place, the foundations of our new life has been laid. These triumphs cushioned us against the blow when it came.
Two weeks later with all outgoings for the preceding months just about covered and another loan from a relative taken up, we realized we needed to raise funds in time for next month’s outgoings. Luckily, we’d managed to secure jobs just in time. I’ve written at some lengths about the state of the jobs market in the UK (Here) and the strange company in Ammanford that offered us what turned out to be a sort of, kind of job. There would be no contract of employment, just an ‘arrangement’. Sadly, this only became apparent a day before our start date, which had already been postponed twice. We’d tried so hard to find some work, and we thought we’d hit the jackpot. Alas, it was not to be. Having been faffed about by this company, and with nothing else in the pipeline there was only one path open to us to avoid complete bankruptcy; We had to go back to Bristol where the work was more plentiful. Luckily, there was somewhere we could stay.
In silence and with solemnity, we disconnected the battery from the charger and the solar panels, packed a few essentials and loaded up the car. After we zipped up the trailer tent and locked the door to the barn, we took a last lap around our field, our home. We paused to consider the beauty of the place how absolutely typical it was that we should be leaving, just as the storms had receded and the sun had come out to play. We looked out across the fields beyond ours, the tiny houses on the horizon and held each others hand. We knew – we know, it can’t end this way.
Five months later….
There’s an even chance that as time went by I would come to regret the decision to buy 2 acres with a big wooden shed and go live there with my partner. I think I’ve spent a while preparing myself for the backlash against myself for the decision I encouraged us to make. Even with the fat failure of having to leave, the obstacles we overcame to make it happen at all are enough. And with the political and economic situation in Britain becoming more unstable (by British standards), and looking to get even more chaotic in the months ahead, there’s actually been no backlash against the decision at all. Not from myself or from Dominique. If anything, we feel galvanized by the setback. Our joint defiance of the odds stacked against us push us onwards. Neither of us regret the decision to live an off-grid life, and that we had to go back to the city after six weeks does not diminish the progress we made in that short time, or the fun we had doing it. It wasn’t always fun, and it was never, ever easy. But it was rewarding, and that’s what made it worth it. Never have we been more convinced this is the life for us; the only life for us.
The plans to return have been afoot for some time, and in the last five months some serious progress has been made. With long nights and short days ahead, it’s time to turn our attention toward a different way of making power and solve the knotty problem of drawing water from a brook which sits in a six foot depression, without battery or fuel powered pumps. Join me for chapter two of the Off Grid Life and read just how we intend to survive in a Welsh field throughout the winter months. The return is coming. This Off Grid Life of ours is only just beginning.
If you missed part 1 of this entry read it here.
The Off Grid Life will return with Chapter Two soon. Next week, No Script for Life shifts gear again and gets reunited with a group of familiar Friends.
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Copyright Martin Gregory 2019