The ‘Philosophy’ category:

Beard update

March 17th, 2012

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Me & my beard

I’ve never had such a big beard. You may remember that on my birthday last year I shaved my beard off completely. Well this year I’m doing the opposite and growing it to be as big as possible… before trimming it back to normal on my birthday.

To me, my beard is a symbol of my freedom from the social structure I was a part of before we started our adventure. I’ve had a beard for many years; I started using one during my first office job as a way of not having to shave every day, so even then there was an element of furry rebellion to it. Nowadays it doesn’t matter what I look like; I have nobody I need to pretend I’m not me to. So scruffy clothes, unkempt hair and a ridiculous beard are all fine since they make no difference to anything any more. (Except a big beard is incredibly hot and the weather’s getting quite warm so it is making a difference to my every day comfort).

Last year I realised that without a beard I look like a cross between Thom Yorke from Radiohead and Gail from Coronation Street. I shall therefore always have a beard, not, as I like to think, as a symbol of freedom but more to hide my hideous face.


What being free range means for me

February 6th, 2012

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Now that I’ve been doing this for a year I thought I’d share what intentionally not having a job has been like for me.

The most significant bit of all of this is, unsurprisingly, not having to go to work.
Before embarking on our adventure I’d resigned myself to having to go to work, convinced myself that the sense of waste that pervaded my weekdays and tainted my weekends was the price I had to pay for being a part of the modern West. The alternative we came up with has yet to provide any sort of income, so I wouldn’t say we’ve found a solution, but by selling up and running away I’ve learnt that plodding along with a life I didn’t actually want was preventing me from being me. And even though it turns out I’m annoying, rather anti-social, slightly obsessive, and around early evening very short-tempered, at least I don’t have to pretend that I’m anything else to virtual strangers at the office.

Spending every single day with my children is definitely a good thing.
It’s certainly not easy and they drive me absolutely mad sometimes, but being with them when they wake up, have breakfast, play in the morning, watch movies or stuff on the laptop, have lunch, do drawing or running around or building something or smashing something or riding bikes or digging up worms, chilling out mid-afternoon with hot milk and honey and biscuits, then going crazy again until dinnertime, then bath and bedtime bouncing and stories… being there for the whole lot is frankly a treat. When I used to work I only got to be with them during the dinner, bath and bedtime bit and that’s frankly rubbish. My two boys are the most important people in my life and I finally feel like I’m getting to know them, and that they’re getting to know me.

I used to get very grumpy.
Commuting is horrible and I found it impossible to not despise everyone else on the roads around me. Then in the office I was polite and obliging, doing the best job I could, but all the while hating the mundanity of it all, the pointless meetings and decisions and politics that were so far removed from any useful end product that they made our efforts seem ridiculous. But worst of all I was so cross at how little of my time I could use for the things I wanted to do, how most of my time was taken from me by a system that couldn’t care less.

Disappointingly it turns out that me being grumpy has nothing to do with the system, work, or busy motorways. I’m pretty much as grumpy now as I ever was back then, so I can only conclude that’s just how I am. But that’s still a useful thing to have learnt, right?

Doing hard physical work outside, making stuff and doing simple things is satisfying.
What I did before – making websites, developing marketing strategies, researching the latest web trends – was very interesting and it was satisfying when a good idea was implemented well and achieved good results. But it was nothing to the satisfaction of felling nine 40ft conifers by climbing up into the branches to saw down the tops then chopping the rest of the trunks down with an axe and then finally burning the lot in a massive bonfire. I like my Baudelaire and subtitled arty movies as much as the next man, but using your muscles to do a hard day’s work just feels good. Sitting down for dinner feeling hungry because you’ve used up loads of calories doing stuff all day is how it should be. And falling asleep as soon as your head hits the pillow is surely evidence that your day was satisfying.

It’s nice to have the time to try things I’d always wanted to try but never had the time.
Regular readers will no doubt have become a little bored of my ‘look what I just made’ posts, but I’ve always wanted to make things. So I’ve made a wooden bench using only wood (no nails or screws or glue), I’ve re-roofed a house, I’ve converted our 50mattic into two bedrooms (more on this in a later post – I’ve nearly finished!), I’ve built a slide for the boys… and I’ve made loads of other things I’ve mentioned on this website already. Lots of it is DIY but on a level I only hoped I might be capable of; it turns out I can do scary stuff like cut a hole in the roof and put in a Velux window. And other projects like making small walking sticks for the boys so they can be like the locals as they potter through the woods aren’t essential or useful but they’re really fun, and it’s lush to be allowed to come up with an idea and then just do it. I don’t know if any of these new skills I’m developing will help me avoid having to return to the 9-5 office life I’m desperately try to steer clear of, but if they don’t I’ve at least got a few more things to add to my CV.

It won’t last though.
Sometimes I find myself worrying about how long we can keep going like this and what we’re going to do next. I try to ignore these thoughts: there’s plenty of time to figure this out later. For now I’m just enjoying the simplicity of waking up when we wake up, heading outside, and doing stuff.

Have you ever hugged a tree in earnest?

January 27th, 2012

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I hadn’t, until today.

Since we’re nearing the end of January I thought it about time to take down our Christmas lights that were stylishly wrapped around a tree at the front of the house. During the removal process I found myself with my arms around the trunk of the tree and I thought to myself, “Do those people people call tree huggers actually hug trees? And if they do, I wonder what it’s like.”

There was no-one around so I gave the tree a hug. Its trunk is covered in moss so it was nice and soft. I stayed there for a little while, attempting to determine whether or not I could sense any sort of spiritual connection with the tree, letting my mind empty as I pricked up my psychic ears.

I’m sorry to report nothing unusual happened other than I later found a small spider in my hair.

The happiness of the long distance mower

April 27th, 2011

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I love mowing the grass.

At our first house in Cardiff we had a tiny yard onto which we put some turf: I cut this with scissors and later with an electric strimmer. At our second house in Cumbria we had 1/3rd of an acre so I bought a petrol mower and spent about 45 minutes every summer weekend going up and down the sloping garden making it look nice. And now, at our third house, we have just under 2 acres; too much for a push mower so I bought a 2nd hand ride-on mower for €400 and named him Murray since that’s what’s written on the side. Cutting the grass by hand wasn’t great, but once I’d graduated to a lawn mower I realised that I had finally found something that I enjoyed and was quite good at. Now I’ve moved up to the ride-on I am finally happy. I’m thinking of requesting ‘He loved mowing’ be carved on my gravestone.

Cutting the grass is a two-stage process: there’s the ‘field’ which takes about 1 3/4 hours and there’s the ‘garden’ which takes about 45 minutes. I genuinely look forward to doing it and am secretly glad if I can’t manage both in one go. I’m not entirely sure why I enjoy it so much; I liken the thrill of it it to riding a motorbike and doing something useful at the same time, but that doesn’t really explain it. There’s time to think, being outside, the machinery, the repetition, the repetition…. Whatever is it that’s at the heart of my love of mowing, it’s lush.

I walk over to the stable in which Murray sits, slide the bolts back, open the heavy doors and there he is: red, rusty and ready. I pop the hood to open the fuel valve, slam the hood closed, then climb on. There’s a mouse living in this stable (Murray Mouse) and he’ll usually appear and leg it up the wall and out the back at this point. Relieved the wildlife is out of the way, I put my foot on the clutch, select 4th gear, turn the key, and after a bit of protesting we’re off through the (narrow) doorway. A sharp right and through the gate into the field. I stop, lower the cutting blades and pull the ‘engage’ lever, select fifth gear, let the clutch out and now we’re off and cutting. I enjoy a sense of enormous well-being as I bump out into the field to cut my first line, gazing at the trees on the horizon, letting the shiny steering wheel wobble loosely in my hands. As I approach the end of the field I veer off to one side and then turn tightly back on myself to begin the return cut right next to one I just made, gazing at a brand new view that’s got some neatly cut grass in the foreground.

The ‘field’ was actually a field at some point so is pretty bumpy. Murray has no suspension and after a while my stomach muscles ache; I can now add exercise to the list of things I enjoy about mowing. There’s not really an art to what pattern to make with the grass, more a sensible and obvious route. I’ve yet to discover the best way to go and tend to zig-zag, go round and round, and occasionally reverse. I don’t suppose it matters as long as the grass gets cut, but I do have an underlying sense that there is a perfect route if only I can see it. Perhaps that’s how surfers feel about the perfect wave.

By the time I’m done I’m knackered and my back has seized up but I feel good. The grass looks good, it smells good, and I feel good: what could be better than that.

La barbe à papa

April 20th, 2011

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The beard has gone.

I’ve had a beard for around 14 years. Initially I grew one for my first office job: with a beard I needn’t shave every day. After a while it was what I looked like and, probably like most grown-ups, I stuck with that.

I’m 38 years old today. I no longer work in an office. For the last couple of months I’ve not trimmed a single hair on my beard and it grew very, very big; I can look like a weirdo if I want to out here, I’ve got nobody controlling my career to impress.

And for that very reason – that how I look is of no significance – I decided that I should shave the whole beard off. And that’s what I’ve just done.

I’ll be honest: it’s weird. I look into the mirror and it’s almost literally someone else looking back at me. It’s my eyes but it’s certainly not my face. I don’t like it.

Here’s the shaving in 4 (mildly amusing) steps:

And here I am without my beard:

It’s quite a moment. I’m going for a cup of tea and a lie down.

My obsession with ‘stuff’: I need to give it up

December 11th, 2010

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“Wouldn’t it be nice to take lots of photos of whatever project we’re working on – looking after the vegetable garden, building a tree house, visiting somewhere exciting – and post them here on the blog. I’m going to need a new camera.”

This was my thought process.

I do have a lovely camera but it’s a big DSLR, so wanting a pocket one to make it much easier to photograph everything makes sense, right? I even have an old pocket camera, but that’s really old and not up to the job. No, no, it’s fine, buying a new one is a good idea.

So I spent a couple of weeks researching, reading reviews, deciding which shiny new camera I should get. I went onto Amazon and placed my order for a new Pentax Optio RS1000, the latest 14MP version of my very old 3MP Pentax Optio S. A few days later it arrived and it was glorious. A few days later I uploaded the photos and videos to my computer.

And it’s at this point that the reality of what I’d done revealed itself to me.

The photos were disappointing, the quality wasn’t anything special. The videos hadn’t captured the sound, instead there was a crackling noise; the camera was faulty.

I dug out my old pocket camera and took a few photos, uploaded them to my computer, and compared them to those from my new purchase. The old camera took significantly nicer photos. [I tend not to print my photos, rather put them online, so don’t need mega megapixels]. Luckily the new camera was faulty so I returned it and got a refund.

What had I done? Why had I bought a new camera? How had I convinced myself that I needed one when I actually had a perfectly good one languishing unused in a drawer? I’d fallen for the consumerist brainwashing we’re all subject to. It’s scarily easy to fall for it, to be absolutely certain that we do need the latest *INSERT PRODUCT NAME HERE* but will it improve our life? Will it improve it even a tiny amount? Would your old one do just as well?

I don’t have the answers, and I am certainly not immune to wanting stuff as this post attests. However, I’m going to try to remember this episode the next time I start trying to convince myself that I need something new.

Voluntary Simplicity – Samuel Alexander’s essay

November 1st, 2010

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It’s inevitable that we’ll bump into other people who are doing what we’re doing – or something similar – and stumble across stuff on the internet whose authors share the same basic aim of living a happy life rather than acquiring greater wealth.

I’ve yet to formally formulate my free range adventure philosophy, but when I do it will go something like this: spend more time living than earning money to spend on living.

Amongst the emails in my inbox offering to save 10% at Dixons, get cheaper car insurance, or increase the thickness of my manhood (!) is my regular Off-Grid Newsletter. I usually just skim through it in case there’s something useful in it, but this time I spent the first hour of my day in the office reading it thoroughly: in it was Samuel Alexander’s essay “Deconstructing the Shed: Where I Live and What I Live For”. (Who is Samuel Alexander? He seems to be someone who’s experimenting with how to live – – so I’m seeing if he’s got any useful insight).

It’s a long essay about how he started out with a ‘normal’ life, realised it wasn’t for him, then experimented with ‘the simple life’  in an urban context. Here are some bits that resonate with me….

“How best to earn a living? How much time should I spend at it? How much do I need to live well and to be free? Although I had just graduated from a respectable university, I came to realize that throughout my formal education the deepest questions concerning how to live had been strangely passed over. Furthermore, when I looked at the world around me, I gained little insight into how I should live my life.”

Samuel clearly started asking these questions relatively early in his life; I only started to doubt in my mid-thirties. With so many bright people about, how come no-one I know can tell me or show me how to live a fulfilling, meaningful life?

“In their celebrated text, Your Money or Your Life, Joe Dominguez and Vicki Robin provide elaborate financial exercises for readers to undertake which seek to provoke reflection on the real value of money and the true cost of commodities. To over-simplify greatly, one of their core exercises can be paraphrased as follows: Over a one month period, meticulously record every purchase made, and then categorize your expenses (rent / mortgage, bills, food, clothes, coffees, petrol, books, etc.). Multiply each category by twelve to get a rough estimate of the annual cost. Then carefully calculate how much time was spent obtaining the money required to buy everything that was purchased that month (including time travelling to and from work) and multiply by twelve to get yearly working hours (making appropriate adjustments for holiday entitlements). With this information at hand, Dominguez and Robin invite people to critically assess not only the amount of time and money spent on each category, but also the categories themselves. … One might find that seemingly little purchases add up to an inordinate amount over an entire year, which may raise new and important questions about whether the money might have been better spent elsewhere, not at all, or exchanged for more time by working less.”

I think I might add that book to my Amazon wishlist.

“How we spend our money is how we vote on what exists in the world. Purchasing something sends a message, consciously or unconsciously, to the marketplace, affirming the product, its ecological impact, its process of manufacture, etc.”

Buying ethically with a limited budget is going to be a challenge, but I’m starting to get the impression it’s one worth taking.

It’s reassuring to read about other people who are trying to find an alternative way to live. It’s equally worrying that it appears to be hard to find one that works. But this is an adventure and even if we don’t find what we’re looking for we’ll hopefully have fun and learn something along the way.