Living without cash, out in the sticks.

This last month I have been reading Henry Thoreau’s work “Walden” which is all about jacking in the materialist rat race and going off to live next to the land in a small shack out in the woods. When I found this article in the Guardian it was almost identical – but here and now rather than 1845 (Thoreau was way ahead of his time) so here it is for an alternative Christmas story…..as I am so heartily sick of the mainstream ones!

In six years of studying economics, not once did I hear the word “ecology”. So if it hadn’t have been for the chance purchase of a video called Gandhi in the final term of my degree, I’d probably have ended up earning a fine living in a very respectable job persuading Indian farmers to go GM, or something useful like that. The little chap in the loincloth taught me one huge lesson – to be the change I wanted to see in the world. Trouble was, I had no idea back then what that change was.

After managing a couple of organic food companies made me realise that even “ethical business” would never be quite enough, an afternoon’s philosophising with a mate changed everything. We were looking at the world’s issues – environmental destruction, sweatshops, factory farms, wars over resources – and wondering which of them we should dedicate our lives to. But I realised that I was looking at the world in the same way a western medical practitioner looks at a patient, seeing symptoms and wondering how to firefight them, without any thought for their root cause. So I decided instead to become a social homeopath, a pro-activist, and to investigate the root cause of these symptoms.

One of the critical causes of those symptoms is the fact we no longer have to see the direct repercussions our purchases have on the people, environment and animals they affect. The degrees of separation between the consumer and the consumed have increased so much that we’re completely unaware of the levels of destruction and suffering embodied in the stuff we buy. The tool that has enabled this separation is money.

If we grew our own food, we wouldn’t waste a third of it as we do today. If we made our own tables and chairs, we wouldn’t throw them out the moment we changed the interior decor. If we had to clean our own drinking water, we probably wouldn’t contaminate it.

So to be the change I wanted to see in the world, it unfortunately meant I was going to have to give up cash, which I initially decided to do for a year. I got myself a caravan, parked it up on an organic farm where I was volunteering and kitted it out to be off-grid. Cooking would now be outside – rain or shine – on a rocket stove; mobile and laptop would be run off solar; I’d use wood I either coppiced or scavenged to heat my humble abode, and a compost loo for humanure.

Food was the next essential. There are four legs to the food-for-free table: foraging wild food, growing your own, bartering, and using waste grub, of which there is loads. On my first day, I fed 150 people a three-course meal with waste and foraged food. Most of the year, though, I ate my own crops.

To get around, I had a bike and trailer, and the 34-mile commute to the city doubled up as my gym subscription. For loo roll I’d relieve the local newsagents of its papers (I once wiped my arse with a story about myself); it’s not double-quilted, but I quickly got used to it. For toothpaste I used washed-up cuttlefish bone with wild fennel seeds, an oddity for a vegan.

What have I learned? That friendship, not money, is real security. That most western poverty is of the spiritual kind. That independence is really interdependence. And that if you don’t own a plasma screen TV, people think you’re an extremist.

People often ask me what I miss about my old world of lucre and business. Stress. Traffic jams. Bank statements. Utility bills.

Well, there was the odd pint of organic ale with my mates down the local.

• Mark Boyle is the founder of The Freeconomy Community. In a subsequent blog he responds to the comments below.

Britain deals superbly with a couple of centimetres of snow.

I was drinking with two neighbours last night who were off to Germany today using …yes…Eurostar. Why do I mention it? Germany commonly copes with six foot of snow, let alone a couple of inches. Yet here we are massively disrupted by a not unexpected outbreak of fairly mild wintry weather as seen in today’s Telegraph, Ho hum.

All Eurostar services remained suspended for a third consecutive day, while airports and domestic rail networks across the country suffered delays.
As bus replacement services were put into action, the AA warned that some minor roads had effectively turned into “ice-rinks”.
At least four people died in car crashes related to the bad weather over the weekend, while extra breakdown patrols were out in force in more remote areas.
With temperatures forecast to remain below freezing until Christmas Eve, there seems little respite from the chaos.
The three days of cancellation by Eurostar has left 55,000 people with travel plans in tatters as they try and find alternative transport at one of the busiest times of the year.
The company is encouraging those who don’t have to travel in the next few days to Those whose trains were cancelled have been offered refunds, aas well as the costs of any hotel accommodation – up to three star – transport and meals.
But that provides little comfort for those Britons stranded in France, and those trying to get home to France and Belgium for the holiday.
Several flights arriving from the US – where there is also considerable snow – were delayed arriving into London Heathrow and Gatwick.
Some passengers at Manchester Airport were still waiting to take off on flights which were due to have taken off on Sunday, while cancellations and delays continued at Bristol, Luton, Southampton, Aberdeen, Glasgow and Inverness airports.
A Manchester airport spokeswoman said: “We are trying our best to get the backlog cleared up. It has been a constant battle with snow and freezing temperatures.
“The snow has stopped falling now and the forecast looks clear but the problem now is clearing the runway of ice. The current temperature out there is minus 4 degrees. We have ordered in 50,000 litres of de-icer today to help with that.”
To try and ease the congestion between London and France, British Airways said it was operating larger aircraft on many flights both ways between Heathrow and Paris, including a 340-seater Boeing 747 jumbo jet.
BA was operating an additional flight from Heathrow to New York this evening.
UK carrier Flybe said it was increasing capacity to help stranded Eurostar passengers – laying on larger aircraft from both Birmingham and Southampton to Paris Charles de Gaulle Airport for the next four days.
However, budget airline easyJet, which had to cancel a number of flights today, reported that French aviation authorities had imposed flight restrictions on easyJet at Charles de Gaulle Airport and that the airline was experiencing delays and cancellations to Paris.
Ferry operator P&O said it had laid on a fleet of coaches to get the passengers across the Channel and on to Paris or Brussels.
Spokesman Chris Laming said: “At one point we had 500 Eurostar passengers at Dover and at Calais.
“We’ve spoken to Eurostar about this arrangement and they’ve agreed to pick up the tab, and we’ll certainly send them the bill.”
Rail services were delayed in Surrey and Buckinghamshire, while London Midland services between London and Tring in Hertfordshire were cancelled and there were delays to Virgin West Coast trains.
Bus replacement services were put in place by Southern railways and Kent and Sussex suffered from the continuing poor weather.
On the roads, a jack-knifed lorry led to a lane closure on the M6 in Lancashire and another accident resulted in two lanes of the M6 in Cumbria being closed.
The AA said it had extra patrols out on duty and was putting extra snow-busting Land Rovers in place to rescue people in inaccessible areas.
AA president Edmund King said: “Many minor roads are treacherous – they’re like ice rinks – with numerous shunts and cars stuck in ditches.”