Tuesday, 28 June 2016

A Smaller World (Part One)

The first thing to say about Temple Druid is that it's not a temple, and has nothing to do with Druids.  The second thing to say is that it is, or soon could be, heaven on earth.







It's not marked on google maps, hiding between the villages of Llandilo and Maenclochog in Pembrokeshire, South Wales.  The centrepiece is a large, dilapidated, listed building dating back to 1795, set in 56 acres of land that includes an orchard, a river, a stone circle, a wooden roundhouse, several yurts, and enormous potential.  The 'Temple Druid Community' was founded in 2014 when a group of 3 families bought the land together for only £375,000.  Lucky them.  Now, in their own words, they're working with "the express interest in purchasing Temple Druid and of developing a year­ round source of high quality organic food and therapeutic holistic retreat centre for disadvantaged children/families and vulnerable adults..." and towards, "developing sustainable ecological housing though restoration of barns, out houses and self builds...We hope to offer access to an inspiring, nourishing environment in order that people have the opportunity to participate and explore that which brings meaning to their lives through interaction with the natural world and each other."  In other words, exactly the kind of place I want to be.

I've been back in the city for two days and already the exhausted, detached, distracted feeling that's come to characterise my life has set back in again.  I spent the weekend there as a volunteer, but compared to the last two days, it felt more like two weeks.  Life outside the 'real world' is slower.  Working on the land, learning from like-minded people, sleeping in my tent and waking to the sound of the birds, with only the kindness of strangers and the gear I can carry on my back to sustain me; this, I know, is how life should be.  It's humiliatingly simple.  Get back to nature.  Make your peace.  Don't worry about "finding yourself".  You're right here, a tiny part of something much, much more important.

I took my 40mg of Prozac in the morning, as I have been doing since I reduced the dose three weeks ago.  Back in Manchester, my brain has tried to haunt me again since I did this, but out of the noise, and out in the fields, I can't remember having a single flash of dark thoughts all weekend.  This means something.

Thursday, 16 June 2016

Experimental High Protein Vegan Breakfast Energy Bars

In preparation for next week's camping trip to Wales, I'm trying to keep my backpack as light as possible.  One of the things I learned on my trip to the Highlands in April was how much of a difference having a weight to carry makes on the distance you can cover on foot in a day.  Without factoring in the weight of my backpack in Scotland (about 16kg) I ended up overestimating how much ground I'd be able to cover.  Most of the weight was taken up by the necessities of camping: my tent, sleeping bag, cooking gear, (including meths for the stove), etc, but I also took a solid supply of chocolate, porridge and peanuts for necessary energy boosts when far from any other source of food, and these added to the weight.  So this time I thought I'd have a go at making some high-protein snack bars that wouldn't take up as much space or weight in my pack.  Easy to grab and scoff while on the move, no cooking required.  Here's what I came up with:


That's what they look like on a plate, when I've eaten some of them, because let me tell you, they are quite tasty.  The ingredients are:


  • Porridge oats
  • Smooth peanut butter
  • Golden syrup
  • Soy milk
  • Crushed cashew nuts (unsalted)
  • Raisins
  • Mixed spice
  • Vanilla extract
  • Protein powder


The first four are the essential ingredients, that you need to mix together in a bowl until you have a nice, thick and sticky dough.  The rest of the ingredients (apart from the protein powder) are mainly for taste.  Experiment according to yours.  I used protein powder because I had a sachet of rice protein kicking around and I didn't know what else to do with it.  It's pretty much tasteless, so if you've anything of the kind, throw it in.  Protein = energy.  (Can you get enough protein as a vegan?  'Course you bloody well can).  Quantities are hard to specify, just go with what feels right.  Go easy on the milk though; use just enough to make your 'dough' easy to mix but not be too runny.

All you need to do then is spread the mixture into a baking dish and leave in the fridge overnight to cool.  No baking needed!  You can then cut it into bars (or any shape you like, to be honest) and you're ready to go.  Should freeze nicely too, if you're making a large batch.




Wednesday, 15 June 2016

A Brief Rant on the Nature of Things

Every day, somewhere on earth, water falls from the sky.  Water is essential for all life, which is why it makes sense to drink it every day.  The sun shines, providing ample heat and light for most of the year, and allows for photosynthesis, which makes plants grow.  Many plants are edible, and it is possible to live as a human by eating nothing but plants.  We are a part of a self-sustaining ecosystem.  It took billions of years to evolve, with no personal effort on the part of you or I, whose very existence as the particular individuals we are is astronomically improbable.  And yet here we are.

On the one hand, nothing could be better fit for the definition of the word, "miracle".  On another hand (there are more than two) all of this happened entirely naturally, with no reason to suppose there was any intentional or divine intervention in these natural processes that led to our existence.  So nothing could be a less fitting definition of the word "miracle".  It depends how you describe it.  And however you describe it, the result is the same: here we are.  It's strange and wonderful and horrifying, and just like those, or the word "miracle", or any other word, it just is.  Here we are, and don't we know it.

I have always found our subjection of these perfectly basic necessities of life - water, food, heat and light, and shelter - into our fallible, corruptible social and economic infrastructures to be obscene.  There is something deeply wrong about it.  I think we all know that, whatever our politics.  There is enough food and water for all of us, yet hundreds of millions of us are malnourished or starving.  There is enough room for all of us, yet even on the affluent outskirts our enormous planet, people are homeless and destitute.  And all the while the shine is shining, drinkable water is raining down on us, and edible plants are blooming into life.  Technology now exists to automate all the processes we may wish to implement to make the use of these raw materials as simply as possible for the masses.  In India, one of the most populous countries on the planet, solar power is now cheaper than that derived from fossil fuels.  There is absolutely no reason for anyone to have to give over the time working in exchange for money they then use to pay for these freely available abundant necessities.

And yet that is what all of us do.  It's so natural and normal that even to resent it comes across as irresponsible or contrarian.  I find this objectionable.  A natural progression of this line of thought would be towards total anti-capitalism, but for all the problems with that system, I'm not sure such extremity is necessary.  We may not need a world without money, but I'm convinced we do need a world without the need for money.  A world where participation in the market is possible, perhaps even encouraged to a limited extent, but not required for those who would rather just opt out, and live simply, without possessions or wealth.  It shouldn't be that hard to bring such a world about.  It really shouldn't.

Tuesday, 7 June 2016

Out of the city again

I'm in a good mood today because I've successfully booked my next trip - this time to the fledgling Temple Druid community in Pembrokeshire, South Wales.  They're a group of three families who bought a house and a large piece of land earlier this year and are looking to create exactly the sort of community lifestyle I'm interested in.  They're looking for new members to join them over the next 5-10 years, and are asking for volunteers to help them out with a view to reaching their goals (see the website for more information).  Their next volunteer weekend is 22-24th June, where I've managed to get myself a place to find out more about what they're all about.  Looks like a beautiful part of the country too, so hopefully I'll be able to fit in some walking and camping earlier in the week.

Yes.

Monday, 6 June 2016

Brain

This weekend I reduced my dose of Prozac from 60mg to 40mg a day.  I’m being as sensible as I can about this, reviewing my progress (or the opposite) on a monthly basis with my GP, who has a goatee beard and likes to shake hands at the end of appointments.  A nice touch.  After two days on 40mg I feel the same, without any noticeable recurrence in symptoms, though of course it’s far too early for that.  Prozac is a slow acting medication, taking a long time to build up and your system, and just as long to work its way out again.  I have considered keeping a journal to note if and when any obsessions recur - but it occurs to me this could be a way of digging myself into a whole.  Watching out for obsessions, even unconsciously, could very well trigger them.  Try not to think about penguins, and all that.  My hope is that I’ll find a way to function on a lower dose.  I find myself asking if there’s a compromise to be had between the soporific fog of 60mg and the torture that is my mind on 0mg.  It’s a strange question to be asking, and I’ve no idea what the answer is yet.

Thursday, 2 June 2016

The Cost of Living: May 2016

May was a strange month.  Firstly, because against my better judgement, I have been doing some paid work.  This was not my intention, but unfortunately, needs must.  I was hoping I'd be able to move out of my city centre flat before September, but as it turns out I'm locked into the tenancy agreement until then.  Always read the small print, my friends.  However, I do have the general incompetence and ineptitude of my previous employer on my side here.  Four months after I resigned, and I still haven't been replaced, for reasons hilarious but too boring to go into.  This has allowed me to switch onto the "bank" (relief) payroll, meaning I can essentially pick and choose how often I cover night shifts.  Now I am no longer a manager, the rate I am paid for this has dropped slightly, although since I can keep my overall earnings below the £11,000 threshold required before having to pay income tax, this works out at more or less the same per hour (possibly more).

I feel ugly and dirty having to do this, but sometimes in life you can't avoid doing ugly and dirty things.  Still, the satisfaction I get from turning up to my previous job, putting in some hours and buggering off again, without having to become ensnared in meaningless bureaucratic inanities, almost makes it worth it.  Almost.  In fact, hardly at all.  But a little.  Small mercies, I suppose.  Here are this months' figures:

OUTGOINGS
Food:  £101.21
Postage:  £32.54
Rent:  £650
Mobile/internet:  £91.83
Prescription:  £16.80
Council Tax:  £81.14
Other: £212.49
Total outgoings: £1186.01

INCOME
Income from work: £542.67
amazon/ebay selling: £316.90
Total income:  £859.57

BALANCE: -£326.44

Still a negative balance, but compared to last month, a vast improvement.  It's interesting to note that I've spent considerable more on food than I did last month, when I didn't do any paid work at all: £101.21 compared to £18.98.  That's quite a leap.  Goes to show the value of taking your time to track down cheap food, shopping at the right hours in the right places.  This is something that the time taken up by work doesn't always allow for: exhaustion is the mother of convenience.  Worth thinking about.