Saturday, 25 October 2008


Say what you have to say, not what you ought.
Any truth is better than make-believe.
Thoreau, Walden

I am currently sitting in a house in a village about an hour away from the land where the yurt will be. I will be based here for a couple of weeks while working on the land and erecting the yurt.

So far it has been lots of fetching and carrying. The land is a couple of minutes walk from the nearest place to leave a vehicle, so we are having to carry everything to the site by hand. I am out of practice with this and my arms feel like lead weights.

The trailor we bought off eBay ended up being more than a little dodgy. Fortunately the wheel fell off at 2mph in a French service station, rather than at 60 on the autoroute.

The trailor is dead. We had to leave it, full of stuff, in a breakers yard/garage near Toulouse while we drove to Spain to empty the car. Then drive back to France, load up the contents of the trailor, and drive back to Spain again. Fortunately the French mechanics were totally cool and the pass over the Pyrenees is quite easy on the eye.

Right now it is beautiful sunshine outside. I stand and look out over panoramic views of the mountains. There is no sound that is not natural – not an engine to be heard. It is so quiet here that when the vultures fly overhead, you can hear the roar of their wings cutting through the air…

… It is my intention in this blog to show the good and the bad of life in the mountains. It is my hope that in doing so, the amazing gifts of nature will become clearly visible, and that, with this awareness, we will decide not to squander them on the dubious gadgets and conveniences of modern life, and in doing so, perhaps leave a world for our children to live in.

We are surrounded by abundance. We come into this life with nothing, and nature provides us with all that we need. Food just grows on trees. Water falls from the sky. Everything we need to make our shelter is available in our immediate environment. The idea that one should spend 25 years working to pay for one’s shelter is preposterous. To spend £2 in a supermarket on raspberries that grow freely in the hedges is bizarre. And all the ‘labour-saving’ devices that we buy don’t seem to have saved us any labour at all. We work harder now than ever. And to what end?

Our culture is unsustainable. It will end, either because we choose a sustainable, mature alternative, or because the planet ceases to tolerate our foolishness. Continuing as though everything is fine is not an option. Assuming that technology, the Government or the market will find the solutions and leave us to continue on our merry way is not an option either. The Government and the market are not in that business, unless voters or consumers create the demand. And technology requires energy, and someone to fund it – i.e. the market or the Government. So we are stuffed unless we take the reigns. We are the Government. We are the market. They are ours to direct. This is the beauty of democracy and capitalism ;-) …

… Until the 1960s, the people in this village had to walk for a couple of hours each way, every other day, to get their water. The water was carried in bags on donkeys. Then Franco’s policy of encouraging people into the cities to industrialise Spain killed villages like this. (Although by this stage, many of the communists and anarchists who fought Franco in the civil war had already fled over the mountains to France. This area was the last bastion of the anarchists during the war. Many of them hid in these mountains and launched guerrilla attacks on the fascists. Books like Orwell’s Homage to Catalonia and Hemingway’s For Whom the Bell Tolls were written about this area.)

And so, hundreds of villages were left totally abandoned. It is only in the last few years that people have started to come back, buying up ruins and slowly making them into habitable buildings again. Because of this, you can still see items from the past lying around. The saddle bags that carried the water, for example. One of my friends here found grenades in their house.

The people who left these villages for the cities, went there in the hope of finding a better life. Hot and cold water on tap must surely be attractive to a person who has spent their life walking over the mountains to collect it.

And yet, though the benefits of technology and industrialisation are clear to see, something important is missing. And so we come back here to the mountains, in the hope of finding a better life. We seek autonomy, community, connection with our environment, a place where you can leave your door unlocked. We seek a simple life and a break from the incessant surveillance of the authorities, and the jabber of advertisers, who would advertise their goods even on our eyeballs, if they could only find a way to buy up the rights. We seek fresh air, clean water, and food un-sodomised by a million chemicals.

And yet it is clear that we are all connected, and I cannot simply disappear into the hills to live my little life. Logging in the Amazon affects me personally because the Amazon is responsible for extracting so much of the world’s CO2 from the air. The mass murder of sharks affects me personally (shark numbers are down 70 per cent – 100 million killed every year for their fins) because they maintain the balance of the marine ecosystem, and the oceans are responsible for producing half of the Earth’s oxygen. Not to mention the impact on my heart, and on my conscience. And then there are the political decisions of people on other continents, the purchasing habits of people across the Western world, and the programming choices of media companies. All of this affects me greatly, and affects all of us whether we know it or not. Knowing this, it seems clear that we must try to affect it.

This can seem overwhelming. Many of us start out with a desire to leave the world better than we found it, but get burnt out early on and shut down to its sufferings. We look back at our old selves and put it down to ‘youthful idealism’, as if this were a bad thing. If you can’t beat em, join em, right?

I prefer the words of George Carlin: “If you can’t beat em, arrange to have em beaten”.

And the model set out by Stephen Covey about the circle of concern and the circle of influence. It’s like a fried egg. The circle of concern is the white bit. It is everything that you would like to change. The circle of influence is the yolk. It’s everything that you currently have influence over. The trick is to focus on the yolk, not the white bit. And then try to push the yolk outwards – perhaps with a toast soldier – towards the circle of concern.

So here I am, armed with an internet connection, a video camera, and a life in the mountains, pushing yolk. I will keep up this blog, both with writing and in video, in an attempt to share something of this life. I hope that the blog will act as a stimulus for discussion and debate. Please feel free to ask questions and make comments. If you want to email me, please do – the address is on my website.

Friday, 24 October 2008


I am SO excited! It's like getting a pat on the head from God's offspring. Who I guess would be Jesus. Or Mohammed.

I have just arrived in the mountains in Catalunya, Spain, from where I will be posting videos and written blogs as part of my Thoreau-esque project, 'Here; Or, Life in the Mountains'. Regularly. Promise.

Thursday, 9 October 2008


I'm heading off down to Spain soon so life is very full. Fortunately I have a new camcorder to take with me on my travels. So here is my first video blog!